By N.K. Pant
Hats off to Pakistan'sexternal publicity machine for churning out wierd information. One wonders how it was not in conformity with the Islamic nation'sthe military establishment'smedia department. At the time when Islamabad is in the utter need of funds from the international community for quake relief, it seems foreign ministry'smedia mandarins tried to invent a ludicruously odd news story. They had the temerity to inform the world that Pakistani army has recently missed Osama bin Laden by whiskers. The troops missed capturing al Qaeda chief by just half an hour. Surprisingly, the free world seemed to be believing the make believe man bites the dog piece. Of course, there could have been no better place than London to project the image of a sincere ally of the western world now deeply involved in getting rid of global terrorism not threatening it with occasional bomb blasts but also actually carrying out the threats. That perhaps explains why this startling piece of news appeared in a British newspaper, The News of the World. According to the last November 13 issue of the publication, the Pakistan High Commission confirmed the information which was quoted it as saying, ?We think we missed him (bin Osama Laden) by 30 minutes. It was the closest we have been since 2001.? Was not it something like beating about the bush. The outright lie has been nailed as there seems to be a yawning gap in coordination between the external publicity on the one hand and the Inter Services Public Relations on the other. When the newspaper Dawn contacted the Director General ISPR, Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan subsequently by phone, it was told that the incident happened not this year but last year.
The wicked right hand obviously did not know was the left one was up to. Can one believe that well trained, lethaly modernised and highly mobile Pakistani army equipped with latest weapons, tanks, helicopters, communication equipment and backed by an efficient Air force capable of challenging India'sarmed might is incapable to capture the world'smost wanted terror fugitive freely roaming within its territory? Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI is so well entrenched in the mountainous region of the country'snorth west frontier province that it is impossible for a fly to escape. It remains a mystery how Osama bin Laden who moves with his entourage escaped the net. The operationally crack troops if they had really tried to zero in on to the al Qaeda leader, they could have easily nabbed him. The news item also reportedly memtioned President Musharraf telling an American journalist details of the operation, but the DG, ISPR Maj Gen Sultan denied the president had talked to any US journalist recently. However, he did give an interview some time ago and told the journalist about the operation which took place last year. According to Ahmed Rashid, an author and Pakistan-based journalist, it has been difficult for correspondents to get into the area to confirm what is happening there. ?Clearly, this is a very heavily censored operation that is going on,? he said. ?The journalists are not being allowed to report it [from the ground] and whatever is coming is coming out of the public relations side of the [Pakistani] military. And there are very conflicting reports about how many they are chasing, how many they have arrested, how many they want to arrest. And it'snot even clear exactly who they are after. Are they after just locals? Is it Al-Qaeda? Is it Taliban? Are these Afghans or Arabs?? Musharraf during his visit to the US in 2004 had claimed that his army had broken Al Qaeda'sback in Pakistan, but the US security agencies were reluctant to believe him. Islamabad keeps getting American dollars and military assistance in the expectation that Pakistan would help the US in capturing bin Laden and his criminal gang. Pakistani military and foreign ministry in turn from times issue pre-planned handouts informing the world that sincere efforts are on to nab the prised terrorist hiding in the difficult terrain. Once the soldiers rounded up many poor Arabs living in Pakistan who had become a social pest. It is understood that only four Al Qaeda leaders of real consequence have been caught and handed over to the US. And that too, only after the US intelligence came to know of their sanctuaries in Pakistan and its army had no other option but to arrest them. In March 2005, also President Pervez Musharraf according to the BBC had revealed that Pakistani troops had their best chance of capturing Bin Laden from May-July 2004, after the army launched an offensive along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan'sformer Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had, perhaps in lighter vein, once told the journalists that Osama bin Laden sometimes could be staying as an honoured guest in the comfortable basements of Presidential mansion. It is also possible that Bin laden is dead but his ghost is still being kept alive by willy Musharraf for the sake of getting continued US assistance.
(The writer can be contacted at 22 A, Vanasthali, Ballupur, Dehra Dun-248001.)