December issue 2002

By | News & Politics | Published 22 years ago

Along the rocky border between North Waziristan and Afghanistan, Pakistani soldiers along with FBI agents were on high alert. The collapse of resistance at Tora Bora, the cave and tunnel complex commanded by Bin Laden to the south of the border crossing, had led to increased border activity as well as heightened border patrolling.

In traditional Pakistani garb, his face masked by a heavy beard, Mohammed Esa, a local tribesman, may have thought he had little to fear as the area’s tribal inhabitants have freely crossed the border for years, particularly as many have inter-married across the Durand line. But this time around, it was a different scenario.

A suspicious border guard, unsatisfied with Esa’s answers, took him into custody and within hours he was handed over to FBI sleuths for further questioning. Esa again failed to satisfy his interrogators, who mistook him for an Al-Qaeda operative and whisked him away to the infamous Guantanamo Bay centre in Cuba.

Esa, a homepathic doctor, had earlier gone to Mazar-e-Sharif to collect his wife, who had gone to show her newborn baby to her parents. Esa was still there, when America’s war against terrorism broke out in Afghanistan. He stayed with his in-laws for a couple of days and knowing the dangers of the journey home, he chose to return alone. He was arrested at the border, sent to Guantanamo Bay, while his family was told nothing about his whereabouts.

Esa’s disappearance led his family to conclude that he had perished in US’s massive bombing campaign in Afghanistan and they lost all hope of ever seeing him alive again. Then Mohammed Azim, his father, a resident of Kotika village in the Frontier province bordering Afghanistan, received a letter from the US. Azim, who knew no one in America, tore open the letter which was from none other than his son, Esa, now Prisoner GPC, 160-camp X-ray.

Shouting with jubilation, Azim ran home with the news: ‘Esa is alive.’ “Dearest father, mother and sisters, I’m alive. I’m presently being imprisoned by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and will be released soon because I’m innocent,” read the letter.

According to Azim, his 28-year old son Esa had nothing to do with either the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. He was a homeopathic doctor who had a hashish addiction. To comfort his aged parents, Esa wrote that they should not worry about him, as he was in good health and had given up his hashish habit. “After I was arrested I was detained for a couple of days. Later on, they shaved off my beard, changed my clothes, closed my eyes and ears, chained me and brought me to Guantanamo Bay in an aeroplane.” According to him, along with other prisoners, he was detained in a small six by eight foot cell where he was given a copy of the Holy Quran and was allowed a thirty-minute walk outside once a week. Esa has recently been shifted from Camp X-ray to another camp, Delta, where the Americans are busy constructing an additional 204 cells for detaining future prisoners. Esa is just one of the dozens of Pakistanis, who were handed over to FBI agents and whisked away to Guantanamo Bay without their families being informed.

fbi-2-dec02America has a long history of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. In the 80s, the US Congress passed laws authorising the FBI to exercise federal jurisdiction overseas when a US national is murdered, assaulted, or taken hostage by terrorists, or when US interests are attacked. The Comprehensive Crime control Act of 1984 created a new section in the US criminal code for hostage-taking, and the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Anti-terrorism Act of 1986 established a new extra-territorial statute pertaining to terrorist acts conducted abroad against US citizens and interests. Upon approval by the host country, FBI has the legal authority to deploy its agents to carry out extra-territorial investigations in the host country where the crime has been committed, enabling the US to prosecute “terrorists for crimes committed against the US.”

When Pan-Am flight 73 was hijacked at Karachi international airport on September 5, 1986, with 380 passengers on board, for the first time, Pakistani authorities allowed FBI agents to search the aircraft for forensic evidence and to interview hostages. During the siege, some 22 people were killed, including two US citizens and at least 120 more were injured. Pakistani authorities arrested and sentenced all five hijackers to hang for their crime, none were handed-over to the US because Pakistani law prohibits the extradition of its citizens to the US following conviction for the same offence. That was just the beginning of what was to follow.

Then on June 15, 1997, in an unprecedented move, Pakistani authorities allowed FBI agents not only to carry out a raid on Pakistani soil, but also to extradite Ramzi Yousaf, an Islamic militant who was wanted by the US in the bombing of the Trade Center in New York, during Benazir Bhutto’s second stint in power. Ramzi was arrested from Capital-Inn, Islamabad on a tip-off. Though there was no law that allowed FBI agents to carry out raids on their own and capture and take suspects from Pakistani soil to the US for trial, the Americans were given carte blanche to do as they pleased. Though the incident got much negative publicity, the only official explanation given was that Ramzi had been involved in an assassination attempt on the then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. Second time around, not only were FBI agents allowed to conduct a major swoop in the Shalimar hotel in Dera Ghazi Khan but they also whisked away Pakistani citizen, Mir Aimal Kasi, in a special C-141 flight to the US without the knowledge of the interior minister. Says Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, then federal minister for interior during the second stint of Nawaz Sharif: “The orders were passed directly by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, I was not informed about the details of the operation.”

Kasi, 35, was found guilty in the killing of two CIA agents on February 8, 1993, in Virginia. He managed to flee to Pakistan and was arrested on a tip-off after a four-year long global hunt and the posting of a 3.5 million dollar reward. Kasi is believed to have sought a shelter at the house of a Khosa Sardar who was asked by a mutual friend to provide Kasi shelter in accordance with the Baloch tradition. Kasi had been living in a village in Dera Ghazi Khan in winter, shifting to Ramzak, a village located in the tribal belt of the NWFP in summer. Ironically, the same person who arranged refuge for Kasi was, allegedly, also involved in betraying him to the FBI.

According to reports, special FBI commandos raided room 312 of the Shalimar hotel in the early morning of June 15, 1997. The hotel security guards tried to intervene, but they were giving a stern warning by one of the gun-toting men, who introduced himself as Brigadier Bokhari. “This is an important government mission, don’t try to interfere,” he said. After Kasi was bundled into a car, the hotel management immediately informed the police, who chased the raiding parties’ cars which were speeding towards the airport. As the police van drew closer, the commandos threatened to kill the policemen. The police finally gave up the chase near the airport and were witness to a C-141 aircraft taking off from Dera Gazi Khan airport.

According to legal experts, there is no law that allows the US to carry out raiding operations on Pakistani soil and take their targets to the US for trial, by-passing the law of the land. “Even if an extradition treaty is signed with any country, this doesn’t mean that the people arrested can be taken away to other countries without being tried in Pakistan courts,” says Ms. Noor Naz Agha, a human rights activist and a senior advocate. According to her, anyone accused of a crime is supposed to be tried in the local courts. The concerned country is first supposed to prove the charges in court, and only then can the accused be extradited — and that too, for crimes on foreign soil.

fbi-3-dec02After the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, the US administration launched “Operation Infinite Justice” which was not just restricted to removing the Taliban government. With an open-ended agenda prepared by the US Department of Justice, US forces were empowered to eliminate all militant outfits perceived as a threat to the US and western interests, particularly Al-Qaeda, ban trading with those financial institutions who support these outfits and organisations, arrest anyone providing them with scientific, technical or medical assistance, remove those governments involved in helping these organisations, arrest or remove any important person in any government supporting these organisations and close down all NGOs supporting terrorist outfits socially or in welfare-oriented projects.

With the international coalition on the war against terror in place, Pakistan has totally subjugated itself to US interests. The FBI have been given a free hand to operate on Pakistani soil. State-of-the-art monitoring facilities, including cell-satellite-and-ground phones, and the setting up of the high-tech PICSES system at the major Pakistani airports to check international travellers are a few examples of how the US has encroached on Pakistan’s sovereignty.

The FBI has also been allowed to install Close-Circuit Cameras (CCC) at selective spots in Karachi to monitor movements of suspects. In the first phase, some 3,216 CCCs will be installed in Karachi, while more than 13,000 cameras will be installed later in other parts of the country. According to some sources, the FBI has already identified locations in Karachi, where they believe Al-Qaeda operatives are presently hiding while trying to reorganise their network. Meanwhile, in the year-long FBI operation, dozens of Pakistani and foreign militants, alleged to be working for Al-Qaeda, have been arrested from Pakistani soil and taken to unknown locations. According to US officials, some 598 people from 42 nations are being held at the Guantanamo Bay camp, while hundreds of others are being held in dozens of other unspecified camps. Most of these militants were arrested from Afghanistan soon after the fall of the Taliban regime, while others were rounded up in different raids, carried out across Pakistan.

Ironically, many of those arrested and detained at the infamous Guantanamo Bay camp, were arrested on false charges with no proper investigation of their alleged Al-Qaeda links. Recently, US officials released seven Pakistanis detained at Guantanamo Bay for one year, finally concluding that they were not terrorists. “If you don’t want them for intelligence, and you don’t want them for law enforcement, and you don’t need them off the street, then let’s be rid of them,” said an arrogant US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. The US decision meanwhile, came in the wake of a year-long outcry from international human rights groups and foreign governments about the indefinite detention, without charges, of hundreds of people apprehended abroad in America’s war on terror.

According to interior ministry officials, there are only a few dozen FBI agents presently working in Pakistan who assist them in investigations. Independent reports, however, confirm the presence of some 1500 FBI agents who have allegedly conducted raids on various Islamic militants hideouts. Surprisingly, in many of these operations, the local police were not even allowed to take part, while in other cases, even if local police participated in the operations, they were not allowed to interrogate the captured militants who were whisked away to unknown locations. For example, Zainul Abidin Mohammed Hussain, a Saudi-born Palestinian, popularly known as Abu Zubaydah, was arrested in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, in a shootout in which two militants were killed. The operation is believed to have been carried out directly by the FBI. Likewise, when the local police conducted raids in an uptown locality of Karachi on September 11, and arrested Ramzi Al-Shaiba along with four associates, they were directly handed over to FBI officials, without any interrogation. Police officials maintain that there are many legal hitches if local police carry out the raids. “Since we are a civilian agency, we are bound to abide by court rulings. Since the ISI or FBI are not civilians outfits, it is always easier for them to deny even the arrest of anyone in the name of the state secret acts,” says a senior police official.

With FBI officials given a free hand to operate as they choose, many Pakistani individuals and institutions have come under the purview of the war on terror. The list of the Pakistani individuals who have been arrested and grilled by the FBI include Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr. Bashiruddin, Lashkar-e-Toiba chief, Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, Mufti Rasheed Ahmed, Commodore (retd) Arshad Ali Chaudhry, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalili, Mirza Yousuf Baig, Humayun Niaz and a host of others. The last and most publicised case was that of Dr. Amir Aziz, noted orthopaedic surgeon, who was picked up from Lahore on October 21 on charges of making chemical weapons and anthrax for Al-Qaeda. “Some names become public knowledge because they might be well-known figures, there are dozens of others who have been arrested who no one knows about,” says an insider.

Dr. Amir operates several free clinics in Lahore and has a close relationship with the Sharif family. He was appointed the first-ever chief executive of a government hospital in the Punjab. Dr. Amir has also remained a health advisor to the federal government until General Musharraf’s takeover. According to reports, Dr. Amir was summoned several times by the FBI who were investigating his alleged links with Al-Qaeda. Interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, alleged that Dr. Aziz’s activities were not restricted to his profession and he maintained close links with Al-Qaeda and made frequent visits to Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. “Pakistani agencies have substantial evidence against Dr. Aziz’s activities which go against the national interests of the country,” said Haider.

Surprisingly, despite repeated directives from the Lahore High Court, the government refused to produce him in court keeping him incommunicado even when the court passed an order directing the government either to produce Dr. Aziz in court, charge him or set him free. According to recent reports, the government was under tremendous pressure from the US to extradite Aziz. However, given the massive public outcry within the country, it refused to hand him over, finally releasing him under mysterious circumstances. Sources close to him confide that he has been told not to speak of his ordeal.

This is the second case in the current year in which the government has not acquiesced to US orders. When Sheikh Omar was arrested and charged with the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, the US authorities demanded that he be handed over for investigation in the US. Government officials promised them that Omar would be convicted in Pakistan, and allowed FBI agents to interrogate him while he was in custody. Says a senior police official, “We pleaded with the US to agree to the deal in which Omar would be convicted in Pakistan, because handing him over to the US would give militants reason to retaliate which would jeapordise Pakistan’s security environment.”

Local institutions that have been targeted by the FBI include Al-Rasheed Trust, Rabita Trust, Tameer-e-Nau and a few others. “We have no problem if any individual or institution involved in any mischievous activity is tried under the local law of the land, but to hand them over to foreign agents in the name of international cooperation is illegal,” argues Dr. Khalid Mehmood Soomro, provincial general secretary of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (F), Sindh.

“The manner in which the government has allowed the FBI to meddle in the internal affairs of the country allowing citizens to be picked up and handed over to foreign agencies has compromised the sovereignty of Pakistan,” says one political observer. “The interference of foreign troops in the internal affairs of the country clearly shows we are incapable of running our country so we might as well franchise the country to the Americans and at least bring the country’s fragile economy to a solid footing.”