Saturday, May 20, 2017

New Evidence Substantiates Seymour Hersh’s Account of Bin Laden’s Killing

In his March 10 article [1] for the Washington Post, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time of Osama Bin Laden’s execution in May 2011, has confessed to the role played by the Zardari Administration in facilitating the killing of Bin Laden.

Husain Haqqani identified then-president Asif Ali Zardari as his “civilian leader” and revealed in the article: “In November 2011, I was forced to resign as ambassador after Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus gained the upper hand in the country’s perennial power struggle. Among the security establishment’s grievances against me was the charge that I had facilitated the presence of large numbers of CIA operatives who helped track down bin Laden without the knowledge of Pakistan’s army, even though I had acted under the authorization of Pakistan’s elected civilian leaders.”

This confessional statement by Ambassador Haqqani lends further credence to Seymour Hersh’s account of the execution of Bin Laden in his book and article titled: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden [2], which has been published in the London Review of Books in May 2015.

According to Hersh, the initial tentative plan of the Obama Administration regarding the disclosure of the execution of Bin Laden to the press was that he had been killed in a drone strike in the Hindu Kush Mountains on the Afghan side of the border. But the operation didn’t go as planned because a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound and the whole town now knew that an operation was underway.

Therefore, the initial plan was abandoned and the Obama Administration had to go public within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story. This fact explains so many contradictions and discrepancies in the official account of the story, the biggest being that the United States Navy Seals conducted a raid deep inside Pakistan’s territory on a garrison town without the permission of Pakistani authorities.

Moreover, according to a May 2015 AFP report [3], Pakistan’s military sources had confirmed that there was a Pakistani defector who had met several times with Jonathan Bank, the CIA’s then-station chief in Islamabad, as a consequence of which, Pakistan’s intelligence had disclosed Bank’s name to local newspapers and he had to leave Pakistan in a hurry in December 2010 because his cover was blown.

Seymour Hersh has posited in his investigative report on the Bin Laden operation in Abbottabad that the Saudi royal family had asked Pakistan as a favor to keep Bin Laden under protective custody, because he was a scion of a powerful Saudi-Yemeni Bin Laden Group and it was simply inconceivable for the Saudis to hand him over to the US.

Additionally, it should be kept in mind that Pakistan’s military and Saudi Arabia have deep and institutionalized links: thousands of Pakistani retired and serving army officers work on deputations in the Gulf States. Furthermore, during the ‘80s, when Saudi Arabia lacked an efficient intelligence set-up, Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) virtually played the role of Saudi Arabia’s foreign intelligence service. And more recently, Pakistan’s former army chief, Raheel Sharif, has been appointed to lead a 40 member, Saudi-led alliance of Muslim countries to battle terrorism, dubbed as “the Muslim NATO.”

But once the Pakistani walk-in colonel, as stated in the aforementioned AFP report, had told then-CIA station chief in Islamabad, Jonathan Bank, that a high-value al Qaeda leader had been hiding in an ISI’s safe house in Abbottabad, right next to the Pakistan Military Academy, and after that, when the CIA obtained further proof in the form of Bin Laden’s DNA through the fake vaccination program carried out by Dr. Shakil Afridi, then it was no longer possible for Pakistan’s security establishment to deny the whereabouts of Bin Laden.

In his book, Seymour Hersh has already postulated various theories that why it was not possible for Pakistan’s military authorities to simply hand Bin Laden over to the US, the way the Musharraf Administration had extradited scores of al-Qaeda operatives caught in Pakistan to the Guantanamo Bay in the early years of the war on terror.

Here, let me only add that in May 2011, Pakistan had a US-friendly Zardari Administration in power. And as Ambassador Haqqani has pointed out in his article that then-army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the former head of military intelligence, Shuja Pasha, had been complicit in harboring Bin Laden, thus it cannot be ruled out that Pakistan’s military authorities might still have had strong objections to the US Navy Seals conducting a raid deep inside Pakistan’s territory on a garrison town.

But Pakistan’s civilian administration under then-president Asif Ali Zardari must have persuaded the military authorities to order the Pakistan Air Force and air defense systems to stand down during the operation. Ambassador Haqqani’s role in this saga ruffled the feathers of Pakistan’s top brass to an extent that Husain Haqqani was later implicated in a criminal case regarding his memo to Admiral Mike Mullen and eventually Ambassador Haqqani had to resign in November 2011, just six months after the Operation Neptune Spear.

Moreover, Greg Miller of the Washington Post posited in his last year’s May 5 report [4] that Mark Kelton, the CIA station chief in Islamabad at the time of Bin Laden’s execution in Abbottabad, was poisoned by Pakistan’s military intelligence. It should be remembered here that Mark Kelton succeeded Jonathan Bank in January 2011, after the latter’s name was made public by Pakistan’s military intelligence due to Bank’s “suspicious activities.”

Seymour Hersh has mentioned in his report that the Pakistani walk-in colonel had met Jonathan Bank and had told the latter that a high value al-Qaeda target had been hiding in a compound in Abbottabad under the protective custody of Pakistan’s military intelligence. But in order to be sure, the US needed further proof, that’s why they arranged the fake vaccination program run by Dr. Shakil Afridi to obtain Bin Laden’s DNA samples.

The original deal between the Obama and Zardari administrations was that the story would be made public a week after the operation, as described by Hersh in his report, that Bin Laden had been killed/captured in the Hindu Kush Mountains on the Afghan side of the border.

The crashed Black Hawk in Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound, however, made that impossible. The whole town now knew that an operation is underway and several social media users based in Abbottabad live-tweeted the whole incident on Twitter.

Therefore, the Obama Administration had to improvise within hours of the operation with a hurriedly cooked up story, and it tried to gain maximum political mileage out of the incident in order to secure a second term for then-president Obama in the elections slated for the next year. This fact explains so many discrepancies and loopholes in the official version of the story.

Finally, although Seymour Hersh has claimed in his account of the story that Pakistan’s military authorities were also on-board months before the operation, let me clarify, however, that according to the inside sources of Pakistan’s military, only Pakistan’s civilian administration under the US-friendly Zardari Administration was on-board, and military authorities, who were instrumental in harboring Bin Laden and his family for five years, were intimated only at the eleventh hour in order to preempt the likelihood of Bin Laden’s escape from the custody of his facilitators in Pakistan’s military intelligence.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Politics, not Religion, is the Source of Sunni-Shia Conflict

Late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Lately, it has become a habit of Orientalist apologists of Western imperialism to offer reductive historical and theological explanations of Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region in order to cover up the blowback of ill-conceived Western military interventions and proxy wars that have reignited the flames of the internecine conflict in the Islamic World.

Some self-anointed “Arabists” posit that the division goes all the way back to the founding of Islam, 1400 years ago, and contend that the conflict emerged during the reign of the fourth caliph, Ali bin Abi Talib, in the seventh century A.D. I wonder what would be the American-led war on terror’s explanation of such “erudite” historians of Islam – that the cause of “the clash of civilizations” can be found in the Crusades when Richard the Lionheart and Saladin were skirmishing in the Levant and exchanging courtesies at the same time?

In modern times, the Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region is essentially a political conflict between the Gulf Arab autocrats and Iran for regional dominance which is being presented to lay Muslims in the veneer of religiosity. Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-dominated Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab World. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.

Moreover, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush Administration took advantage of ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq and used the Kurds and Shi’as against the Sunni-led Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. And during the occupation years, from 2003 to 2011, the once dominant Sunni minority was politically marginalized which further exacerbated the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on the traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Shi’a-dominated Assad regime in Syria in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional Sunni allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian axis.

According to reports, Syria's pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even the Hazara Shi’as from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. And similarly, Sunni jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield for the last six years. A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Islamic World where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for centuries.

More to the point, the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front and the majority of Syrian militant groups are also basically anti-Shi’a sectarian outfits. Though the Islamic State has carried out a few acts of terrorism against the Western countries, such as the high profile Paris and Brussels attacks, but if we look at the pattern of its subversive activities, especially in the Middle East, it generally targets Shi’a Muslims in Syria and Iraq. A few acts of terrorism that it has carried out in the Gulf Arab States were also directed against Shi’a Muslims in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia and Shi’a mosques in Yemen and Kuwait.

Regarding the Syrian opposition, a small fraction of it has been comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority has been comprised of Sunni Arab jihadists and armed tribesmen who have been generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimized by their regional and international patrons.

The Islamic State is nothing more than one of numerous Syrian militant outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. All the Sunni Arab militant groups that are operating in Syria are just as fanatical and brutal as the Islamic State. The only feature that differentiates the Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded.

The reason why the US has turned against the Islamic State is that all other Syrian militant outfits have only local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria, while the Islamic State has established a global network of transnational terrorists that includes hundreds of Western citizens who can later become a national security risk to the Western countries.

Notwithstanding, in order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on their present policy, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside.

In the case of the formation of Islamic State, for instance, the US policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government.

Similarly, the “war on terror” era political commentators also “generously” accept that the Cold War era policy of nurturing al-Qaeda, Taliban and myriads of other Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.

The mainstream media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the formation of the Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the Bush Administration as it has been the legacy of the Obama Administration that funded, armed, trained and internationally legitimized the Sunni militants against the Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama Administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

Apart from Syria and Iraq, two other flashpoints of Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region are Bahrain and Yemen. When peaceful protests began against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain by the Shi’a majority population in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Saudi Arabia sent thousands of its own troops across the border to quell the demonstrations.

Similarly, when the Iran-backed Houthis, which is an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, overran Sana’a in September 2014, Saudi Arabia and UAE mounted another ill-conceived Sunni offensive against the Houthi militia. The nature of the conflict in Yemen is sectarian to an extent that recently, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda’s leader, Qasim al-Raymi, has claimed that al-Qaeda has been fighting hand in hand with the Saudi-led alliance against the Iran-backed rebels for the last couple of years.

The revelation does not comes as a surprise, however, because after all al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, al-Nusra Front, has also been fighting hand in glove with the Syrian opposition against the Assad regime for the last six years of the Syrian civil war.

Now when the fire of inter-sectarian strife is burning on four different fronts in the Middle East and the Sunni and Shi’a communities are witnessing a merciless slaughter of their brethren in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, then what kind of an Orientalist shill would have the time and luxury to look for the cause of the conflict in theology and history? If the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have been so thirsty for each other’s blood since the founding of Islam, then how come they managed to survive as distinct sectarian groups for 1400 years?

Fact of the matter is that in modern times, the phenomena of Islamic radicalism, jihadism and the consequent Sunni-Shi’a conflict are only as old as the Soviet-Afghan jihad during the late seventies and eighties when the Western powers with the help of Saudi money and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies trained and armed Afghan jihadists to battle the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

And the conflict has been further exacerbated in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 when the Western powers and their regional client states once again took advantage of the opportunity and nurtured militants against the Arab nationalist Qaddafi regime in Libya and the anti-Zionist Assad regime in Syria.