US foreign policy has been reduced to a three-point agenda in the post-cold war era: unquestioning support of Israel, daily bombings of Iraq, and chasing Osama bin Laden. That the ‘sole superpower’ in the world should be reduced to this sorry state is strange indeed. Stranger still is the behaviour of Pakistani officials, at least in the matter of the Arab mujahid, Osama bin Laden, who has spent the better part of the last two decades in Afghanistan.
Lately, there has been a flurry of activity by American, British and Australian ‘diplomats’ visiting districts in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan, apparently without the knowledge or permission of the Pakistan foreign office or the interior ministry. Presumably with their minds preoccupied by the weighty matter of the Najam Sethi affair and what he may allegedly have said in Delhi on April 30, these officials hardly have the time to chase foreign diplomats criss-crossing the country in fast-moving Pajeros or on motorbikes.
The latest sighting of these diplomats was reported on May 13 when the Australian high commissioner Geoffrey Allen and his wife visited Dera Ismail Khan and then drove to Tank (pronounced Taank). This part of the NWFP gets so hot in summer that even the local buffalos spend most of their time in muddy ponds to keep cool. Why diplomats from western countries would wish to visit such inhospitable environs is baffling unless they had some pressing business to attend to, such as searching for three missing US commandos or the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
The Australian envoy met the commissioner of D I Khan, Mazhar Ali Shah, and political agent Arbab Mohammed Hanif of South Waziristan Agency which borders Afghanistan. They spent the night in D I Khan and held further meetings with the political agent who had also arrived in the city from Tank. A number of other foreigners, men and women, and travelling on Irish, British and Swiss passports, were also sighted in the area and they all visited Zhob in Baluchistan as well, according to media reports in Pakistan. From Zhob it is a short distance to Ghazni across the border in Afghanistan.
But travelling to Zhob requires passing through South Waziristan agency which is tribal territory and hence designated restricted area. Even Pakistani citizens cannot visit the area without prior permission of the political agent and with an armed escort. Kidnappings and killings are rampant. Foreigners, especially American, British, Australian, Swiss and Irish, apparently seem to have no problems travelling there, given their recent flurry of visits.
A week earlier, two US diplomats ï Brad Hanson, principal officer at the US consulate in Peshawar, and his aide, Ms Valescoe, almost certainly a CIA operative ï also visited D I Khan and drove straight to Tank to meet the political agent for three hours. After the meeting, they returned to D I Khan to hold talks with the commissioner. They spent the night in the dusty city, which is also home to Maulana Fazlur Rahman, chief of the Jami’atul Ulama-e Islam, a close ally of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Commissioner Mazhar Ali Shah said the American diplomat was on a farewell visit because ‘Mr Hanson is due to leave his present assignment in July.’ He and the political agent must be the American’s close friends to make the diplomat feel obliged to travel to that forsaken part of Pakistan at this time of the year. And what was the purpose of Ms Valescoe accompanying Hanson, when it is well-known that Pathans take a dim view of women in public, especially dressed in skirts? Or are we to assume that she was wearing the traditional tent-like burqa of Afghan women, an outfit suited for the mission at hand?
If the US diplomat was on a farewell visit, what were the Australians, the Irish, British and Swiss doing there? Were they also saying farewell to ‘friends’? Officials in the Pakistan foreign office said they knew nothing about the to-ing and fro-ing of foreign diplomats. An interior ministry spokesman simply said that diplomats did not need permission to go there, an assertion so absurd that it was immediately contradicted by the protocol officer at the foreign office. The truth is that three US commandos were sent on a secret mission to Zhob, from where they slipped into Afghanistan in search of Osama in Ladin. It is almost certain that the three have been captured. The body of one of them was found at the end of April and handed over to the Americans. Two others are still missing and are presumed to be in the hands of the Taliban or forces loyal to Shaikh Osama.
It is believed that the sudden flurry of ‘diplomatic’ activity is designed to negotiate the release of the remaining two American commandos before they meet the same fate as their comrade. On May 13, senator Syed Muhammad Jawad Hadi raised the question of the presence of American commandos on the senate floor but got no answer; nor is he likely to. He was told that the issue would be brought to the attention of interior minister Shujaat Husain, who was ‘not present’ in the senate at the time.
The commando story got further credence when Ali Mohamed, a former sergeant in the US army, was indicted in New York on May 19 in connection with Osama bin Laden. The indictment accused him of being an accomplice of Osama. Mohamed is a former major in the Egyptian army and had worked for the CIA in the eighties. This raised some eyebrows, as five years ago it was Emad Salem, another former Egyptian military officer, who did the FBI’s dirty work in entrapping Shaikh Omar Abdel Rahman, currently serving a 57-year jail sentence in the US.
Muslimedia: June 1-15, 1999