By Khaled Ahmed
March 30, 2019
American commentator Michael Kugelman
recently wrote: “The US government appears to be acknowledging that Pakistan,
given its influence over the Taliban, is an important and potentially helpful
player in the peace process in Afghanistan.” A Pakistani will ask: What
influence? Pakistan’s main unacknowledged threat comes from the Taliban and
their patron, al-Qaeda.
Mehr Tarar, in her wonderfully evocative
book Do we not bleed? (Aleph, 2018), has talked to Ali Haider Gilani, son of
ex-prime minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, about his kidnapping in
Lahore in 2013; and, his return home in 2016 after an American rescue. She
collates the following “journey” of the kidnapped Gilani:
May 9, 2013:
Abducted in Multan and taken to Faisalabad the same way Shahbaz Taseer was
abducted in Lahore and taken to Faisalabad.
July 22, 2013:
Taken to Waziristan the same way Taseer was.
Shifted to another place in Waziristan.
Shifted again just before Zarb-e-Azb to an Al Qaeda group of two Afghans, one
Arab and one Kashmiri.
May 9, 2015: Two
years after the kidnapping, Gilani handed over to the Pakistani Taliban, TTP,
accompanied by one Al Qaeda operative who had been with Haider from the start.
2016: Taken to Afghanistan.
May 9-11, 2016:
Rescued in an operation by US Special Forces in the Gayan district of the
Paktika province of Afghanistan. Was flown back to Pakistan from Bagram Air
Haider was picked up easily in Multan in
the midst of his supporters, as he says: “I was driving a black Toyota Land
Cruiser; there were ten vehicles in my motorcade. I had fifty people with me.
In my SUV, there were four of my party members and my secretary; there was one
guard sitting behind me.” After killing two of his guards, the kidnappers
popped the question: “Are you a Shia or a Sunni?” Presumably, that decided the
way the way they were to treat Haider, who was used to regular prayers and had
done his haj too.
Yet he was grabbed and taken to Faisalabad
by half a dozen men speaking in Central Punjabi accent and no one stopped them
to check what they were up to. Haider was shoved into a small room: “In that
room Brigadier [Retd] Tahir Masood [a former ISI media wing official] had been
held captive, and some Italian and German men they had kidnapped. Two were
rescued and two were killed. The Ameer of the kidnappers came from Gujranwala.
He used to be in Lashkar-e-Taiba [of Hafiz Saeed] before joining Al Qaeda. He
behaved nicely with me.”
Haider was kept solitary in a small room,
his hands chained to a concrete slab, and he stayed like that for three years —
and survived. It turns out later as you read Tarar’s account that al-Qaeda
needed funding and had to kidnap well-heeled men for ransom. If Pakistan was a
“host”, they didn’t care much for it. It was a one-way street of devotion to
senseless jihad — both victim and the tormentor equally unshaken in their
common faith. Consider this: Haider talked about the local chief of the Taliban
saying, “Khalid was the head of the Taliban in that area and he was very good
to me. He used to give me 10,000 rupees once a month, or once in two months, an
act to which I responded with, ‘Khalid Bhai, what will I do with the money?’ I
used that money to get chicken, buy other things or do a Sadaqa [charity]. This
was one person who was very nice to me in that place.” He didn’t know then that
Khalid was in touch with the Gilani family in Multan asking for 20 million
dollars for him.
There were other demands too, related to
the “sexual” needs of the foreign guests, linked to the “religious” sanction of
“comforts” for the holy warrior. Wherever they went, Osama bin Laden and his
deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, serially picked up local women and married them,
sired children on them, while the host population cringed in gratitude. This
has to be seen as a benign act, now that we know that the UK boys who ran away
to Syria for jihad under the banner of Islamic State simply wanted to rape the
Yezidi women permitted under the doctrine of holy war. Al Zawahiri married many
tribal women from among the Pakhtun of the tribal areas. He would cross the
Afghan border into Bajaur and meet his sexual needs. Abu Musab al-Zerqawi, the
warrior who killed Shias in Iraq, was sent from Peshawar by him through
Pakistan’s tribal areas — where he married twice “for the night” — before
crossing Afghanistan and Iran to reach Iraq.
Haider tells us that his captors were
pushing for an “exchange of prisoners” to get “Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri’s two
daughters, their nine children and Sheikh Juma al Shukri”. His leader, Osama
bin Laden, had a much bigger appetite for marriages. Later he was detected by the
American living in Abbottabad “with 28 residents” including his three wives,
eight children and five grandchildren.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor,