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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Syed Saleem Shahzad: Kiani's Life Spared for now: Al-Qaeda keeps its eyes on Afghanistan

NORTH-WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, Pakistan - An al-Qaeda-linked cell led by veteran Kashmiri guerrilla commander Ilyas Kashmiri had completed all plans for the assassination of Pakistan's chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, in 2008, but when the matter was sent to the top al-Qaeda hierarchy for approval, it immediately ordered the plan to be shelved. Al-Qaeda, the ideologue said, felt at the time that had the assassination attempt been carried out, Pakistan would have been turned into a battle ground between the Pakistani security
forces and militants - and the chief beneficiary would have been India and the United States. Al-Qaeda cells were therefore advised to work on a much broader strategy to defeat the Western forces in Afghanistan. They were told that any al-Qaeda action against Pakistan, India and Iran was not aimed at destabilizing these countries, but to deter them from supporting the US-led "war on terror" in an effort to create a balance in favor of the anti-Western resistance. As it has turned out, the Pakistani military, largely as a result of US pressure, is conducting a massive military operation against militants in the Swat area of NWFP.

Sights on Kiani Kiani's daily visits to a gym in 2008 were tracked by an al-Qaeda cell, which noted a security breach that left him vulnerable to a suicide bomber as he stepped out of his car. A plan was drawn up to take him out, and a team, picked from Brigade 313's Junudul Fida group, was selected. But that is as far as it went after al-Qaeda leaders had had their say. "There is a shariat [Islamic law] under which his murder could have been justified. But then there is a hikmat [strategy] under which his murder could have been a serious blunder," said the ideologue. "The Pakistan army could then have launched an all-out war in the tribal areas, and we could have retaliated with equal strength. In that process, Pakistan would have become a battleground and enemies like India and the US would have received the chance to intervene. Although in our files Pakistan does not exist, we of course don't want enemies of Islam to take advantage of any situation."

(Editor's note: This article follows on from an earlier report that included an interview with a top ideologue who spoke to Asia Times Online on the condition that neither his name nor the location of the meeting be hinted at. See Al-Qaeda seeks a new alliance ATol, May 21, 2009.)


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