An Interview with Ahmed Quraishi


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Pakistan this month meeting key political leaders. What did you make of her comment that she finds it difficult to believe that nobody in the Pakistani government knows the whereabouts of top al-Qaeda members?

Ahmed Quraishi: It was very surprising to even the most hardened skeptics here in Pakistan to hear a US secretary of state saying this, because despite all we heard during the eight years of President [George W.] Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, no American official accused Pakistan or ‘rogue elements’ in the country of supporting or protecting al-Qaeda. If ever there were any grievances with Pakistan on this count, they were mostly focused on that Pakistan had done a very good job of cooperating with the Americans on al-Qaeda, but that progress was still lacking on the Afghan Taliban and its leadership. So in the entire eight years since September 11, no US official actually criticized Pakistan by saying Pakistan was somehow trying to protect al-Qaeda.

Second, the facts contradict what the secretary of state said. Everybody knows the vast number of al-Qaeda operatives that have been arrested have been arrested in Pakistan. And the big fish names, although there is close cooperation between the CIA and ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], were arrested thanks to crucial information coming from Pakistani intelligence sources. This is, of course, natural seeing as it is our country, and it’s only to be expected that the ISI and other Pakistani government agencies should be at the forefront of finding these people. And they did.

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And three, another crucial point is that if we’re going to throw blame at each other, then frankly speaking it is Pakistan that needs to complain–and complain loudly–at the failure of US intelligence and the US military back in late November and early December 2001 to corner and arrest Osama bin Laden. If you remember the battle in Tora Bora on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that battle was instrumental at providing an escape route to the al-Qaeda chief and his liuetenanats. And the biggest blame for that actually goes to US intelligence, which relied on unreliable Afghan warlords on the ground who apparently took money, probably from al-Qaeda operatives, and let Osama bin Laden escape.

So if anyone should be complaining it should be the Pakistanis, who now have to deal with this country’s mess, basically because many of these people who should have been eliminated in Afghanistan were able to disperse and mostly head for Pakistan. And this is mostly because of the thin American presence in Afghanistan, the poorly secured military presence in that country and of course the poorly secured border.

One of the reasons Secretary Clinton was visiting was to try and improve the US image in Pakistan. How much of an image problem does the US have there?

Quraishi: In this whole debate about America’s image in Pakistan, and people talk of course about how America supported a military dictator [General Pervez Musharraf] and so forth, the reality is that the real grievances pertain to issues that are not really discussed very openly, especially in the American media, and which are not really known about by American public opinion. I’m talking about things like, for example, the fact that the US military and the Afghan army, which is being trained by the US army, suddenly removed all their posts from the Afghan side of the border when Pakistan began its military operation in South Waziristan.

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