The Pakistani government has directly implicated the commander of newly created Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema claimed the government intercepted a phone conversation between Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and Maulvi Sahib, one of Baitullah’s underlings.
The Telegraph has the transcript of the alleged recording. Baitullah congratulates Sahib, who explains the attack was carried out by three of their own operatives.
Maulvi Sahib: Congratulations, I just got back during the night.
Baitullah Mehsud: Congratulations to you, were they our men?
Maulvi Sahib: Yes they were ours.
Baitullah Mehsud: Who were they?
Maulvi Sahib: There was Saeed, there was Bilal from Badar and Ikramullah.
Baitullah Mehsud: The three of them did it?
Maulvi Sahib: Ikramullah and Bilal did it.
Baitullah Mehsud: Then congratulations.
Yesterday, Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, boasted to a Pakistani journalist that al Qaeda was behind the attack. “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,” Yazid said in a phone call to Syed Saleem Shahzad.
The Pakistan government’s claim that Baitullah Mehsud is behind the attack and al Qaeda’s claim of credit for the strike are not mutually exclusive. The Bhutto assassination also was very likely carried out with support from inside the police, military, and intelligence agencies.
Some members of the US civilian and military intelligence communities have stopped making distinctions between the two groups long ago. These analysts refer to the various jihadi groups as Al Qaeda and Allied Movements, or AQAM. These various groups include the “Pakistani Taliban,” the “Neo-Taliban,” Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), al Qaeda central, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Jaish-e-Mohammned, Lashkar-e-Taiba (which is now Jamaat-ud-Dawa), Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, and a host of domestic Pakistani terror groups. The distinctions between the groups in Pakistan have become meaningless as they share the same ideology, goals, training camps, tactics and recruiting bases. Their command structures often intermesh. Members of the Taliban sit on al Qaeda’s various shuras, or councils.
Al Qaeda and Allied Movements is analogous to what the Indians call the International Islamic Front – the umbrella group of jihadi movements banded together by Osama bin Laden in the 1998 fatwa declaring war on the West. The International Islamic Front includes groups such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh, and Harakat ul-Mujahidin. Several other groups remained unnamed to provide cover for their activities.
One interesting note about the phone intercept between Baitullah and Sahib is the physical intelligence on the whereabouts of Baitullah which the Pakistani military failed to act on. Sahib later asked Baitullah where he is so they can meet. Baitullah responded, “I am at Makeen (town in South Waziristan tribal region), come over, I am at Anwar Shah’s house.” Pakistani intelligence had direct knowledge of Baitullah’s whereabouts, but failed to mount a raid to capture or kill him.
The Pakistani military either lacks the will or the capacity to mount such a raid in South Waziristan. The government negotiated a treaty with Baitullah in March 2006 that essentially ceded the territory to the Taliban. The Taliban then set up a government, began collecting taxes, recruited fighters for jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and launched a campaign of murder and intimidation against their enemies. The Taliban and al Qaeda operate at least 29 terror camps in South and neighboring North Waziristan alone.
Baitullah’s Taliban beat back a limited military offensive late last summer and kidnapped over 300 Pakistani soldiers during clashes. He has also been implicated in a series of bombings throughout Pakistan in 2007.
Baitullah threatened to kill Bhutto upon her return in October, and he is believed to be behind the first attempt that killed over 130 and wounded 500. “My men will welcome Bhutto on her return,” Baitullah told a former senator. “We don’t accept President General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto because they only protect the US interest and see things through its glasses. They’re only acceptable if they wear the Pakistani glasses.”