General Mahmoud Ahmad was forced from his post as head of the ISI by the US, following the discovery that he’d instructed Saeed Sheikh to transfer $100,000 to Mohammed Atta. America therefore avoided any investigations into ISI funding of 9/11, which may have uncovered their own connections with the affair.
Nafeez Ahmed comments on this in his book, “The War On Truth”:
Indeed, this measure [the removal of General Ahmad] served to obstruct a more in-depth inquiry into the ISI’s role in 9/11. By pressuring the former ISI Director-General to resign without scandal on the pretext of routine reshuffling, the entire issue was effectively closed, allowing the ISI--which was clearly complicit in the 9/11 terrorist attacks--to continue operating freely. The studious non-response to Ahmad and Sheikh on the part of the US authorities should be compared to their response to other terrorist suspects in Germany. “Warrants have been issued for four people” by the FBI, according to the Associated Press, “and one of those has been arrested. Still at large are Said Bahaji, Ramsi Binalshibh and Zakariya Essabar. A fourth suspect, Mounir El Motassadeq, was arrested at his Hamburg apartment Nov. 28 on charges he controlled an account used to bankroll several of the hijackers.”
Yet no warrant for the arrest of either Ahmad or Sheikh for their role in financing the 9/11 terrorist attacks has ever been issued. Even after Sheikh was detained, put on trial, and sentenced to death for the murder of US citizen Daniel Pearl, the US government refused to act in relation to his far more devastating role in financing the murder of 3,000 American citizens. His crucial function as Osama bin Laden’s financial chief is being neglected, as it former ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad’s role in instructing Sheikh.
Why the deafening silence on Ahmad and Sheikh? Pakistan’s role as a strategic asset in the bombing campaign against Afghanistan that began in October 2001 might explain the obstructionism to an extent. But even this is a shallow explanation. An in-depth investigation into ISI complicity in 9/11 could at least have been postponed until after the bombing campaign. But although that campaign is largely over, the US has refused to launch an investigation of wider ISI complicity that might bring into clear light the state-intelligence supporters of the al-Qaeda 9/11 operation--which would of course be an essential component of any meaningful attempt to de-radicalize the Pakistani regime and purge al-Qaeda’s ISI support base. But it seems the US is not interested in pursuing any sort of strategy --diplomatic, intelligence or otherwise--to secure this outcome. Perhaps there is, indeed, something to hide. And it is plausible that this is directly related to the intimate ties that both Sheikh and Ahmad have had with Western intelligence agencies.
Page 146, Chapter 6
The War On Truth
There are several points worth discussing here, but perhaps the core one is why Ahmad lost his job in the first place. Nafeez Ahmed suggests it may be to cover up links with the US; the opposing view could be that he was too close to the Taliban, radical Islamic groups, and al Qaeda (if the wire transfer claims are true), and getting rid of him was part of an attempt to “re-radicalize the Pakistani regime”. And we would argue that it’s the latter interpretation that makes considerably more sense.
The first problem with arguing that Ahmad lost his job to avoid any investigations into him over 9/11 links, for instance, is that this ignores other reasons that may have been more significant.
Musharraf's first step in reining in the ISI was to dump its chief, Ahmed. He and the President were once close friends and fellow plotters in the 1999 coup that brought Musharraf to power. But former comrades say that Ahmed experienced a battlefield epiphany up in the Himalayan peaks during the 1999 Kargil offensive against India. After that, he began to pursue his own radical Islamic agenda. At a Cabinet meeting, he once yelled at an official: "What do you know? You don't even go to prayers."
More worrying than these outbursts was Ahmed's sympathy for the Taliban. When the President sent him down to Kandahar last Sept. 17 to persuade Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to hand over bin Laden, the spymaster instead secretly told Omar to resist, an ex-Taliban official told Time. Word of this double-talk reached Musharraf, who replaced him as ISI boss with General Ehsan ul-Haq, a trusted friend and ex-military intelligence chief who shares Musharraf's more Westernized views. His orders were to weed out "the beards," as the Islamic extremists are nicknamed inside the agency, and make the ISI more obedient to the President. "For us, Sept. 11 was a blessing in disguise," says one senior official. "We were scared that the religious extremists would dominate the country."
Here it’s claimed he had “his own radical Islamic agenda”, disobeyed Musharraf when visiting Afghanistan, and told Mullah Omar to resist. Another article suggests that resistance took a very practical form:
It is an open secret in Washington now that a delegation of senior Pakistani army officers, sent to Afghanistan prior to the US invasion ostensibly to convince the Taliban to step down, actually spent their time instructing the Taliban on how to protect their weapons from the impending US aerial bombing.
It’s hard to see how limiting the damage from American aerial bombing actually benefited the US, but it certainly fits if Ahmed was simply pursuing “his own radical Islamic agenda”.
Another story offers some confirmation that the trip to Afghanistan, and what happened there, played a major part in Ahmed’s eventual downfall:
After 9/11, Musharraf sent a delegation of Pakistani mullahs headed by Mufti Shamzai to Kandahar to persuade Mullah Omar to hand over bin Laden to the US in order to avert a war. The delegation was accompanied by Lieutenant General Mehmood Ahmed, the then ISI chief.
Before going to Kandahar, the mullahs and the ISI chief met Fazlur Rahman at Peshawar. They then met Mullah Omar at Kandahar, returned and reported to Musharraf that the Taliban leader had refused to co-operate. It was said the US discovered from one of its sources in the mullahs' delegation that instead of pressurizing Mullah Omar to hand over bin Laden to the US, the delegation, in Mehmood Ahmed's presence, congratulated him for resisting US pressure and encouraged him to continue to do so.
It was after this that the US pressurized Musharraf to remove Ahmed, known to be close to Fazlur Rahman, from his post. He did so on October 7, 2001, and appointed Lieutenant General Ehsanul Haq, then Corps Commander in Peshawar and a close friend of Qazi Hussain Ahmed, as the new DG.
And an Indian report discusses further reasons given in Pakistan as to why Ahmed may have been fired:
ISLAMABAD, OCT. 10. Was the decision of the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to replace the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt.Gen. Mehmood Ahmed, amid the fast-changing scenario in the wake of the September 11 attacks, a routine change or was it something more serious?
Gen. Musharraf sought to explain the replacement that coincided with the first air raids by the U.S. and U.K. forces on Afghanistan as a matter unrelated to Afghanistan but doubts persisted.
The English daily, The News, in a front-page report today sought to establish that the transfer of the ``super spymaster'' was very much related to the Kabul developments. Among other things, it charged the former ISI chief, with effectively preventing Gen. Musharraf from interacting with the top brass of the Taliban in the last several months.
The paper said that Lt.Gen. Ahmed became a victim of `over- ambition'. He was accused of trying to `outmanoeuvre' his seniors to grab the number two slot in the Army and prevented, Gen. Musharraf from visiting Kandahar to prevail on the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, to close down Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda camps.
On his return home from the U.S. last month, he is said to have `misbehaved' with almost all the key military and civil aides to Gen. Musharraf. Lt.Gen. Ahmed was on an official visit during the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. He stayed on to interact with U.S. officials to discuss the crackdown on the Taliban.
He also refused to accept Gen. Musharraf's offer to become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and tried to influence the President to change his mind through common friends.
Quoting sources, the paper said that Lt.Gen. Ahmed, opposed Gen. Musharraf's Kandahar visit by arguing that the President should travel to Kandahar only after the ISI had prepared the ground for him''. He persuaded the President to approve the visit of Interior Minister, Lt.Gen. (retd.) Moinuddin Haider, to meet Mulla Omar. Lt.Gen. Haider's meeting however did not yield many results.
Lt.Gen. Ahmed was considered close to Gen. Musharraf when he arrested the then Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif. Along with Lt.Gen. Ahmed, Gen. Muzzafar Hussain Usmani, Deputy Chief of the Army, who played a key role in the military coup was also sidelined. Both are reported to have sought premature retirement as a mark of protest.
In a related development the Pakistan Foreign Office has denied reports circulated by an Indian news agency that the former ISI chief was linked with a militant [Saeed Shikh] released by the Indian Government in exchange for the freedom of the passengers on board the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu in December 1999.
It could be argued that these briefings were simply an attempt to cover up the truth, and certainly if you believe Mahmoud Ahmed really was linked to Sheikh then the last paragraph denial won’t convince you.
There is another interesting detail here, though, that goes against the idea of the general losing his ISI job solely to avoid discussion of 9/11 links: “Gen. Muzzafar Hussain Usmani, Deputy Chief of the Army, who played a key role in the military coup was also sidelined”. So why him as well?
Around the table at army headquarters in Rawalpindi sat the leading officers in Pakistan's armed forces, summoned to the most important meeting of their careers.
Hours after the September 11 attacks Washington had ordered Islamabad to halt unconditionally its long-criticised support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Within days General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's straight-talking military dictator, called together his 12 or 13 most senior officers. Although he expects his generals to speak freely at these meetings they rarely oppose the army chief's decisions.
This time the atmosphere was cold. Gen Musharraf laid out his proposal to support America in the imminent war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. There was, he told them, simply no other choice. Officially the public was told the officers supported Gen Musharraf unanimously. But now it has emerged that four of his most senior generals opposed him outright. The Guardian has learned that the four openly challenged the president's pro-US stance. In military terms it was a stunning display of disloyalty.
According to a source close to the military leadership the most angry among the four that night was Lieutenant General Mehmood Ahmed, the religious hardliner who headed the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) - responsible for internal security and covert operations - and was once Gen Musharraf's closest ally.
Three other lieutenant generals joined his protest: Muzaffar Usmani, a corps commander who was instrumental in orchestrating the coup of October 1999 that brought the army back to power; Jamshaid Gulzar Kiani, commander of the powerful Rawalpindi corps; and Mohammad Aziz Khan, the Kashmir-born Lahore corps commander and a former ISI deputy chief.
Within a month the dissenters were silenced. Gen Ahmed and Gen Usmani were sacked. Gen Kiani lost his corps to become Adjutant-General while Gen Khan was promoted to the theoretically powerful, but largely ceremonial, position of chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.
It was exactly what Washington wanted - firm leadership against the militant wing of the army. Four months ago Gen Musharraf went further - he made his second major policy change, vowing to rid his country of Islamic extremists who for years have relied on clandestine financial and military support from the army. Militants listened to the general scoff at their "half-baked religious minds".
It seems both Usmani and Ahmed didn’t want to support war against the Taliban, along with a couple of other generals. And so they were all removed. This is entirely consistant with Musharraf getting rid of people who pursue their “own radical Islamic agenda”, but something of a problem if you believe only Ahmed needed to be removed for an entirely different reason.
You might argue that the Guardian was offering a US-friendly story here, though. In which case perhaps this report from Malaysia would be of more interest:
Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, yesterday consolidated his grip on power by swiftly sacking two of his most senior generals, in an attempt to head off a growing revolt within the army against his pro-American policies.
The president demoted the head of Pakistan's powerful ISI military intelligence agency, Lt General Mehmood Ahmed, and also pushed out his deputy chief of army staff, General Muzaffar Hussain Usmani. Both officers were regarded as hardline Islamists.
Lt Gen Mehmood was previously a close ally of Gen Musharraf's. Last month he headed two delegations to Kandahar, where he tried to persuade the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to hand over Osama bin Laden. Both missions ended in failure. Sources suggest Mehmood disagreed with Gen Musharraf's decision to dump the Taliban as an ally. "He still felt the Taliban needed to be supported," one said.
Two three-star generals were yesterday appointed to crucial positions within the army. Gen Muhammad Yousaf - described by one former officer as a "decent man but no genius" was unveiled as the vice-chief of army staff, in effect Gen Musharraf's deputy. The "pious" Gen Muhammad Aziz Khan was appointed as the head of a key military committee. Both are Musharraf loyalists.
Yesterday's ruthless reshuffle makes it harder for rightwing fundamentalist officers, who form a significant faction within Pakistan's powerful army, to topple Gen Musharraf in a counter-coup. The army has stayed loyal to him so far. But as Muslim casualties in Afghanistan mount, dissent from inside the ranks is likely to grow.
According to this Malaysian report, then, the two demoted generals were “regarded as hardline Islamists”. And the author sees the reshuffle as making it harder “for rightwing fundamentalist officers, who form a significant faction within Pakistan's powerful army, to topple Gen Musharraf in a counter-coup”. Again, very good reasons for removing Ahmed and the others, without resorting to special fears over links to Saeed Sheikh or the funding of 9/11.
An Indian report in The Hindu produced a similar analysis:
Government sources here say that Gen. Musharraf has sought to rid his team of corps commanders of "hardliners" who have reportedly opposed him in the recent past and are known to be sympathisers of radical Islamic groups.
Musharraf went much further then removing just one or two senior generals, though (our emphasis):
Musharraf has also been persuaded to arrest fundamentalist leaders like Fazlur Rehman and take restrictive action against extremist parties and political groups in Pakistan. Musharraf has transferred or removed seven out of 11 senior army commanders, who opposed his support to the US. Of them, General Aziz and the ISI chief, General Mehmood Ahmad, were active in fomenting terrorism in Kashmir.
This appears to have been a major clearout. Why is it a surprise that Mahmoud Ahmad was caught up in it? Why is it more likely that he was removed to avoid investigation into 9/11 links, than simply for his opposition to Musharraf’s support for the US? And why is it that Nafeez Ahmed, in his quote at the top of the page, appears to ignore all of this, instead suggesting that after Mahmoud Ahmad was fired the ISI could “continue operating freely”, implying that it would do so exactly as it did before?
Ahmed also complains that “the US has refused to launch an investigation of wider ISI complicity”. When did this refusal happen? Is Ahmed aware of all the US investigations into this area? We’re not saying “trust that the government have investigated it”, just that we don’t know what the situation is, and to say that they have “refused” to launch an investigation is misleading.
As for the “deafening silence” on Mahmoud Ahmed and Sheikh, the comparison made with suspects in Germany is particularly inappropriate. Issuing warrants for the arrest of ordinary citizens living in Germany poses no problems at all. Issuing a warrant for the arrest of a high-level military official (even a former one), in a country where there’s far more hostility to you, and is of more strategic importance, is plainly going to be very much more difficult. Does anyone seriously believe that Musharraf would allow Mahmoud Ahmed to be extradited to the US? Or even could allow such a thing? There’s a sizeable chunk of the population that wouldn’t stand for that, and many in the army who would feel the same way.
The “silence” on Sheikh isn’t quite as deafening as Nafeez Ahmed would have you believe, either. Accounts from 2002 suggest the US had indicted Sheikh for his 1994 kidnapping, and approached Pakistan to explore the possibility of extradition:
In a closed-door meeting, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan agreed in principle Tuesday to surrender to the United States the chief suspect in the murder of Daniel Pearl, but only after Pakistan concludes its investigation into the crime and is confident that the handover would meet legal requirements, Pakistani officials with knowledge of the deliberations said Tuesday night.
Musharraf made the commitment to Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, who was reiterating a request made by the United States since November for the handover of Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the British-born Muslim militant blamed for the kidnapping and murder of Pearl, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
It was not clear how long it might take to satisfy Musharraf's conditions. But the Pakistani officials said they had little doubt that Sheikh would eventually be turned over to the US authorities for prosecution in the Pearl case and in the 1994 kidnapping of four tourists, one an American, in India.
Sheikh was secretly indicted by an US grand jury in November for his role in that 1994 kidnapping. On at least two occasions before Pearl's kidnapping on Jan. 23, the United States formally asked that Sheikh be arrested, but at that time, the Pakistani government essentially ignored those requests, apparently on the grounds that they did not know whether Sheikh in the country.
The failure to locate and arrest the militant before Pearl's abduction still has the potential to weigh heavily on relations between the two countries, especially given indications that Sheikh, who was freed into Afghanistan in 1999, has benefited since from ties to Pakistan's secretive intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. On Monday, the White House said explicitly that it wanted to see Sheikh put in American hands.
Of course years later he’s still in a Pakistan jail, as the appeal process grinds on. Is this the fault of US inaction? Not according to this report from India:
There was little sympathy here for British national Omar Saeed Sheikh after he was given the death sentence for the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan today.
But the British government was forced into opposing the sentence. British law does not permit capital punishment, and the country is bound by its constitution to oppose the passing of a death sentence anywhere in the world. The Foreign Office, accordingly, sent in a protest over the death sentence.
Britain-born Sheikh, who was convicted Monday of murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl in January, has earned anything but sympathy here. There was little sign of any opposition within the media or in the public to the order against him.
Both Britain and the U.S.A have opposed the death sentence, although for different reasons. The U.S. authorities want Sheikh alive, and in their hands, to interrogate him over links with Al- Qaida. U.S. officials fear that if he is executed, invaluable knowledge about the terrorist network will die with him.
The U.S. fears that Pakistan wants him executed in order to hide his links with the Inter-Services Intelligence. They believe the interrogation of Sheikh could also lead to groups that are planning attacks in the U.S.A Britain and India.
The British government has sought the permission of the Pakistani authorities to interrogate Sheikh. But with such permission denied even to the U.S.A it was never likely that the British police would be given access to him even though Sheikh is a British citizen.
London is reported to have informally asked for the extradition of Sheikh to Britain. But Pakistan has refused. The membership of the Commonwealth gives the British Government a legal basis to ask for the extradition. But given its partial suspension from the Commonwealth, the British Government has found itself without a legal base to seek the extradition.
As for the U.S. demand for his extradition, according to The Times, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf reportedly told a close aide: “I’d rather hang him myself than hand him over.”
A death sentence on Sheikh cuts off possible links to several networks of young Islamist groups in Britain. Many among them have boasted openly that they have been volunteering to join terrorist camps in Pakistan and the West Asia.
If we are to believe this, the US wants to interrogate Sheikh but haven’t been allowed to do so. Meanwhile the lengthy appeal process gives Pakistan an excuse to hold on to him, and even when that’s complete, the “I’d rather hang him myself” comment suggests Sheikh may not be going anywhere. And if that’s how Musharraf responds to the idea of extraditing Sheikh, you can only imagine what he’d say about handing over Mahmoud Ahmad.
To sum up, then, Mahmoud Ahmad was dismissed as part of a major purge of hardline Islamist elements in the ISI and Pakistani army. It could be argued that he would have lost his job for the alleged connection to funding 9/11, too, but that hasn’t been proved. And even if it were, it’s still not evidence that this was done to avoid investigations that might uncover American hands behind the whole affair. It could just as easily be that the US knew this was the only action they’d ever be allowed to take against him; Musharraf would never allow him to be extradited, or even questioned, so having him removed from power was the only significant option available.