Quetta nervous about US hunt for Mullah Omar

Published: May 14, 2011

Mullah Omar is not in Pakistan and we are confident about it: Senior intelligence official. PHOTO: REUTERS/ FILE

QUETTA: After killing the al Qaeda leader in a May 2 raid, the United States has made clear it will go after other militants in Pakistan if it finds them, and at the top of any list would be Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

For years, the US officials have said the one-eyed Omar is based is in the south-western city of Quetta, not far from the Afghan border, where he heads a Taliban leadership council, or shura.

Pakistan rejects assertions that Omar is in Pakistan, or even that the so-called Quetta Shura exists. But such denials ring hollow after the al Qaeda leader was found in the country after years of similar protestations.

People in Quetta are nervous and some are scornful of both sides in the fight against militancy.

“I have no sympathy at all for Mullah Omar or the Taliban but I have none for the Americans either,” said Zulfiqar Tareen, a pharmaceutical company representative taking orders from shopkeepers in one of Quetta’s main markets.

“Yes, the Taliban are terrorists but so is America.”

For the United States, desperate to find some way to end the nearly decade old Afghan war, catching or killing Omar could prove decisive.

“If they really want to stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan they should go after Mullah Omar. He is the key,” said an Arab diplomat in Pakistan. “It would not surprise me if he is the next target.”

Quetta has a population of about 2.5 million, including many Afghans, and sprawls across a flat valley surrounded by rocky mountains.

The city has long been a hub for Afghan refugees and Taliban sympathisers, about 100 km over a mountain pass to the border and Afghanistan’s violence-plagued Kandahar province.

Afghan officials say Quetta is a virtual rear base for the Taliban where fighters can rest and get medical care and where their leaders plot. Heavily bearded and turbaned Pashtun men eye strangers with suspicion in some neighbourhoods.

Security in the capital of gas-rich Balochistan province is heavy with numerous checkpoints on roads while guards with rifles slung over their shoulders pace the pavements outside buildings. But trouble in Quetta comes more from autonomy-seeking separatist rebels than from the Taliban.

City hotel worker Nasir Khan said Pakistan should be left out of the U.S. war against the Afghan Taliban.

“Mullah Omar has nothing to do with Pakistan; he’s just fighting the Americans in Afghanistan, his country… He’s not our enemy so we shouldn’t get involved,” Khan said.

Despite its reputation as a Taliban hub, there’s no obvious militant hold on the city and women make up many of the shoppers in markets where shops sell Indian movies and pop songs.

“Tricky”

Whether or not the shadowy Taliban supremo is in Quetta, security officials are nervous.

“It’s a very tricky situation,” said a senior intelligence official who declined to be identified. “If you ask us if Mullah Omar is in Quetta, the answer is ‘no’, we have no such information and we are confident about it.”

Nevertheless, he said his men had stepped up efforts to track Omar although they had no new leads.

“We’ll definitely get him if we know where he is. It’s very important for us to get him before the United States does. We don’t want another Abbottabad-like situation,” he said.

The discovery and killing of bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad, 50 km north of the capital, Islamabad, was a huge embarrassment for Pakistan.

The government and military are facing US suspicion that authorities knew where bin Laden was hiding as well as criticism at home for what Pakistanis sees as a violation of their sovereignty by the helicopter-borne US raiders.

There have been no confirmed sightings of Omar since the Taliban government he headed was swept from power by US air strikes and attacks by US-led Afghan fighters weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by his ally, Bin Laden.

Afghanistan says he is not there but in Pakistan and many people in Pakistan suspect that is right. There has been talk that Omar, fearing strikes by US drone aircraft in Quetta, had gone to ground in the port city of Karachi.

Reader Comments (6)

  • Fahad Raza
    May 14, 2011 - 3:09PM

    Lets find and capture him for God Sake ourselvesRecommend

  • Ahmad
    May 14, 2011 - 5:37PM

    i dont believe that OBL was in PK firstly. I dont see why no one is anwering or asking that question. Do we trust the US so much? The US admin is a big liar.

    Mullah Omar wud be some where in Afghanistan. The US can kill in there and then plan him in PK?

    US admin is huge on lying.Recommend

  • Lankesh
    May 15, 2011 - 11:44AM

    *First of all Pak must vacate its land from Afgan refugees ……and they must shoot down any terrorist on their land . Pak is obliging Afghanistan by managing out for its people on Pak land …. terrorists are never assets to any country Mullah Omar is Afgani not Pakistani He must be treated as you treat natorious people from other countries Don’t be a safe heaven for terrorists*Recommend

  • Khalid Rashid Lodhi
    May 15, 2011 - 8:31PM

    We should get rid of all foreigners on our soil what to talk Afghans only.Fence our borders and acquire advanced monitiring and surveillance devices.Enhance foot /mobile/aerial patrolling along our border,notwithstanding the fact that it would be very costly affair ,nevertheless towards the end of the day it would not be costlier than facing embarrassment like we faced in Abbottabad.

    Reach out to own people who have been misguided by well orchestrated propaganda of our hostile countries/their intelligence agencies.It is beyond comprehension that why can’t we counter their subversive activities.It needs formulation of think tanks,holding seminars and workshops to crystallize the root cause/reasons of this situation.

    Political parties are requested to refrain from point scoring and washing our linen in the public We should reach out to religious scholars/ulema/eminent citizens and combine national Reconciliation efforts to nullify the terrorist’s propaganda/activities.

    All Pakistanis in general and our younger generation has lot of potential,we just have to polish these Diamonds.” ZARA NAM HO TO YEH MATTI BARRI ZARKEZ HAY SAAQI ” Recommend

  • Matt
    May 16, 2011 - 1:35AM

    @Ahmad

    If OBL was not killed by the US in Abbottabad, then why would Al Qaeda and its friends in the region all have accepted him as martyred? Clearly, if he is not dead, he will release a new video, and the debate will be over. Simple as that, my friend.

    There is plenty of evidence to show that Mullah Omar was/is in Quetta. But he won’t be in Afghanistan.

    The West have seen how the duplicitous Pakistani political and military elite continue to harbour these evil monsters who proclaim themselves as ‘men of God’. Of course ISI will be keeping their friend Mullah Omar safe and sound, until the day it no longer suits them to do so.Recommend

  • Michael
    May 16, 2011 - 1:42AM

    It is a mistake to concentrate on Mullah Omar. Karzai has offered to negotiate with him and I don’t see the Taliban as a “terrorist organization”. At this point it is more like a guerrilla army, and that is a legitimate force. Yes, as an enemy commander we should capture Mullah Omar if we can, but it should not be a priority.

    Our focus needs to stay on al-Qaeda. The ISI should concentrate on finding al-Zawahiri, who is somewhere in the tribal regions. Destroying what is left of al-Qaeda will lead to a much faster exit of American forces from Afghanistan, which I believe is something Pakistani’s would very much support.Recommend

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