Intelligence officials knew about a meeting between al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri and the slain head of the homegrown Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Baitullah Mehsud back in 2008, but then ‘lost’ track of the terror mastermind.
The meeting, which was reported to have taken place during the first half of the same year, might have acted as a precursor for the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) drone attacks against Baitullah, which ultimately killed him in August 2009.
Officials looking after domestic counter-terrorism efforts said that officials of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) had informed CIA about the interaction.
It was not precisely known whether the meeting took place in South Waziristan — which was then completely controlled by the TTP — or somewhere in Afghanistan.
To substantiate the claim, officials said Baitullah was never targeted by US drones till 2008 because Americans did not consider the TTP a ‘serious’ enemy before his interaction with Ayman al Zawahiri.
“It was only after [this meeting] that Americans started taking Pakistani Taliban as a potent threat,” an official remarked.
“We were 100% sure from the start about collusion between al Qaeda and TTP… the Americans came to the same conclusion later,” said a former military official, who once served as secretary security for tribal areas under former president Pervez Musharraf.
Brigadier (retd) Mahmoud Shah said although he got retired two years before the meeting, he got hold of the information that the meeting between the two terrorists took place.
The CIA started a relentless drone campaign against Baitullah from 2008, and ultimately he got killed in the eighth Predator strike.
ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha is reported to have assured top American officials during his trip to Washington last week that Pakistani forces would take action if CIA came up with ‘actionable’ intelligence on the whereabouts of the new al Qaeda leader.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2011.
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