in search of al qaeda
homethe journeyinside the tribal areasground zero: pakistandiscussion
Moinuddin Haider

As interior minister, he coordinates the war on terrorism inside Pakistan. He tells FRONTLINE that although there have been arrests of low level Al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan's tribal areas, there is no evidence that Al Qaeda leadership is hiding in there. He also recounts the March raid in Faisalabad that led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah and the Sept. 11, 2002 raid that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh. This interview was conducted on Sept. 19, 2002.


Moinuddin Haider photo
Moinuddin Haider photo

You were the point man in Pakistan's war on terrorism. To begin, what are the resources that you have at your disposal under your command?

All the police forces of Pakistan through provinces ... they're available to me. If there is need, I can call in the army.

How many men do you think are really deployed in the war on routing out Al Qaeda and related terrorists?

I will not be able to say precisely the number of persons. But to fight this war against terrorism, we have been on high alert for almost over a year now. Because initially after the bombing, there were demonstrations, and some, I believe, when we took toll of property of life. Our police had to be out.

Everywhere we had got in bus stops and radio stations and airports and all the places. So we are strained for last one year; and more so, because India brought its armed forces to the border. There were army, and there were civil armed forces had to go to our borders, thereby not leaving my second and third line of defense available to me.

There was a lot of talk at that time that you had to pull forces out of the border areas, and that hurt you, and helped Al Qaeda.

Yes. Now if there's something erupts inside the country, away from our borders, obviously we have to take out and thin out some of our western border with Afghanistan. That facilitates the job of people who are wanting to run away out of Afghanistan in all directions, including Pakistan.

So that opened it up for Al Qaeda to come across from Afghanistan into the tribal areas?

This is what we were trying to explain to the United States government -- that you must speak to India, that it must not escalate situation on the borders. That will force us to pull our troops from the western borders and take them to the eastern border, and that [will] also facilitate the terrorist and the Al Qaeda people.

Do you believe the tribal areas, especially North and South Waziristan, are still havens for Al Qaeda terrorists?

I don't think so. I don't think so.

We have a good working [agreement] with the tribal elders and with the tribal people that they will not provide sanctuary, or they will not assist anybody trying to escape out of Afghanistan

But you have a lot of people deployed there?

Yes. For the first time since independence in last 54 years, the army has entered this area, and our scouts are very effective. They know the working conditions, the traditions of that area, and they have a good network of collecting information. We have a good working [agreement] with the tribal elders and with the tribal people that they will not provide sanctuary, or they will not assist anybody trying to escape out of Afghanistan, because that what brings trouble on them. This regimen has been working quite smoothly so far.

You have had an opportunity, really, to extend control over areas that were previously out of your reach?

Yes. I would say that we are trying our best to bring those people at par with the rest of Pakistan in extending our laws and in carrying out development, making road infrastructure, making new schools, health facilities. So your point of view is also correct. It will also raise the standard of living of those people in that area.

You recently had a confrontation in the village of Janikhel.

Yes.

The tribal elders said there were no Al Qaeda there. What do you say?

This has happened twice, thrice. The arrangement is that we are supposed to tell the tribal elders that we suspect that some wanted people are heading here. They go and carry out under their traditional jirga negotiations with those people. Then they take the ladies away and they allow you to search.

Sometimes, if they're sure that nobody's there, they will say there's no point to search. But this is very rare. This is very rare. But subsequently, these people I think can't run away, because we keep them under surveillance and we catch onto them. It's only a matter of time.

Were there Al Qaeda fighters there in Janikhel?

No, there's not every time Al Qaeda. There's not every time Al Qaeda. There are many people who belong to their tribe or who are from that, and they will not be so wanted people. But all the same, when we come to know that there's somebody who's wanted by anybody, we like to apprehend him, arrest him. [We] interrogate him thoroughly to establish his identity, because actually these people have several names. You're not quite sure whether they're high on the wanted list or they're one of the ordinary operators.

But the question I'm getting at is, you've deployed a lot of forces in that area?

Yes.

And there have been no real arrests of any Al Qaeda leadership?

There have been many arrests.

There've been arrests of low-level fighters -- some Uzbeks maybe, and Chechens, perhaps.

Yes.

But not Arab core members -- Yemenis, Saudi members of Al Qaeda --have there?

Because they may not be in the tribal area.

They're not in the tribal area?

They're not in the tribal areas.

But there's this common notion that that's where bin Laden has been hiding out.

No, no. I don't think so. They can't find sanctuary there. They can't hide. It is not easy, because the information network will get to know.

So where are they?

Well, they may be in Afghanistan and south from a far-flung area. But those who do cross our borders through Afghanistan, through tribal area and deeper into our cities, it is only matter of time that we catch onto them. They cannot hide. They cannot fight [surreptitiously]. They may have a close group of sympathizers, but the public at large doesn't sympathize with them. So that is why the general public, people are pouring a lot of good information on toll-free numbers.

What triggered the raid on Faisalabad in March?

I think there was a lead by FBI, because some of these people were using communications, which we don't have the equipment to monitor, but FBI did. They told us, and we went for them. ...

[The FBI] cannot go anywhere in Pakistan alone. There will be no success. There will be zero success, let me assure you. FBI on its own can do nothing in Pakistan. This we should be very clear. ... They told our premier intelligence agency, ISI. ISI took the help of police and others, and they went in for action which was very successful. ...

It was reported that the people that you picked up in that raid, on the Monday, the Bahadurabad raid that preceded the Sept. 11 raid -- that those people were involved in assisting Al Qaeda fighters to leave the country, to go back to the Middle East, to go back to Saudi Arabia.

This can't be ruled out.

Is it true? That's been reported that that's--

It could be true. We should understand that--

But you know.

No, no. I think you can also guess that if there's bombing and these people are chasing in Afghanistan. So they will go to Iran. They'll come to Pakistan. They'll go to Central Asia. When they know that they can't find a [sanctuary] here, they like to get back to safer bases, back to their homes with fake passports.

People smuggling is taking place in this area. There are 2 million aliens living in Karachi. ... There are so many rackets which are going on ... people going on boats in towards Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Muscat. We have deployed additional security forces people there. ...

What was found in the house in Karachi on Sept. 11?

Two laptops, lots of diskettes. Money, weapon, grenades. Things like that.

There were some messages written on the walls?

... [The] message in blood was the basic [saying] that "Allah is great, Muhammad, history upon him, is his true prophet." The man who got injured, he wrote this. He also tried to tie his hand because he was bleeding. He was hit here. So sort of a tourniquet, you know? He tied with a string, so that there's no loss of blood. But then he was subsequently dead.

He wrote, "God is great," in blood on the wall?

Yes. He said, "God is great, and prophet Muhammad is his true prophet."

Was that bin al-Shibh?

No, no-no, no. Not bin al-Shibh. ...

I spoke with General Taj [the commander of Pakistan's Frontier Corps]. He explained to me that, at the time of the Tora Bora bombing and attacks, the Afghani forces never pushed forward far enough to really put a pinch. They never came forward to meet the Pakistani forces, and that allowed the Al Qaeda fighters to escape on either side. I said to him, "Well, weren't you in touch with the American commanders and the Afghani commanders?" And he said, "No. There was no coordination." He had no communication.

At that time, he may not have, and subsequently, I think they had communication. Subsequently, General Taj told me that that's satisfactory.

But at that point, that was the--

At that day, when the Afghan forces were not very well organized, they were not trained and they were not proper forces. They were just tribal people who were wanting to cooperate with the U.S. forces. More loyal to the northern lands. They were not really well organized, those people.

So that was an opportunity lost, because many of the people that you're not chasing in Karachi were presumably coming out in that first wave?

But nothing could be done, because American forces would not know their hiding places or their customs and the information. You have to rely on the local forces, [and] local forces are not there. Northern Alliance was not very well trained and organized to do that. It was only a small operation to go into very difficult mountain areas and chase these people. It's not easy. We don't know whether they're hiding there or they have gone elsewhere.

Do you remember that time when they could've pushed forward and they--

I did, I did but even those times we caught quite a few people.

About 192, according to General Taj.

Yes, and others. We caught quite a few people.

But hundreds got away at that point.

We don't exactly know how many Al Qaeda people there are.

Right. Right.

Nobody knows. They are the same people who came to fight the Soviet Union, then they were just loitering about. Some of them were active and some of them are not active. Some of them were persona non grata for their countries. They were staying on there [in] all areas who are not connected to Al Qaeda. There were many who were just bringing up their families and lying there because they are war veterans, and their countries don't want them back in their homes.

So you have information that many of the Al Qaeda fighters who have gone to Karachi are actually making arrangements to go back to Yemen and Saudi Arabia?

They're certainly wanting to lie low. There's new evidence that they have targeted Pakistan themselves. But some of their accomplices and others who were in the training camps and fighting the Northern Alliance sometimes have not agreed with government policies, and have tried to target the state within [Pakistan].

So I think their main effort is to save their lives and possibly find a safe refuge. This is their ambition, it seems to me, at the moment. At this precise moment, they're not planning any operation now [that] they're effective. This is my assessment.

Do you have an idea of where they're regrouping, of where they're going after Karachi?

No, I have no idea. No idea. ...

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