The first instalment of the bill for President Clinton's missile
attacks on Afghanistan came through the airport here yesterday wrapped in the sky-blue
flag of the United Nations.
Pall bearers carried the coffin of Lieutenant Calo Carmine with as
much dignity as they could muster through the chaotic sweatbox of Islamabad airport.
The Italian officer had been shot in the Afghan capital Kabul, and
died of his wounds. This was the first reprisal for the US cruise missile attacks on
'terrorist' bases inside Afghanistan. There will be more reprisals, and more homecomings
in body bags as key ally to Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multimillionaire and the
West's Public Enemy Number One, declared yesterday: "The Americans have started a war
that will never end."
What sounded horribly like the opening salvos of a new and pitiless
conflict rang out from the messianic figure of the Grand Emir Gullana Fazal-ul Rehman
Kahalil. A terrorist leader close to bin Laden. His head swathed in a large turban of the
deepest black, the thickly bearded Emir spat hatred at the Americans and their
sex-obsessed President throughout a heaving and unruly press conference held,
incongruously, underneath the chandeliers of Islamabad's Holiday Inn.
But just so no one misunderstood the Emir's Urdu, he had brought 20
like-minded Islamists, and a bodyguard toting a Kalashnikov, the gun butt decorated with a
verse of the Koran.
Speaking through a number of conflicting interpreters, the Emir said
that 21 of his men were killed and 40 wounded in the cruise missile attack which
"completely destroyed" his camp. He insisted that the camp was not a military
facility, but an educational centre. His minder brandished the Kalashnikov at the press to
force home the educational point. "Were the bombs in Kenya and Tanzania and outrage
or a legitimate act?" asked The Observer.
"The Americans did it themselves to take attention away from
Monica Lewinsky," said the Emir.
"What evidence have you that the Americans bomb their own
"It's been in the newspapers all over the world," said the
Emir. He was invited to name one.
"The Americans should first produce their evidence that the
bases in Afghanistan were used for terrorism," he said. "The Americans are
well-practised at killing people from small countries."
Then one of the Emir's sympathisers started screaming that a
Pakistani journalist present at the press conference worked for the CIA.
A second sympathiser bawled out in English: "The war between
America and Islam has started." And the press conference broke up in chaos. Later at
the airport a team of UN officials and aid workers from charities like Medecins Sans
Frontieres arrived from the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. One aid worker said: "The
atmosphere in Kandahar after the cruise missile attack was extremely tense. "We felt
relatively safe because the Taliban security are very much in control of the city, but
nevertheless it was very unpleasant being trapped inside the UN compound, not being able
to move around."
Pakistan yesterday was swept with a series of feverish rumours that
the Americans would launch more strikes. The mood in the northwest frontier of Pakistan,
next to the Afghan border, was described as being extremely tense and the British Foreign
Office has advised all nationals to leave the area.
Thus far the Pakistani Foreign Minister has voiced moderate
criticisms, calling the strikes counter-productive. Reports sourced to Pakistan
intelligence officers says that the six targets hit by American cruise missiles belonged
to three separate groups: one controlled by bin Laden himself, one controlled by the Emir
himself from Pakistan, and a third group also run by Pakistanis but consisting of many
different nationals from throughout the Islamic world.
The almost exclusively Arab camp run by bin Laden was at Khost, some
21 kms from the other two camps.
He lost 21 of his men, thought to be all Kashmiri.
The Pentagon has yet to provide any hard evidence that the Emir's
group, the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, was responsible for the bomb outrages in Africa.
There is evidence linking bin Laden's faction with the attack
through the testimony of Mohammed Saddiq Odeh who is said to be "singing like a
canary" to the Kenyan CID and the FBI in Nairobi.
Some reports suggest that the attacks on bin Laden's stronghold did
not harm very many fighters because most were on the frontline in north Afghanistan
fighting with the Taliban "soldier monks" against the remnants of the former
A few weeks ago Pakistan tested its own nuclear device underground,
its response to an international crisis started by India. The possibility, still remote
but no longer unthinkable, that Pakistan may be so destabilised by the American missile
attacks that its government - and its nuclear capability - fall into the hands of
Islamic fundamentalists who wish to wage total war against America must count as a new
nightmare for the American administration and its loyal friend in Britain Tony Blair.