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
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
"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 embassies?"
"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
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
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
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.