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Murder? What murder? Mystery of Haqqani killing in Pakistan

15 november 2013, 11:41
0
A phantom body, clueless cops and busy spies: the fallout from the shooting of a senior Haqqani network leader will do little to dampen suspicions of Pakistani complicity with Islamist militants, AFP reports.

Nasiruddin Haqqani, the chief money man for one of the most feared factions fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan, died in a hail of bullets outside a bakery on the edge of Islamabad on Sunday night.

After his death it has emerged that he had been living since 2010 in the suburb, Bhara Kahu, a respected local figure known as "Doctor sahib".

But in the Bhara Kahu police station, just 100 metres (yards) from the scene of the shooting, duty officer Khalid was adamant.

"Murder? What murder? We have no information about a murder," he told AFP.

The incident recalls Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda chief found and killed by US special forces after years living in the northwestern town of Abbottabad, virtually on the doorstep of Pakistan's elite military academy.

But where Washington immediately claimed the bin Laden raid, who killed Haqqani remains a total mystery so far.

The Haqqanis have also long been rumoured to have close ties to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency -- indeed, a senior US officer described the network as a "veritable arm" of the ISI in 2011.

There has been no explanation from the government as to how a man so wanted by the US, Islamabad's ally and principal financial supporter, could live easily for years on the edge of the capital.

Double game?

What happened in the immediate wake of the shooting will do nothing to stem the accusation -- which has recurred again and again over the years -- that Pakistan is playing a "double game" by secretly helping militant groups it deems as favourable to its interests.

According to witnesses, after the shooting at around 8:30 pm on Sunday, Pakistani agents came, collected all the bullet casings from the scene and washed away the blood from the pavement outside the bakery.

By then Haqqani's body was already gone, taken away immediately by his driver to the nearby house where Haqqani had lived since 2010, a discreet one-storey brick building.

News of the death of "Doctor sahib" spread quickly through the area, but the police seemed curiously unhurried, only arriving at the house at 11:00 pm, according to neighbours.

They found nothing, and it was hardly surprising.

At least two hours earlier, Haqqani's body had been taken for burial in North Waziristan, the tribal area on the Afghan border where the Haqqanis and their Al-Qaeda allies have strongholds.

The journey of nearly 400 kilometres (250 miles) was hardly done discreetly -- a source close to the Haqqani family told AFP the body was carried in a convoy of seven vehicles, including four 4x4s.

It was a substantial caravan to pass unchallenged through the countless police and military checkpoints that lie between Islamabad and North Waziristan, one of the most heavily-watched areas of the country.

Haqqani was buried the next day in Dandey Darpakhel, the North Waziristan village where Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a US drone strike on November 1.

The Pakistani Taliban blamed the ISI for Haqqani's death, but others, including Afghan intelligence, have pointed to a potential rift in the jihadist movements.

As the head of financial operations for the Haqqanis, it is also possible he fell foul of ruthless business contacts.

For the Bhara Kahu police, the case is closed.

"Officially only one person was wounded in the attack -- the baker. We never saw a dead body and no one has reported one so technically speaking, this doctor sahib doesn't exist for us," duty officer Khalid told AFP on Wednesday.

With a note of irritation he added: "You know what happened, so why do you ask me?"

He was quickly drawn away by intelligence agents who happened to be visiting the police station that day.

'Excellent reputation'

The once-peaceful suburb has seen some worrying incidents in recent months, including an attempted suicide attack on a Shiite mosque.

Some residents complain of a "Talibanisation" fed by an influx of Pashtuns, including some from the tribal areas, strongholds of the militants.

"Two minutes from here there are places where you don't go out at night, where convoys of cars with blacked-out windows pass by regularly," a shopkeeper told AFP.

VIP militants or influential smugglers? Nobody knows and nobody is really trying to find out.

After the killing, locals were astonished to learn who their neighbour had been.

"Doctor sahib had an excellent reputation, he prayed five times a day, said hello to people," said Nasir Abbasi, an estate agent living on the same street.

Only once in recent years did the area mobilise to kick out an undesirable -- a bachelor who dared to entertain female guests.

"People thought, 'this does not conform to Islam' and called the police and he had to move," said Abbasi.

Abbasi was still shocked by such "immoral" behaviour -- far indeed from the spotless reputation of the peaceful and popular "doctor sahib".

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