Asia Times Online :: South Asia news, business and economy from India and Pakistan:
"Hot on the trail of al-Qaeda
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The high-profile arrests of al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, the most recent being Abu Faraj al-Libbi, have led to intense speculation that the really big names could be next: Tahir Yuldash of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the biggest catch of them all, Osama bin Laden.
But Asia Times Online investigations reveal that these top figures in the international struggle against the US are not together in one place, and remain a step ahead of their pursuers.
Pakistani intelligence agencies indicate that Shabkadar (a town near Peshawar in Pakistan's North West Frontier province), and Bajur and Mohmand agencies (two federally administered tribal areas) have been under close surveillance for more than a month as strong information emerged about bin Laden being in the vicinity, or in adjoining areas - Nanghar and Nooristan - across the border in Afghanistan. "
Meanwhile, there have been reports that Yuldash was sighted in the Afghan region of Birmal, where he is believed to have grouped dozens of guerrilla fighters of Chinese, Pakistani, Afghan, Uzbek, Chechen and Arab origin. They have been engaged in acts of sabotage in Paktika province, notably a recent attack on Argon in which two US soldiers were killed. US convoys and their military bases are constant targets.
Some of the world's most difficult terrain starts at Argon and continues to Birmal and then Shawal (part of which is in Afghanistan and part in Pakistan). It is wholly pro-Taliban. Guerrillas carry out attacks and then melt into the local population, either in Birmal or in the thick forests of North Waziristan across the border. Recent US bombing in North Waziristan followed guerrillas being chased by US gunships and fighter aircraft - some stray bombs and missiles landed in Pakistani territory.
Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, has also reportedly been seen in different places in the past few weeks, from Zabul (Afghanistan) to South Waziristan. Both foreign and Pakistani intelligence agencies conclude that the frequent sightings indicate that Zawahiri is acting as the main go-between among Arab, Uzbek, Chechen, Pakistani and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
These intelligence agencies believe that Khost, Paktika, Paktia and Zabul will emerge as the key hotbeds of the Afghan resistance. About a dozen murders in and around South Waziristan of pro-government tribal leaders indicate that the nerve center is again near South Waziristan.