The Morning of 9/11

An insider’s account of how Pakistan got sucked into the “War of Terror”
Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Zafar Bangash

Muharram 02, 1441 2019-09-01

News & Analysis

by Zafar Bangash (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 48, No. 7, Muharram, 1441)

Despite devoting thousands of hours of airtime and acres of newsprint to the official version of 9/11, the list of skeptics is still growing 18 years later. Included in this list are nearly 2,000 architects, structural engineers, demolition experts, airline pilots, and strategic analysts.

The official version is that 19 Arabs who could not fly even a single engine plane straight commandeered four jetliners. Flying them at high speed and performing complicated manuevres that even highly trained air force pilots would find difficult to carry out, they crashed two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, one into the Pentagon building in Washington, DC and a fourth crashed in the fields outside Pennsylvania. Three buildings collapsed including Building No. 7 at the World Trade Centre that had not been hit by any object. Further, the two towers collapsed on their own footprint because, we were told the steel used in the buildings “melted” under intense heat generated by the burning jet fuel.

Three other details are relevant. First, Dan Rather of CBS News reported the same day that a “Flying manual in Arabic” was found in the car of one of the “hijackers” at Logan Airport in Boston from where the planes had taken off in the early morning of September 11, 2001. Second, that while heat from the burning fuel was so intense that it “melted” steel, somehow the passport of the alleged ringleader, Muhammad ‘Ata, survived this inferno intact. Why was he carrying a passport if he was supposedly on a suicide mission? Third, the BBC correspondent in New York reported on air that Building No. 7 had collapsed a half hour before the actual collapse!

There are other anomalies in the official version but we will not detain ourselves with such details here. There was one person who was virtually in the thick of events when the 9/11 attacks occurred: General Mahmud Ahmed, at the time serving as Director of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He was in Washington, DC on the morning of 9/11 meeting congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

In December 2018, this writer met General Mahmud at his residence in Lahore (for the record, General Mahmud and this writer studied at the same institution in Pakistan: Lawrence College, Ghora Gali, Murree. He was two years senior to me). Since his retirement from the army, he has become much more religious, grown a long beard, and prays regularly. When in service, he had the reputation as a tough, “no nonsense” general. My friend and celebrated author and journalist Eric Margolis described him as absolutely “ferocious”!

When asked about his recollection of what happened during his congressional meeting on the morning of 9/11, this is what General Mahmud related (his words have been paraphrased). He had arrived in the US on September 1 and was due to leave on September 10. While he met a number of generals at the Pentagon and CIA officials who had invited him, a few senior figures from the US government or Congress afforded him time. The purpose of his visit was to see if he could get some of the sanctions the US had imposed on Pakistan eased. He had little luck.

On September 10, as he was preparing to leave his hotel for the return flight home, he received a call that Republican Senator Porter Goss and Democratic Senator Bob Graham would like to meet him the following morning for breakfast at Capitol Hill. He immediately accepted the offer, postponing his return flight, hoping to communicate Pakistan’s point of view to the two influential American figures.

At the breakfast meeting, there were six persons from each side. In addition to the two senators, there were four staffers. On the Pakistani side, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi and the Political Officer at the Pakistan embassy in DC accompanied General Mahmud plus three aides. As they held discussions over breakfast, an aide entered the room and handed the senators a piece of paper and then quickly left. Half hour or so later, another aide came in and handed Goss another piece of paper. He showed it to Graham and then the two senators got up and said, “General, we will have to end this meeting. Something urgent has come up.” They appeared greatly agitated and nervous, according to General Mahmood.

He also said, until then he had no idea what was going on. There was no TV in the room. They learned about the twin tower attacks on their way out when they saw the television screens that people were glued to. They saw the twin towers burning with thick smoke billowing out. All flights in and out of the US were immediately grounded resulting in General Mahmud being stuck in DC for several days.

General Mahmud Ahmed shakes hands with then President Pervez Musharraf, left, in 2001, whom he “engineered” into office but later fell out with due to the latter’s desire to secure American political favors under the rubric of “saving” Pakistan from America’s war against the Taliban.

During his 10-day visit from September 1–10, few American officials had time for him. Following the 9/11 attacks, everybody wanted to see him from the White House staff to the State Department and the Pentagon. On September 12, General Mahmud and Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi had a meeting with members of the National Security Council. There were other meetings with CIA, Pentagon, and State Department officials.

When I asked him about his meeting with the burly Richard Armitage, the former Navy Seal who was then serving as Assistant Secretary of State at the State Department, General Mahmud said he desperately needed Pakistan’s help. I specifically asked him about media reports about Armitage’s threats against Pakistan (in his interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” program on September 17, 2006, General Pervez Musharraf had said Armitage had threatened to bomb Pakistan “back into the Stone Age”).

General Mahmud rejected such assertions. “Despite his massive bulk and his head cocked up because of his oversized neck, Richard Armitage spoke softly and politely. Reports of his threats against Pakistan are completely untrue.”

Scott Conroy’s report on the CBS website (September 23, 2006) corroborates General Mahmud’s position. “On Friday [September 22, 2006], US President George W. Bush said that he was taken aback when he heard the claim [about Armitage’s threats to Pakistan], while Mr. Armitage denied he had ever threatened the use of military action against Pakistan if it refused to join the US-led war on terror after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” Conroy wrote.

According to General Mahmud, American officials were both nervous and confused. They needed help and they turned to Pakistan. The September 12, 2001 phone call from US Secretary of State Colin Powell to Musharraf is well known. As absolute dictator, Musharraf accepted each and every one of the US demands without consulting anyone or asking anything in return. The rest, as they say, is history.

By surrendering to US demands, Musharraf, hitherto shunned by the West, immediately became the most sought after Third-World ruler. Not only American but European leaders also made a beeline to Pakistan seeking its help in what was going to be a devastating war on the Taliban in Afghanistan. Musharraf thought he had hit a jackpot!

Soon after the Americans launched their war on Afghanistan (October 7, 2001), General Mahmud was relieved of his responsibilities as Director ISI. He resigned from the army and went into retirement. The two generals — Musharraf and Mahmud — were quite close and had worked together for decades. Now they had a falling out over the manner in which Musharraf threw in his lot with the Americans against the Taliban.

It needs recalling that General Mahmud was one of the main organizers of the coup that overthrew Nawaz Sharif and brought Musharraf to power in October 1999. The other was General Muhammad Aziz Khan, then Chief of General Staff but it was General Mahmud who played the key role. As Commander 10 Corps to which the 111 Brigade belongs, it was General Mahmud who ordered the 111 Brigade to arrest Nawaz Sharif and take over Pakistan Television Station (the 111 Brigade is tasked with carrying out coups!).

In his long and distinguished military career, General Mahmud, an artillery officer, had also served as Director Military Intelligence. He was unhappy with the manner in which Musharraf had abandoned the Taliban. The Americans clearly wanted him out of the way. Musharraf could not resist US pressure and caved in. It also served Musharraf’s purpose in other ways. He did not want powerful generals especially those to whom he was indebted, around him that could challenge his authority (in its inner workings the Pakistani military is quite democratic; generals and even junior officers speak their mind freely). Removal of General Mahmud earned Musharraf brownie points with the Americans.

The US conduct toward Pakistan once the Taliban were ousted from power vindicated General Mahmud’s position. The Americans are again asking Pakistan to help “extricate” their forces from Afghanistan, as Donald Trump stated during his White House meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on July 22. There are few people in Pakistan who harbor any illusions about US duplicity. Once the US is able to safely withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan would again be ditched. It cannot be ruled out that the US may even reimpose sanctions on Pakistan.

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