THE ROVING EYE Al-Qaeda's got a brand new bag
By Pepe Escobar
WASHINGTON - Al-Qaeda is back - with a vengeance of sorts. Listen to Mustafa
Abu al-Yazeed - a senior al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, in a very rare
interview with Pakistan's Geo TV, shot in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan.
"At this stage this is our understanding - that there is no difference between
the American people and the American government itself. If we see this through
sharia [Islamic] law, American people and the government itself are infidels
and are fighting against Islam. We have to rely on suicide attacks which are
absolutely correct according to Islamic law. We have adopted this way of war
because there is a huge difference between our
material resources and our enemy's, and this is the only option to attack our
The interview is not only about defensive jihad. Yazeed delves into classic
al-Qaeda strategy - inciting a cross-border Taliban jihad against the US and
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces and blasting a state, in this
case the government of Pakistan. According to him, "Sadly, it is the government
of Pakistan which has most damaged our cause. President [Pervez] Musharraf
violated the trust of Muslims and contributed to the destruction of the Islamic
government of Afghanistan ... Musharraf and his government have made big
mistakes, there is no such example in other Islamic states."
Yazeed also said al-Qaeda was responsible for the suicide car bombing on the
Danish Embassy in Islamabad in early June, when six people were killed.
So why is al-Qaeda feeling so emboldened to have one of its top commanders on
camera - and on a foreign TV network to boot, not as-Sahab, al-Qaeda's media
I want my emirate
Jihadis now assess that the new Afghan jihad - against the "infidel" US and
NATO troops combined - is more important at the moment than Iraq. So in this
sense, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama has got it right
- Afghanistan, and not Iraq, is "the central front in the war on terror".
But it's much more complicated than that. The central front is actually in
Pakistan. Al-Qaeda basically wants a pan-Islamic caliphate. The neo-Taliban,
based in Pakistan, are not that ambitious. They already have their Islamic
Emirate - it is in the Waziristan tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.
What they want most of all is to expand it. They also know they would never
stand a chance of taking over the whole of Pakistan. A Pakistani expert on the
tribal areas, currently in Washington, describes it as "a class struggle -
almost like an evolving peasant revolution. Baitullah Mehsud [the neo-Pakistani
Taliban leader] is but a peasant from a poor family."
What is startling is that the neo-Taliban are now practically in control of
North-West Frontier Province on the border with Afghanistan - whose capital is
fabled Peshawar. They already control several Peshawar suburbs.
The Pakistani state has virtually no power in these areas. The Taliban enforce
strict sharia law. If local security people refuse to obey, they are simply
killed. No wonder the neo-Taliban now have subdued scores of middle- and
low-ranking Pakistani officials. They even issued a deadline to the new secular
and relatively progressive regional government to release all Taliban prisoners
- or else. As for the government, the only thing it can do is to organize some
sort of neighborhood watch to prevent total Taliban supremacy. This state of
affairs also reveals how the Pakistani army seems to be powerless - or
unwilling - to fight the Taliban.
Across the border, in Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan, the Taliban
now control almost all security checkpoints. No wonder Yazeed - speaking for
al-Qaeda, envisions a war without borders. He said, in his Geo TV interview,
"Yes, we cannot separate the tribal area people from Afghanistan which are part
of Pakistan and the Pakistani people. Yes, we are getting support from tribal
people in Pakistan, and in fact it is obligatory for them to render this help
and it is a responsibility that is imposed by religion. It is not only
obligatory for residents of the tribal regions but all of Pakistan."
In a recent high-profile al-Qaeda meeting in Miramshah in North Waziristan, the
al-Qaeda leadership made it clear it not only expects - it wants the new Afghan
war/jihad to spill over to the tribal areas in Pakistan.
And this is what al-Qaeda will get - according to what Obama told CBS News'
Lara Logan, "... what I've said is that if we had actionable intelligence
against high-value al-Qaeda targets and the Pakistani government was unwilling
to go after those targets, then we should."
The Pentagon for its part is preparing the battlefield - it has already sent
Predator drones, repeatedly, over the tribal areas. An air war is in the works
- not to mention scores of Pentagon covert special ops.
Al-Qaeda's strategy is to suck in the US military - this is classic Osama bin
Laden ideology, according to which the US should be dragged to fight in Muslim
lands. Al-Qaeda is reasoning that an attack on the tribal areas, in fact a real
third front in the "war on terror" (so dreaded by chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen) will have Pakistani public opinion so
outraged that the Pakistani army would be powerless to follow the US track. And
al-Qaeda, in the end, would be left with an even freer hand.
Obama and Osama
How does that fabled phantom, bin Laden, fit into this strategy? Is he alive or
just ... a phantom? Hassan Ibrahim from al-Jazeera television recently told
independent journalist Kristina Borjesson "bin Laden is alive. The kidney
failure and dialysis machine stories are nonsense, CIA rumors. In 2002 one of
his wives was interviewed for a Saudi magazine and she categorically denied the
dialysis story. After Tora Bora [in Afghanistan when the US invaded in 2001],
his fourth wife asked for a divorce. He took on a new wife in April 2005, with
whom he now has a son. Her father is a powerful Saudi businessman from Hejaz
who announced in his mosque that his daughter had married bin Laden."
There's also chatter in the jihadi underground related to an ongoing
theological debate with direct participation by bin Laden.
Obama for his part still cannot have grasped the full, complex, picture of what
is going on the tribal areas - in his current world tour he's only been to
Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, and only for a few hours. But he's on a
learning curve - although, for the moment, he seems to be playing to the US
military establishment galleries, pledging to add 10,000 US combat troops to
the Afghan theater of war. Al-Qaeda will be delighted.
What Obama has certainly accomplished for now is a certified three-pointer -
turning George W Bush administration and neo-conservative rhetoric about the
"war on terror" in Iraq upside down and applying it to Afghanistan. Obama has
been emphasizing the "growing consensus at home that we need more resources in
In his press conference in Jordan, Obama also emphasized his decision to make
Afghanistan the first stop on his world tour because it's the "central front in
the war on terror," the place "where 9/11 was planned" and where "terrorists"
are "plotting new attacks against the United States".
And here's the clincher - straight out of the neo-con playbook, "We have to
succeed in taking the fight to the terrorists." But that's not all. Obama's
political jiu-jitsu has mixed this hardcore rhetoric with a global,
multilateral vision - not to mention forcing Republicans to accept his own take
on the "war on terror". As for the tribal areas, he projects the impression he
is allowing himself time to fully understand their complexity.
So what's left to self-described national security expert and Republican
presidential candidate Senator John McCain? Well, he did manage to tell ABC's
Diane Sawyer the new al-Qaeda and Taliban configuration is "a very hard
struggle, particularly giving the situation in the Iraq-Pakistan border".