Al-Qaeda keeps its eyes on Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
(Editor's note: This article follows on from an earlier report that included an
interview with a top ideologue who spoke to Asia Times Online on the condition
that neither his name nor the location of the meeting be hinted at. See Al-Qaeda seeks a
new alliance ATol, May 21, 2009.)
NORTH-WEST FRONTIER PROVINCE, Pakistan - An al-Qaeda-linked cell led by veteran
Kashmiri guerrilla commander Ilyas Kashmiri had completed all plans for the
assassination of Pakistan's chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani,
in 2008, but when the matter was sent to the top al-Qaeda hierarchy for
approval, it immediately ordered the plan to be shelved.
Al-Qaeda, the ideologue said, felt at the time that had the assassination
attempt been carried out, Pakistan would have been turned into a battle ground
between the Pakistani security
forces and militants - and the chief beneficiary would have been India and the
Al-Qaeda cells were therefore advised to work on a much broader strategy to
defeat the Western forces in Afghanistan. They were told that any al-Qaeda
action against Pakistan, India and Iran was not aimed at destabilizing these
countries, but to deter them from supporting the US-led "war on terror" in an
effort to create a balance in favor of the anti-Western resistance.
As it has turned out, the Pakistani military, largely as a result of US
pressure, is conducting a massive military operation against militants in the
Swat area of NWFP.
Pakistan has deployed tens of thousands of troops backed by air power to fight
about 4,000 militants in Swat and neighboring districts. They are accused of
not honoring a peace accord signed in February and last month they advanced
toward the capital Islamabad.
On Friday, Bloomberg reported that Pakistani officials had claimed that
fighters from Uzbekistan and Chechnya were among foreign forces helping the
Taliban. The fighting over the past 10 days has forced nearly 2 million people
to flee the area, this in addition to about 500,000 refugees who fled earlier
Sights on Kiani
Kiani's daily visits to a gym in 2008 were tracked by an al-Qaeda cell, which
noted a security breach that left him vulnerable to a suicide bomber as he
stepped out of his car. A plan was drawn up to take him out, and a team, picked
from Brigade 313's Junudul Fida group, was selected.
But that is as far as it went after al-Qaeda leaders had had their say.
"There is a shariat [Islamic law] under which his murder could have been
justified. But then there is a hikmat [strategy] under which his murder
could have been a serious blunder," said the ideologue.
"The Pakistan army could then have launched an all-out war in the tribal areas,
and we could have retaliated with equal strength. In that process, Pakistan
would have become a battleground and enemies like India and the US would have
received the chance to intervene. Although in our files Pakistan does not
exist, we of course don't want enemies of Islam to take advantage of any
Al-Qaeda's main priority is to use natural landmarks as boundaries against the
security forces. The first success has been in securing an area all along the
Hindu Kush mountains from Terah Valley in Khyber Agency up to the Turban
district of Pakistan's Balochistan province bordering Iran.
The second target is to push Pakistani forces back beyond the Indus River. The
source of the Indus is in Tibet; it begins at the confluence of the Sengge and
Gar rivers that drain the Nganglong Kangri and Gangdise Shan mountain ranges.
The Indus then flows northwest through Ladakh and Baltistan into Gilgit, just
south of the Karakoram range. The Shyok River, Shigar and Gilgit streams carry
glacial waters into the main river. It gradually bends to the south, coming out
of the hills between Peshawar and Rawalpindi in Pakistan.
It essentially means that militants would allow the writ of the state up to
Punjab and Sindh provinces, but they want complete control in parts of NWFP and
parts of Balochistan.
The ideologue stressed that al-Qaeda doesn't mean any hostility against the
state of Pakistan or its state institutions. This message was passed on by
al-Qaeda leaders when they met a top Taliban delegation in the North Waziristan
tribal agency on the border with Afghanistan a few weeks ago.
The delegation was headed by Mullah Bradar and he conveyed Taliban leader
Mullah Omar's message that al-Qaeda hostilities against the Pakistani security
forces should be avoided. The delegation even warned al-Qaeda in a muffled way
that if hostilities against Pakistan and the Pakistani security forces were not
stopped, it would be seen as damaging the cause of Islam.
Al-Qaeda repeated that its goal was to make the Pakistani security forces
neutral in the "war on terror". The overall object is to win the war in
Afghanistan. To this end, al-Qaeda will continue to engage the security forces
in the Swat area.
The simple reason is that al-Qaeda fears that the military, under US pressure,
has plans in place to move into North and South Waziristan, where al-Qaeda and
the Taliban have key resources vital to their struggle in Afghanistan. So it is
better to keep the military pinned down in Swat.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]