Al-Qaeda's roots grow deeper in Pakistan
By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City's twin
World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon and the subsequent "war on terror"
launched by United Stated-led forces against al-Qaeda, the terrorist group
continues to pose a serious threat to the world as it keeps surviving and
thriving mainly on the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt.
In these rugged areas it has established an effective jihadi network that
increasingly exploits its Pakistani affiliates to carry on the global jihadi
agenda of Osama bin Laden, despite his May 2 killing in a United States
military raid in Abbottabad in Pakistan.
Until recently, analysts have been mostly focusing on the dangers posed by the
growing Talibanization of Pakistan. Yet, it has now become abundantly clear
that the time has come to pay more
attention to the bigger dangers posed by the Pakistanization of al-Qaeda.
Since US president George W Bush's declaration of war against global terrorism
in September 2001, the US and its allies claim to have killed or captured over
75% of senior al-Qaeda leaders, the latest being Younis al-Mauritania,
suspected of directing attacks against the US and Europe, who was arrested on
September 5, 2011, during a raid in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province
Yet, the frequency of terror attacks worldwide being attributed to the al-Qaeda
network has increased, as compared to the pre-9/11 period, the latest being the
September 7 twin suicide attacks targeting the residence of the deputy
inspector general of the Balochistan Frontier Corps in Quetta, which killed 24
Pakistani terrorism experts believe that the current spate of high-intensity
attacks, despite Bin Laden's death four months ago, make obvious that
al-Qaeda's core elements are still resilient and that the outfit is cultivating
stronger operational connections that radiate outward from hideouts in Pakistan
to affiliates scattered throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
Therefore, as things stand, it appears that al-Qaeda not only remains in
business in its traditional stronghold in the Waziristan tribal region on the
largely lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt border, it has also clearly
advanced to the urban areas in all the four provinces of Pakistan.
This is confirmed by the growing belief of the Barack Obama administration that
if there is one country that matters most to the future of al-Qaeda, it is
A solid base
Al-Qaeda, which means "The Base" in Arabic, was founded in 1988 by Bin Laden
with the aim of overthrowing the US-dominated world order. The outfit was
relatively unknown until the 9/11 terror attacks when its operatives hijacked
four US airliners and successfully crashed two of them into the World Trade
Center towers in New York, with a third plane hitting the Pentagon building in
Washington and a fourth one crashing in Pennsylvania as the passengers
attempted to regain control of the plane.
In an exclusive interview with Geo television on July 23, 2008, Mustafa Abu
Yazid alias Sheikh Saeed, then the third senior-most al-Qaeda leader after Bin
Laden and Dr Ayman Zawahiri, confessed for the first time that the 9/11 attacks
were carried out by 19 al-Qaeda operatives.
As US-led forces launched a ruthless military offensive in Afghanistan in the
aftermath of 9/11, the Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda leadership started
systematically moving its fighters across their eastern border into Pakistan,
where they effectively took over the rugged mountainous Federally Administered
Tribal Areas (FATA) after joining hands with local militants.
The al-Qaeda leadership's choice of using the FATA region, especially the North
and South Waziristan tribal agencies as their hideout, has enabled the terror
outfit to build a new power base, separate from Afghanistan. As a result,
despite Pakistan's extensive contribution to the "war on terror", many
questions persist about the extent to which al-Qaeda and its allied groups are
operating within Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda's success in forging close ties to Pakistani jihadi groups has given
it an increasingly secure haven in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan.
These regions have replaced Afghanistan as the key training and indoctrination
grounds for al-Qaeda recruits to be used in operations abroad and for training
those indoctrinated and radicalized elsewhere.
The international community continues to portray Pakistan as a breeding ground
for the Taliban militia and a sanctuary for fugitive al-Qaeda leaders. Despite
repeated denials by Pakistani authorities, the global media keep reporting them
having already established significant bases in Peshawar and Quetta, and
carrying out cross-border ambushes against their targets in Afghanistan, while
al-Qaeda suicide bombing teams target US-led forces from their camps in the
The general notion that al-Qaeda is getting stronger even after the decade-long
"war on terror", can be gauged from the fact that Pakistan, despite being a key
US ally during all those years, is undergoing a radical change, moving from the
phase of Talibanization of its society to the Pakistanization of al-Qaeda.
Many of the key Pakistani jihadi organizations, which are both anti-American
and anti-state, have already joined hands with al-Qaeda to let loose a reign of
terror across Pakistan. The meteoric rise of the Taliban militia in Pakistan,
especially after 9/11, has literally pushed the Pakistani state to the brink of
civil war, claiming over 35,000 lives in terrorism-related incidents between
2001 and 2011.
Terrorism experts believe that the Pakistanization of al-Qaeda is rooted in
decades of collaboration between elements of the Pakistani military and the
intelligence establishment and extremist jihadi movements that birthed and
nurtured al-Qaeda, which has evolved significantly over the years from a
close-knit group of Arab Afghans to a trans-national Islamic global insurgency,
dominated by more and more Pakistani militants.
American intelligence agencies believe that with a surge of motivated youth
flooding towards the realm of jihad and joining al-Qaeda cadres, Pakistan
remains a potential site for recruitment and training of militants as the
fugitive leadership of the outfit keeps hiring local recruits with the help of
their local affiliates in Pakistan. This is to bolster the manpower of
al-Qaeda, which has grown from strength to strength despite the arrest and
killing of hundreds of its operatives from within Pakistan since 2001.
These experts believe, despite the physical elimination of al-Qaeda founder Bin
Laden, that his terrorist outfit remains a potent threat to global peace as it
keeps blooming in the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt. They say al-Qaeda, for
all practical purposes, is now a Pakistani phenomenon as a good number of the
anti-American sectarian and jihadi groups in the country have joined the
terrorist network, making Pakistan the nerve center of al-Qaeda's global
Investigations into the May 22, 2011, fidayeen (suicide) attack on the
Mehran Naval Base in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi have revealed
that it was a coordinated operation involving al-Qaeda's Waziristan-based chief
operational commander from Egypt, Saif Al Adal, the outfit's top military
strategists from Pakistan, Ilyas Kashmir, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan
(Pakistan Taliban - TTP) and the Punjabi Taliban, a term used to describe the
Punjab-based jihadi organizations that are opposed to, and fighting, the
Pakistani state as well as the United States.
The Pakistani intelligence findings on the Mehran attack clearly demonstrate
that al-Qaeda and the TTP have teamed up with the Punjabi Taliban in recent
years to form a triangular syndicate of militancy, with the aim to destabilize
Pakistan, whose political and military leadership has been siding with "the
forces of the infidel" in the "war against terror".
Therefore, the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance has gained an edge in Pakistan because
of the support the local jihadi groups provide. Ideological ties bind al-Qaeda,
the TTP and the Punjabi Taliban to throw out international forces from
Afghanistan. These three jihadi entities share intelligence, human resources
and training facilities, and empathize with each other as American and
Pakistani forces - however strained the relationship between the two countries
may be - hunt and target them. This was proven recently with the arrest of
Mauritania, which was the result of collaboration between US and Pakistani
The three organizations initially came together at the time the US invaded
Afghanistan post-9/11, prompting al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban to rely on
local partners such as Pakistani pro-Taliban tribes, anti-US and anti-Shi'ite
groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and jihadi mercenaries in Pakistani
religious seminaries and jihadi groups for shelter and assistance.
The ties between local militant groups and al-Qaeda were cemented further as
the Afghan Taliban's astonishing successes against the US-led allied forces
prompted the US to increase drone attacks in the tribal areas and turn the heat
on Pakistan to crack down on the TTP and others.
However, this "axis of evil" remains an informal alliance that is mainly meant
to protect and support each member. What gave the alliance a fillip was the
migration of battle-hardened Pakistani commanders from the battlefront in
Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir to the Waziristan region of Pakistan.
As things stand, the violence-wracked Waziristan region has become the new
battlefield for the pro-Kashmir militants, who have already joined hands with
the anti-US al-Qaeda elements. Information collected by Pakistani agencies
shows the presence of fighters belonging to several pro-Kashmir jihadi groups,
many of which have fallen out of favor with the Pakistani military and
intelligence establishment, which is under tremendous pressure to stop
harboring al-Qaeda-linked elements.
These groups, which include the Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami, al-Badar, Jamaatul
Furqaan and renegade elements of the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Toiba,
have strong connections with al-Qaeda in terms of operational collaboration and
Veteran jihadi commanders like Kashmiri, who was reportedly killed in June in a
US drone attack, were the first to adopt al-Qaeda's ideology - that the
weakening of the world's only superpower, the United States, is essential for
the survival of the Muslim world.
The death of Bin Laden was unquestionably a major blow to al-Qaeda. Yet,
terrorism experts say long before he was killed, al-Qaeda had adapted itself to
survive and operate without him, ensuring that the threat his terror network
posed lived well beyond his demise.
Therefore, a decade after the US unleashed its much-trumpeted "war on terror",
and despite the death of Bin Laden, there is no reason to believe that the
terrorist outfit he launched more than two decades ago is anywhere near defeat.
Amir Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist and the author of several books
on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being The
Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.
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