Al-Qaeda: Weak But Undefeated in Pakistan

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al-Qaeda’s second most important leader after Ayman al-Zawahri, in a drone strike in Pakistan’s ungovernable tribal region clearly indicates that the global Jihadist syndicate is weak but not fully dismantled. In addition, Al-Qaeda, as shown in the latest incident, has not completely left Pakistan. Last year, I asked Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist Steve Coll what Al-Qaeda’s future looked like in general and in Pakistan in particular after the killing of its chief Osama bin Laden, he predicted that Al-Qaeda would remain under pressure from the US authorities in Afghanistan and some pressure from the Pakistani security services.

Coll, who is the author of the internationally acclaimed book, Ghost Wars, said Yemen looks like the “best place” for the young al Qaeda fighters. “If I were a twenty-two year old Arab provoked by my corner mosque to fight the “Great Holy War” with 1000 bucks in my pocket,” he said, “I would be interested in going to Yemen because no one is looking for you there. Al Qaeda is now in control over there in the south, as we know from published reports. They are likely to end up with significant space there. It’s an Arabic speaking country where al Qaeda can be strong in the next few years.”

So why does Al-Qaeda still retain some presence in Pakistan? There are still several factors attached to Pakistan’s domestic politics and foreign policy which serve Al-Qaeda’s interests. Drones operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have inflicted enormous loss on Al-Qaeda in terms of killing its key leaders in Pakistan and Yemen. What still works in Pakistan in Al-Qaeda’s favor is the widespread anti-drone and anti-American sentiments. Religious parties in Pakistan view the United States, not Al-Qaeda, as their country’s real enemy.

While some sections of the Pakistani opinion may look at Al-Qaeda and Taliban as “bad guys” but they still find it unacceptable for the United States to kill “our bad guys”. Pakistanis view drones strikes as an assault on their national sovereignty and a clear violation of a standard pattern of behavior expected of Washington as a partner in the war on terrorism. Pakistanis abhor American unilateralism against Al-Qaeda inside their territory but they also lack the capability and commitment to solely fight and defeat Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the region.

Pakistan’s official position makes it difficult to decide whether it is committed to fighting Al-Qaeda or, on the contrary, providing it a diplomatic platform to disparage anti-Al-Qaeda operations. Pakistan surprised the world over protesting the killing of Osama bin Laden and imprisoning the doctor who assisted in locating the world’s most dangerous terrorist. While U.S Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, insists the fight against Al-Qaeda is “about our sovereignty” and such attacks will continue, Islamabad, on its part, has once again conveyed its “serious concerns” over the drone operations, including the one that killed Abu Yahya al-Libi. On Tuesday, Pakistan summoned the US charge d’affairs to the Foreign Office in Islamabad and warned that drone strikes would further escalate tensions between the allies, reported the Karachi-based Express Tribune.

Pakistan’s official stance benefits Al-Qaeda and encourages it to continue its presence there. Authorities’ unwillingness in Islamabad to view Al-Qaeda as an enemy of the Pakistani public and an equal violator of their sovereignty will further embolden Islamic radical networks to regroup and reorganize for future operations.

If Pakistan fails to wage a decisive battle at this point to permanently obliterate Al-Qaeda from its soil, it is very unlikely to do so after 2014 when most of the international troops will leave the region and Pakistan would be left alone to battle Islamic extremist groups which are bent upon overthrowing the nuclear armed nation’s current fragile democratic government and replacing it with a Taliban-style theocratic system. (Courtesy: My Telegraph)


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