To say al-Qaeda is a fantasy is outlandish
Asif Haroon Raja
Strangely enough, some are of the view that al-Qaeda is a fantasy created by the US and is not in existence. This is simply outlandish. Al-Qaeda was founded by Palestinian revolutionary Abdullah Azzam in 1980s and Saudi national Osama bin Laden (OBL) became one of its members. This outfit took active part in Afghan Jihad against the Soviet forces. OBL came in the good books of CIA during the Afghan Jihad. CIA helped in recruiting and training fighters including Ayman Al-Zawahari from Arab countries for al-Qaeda. Pakistan also helped in training, equipping and launching Mujahideen.
Once the US abandoned Afghanistan and Mujahideen including OBL in 1989, and then invaded Iraq in 1991 and established military bases in Saudi Arabia and neighboring Gulf States, OBL shifted to Sudan as a dejected man. He held Arab despotic rulers responsible for allowing the US to intervene in the Middle East and for the unsettled Palestinian dispute. The US unjust support to Israel boiled him with rage and he vowed to replace flawed and unjust world order run by imperialist USA with Islamic order. He came back to Afghanistan in 1996 at the invitation of Taliban. He became a marked man after his outfit carried out daring attacks on the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and on the US ship Cole in Gulf of Aden. His hideout in Khost was targeted by the US cruise missiles in August 1998 but he survived.
It was owing to his hostile stance against the US that the US intelligence agencies pronounced him and al-Qaeda responsible for 9/11 attacks without even carrying out preliminary investigations. After occupation of Afghanistan by the US led forces in November 2001, he and other al-Qaeda leaders as well as Taliban leaders took refuge in Tora Bora caves, considered as unreachable. He was forced to flee after Tora Bora was heavily bombed in December 2001.
He along with his large family kept changing abodes in Pakistan and eventually got settled in a rented house in Bilal town in Abbottabad in 2005. By that time his kidneys had started giving him severe trouble and he almost became bed ridden. Throughout his stay in Abbottabad, he never came out of his house. He undertook night walks within his compound at night and that too under an umbrella and under the row of trees to avoid detection by satellites. For all practical purposes he had become dysfunctional after 2004 and was not in communication with any of his al-Qaeda leaders. His two couriers were the only ones who helped him in running the house affairs and in providing medicines. Al-Qaeda as an entity had got decentralized and compartmentalized.
Opening of second front in Iraq by the US in 2003 gave reason to al-Qaeda to confront US-NATO forces in that sector as well where Ayman al-Zawahiri came into prominence and he became the acting commander. Since the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq were launched on flimsy grounds and on trumped up charges and the stance of George W Bush and his team of neo-cons was anti-Islam, it helped al-Zawahiri in recruiting large number of fighters including suicide bombers from the Arab world.
Resistance put up by al-Qaeda and affiliated groups in Iraq was so fierce that the US had to spend $12 billion annually to sustain high intensity war. Sunnis were taken on board and additional US troops were inducted and excessive force used to weaken the strength of al-Qaeda in its strongholds of Ambar and Falluja provinces. The US and its allies suffered over 5000 fatalities and thousands got injured and mentally sick and finally had to abandon Iraq in December 2011.
The US objectives in Iraq to some extent have been achieved. The country stands divided on sectarian lines; it has pro-west regime; Iraqi national army is managing security affairs independently; the US oil companies have acquired control over Iraqi oil. The US has a forward base to land its troops in future whenever it decides to launch an offensive against Iran from a flank. However, its desire to make Iraq a bigger Shia state to subdue Iran couldn’t materialize. The US could neither subdue al-Qaeda in Iraq nor reduce the influence of Iran in Iraq. The country is still unstable and sectarian war is continuing. Politically, economically, socially and militarily Iraq has become a fragile state.
Activation of Iraq front enabled Al-Zawahiri to make al-Qaeda spread its tentacles and ideology far and wide. Al-Qaeda having attained a long arm; it can strike targets under a decentralized arrangement. The main strength of al-Qaeda is presently concentrated in Arabian Peninsula with major bases in Yemen, North Africa and Somalia. Pro-US dictators of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen have fallen and so has anti-US Qaddafi regime in Libya, while regimes of Syria, Bahrain, Jordan and Algeria are rocking.
When Qaddafi became a target, CIA and NATO cooperated with al-Qaeda to achieve their purpose of changing the regime. After Qaddafi’s departure, situation in Libya is dismal, giving an opportunity to al-Qaeda to increase its influence. In Syria, the US and NATO are again in collusion with al-Qaeda to boot out Bashar al Assad. One would not be surprised to discover that al-Qaeda-TTP alignment in Pakistan was made possible by USA.
Apparently, al-Qaeda has lost ground owing to Arab Spring which many analysts suspect was CIA-Mossad inspired to break the back of Islamists. Islamic parties have come in the forefront in the African/Arab countries where dictators have fallen. Given the dirty role played by the US/NATO in Libya and Syria, motivation to join the ranks of al-Qaeda will remain alive.
Al-Qaeda has penetrated in the western world including USA where the white Muslims or permanently settled Muslim Asians are becoming its members in growing numbers. It is aligned with anti-western elements within western countries and has stood up against US imperialism. Awlaki who was the leader of AQAP in Yemen and was killed by the US drone was an American citizen. White Muslims who have joined al-Qaeda are mostly from USA, Germany, France, Britain and Australia. The US has spent a fortune to defeat Al-Qaeda and staked its reputation but has failed to demolish this outfit which has become an international organization.
Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban nexus remained strong as long as OBL was alive since the latter was a personal friend of Mullah Omar. That equation may not be there with al-Zawahiri at the helm of affairs. One of the reasons of al-Qaeda getting weakened in Afghanistan was the total detachment of OBL and growing realization among the Taliban that al-Qaeda had a big role in their misfortunes. Unlike OBL, Omar and his Shura have never given any pledge to protect Zawahiri. Moreover, Zawahiri’s track record of betraying his associates makes him a suspect in the eyes of Taliban. He may be more comfortable living in Arabian Peninsula, or with Hakimullah Mehsud led TTP than with Afghan Taliban.
Throughout the 11-year war in Afghanistan, the major resistance was offered by the Taliban and Gulbadin’s outfit while al-Qaeda was a subsidiary force. However, the ISAF wrongly presented al-Qaeda as the major threat. This strategy was willfully adopted since the US knew that US-NATO forces would not be able to defeat the Taliban, but defeating and pushing out a small force of al-Qaeda would be easier. Based on this strategy, OBL was demonized and projected as the biggest monster this world had seen. Perceptions of the Americans and westerners were conditioned by the media in such a focused manner that when the breaking news of killing of most wanted man were announced by Obama, the whole western world started dancing with joy. Drink and dance parties continued throughout the night, as if the danger to the world peace and security had been eliminated for good.
On ground, nothing of the sort happened. Resistance by Taliban and al-Qaeda continued against occupation forces and those allied with them with greater fervor. The drawdown commenced in July 2011 two months after the death of OBL. Reprisal actions by Taliban, TPP and al-Qaeda combine are continuing on both sides of Pak-Afghan border. In order to hide its embarrassment and to satisfy its hurt ego, the US is claiming that after decade old hard fight, al-Qaeda has been drastically enfeebled and its fighting strength in Afghanistan is no more than 50 to100 fighters. In fact Leon Panetta is on record having stated in 2011 that only 25 al-Qaeda fighters were left in Afghanistan.
If any country that can take credit to weaken al-Qaeda, it is Pakistan and none else. Pak security forces caused immense losses to al-Qaeda and dismantled its network in South Waziristan and other parts of FATA. Majority of most wanted al-Qaeda leaders including those allegedly involved in masterminding 9/11 were arrested or killed by Pak security forces which shriveled its overall strength in this region, forcing many to shift to Yemen. Over 100 al-Qaeda fighters including several high profile leaders were arrested by Pak security forces and agencies and were handed over to USA. In 2011 alone, 4219 suspected militants were arrested by Pak security forces.
With such an outstanding performance, which pales into insignificance the performances of 48 countries involved in GWOT, it is a pity that Pakistan is being mistrusted and maligned that it had sheltered OBL. Had Pakistani officials / ISI known about the presence of OBL inside Pakistan, they would have reacted positively to apprehend / kill him to save such chaos which led to lingering court probes. The US should be grateful to Pak Army and ISI which because of its pro-active policy forced OBL to lead an inactive life detached from the body of al-Qaeda.
The US is not acknowledging the sacrifices and achievements of Pakistan because of ISAF’s dismal performance in Afghanistan. The US has failed on all fronts in Afghanistan and is caught up in a blind alley not knowing how to exit safely. It is stupidly trying to cover its failings and soothing its hurt ego by blaming Pakistan. It must be realistic and appreciate that Pakistan is fighting the most onerous part of the war which has kept host of deadly Jihadi outfits fully engrossed inside Pakistan. It must not expect Pak Army to fight ISAF’s share of war inside Afghanistan. The US and its western allies must realize that their armies have to fight a long drawn war with al-Qaeda inside USA and Europe and should brace up to the future threat which has become a stark reality.