Dawn : Al Qaeda trying to establish links with jihadi groups

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Al Qaeda trying to establish links with jihadi groups

By Our Special Correspondent | May 13, 2009

LONDON: Al Qaeda is trying to establish links inside Pakistan with jihadi groups, rather than Taliban, to exploit the current instability in the country and also to relieve some of the pressure that has been put on them by continuing strikes by the US drones, says The Guardian correspondent Jason Burke in a report (Al Qaeda’s push into Pakistan) on Tuesday.

Quoting sources inside intelligence agencies but without naming them he said that the group led by several dozen senior militants from Central Asia had already set up links with Lashkar-i-Taiba and was now probing others like Jaish-i-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen Islami and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.

For international militants, he said, Pakistan had a particular significance as the birthplace of the new wave of modern Islamic militancy in the 1980s during the war against the Soviets.

‘The battle against Pakistan’s secular elected government – and thus indirectly against its western backers – is being cast as the continuation of the successful struggle against the Soviets,’ he added.

According to Mr Burke, the militants have little chance of actually taking power as Islamists remain on the fringe in Pakistan, ‘and the Pakistani Taliban are a fringe of that fringe’.

‘But inserting themselves onto the home-grown campaign of local jihadis can boost al Qaeda’s flagging jihadi credentials after the failure to create a new base in Iraq or to repeat a 9/11-scale spectacular. It might also provide some breathing space for regrouping and rethinking: planning for a major strike in the West continues.’

In the meantime, according to Mr Burke, al Qaeda strategists see no harm in getting involved in someone else’s local war. ‘After all, it has worked for them before.’ As for al Qaeda contacts with the Pakistani Taliban itself, Mr Burke says quoting sources in Islamabad and Kabul, these are personal rather than organisational, much as many would like to paint the latter organisation as an offshoot of the former.

‘During recent fighting in Bajaur, senior Pakistani officers repeatedly insisted that the local villagers had been led astray by shadowy international militants,’ the correspondent said.

He said there were indeed a few senior figures moving through Bajaur but the main dynamics behind the fighting had little to do with al Qaeda and a lot to do with disintegration of local tribal social hierarchies and values in recent decades, the radicalising effect of western operations in Afghanistan, generalised mobilisation in much of the Islamic world, collateral damage resulting from US drone strikes and a very local dynamic pitting one valley and one tribe against another.

He said the prisoners that he interviewed confirmed that the conflict was essentially a local one, though sometimes framed by participants within a global narrative.

‘The Mohmands, more commercially minded, more radical, more mobile and with a history of militancy and criminal involvement, were never likely to be on the same side as the Salarzai, their more agricultural, more stable, more sedentary and government loyal neighbours. Similar local dynamics are the determining factors behind the violence in Swat as much as new radicalism, new opportunities for young men denied status, authority and employment and of course radical propaganda.’

‘So, as they have done elsewhere for a decade or more, al Qaeda’s leadership are trying to exploit this and to graft their international campaign aimed at sapping regimes in their home countries — including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Maghreb — onto local campaigns, through striking at the west and its allies.’

‘The same thing happened in Iraq, leading to an intensity of violence in 2006 and 2007 which few had predicted. The end only came for al Qaeda’s Iraq adventure when Iraqis themselves sickened of the atrocities perpetrated by outsiders coming into their country — just as young foreign militants are reported to be moving to Pakistan — and turned against them. Agencies have tracked the movement of active extremist fighters from Iraq to the new theatre: AfPak.’