Al-Qaeda after Usama Bin Laden

Tariq Niaz Bhatti

ON May 02, 2011, US marines killed Usama bin Laden in a sting operation in Abbottabad. The task took tens of billions of US dollars and almost a decade to finish. During the course of US invasion, UBL left Afghanistan and around 2005 shifted discreetly in his Abbottabad compound along with his wives and children where he quietly lived till 2011. It was Usama’s fondness for family life which brought his trackers right up to his door. Al-Qaeda purposely fed stories about his demise but indicators like travel of one of his wives who lived near Tehran, Iran to FATA, Pakistan in late 2010 was evidence enough for his trackers to go on. Usama’s links with Iran evolved after the safe handing over of Heshmatollah Attarzadeh, Iran’s Peshawar consulate official kidnapped in November 2008, who was later released in 2010.
UBL believed and practised the concept of near and far enemy. The US, the far enemy, remained his biggest preoccupation and priority one target. Al-Qaeda attacked mainland US and its worldwide interests with vengeance. In his last days UBL was seriously considering causing an economic depression in the US through a Wall Street crash on the pattern of great depression of 1929. UBL trusted Arabs more than others as in 9/11 attacks except for one Egyptian, remaining all bombers were Yemenis or of Yemeni origin. His top field commanders, Attiya Abdur Rehman and Abu Yahya, both Libyans, were killed in the following months of his death in US drone strikes. This helped Ayman al Zawahiri (Ex Egyptian Al-Jehad) to secure an easy nomination of leading Al-Qaeda. This leadership shift from Arabs to Egyptian also changed the organization’s focus from far to near enemy i.e. US supported regimes in Muslim countries. Al-Zawahiri recently issued audio massage “Tel Aviv is also a Muslim land” in which he declared the Palestinian Authority as sellers of Palestinian interests showed his steadfast focus on near enemy. He asked Muslims to take up arms and resist shifting of US Embassy in Jerusalem. HAMAS managed an unarmed mass protest in Gaza on the eve of US embassy shifting which amply indicates Al-Qaeda waning influence amongst Palestinian resistance groups.
After 9/11 attacks, Al-Qaeda created affiliates like Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to spread its message all across the Ummah. It kept effective operational control over Somali Al-Shabab and Islamic State in Iraq. Post Usama Sunni resistance in Iraq slipped out of Al-Qaeda control completely due to weak leadership of Al-Zawahiri. The void was filled by Daesh leader Al Baghdadi who went on to proclaim Islamic Caliphate in liberated areas of Iraq and Syria. US led coalition air strikes and effective ground operations by the Syrian and Iraqi Governments has helped reduce Al Baghdadi operational space considerably. Recently Iraq announced arrest of top five Daesh leaders in the border regions of Iraq and Syria. Iraqi authorities further claimed that their revelations will help in arresting Al-Baghdadi very soon
Questions arise, what is the future of militancy and radicalism in Muslim world, is it declining or growing? Do the affected countries have comprehensive strategy to counter the menace of terrorism? A closer look at the state of affairs reveals that Muslim Ummah has mostly shown indifference to the root cause of menace of terrorism i.e. alien control over Middle East resources, massive illiteracy amongst Muslim countries and lack of justice and upward social mobility for youths across Ummah. Counter terrorism strategies of affected countries suffer seriously on account of lack of intelligence sharing and in absence of a common platform for coordination of effort in the entire Ummah. Pakistan, the worst affected in war against terrorism, has yet to empower NACTA to effectively establish itself as the sole agency to handle entire CT effort. In absence of an effective centralised mechanism, push and pull amongst various agencies is detrimental to the effectiveness of entire effort.
There is a dire need to shift from oil or debt-based economies to knowledge-based economies at Ummah level. To counter terrorism effectively, proactive CT strategy is the only answer. Utilization of force potential of Coalition of Islamic forces towards pre-empting terror acts needs immediate consideration. Moreover, all air strikes against terror networks must be undertaken by coalition of Islamic forces instead of US or European powers to eliminate public anger over foreign military involvement. Pakistan Army’s series of operations in the FATA and in the rest of the country has effectively curtailed the growth of terror networks and reduced their outreach. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al-Qaeda existence across the Durand Line and their use as proxy in the hands of vested interest calls for enhanced proactivity especially as it poses security challenges to CPEC projects. World community must appreciate and support Pakistan’s CT efforts towards terror free and peaceful South Asia and Middle East.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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