AL QAIDA OUT SMARTS THE US
After occupation of Afghanistan by US led coalition forces in November 2001, some of the members of Al-Qaeda fled to Pakistan, Iran and Middle Eastern countries. After occupation of Iraq by US-UK forces in May 2003, Al-Qaeda shifted its main base to Iraq. As occupation forces got more and more embroiled in war on terror in two widely apart theaters of war without achieving any tangible results, it gave greater opportunities to Al-Qaeda to keep expanding its power and influence in violent prone spots with the help of local militants. It established bases in various countries enabling its members to keep shifting from one place to the other so as to confuse its hunters.
Al-Qaeda establishes its foothold in countries where Islamic movements are raging and Islamists are aspiring to get rid of secular Westminster system of governance and judiciary and replacing it with Sharia. It prospers in areas where poverty is rampant and ruling elite is insensitive to the need of the poor and there is lack of justice. It finds it easier to recruit young people from among the deprived classes disenchanted with the immoral lifestyle and callousness of rulers and the rich class whom they consider responsible for their sorry plight. One major reason for the Taliban getting established in South Waziristan was that it is the largest Agency within FATA but the most backward and under developed.
Finding it difficult to operate freely in Pakistan due to Pak Army’s highly successful operations against Pakistani Taliban and in Afghanistan due to impending heavy US-NATO troop surge, Al-Qaeda has apparently decided to shift its main base towards Horn of Africa with major bases of operation in Somalia, Yemen and North Africa. This shift in centre of gravity is being undertaken at a time when US-NATO has swung its weight entirely towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. India joined by Israel has played a major role in convincing US policy makers that unless alleged bases of Al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban in Pakistan are destroyed, war on terror will never be won. The duo convinced the gullible US leadership that root to terrorism lay in Pakistan and Pakistan instead of tackling the scourge was covertly assisting both Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda because of its long term security paradigm.
After the motivated hype created about presence of mythical Osama in Pakistan and declaration that main base of Al-Qaeda is in FATA, sudden upsurge of Al-Qaeda led militancy in Yemen has caught the US on the wrong foot at a wrong time. CIA, RAW, Mossad and MI-6 were so obsessed with their selfish interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan that they failed to notice the slow and gradual concentration of Al-Qaeda operatives in a new theatre. At this stage, both the US and NATO are not in a position to send troops in aid of Yemeni and Saudi forces battling Yemeni rebels supported by Al-Qaeda except for drones and Blackwater. This threat when seen in context with rising power of Islamist Al-Shabab in Somalia and frequent incidents of sea piracy by Somali militants along Somali Coast adjacent to Gulf of Aden indulging in seizure of merchant ships for ransom together with assertive Al-Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) makes the situation for USA with its hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan all the more worrying.
Islamists having emerged victorious in elections in Algeria in early 1990s were forcibly thrown out by US inspired military coup which triggered Salafist GSPC movement against security forces resulting in lot of bloodshed. AQIM had emerged from this movement in 2007 and recently shifted its base towards Saharan countries. Adept in suicide attacks and ambushes, it has been kidnapping Europeans for ransom and even now is holding a French hostage captured from Mali last November. Al-Shabab controls over 90% of Somali territory and is on the verge of gaining complete control of the last bastion of government forces in Capital Mogadishu. The US principally responsible for the anarchic conditions in Somalia since 1990 has declared it a failed state. Yemen situated along Arabian Peninsula is ancestral hometown of Osama and site of bombing of USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 US soldiers. The regime is pro-US but the people are wary of western motives. Yemen being fragile and economically impoverished is likely to be declared hpw a failed state in case government troops fail to control insurgency. Al-Qaeda has several hundred members in Yemen actively planning attacks against US targets and its allies UK, Israel and India.
Dependence of western world as well as Japan on critical sea lanes in Indian Ocean passing through strategic Horn of Africa needs no amplification. In its mad endeavor to win land battles against terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and now in Pakistan, the west has ignored its soft belly in Indian Ocean which has become vulnerable. The Red Sea through which vital oil is shipped from Persian Gulf towards Mediterranean Sea is likely to emerge as the future flash point and a scene of bloody conflict among competing interests. Sooner than later, Iran, Russia and China would start fishing in troubled waters. Mindful of the emerging twin threat emanating from Red Sea and from Iran, Israel has deployed two warships fitted with nuclear tipped missiles within the close proximity of Persian Gulf. In case Israel commits the blunder of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities with or without the nod from USA, Iran will be compelled to not only hit back at Israel with its medium range missiles but also block the Strait of Hormuz and also lend active support to Yemeni rebels, Somali pirates and AIQM. Hamas and Hezbolloh too would get activated. This will definitely trigger third world war bringing the world closer to doomsday.
The situation becomes graver in the wake of reports that Al-Qaeda is striving to secure bio-weapons to stage a large-scale attack on US target to inflict massive bloodshed. Rolf Mowatt-Larson in his study has claimed that since 1990s, Al-Qaeda is feverishly working on chemical, bio and nuclear projects. Hillary Clinton stated on 07 February that Al-Qaeda poses greater danger than nuclear-armed North Korea or Iran. She reiterated the possibility of this outfit getting hold of a WMD. Next day, number two Al-Qaeda leader in Arabian Peninsula Sufyan al-Azdi al Shahri gave a call for attacks against US interests everywhere.
Till recent, US leaders in unison stated that any future attack on US homeland would spring from FATA and that Al-Qaeda is busy planning another attack similar to 9/11. Latest abortive attempt on US homeland was made by a Nigerian national who tried to blow up Detroit bound US plane on 25 December. He was trained in Yemen by Al-Qaeda. Shahri eulogized him. Claim made by Yemeni based Al-Qaeda that it was behind the incident pressed the panic button in USA and concern for homeland security got reinvigorated and also gave second thoughts to US leaders. The US Administration imposed draconian measures in the form of full-body pats and scanning of all visitors to USA from 14 countries. Among the selected countries except for Cuba all are Muslim countries including Pakistan. This discriminatory step has reinforced the impression that the US is racist, and hates the Muslims implacably.
Both USA and India are no more in a position to dictate terms to Pakistan as they have been doing in the past. India wanting to become the key player in Afghan affairs is getting marginalized. Desperate to retain its toehold in Afghanistan, it has finally come down from the high horse it was riding since 26/11 and has expressed its willingness to resume dialogue with Pakistan which the latter was all along advocating. The US is disoriented since it is perplexed whether it will be able to accomplish its primary objective of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al-Qaeda by breaking the nexus between Taliban and Al-Qaeda since the later has solidified its main base of operation within Arabian Peninsula from where it plans to disrupt sea traffic through Bab al-Mandab which connects Gulf of Aden to Red Sea. Al-Qaeda’s main mission is liberation of Palestine and not Afghanistan. After fixing US-NATO forces into the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda has succeeded in springing a surprise and has achieved superiority of strategic orientation. It finds itself better poised to choke Israel and force it to abdicate its control over Palestine and also to force USA to abandon Iraq and Afghanistan.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja is Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. He has been Military Attache in Cairo, has authored five books. He is a defence and security analyst.