By Ambreen Agha
The confrontation that we are calling for with the apostate regimes does not know Socratic debates… Platonic ideals… or Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine gun.
Islamic Governments have never and will never be established through peaceful solutions and cooperative councils. They are established as they [always] have been by pen and gun; by word and bullet, by tongue and teeth.
— Al Qaeda Manual “Declaration of Jihad”
The al Qaeda manual details its ‘humble commands’ to a generation of Muslim youth fighting for “Allah’s cause” of a jihadist victory over the West, apostates and godless regimes.
In its latest ‘humble command’ al Qaeda has declared a jihad against the Pakistan Army, justifying it as a war against a Force that sides with the United States (US) – the enemy of Islam. According to June 14, 2012 reports, Pakistan’s leading Intelligence agencies, including Military Intelligence, alerted the Interior Ministry that al Qaeda now plans terrorist attacks targeting Security Forces (SFs), as well as a range of soft targets in the big cities. Vital installations in all the four Provinces, and in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), have been put on high alert, as the country gears up to confront this fresh threat. A senior Intelligence officer reportedly stated, “In order to accomplish their nefarious designs, al Qaeda has prepared its strategy to target Pakistan Army through terrorist attacks, assassination of senior officers through targeted killings and executing Pakistan Army personnel for collaborating with the US once US led NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan.”
This latest development follows the June 4, 2012, killing of Abu Yahya al-Libi, second in command to Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s current chief, in a US drone strike in the Mir Ali area of the North Waziristan Agency (NWA) of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The Long War Journal, in an interview with two US Intelligence Officials who were involved in targeting al Qaeda and other militants in Pakistan, reported that the officials initially thought al Libi was among the 15 militants killed in the Mir Ali attack. Later, a Pakistani Intelligence official, while talking to the media, asserted that his unit “intercepted some conversations between militants” and that “they were talking about the death of a ‘sheikh’… who is assumed to be al Libi”. Local Pakistanis in the Mir Ali area claim that “militants” quickly cordoned off the areas and conducted rescue operations. Some local tribesmen said that al Libi was wounded and died at a private hospital in the area. White House spokesman Jay Carney, on June 6, 2012, stated: “Our government has been able to confirm al-Libi’s death.”
Two websites, Ansar and Alfidaa, linked to al Qaeda, however, suggested, on June 10, 2012, that al Libi remains alive.
Al Libi was “among al Qaeda’s most experienced and versatile leaders.” Terrorism expert Jarret Brachman, in 2009, described him as “masterful at justifying savage acts of terrorism with esoteric religious arguments”. A new video featuring al Libi was posted online soon after the June 10 announcement. In the video, assumed to be recorded in November 2011, al Libi denounced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a tyrant and urged the Syrian people to continue fighting, and calls on fighters in Iraq, Jordan and Turkey “to rise to help their brothers and sacrifice themselves for them.” This is the basic idea on which the al Qaeda ideology thrives: the call for a unified “Muslim Brotherhood” creates a powerful imagery in the collective consciousness of the community.
If al Libi’s killing is a fact, it can be expected to provoke another wave of revenge attacks, similar to those that followed Osama bin Laden’s killing on May 1-2, 2011. Some of the prominent revenge attacks executed by al Qaeda and its affiliates after bin Laden’s killing included:
June 25, 2011: At least 10 Policemen were killed and another five sustained injuries when two suicide bombers, one of them a burqa-clad woman, blew themselves up inside a Police Station in Kolachi Town of Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The al Qaeda affiliated Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring it was partly in revenge for the US raid that killed al Qaeda ‘chief’ Osama bin Laden.
May 26, 2011: A suicide bomber blew up a car laden with explosives at a checkpoint close to the Hangu Police Station and the Hangu District Police Officer’s office in KP, killing 32 persons and injuring 60. TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack, stating, “Soon you will see bigger attacks. Revenge for Osama can’t be satisfied just with small attacks.”
May 22, 2011: At least 10 SF personnel and four TTP militants were killed, and nine SF personnel were injured in an attack by TTP on the Pakistan Naval Station (PNS) Mehran, within the Faisal Naval Airbase, Karachi. “Soon you will see attacks against America and NATO countries, and our first priorities in Europe will be France and Britain,” deputy TTP leader Wali-ur-Rehman announced in a videotape aired on Al Arabiya, adding, “We selected 10 targets to avenge the death of bin Laden”, of which the siege of the Pakistan Naval Base, PNS Mehran, was described as the “first revenge operation”.
May 13, 2011: At least 90 people, including 73 Paramilitary Force personnel and 17 civilians, were killed when twin suicide bombers attacked Paramilitary personnel as they were about to leave a Frontier Corps (FC) training centre in the Shabqadar tehsil (revenue unit) in Charsadda District in KP. TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told the media, “This was the first revenge for Osama’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Similarly, in 2007, after the Lal Masjid [Red Mosque] Operation in July that year, al Qaeda had released a video with the jihadi-Salafi al-Libi singing paeans to the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa “martyrs”. In the video titled, Of the Masters of Martyrs, al Libi forcefully called on Pakistanis to take up arms against the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, whom he called the “dirty tyrant” and a pawn of the West. It is through videos on al Qaeda’s media wing, as-Sahab, that ideologues like al Libi gained visibility and credibility in jihadi circles. It was al Libi’s call to take up arms against the Pakistani Army that unleashed the endless internal war that now consumes the state. The Lal Masjid operation provoked the large scale violence within Pakistan, marking the beginning of a sharp escalation in domestic terrorism in the country. Before the Lal Masjid Operation, between January 1, 2003, and June 30, 2007, there were total of 4,040 killings (1,966 civilians, 1,379 militants and 695 SFs) in terrorist-linked violence, overwhelmingly the result of sectarian strife. After Lal Masjid, between July 1, 2007, and June 17, 2012, a total of 37, 937terrorism linked fatalities have been recorded (11,450 civilians, 22,710 militants and 3,777 SF).
Al Qaeda in Pakistan presently operates under its new amir, Farman Shiwari, who belongs to the Khugakhel sub-tribe of Shinwaris, and hails from the Landikotal Subdivision of the Khyber Agency in FATA. His appointment was announced by al Qaeda’s Dawa wing, which stated, on April 29, 2012, that Shinwari was selected as head of the network in Pakistan after consultations and approval of the top al Qaeda leadership. The reason for his selection, the statement added, was his close affiliation with slain al Qaeda leader Badar Mansoor (who was killed in a US drone attack on February 9, 2012) and his knowledge about FATA.
Al Qaeda and its franchises and allies, including TTP, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Qari Zafar Faction, the Badr Mansoor Unit, and many others, have a well established presence in Pakistan. However, two of the 17 documents released by the US Government on May 3, 2012, from the large cache seized during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, suggest that al Qaeda footprint in Pakistan may be much larger than hitherto suspected. The letters are dated from September 2006 to April 2011, a month before bin Laden’s killing. The declassified documents reveal the internal correspondence within al Qaeda across Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. One letter dated December 3, 2012 , between al Qaeda leaders Shaykh Mahmud al-Hasan (`Atiyya Abdul Rahman) and Abu Yahya al-Libi, on the one hand, and TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, on the other, is a critique of TTP tactics, offers guidelines and also provides a glimpse of al Qaeda’s global reach. The extent of the al Qaeda led Jihad, Mahmud and Libi declare, is without any geographical limitations. Addressing their “good brother” Hakimullah, Mahmud and Libi write:
We have several important comments that cover the concept, approach and behaviour of the TTP in Pakistan, which we believe are passive behaviour and clear legal and religious mistakes which might result in negative deviation from the set path of the Jihadist Movement in Pakistan, which are also contrary to the objectives of Jihad and the efforts exerted by us…We want to make it clear to you that we, the al Qaeda is an Islamist Jihadist Organisation that is not restricted to a country or race…
Al Qaeda claims to have a decentralised and multi-layered global network. The letters seized are conversations and correspondence between recognisable faces of various al Qaeda units, and confirm al Qaeda’s global presence. The recipients and authors include, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, leader of the Somali militant group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin; American al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn; Nasir al-Wuhayshi (Abu Basir), leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); Anwar al-`Awlaqi, al Qaeda’s American-Yemeni motivator and recruiter; and Hakimullah Mehsud, leader of the TTP.
The current threat gains greater potency with a strengthening of ties between TTP, the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. In a clandestine meeting, al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and TTP decided to set aside their differences in order to assist each other in their fight against the US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan. On January 2, 2012, al Qaeda brokered a new anti-US alliance in Pakistan and Afghanistan and created a joint five member council, the Shura-e-Muraqba (Council for Protection). A statement issued in the form of a pamphlet in Waziristan, FATA, after the meeting, declared, “All Mujahideen – local and foreigners – are informed that all jihadi forces, in consultation with Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, have unanimously decided to form a five-member commission. It will be known as Shura-e-Muraqba.” This new alliance has added to al Qaeda’s existing capabilities, membership and facilities located across Af-Pak region. Despite the killing of militant “commanders” in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the continuous US attacks within the region, these groups remain a potent threat.
TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan confirming the joining of Shura-e-Muraqba told the media after the deal, “Yes, we signed an accord…to avoid killing of innocent people and kidnapping for ransom, but we did not agree with them to stop suicide attacks and our fight against Pakistani Security Forces.” He added, further, “for us, Pakistan is as important as Afghanistan and, therefore, we cannot stop our activities here.”
The 17 declassified al Qaeda documents released by the US and the subsequent revelations regarding the ‘alliance’ between al Qaeda and various like-minded Pakistani groups confirm the extent to which the al Qaeda and its virulent ideology has become embedded within Pakistan. This constitutes a direct threat, not only within Pakistan, but potentially across the world, and there is little to suggest that such a threat is likely to diminish in the foreseeable future. The core of threat remains firmly located within Pakistan, with the top al Qaeda leadership, including its present chief, al Zawahiri, confirmed, on April 30, 2012, by John Brennan, US Deputy National Security Advisor, to be ‘at large’ in Pakistan’s tribal areas. More recently, on May 7, 2012, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton reiterated, “There are several significant leaders still on the run. Zawahiri is somewhere, we believe, in Pakistan.”
Pakistan continues to play the role of a ‘good host’ to a multiplicity of Islamist terrorist groupings, prominently including al Qaeda and its many affiliates, as well as various factions of the Taliban operating in Afghanistan. As the US tinkers with its ‘strategy’ of phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, and seeks a ‘negotiated settlement’ with the ‘good Taliban’, al Qaeda and its allies are preparing to unleash a storm of violence across the region, one that will find resonances across the world. And Pakistan will not be immune to the savage blowback that, inevitably, will follow.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management