(January 07, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Unless a terrorism analyst poses to himself the right questions and seeks answers to them, he will not be able to understand what is going on in the world of jihadi terrorism and will be repeatedly taken by surprise.
There have been many surprises since 9/11---- some of a tactical nature and some of a strategic nature.
As examples of tactical surprises, one could mention the July 2006 explosions in Mumbai's suburban trains, the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai and the December 25,2009, attempt by a Nigerian student trained by Al Qaeda in Yemen to blow up a US plane as it approached to land at Detroit.
As examples of strategic surprises, one can cite the spectacular come-back of the Afghan Taliban post-2004, the emergence on the scene of the Pakistani Taliban after the raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad by the Pakistan Army in July 2007, the activities of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia, the come-back of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which could turn out to be as spectacular as the come-back of the Afghan Taliban, and indications of new tactical alliances being formed by some of these organisations without any sign of either the Afghan Taliban or the pre-9/11 Al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden ( AQ--OBL)
having any major influence over them.
The periodic messages of Osama bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri are interpreted by many as indicative of their being in total control of the myriad jihadi movements, all having the same strategic objective of humiliating the US, destroying Israel and forming an Islamic Caliphate. These interpretations have not been corroborated by acceptable evidence. Many of the assessments on the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda of OBL seem to be based not on concrete evidence, but on unquestioned pre-conceived ideas.
Such pre-conceived ideas, which come in the way of an objective analysis, are many. They are not subjected to intense scrutiny. One such pre-conceived idea presently under circulation is that the spectacular attack on the CIA's Chapman forward base near Khost in Afghanistan on December 30,2009, must have been carried out by the Haqqani network of Afghanistan operating from North Waziristan. Why? Because, Khost is its area of operation, where it has operated with success in the past.
Any scrutiny of this supposition should have given rise to the following questions/arguments:
* The Haqqani network is supposed to be close to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Would the ISI have wanted its strategic asset to massacre seven CIA officers and one officer of the Jordanian intelligence related to the King, who is close to Pakistan's military leadership?
* While criticising pro forma the increased Drone strikes by the CIA on the hide-outs of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan, the Pakistani political and military leadership has not come in the way of these strikes, which have been helping in their own operations against the Pakistani Taliban. Would it have been in the interest of the Pakistani Army and the ISI to help the Jordanian double agent in wiping out a forward CIA base which was playing an important role in facilitating the Drone strikes against the Pakistani Taliban?
If the Haqqani network could not be responsible, who else could be? The Afghan Taliban has ruled itself out of the credit line by making premature claims of having been responsible without being able to give any evidence in support of its claim.
The only claims, which cannot be dismissed as implausible, have come from the Pakistani Taliban. While the Afghan Taliban projected it as a pentration operation through one of its members in the Afghan National Army, the Pakistani Taliban, in its initial statement itself, projected it as a penetration operation through a foreign ( non-Afghan) double agent. Its second claim identifying the foreign agent as a Jordanian might have been made after the US media had identified the agent, but no details had appeared in the media when it made its first claim. It is this which makes its claim difficult to dismiss easily.
There have been reports of a claim by Al Qaeda of OBL too. It is difficult to say presently whether this claim could be authentic. If there is an Al Qaeda involvement, the possibility is more of the involvement of Al Qaeda of Iraq ( or Mesapatomia) because of the past links of the Jordanian double agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi with Al Qaeda of Iraq. Even when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda of Iraq, was alive, there were reports of differences between him and Al Qaeda of OBL and Zawahiri. There were reports and indications that he was not amenable to the influence of bin Laden and was waging his jihad against the Americans according to his own lights and his own reading of the situation on the ground, while ostensibly proclaiming his loyalty to bin Laden. The followers of Zarqawi, including Al-Balawi, had stronger reasons to avenge the death of their Iraqi Sheikh than the followers of bin Laden in the Af-Pak region. The possibility that the idea of the operation against the CIA officers was a brain-child of al-Balawi and not of any unit of Al Qaeda cannot be easily dismissed.
The premature claims of the Afghan Taliban clearly show that the Afghan and Pakistani Talibans do not have a common command and control. Even earlier, this was obvious from the fact that while the Afghan Taliban looked upon the Pakistani Army as its guardian angel, the Pakistani Taliban looked upon it as its hated enemy. There were many indicators that the Afghan Taliban was not happy with the repeated attacks of the Pakistani Taliban on the Army and the ISI. Similarly, the Afghan Taliban has never supported the projection by Zawahiri of the Pakistani Army as anti-Islamic.Recent messages emanating from bin Laden and Zawahiri do not show much enthusiasm for the attempts of Zarqawi's followers in Iraq to stage a come-back.
I had often mentioned in the past that as a jihadist movement, the Taliban is not a monolithic phenomenon. There are Talibans and Talibans each calling for a different strategy by the international community to deal with the threat, Recent events in Fort Hood, Detroit, Chapman, Yemen, Somalia and Iraq show that there are now Al Qaedas and Al Qaedas.It no longer seems to be a monolithic movement. Myriad Al Qaedas have bloomed and continue to bloom. What one requires is not a single strategy which can deal with all of them, but a mix of strategies suited to different groups. This makes counter-terrorism even more complicated and difficult than it has been.
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )