Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the cross-hairs

Al-Qaeda has big dreams:

The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Pakistan's post-September 11, 2001, about-turn into the camp of the United States led to a marriage of convenience among the flag-bearers of Ibn Taymiyyah's ideology, zealots of al-Qaeda and experts in Giap's guerrilla strategy - former officers of the Pakistani armed forces who were upset with Pakistan's policy reversal, which included abandoning the Taliban.

These groups joined forces to take control of the state through a popular revolt or by using violent means, or force on the state apparatus to support the battle against the Western coalition in Afghanistan. The alliance has had some success, notably in the Waziristans, where in effect a rigid Islamic state prevails beyond the control of the central authorities in Islamabad. Indeed, the highest level of casualties in the history of the Pakistan Army has forced Pakistani leaders to speak of stopping operations in the Waziristans, saying it is a wrong war.

But while there have been several serious popular outbursts against President General Pervez Musharraf - and attacks on his life - his military government remains in power since staging a coup in 1999.

Meanwhile, after a long lull, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden resurfaced recently with three video and audio tape messages. His emergence on the horizon of the jihadist audience came at a time when Islamic militants of varied backgrounds (in the Waziristans) had finally sorted out their conflicts on issues such as revolt against a Muslim state and fighting Muslim armies.

Those groups include the Taliban (led by Mullah Omar), the command of the Pakistani Taliban (led by a shura - council - of mujahideen in the two Waziristans), leading Arab scholars in the Waziristans, such as Sheikh Essa, Abu Waleed Ansari and Abu Yahya al-Libbi, the command of Pakistani jihadist organizations in the Waziristans under Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri and its allied group of former officers of the Pakistan Armed Forces who resigned to join the Afghan resistance.

Bin Laden has always spoken out against the Western world, but in his most recent audio message last week, for the first time he urged Pakistanis "to fight against Musharraf, his army, his government and his supporters". This was the first endorsement of his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri's anti-establishment theory under which war should be waged first against the un-Islamic Muslim states before fighting infidel armies. In the past, Mullah Omar and bin Laden have always avoided stirring revolt within countries such as Pakistan.

Pakistan immediately dismissed bin Laden's call. Army spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad was quoted as saying, "If Osama bin Laden has spoken to the people and urged them to rise, and the people were really following him, they would have done so much earlier. He doesn't have much following here."

However, this was clearly for public consumption. Asia Times Online has learned that these new developments were so seriously viewed on the intelligence radars of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that they devised a joint strategy.

Islamabad is so concerned over the latest developments that it asked Saudi Arabia to approach al-Qaeda to abandon its anti-establishment policy.

The Saudis are concerned that should their erstwhile son bin Laden succeed in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia would be one of the next logical targets. So a joint strategy was devised to confront the threat.

According to a witness who spoke to Asia Times Online, last month a Saudi consul visited North Waziristan in the first such interaction with the al-Qaeda command since the US invasion on Afghanistan in 2001. The consul was meant to meet Zawahiri or bin Laden, but he was not allowed to see them and instead met second-tier al-Qaeda leaders.

The consul wore traditional clothes of the region and a Pashtun-style hat, and carried several gifts, mostly food items, especially dates and figs. He also carried with him messages from Saudi royal family members. He spent two days in North Waziristan before returning safely to Islamabad. Immediately after, the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, Ali Awad al-Asiri, went to Saudi Arabia. He was not carrying good news - the Saudi offer of a ceasefire with al-Qaeda for both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had been rejected, as the al-Qaeda leadership is determined to pursue its policy of bringing down "un-Islamic" governments and imposing their own policies or alternatively getting Pakistan to change its policies in favor of the militants.

Pakistan is the first stepping stone in al-Qaeda's global strategy. Once the organization and its allies take control of the country or force the decision-makers to promote global Islamic resistance, the first direct impact will be on the Afghan insurgency, where support would multiply against Western coalition forces there.

Maybe Osama read the PNAC treatise on how to take over the world?

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