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How to save Pak from jihadist subculture
The demise of Osama bin Laden in the heartland of Pakistan - literally surrounded by the Pakistani army - underscores the dramatic challenge President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh face: how to save Pakistan from its dark jihadist subculture. By now we all know the facts - bin Laden was hiding in plain daylight in the hometown of Ayub Khan, the man Richard Nixon adored as Pakistan's first military dictator. Three Pakistan regiments call Abbottabad home.
It is beyond belief the army and ISI were clueless;someone knew about a million dollar house with 18-foot high walls in a downtown garrison town. The White House wants to know exactly what did the army know and who knew it?
Osama apparently moved into his fortified house as early as in 2005, around the time General Ashfaq Kayani took on the job of DG-ISI after foiling two plots to kill former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf by the al-Qaida. The ISI should have been all over al-Qaida but seems to have been oblivious to Osama bin Laden's hideout. This stretches credulity.
Pakistan's darkest jihadi forces have made no secret of their sympathy for al-Qaida's star. LeT honcho Hafiz Saeed said special prayers for Osama after his death. No surprise, when we remember that Osama bin Laden funded LeT's birth. Together they planned 26/11 and worked with the ISI to make it happen. David Headley and his buddy Tahawwur Rana have ratted them all out.
The dark forces reach deep in Pakistan. How high we don't know, but deep and wide certainly. So Obama and Singh must deal with a Pakistan full of contradictions and devise a way to prod and help Pakistan get out of the business of sponsoring terror and fight it instead. It is a superhuman task. But failure is not an option. Pakistan is too important to be abandoned to the dark side. Its nuclear arsenal alone, the fastest growing in the world, requires us to engage.
Al-Qaida itself will doubtless become even more Pakistanised now. The Egyptian Dr Ayman Zawahiri may be the titular leader and chief spokesman, but other leaders like the Pakistani Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri will probably actually run operations. Kashmiri, once the ISI's star pupil and a graduate of the army's commando school, earned his combat skills in Kashmir fighting India before switching to al-Qaida and Afghanistan in 2003 or so. He was the mastermind behind the plots to kill Musharraf and to attack a Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, in Copenhagen in December 2009, and possibly again on New Year's day, 2011. He is deeply entrenched in the Pakistani jihadist subculture.
Since 2002 al-Qaida has focused on Pakistan both by necessity as its safe haven and by choice, because of Pakistan's importance. It has built alliances with the Pakistan Taliban (with which it organised the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and two prominent Pakistani politicians, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, this year) and groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (which it helped inspire to attack Mumbai in 2008).
It is not a monolith, but together these terror groups are a syndicate of murder and each is a force multiplier and protector for the rest. They are deeply entrenched in Pakistan's urban centres like Lahore and the mega port city of Karachi as well as in the tribal badlands near Afghanistan. Their operatives cooperate closely in terror plots like 26/11.
The Pakistan army is at war with some of them (the Taliban) and in bed with others (LeT). Pakistan is also the strategic prize in the Islamic world, home to what will soon be the fifth largest nuclear weapons arsenal on the globe, and a country struggling against jihadism like no other. Virulently anti-American with a very weak civilian government, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri have increasingly believed Pakistan is their best chance at a global game changer;a coup by jihad-friendly officers that delivers the global jihad the world's sixth largest country with the bomb.
That still remains deeply unlikely but it is a real possibility that keeps the Obama national security team awake at night. Zawahiri has even written a book on why and how Pakistan should become a jihadist state.
The Afghan Taliban is unlikely to break its ties to al-Qaida. They run very deep even if there are frictions between the Arabs and the Afghans from time to time. The Taliban keeps its ties to al-Qaida quiet, but NATO just killed bin Laden's fellow Saudi al-Qaida man, Abdul Ghani, in Afghanistan who helped coordinate joint operations inside Afghanistan.
To his dying day, bin Laden pledged loyalty to Mullah Omar. Let's hope the laptops found in Abbottabad led us to Mullah Omar's lair, widely believed to be somewhere in Karachi.
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