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January 11, 2008
Al Qaeda on the ropes in Pakistan
Open tribal warfare in remote areas of Pakistan has the potential of scoring a major success in the War on Terror. As pointed out here at AT yesterday, indicators point to the beginning of the civil war between Taliban tribes predicted here at the American Thinker. Two prominent leaders, Taliban chiefs find themselves at bloody conflict instigated by al Qaeda operators. The fault line between al Qaeda allied Taliban and MMA/Musharraf allied Taliban has ruptured.
While the outward appearance of a civil war may be gloomy on purely humanistic terms, it is a positive development when viewed for what it is: our enemies killing each other off. If we look a little bit down the road, we can see the pros and cons.
On the down side, innocent civilians will, as always, bear the brunt of the factional violence. However, the civilians in the tribal regions are largely responsible for the success of the Taliban and al Qaeda in launching terrorists attacks on us. They provide support, hide them, nurture the wounded Taliban and al Qaeda. Some of them are the families of the Taliban.
While it would be better to subdue the Taliban without military might, this is the condition they have created, and it is now going to strike home for them.
The civil war in the restive areas of Pakistan will likely spill over into the calm regions. But even that may have a positive result. While the road ahead will be challenging for the Musharraf government, the specter of Islamic jihadis shooting it out and blowing each other up in the streets of major cities just might lead the democratic reform movement to stand by Musharraf, at least until the threat subsides. Such an alliance was already underway at US urging when Benazir Bhutto bailed on the agreement and started bashing Musharraf openly.
In addition, the powerful MMA, Pakistan's jihad-centric political movement, which has made only token complaint about the army campaign against "the brothers" routed from the Swat valley region, will have even more incentive to actively assist Musharraf. If al Qaeda actually took over the Pakistan government (which is a very low probability) the MMA leaders, especially Maulana Fazlur Rahman could expect to be executed right alongside the military rulers.
This "Taliban split" strategy is indeed high risk, and the potential consequences of failure are frightening. But the payoff is huge.
The "anti-al Qaeda" Taliban tribes (and don't confuse this as friendly to the US) will find themselves in need of help. When they do, they will turn to Musharraf. He in turn will come to the US. Of course, this kind of assistance will be covert, until it shows up on the front page of the New York Times anyway.
When that happens, we get to make demands. I would not be surprised if an essential criterion for assistance will be a requirement to track down and turn over core al Qaeda leadership. If/when that happens, they may hand over Zawahiri (though I doubt we will ever get Usama bin Laden) or at least flush him out for us to get him.
All this will be enabled because Musharraf will have justification, within his own government and with the MMA, to apply full pressure in the tribal areas.
The hands-off approach of the past is at an end.
This could lead to a dissociated tribal region. However, I don't really see how it could get much more detached from the Pakistani government anyway.
And most beneficial to our cause is that the strategic focus of al Qaeda and the allied Taliban will come off of Afghanistan and become the Pakistan tribal areas. This will ease the fighting for our coalition forces just like this rift helped to ease the conflict in Iraq when al Qaeda forces were redeployed to the tribal regions from Iraq.
The end state I predict by the end of the year is a serious reduction of the power of the jihad block in Pakistan as it tears itself apart, a strong alliance among the democratic reformers and the military block, the serious reduction of the Afghanistan conflict (after an up tick possibly) and the capture of at least a few core al Qaeda leaders.
Ray Robison is the co-author of Both in One Trench.