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January 1, 2008
Al-Qaeda Chickens Coming home to roost in Pakistan
Frequent American Thinker contributor and noted terrorism expert Walid Phares has a sharp analysis of the reasons behind Benazir Bhutto's assassination as well as a detailed summary of al-Qaeda's plans, set in motion years ago, that appear to be coming to fruition:
The long-term plan of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1990s was to eventually spread to Pakistan and seize power, and, ultimately after 1999, to seize the nukes, too. Miscalculating on September 11, Osama bin Laden lost Kabul and the jihadi war room crossed into their eastern neighbor. Plan B was then to seize Waziristan and gradually Talibanize the country, grabbing the "doomsday" devices in the end. For the last seven years, the jihadi hydra protected by the fundamentalist tribes, hooking up with the local Islamist movements and with tentacles deep inside the defense and intelligence apparatus, attempted to spread in that direction. President Pervez Musharraf, unable to determine the extent of radical influence in his own services, moved slowly and reluctantly on the containment strategies. This lost time resulted in several assassination attempts and allowed a widening of the jihadi networks in the country. Reacting to the breach of national security, he tightened the rope on the opposition, frustrating his secular opponents and alienating the nation's Supreme Court. Phares argues that Musharraf, at the urging of the US, took certain steps that appeared to address many outstanding issues facing the Pakistani government including real attempts at political reconciliation and confronting the terrorists. But it was the return of Bhutto that really began the process of change:
The descent into generalized violence was spiraling out of his government's control and working to al Qaeda's satisfaction. Both bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Taliban leader Mullah Omar, acting as jihadi supreme rulers of the country, pressed on with calls for assassination and fatwas for regime change. By 2006, Mr. Musharraf was fighting on two fronts: taking on the jihadi forces, including the homegrown ones on the one hand; and dealing with the pressures from his secular opposition on the other hand. From early 2007, as Taliban operatives based in enclaves in the border areas continued to strike inside Afghanistan, al Qaeda's messages beaming out of Pakistan and violence were unrestrained. The United States pressed Mr. Musharraf to change direction.
Former political enemies weren't smooth on reconciling: While Mrs. Bhutto began negotiating with Mr. Musharraf, demanding a purge in the military, Mr. Sharif called for Mr. Musharraf's resignation. In addition, the president of the high court refused to recognize the general's election as president. These turbulences triggered frustrations among the military as it was marching to confront the most lethal enemy in the North-West region. And taking advantage of this dizzying political storm, the jihadi forces launched their urban offensive culminating with the suicidal Red Mosque intifada in Islamabad in the summer. And as Mr. Musharraf was steering the wheels toward political reconfiguration, terror attacks targeted various cities as well as military personnel across the country. Given Musharraf's confrontation with the extremists, any return to political normalcy would necessarily mean a foiling of al-Qaeda's plans - which ultimately sought the possession of nuclear weapons. The religious parties would be severely weakened if elections involving all parties were held, hence, Bhutto had to go:
But the return of Mrs. Bhutto to Pakistan sent a positive message to the public and a negative one to the radical Islamists. The daughter of a prominent leader, a member of a political family, a former prime minister in her own right — and, above all, a liberal Muslim woman — Mrs. Bhutto projected the possibility of a leap toward more balanced politics and greater steps toward pluralism — two ingredients for progress toward democracy. Her dialogue with Mr. Musharraf made possible the return of Mr. Sharif and the global march to new elections. The bickering politicians didn't let go of their sour feelings toward each other, but the political process was about to gradually return to the country.
Indeed, the greatest losers in the upcoming elections, and in any democratic elections mobilizing large and experienced secular forces, would be the Islamists. Their six-party coalition achieved legislative power because of the absence of the secular and democratic forces. Now that Mr. Musharraf isn't in love with the jihadi forces anymore, several assassination attempts later; and after the seculars saw with their naked eyes what the fundamentalists were preparing for the country, the slice of Islamist vote was projected to shrink. The radicals may have been given a big assist by elements within Musharraf's government. But unless there is some kind of international investigation that would feature the full cooperation of the Musharraf government, such a connection is not likely to be found.
Mrs. Bhutto was the reason for this future political defeat. But beyond these political considerations, it was a war of ideas that the Taliban and their ilk feared the most. It is one thing for the radicals to measure themselves in comparison with the military's authoritarianism. But it is another thing to be blasted ideologically by a woman who would dominate Pakistan's politics. By jihadi standards it was unbearable to see Lady Benazir seizing the premiership of the executive power. A staunch modernist and a genuine Muslim, she would have been their worst nightmare. With her in power, forget about the Talibanization: There would be no suppression of women and no brutalization of minorities. There would be fierce empowerment of civil society. This is why the combined "war room" of al Qaeda, the neo-Taliban and the Pakistani jihadists decided to eliminate her.
With the political process in chaos (elections are likely to be delayed) and support for Musharraf disappearing (a belief he was personally involved in the assassination), Pakistan is on the edge of an abyss where anything could happen - including a takeover by those sympathetic with al-Qaeda. If that were to happen, it is likely that there would be unanimous support among western goverments to destroy or neutralize Pakistani nuclear weapons. The world just can't afford to give al-Qaeda what they have long sought; access to weapons of mass destruction.