Al Qaeda Opens a New Front
Does Bhutto’s Death Mean the End of Iraq?
By Mark I Posted in Afghanistan | al-Qaeda | Benazir Bhutto | Iraq | Pakistan | Pervez Musharraf | War | War on Terror — Comments (9) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Al Qaeda’s military commander in Afghanistan claims that the terror group coordinated the effort that led to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi, Pakistan yesterday. In a telephone interview with Asia Times Online (NSA boys, did you get this one on tape?), Mustafa Abu al-Yazid said that the killing was part of an al Qaeda plan to destabilize Pakistan by hitting at “precious American assets” there.
”We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat mujahideen. This is our first major victory against those who have been siding with infidels in a fight against al-Qaeda and declared a war against mujahideen.”
Al-Yazid goes on to describe a fairly elaborate effort at tracking and targeting Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf involving indigenous extremist groups acting on orders from al Qaeda. California Yankee reports that US Intelligence agencies have not yet confirmed that al Qaeda was responsible. But couple the claim with reports from earlier this month that defeated al Qaeda forces were moving out of Iraq and heading back to Afghanistan, and it begs the question: Does Bhutto’s death mean that the Iraq war is essentially over?
The United States still has enemies in Iraq, to be sure. Chief among these is Iran, which through its intelligence services and proxies like Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, has been fighting a low grade shooting war against the US almost since Saddam’s statue fell. The US will need to maintain troops in Iraq long into the foreseeable future to keep Iran in check. It will also need a military presence inside Iraq to prevent backsliding among Iraq’s various factions. The calm that has been established by the troop surge is a relative one, and tenuous. Having built the nation, keeping it together is the next great strategic effort.
But everybody agrees that the troop surge has been a spectacular success at defeating al Qaeda in Iraq. Both through military means and outreach to the population, AQI’s infrastructure and base of support have been nearly completely dismantled. It is still capable of smaller scale attacks, and it still operates in areas like Diyala Province. But the key observer, the local population, increasingly sees AQI for what it is: foreign troublemakers with no respect for human life or dignity that want to impose a harshly repressive interpretation of Islam on the people without regard for local customs or traditions.
In the wake of this defeat, al Qaeda may have finally woken up to the fact that Iraq was as much about creating a kind of jihadist sink, into which al Qaeda would pour its resources only to seen them lost down the drain of American military might, as it was about removing a brutal dictator who posed a national security threat to the United States. Accordingly, it is fleeing to Afghanistan, where it has suffered a lesser defeat, and enjoys the protection of the mountains, and free movement across the border with the lawless Waziristan Province of Pakistan.
All of which recalls the plan outlined by al-Yazid to Asia Times Online. By taking out what it views as American assets, al Qaeda now hopes to plunge Pakistan into chaos, much as it once hoped to foment a civil war in Iraq. And there are indications that the plan may be seeing some early success. The assassination of Bhutto has led the next largest opposition figure, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to announce that his party will boycott the elections scheduled for January 8th. “The holding of fair and free elections is not possible in the presence of Pervez Musharraf. After the killing of Benazir Bhutto, I announce that the Pakistan Muslim League-N will boycott the elections," he said. No elections mean that the political unrest, which is fast becoming a blood feud, will have no outlet for a resolution.
Simmering tensions in nuclear armed Pakistan stoked by extremist elements backed by al Qaeda is a perfect storm for United States national security. As undemocratic as Musharraf’s presence in power is, he at least is able to keep the nuclear arsenal safe. Should al Qaeda be successful in descending Pakistan into a civil war, it could take advantage of the chaos to gain access to the nuclear stockpile. Al Qaeda may have admitted defeat in Iraq with its new focus on Pakistan. But that defeat has not reduced its ambitions. Pakistan is a far bigger prize, and one on which al Qaeda seems to be setting its sights.