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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Al Qaeda 1.0 Shows Its Teeth

For some time now, American pundits and policymakers have arrogantly dismissed Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al Zawahiri and the "corporate" Al Qaeda as "irrelevant" and "toothless."

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto graphically illustrates the fatal error in that premise.

It's unlikely a serious and impartial investigation will be forthcoming from the Pakistani government, but al Qaeda is almost certainly behind the killing and is expected to claim responsibility shortly.

It's difficult to predict what will happen next in Pakistan, but the assassination is likely to reverberate for years, destabilizing a country that is already dangerously unstable.

The attack is a major victory for the "corporate" al Qaeda, which has tried to kill Bhutto many times before. (During the 1990s, Ramzi Yousef severely damaged an eye and a hand by prematurely detonating a bomb that was intended for Bhutto.)

Many observers have dismissed the core group's importance in favor of what's known as the "Al Qaeda 2.0" model -- the idea that al Qaeda-inspired groups fueled by ideology rather than formal links have outstripped the original terror network.

This concept is based, in equal parts, on exaggerated reports of how the U.S. has degraded al Qaeda's capability and a curious blind spot about the fact that al Qaeda funding and formal training play a massive role in these so-called 2.0 groups.

In addition to reasserting Al Qaeda 1.0 as a terrorist/paramilitary force to be reckoned with, the attack also creates an extremely strategic situation for jihadists in Pakistan.

Pakistan's "moderate" population is not insignificant in size and influence, but it is oppressed by despotic President Pervez Musharraf on the one hand and outgunned by Islamists on the other. It's also largely urban, in a country where the real war is being waged in the wild and untamed areas.

Bhutto, in a sense, was the last, best hope of the moderates. But her return to the country was ill-timed and, in my opinion, ill-considered.

Since September 11, Musharraf has been locked on a collision course with his military, his intelligence service, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Musharraf has made significant missteps over the last several years, proving he is neither a reliable partner to the West nor a figure of inspiration to his own people.

But Bhutto had too many enemies, on too many sides, and not enough traction within the existing power structure, and Western support only hurt her political position.

It would have been better for Bhutto to wait for a more strategic moment, possibly allowing some of the combatants weaken or kill each other, before trying to change the country's course.

There's no question this would have been a painful decision, and one which carries its own risks and uncertainties.

But today's events were all too predictable, even inevitable. Unlike the suicide bomber who helped kill her, Bhutto's death does nothing to advance the cause she belived in.

In fact, her assassination accomplishes exactly the opposite -- it sets the stage for an outbreak of chaos, lawlessness and brutality. The backlash from Bhutto's death will create exactly the conditions in which radical Islam thrives.

After today, it's hard to see any kind of happy ending for Pakistan. The outlook for Western influence and interests in the region is grimmer still.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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