Wholly decentralised or decentralised whole?
Does the classification of jihadi terrorist groups into a convenient abstraction called al-Qaeda help to in the war to defeat it? Dan Darling leads an interesting discussion on this question over at Winds of Change. In his view, al-Qaeda is not as decentralised as it is made out to be.
The London bombers may well have been pissed over Iraq, but they would never have exploded if not for all the help from the Lashkar-e-Taiba infrastructure and training facilities that exist throughout Pakistan. TATP might well be easy to make, but somebody still taught the Leeds cell how to do it…
In April, for example, the State Department concluded in its annual report on terrorist activity around the world that al Qaeda had been supplanted as the most worrisome threat by unaffiliated local groups of Islamic radicals acting on their own, without help from bin Laden or his aides.
Yep, just like all those communist groups in Europe and Latin America were just “inspired” by the USSR, right? Funny how all of them just happened to die out when the Kremlin stopped having a hammer and a sickle over it, isn’t it?[Winds of Change]
One key question turns out to be whether recent terrorist attacks, like those in London and Sharm el-Sheikh were al-Qaeda directed or al-Qaeda inspired. While this question is of considerable importance in tracing the groups that actually carried out the attacks, it is of less importance in the global war against terrorism carried out by extremist Islamic groups. Dan’s Soviet analogy is apt: once the Soviet Union was out of commission, the plethora of guerilla groups that plagued parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia — even those only nominally inspired by Communism — disappeared, were disbanded or defeated.
That suggests that defeating ‘al-Qaeda’ requires reaching out and putting the queen bees out of action. Focussing on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants is the right thing to do. But it is equally, if not much more important, to put an end to various jihadi groups that remain active in Pakistan — why are Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and Syed Salahuddin still at large in Pakistan? Both the United States and India have been rather reluctant to pursue these jihadi leaders, relying on Musharraf to keep them ‘out of circulation’. Musharraf’s own bona fides are questionable, but even if he is given the benefit of the doubt, his regime has been very ineffective in checking their influence and activities.
As London and now Egypt have demonstrated, the road to defeating ‘al-Qaeda’, its affiliates, off-shoots and copycats runs through Pakistan’s jihadi training camps. Uprooting these may not remove the ‘local’ grievances that Muslims have around the world, but it will certainly go a long way in preventing them from strapping on explosives and blowing themselves up.