Dan Darling’s al-Qaeda review

Musharraf is not a price taker

Dan Darling is one of the best al-Qaeda trackers in the blogosphere and his review of al-Qaeda over at Winds of Change shows just why.

…Areas of the Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Azad Kashmir have become de facto havens for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hizb-e-Islami. There’s a lot of internal Pakistani politicking that severely hampers the fight against al-Qaeda. The US consensus is that Musharraf is doing everything he can against the international terrorists, but is being far more reserved about acting against local or regional groups like the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT has been basically subcontracted by al-Qaeda to run its infrastructure, propaganda, and recruiting efforts in South Asia while the central leadership remains underground. It’s the whole attempt to distinguish between good/bad jihadi groups that is going to bite Musharraf in the ass sooner or later, but for now that’s likely to be the Pakistani policy for the immediate future. Binori Town is still more or less al-Qaeda’s officer training school and the insurgency in southern Thailand is the work of some of the most recent alumni. The main reason that al-Qaeda hasn’t been more successful to date at subverting the Pakistani state or killing Musharraf is due to a mixture of incompetence, factional rivalries, and corruption among the local jihadi groups and political parties that al-Qaeda leaders such as al-Zawahiri seek to enlist as their foot soldiers. [Winds of Change]

Dan does not cover Musharraf’s dealings with Pakistan’s jihadi outfits in detail — if he did, he would have found out that the jihadi groups are just one of the variables Musharraf controls to stay in power. In this context, Musharraf is not actually trying to distinguish between good and bad jihadis (for that distinction is invalid) but manoeuvering to do the barest minimum to keep that other variable (United States) from knocking him down. Pakistan’s military establishment has effective control over all al-Qaeda related jihadi groups as well as on their spiritual leaders, patrons and mentors.

The Waziristan operation was a wild-goose chase — the tribesmen did support al-Qaeda and bin Laden, but only slightly more passionately than millions of their compatriots. The most dangerous jihadi leaders, those who can shed the most light on al-Qaeda and its global operations, remain in Pakistan, free to go about their business as long as they keep their head down.

Osama bin Laden is Musharraf’s golden egg laying gander (to invoke the avian reference again), and the General knows all about that fable. As for those jihadi groups, they cannot even hope to subvert the Pakistani state. Musharraf is far more secure and is in far greater control of the situation that he would like the United States to believe.

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