message of Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri has called for "single-mindedly
focusing on inflicting unrelenting blows on the Indian Army and government so
as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in
manpower and equipment".
goes on to excoriate Pakistan's perfidy and treachery in Kashmir.
On the face
of it, Zawahiri's message seems to convey that Kashmir is now firmly in the
cross-hairs of international jihadist organisations — but if only things were
that simple in the murky world of jihadist terrorism.
sort of deep linkages that exist between the Al Qaeda, the various hues of
Taliban (Afghan, Pakistani and Haqqani Network), the Pakistani jihadist terror
groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and the Pakistani
'deep state' and the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Zawahiri
message is a clear-cut indication that the jihadists and their patron —
Pakistan — are prepping for the post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan phase, in
which a new wave of violence will be unleashed in south Asia — especially in
Afghanistan and India.
little deeper into what Zawahiri said and two things emerge clearly: one, the
objective of bleeding the Indian economy and inflicting blows on the Indian
army is actually that of the Pakistani state and society and on this, there is
a complete convergence of interest between the Pakistani state and Al Qaeda;
two, reeling under pressure from various fronts, the Pakistanis would be quite
happy with the alibi given to them by Zawahiri. While Al Qaeda cultivates notoriety,
Pakistan would like to avoid it because of the costs it entails.
would rather collaborate with Al Qaeda and let it take the lead and the heat —
even as it profits from the actions of Al Qaeda, which it facilitates. Zawahiri
railing into Pakistan works well for the Pakistanis who can use this as an
alibi — just as they used planted stories of Taliban harbouring Pakistani
terrorists to ward off US pressure to capture Osama bin Laden by claiming that
they had no control over the Taliban. This is a claim they have again started
using every time the Americans press them to 'do more' to make the Taliban
amenable to a negotiated political solution.
This is no
conspiracy theory. In fact, the linkages between Pakistan and Al Qaeda have
been well documented. By coincidence, a recent book, Islamism and Intelligence
in South Asia by an Indian scholar, Dr Prem Mahadevan, has meticulously
ferreted out and collated material that exposes how firmly the Al Qaeda and
other terror groups are embedded in the Pakistani power and political
if anticipating the ISI-Al Qaeda game plan, Mahadevan writes that because of
increased international scrutiny, a quasi-state terror group like LeT has
partnered with Al Qaeda to attack India.
to Mahadevan, "The logic seems to be that if a stateless Arab group is
perceived to attack civilian targets in India, international opinion would not
call out the Pakistani security establishment for failing to restrain
LeT." And the starkest manifestation of this partnership is the group
Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind — the Al Qaeda franchise in Jammu and Kashmir.
Mahadevan's book is a tour-de-force of the menagerie of jihadists that have
been nurtured, and when the situation demanded, neutered, by the Pakistani
intelligence agencies, its value increases at a time Pakistanis are once again
indulging in their double-speak and double games — putting up a show of sweet
reasonableness by seeking talks with India on the one hand, and on the other,
doubling down on their support for terrorist groups that seek to damage and
bleed India. Even though much of what Mahadevan writes has been either known or
suspected, he provides the empirical evidence of Pakistan's shenanigans with
both regional and international terror groups. And he does this with great
panache — using primarily Pakistani sources to expose Pakistan.
watches the Zawahiri message after reading Mahadevan's book will be extremely
sceptical about Zawahiri's contempt for Pakistan.
the fact that there are serious differences between Al Qaeda and ISI, just as
there are issues between the ISI and Afghan Taliban, between ISI and JeM and
LeT, the ISI and these groups have been known to cooperate with and use each
other when it suits them. One reason for this is that the mindset in Pakistan
is "strikingly similar to that held by Arab ideologues of wider regional
then that one Pakistani branch of the Al Qaeda was a joint project of the
mother organisation of jihadism — Jamaat Islami — and the Pakistan Army, which
has been described as "an ideology-driven machine specialising in covert
warfare conducted largely through non-military cadres of 'like-minded
groups'". This was happening even as Pakistan was pretending to be on the
frontline of the War on Terror, merrily leading the Americans up the garden
gives details of how the terror networks were established, how funding for
these networks was organised, how terrorist cadres were imparted training and
how the marketing of jihad was done, all with the connivance and complicity of
the Pakistan army and ISI.
did the ISI work closely with Osama, it also pressed the Taliban to give him
refuge when he had to leave Sudan in the mid-1990s.
It was not
just Osama but also other Arab terrorists whom the ISI protected. Mahadevan
gives the example of the main accused in the Egyptian Embassy bombing in
Islamabad. The ISI arranged for his escape to Afghanistan after the Egyptians
got a fix on his location and in what has become a pattern since then (one that
India is very familiar with — the Pakistanis asking for evidence and claiming
that they cannot locate a wanted man) even as they signed a counter-terrorism
agreement with the Egyptians, the ISI allowed several wanted Egyptian
terrorists to escape.
tack was followed in the case of one of the top Al Qaeda commanders Abu
Zubaydah, who worked as a subcontractor for ISI — and was tasked with vetting
Kashmiri terrorists for sending them to training camps in Afghanistan. All
along, the ISI denied any knowledge of his whereabouts when his extradition was
demanded, until they were left with no choice but to apprehend him and hand him
over to the Americans. In fact, Mahadevan questions Pakistani claims that they
have captured and handed over the maximum Al Qaeda operatives. Most of the Al
Qaeda operatives were located by the Americans — Pakistanis had no choice but
to capture them.
own, they actually facilitated the escape of many Al Qaeda operatives out of
Pakistan to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and helped most of the rest disappear inside
sordid history of the linkages between the Pakistani state and the Al Qaeda and
other Islamist terror groups, much of which has been documented by Mahadevan, it
would require a leap of faith for anyone, at least in India, to imagine that
the Al Qaeda and ISI have severed their symbiotic relationship. The threat of
Zawahiri is real; his rant against Pakistan is a subterfuge. Although the Al
Qaeda has found it difficult to set itself up in Kashmir or any other part of
India, it has to be admitted that there is both a sentiment and an ideological
groundswell (the rising attraction of the Wahabi Ahle Hadith sect) that can be
exploited in the months and years ahead.
Qaeda will need Pakistani assistance to set itself up — already there are some
reports that the Pakistanis have been offering to supply weapons to Al Qaeda
affiliate Ansar Ghawat-ul-Hind. This means that even though the bullet may be
that of Al Qaeda, the finger pulling the trigger will be that of Pakistan.
important because there are straws in the wind that the Modi government or
elements in the government are inclined to start a dialogue with both Pakistan
and Kashmiri separatists. Any such move will be disastrous — it will only
invite the storm of terror that the Pakistanis are in any case preparing to
unleash on India, using Al Qaeda and other terror groups.
interests would be better served by punishing, not petitioning, Pakistan — even
if the claim for a terror attack is made by the Al Qaeda or any other
despicable jihadist group.
Sareen is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation