February 21, 2007

Al-Qa’idah moves to Pakistan

According to recent news reports, Al-Qa’idah is reconstituting its centralized command and control structure as well as it training camps across the Afghanistan border in the Pakistani province of Waziristan, a tribally administered area barely under the sovereignty of the government in Islamabad.

The new training camps are smaller than their predecessors in Afghanistan, handling groups as small as 10 men. It is in these camps that Al-Qa’idah hopes to export its terrorism around the world. Of particular concern is the potential for Al-Qa’idah-trained operatives to strike Europe and eventually the United States.

It is believed that the initial threat will be to Great Britain. Over the last few years, there has been a increase in the number of British-born subjects of Pakistani descent who make trips to Pakistan, some of whom end up in these training camps. It was this pattern that was noted in the subway bombings of July 2005, and again in the August 2006 transatlantic airliner-bombing plot. As long as these camps in Pakistan are allowed to exist, the global war on terror cannot be won.

What are the options in Pakistan, and the consequences?

Unfortunately, the options are limited, and dictated by the internal situation in Pakistan. The gut reaction is to conduct strikes (air, missile, or special operations) and remove the camps as a threat. However, these camps are purposely built in crowded civilian areas that will result in “collateral damage,” military-speak for civilian casualties.

The resulting public outcry combined with outrage in Pakistan may cause problems for the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf is not popular and has survived several assassination attempts. His unpopularity extends to the military and intelligence services, long accused of being allies of the fundamentalism movement, including Al-Qa'idah. There is a real possibility that he may be overthrown.

The bottom line: Anything that undermines the viability of the Musharraf government probably is too risky, as a follow-on government will likely be Islamist. As I have said before, we're just one bullet away....

Just what we need – a fundamentalist Islamic government with a nuclear arsenal.