The Al Qaeda is the most elusive organization in the World. While it has been in the cross hairs of global counter terrorists for almost six years now, the top leadership has evaded capture or elimination. Recall the global campaign against Hitler and Nazism, it took a World War and six years from 1939 to 1945 to eliminate the megalomaniac and free the German people from fascist bondage. Today there is no end in sight against the so called Global War against terror launched under American leadership. The Al Qaeda seems to be opening new fronts. In the past month it has started two new campaigns.
One is the overt one against the Pakistani ruling regime after the Lal Masjid episode in which deaths are being counted in hundreds. Most of these are from the Pakistani military or the Frontier Corps. Many were shocked by the ability of a terrorist organization to cause such high level of casualties against a state in such a short period of time. Yet a video message by the second in command Ayman al Zawahiri had the suicide bombers streaming on foot and in vehicles hitting at the Pakistani military's convoys and congregations with deadly lethality.
The Pakistani establishment was taken by shock and surprise. While preventive measures should have been undertaken once the Lal Masjid operation was launched, the back lash was unexpected. Even now the state is attempting to turn a blind eye towards the designs of the likes of Osama by blaming Indian intelligence agencies of fostering terror through the consulates in Afghanistan. This ostrich like stance will only expose Islamabad for more attacks with scores of suicide bombers reportedly waiting in the wings.
Pakistan needs to recognize that the Al Qaeda has opened a new front that against Islamabad. The challenge has to be faced squarely through counter terrorism operations and indirect measures of political assuage of the population in the North West Frontier Province and the tribal areas. Development for which it has got a large booty from Washington worth $ 750 million is another sop, but it is a long battle ahead.
The second and somewhat covert front is Beijing. Given the lack of ease of access directly to China, the Al Qaeda is focusing on Chinese citizens in Pakistan at present but will soon target those in other parts of the World which are under its influence as well. This is more than evident with three attacks directly targeted at the Chinese in the past month or so, kidnapping of seven Chinese massage parlor workers in Islamabad, killing of three Chinese citizens in Peshawar and the failed attack on Chinese workers in Hub.
So why is the Al Qaeda targeting China when some reports had indicated that it had been the beneficiary of Chinese weapons largesse in the past? The reasons are not far to seek. In Al Qaeda's global agenda China's Xingjian plays a pivotal role at the cross roads of Central Asia. The Chinese cracked down on a group of terrorists claimed to be from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in the Xingjian province in January this year. This follows reports of the Al Qaeda having inducted fighters in this area almost a year ago in December 2005.
In April this year Chinese and Pakistani Prime Ministers agreed to cooperate in the campaign against the East Turkistan separatists. China also brought to notice existence of terrorist camps for separatists in Pakistan which was revealed during the trial of Huseyin Celil, a China born Ugyur Canadian in Urunqi recently. The kidnapping of the Chinese citizens in Islamabad coincided with the meeting of the joint working group on terrorism between China and Pakistan. Pakistan's Interior minister, Mr Sherpao was delayed as Beijing was reportedly not prepared to receive him till the citizens were released. Then followed Lal Masjid and has unleashed a wave of suicide attacks calibrated against the Pakistan military and Chinese citizens. China and Pakistan will now have to join the fight against the Al Qaeda in right earnest.
Understanding Al Qaeda's new fronts requires appreciation of Osama's global strategy and organization. The network form enables the Al Qaeda to attach and detach any number of indigenous groups as the ETIM or the Lashkar e Taiyyaba and wage war against its adversaries without having to deploy sizeable physical component of its force towards the terror campaign. A deep rooted understanding of international relations has also enabled it to time its attacks for maximum political impact. Many of its leaders are well versed in global polity. Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the younger of the two Ghazi brothers of the Lal Masjid for example was a post graduate in international relations from the Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. Thus the organization has a global vision and agenda.
The message to Islamabad this time is from two quarters, Washington and Beijing which should hopefully energize it into action to prevent the spread of the Al Qaeda contagion.