Daily Times Monitor & Der Spiegel Online – 2010-11-15 20:50:25
LAHORE, Pakistan (November 13, 2010) — Western countries would like to negotiate with the Taliban, but Pakistan would rather they did not. US terrorism expert Bruce Riedel spoke with Spiegel Online about just how explosive the situation currently was in Pakistan and how much influence al Qaeda still had.
On increasing talk of trying to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban to achieve a political settlement, Riedel said, “We’re all war weary and are looking for a way out. We would all like a political solution but the question is: are the Taliban capable of the kind of process of compromise and negotiations that we want? And can it be separated from al-Qaida?
“The odds are good that the answer is no and that the ties between the two are too strong. For example, there was an attempted attack on the metro system in New York City last year, which was al Qaeda-sponsored, but the terrorists had been given to al Qaeda by the Afghan Taliban. That suggests it’s going to be very hard to break up the connection.”
To a question if the arrest of Mullah Baradar — a possible negotiating partner within the Afghan Taliban — was an attempt by Pakistan to stop negotiations altogether, the terrorism expert called it “another dimension of the complicated problem.”
He claimed Pakistan did not want direct negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the Hamid Karzai government or between the Afghan Taliban and the West, adding that it wanted to control the process so to ensure it got its preferred outcome — a satellite state next to Pakistan.
“When Mullah Baradar started to talk about talks, the ISI had him arrested as a signal to the other Taliban to prevent them from taking independent action,” he added.
He said Pakistan was already in the midst of a small-scale civil war today, adding that it is a very fragile, volatile and combustible country right now. He said what happens in Afghanistan would have huge ramifications for what happens in Pakistan, adding that a jihadist victory in Afghanistan would have enormous reverberations and could even signal a take over by jihadist forces in Pakistan.
To a question that some people believed a jihadist takeover was already more likely in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, he said, “I don’t think it’s imminent or inevitable. It’s probably not even the most likely outcome. But for the first time, it is a real possibility. It could come in one of two ways. The Pakistani Taliban insurgence could grow or, more likely, you could have a coup from inside the military by jihadist sympathisers.
“There is a lot of unrest in the Pakistan Army because of their ongoing operations against terrorists. We could wake up one morning and have another Ziaul Haq in power in Pakistan, only this time without the Soviet Union as his enemy.”
On beliefs that al Qaeda not only has relations with the Afghan Taliban but also with the Pakistani ones, which almost seems to be acting as a kind of al Qaeda proxy, Riedel said the reason was that al Qaeda learned an important lesson in Iraq: if you put foreigners in the front line, they will eventually turn the population against them, while in Pakistan’s case, the front line were the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Pakistani faces. He said al Qaeda did not lead the fight in Afghanistan, adding that they let the Taliban lead it. But behind the scenes they provided support, he added.
To a question on the international community’s first priority, Riedel said, “We have to make sure this is an Afghan-led process. Secondly, we need to send a clear message to Pakistan that it can be part of the process, but it cannot be the dominant power. Afghanistan cannot be a satellite state of Pakistan.”
Regarding rumors on jihadist websites and elsewhere that al Qaeda was already transferring cadres to Yemen, assuming that they could not hide in North Waziristan for long, given the US drones and the prospect of a military invasion there, the terrorism expert said, “Judging from the history of al Qaeda, they will prepare and plan ahead. I am sure they are putting key cadres in places like Yemen and Somalia, but also moving them around in Pakistan, where you can hide easily — even in slums adjacent to the big cities, especially Karachi.”
He said al Qaeda had proven to be very agile and resilient and it was a learning organization. He said it adapted to new circumstances and learned from mistakes. “They are also very patient. They have invested years in planning their more spectacular operations. They can wait. So on the whole, this is far from over. Al Qaeda today remains a very dangerous foe and must not be underestimated,” he added.
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