Islamabad – Osama bin Laden’s latest message to President Barack. H. Obama coincided with the British foreign secretary David Miliband stating in. Washington that the central command of Al-Qaeda was still present in the Pak-Afghan border region.
Miliband made the statement during a hearing at the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee while talking spelling out the details of the Afghan conference the British government is hosting on Jan 28th. While the US and the U.K. are attempting to chalk out a new strategy to defeat al Qaeda and its Afghan affiliates in Afghanistan, bin Laden’s message, ostensibly delivered to one of the regional offices of the Doha-based Al Jazeera TV in Pakistan, warned of “more attacks if the Palestinian crisis remained unresolved.
“America will never dream of living in peace unless we live it in Palestine. It is unfair that you enjoy a safe life while our brothers in Gaza suffer greatly. Therefore, with God’s will, our attacks on you will continue as long as you continue to support Israel,” bin Laden said.
Osama Bin Laden also claimed responsibility for the failed attack on a US airliner on December 25 and said “If it was possible to carry our messages to you by words we wouldn’t have carried them to you by planes.”
The Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up his plane as it approached Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day. However, the explosive powder he was hiding in his underwear failed to detonate. He later told federal agents that he had been trained and given the explosives by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an al-Qaeda-inspired offshoot in bin Laden’s ancestral homeland of Yemen.
The minute-long bin Laden message and its contents both necessitate a scrutiny in the current regional context. i.e. the US troops ‘ surge in Afghanistan which will take their numbers to slightly over 100,000, with the objective of flushing out about a 100 odd al Qaeda top operatives holed up in the Pak-Afghan border regions.
Firstly, the veracity of the brief message itself arouses doubts as to whether it is genuine at all. Audio-graf analysts probably would be in a better position to ascertain whether this is an original statement, read out by bin Laden himself recently, or a collage of words plucked from earlier statements and speeches and put together as a message.
Secondly, the content i.e. a renewed focus on the Palestinian issue, comes across as an intriguing spin on the political ideology as has been propagated by bin Laden himself or his deputy Dr. Aymen al Zawahiri in recent years. The last two tapes by Zawahiri, for instance, had specifically dealt with Pakistan.
The previous public message from bin Laden had surfaced via Al-Jazeera on Sept. 26 last year when he demanded that European countries pull their troops out of Afghanistan. This demand came in an audiotape that also warned of “retaliation” against nations that are allied with the United States in fighting the war.
Since the Christmas Day attempt, the Yemeni government has stepped up its attacks on the group’s hideouts in the country’s remote hinterland.
Thirdly, bin Laden’s claim of responsibility has prompted speculation as to how much control does he exercise over the various organizations using his group’s name from Afghanistan to Iraq to Yemen and Somalia.
There is little doubt the Yemen-based group, that comprises fighters many of whom had been bin Laden’s bodyguards, would be much closer to him than many others.
Fourthly, some may argue about bin Laden-losing grip on the cobweb of al Qaeda affiliates across the world, yet if the situation inside Afghanistan and Pakistan were an indicator, his ideology meanwhile cuts across national and regional borders.
While the pincer approach – pressure by the US-based forces from inside Afghanistan including drone attacks and the military campaign by the Pakistan army – seems to be exposing al Qaeda and its Afghan and Pakistani partners to greater challenges, bin Laden (if he exists at all) and Zwahiri do attempt to reassure their followers of their commitment to the cause they stand for; challenging the Americans on issues such Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fifth, some analysts say bin Laden’s focus on the close U.S.-Israeli relationship may be resulting from his worry about Obama’s popularity across the Middle East.
Rohan Gunaratna, author of “Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror,” argues the bin Laden message appeared to be an attempt to stay relevant.
“The Palestinian conflict was never part of the al-Qaida original mandate, but Osama is clearly exploiting it,” Gunaratna told the AP.
The message could therefore be interpreted as a ploy designed to re-emphasise commitment to the cause of the Palestinians as well as at attempt reinvigorate the spirit among the rank and file of al Qaeda about their mission.
The brief audio message – regardless of whether it passes the technical scrutiny for genuine-ness – underscores desperation within the ranks of al Qaeda; an organization that had shifted its command structure from Afghanistan into the border region now finds the space fast shrinking on it.
Increasingly, vicious drone attacks on targets inside the Pak-Afghan border areas continue to wipe out al Qaeda top-tier leadership. Their Uzbek proponents led by Tahir Yuldashev, their Afghan affiliates, more importantly, the Afghan Haqqani network and the anti-army Tehrike Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also find themselves under a constant hunt by the Reaper drones, which are surveilling the Waziristan region round the clock and have carried out at least a dozen strikes already in January this year.
Pakistan army’s advance on South Waziristan in November last year not only dislodged TTP and al Qaeda from their strongholds but also hugely truncated their capability to plan and train for terrorism in both countries, a huge blow to the militants linked to al Qaeda that had taken advantage of a huge and poorly-governed border area.
The military operation, the CIA-led drone attacks and the losses they have inflicted have brought about unusual pressure on al Qaeda and its local partners, probably demoralizing their ranks. Through the latest bin Laden message, its producers heave tried to beat frustrations, inject new spirit and revive confidence among the al Qaeda rank file.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. And the author of a recent Penguin publication “The Al-Qaeda Connection – Taliban and Terror in Tribal Areas.”