Edge on Jihadism
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|Walid Phares||September 22nd 2008|
Cutting Edge Terror Analyst
|Blast at Islamabad Marriott Hotel|
As shown by world networks, the hellish flames ravaging the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad seemed like a vision of the Apocalypse. That's how many survivors of the terror attack that massacred more than 60 and wounded hundreds have described it: "The end of the World." But beyond the barbaric bloodshed and the human suffering, the heavy question fast arises: How to read this Jihadi mayhem, and what is the message behind the bombing?
When a war is raging, as is the case in Pakistan for the last years, analysts won't wait on the procedural investigation to determine the identity of the perpetrators of this attack. local police and security forces will get somewhere sometime. But the graver question is about the big picture. What are al Qaeda and their Taliban herds up to by terrorizing the people and Government of the second largest Muslim country in the world and—more important—the first Islamic nation to possess nuclear weapons?
According to many Pakistani sources commenting to media after the explosion, including Lt. General Talaat Massud, the Terror attack has a "loud and clear message." He asserted that those behind the operation "want to tell the Pakistani Government to stop sending the Army into their (Taliban) areas and to oppose any intervention (against al Qaeda) inside Pakistan by the United States." Massud’s comments, aired on BBC, were firm: "This is a mega explosion and it needs mega decisions in the country—more will come."
In terms of targeting, the blast ravaged a very prominent landmark in the capital where foreigners and Pakistani personalities often pass. Moreover, the Jihadists hit hard in the city's nervous center. In the vicinity sits the Parliament where the new President just finished an acceptance speech, of the house of the Prime Minister and many ministers, of the judiciary, and of other significant headquarters, this strike is heavy with the pages of a message.
Undoubtedly the first page of this message is addressed to the new President and his cabinet. The War is on between the "Jihadi Islamists" of all kinds and the secular coalition led by the "People's Party" formerly headed by the late Benazir Bhutto. Indeed, while many in the U.S. and the West doubted former President Musharraf's ability or political will to take the fight comprehensively to the tribal areas, newly elected President Aif Ali Zardari and his Prime Minister Yosaf Raza Gilani have repetitively committed to confront the "fundamentalists and terrorists." A one year long reading of this "struggle" shows that the Taliban have targeted the secular "People's Party" since its chances of coming to power are increasing. After a failed attempt at her life, the Jihadists finally assassinated Bhutto. But the comeback of her party in the last election brought her widow to the top office.
The "Bhutto leadership" reaffirmed intentions to take on the Jihadi Terrorists. Strong with popular support, including women and youth, the secular political coalition was considered a top danger by the armed Islamists. Hence, the logic of the Marriott attack. It was chiefly to strike at the forthcoming ideological advance against the Jihadists. In short this was a preemptive blow against a Government which may not hesitate in engaging a battle of ideas against the medieval forces in Waziristan and against the circles of Jihadophiles in Islamabad. From their hideouts, Bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Mullah Omar have urged their Pakistani brethren to smite the head of the secular establishment in the country. Pakistan could be the biggest prize ever if it falls into the hands of the Taliban and their urban allies. But to do so, the current democratically elected Government and the President must be removed. And prior to this, the Armed forces have to stop their raids into the north western valleys.
But the second page of the message is about U.S. role. This is a warning to Pakistani civilian and military authorities to break all ties to the American-led campaign against Terror, but more precisely to reject NATO incursions after al Qaeda inside Pakistan. Already the new public agenda of the current Administration in Islamabad openly warns against U.S. raids across the borders for domestic political reasons. Just a few hours before the explosion, the new President pledged that he will carry the campaign against the Terrorists but he will refuse American military interventions on his national soil. The Jihadi bloodshed in the city is a "mega-warning" that al Qaeda and the Taliban will respond inside the country against pressure coming from across the border.
In the end, the Jihadist plan can be summarized into four actions: intimidate the Government into a pull-back position; contain the Pakistani military efforts against Waziristan; create a wedge between the Army and the Government; and trigger a crisis between Washington and Islamabad
But a more daring investigation of the propaganda goals sought by the Jihadists may project that by enflaming the situation in Pakistan and creating a ripple effect in Afghanistan, the architects of international Terror may heat up the debate in the U.S. presidential election as well. The war room of al Qaeda has demonstrated in the past that it aims to manipulate public opinion "behind enemy lines." By fueling the violence inside Pakistan, propagandists would demonstrate that U.S. attention to that country was minimal in contrast to American involvement in Iraq. Well-manipulated by operatives in the region's media, this snowball argumentation can stir the debate into a desired shift in public opinion, and the days ahead may show additional evidence in this complex game played in the most dangerous place on the Planet.
Cutting Edge Terror Analyst Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels. He is the author of this year's released The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad. This article was filed from Europe where Dr Phares is conducting governmental briefings.