People who know al Qaeda knew that Aiman alZawahiri will run al Qaeda because he has been running it all along. He is the man who, by his own admission, wants to become the caliph of Pakistan, if not the entire Muslim world. He has written a critique of Pakistan’s current Constitution in his booklet Morning and the Lamp being circulated by the madrassa network in Pakistan as the next constitution of the country.
AlZahawiri’s rise has been steady but dogged, overcoming differences of opinion within al Qaeda and its international cells. Osama was vatic and otherworldly; alZawahiri was the operational brains with his doctrine of the ‘near enemy’ and takfeer (apostatisation).
Aiman alZawahiri came from a privileged family of doctors in Egypt. Himself a qualified physician, he was to acquire a PhD in surgery from a Pakistani medical university while living in Peshawar. Reading Syed Qutb, he favoured applying violence to end the jahiliyya of Muslim societies not living under sharia. Al Qaeda was created in Peshawar in 1987-88 when the intellectual leader under Osama bin Laden was the great Palestinian scholar Abdullah Azzam. Joining late, alZawahiri soon began to monopolise Osama and pushed Azzam to the margin, some say causing him to be killed in Peshawar with his two sons.
Osama was persuaded by alZawahiri’s argument in favour of al adou al qareeb (enemy who is nearby) in opposition to Azzam’s global vision of jihad which was described to Osama as al adou al baeed (enemy who is far away). This was, in effect, the beginning of the narrowing of the vision of al Qaeda. Once this strategy was adopted, jihadists were permitted to vent their own local and regional angers on the ‘near enemy’ who happened to be fellow-Muslims.
AlZawahiri wanted the US to come out and fight far away from ‘fortress America’ and he succeeded when America invaded Afghanistan in 2001, although he miscalculated the fury of Washington’s response and had to hightail it out of Afghanistan into Pakistan’s tribal areas, only to face a Pakistan Army allied with the US and its international brigade of scared governments. But this was the moment of the Pakistan Army’s punishment for having created an entire underworld of proxy warriors during the 1980-90s. AlZawahiri strategic skills later netted him the entire jihadi network plus army officers who decided to retire and join al Qaeda.
He had Arab terrorists gravitating to the tribal areas but the best thronging al Qaeda camps were the warriors whom the military had trained and been using for raids in Indian-administered Kashmir. One such person was Ilyas Kashmiri who created his Brigade 313 to take revenge on the Pakistan Army for having reneged on jihad. Then there were retired majors and captains enslaved to alZawahiri’s jahiliya and takfeer, willing to kill army personnel and army officers. The old practice in the army of letting officers go on tableeghi furlough helped in this process. Army chiefs began to be targeted in Rawalpindi.
Some say alZawahiri had put Osama away in Abbottabad in 2005 with the help of his local moles so that he could get better control of al Qaeda. If he did that it proved effective, because the forces arrayed against the state of Pakistan became stronger through integration. The Punjabi Taliban were put under the Haqqani network, although Pakistan thought the network was its asset. AlZawahiri totally overpowered Sufi Muhammad’s Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi and occupied Swat; he converted to takfeer Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid in Islamabad through his Arab proselytiser Sheikh Essa and came closer to the prize he has always sought: The capital of Pakistan.
Pakistan and its elected parliament have made the rest of alZawahiri’s journey easy. If things continue as they are, the number of al Qaeda and Taliban sympathisers will only increase and a point could come when this reaches a critical level.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2011.