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اتوار، 8 اپریل، 2012

The failure of Al-Qaeda propaganda

For several years Al-Qaeda has persevered with a relentless propaganda campaign against Pakistan, but there has been no effort on the part of the government to neutralise this blitzkrieg. Suicide bombings, targeted assassinations, kidnappings and other outrages are justified by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates as jihad. Yet the report of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) does not even acknowledge that the foremost threat that Pakistan faces emanates from terrorism

As recently as March 16 the local media reported that Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri released a videotaped statement in Arabic with Urdu subtitles in which he urged the people of Pakistan to “take a lead from your brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria” and overthrow “the bribe-taking” government and the “treacherous army.”

This statement was made only a few days before Sen Raza Rabbani presented the PCNS recommendations to the joint session of parliament, yet it was not even perceived as a threat to Pakistan’s security. Had the members of the committee taken the trouble to carry out a simple internet search they would have come across a wealth of material that would have laid bare the inconsistencies in Al-Zawahiri’s messaging to targeted audiences in the country. These could then have been used to formulate proposals to counter Al-Qaeda’s propaganda campaign against Pakistan.

For instance, in some of his earlier statements Al-Zawahiri is sympathetic to Pakistani soldiers and exhorts them to rise against their commanders, but in his subsequent pronouncements he pillories them for unforgivable perfidy. Thus, on Jan 30, 2006, the soldiers were told that “Musharraf has turned you into hunting dogs working for the Crusaders” and they were asked to rise against their “failed leadership.” The same theme is repeated with slight variations in his statements of April 29, 2006, and August 16 2008.

These appeals obviously fell flat and by August 27, 2009, the same soldiers had become despicable “Crusaders” devoid of all shame. An embittered Al-Zawahiri raved and ranted that even the Indian army was “more jealous and more concerned about the safety of their country than the Pakistani army is (for Pakistan’s).” On September 28, 2009, he described Pakistani soldiers as “low of spirit, opportunists who offer their services to the Crusaders and then flee from the battlefield and surrender when the battle gets too hard.”

Similarly, Al-Qaeda’s appeals to the Pakhtun and Baloch tribes are also riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. These range from encomiums extolling their valour to outright condemnation of the tribes as hypocritical and treacherous turncoats.

On March 25, 2004, Al-Zawahiri had not the slightest doubt that the Pakhtun tribesmen were heroes who had “conquered India and defeated the British and the Russians.” They were also extending help to the Afghan Mujahideen as were “the dear and kind Baloch tribes.” He then appealed to the people of Pakistan, and “the Pakhtun tribes in particular,” to exact revenge for the killing of “the grandsons of the Companions (Arab fighters in the region) who became their neighbours.”

The love affair did not last long. Two years later, on April 13, 2006, Al-Zawahiri accused “one the tribes” of betraying “the Mujahideen” for a fistful of American dollars, despite their solemn pledge “to host them and protect them.”

In the autumn of 2009 a key Al-Qaeda commander, Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi, was killed in a drone strike and on October 4 that year Al-Zawahiri again accused “one of the tribes” of informing the US about Al-Libi’s whereabouts, although they were honour-bound to “protect him and his brothers.” The men from the tribe were described as “herds of hypocrites” whose consciences were for sale to the “arrogant American force... (which) cannot fight without terrible bombardment.”

On November 11 last year, Al-Zawahiri conceded for the first time that many Al-Qaeda fighters had been captured since 2001 because they had been betrayed by several “of the Pakistani tribes.” On previous occasions he had been blaming only one or the other of the tribes but now the entire tribal structure was castigated for duplicity.

Al-Zawahiri’s messaging to the people in the settled areas of Pakistan, unlike his appeals to the tribal Pakhtuns and the military, has been more consistent and is founded on exploiting nationalist impulses and anti-Americanism. This is identical to the posture adopted by the rightwing political parties of Pakistan and extremist groups with fanciful Islamic names.

The variations of this leitmotif in Al-Zawahiri’s statements are: the US does not want Pakistan to become a Central Asian power (March 25, 2004); Washington’s aim is to fragment Pakistan and Musharraf had surrendered the country’s “strategic depth to the US in Afghanistan” (April 20, 2006); Pakistan was “a hope and a bastion” for the Islamic world but Musharraf had compromised the country’s sovereignty (August 16, 2008); Obama wants to take over and control Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (June 2, 2009).

But these elements also constitute Al-Qaeda’s own game plan for the region, as was recently proclaimed by its henchman, Omar Khalid Khorasani, the leader of a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction in Mohmand Agency. The local print media reported on March 21 that in a video released on jihadist web forums, Khorasani announced that his group sought to overthrow the government, impose Sharia, seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and wage jihad till “the caliphate is established across the world.”

In Al-Zawahiri’s actual scheme of things Pakistan would become a marginalised and weak component of a caliphate without borders, and certainly not “a Central Asian power” or a “bastion” of the Islamic world, as he professes in his deceit-saturated messages to Pakistan nationals. In this vision of an Al-Qaeda empire, it will be a Saudi or an Egyptian caliph who will control Pakistan’s nuclear assets and oversee the country’s governance.

Al-Zawahiri’s concern for the “surrender” of Pakistan’s “strategic depth to the US in Afghanistan” reveals Al-Qaeda’s own objectives in the region. The perpetuation of turmoil in Afghanistan will enable it to re-establish itself there, and this, in turn, underlines the need for Pakistan to play an immediate but non-intrusive role in facilitating an intra-Afghan dialogue, so that sustainable peace and stability is restored in Afghanistan.

The alternative is chaos, which is bound to spill over into Pakistan, and the only beneficiaries will be Al-Qaeda and its affiliates who will have thus acquired “strategic depth” in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Furthermore there will be an influx of two to three million refugees into Pakistan, which will be impossible for the country to sustain.

The inconsistencies in Al-Qaeda statements betray both panic and increasing frustration over its inability to achieve its ambitions in the region. The inescapable conclusion is that it has been considerably weakened because of the success of the military operations and the refusal of the tribal Pakhtuns to do its bidding.

What is also needed is a parallel effort to counter the Al-Qaeda propaganda broadside against Pakistan. The government, which has the habit of forming commissions and committees on any and every thing under the sun, should constitute a cell consisting of representatives from the ministries of information and interior to collate Al-Qaeda statements, expose their contradictions, translate these into Urdu and Pashto and disseminate them widely with the help of the print and electronic media.

The compilation should also include Al-Zawahiri’s betrayal of Essam al-Qamari, a key member of the Maadi cell of the Egyptian Islamic Jehad (EIJ) in 1981, his intrigues against EIJ founder Aboud al-Zumar in 1991, his alleged involvement in the assassination of Al-Qaeda’s ideological founder Abdullah Azzam in 1989 and the suspected tip-off by his associates to US intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden last May. This would also be the first essential step towards winning the propaganda war against terrorist groups.

 By S Iftikhar Murshed
The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@

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