According to a new report by the Coordinator of the Al- Qaeda/ Taliban Monitoring Team of the United Nations Security Council, al- Qaeda is enduring a difficult period of weakness. They would be vanquished, in fact, if it were not for the one geographical area where Al- Qaeda has retained influence and consolidated or increased its standing over the last three years: the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
After the 2008 International Terrorism and Intelligence Conference on 9-10 June in London, a group of security experts started publishing a series of papers to address key long-term challenges posed by counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization. The authors of these papers take an integrated approach that considers the diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement communities, as well as cooperation between the public and private sectors.
This latest report is by Richard Barrett, Coordinator of the Al- Qaeda/ Taliban Monitoring Team of the UN Security Council, who serves on the UN Secretary-General’s Task Force implementing the United Nations Global Counter- Terrorism Strategy. Barrett has a particular responsibility for addressing radicalization and extremism that lead to terrorism, terrorist use of the Internet, and terrorist financing.
Barrett explains in this new report that Al- Qaeda’s future largely depends on the safety of the Afghan-Pakistan border region and whether it can maintain its relationship with the Taliban there. The same Taliban that harbored al- Qaeda during the lead up to 9/11 remains the lifeline for al- Qaeda today and it is located right where we left if in 2003: just beyond the Tora Bora.
There is now a Pakistan and Afghan Taliban that are, according to the new report, becoming increasingly distinct. The report’s author suggests that “the most promising option from Al Qaeda’s perspective is to foster and deepen its relationship with the Pakistani rather than the Afghan Taliban.” Good thing the Pakistani government finally outlawed al- Qaeda.
The international community has a role to serve in eliminating al- Qaeda’s most promising option and finishing the job in Afghanistan. However, and the report notes this in detail, the international community must tread lightly. (Not particularly our strong suit these past years.) The experts warn that Al- Qaeda will “fight hard to obstruct the influence of” the central governments in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and will “try to discredit it by arguing that it acts on behalf of external interests; it will aim to provoke further intervention by foreign forces, knowing that this is the one thing all the tribes will unite against.”
After last night’s Democratic convention, I am tempted to round this out with a quote from a speech that Barack Obama gave on August 1, 2007:
“It is time to write a new chapter in our response to 9/11. . . . When I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.”