Geopolitical Diary: al-Qaeda's Silence on Pakistan
By: Stratfor.comJanuary 8, 2008
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A video communique surfaced on Sunday from al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, aka "Azzam the American." One of the highlights of the 50-minute video, titled "An Invitation to Reflection and Repentance," is a call to jihadists to welcome U.S. President George W. Bush with bombs when he arrives Jan. 9 on a weeklong tour of the Middle East. At one point in the video, Gadahn, a U.S. national, is shown tearing up his U.S. passport.

Overall, the general thrust of the video is no different from previous messages from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and other leading jihadist figures, in which they claim a U.S. defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, denounce rulers of Arab/Muslim countries as apostates and agents of the United States, and call upon Americans to accept Islam.

We have discussed before the amount of resources, energy and time requiredfor al Qaeda's apex leadership to produce a message like this. Al Qaeda prime not only suffers from a scarcity of resources, but also is obsessed with operational security. Thus, a decision to issue a statement is made only after considerable thought - presumably, al Qaeda would only produce such a message if it perceived a substantial benefit in doing so.

Therefore, it is quite odd that this latest video from Gadahn and the communiques that preceded it - a series of messages from bin Laden in the fall of 2007 - both talk about the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, but do not address the situation in Pakistan. Unlike in Iraq and most other places, al Qaeda can actually claim a significant degree of success in Pakistan. However, the last time al Qaeda issued a statement on Pakistan was Sept. 20, 2007, when bin Laden vowed to retaliate against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for the killing of the cleric who led the uprising at Islamabad's Red Mosque.

Since then, the jihadists in Pakistan have successfully staged multiple suicide attacks against army and air force installations and personnel, as well as those of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. In addition, Pakistani Taliban have consolidated their hold in the Waziristan region in the country's tribal belt along the border with Afghanistan. The Taliban phenomenon has also spread to the district of Swat in the North-West Frontier Province, where followers of Maulana Fazlullah took over most of the district - and Pakistani forces are still battling to regain control.

More recently, the insecurity and instability in Pakistan increased sharply because of the assassination of top opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. The deterioration of political stability in Pakistan is obviously forcing the United States to re-evaluate its options - the New York Times reported on Sunday that the National Security Council is considering expanding the authority of the CIA and the Pentagon to conduct more aggressive covert operations in Pakistan's northwestern regions. Chaos, weakening of government control, and the entry of the U.S. military into the fray - these are the conditions in which al Qaeda thrives.

Yet there is an odd silence from al Qaeda regarding these victories. Despite its relative success in Pakistan, the group continues to expend its precious resources on producing statements that either rehash its usual standard rhetoric, or that focus on areas in which it is facing defeat. Why would a group that thrives so much on media attention make such a bad PR move? Al Qaeda's apex leaders are many things, but they are not stupid - if they were, they would have been killed years ago and would no longer be issuing video statements. Therefore we tend to prefer the simple, obvious explanation: They are focusing everywhere but Pakistan because they want to draw attention away from Pakistan.

Al Qaeda prime is, after all, headquartered in Pakistan. With Washington's focus shifting from the chaos in Iraq to the chaos in Pakistan, it might be that the spotlight is shining uncomfortably close to the apex leadership. From al Qaeda's point of view, the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater is perhaps the only area of opportunity left for the jihadists to exploit, and the area where the final battle of the U.S.-jihadist war will be fought. But we suspect they are not eager to fight it just yet.

Stratfor is a private intelligence company delivering in-depth analysis, assessments and forecasts on global geopolitical, economic, security and public policy issues. A variety of subscription-based access, free intelligence reports and confidential consulting are available for individuals and corporations.

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