Al Qaeda, Taliban Rejoice
No one in the United States or the West made any attempt this week to assess how the CIA interrogation furor and resulting slowdown in CIA counter-terror operations might affect the state of war in Afghanistan and Pakistan or Islamist terror in other parts of the world, including the Middle East.
This point was ignored, even when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought news to the House Foreign Relations Committee Wed, April 22, that “Pakistan's government has abdicated to the Taliban in agreeing to impose Islamic law in the Swat Valley.”
She went on to say that the situation in Pakistan “poses a mortal threat to the security and safety of our country and the world.”
She did not say how this happened or why Pakistan was falling back against the Islamic insurgency.
Is it the fault of President Ali Asif Zardari's personal weakness? or Pakistan's military deficiencies and lack of tools for contending with al Qaeda and the Taliban? Or maybe the Pakistanis, like fellow Muslims in other countries, are reconciled to President Barack Obama's probing for terms from “moderate Taliban” circles to facilitate a quick exit for US troops fighting in Afghanistan?
Islamabad is certainly keeping a weather eye on the negotiating track with the Taliban which US special envoy Richard Holbrooke is running through the Saudis and which President Obama hopes to pursue with Tehran's support.
Grist to al Qaeda, Taliban's mills
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Islamabad, Pakistanis are losing their stomach for fighting Taliban. They are shy of heeding the appeals of the chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, and commander of US CentCom, General David Petraeus to fight harder, when America is engaging the same enemy in back- and front-door diplomacy.
Islamabad calculates very coldly that rather than accepting Obama's offer of $1.2 billion in aid for stepping up its resistance to al Qaeda and Taliban, it would make more sense to beat Washington, Riyadh and Tehran to the draw and cut its own deal with Taliban. This would save money and lives in a war which the Pakistanis never sought.
Outside the former president Pervez Musharraf's small band of loyalists, it is hard to find a ranking member of Pakistan's political or military elite who concurs with Hillary Clinton's assessment that “the imposition of Islamic law in the Swat Valley threatens Pakistan's existence as a state” – much less “the security and safety of the USA and the world.”
Therefore, President Obama cannot hope for much success in persuading Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, when he meets them on May 6 and 7, to stop angling for peace with Taliban as the rising regional power, and instead to ramp up their efforts to defeat the Islamist insurgents.
The row in Washington over the CIA's past interrogation methods of Islamist terrorists is grist to the mills of al Qaeda and Taliban. The tamping down of the agency's counter-terror operations will be quickly seized on by the Taliban for expanding its attacks on Pakistan targets supporting the NATO war effort in Afghanistan and on NATO forces in the war zone.
Obama's Langley speech is a best-seller in Taliban, al Qaeda fighting circles
Terror experts also predict that, with America's counter-terror guard down, Islamist terrorists will feel freer to launch operations in the United States, Canada, West Europe and against America's allies in the Middle East.
Their fundamentalist faith requires Islamic fighters to seize on every chink in infidels' defenses to gain points for jihad. Several chinks have become visible in recent days: The videotape of President Obama's broadcast speech at CIA headquarters in Langley has become a best-seller in Taliban and al Qaeda fighting circles in Pakistan and Afghanistan; Hillary Clinton's statement that the imposition of Islamic law in the Swat Valley threatens Pakistan's existence as a state is another cause of celebration.
The two jihadi organizations see in these words admissions of US weakness and use them as a source of high vitality and intensified resolve to defeat the Americans on the battlefield. Their commanders will exploit this strategic-propaganda gift falling from heaven to the hilt for more gains and territory.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror experts add another point which has resurfaced as a result of the interrogation controversy in Washington.
The high-profile al Qaida prisoners, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shaibah captured in 2002 and Khalid Sheik Mohammed in 2003 were not snared by good intelligence or a US military feat, but as a result of tip-offs from Pakistani intelligence sources which collaborated then – and still do – with al Qaeda. They led the American captors to the men's hideouts and briefed them on how well they were guarded.
As we reported in the past, al Qaeda deliberately sacrificed the three operatives as bait for US intelligence. They were never important sources of intelligence any more than Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the real mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks on America. For informed intelligence sources, the working hypothesis is that the three men had nothing important to betray to the Americans. It is a fact that since 2003, not a single high-profile al Qaeda figure has been caught.
The controversy which has erupted in Washington over the morality and effectiveness of interrogation methods used against the three men is taken by al Qaeda as a repeat success in selling US intelligence the same bill of goods.
The jihadists and their allies and offshoots can be expected to expedite attacks in various stages of planning, hoping to stoke the flames of the political controversies in the US and Europe over CIA methods of interrogation and the officials who authorized them. The higher the flames, the more the agency and its methods will be exposed to criticism and the less effective its war on terror.