Jihadist takeover in Pakistan “a real possibility”: Terrorism expert

Saturday, November 13, 2010

BERLIN - Pakistan is a highly volatile and combustible country right now, and is at a risk of having a coup from inside the military by jihadist sympathizers, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington has said.

In an interview to Spiegel Online, terrorism expert Bruce Riedel said, “Pakistan today is already in the midst of a small scale civil war. Last year 25,000 Pakistanis were killed or wounded in terrorism-related violence, and that’s just civilians. That’s three times the number of civilians killed or wounded in Afghanistan in the same year.”

“It is a very fragile, very volatile and very combustible country right now. In many ways it is the strategic prize in this whole equation. What happens in Afghanistan will have huge ramifications for what happens in Pakistan. A jihadist victory in Afghanistan would have enormous reverberations and could even signal a take over by jihadist forces in Pakistan,” he added.

When asked that some people believe that a jihadist takeover was already more likely in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, the former CIA officer replied, “I don’t think it is imminent or inevitable. It is probably not even the most likely outcome. But for the first time, it is a real possibility.”

He explained that the takeover could come in one of two ways- “The Pakistani Taliban insurgence could grow and grow and grow, or, more likely, you could have a coup from inside the military by jihadist sympathizers. There is a lot of unrest in the Pakistani army because of their ongoing operations against militants. We could wake up one morning and have another Zia ul-Haq in power in Pakistan, a committed jihadist, only this time without the Soviet Union as his enemy.”

Talking about the whereabouts of the al-Qaida leadership, he said, “We shouldn’t think of bin Laden as living in a cave. He is actively engaged in controlling a global terrorist organization. I don’t mean that he runs everything. But he provides strategic direction… We believe he is in Pakistan, it is a pretty good bet.”

Commenting on the al-Qaida having relations with the Afghan Taliban as well as the Pakistani Taliban- which almost seems to be acting as a kind of al-Qaida proxy- Riedel said, “The reason is that al-Qaida learned an important lesson in Iraq: If you put foreigners in the front line, they will eventually turn the population against them. So in Pakistan, the front line is the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Toiba, all these Pakistani faces.”

“Witness for example the rise of Ilyas Kashmiri, a long time Pakistani terrorist fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Now he is the face of jihad in Pakistan. The same is true for Afghanistan. Al-Qaida doesn’t lead the fight in Afghanistan. They let the Taliban lead it. But behind the scenes they provide support,” the terrorism expert added.

Responding to a question over what the international community’s first priority should be, given the complexity of the problem, Riedel said,”We have to make sure this is an Afghan-led process. Secondly, we need to send a clear message to Pakistan that it can be part of the process, but it cannot be the dominant power. Afghanistan cannot be a satellite state of Pakistan.” (ANI)

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