Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that she believes al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is hiding in Pakistan. Foreign Minister Khar responded with grace and poise following such a serious allegation, stating that the government has no information about Zawahiri’s being in Pakistan, but that if the US does would it kindly share that intelligence with Pakistan so that they government can take appropriate action. Unfortunately, this was not the only response. In addition to the FM’s cool reaction was, of course, the predictable outburst of emotion that ignored all reason and, in trying to defend Pakistan, behaved embarrassingly.
The embarrassing response took the form of a Twitter hashtag #ShutUpClinton. As you might expect from the hashtag itself, these were not the most intelligent responses to Clinton’s accusation. They were emotional, reactive, and often attempts to change the subject by pointing out problems with US policy as if that someone excuses problems with our own.
There is no doubt that the US has made some profound mistakes. 9/11 was a terrible intelligence failure. The invasion of Iraq was based on manipulated evidence and propaganda. But just because the Americans have intelligence failures and manipulated evidence and propaganda, does that mean we should do the same?
Many people responded to the #ShutUpClinton campaign by pointing out that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan undetected. What came to my mind wasn’t Osama, though, it was Warren Weinstein – the 70-year-old development worker who was kidnapped from his home in Lahore last August.
Overshadowed by Clinton’s remarks was another piece of news that should shake us to our core. The kidnapped American aid worker has finally been heard from – in an al Qaeda hostage video.
It was the first direct confirmation that Al Qaeda was holding Mr. Weinstein, the country director for the Washington-based consultancy J.E. Austin Associates, which contracts for the United States Agency for International Development.
Armed men snatched him from a Lahore neighborhood in August; three months later the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, said Mr. Weinstein could be released if the Obama administration stopped all airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and released several men convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Yesterday, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud declared that the 4th May suicide bombing in Bajaur district was carried out to avenge the 2006 death of an al Qaeda commander. An article in Express Tribune explains the frightening al Qaeda connection in Bajaur:
A Mohmand cleric, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad arose as the al Qaeda-backed leader of the Taliban in Bajaur, who has escaped capture for the last six years, although it was rumoured earlier this year that he may have been killed. He is an important commander with approximately 3,000 warriors under his wing and is expected to fight the post-withdrawal war in Afghanistan. In August 2008, the army launched Operation Sherdil against him to stop the Taliban movement to and from Kunar. The terrorists were ousted from the agency by 2010 but, like warlord Fazlullah of Swat, Maulvi Faqir is able to make hit-and-run raids into the area. Bajaur is far too strategically important for al Qaeda to abandon. In the coming battle, this will be the funnel through which our warriors will cross over to fight the Northern Alliance.
Maulvi Faqir has been difficult to eliminate because of his alliance-making dexterity: he is aligned to Mullah Omar and al-Zawahiri. There are other terrorist outfits in Bajaur that owe similar allegiances and are at the beck and call of Maulvi Faqir. Since 2007, the Taliban are there together with the remnants of TNSM. But the Jaish-i-Muhammad is there too, headed by Qari Ali Rehman, who will unite against the Pakistan Army despite his differences with Maulvi Faqir. The Harkatul Jihadul Islami, which was involved in the Islamabad Marriot Hotel blast, is also active in Bajaur,
As The Express Tribune notes in its editorial, “The suicide attack in Bajaur is a foretaste of what will transpire in the region after the US and Nato forces leave Afghanistan”. Forget Osama, since the past few days al Qaeda terrorists have carried out suicide bombings and released hostage videos of aid workers kidnapped from Lahore. And our response is to list the failures of American foreign policy?
Al Qaeda is operating in Pakistan, and our response is to tell Hillary Clinton to shut up? That doesn’t solve the problem, it ignores it. Whether or not Ayman al-Zawahiri is living in Pakistan is not a question of ghairat, it is a question of self-preservation. If we are unable to unwilling to admit that terrorists are in Pakistan – whether or not their names are Zawahiri – we will be the ones who continue to suffer.