As if we needed any more bad news this week, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a new statement on Thursday that his terrorist group is responsible for the kidnapping of a 70-year-old American aid worker. This slap in the face couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Zawahiri claims that his al Qaeda militants kidnapped the American and is holding him on demand that the US stop air strikes against militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and releases the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. If anything, this action is only going to increase the American resolve to continue air strikes.
It should be noted that the 70-year-old man al Qaeda kidnapped is no Raymond Davis. Zawahiri couldn’t even claim the kidnapped American was an agent. Rather, he described the man as “neck-deep in American aid to Pakistan since the 1970s”. Say what you want about the effectiveness of US aid programmes, but the fact remains that Al Qaeda is essentially saying that if the Americans don’t stop killing militants, they will kill an old man who has devoted 40 years of his life to trying to help Pakistanis.
It was no secret that Al Qaeda are idiots. But what I think we were all hoping is that they were at least not being idiots in our back garden. When Osama bin Laden was discovered in Abbottabad, the nation suffered a collective shock. The world’s most wanted terrorist was not hiding in a cave in Tora Bora, he was living with his family outside Kakul.
Unfortunately, the powers that be decided that it was better to divert attention than to deal with the difficult question of how exactly he got there and managed to live unbothered and undetected by our intelligence agencies for years. Instead, the only question that seems to be asked is how the Americans managed to pull of a cross border raid without being detected.
Not that the issue of cross-border raids isn’t a good one, but let’s be honest – the Americans aren’t the first to run cross border raids into our territory without being detected. Iranian intelligence agents conducted a cross-border operation deep into our territory last year to free their diplomat who was abducted by militants in 2008. If one lesson should be taken it should be that as long as militants are using Pakistan as a base of operations, the countries affected are going to run cross-border operations. And why wouldn’t they? If we don’t respect our own sovereignty when it comes to militant groups, why should the affected countries respect it?
The Americans have continued to claim that militant groups including al Qaeda are operating freely in Pakistan. We have continued to say this is not the case, but each time al Qaeda shows up as operating in our borders, it undermines our national security. If we want to protect our sovereignty, we don’t need a plan to shoot at NATO helicopters, we need a plan to get rid of militants.