INTERVIEW | 5/3/2011 12:00:00 AM
Franchised groups of Al Qaeda will become more autonomous
The news of Osama bin Laden’s death has reverberated around the world. Semana talked to Dr. Alia Brahimi, research fellow for Global Governance at LSE and author. Her books include "Jihad and the Just War in the War on Terror".
Alia Brahimi: No. Osama bin laden has had very little impact on Al Qaeda for the last few years, not least because he has been hiding for so long. Many smaller groups nominally affiliated to Al Qaeda were no longer linked to him. The organisation will survive him because it already has.
Semana.com: What are the implications for Al Qaeda in an operational sense?
A.B.: The primary impact on Al Qaeda will be to accelerate a trend that started years ago. Franchised groups of Al Qaeda will become more autonomous. The most important point is that it signals the death knell for Al Qaeda as a popular movement.
These affiliated groups have not been following bin Laden’s goal of protecting Muslims. They have been massacring them. A good example was Al Zarqawi in Iraq.
Osama bin Laden not only disapproved of the violence of the Iraq but couldn’t stop it. We know this from two intercepted letters from bin Laden to Zarqawi in which he urged him to stop the indiscriminate violence against Muslims. Zarqawi ignored him, which massively discredited Al Qaeda in the Islamic world.
The same trend is happening at a lower level elsewhere. In Pakistan Islamic fundamentalism has been associated with a violently anti-Christian anti-Shia ideology of hatred, rather than a unifying popular movement.
Semana.com: How important was Osama bin Laden as a figurehead for radical Islam?
A.B.: He did have importance as a figurehead. He was not only a unifying figure for many disparate groups but also the leader that, at least in theory, all were supposed to defer to.
His suggested successors lack his charisma and eloquence. They also lack his legitimacy. The legend of bin Laden is not going to be recreated, but this is not to say that his fortunes had not waned over the last few years.
Semana.com: What are the implications for US foreign policy?
A.B.: This is a potential watershed moment for the US to re-conceive its approach to defeating Islamic terrorism. The myth of bin Laden provided the context for ‘war on terror,’ which treated Islamic terrorism and Al Qaeda as a homogenous group which could be defeated as such.
Hopefully his death will allow the US to deal with terrorists groups on their own terms. The nature and reasons behind Islamic Maghreb in Algeria are completely different from those behind a radicalised British woman stabbing her MP in Luton in protest against Iraq war.
Semana.com: What questions does bin Laden’s hiding place raise for Pakistan both in terms of her domestic politics and her relationship with the West?
A.B.: The question asked by analysts for many years has been: is Pakistan playing a double game on the war on terror? The general consensus is yes.
There are a number of sensible strategic reasons for Pakistan to do so. The Pakistani military have been cultivating radical Islam in Pakistan because they need proxies to fight a war with India and particularly in Kashir. The military also wishes to retain strategic strength in Afghanistan, which again comes back to India.
The Bush administration couldn’t or didn’t wish to grasp this nuance on the Pakistani position. If a connection between the ISI and Osama was revealed it would finally force Pakistan to deal with its many problems. The United States could begin to start linking Pakistani intelligence and military cooperation to aid.
Semana.com: Would this further destabilise the civilian government in Pakistan?
A.B.: US military intervention on Pakistani soil, for example in the North West Frontier Province has already caused destabilisation and has turned public opinion against the government.
But the problems of the government are much more far reaching. Hopefully this intervention will prompt them to seek a more comprehensive approach to their economic, political and social problems. In Washington it is vindication for critics of the Pakistanis.
Semana.com: Will bin Laden’s death speed up US withdrawal from Afghanistan?
A.B.: It might well have this effect. Obama now has the legal and political reasons to withdraw. There will be some in the administration, however, that will argue the US should remain for moral reasons.
Semana.com: Finally, how has bin Laden’s death been received in the wider Islamic world?
A.B.: If ever Osama bin Laden had any chance of growing a popular movement it was at the US invasion of Iraq. This was the height of his popularity in the Islamic world. However, due to his squandering of opportunities and his campaigns against Muslims it has been a downward spiral since then.
For the most part there will be a feeling of relief among Muslims. This is a man, after all, who directed most of his attacks against Muslims.