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Middle East Bin Laden sets alarm bells ringing
Central Asia By Syed Saleem Shahzad
World Economy
Asian Economy ISLAMABAD - After a prolonged lull, the United States Central
IT World
Intelligence Agency (CIA) has launched a series of covert
Book Reviews operations in the rugged Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan and
Afghanistan following strong tip-offs that al-Qaeda leader Osama
bin Laden has been criss-crossing the area in the past few
weeks for high-profile meetings in militant redoubts.

The US has been on Bin Laden's trail ever since he fled

Afghanistan when the US invaded the country in 2001 to oust the
Taliban, but the 54-year-old with a US$50 million reward on his
head has always remained several steps in front.

Asia Times Online has learned that decision-makers have put a

lot of weight on the information on Bin Laden's movements as it
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Officials are said to be "stunned" by the visibility of Bin Laden's 7. The Odyssey
movements, and their frequency, in a matter of a few weeks in Dawn top 10
the outlawed terrain of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the most 8. Gaddafi triggers
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The development has fueled speculation in intelligence circles that MPs
al-Qaeda could be planning another major attack along the lines
of the September 11, 2001, assault on New York and 10. The heart of
Washington, and the July 2007 foiled bomb attack in London. Turkness

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However, extensive investigations by Asia Times Online, including Mar 23, 2011)
exchanges within al-Qaeda's camps, point in another direction:
given the nature of Bin Laden's meetings, this appears to be the
beginning of a new era for a broader struggle in which al-Qaeda,
through its Laskhar al-Zil (Shadow Army), will try to capitalize on
the Arab revolts and the Palestinian struggle and also revitalize
and redefine its role in Afghanistan.

A meeting in Bajaur
Several weeks ago, Bin Laden is reported to have met with
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the legendary Afghan mujahid and founder
and leader of the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) political party
and paramilitary group, in a militant camp in thick jungle on the
fringes of Kunar and Bajaur provinces in Afghanistan. The
encounter was publicized by leaks from the HIA's inner circle and
the news was circulated within militant camps in Pakistan's North
Waziristan tribal area via top-level Pakistani militant commanders
in Bajaur.

Despite him being an ally in the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban

led by Mullah Omar have always been skeptical about
Hekmatyar's intentions, while Bin Laden and some other
al-Qaeda leaders view him differently. Hekmatyar's
representatives of the HIA have been in direct active negotiations
with the Americans and have also brokered limited ceasefire
agreements with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
forces in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden fought alongside Hekmatyar in the jihad against the

Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and they remained in contact
during Bin Laden's days in Sudan, where he had settled in 1992.
When Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, he
stayed in regions that were controlled by warlords loyal to

Intelligence sources privy to the meeting in Bajaur said Bin Laden

could not afford to meet Hekmatyar simply for a dinner party,
which was hosted by a Pakistani militant commander of Salafi
tendencies and who was a member of the HIA during the Soviet

"The talks appeared to discuss some grand strategy and Osama

bin Laden aims to take Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on board,
especially as Hekmatyar's commanders have brokered ceasefire
agreements with NATO forces in Afghanistan and Hekmatyar's
representatives have been negotiating a truce with the
Americans," an intelligence source told Asia Times Online.

Beyond terror operations

Adding to the view of the importance of Bin Laden's meeting with
Hekmatyar is that it took place when the interest of the CIA and
its special forces had already been piqued by reports of the
al-Qaeda leader's movements in Kunar and Nuristan for meetings
with various militant commanders and al-Qaeda bigwigs. Bin
Laden would have been aware of the dangers and was obviously
prepared to take the risk.

While intelligence agencies might be involved in a guessing game

about Bin Laden's plans and a possible grand al-Qaeda
operation, his movements can be read in the perspective of
recent discourse in al-Qaeda circles and a major shift in its

International Islamic militancy that had its roots in the

decade-long war against the Soviets in the 1980s was broadly
divided into two main schools of thought; both considered
themselves righteous despite embodying contradictory themes.
These were doctrines of armed struggle espoused by Palestinian
Sunni Islamic scholar and theologian Dr Abdullah Azzam, and
Egyptian ideologue and Bin Laden's deputy, Dr Ayman

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Azzam preached in favor of defensive jihad by Muslims to help

the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets. He firmly believed in
a broader Muslim bloc including Muslim ruling establishments and
never supported revolt against Muslim regimes. Despite being
Palestinian with Jordanian nationality and a background in the
Muslim Brotherhood, Azzam kept himself aloof from the
Palestinian revolt against the Jordanian monarchy in September
1970 (called Black September).

Azzam was very close to the Saudi Arabian royal family and
considered it essential to lobby it for support of Islamic armed
movements like the Afghan resistance against the Soviets and
the Palestinian resistance against Israel. He struggled to achieve
unity among Muslim rulers and Islamists to resist Western
hegemony. He was less dogmatic than others in his strategic

After Azzam's assassination in Pakistan in 1989, Zawahiri

emerged as the main ideologue of Islamic armed opposition.
Coming from the same ideological background of the Muslim
Brotherhood as Azzam, Zawahiri faced an entirely different world
after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s when, under
American instructions, Muslim regimes were intolerant of Islamic

Zawahiri therefore promoted the idea of ideological divides within

the Muslim world, and encouraged revolts and terrorism to
polarize societies to such a point of chaos that they would be
unmanageable and amenable to Western intervention. It was
believed that such intervention would open the gates for a battle
between the West and the Muslim world.

Like Azzam, Zawahiri is not too dogmatic, but he encouraged

narrow ideological views in resistance movements as a strategy
to boost revolts against Muslim-majority states.

Of the two schools of thought, Azzam's has never been criticized

and is respected by all while Zawahiri's has come under heavy
fire from mainstream Muslim scholars and intelligentsia.
Zawahiri’s adherents had no argument in his defense other than
him operating under the law of necessity.

A recent ideological discourse within al-Qaeda's ranks shot down

Zawahiri's arguments. This was sparked by key al-Qaeda
ideologues and commanders such as Sulaiman Abu al-Gaith (see
Broadside fired at al-Qaeda leaders Asia Times Online,
December 10, 2010) and Saif al-Adel.

Adel emphasized that while polarization within the Muslim world

was essential after 9/11 to gather strength behind al-Qaeda,
nowadays, especially in light of the great Arab revolt, there was
a need to switch to Azzam's viewpoint that sees no need for
polarization within Muslim-majority states viz-a-viz the Muslim
world's confrontation against Western hegemony.

After this, al-Qaeda began a new phase with the Muslim

Brotherhood and Palestinian groups to revive its old contacts and
establish a new nexus for a joint struggle against Western
interests in the Muslim world.

Bin Laden's meeting with Hekmatyar and other militant

commanders in the Hindu Kush can be seen as a part of this new
war in which al-Qaeda aims to involve the whole Muslim nation.

Hekmatyar's HIA has been a part of al-Qaeda's Laskhar al-Zil,

which comprises elite guerrillas. Possibly, al-Qaeda aims to
revitalize its operations in Afghanistan, and throughout the world,
along with mainstream resistance groups (sons of the soil or
Ibnul Balad) and in addition to Islamic political parties.

While fears attached to Bin Laden’s unprecedented visibility and

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movement for a grand al-Qaeda operation cannot completely be

dismissed, it is more possible that al-Qaeda will undertake both
worldwide terror operations and join forces with mainstream
Muslim groups.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau

Chief and author of upcoming book Inside al-Qaeda and the
Taliban, beyond 9/11 published by Pluto Press, UK. He can be
reached at

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