NEED TO COUNTER OSAMA'S MESSAGE ON AFGHANISTAN
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.316
An audio message purported to be of Osama bin Laden on Afghanistan was disseminated through the Internet and the Al Jazeera TV channel of Qatar on November 29,2007.
2. The message, which is addressed to the European people, focuses on Afghanistan. In this message,he says that the decision to carry out the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US was his alone and that the Afghans had no role in it and were not even aware of the planned terrorist strikes in the US homeland. He, therefore, projects the invasion of Afghanistan by the US in retaliation for the 9/11 strikes as unjustified. He says in his message: "The truth, as I said before, is that the Manhattan events were in retaliation for the killing of our kinfolk in Palestine and Lebanon by the US-Israeli alliance and that I am responsible for them.I affirm that the Afghans - government and people - had no knowledge whatsoever of these events and America knows that."
3. Both bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri have issued many messages on Afghanistan since 2003 praising the jihad being waged by the Neo Taliban under the leadership of Mulla Mohammad Omar and the heroic role of the Pashtuns on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in this jihad. Hence, there is no significance in the fact that bin Laden's latest message focuses on Afghanistan. What is new and significant is the fact that whereas his earlier messages on Afghanistan were addressed to the Muslims of the world to express solidarity with the Neo Taliban, the latest message is addressed to the European people to exercise pressure on their Governments not to support the US in its war on the Afghan Government and people. It does not read like a message of intimidation or warning, but as a message of subversion to subvert the loyalty of the European people to the NATO alliance, which is supporting the US and the Afghan troops in Afghanistan.
4. The message gives rise to three questions: What is the significance of his addressing this message on Afghanistan to the European people at this time? Does it presage any terrorist strike planned in West Europe similar to the Madrid blasts of March,2004, and the London blasts of July, 2005, which were triggered off by anger over the involvement of the Spanish and British troops in Iraq? What should the US-led coalition do to counter it?
5. The significance of this message arises from the fact that Al Qaeda, the Neo Taliban and other pro-Al Qaeda organisations are concerned over the fact that while the policies of President George Bush on Iraq have come in for considerable criticism all over the Western world,including in the US itself, the people, the politicians and non-governmental opinion-makers in the Western world seem to understand the need for the so-called war under the US leadership against Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban in Afghanistan. Whereas many sections of the political class in the US have been very critical of the continued US involvement in Iraq and have been calling for a time-table for the US withdrawal from there, there has not been similar criticism of the continued US involvement in Afghanistan and a similar demand for a time-table for the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. So is the case in most other Western countries. Public opinion in Western countries seems to accept by and large the need to defeat Al Qaeda and the Neo Taliban in Afghanistan before the Western troops can be withdrawn from there.
6. However, there has been criticism in some sections of Canada and Germany of the continued involvement of their forces in Afghanistan. This has been sought to be exploited by Al Qaeda in its efforts to motivate the Muslims of these countries to wage their jihad in solidarity with the jihad in Afghanistan, in order to increase the pressure on the Governments of these countries to withdraw from Afghanistan. Last year, the Canadian authorities arrested a number of local Muslims not only of Pakistani origin, but also of Indian origin from the Carribean on a charge of conspiring to acquire ammonium nitrate for possible use in acts of terrorism in Canadian territory. Similarly, earlier this year, the German authorities detected a cell of local Muslims, who had allegedly been trained in the tribal belt of Pakistan by the Islamic Jihad Group, which is a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Some of them were arrested, while some others absconded. The main motivating factor in both cases in Canada and Germany was anger over the involvement of the local Government troops in Afghanistan.
7. Al Qaeda itself does not seem to be in a position to organise an Afghanistan-related terrorist strike in Western Europe or Canada, but its supporters and sympathisers in the local Muslim communities can be exploited for this purpose. This seems to be the main objective of bin Laden's message on Afghanistan --- to use the local Muslims to step up pressure on the local population to demand a withdrawal from Afghanistan. The message is overtly addressed to the Europeans in general, but is also designed to covertly make ia impact on the Muslims living these countries.
8. There has been a significant increase in the PSYWAR material being disseminated by As-Sahab, the PSYWAR and propaganda wing of Al Qaeda. They are not being countered by the US presently in an effective manner----either proactively or even reactively. It is time to start a well thought-out counter-PSYWAR campaign. In response to the latest audio messge of bin Laden, the US-led coalition should immediately disseminate messages in Pashtun, Urdu and Arabic in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region that the operations in Afghanistan were not just in retaliation to the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US homeland, but in retaliation to the continued hospitality given to leaders of Al Qaeda and its associate organisations in the tribal territory. The counter-messages should project the objective of the operations as to neutralise Al Qaeda and appeal for the co-operation of the tribals in this operation by killing or helping in the capture of bin Laden and his associates so that the "war" could be ended early.
9. The Pashtuns have a strong sense of solidarity with their guests. They are unlikely to kill or deliver bin Laden and his supporters, whom they look upon as their honoured guests, in return for cash rewards, however large the amounts may be. They have to be convinced that these Arabs are damaging their interests and the good name of their tribal community. The issue should not be posed as one between good Muslims and bad Muslims but as one between the local sons of the soil and their foreign guests, who are misusing their hospitality and bringing a bad name to their community.. (1-12-07)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )