The Pakistani-Al Qaeda Connection

StrategyPage has two related stories on this. The Pakistani-Al Qaeda Connection

The Russian FSB (federal security agency) has sent investigators and technicians to assist in the counter-terrorism operations in Uzbekistan. There, the death toll in the last six days stands at 33 terrorists (seven of them women), ten policemen and four civilians. Police arrested 19 terrorism suspects and seized 55 suicide bomber belts, 72 ammonium nitrate bombs, and more than two tons of chemicals for making bombs. Also seized were seven AK-47s, 11 pistols and two hand grenades. The government says that most of the terrorists are foreigners, but Uzbek pro-democracy groups say the government is using the terrorist attacks as an excuse to round up anyone opposed to the current dictatorship.

Afghanistan, alarmed at the outbreak of terrorist violence, has closed its border crossings into Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, across the border in Pakistan, Tahir Yuldash (head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) is still on the loose with several hundred heavily armed followers. The chances of Yuldash getting back to Uzbekistan with his men are slim, but not impossible. In any event, the government claims that some of the terrorists participating in the recent attacks had spent time in Pakistani al Qaeda camps.

Amnesty for al Qaeda

Pakistan is offering al Qaeda fighters on the Afghan border amnesty if they surrender their weapons and get a local tribe to guarantee their future good behavior. The twelve days of fighting in South Waziristan saw al Qaeda leader Tahir Yuldash (head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) escape with most (about 300 of 500) of his fighters. The army is telling the tribes that they will do it all over again for any tribe that gives Yuldash and his men sanctuary. The al Qaeda force contains many Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks and others foreign to the region, as well as some Afghans and Pakistanis. Some of the al Qaeda fighters have already gone native, marrying local women. The al Qaeda forces in the area also have access to large amounts of money, and with this, and freedom from government interference, the terrorist training camps could be re-established. It is feared that this is what is happening in Pakistani Kashmir. But much of that region is largely off-limits to non-Pakistanis, especially American CIA paramilitary operators.

This is a complicated problem, in that, presumably people joined al Qaeda for multiple reasons and perhaps not always with total free will, much as teens in our inner city join criminal gangs. Disarming these folks is a good thing and, if there’s reason to believe most of them would just meld into society if given amnesty, it may be more effective than having them banded together out of fear of capture. On the other hand, it’s not as if getting more small arms is a major obstacle in Central Asia.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.