Slain Writer’s Book Says US-NATO War Served Al-Qaeda Strategy

By: Gareth Porter   

Al-Qaeda strategists have been assisting the Taliban fight against U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan because they believe that foreign occupation has been the biggest factor in generating Muslim support for uprisings against their governments, according to the just-published book by Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistani journalist whose body was found in a canal outside Islamabad last week with evidence of having been tortured.

That Al-Qaeda view of the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, which Shahzad reports in the book based on conversations with several senior Al- Qaeda commanders, represents the most authoritative picture of the organisation's thinking available to the public. 

Shahzad's book "Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban" was published on May 24 – only three days before he went missing from Islamabad on his way to a television interview. His body was found May 31. 

Shahzad, who had been the Pakistan bureau chief for the Hong Kong- based Asia Times, had unique access to senior Al-Qaeda commanders and cadres, as well as those of the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban organisations. His account of Al-Qaeda strategy is particularly valuable because of the overall ideological system and strategic thinking that emerged from many encounters Shahzad had with senior officials over several years. 

Shahzad’s account reveals that Osama bin Laden was a "figurehead" for public consumption, and that it was Dr. Ayman Zawahiri who formulated the organisation's ideological line or devised operational plans. 

Shahzad summarises the Al-Qaeda strategy as being to "win the war against the West in Afghanistan" before shifting the struggle to Central Asia and Bangladesh. He credits Al-Qaeda and its militant allies in North and South Waziristan with having transformed the tribal areas of Pakistan into the main strategic base for the Taliban resistance to U.S.-NATO forces. 

But Shahzad's account makes it clear that the real objective of Al- Qaeda in strengthening the Taliban struggle against U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan was to continue the U.S.-NATO occupation as an indispensable condition for the success of Al-Qaeda's global strategy of polarising the Islamic world. 

Shahzad writes that Al-Qaeda strategists believed its terrorist attacks on 9/11 would lead to a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan which would in turn cause a worldwide "Muslim backlash". That "backlash" was particularly important to what emerges in Shahzad's account as the primary Al-Qaeda aim of stimulating revolts against regimes in Muslim countries. 

Shahzad reveals that the strategy behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the large Al-Qaeda ambitions to reshape the Muslim world came from Zawahiri's "Egyptian camp" within Al-Qaeda. That group, under Zawahiri's leadership, had already settled on a strategic vision by the mid-1990s, according to Shahzad. 

The Zawahiri group's strategy, according to Shahzad, was to "speak out against corrupt and despotic Muslim governments and make them targets to destroy their image in the eyes of the common people". But they would do so by linking those regimes to the United States. 

In a 2004 interview cited by Shahzad, one of bin Laden's collaborators, Saudi opposition leader Saad al-Faqih, said Zawahiri had convinced bin Laden in the late 1990s that he had to play on the U.S. "cowboy" mentality that would elevate him into an "implacable enemy" and "produce the Muslim longing for a leader who could successfully challenge the West." 

Shahzad makes it clear that the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were the biggest break Al-Qaeda had ever gotten. Muslim religious scholars had issued decrees for the defence of Muslim lands against the non-Muslim occupiers on many occasions before the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, Shahzad points out. 

But once such religious decrees were extended to Afghanistan, Zawahiri could exploit the issue of the U.S. occupation of Muslim lands to organise a worldwide "Muslim insurgency". That strategy depended on being able to provoke discord within societies by discrediting regimes throughout the Muslim world as not being truly Muslim. 

Shahzad writes that the Al-Qaeda strategists became aware that Muslim regimes - particularly Saudi Arabia - had become active in trying to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2007, because they feared that as long as they continued "there was no way of stopping Islamist revolts and rebellions in Muslim countries." 

What Al-Qaeda leaders feared most, as Shahzad's account makes clear, was any move by the Taliban toward a possible negotiated settlement - even based on the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. Al-Qaeda strategists portrayed the first "dialogue" with the Afghan Taliban sponsored by the Saudi king in 2008 as an extremely dangerous U.S. plot - a view scarcely supported by the evidence from the U.S. side. 

Shahzad's book confirms previous evidence of fundamental strategic differences between Taliban leadership and Al-Qaeda. 

Those differences surfaced in 2005, when Mullah Omar sent a message to all factions in North and South Waziristan to abandon all other activities and join forces with the Taliban in Afghanistan. And when Al-Qaeda declared the "khuruj" (popular uprising against a Muslim ruler for un-Islamic governance) against the Pakistani state in 2007, Omar opposed that strategy, even though it was ostensibly aimed at deterring U.S. attacks on the Taliban. 

Shahzad reports that the one of Al-Qaeda's purposes in creating the Pakistani Taliban in early 2008 was to "draw the Afghan Taliban away from Mullah Omar's influence". 

The Shahzad account refutes the official U.S. military rationale for the war in Afghanistan, which is based on the presumption that Al- Qaeda is primarily interested in getting the U.S. and NATO forces out of Afghanistan and that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are locked in a tight ideological and strategic embrace. 

Shahzad's account shows that despite cooperative relations with Pakistan's ISI in the past, Al-Qaeda leaders decided after 9/11 that the Pakistani military would inevitably become a full partner in the U.S. "war on terror" and would turn against Al-Qaeda. 

The relationship did not dissolve immediately after the terror attacks, according to Shahzad. He writes that ISI chief Mehmood Ahmed assured Al-Qaeda when he visited Kandahar in September 2011 that the Pakistani military would not attack Al-Qaeda as long it didn't attack the military. 

He also reports that Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf held a series of meetings with several top jihadi and religious leaders and asked them to lie low for five years, arguing that the situation could change after that period. According to Shahzad's account, Al-Qaeda did not intend at the beginning to launch a jihad in Pakistan against the military but was left with no other option when the Pakistani military sided with the U.S. against the Jihadis. 

The major turning point was an October 2003 Pakistani military helicopter attack in North Waziristan which killed many militants. In apparent retaliation in December 2003, there were two attempts on Musharraf's life, both organised by a militant whom Shahzad says was collaborating closely with Al-Qaeda. 

In his last interview with The Real News Network, however, Shahzad appeared to contradict that account, reporting that ISI had wrongly told Musharraf that Al-Qaeda was behind the attempts, and even that there was some Pakistani Air Force involvement in the plot. 

*Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in 2006. 

NOTE:This is a cross post from IPS
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  • Ijaz Khan  On June 8, 2011 at 3:11 am

    Gareth Porter is a sane man. I have always found his writings balanced & unbiased. What he says here makes a lot of sense. It can be the Al-Qaeda who did them in. Falls in place. Many members were too eager,if I may be allowed to use the word,to state that it was ISI’s handiwork.I had stated earlier too, sounds immature. Why should they ANNOUNCE & then commit the attack?

  • Sohail Khan  On June 8, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Dear All,
    At least I am confused after reading Gareth Porter’s report.
    First of all, I have never understood the difference, or the similarity, between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Mulla Omer is generally perceived as the leader of the Talibans and, Osama Binladin is given the credit (sic) of forming Al Qaeda. As far as I can remember, Mulla Omer and Osama Binladin were extremely close – I am sure we all remember that the main reason for US’s attack on Afghanistan was that Mulla Omer (Taliban Government) were not willing to give Osama over to the US.
    My second comment on the text below is that it incorrectly (in my opinion) presumes the attack on 9/11 to be an act of, I don’t know what to say, Al Qaeda or Taliban. We all know of the countless questions that have been raised by people of standing all over the world and in the US, on the unexplained evidences and questions, related to the attack.
    The third comment is on referring to Saad Al Faqih as an Osama collaborator, I beg to disagree. I have lived in Saudi for the past 20 years and have some “hands on” knowledge of the Saudi dynamics. The objectives of both the gentlemen have never been common. I have reproduced what Wikipedia says on this subject. Below this quote I have also given a link to an interview that Saad Al Faqih which also clarify some points related to this debate.

    In December 2004 the US Treasury accused al-Faqih of being affiliated toAl Qaeda, and alleges he has maintained relations to the group since 1998.[4][5] Two days later, the names of al-Faqih and MIRA were added to the UN 1267 Committee’s list of individuals and entities belonging to or associated with al-Qaeda.[6] The Treasury statement mentions al-Faqih’s past affiliation with Osama bin Laden, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, and an obscure al-Qaeda ideologue who writes, or used to write, under the name Lewis Attiyatullah. Dr Sa’ad Al-Faqih asserts that authorities such as the United States government wish to vilify him because they are allies with the current Saudi regime which he opposes and denies all allegations.

    Lastly, the suggestion that Al Qaeda’s purposes were served by the US occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and that Al Qaeda wanted the occupation to continue so that they could use it to ignite the “Muslim insurgency” is ridiculous. This suggestion infers that the Al Qaeda has accepted the massacre of tens of thousands of Muslims in both these countries and through the snowball effect.

    With best wishes,
    Sohail Hameed Khan

  • M.Malik  On June 8, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Mr Ejaz
    Gareth reporter at this time is reproducing what Saleem Shehzad wrote. But from the contents I am still not clear as to what the situation is now? Mulla Umer since a long time back had told the TTP fellows not to attack the pakistani military or the namazis. Firstly, it appears what ever Mullah Umer says is blanketed by the press and secondly, the modus oprendii of both the Afghani and Pakistanis is different. I further do not understand that how could Aymen influence mullah umers pushto speaking clan more then mullah Umer himself. It is but evident that some one else is behind the scenes – all those hodge podge of rogue elements being paid well with a sprinkling of some genuine ones – to do the bidding. And when we say this we are painted conspiracy theorists!

  • TMH  On June 8, 2011 at 10:14 am


  • Amir Rana  On June 9, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Seems good if true and seems true since logical. This is the way an opponent lot weaker could defeat a monster.

    I don’t know who this Saleem Shehzad was and what his “real” objectives were but his analysis has substance in it.

    “Rational” thinkers (those who believed that a man cannot fly in the air before Wrights proved it otherwise) would still be crediting the wrong side even after the objectives of the weaker opponent would be achieved in future.

    • Hashim Hasan  On June 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm

      It is not important who Saleem Shehzad was, it is the way he has been eliminated. If you saw a coverage on Geo or Duniya last night of the man pleading in front of the rangers being shot at point blank, that is what matters. Someone in the security agencies or somewhere else felt that he or they do not like Saleem Shehazad hence eliminated him.

      Since we the citizens of this country are motionless as long as it is happening to someone else, therefore this getting to us is a matter of time only unless and until we are able to defend ourselves, I guess.


  • M Malik  On June 9, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Mr Hashim
    Frankly elimination by the ISI makes no sense to me. On the contrary elimination by the rogue TTP does. Pl explain me otherwise

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