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
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 organization'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 organizations. 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 organization's ideological line or devised operational plans.
Shahzad summarizes 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 polarizing 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
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 organize 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.