Is the Taliban About to Turn Zawahiri Over to the US?

Dia Rashwan, the noted Egyptian Al-Qaeda analyst, said at a recent conference in Cairo that the Afghan government is negotiating with the Taliban.   The potential deal:  The Taliban turns over Ayman Zawahiri in exchange for Taliban participation in the political process and an end to the war with the government.   The negotiations are being carried out under Saudi oversight and the US wants them to end before Bush leaves giving him a victory in the war against terrorism.  

Source here is  Al-Dostor (10/24, p4) which  apparently does not get the concept of putting today’s news on the net the day it comes out.  IslamOnline also has good coverage of the conference and notes that Rashwan could see the Taliban sacrificing Zawahiri but not Bin Laden because that relationship is deeper: 

 ويقول رشوان: باعتقادي أن طالبان من الممكن أن تضحي بالظواهري لكنها لن تضحي ببن لادن لعلاقته الوثيقة بطالبان

As for the source- remember this is not AHMED CAFE CHAIR. Dia Rashwan is one of the most respected Arab commentators on Al-Qaeda and is often cited by Western researchers. 

Commentary
If the US were able to pull this off, it would be a tremendous coup and should take the deal in a second. 

As I’ve said all along, the Taliban is not_a_natural_and_permanent enemy of the US.  They are an unsophisticated group of local Afghan Islamists who care first and foremost about local Afghan rule.  Afghanistan is only a threat to the US when it is ungoverned, allowing Arab fanatics (Al-Qaeda) to use it as a base to plan operations against the US.  Mullah Omar was willing to discuss turning over Bin Laden in the late 1990s.  Only after 9/11 did the Taliban become_an_enemy of the US.   A Taliban that turns on Al-Qaeda is not an enemy of the US, and if they are the only force that is capable of effectively governing Afghanistan than so be it. 

Secondly, to the extent that AQ is a  central organization (which is doubtful)  Zawahiri and not Bin Laden is the guy that makes things happen. So if he were turned over it would be a serious blow to the organization’s operational capacity, not to mention a major PR victory for the US.

Qaradawi and Zawahiri United Against the Shia

Jordanian journalist Mohamed Abu Rumman has a very interesting op-ed analyzing the latest Al-Qaeda tape in the September 21st edition of Al-Ghad newspaper.  Abu Ramen always has good analysis so I have translated the key points.

Key Analysis Points (The Bolded words are added by me)

  NEW EMPHASIS ON IRAN AND ITS ALLIES: The tape’s heavy focus on Iran and its allies (Hezbollah) represents a new pattern in Al-Qaeda rhetoric.  In the years following 9/11, AQ took great care to avoid conflict with Iran, for many reasons, but the most prominent being a sense that there were common interests that could be built upon, such as confrontation with the US and Israel.  In addition, Iran formed a critical crossing point for AQ leaders fleeing the Afghan war to different locations, although Iran did extradite several AQ figures back to their home countries and key figures, such as Sayf al-Adel and Bin Laden’s son are still imprisoned there.

Then as the Iraq war started, there was a dispute between  the pragmatic rhetoric of the AQ central leadership (especially Zawahiri)  and AQ in Iraq (especially Zarqawi and Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi).  Initially, AQC wanted to avoid confrontation with Iran,  whereas the AQ in Iraq were fighting an open war with Iran.  But now the AQC position vis a vis Iran has changed dramatically and this is most evident in Zawahiri’s response to close to 90 questions posed to him a few months ago.  

THE HEZBOLLAH PROBLEM:  And now Zawahiri is focused on Iran, but the basis of his criticism is political and not religious or sectarian.  His big issue with Iran is their inconsistent positions towards  Arab and Islamic causes.  On one hand, Iran basically legitimizes the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, even calling Resistance there Harem (religously illegitimate)  or terrorism.  At the same time it turns around and supports the Resistance in Palestine and Lebanon.  Zawahiri points to Iran’s political opportunism as one reason that it can’t be considered a reliable partner against the US.  But there is another reason that explains AQ’s strategic change and this is the rise of Hezbollah since 2006, whose performance against Israel has given it widespread popularity in the media and on the Arab street- something very worrying to AQ.   AQ sees the rise of sectarian tensions in the region as something the Salafi Jihadist movement can exploit to tap recruits.  But this is all complicated by Hezbollah’s widespread popularity.

 WHO’S WHO ON THE TAPE: Abu Ramen’s  second point is related to the appearance of several leaders of AQC, especially AZ who truly is the AQ “main man.”
But the big surprise is the presence of two big name characters: Atih Allah who has gained popularity amongst the followers of AQ and plays a big role on the internet, especially as relates to the Iraqi file.  The second person is Abu Yaha Al-Libie, who is most prominently in charge of issuing fatwas.  As for the appearance of Abu Yazid al-Masri, Amir of AQ in Afghanistan, the big value here is to dispel rumors that he died.   Noticeably absent is Abu Hamza Al-Muhajer, Abu Amr Al-Baghdadi (leader of AQ in Iraq), and Mohamed Khalil Al-Hakemiya  which most prominently reflects AQ’s retreat in Iraq as compared to previous years and their inability to undertake operations in Egypt, despite their announced presence there, which confirms the significance/strength of the Revisions process which reached its climax with the announcement of Dr. Fadl’s anti-violence initiative.

OPEN SEASON IN AFGHANISTAN:  On the other hand, the presence of the three key personalities of AQC on the tape, which comes after another tape which announced AQ’s responsibility for the explosion of the Danish embassy in Pakistan, reflects their free conditions in Afg/Pak, as a result of the alliance with the Taliban and the local Islamic groups.  If only temporarily, for a number of reasons….

The prominent political message of the tape is that the key AQ leaders are confirming that they will stick to the fight and that they are still alive, despite the passage of 7 years of these Wars of the Cross (Crusades), this being the name AQ uses in the hope of gaining sympathy on the Arab street….Perhaps AQ has failed since 9/11 in executing the same kind of spectacular attacks and has switched to attacking soft-targets, but there is consensus amongst people who study AQ that it has become more dangerous as a “political message”  accepted by groups here or there, and whose ideology might be incentive for certain Arab and Muslim youth, considering the failures/ Fowda that is ripping through most of these societies. ….AQ plays a directional role through setting the general path, whereas their followers on the ground have the responsibility of carrying out the battle.

Commentary 

1) Is there any doubt that Ayman Zawahiri is the top guy in AQ?  Literally, everything I read in the Arabic press suggests that he and not Bin Laden is the primary mover and shaker. 

2)  Solidity of the Egyptians revisions process:  Ramen sees the lack of any Egyptians as a sign that they are holding.  Bringing these Egyptians on the tape would probably be an embarrassment for Zawahiri as it would highlight how badly the militant groups lost in Egypt.   What’s truly remarkable is how in the homeland of radical Islam, Egypt, the  radical Islamist groups that existed between the 1970s and 1990s have essentially disappeared.   

3)  Conservative Sunnis are faced with a serious dilemma with the widespread popularity of Hezbollah.  Both Zawahiri and Yusuf Qaradawi have a HEZBOLLAH PROBLEM.    Attracting surprisingly little attention in the  Western press, last week Yusuf Al-Qaradawi went on a long anti-Shia rant in an interview  with Al-Masr Al-Youm, saying they were clearly trying to invade Sunni society with their ideas.  Asked by his Egyptian interview “which is the greater danger- Shias or Wahabis?”  Qaradawi said Wahabis don’t respect the opinions of anyone but themselves, then railed against the Shia:

   “unfortunately there are Shia in Egypt.  They tried for dozens of years unsuccessfully to recruit one Shia, from the time of Salah Ad Deen until recently….”

للأسف وجدت مؤخراً مصريين شيعة، فقد حاول الشيعة قبل ذلك عشرات السنوات أن يكسبوا مصرياً واحداً ولم ينجحوا، من عهد صلاح الدين الأيوبي حتي ٢٠ عاماً مضت ما كان يوجد شيعي واحد في مصر،

But notice his explanation for why this might be occurring: 

:  ( فنحن العلماء لم نحصن السنة ضد الغزو المذهبي الشيعي لأننا دائماً نعمل القول «ابعد عن الفتنة لنوحد المسلمين»)  He says “we the Ulema didn’t immunize (or left our society vulnerable to the penetration) because we always said avoid fitna in order to keep the Muslims united.” 

   Basically what  he is saying here by this last quote:  “we the noble Sunni clerics took the higher road and said to the rank and file, “lets stay united to avoid fitna.”  As a result our people let their gaurds down, and the sneaky Shias took advantage to recruit/ spread their ideas.”  

 Deep down inside Qaradawi has to view the post-2006 war Hezbollah love-fest in the Arabic_press and street ( see here and here)  as especially aggravating.   It would not be an exaggeration that Hassan Nasrallah has Brad Pitt status amongst many Middle Eastern women.  One thing I’ve noticed in Egypt recently is a trend amongst young veiled, lower or middle class women, audaciously wearing the colors of Hezbollah.   For average people on the street, Hezbollah’s victory is something to take pride on- they deserve mad respect for their stand against Israel.  However, for Qaradawi such displays of unity merely give those “sneaky Shias” another back-door into Sunni society to spread their ideas.  Of course, he could not say that explicity- how uncool would that make him look. 

Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda also have a Hezbollah problem.  It largely stems from the fact that Hezbollah gets all the glory.  While they get feted and treated like rock-stars for confronting Israel, Al-Qaeda is standing in the background, unable logistically to strike at Israel.