This piece on al Qua'ida may see the world and make its strategic calculus is pure gold. If you care about national security, read with care. [See here for related materials from Paul Rogers.]
The SWISH Report (10)
The al-Qaida movement again solicits advice from the respected management consultancy. The SWISH experts hint that this could be their last such report.
29 - 02 - 2008
A seventh report from the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics to the al-Qaida Strategic Planning Cell (SPC) on the progress of the campaign and its ultimate realisation. Click here to read earlier reports.
Thank you for inviting us to deliver a further report on the progress of your movement. You will recall that our work for your planning cell commenced with an initial assessment in July 2004, a follow-up in January 2005 and further reports in February 2006 and September 2006. Because of your concerns over the outcome of the United States mid-sessional elections to Congress in November 2006 you asked us to present an additional report, which we did in December.
We appreciate that it is unusual for you to require a further analysis so soon after our last report in November 2007, but we understand that the pace of events in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan - amid the wider context of the United States presidential election campaign, is such that a further assessment would be useful.
We further understand that you are particularly interested in the recent developments in the US and that you require an assessment as to whether your movement should take any action in the context of its forthcoming election in November 2008. We will therefore review briefly the developments in the other countries before focussing on that element.
Finally, you wish us to make an initial assessment of your ultimate aim of establishing a new caliphate. This we will do in the spirit of openness that you have sought in the past. Our conclusions may not be expected and it is possible that this will be the last report you will commission from us.
Pakistan and Afghanistan
The benefit we have of operating in western Pakistan is one denied to most analysts. It allows us to draw attention to one of the most important features of the 18 February elections in the country, which was missed by most foreign commentators: the exceptionally low turn-out - below 30% overall, and below 20% in some districts. This alone means that too much is being made of the outcome. Within that context, three features of the election and its aftermath are relevant. The first is that the decline in the size of the Islamist vote is less significant than it might appear, given the decision by some parties to boycott the elections. Some argue that such boycotts were solely aimed to avert the embarrassment of certain defeat; but the real point is that in many parts of western Pakistan, elections are simply not relevant since politics works in other ways.
The second point is that Pervez Musharraf has been much weakened by the election outcome; even if he survives, he will carry very little authority. This is a concern for the United States which had hoped for a link-up between Musharraf and the Bhutto family's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). If a PPP/Nawaz Sharif coalition emerges instead (as seems more likely), the result is both no guarantee of stability and greater government caution than would otherwise have been the case about supporting or endorsing US military actions in Pakistan.
The third and most important point is the revelation this week that the CIA has been operating Predator drones from a base within Pakistan. In one incident, an armed Predator from this base which fired two Hellfire missiles at a target (also within Pakistan) killed a senior paramilitary leader and many other people. Many observers had assumed that such deployments were indeed part of US policy; this, however, is direct confirmatory evidence that will in due course lead to major problems for the evolving coalition in Islamabad.
Across the border in Afghanistan, we are aware from our local contacts that your Taliban associates are in a position to undertake major actions in spring and summer 2008; we also know that the leadership has excellent intelligence on the build-up of US and British forces in the south and southeast of the country. We have good reason to doubt that a spring offensive will develop as widely predicted. If so, then Nato commanders will hail this as a victory. But they will be wrong.
The Taliban leadership operates with a markedly sophisticated level of military leadership that is recognised among some of the more intelligent senior officers within Nato - though not by the alliance as a whole and certainly not by the western media. This is important enough, but an additional and even more significant development in Afghanistan is the extent to which paramilitaries are now applying the tactics and deploying the munitions developed in Iraq. We strongly doubt that they are going to be in the business of frontal military assaults at any time in the next six months. Instead, they will almost certainly melt away in the face of the additional US marines and Britain's Parachute Regiment forces which will arrive in Helmand province in the coming weeks; and rely far more on urban guerrilla warfare, especially in Kabul, making much use of martyr attacks.
The scale of the revenues now accruing from the drugs trade, especially the move towards the highly profitable refining of raw opium paste into heroin and morphine within Afghanistan, suggests to us the direction of Taliban strategy. Its militia will opt for a slow but persistent campaign stretching over three to four years, designed to wear down the commitment of some Nato states (Canada is the initial focus here). The longer-term nature of this effort means that over the shorter term, Nato may be able to foster the impression of some success and progress. Again, this will be a highly misleading interpretation.
The United States military surge has had some effect, but (as we argued in November 2007) this should not cause you concern. As our report then said:
"The Bush administration, and especially its neo-conservative elements, has now focused on an overall Iraqi narrative of 'probability of victory'. We know this is a chimera but they do not. The consequence of this is that the administration will aim to downgrade the Iraq war in the public consciousness in the coming months, even as the surge is forced to come to an end because of military overstretch."
In the past three months that has proved an accurate prognosis. There has been a recent increase in violence in Iraq, but not enough to have an impact within the United States. Unless there are very major changes in the coming months, the US is not going to have its "Suez moment" - as Britain did when facing up to its declining imperial power and the need for decolonisation in the wake of the brief Suez war of 1956.
We also pointed out in our last report that the oil factor remains a foundation of US security policy in the region, and that this alone makes any full-scale withdrawal from Iraq unlikely for some decades. Although circumstances will not always be as favourable as 2006-07, rest assured that your paramilitary combat-training zone in Iraq will remain viable and of great use to you for the foreseeable future.
The US election campaign
What then of US politics? Three months ago we, like most analysts, saw Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton as the frontrunners. We thought Clinton was the best of the Democratic candidates for you, given her relatively hardline stance on middle-east policy, and we regarded Giuliani as even better.
Times have certainly changed (as we did say was possible...) and John McCain now looks the overwhelmingly likely Republican candidate with Barack Obama emerging as the probable (though not yet certain) candidate on the Democratic side. From your point of view, McCain is reasonably good news. He is reliably hawkish on Iraq and Afghanistan, and although the political momentum of an incoming president gives a conservative president greater scope for policy reversals, we believe the power of the defence and energy lobbies may be too strong for any major changes to come in a McCain first term.
We cannot, however, be certain. It is possible for hawkish leaders (who have thus established their security credentials) to become unexpectedly flexible in office - witness Charles de Gaulle and Algeria, Richard Nixon and China, Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinians. You should therefore entertain the possibility of McCain using his "honeymoon" period (if you will permit us an exotic idiom) to order a radical withdrawal from Iraq. If he does, then your immediate response must be a very strong message hailing victory for your movement. This could well lead to a reversal of his policy.
A new perspective is offered by Barack Obama's progress, and we assume that this is the matter that most concerns you. If Obama does succeed in winning the Democratic nomination, and if he then survives the very heavy pressure on him from the Republican machine, then he may be in a strong position as the election approaches. It is at this stage that you may wish to consider your options. These, however - we would stress - depend primarily on how you would expect Obama to perform as president in relation to how you would most like the United States to behave.
What is best for you is that the United States remains resolute in its support for Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt; fully addicted to oil and therefore determined to remain dominant in the Persian Gulf; and continuing to pursue its war against you with the utmost vigour. In other words, eight more years for George W Bush would have been ideal.
Sadly for your movement, that cannot be.
What, then, of Obama? The candid answer is that we cannot be sure. All the rhetoric notwithstanding, we actually expect little change should he be elected. Yet since we cannot be certain, we would recommend that any sign of his leading the polls close to the actual election date should be met by strong statements from your leader, welcoming the possibility of the election of a president with whom you can do business. That should do much to prevent his being elected.
The long term
Finally, you ask our opinion on your long-term prospects. We have always taken the view that this is a conflict likely to stretch over decades, and we anticipate that you will eventually take control of a country in the middle east or southwest Asia, as a prelude to establishing a new caliphate. The most propitious time for this to happen is when your "far enemy" has had enough of its burdensome military entanglements, an event that you will no doubt see and claim as a great victory.
Yet we are obliged (to use another exotic idiom) to speak truth to power. In the context of your success in winning control of an individual state, the principle enjoins us to express the conviction that only then will your problems really start. While our institute specialises in strategic hermeneutics, we also cover other disciplines, not least political sociology; and our belief is that your version of uncompromising Islamist rule is as unsustainable in the early 21st century as is the American notion that the US can indefinitely occupy countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Your Taliban associates were initially welcomed by many Afghans in the mid-1990s as a stabilising force in the face of the horrors of warlord rule. Even by 2000, though, the doctrinaire rigidity of its regime was losing the movement support. One of the great unknowns of the decade is what would have happened to the Taliban regime if the 9/11 attacks had failed. We suspect that its regime would have been forced to moderate its style of governance, as indeed was already starting to happen in 2001.
You invoke and celebrate the Abbasids, a thousand years ago, as the greatest Islamic caliphate in history; and you seek to recreate that greatness. But for much of their 250-year history, the Abbasids oversaw a flowering of art, architecture, medicine, mathematics and the sciences; they were also notably tolerant of Christians and Jews. We do not see similar attitudes in the speeches and writings of your leaders. Instead there is a dogmatism of attitude that we think would not allow you to hold power even for a decade - let alone a century.
It is said that revolutions change merely the accents of the elites, and we fear that such would be the consequence of your movement coming to power. A lack of flexibility would lead to unbending pursuit of a false purity that would decay rapidly into a bitter autocracy, leading quite possibly to a counter-revolution.
If you really want to succeed then you have to engage in thinking that goes far beyond what appear to be the limits and flaws of your current analysis. We would be happy to assist, but we doubt that your leadership will be willing to allow us to do so. We therefore submit this as possibly our last report.
WanaSouth Waziristan28 February 2008