President Bush famously said after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that every country had to decide whether they were with us or against us. Unfortunately, several so-called allies have decided to tackle some terrorist groups and not others, believing that the U.S. has no other option but to accept their half-hearted collaboration. Recent news from Yemen and Pakistan show that these two countries are double-dealing and need to be held accountable.
The Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi announced that high-level Al-Qaeda leader, Anwar al-Awlaki, will not be extradited to the United States if they capture him, even though he is an American citizen. Al-Awlaki is thought to be connected to the Fort Hood shooting and the Christmas Day underwear bomb plot. The Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen is becoming increasingly active, with up to 36 former prison inmates in the U.S. having joined the group.
This follows an earlier incident where al-Qirbi said that his government was not actively trying to arrest al-Awlaki, saying he was seen as a preacher. He then clarified that statement, saying he was only referring to the period when al-Awlaki initially moved to Yemen from the U.S. and was not accused of being involved in terrorism. He explained that the Yemeni government wants to arrest al-Awlaki, but blamed the U.S. for not providing adequate intelligence to allow them to locate him. We have heard the Pakistanis use a similar defense over the years when confronted with their resistance to arresting Taliban leaders.
Yemen has long harbored Al-Qaeda and radical Salafi elements, making various deals with them and openly negotiating truces when conflict arose. President Saleh’s government and security forces are known to have close ties to the Salafi tribes, whose members are reliable allies when fighting the radical Shiite Houthi rebels.
Imprisoned Al-Qaeda members frequently “escape” from prison. In February 2006, 23 Al-Qaeda members, including some involved in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and the 2003 bombings in Riyadh, found their way out of a high-security prison. When they were rearrested, the Yemeni government pardoned them after they disavowed terrorism. In February 2009, Yemen released 170 Al-Qaeda members after they promised not to return to terrorism. The Arab press reported last year that two Al-Qaeda camps were in Yemen, with one in Abyan Province housing about 400 terrorists.
The problem is similar in Pakistan. Although the Pakistani military has launched offensives to take back territory held by Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and like-minded terrorists, the government is still allowing some terrorist groups and Taliban figures to have freedom on their soil. The arrest in February of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second-in-command of the Taliban, was seen as a turning point, but at least two other senior Taliban officials were released.
The Haqqani network, which is allied to the Taliban, remains immune from Pakistani counter-terrorism efforts. Last May, U.S. intelligence found that the Taliban’s capabilities had expanded due to the assistance of members of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service which was providing money, weapons and even “strategic planning guidance.” The ISI’s S-Wing was accused of supporting the branch of the Taliban in Quetta in Baluchistan Province, where Mullah Omar is believed to be, as well as the Haqqani network and the forces led by Guldbuddin Hekmatyar, another Taliban ally.
The failed plot by Faisal Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban to set off a car bomb in Times Square proves that all jihadist groups in Pakistan must be eliminated in order to stop attacks on the homeland and on American interests. At least four members of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) have been arrested by the Pakistani authorities as part of their investigation into Shahzad, and he has told his captors that he met with a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) while in Pakistan. In December, five Americans who traveled to Pakistan to join the Taliban and Al-Qaeda stayed at a safehouse provided by a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed openly preaches anti-Western extremism and jihad in Pakistan and although Lashkar-e-Taiba is banned, it continues to operate under the name of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, is on house arrest but still preaches to thousands in Lahore.
The two groups are even allowed to operate schools. Reporters have found two madrasses openly run by Jaish-e-Mohammed. After the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the LET said it ran over 202 schools as well as hospitals and charities in the country. Only a handful of the schools have been closed. Reporters have also observed the JEM’s headquarters in Bahawalpur in Punjab Province operating freely. After their presence was learned of, a checkpoint was established but the facility remained open.
Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote in The Washington Times recently that Pakistan “is still producing an estimated 10,000 potential jihadis a year out of 500,000 graduates from Pakistan’s 11,000 madrasses.” Any school run by extremist needs to be seen as an enemy base, no different than a training camp.
The U.S. cannot afford to allow Yemen and Pakistan to continue their current behavior. The governments of these two countries may argue that aggressive action could cause a backlash. The U.S. must emphasize that if action is not taken by them, then the CIA’s drones will take the action for them. The public pressure they fear will become a reality due to their own inaction.
This conflict is more than a war against Al-Qaeda. It is a war against an entire radical Islamic infrastructure with each component being as important as the next. There must be no distinction made between Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, like the one in Yemen, and similar but separate groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan.