With its top leadership killed in recent years thus diminishing its capacity to launch any major strike against the US, a weak al Qaeda may now focus on insurgency inside Pakistan and striking targets in India, a well-known American counter-terrorism expert has said.
"We should not expect al Qaeda in Pakistan to give up entirely on transnational attack planning," Stephen Tankel, a well know American authority on Lashkar-e-Taiba and Assistant Professor at the American University, wrote in an article on 'War on the Rocks', an online publication.
"But given its addition of Pakistanis at senior leader levels and its increasingly limited capabilities, we should expect a continued growing focus on the insurgency in Pakistan and possibly on striking foreign targets in India," said Tankel, who is also a non-resident scholar in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"Regionally, that has important implications for US counterterrorism practices in South Asia. Globally, it means that AQAP (al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula) is not simply the most lethal arm of al Qaeda, but also increasingly its center of gravity in terms of leadership and coordination," he said.
"Drone strikes have decimated al Qaeda in Pakistan, killing more than 30 leaders and high-level operatives since 2008, and leaving only a handful of senior Arabs alive," he said.
"These strikes have also created an incredibly hostile environment for those who have yet to meet a Hellfire missile, and some Arab members have fled for greener pastures. The depletion of al Qaeda's senior ranks in Pakistan and growing strength of its branch in Yemen (AQAP) may help to explain why Ayman al-Zawahiri recently appointed that group's leader, Nasir al-Wihayshi, as al Qaeda's general manager for global operations," he wrote.
Tankel said already reliant on an array of Pakistani militant groups for safe haven and survival, al Qaeda has added locals to its own leadership ranks. Ilyas Kashmiri is among the most infamous.
The head of al Qaeda's media department, Ustad Ahmad Farouq, is a Pakistan national. Maulana Asam Umar, dual-hatted as a propagandist for the Pakistani Taliban, helps to shape al Qaeda's messaging, he wrote.
"The rise of individuals like Farouq and Umar helps to explain why al Qaeda's media operations have increasingly developed a regional focus, at the expense of a global one," Tankel wrote, adding that the decision to promote and support revolutionary jihad in Pakistan fits with al Qaeda's ideology.
"Destabilizing the country is a means of protecting its own safe haven and creating difficulties for America. To this end, al Qaeda provides ideological, strategic and operational support to anti-state Pakistani militants. Involvement in the insurgency is also undoubtedly influenced by the influx of anti-state Pakistani militants into its ranks," he wrote.