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Making others wage war is al Qaeda's desire

For more than a decade al Qaeda has sought to provoke wars. In the decade ahead, the global jihad has great expectations that it can provoke more wars than in the last. Bruce Riedel writes.

world Updated: Sep 11, 2011 20:50 IST

For more than a decade al Qaeda has sought to provoke wars. Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri believed from the start of their self proclaimed jihad that the more chaos and violence they could provoke between the Islamic world and the West on the one hand and with India on the other, the more likely they would achieve their goal of creating a new caliphate that would restore Islam to being a world power.

In the decade ahead, the global jihad has great expectations that it can provoke more wars and will do all it can to make it an even more dangerous decade than the last. Al Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, to provoke America into what it calls a "bleeding war" in Afghanistan. Bin Laden's goal was to recreate the quagmire that bled dry the Soviet Union in the 1980s with America as the victim. President George Bush gave him a bonus bleeding war in Iraq and Bin Laden's protégé, Abu Musaib Zarqawi, turned it into a civil war. According to a study by Brown University, the cost of these two wars exceeds $ 4 trillion. Barack Obama is still trying a way to extricate America from these two wars in a way that does not leave chaos behind.

Al Qaeda's December 2009 attack on Detroit, which failed only because the suicide bomber misfired his bomb, was also intended to provoke the US into another war, this time in Yemen. Al Qaeda proudly said its goal was to snare the US into "the final trap." It tried again with the parcel bomb attempt last October in Chicago.

The global jihad has had more success in Pakistan where it has fomented unprecedented terror and violence from Karachi to Kashmir, murdered Benazir Bhutto and created the Pakistani Taliban as a new arm of al Qaeda. The US now carries out routine bombing strikes in north west Pakistan and will probably do so for the foreseeable future, along with more rare commando raids.

At least twice the jihadists have tried to provoke war between India and Pakistan. The first was in December 2001 with the attack on the Indian parliament and then again on 26/11 2008 with the attack on Mumbai. Two Indian Prime Ministers have been too smart to take the bait. Under Zawahiri we can expect Al Qaeda and its allies like Lashkar-e-Taiba to try to provoke more conflict in the decade ahead. War between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan is at the top of their agenda. A South Asia war would ease the pressure on Al Qaeda's core team in Pakistan, vastly complicate if not imperil Nato's logistics in Afghanistan benefiting the Taliban and could set in motion a jihadist coup in Pakistan depending on how the war came out.

A jihadist takeover of Pakistan has long been on Zawahiri's wish list, he has even written a book about it. He knows it would be a global game changer like nothing else. Zawahiri worked closely with the late Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, killed in a drone attack this year, to start a war in the subcontinent to hasten what Al Qaeda calls "the end of times."

Al Qaeda will try to set traps elsewhere. Its franchise in Iraq is making a comeback and has often said it would welcome a war between America and Iran, pitting the Crusaders against the Shia. It does not want America to leave the "trap" in Mesopotamia.

Now al Qaeda also sees opportunity in Zawahiri's own Egypt. The Arab revolution has opened Cairo's prisons and released many of his old comrades who have regrouped in the Sinai where they have already begun attacking Israeli targets. Zawahiri began his life in terror helping to kill Anwar Sadat for the crime of making peace with Israel. He now hopes he can finally kill the peace.

The author is a senior fellow of Brooking Institution and recently wrote the book Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad

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First Published: Sep 10, 2011 23:24 IST