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Will Pakistan’s politics help al-Qaeda’s new leader?

16 June 2011

3:32 PM

16 June 2011

3:32 PM

Just as any major employer would, al-Qaeda released a statement earlier to confirm the identity of its new boss. "Sheikh Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, may God guide
him," it read, "assumed responsibility as the group’s amir." And just in case you were wondering whether the organisation’s attitude would change with its leadership, it added:
"We ask God for this to be a new era for al-Qaeda under the leadership of Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an era that will purify Muslim land of every tyrant and infidel." Which is to say: new leader,
same danger.

The appointment of Zawahiri comes as little surprise, even if there has been talk of divide and dissent within al-Qaeda over the succession. He was, under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden, the
group’s second-in-command, and was widely considered to be the brains behind Bin Laden’s murderous brand of charisma. The question now is whether the older, greyer man can sway the hearts and minds
of potential jihadis quite like his predecessor could.


In any case, Zawahiri is now perhaps the world’s most sought-after terrorist — and that fact brings yet more attention to Pakistan and its border regions, where he is suspected to be hiding.
Which is why I’d advise CoffeeHousers to read this story in today’s New York Times. Pakistan’s previously
all-powerful army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani — who has, let’s say, an ambiguous relationship with the West — is coming under criticism from his
military colleagues for being too friendly with America. "The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders," the paper reports, "and almost all of them, if
not all, were demanding that General Kayani get much tougher with the Americans, even edging toward a break."

Once again, it seems, al-Qaeda’s chief might slip between the cracks of Pakistan’s internal power struggles.


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