Today, al-Qaeda announces that ‘India comes first’
Exhausted by 13 years of war, the main organization has now revived itself and is dressed in a new regional robe
The latest announcement by Ayman al-Zawahiri on the launch of a new al-Qaeda branch in the Indian subcontinent is a declaration that the main organization is back into action – this time, dressed in Indian robes. The leader of the new branch Maulana Asim Omar, who is of Pakistani origin, is in fact the commander of the al-Qaeda branch in Pakistan and has been working closely with Zawahiri for quite some time now.
It may not be best to assess this new branch the same way as al-Qaeda's other branches in North Africa, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have been analyzed. They came into existence by choosing their leadership independently, then later seeking blessings from the main al-Qaeda organization, pledging their loyalty to it and carrying forth its name. The main organization is lot more tightly knit and deeply integrated with the Indian subcontinent branch than other al-Qaeda branches.
Exhausted by 13 years of war, the main organization has now revived itself and is dressed in a new regional robeBaker Atyani
Exhausted by 13 years of war, the main organization has now revived itself and is dressed in a new regional robe. After al-Qaeda lost its first and second tiers of command and suffered from a huge outflow of its Arab members (who were returning to their countries of origin to participate in regional conflicts), the majority of the remaining militants were Pakistani, Afghan and a mix of other nationalities.
This does not undermine the fact that the main al-Qaeda still carries a global agenda that extends beyond the subcontinent; however, its branches worldwide might not necessarily operate under this main leadership. A read through the Abbottabad letters (the correspondence between the main al-Qaeda and its branches that were found by the unit that raided Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in 2011) confirms that the leadership of al-Qaeda, even during Bin Laden's time, was not completely in control of its branches. In one instance, Bin Laden questioned whether he could be sent Anwar al-Awlaki’s resume and who he was nominated by to become the chief of al-Qaeda's Yemen branch?
A recipe for war in India?
Therefore, al-Qaeda as an organization is spread into different branches, each one like a franchise with its own leadership, operated on the basis of its local needs and does not necessarily follow Zawahiri's orders. As a result of this, the main al-Qaeda organization has shrunk and is now confined to having regional interests in order to survive.
The new cocktail termed 'al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent' mainly comprises of individuals and militant groups from Pakistan which have earlier closely coordinated with al-Qaeda. This in fact is a recipe for a war in India, because the majority of these groups and individuals have been active inside India and the Indian administered parts of Kashmir in the past. Almost all of them were fully sponsored and supported by Pakistani military institutions at some point in time. The most strategic assessments now indicate that such discussions on India once again would eventually mean new military, political or security alliances sought in Pakistan.
The question now arises on whether the main al-Qaeda organization has indeed plunged itself into a regional agenda by focusing on the Indian subcontinent? Or, has it chosen to exploit its current circumstances in order to achieve its interim agenda which, according to Maulana Asim Omar, is to turn the subcontinent into an “Islamic,” instead of an “Indian,” region?
Baker Atyani is Al Arabiya News Channel’s bureau chief in South and East Asia. He is a veteran journalist, covering conflict zones in Asia for the past 16 years and is an expert on militant groups in Asia. He has produced numerous documentaries, articles, and investigative stories and was the last journalist to interview Osama Bin Laden before 9/11.