- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2011

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Osama bin Laden’s demise will have a far-reaching impact on the scale and nature of the Pakistani Taliban insurgency in Pakistan.

The insurgency of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) originally was conceived and directed by al Qaeda. In fact, it was al Qaeda’s influence on Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud that goaded him to launch TTP in 2007. Moreover, TTP adopted al Qaeda’s ideology by introducing a deadly wave of suicide bombings and killings in Pakistan.

According to official statistics, about 35,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives in TTP terrorism since 2007. This includes a large number of high-profile killings, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

In December 2007, Mrs. Bhutto told this writer that Osama bin Laden’s son, Khalid bin Laden, was involved in a conspiracy to kill her. In that same conversation, she pinpointed the Harkatul Jihad-ul-Islami chief, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, in attacks on her Oct. 18, 2007, homecoming reception in Karachi. Akhtar also had long-standing links with al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda’s persuasive pressure on Mehsud to form TTP masked a major strategic objective - Osama bin Laden aimed to make Pakistan part of the Afghan theater of war. He reckoned this would raise a large number of additional recruits to fight the U.S.-led coalition of forces in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was well aware of Pakistanis’ susceptibility to manipulation in the name of Islam. He knew this better than other al Qaeda leaders. It was bin Laden who came to Pakistan in the early 1980s on the invitation of his mentor, Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian professor turned jihadist, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

When jihad was over and the Soviets began withdrawing in 1988, bin Laden had still bigger things on his mind, and he founded al Qaeda in 1989. It hardly came as a surprise that he chose Peshawar, then the capital of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (since renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), to launch his organization. It was aimed more at the liberation of Palestine than a specific Islamic cause, but he still valued Pakistani fighters over the Arabs he had recruited to fight the Soviets. In fact, al Qaeda, by aiding and abetting TTP, wanted to repeat what it did in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Bin Laden pinned all his hopes on TTP to lead a successful insurgency in Pakistan and thus install a puritanical caliphate that would inherit the country’s nuclear arsenal. Global jihad, as he conceived it, required the structure of a major state. It was in Taliban-led Afghanistan that al Qaeda was free to plot and plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Al Qaeda refocused its efforts on Pakistan after the fall of Afghanistan. A more loyal Taliban in Pakistan was now indispensable to its survival and to keeping alive the hope of global jihad.

From his secret base in Abbottabad, bin Laden continued to issue secret strategic guidance. His advice was to use bases in North Waziristan and some of the other seven tribal areas in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas to launch guerrilla offensives into the Swat Valley and beyond.

In 2009, Pakistani Taliban insurgents got to within 60 miles of Islamabad before fighter-bombers and gunships forced them to retreat. Last week, 16 of them attacked from three sides and occupied Pakistan’s naval base in Karachi for 15 hours, blowing up two aircraft, including a P-3 Orion spy plane given to Pakistan a year ago. Explosions rocked the base during a 10-hour gunbattle. Most of the guerrillas were killed as were 12 Pakistani navy personnel.

TTP’s hope now is that bin Laden’s death will have a major impact on the insurgency in Pakistan. After the death of Mehsud in August 2009, TTP guerrillas regrouped behind bin Laden’s symbolic flag. Even ahead of al Qaeda, it was the first insurgent group to issue a communique pledging they would avenge bin Laden’s death.

Pakistani intelligence sources believe TTP is planning more spectacular attacks.

Not surprisingly, the Afghan Taliban have not come up with a strong reaction to the U.S. raid that killed bin Laden, once a mentor and source of financial sustenance to their regime (1996 to 2001). Unofficial spokesmen of the Afghan insurgency keep emphasizing that they have nothing in common with those who advocate a global caliphate. They say the Taliban stands for the liberation of Afghanistan with no objectives beyond its borders.

For his part, bin Laden always wanted Pakistan and the United States to become enemies. Despite a major crisis in relations between the two countries, triggered by the Navy SEAL raid that killed bin Laden in an unguarded house in Pakistan’s garrison town of Abbottabad, cooler heads appear to have prevailed - in Islamabad and in Washington.

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