WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda is struggling to boost its appeal in Pakistan following President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation, a U.S. terrorism expert concludes based on comments by the militant network.
Former CIA analyst Jarret Brachman said Musharraf’s departure in September had removed a target of al Qaeda’s anti-American campaign. His successor, Asif Ali Zardari, has been critical of the United States.
Al Qaeda “finds itself in a variety of predicaments with regard to the Pakistani government, its army and its jihadist populations,” Brachman writes in the CTC Sentinel, a journal of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to be published on Thursday.
“Even though Musharraf is now out of power, the inertia of al Qaeda’s anti-Pakistan policy has made it difficult for them to back-pedal without admitting strategic weakness,” wrote Brachman, the center’s research director until recently.
“Certainly, al Qaeda’s headaches are U.S. opportunities,” wrote Brachman, who this year became a security professor at North Dakota State University.
Brian Glyn Williams, a U.S. professor who has testified on al Qaeda at Guantanamo trials, said attacks on Zardari’s government had less resonance among Pakistanis than those against Musharraf because Zardari was seen as more legitimate.
Zardari has condemned stepped-up U.S. air strikes against militant fighters in Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan. Washington has shrugged off the protests, but it has not repeated an intensely criticized ground raid in September.
“The less that Pakistan appears to be the handmaiden of the United States, the easier time it will have garnering the domestic support it needs to effectively deal with its extremist problems itself,” Brachman wrote.
American-born al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn last month criticized Pakistan’s support for the United States in the Afghan war, its fighting against militants in border regions and its granting of transit routes to the U.S. military.
An August message, in English, from al Qaeda deputy Ayman al Zawahri spoke of his love for Pakistanis.
Brachman said the aim may be to recast al Qaeda’s pitch to Pakistanis using new language that does not focus on the leader personally and to stress ties to the Pakistani people. Al Qaeda may be trying to negotiate its way out of a corner, he wrote.
A Pew Global poll in 2007 showed Pakistani Muslims’ confidence in al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden fell 8 percentage points to 38 percent from 2003. But nearly two-thirds viewed the United States as the biggest threat to their country.
Editing by Howard Goller