An important report today from Tim Craig, the Washington Post's Bureau Chief in Pakistan (Islamabad) details al Qaeda's reappearance in Karachi, An offshoot of al-Qaeda is regrouping in Pakistan. Three other journalists -- in Karachi, Peshawar, and Kabul -- contributed reporting.
The report is also a window on the ongoing threat from AQ, which Long War Journal has never stopped warning about, even during the years the Obama Administration portrayed AQ as finished.
As to whether Pakistan's security establishment is greasing AQ's return to Karachi -- Tim addresses the question as best he can:
U.S. intelligence officials have worried for years about potential links between al-Qaeda and rogue Pakistani military officials. That Osama bin Laden was found hiding near a Pakistan military training academy did little to allay their suspicions.
Pakistani security and intelligence agencies, however, seem to have no tolerance for the modern-day al-Qaeda. “We don’t go for arrests,” the counterterrorism official said. “We just search through their computer, their things, and then neutralize them.”
Last month, police in Pakistan’s Punjab province reported killing 14 al-Qaeda militants, including the group’s leader there, over two days in “encounters” with police. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that the suspects had been in police custody for four months before they died.
Saad Muhammad, a retired Pakistani general, said Pakistan’s military is determined not to allow AQIS to jeopardize its recent gains against Islamist militant groups.
[...]He also mentions the naval vessel incident:
In Pakistan, officials said AQIS has been linked to just one major attempted terrorist attack — an effort two years ago to hijack a Pakistani navy vessel from the port of Karachi.
The attack was foiled, but five Pakistani navy officers were convicted of helping to orchestrate the operation, according to media reports.But Long War Journal's report today, "Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban" or Haqqani Network: State Department. raises a flag next to the question because those aren't the only two terror-linked groups that Pakistan's security establishment has studiously ignored. From the LWJ report, written by Bill Roggio:
The US Department of State said “Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or HQN [Haqqani Network]” and has done little to deter home-grown jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The US government continues to provide nearly $800 million in financial aid despite Pakistan’s historical and continuing support for jihadist groups that are actively fighting US troops in Afghanistan and plotting terrorist attacks across the globe.
The Department of State noted Pakistan’s unwillingness to deal with its preferred jihadist groups in the newly released Country Reports on Terrorism 2015.
“Afghanistan, in particular, continued to experience aggressive and coordinated attacks by the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network (HQN), and other insurgent and terrorist groups,” the State report says. “A number of these attacks were planned and launched from safe havens in Pakistan.”
After noting the military and government target jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan that continue to launch deadly attacks against the state and civilian institutions, State says that Pakistan has done little to deal with jihadist groups fighting in Afghanistan.
“Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or HQN, or substantially limit their ability to threaten US interests in Afghanistan,” State notes.
“Pakistan has also not taken sufficient action against other externally-focused groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which continued to operate, train, organize, and fundraise in Pakistan,” State continues.
Additionally, while Pakistan “reportedly banned media coverage of US- and UN-designated terrorist organizations such as Jamaat-u-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FiF), both of which are aliases of Lashkar-e-Taiba … the government did not otherwise constrain those groups’ fundraising activities.”
[...]Yet it's in the area of fundraising that al Qaeda is so clever. To return to Tim's report:
Counterterrorism officials in Karachi have a list of several hundred active al-Qaeda members, which makes them assume there are at least a few thousand on the streets.
In Karachi, AQIS has divided itself into three operational segments — recruitment, financial and tactical — made up of four-to-six-person cells.
The recruitment cells work in madrassas and schools, casually preaching Islam before targeting certain students for potential recruitment, officials said.
“Nobody may even know it’s al-Qaeda operating,” said Saad Khan, a retired Pakistani intelligence officer.
Cells solicit local businesses for donations, often under the guise of supporting Islamic charities, officials said. Officials have no estimates for how much money al-Qaeda raises from relatively wealthy Karachi but said that militants are often found carrying hundreds of dollars in cash.
“They are being told they don’t need to do any job and they don’t need to indulge in petty crimes,” the counterterrorism official said. “But they are told they have to remain very discreet.”
Although such discretion complicates the work of counterterrorism officials, they think that the Karachi cells are just spokes in a broader operation centered near Pakistan’s southwestern border with Afghanistan or Iran.
From Karachi, AQIS tactical cells ferry money and messages to that general area, often moving through Quetta, which is also where part of the Afghan Taliban leadership resides, officials said. From Quetta, militants cross the border into Afghanistan but appear to have little knowledge about al-Qaeda’s broader ambitions or tactics in the region, intelligence officials said.
“The people we come into contact with say they go to Afghanistan but are put into a small corner and remain there and can’t go out,” the Pakistani counterterrorism official said. “Then they get direction from there, from another Pakistani, and return.”
“What still makes al-Qaeda different and more dangerous from other militant groups is a disciplined management system,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based expert on militants. “Another dangerous thing is they are always looking to penetrate into the armed forces looking for sympathy.”
But Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, a retired Pakistani army colonel and sitting senator, said the real concern remains how a city such as Karachi fits into al-Qaeda’s broader global ambitions. The answer to that, he said, remains murky.
“Al-Qaeda is just an umbrella, and the top of the pyramid is what is controlling and enduring,” he said.
“They don’t have to put much effort into Pakistan because all they have to do is pick up all these existing, bloodthirsty splinter organizations and they have a ready-made killing machine.”That last observation goes to the heart of al Qaeda's modus operandi, which for want of a better term could be called absorptive. Bill Roggio once noted during an appearance on the John Batchelor Show that the Obama Administration and U.S. military are playing chess against al Qaeda -- knocking out 'key' members -- while al Qaeda is playing Go. I don't think Pakistan's military strategists have appreciated the significance of this about AQ any more than have the Western militaries.