Counter-Terrorism: May 16, 2005


Al Qaeda members are turning on each other because of ethnic tensions. One of al Qaedas weaknesses is that it is dominated by Arabs. This often causes resentment when the non-Arabs find themselves left out of decision making, or on the short end when it comes to distribution of resources. This was first seen in Afghanistan, where the al Qaeda Arabs made themselves very unpopular several years before September 11, 2001. Now the bad feelings have spread to Pakistan. There, the hundreds of al Qaeda members hiding out in tribal areas along the Afghan border, have split along ethnic lines. The Arab al Qaeda, who still have access to lots of cash, have made themselves very unpopular with the al Qaeda members from Central Asia. The Central Asians, particularly Islamic radicals from Uzbekistan, always felt this was their turf, and that the Arab al Qaeda should recognize that, and not throw their weight, and money, around in a disrespectful (to the Uzbeks) manner. Apparently, some of the recent al Qaeda leaders captured in Pakistan were the result of non-Arab al Qaeda giving up information they could have kept to themselves. 

The Arabs do have an attitude problem. In Afghanistan, they viewed the Afghans as a bunch of uneducated hicks, and the Afghans picked up on this. Its true that many of the senior Arab al Qaeda were well educated, much better than the average Afghan, but they would have been wise to keep any feelings of superiority to themselves. But they didnt, and while there appear to have been attempts to act more diplomatically after al Qaeda survivors were driven into Pakistan, this didnt last. The basic problem was self-preservation. The Pakistani army and intelligence forces came down hard on al Qaeda after the terrorists declared war on the Pakistani government in 2002, killed hundreds of Pakistanis in terrorist attacks and made several assassination attempts on the Pakistani president. When the Pakistani army showed up in the tribal territories last year, many of the tribes were no longer willing to host the terrorists. The army had never come into the tribal territories before, and the tribes knew the soldiers were there now because of the al Qaeda threat to the government. The tribes could understand that, and knew that the army meant business. The army was also willing to negotiate, and eventually get out of the territories if the al Qaeda members were handed over. Some tribes, or tribesmen, refused to do this. But there were fewer hiding places now, and the Arabs used their greater cash resources to save themselves, at the expense of Central Asian terrorists. Whatever bad feelings that existed between the Arabs and Central Asians before, now became much worse. This led to captured Central Asians giving up information on where Arab al Qaeda might be. This, combined with information obtained from tribesmen and other captured terrorists, led to the round up of dozens of key al Qaeda leaders in the past month.


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