Karachi still serving as attractive base for global jihadis since 9/11

Lahore [Pakistan]: Pakistan’s commercial hub Karachi has been serving as an attractive base for global jihadi groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates since the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

“Although the number of high-profile al-Qaeda members arrested in Karachi dropped after the first few years following 9/11, the number of the militant outfits in the metropolis and the arrest of al-Qaeda individuals has picked up since the group formally created al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) in September 2014, ‘ The News International reports.

The research report titled ‘al-Qaeda in Pakistan: A metric problem?’ has been published in a special edition of the Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC) Sentinel, a publication of the US military academic institution, analyzing al-Qaeda over the past 16 years since 9/11, which shows the global terror group’s presence in the city has been growing in recent years. The data also points that in 16 years, the challenges posed by the group in the region have extended well beyond Afghanistan.

The presence of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent in Pakistan represents a diversified threat and poses different challenges across local, regional, and global spectrums.

“The number of arrest actions and the number of al-Qaeda suspects arrested in Karachi from 2015 to 2016 nearly tripled and increased almost six-fold respectively. Put another way, since the creation of AQIS until the end of 2016, there have been 24 arrest actions resulting in the arrest of 88 individuals,” the article in News International states.

The Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC) in its report says counter-terrorism officials in Karachi have noticed a similar trend, and they “worry that the organization is regrouping and finding new support in Karachi and in neighboring Afghanistan.”

“Counter-terrorism officials in Karachi have a list of several hundred active al-Qaeda members and the group’s presence in the city appears to have grown, the possibility that thousands of al-Qaeda members are roaming around Karachi .”

Referring to instances of al-Qaeda presence in Karachi, the CTC states that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi in January 2002 and Pakistani forces in Karachi reportedly arrested a Libyan named Abu Yahya al-Libi, who years later played a leading role in al-Qaeda.

The CTC lists three arguments to explain this trend in the data. First, while al-Qaeda has long had a presence in Karachi, the uptick in arrests and incidents could be attributed to an expansion or growth of al-Qaeda’s presence in the city in recent years. The intensification of al-Qaeda activity in the area could be tied to renewed or regenerated interest in the group, after it formally established AQIS.

Second, the spike in activity is tied to the performance or posture of the security forces conducting the arrests. Security forces have gained better intelligence or have become more efficient at disrupting local al-Qaeda cells.

Lastly, the increase in incidents and arrests could be tied to media dynamics, with the media potentially reporting on these types of incidents more often in the last several years.

The data also speaks to the complex nature of the al-Qaeda threat and the enduring challenge the group’s presence poses in the region, even 16 years after 9/11.The challenges posed by the group in the country have become even more localised and occur across rural and urban, and tribal, areas. This article and its findings also take on particular relevance given recent adjustments made to the United States’ Afghanistan policy and on-going debates about the nature of the U.S.-Pakistan partnershipand what that relationship should look like.

Don Rassler, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, concluded that “attacking the United States and the West through operations conducted outside of the South Asia region remains a leading priority for al-Qaeda. Data shows al-Qaeda’s ability to execute and inspire international attacks and to act in strategic ways as needed.”

Don Rassler further states that apart from Karachi, the core al-Qaeda group has substantial presence in the tribal areas of Pakistan and in eastern Afghanistan. According to the U.S. government’s official assessments of al-Qaeda’s strength in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, the group continues to pose a lingering, and or persistent, lower-level threat. Second, the evidence most often used to support this view includes the significant and sustained leadership losses al-Qaeda has suffered in the region since 9/11; al-Qaeda core’s lack of success in conducting or inspiring operations in the West; the mostly insignificant attacks it has executed locally; and the group’s lessened ability to centrally coordinate or lead the activity of its regional affiliates.”(ANI)