Just before the Taliban’s commemoration of their first anniversary of recapturing Kabul at midnight of August, the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri put the Taliban in Afghanistan in an awkward situation. US President Joe Biden confirmed that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had been killed in a US-operated drone strike in Kabul on July 30. After carrying out the successful unmanned drone attack, President Biden said, “We make it clear again tonight that, no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the 71-year-old Egyptian physician, was responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks in the US, where nearly 3,000 people were killed. Ayman al-Zawahiri was at the helm of the terrorist group since the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. He had a $25 million bounty on his head. The killing of the al-Qaeda supremo al-Zawahiri has proved a pair of facts. Firstly, al-Qaeda has not disappeared. And secondly, the terror group has not divorced from the Taliban. Despite strong ideological differences, the two maintain some ties. A specially designated global terrorist Sirajuddin Haqqani-led Haqqani Network has bonhomie with both the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
It is not yet clear how the US traced him and who helped the US to hunt its prey. Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Army Chief General Bajwa of sharing the location of al-Zawahiri’s safe house in Kabul. According to Khan, Bajwa in return urged financial aid for Pakistan from the US, at the time the country was facing an economic disaster. In a rally, the unseated Prime Minister Khan recently told that in 1995, the Pakistan army handed over terrorist Ramzi Ahmed Yousef to the US in exchange for money. Notorious Ramzi Ahmed Yousef was one of the main masterminds of the 1993 World Trade Center terror attack and the bombing of the Philippines Airlines plane. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef was detained by ISI in 1995 and then he was extradited to the US, where a court gave him two life sentences and 240 years in jail.
Pakistan’s direct involvement in killing the al-Qaeda leader is not proven. But al-Zawahiri had connections in Pakistan. He was believed to be shifted from Pakistan to Sherpur, one of Kabul’s most affluent neighborhoods. According to media reports, Zawahiri spent nearly three years in prison over his involvement in the assassination of former Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat. Coming out of jail, he arrived in Pakistan, where he first met Osama bin Laden.
Amid severe instability and the withdrawal of the Pentagon, Afghanistan has become a perfect nest for al-Qaeda, as it is for the Islamic State of Khorasan Province among the other Islamic terror and militant groups. Daesh is one among them. Zawahiri’s killing may trigger the operatives of al-Qaeda for new targets. From a local terror outfit, al-Qaeda has expanded itself to a full-fledged global terror organization. It has grown organically. Al-Qaeda has a significant presence in the middle east and Africa. In Somalia, al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliate is the most powerful terror organization. Bangladesh-born Ansarullah Bangla Team is an al-Qaeda affiliate ferocious outfit as well. The terror group is spreading its tentacles in India as well. Bordering Indian states like Assam is a safe habitat for the Ansarullah Bangla Team, which was motivated by Zawahiri.
Formation of Al Qaeda
In September 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. The AQIS that aspires to set up an Islamic state treats the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan (erstwhile democratic government), India, Myanmar and Bangladesh as their adversary. Pakistan and India both have listed the AQIS as a terrorist organization. Zawahiri gained sympathy by expressing his concerns for the Muslims living in the Indian states of Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir.
Zawahiri in a video statement in 2019 asked AQ cadres to inflict “unrelenting blows” on the Indian Army and the government in Indian Kashmir. He also urged the AQ cadre to destabilize the economy and severely harm India. But Zawahiri was not a sympathizer of Pakistan either. He believed Pakistan is nothing but a US ally and asked his cadre not to abide by Pakistani organizations.
Pakistan’s involvement or cooperation to kill Zawahiri is not yet clear, albeit Imran Khan claimed. But providing a safe house in Kabul wouldn’t have been possible without the Taliban and Pak-origin Haqqani Network’s assistance. The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri will worsen the US-Taliban relations when the Taliban is in talks with the US for the disbursement of frozen Afghan monetary reserves. The US is expected to continue hunting down its enemies and entities like Haqqani Network will continue to be under US surveillance.
The writer is a GVS contributor from India. He tweets at @Ayanangsha. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.