MAY 20 2011
An Interview with Professor of Terrorism Dr. Marc Scarcelli
The views expressed here are mostly those of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Scarcelli unless explicitly stated.
I. Structural and Strategic Look into Al Qaeda and the Information from Bin Laden's Compound
Despite finding of plans to sabotage US railways and the discovery of large amounts of intelligence, including nine hard drives, in Bin Laden's compound, there is a prevailing view that Bin Laden was not active in commanding Al Qaeda from his home north of Islamabad. Proponents of this second view cite facts like Bin Laden's courier coming and going only once every two months. Dr. Scarcelli shares this views. Bin Laden, Scarcelli proclaims, was essentially "in retirement". Symbolically, he was important-- but that was his greatest role. Yet he did play a role in reducing infighting among the Tehreek-e-Taliban, and with Bin Laden gone an increase in infighting is possible. In any case, operationally, says Dr. Scarcelli, Al Qaeda will be more focused in Yemen, Algeria, and Somalia in the years to come.
Ayman al-Zawahiri cannot become the symbol that Osama Bin Laden was, but he can replace him as the figurehead of Al Qaeda, and probably will. Dr. Scarcelli says, however, that it is probable that the information gained from Bin Laden's compound will lead to Zawahiri's capture or death. In light of the recent attempt on Awlaki's life, it seems plausible to me that the information from Bin Laden's compound did at least lead to a link pointing at Awlaki.
As far as recruitment goes, the death of Bin Laden could be a positive or negative factor-- recruits could join honoring Bin Laden as a martyr, or they could abstain from joining, seeing as Bin Laden was in fact caught and killed by the United States. That is much the same pattern for states-- that is, states may be more reluctant to harbor terrorists, they may resist with more energy, knowing that the United States is willing to violate their sovereignty and is capable of executing quick military missions inside that country. Conversely, a nation could consider that the United States has apparently no regard for state sovereignty and takes ten years to track down its worst enemies, and so hold the United States in lower esteem and in effect be more receptive to terrorists coming in and coopering with the state.
Yet if we throw patterns of state cooperation and recruitment into context, we have to ask how much of an audience Al Qaeda actually enjoys in an age where activists across the Middle East are demanding more moderate and representative governments. Many people have expressed concern that Al Qaeda could "hijack" a revolution-- this concern is perhaps most vivid in Libya-- but the fact remains that the majority of uprisings are directed against the sort of tyranny which Al Qaeda would institute were it to ever assume power as an actual state. The democratic revolutions, in short, are not receptive to Al Qaeda-- and Al Qaeda is not receptive to the revolutions, having recently reiterated its position of being decidedly anti-democratic and against democratic uprisings. Given recent events there is an emerging line of thought stating that if Al Qaeda cannot appeal to a newer, younger, more democratic generation, then they have no future. Yet the political agenda of Al Qaeda cannot be dismissed, at least not the part of its agenda which is in common with the agendas of organizations like Hamas and Hizbollah-- the complaints of these groups should be addressed in conjunction with US support for nonviolent democratic movements which are right now still gaining popularity across the Middle East.
II. Foreign Policy: Palestine
Hamas does not want to enfranchise Al Qaeda. Their mourning of Bin Laden's death was symbolic, and not actual, in that Hamas is still decidedly separate from, unaffiliated with, and at times in open rivalry against Al Qaeda. The issues statements in praise of Bin Laden, Dr. Scarcelli asserts, could, furthermore, actually distance the more Al Qaeda-leaning individuals and thrust more moderate individuals within Hamas into the fore of the political arena. Perhaps inadvertently, Hamas has opened the door to letting their more moderate members gain more clout, and by idolizing Bin Laden has created a separation within themselves. Regardless of to what extent this separation may exist, or of how profound it may be, this is an opportune time for the United States to cater to more moderate individuals within Hamas, to play up the mutual US-Hamas dislike of Al Qaeda, and, furthermore, to support the nonviolent democratic movement within Palestine while at the same time condemning joint Israeli-Palestinian crackdowns of joint Israeli-Palestinian protests, thereby strengthening the political constituency which will be most in favor of an also-strengthened newly-moderate Hamas.
Realistically, Dr. Scarcelli asserts, a U.S. politician cannot criticize Israel and expect to win reelection, even when that criticism is necessary to create a more stable and peaceful environment in the Levant. Yet in light of the recently bridged gaps between Hamas and Fatah, in light of the coming proposed UNSC Resolution this September, and in light of a world which is increasingly aware of the human rights violations committed by Israel and of a moderate Palestinian youth whose protests are nonviolent and aimed at legitimate reform, it seems to me that regardless of "American ignorance", as some have called it, it is time for politicians across the board to step up-- against the lobbyists and the media-- and proclaim their support for measures which will lead to legitimate, peaceful, and lasting reform. The events which have occurred in recent history, during this past year, and in the wake of Bin Laden's death, I think, make this an opportune time to switch gears.
III. Pakistan: Foreign Policy and a Look at Internal Dynamics
Dr. Scarcelli is sure that the ISI and perhaps the military was at very least complicit in Bin Laden's hiding. Many analysts, knowing the circumstances and the evidence surrounding Bin Laden's death, are of the same opinion. The ISI and Pakistani military have been allied with the Taliban for decades. There are, in fact, certain officers within the ISI who also operate as trainers at Al Qaeda camps. As one of the sharpest intelligence networks in the world, it is almost inconceivable that the ISI did not know of Bin Laden's whereabouts.
Of course, that does not mean that the government-- or the president for that matter-- were aware of this. The ISI has the capacity to operate independently of the Pakistani civilian government and could have held this information from them. Given the fact that Bin Laden lived so close to a military school and compound, this is actually a reasonable proposal. It is not unlikely that someone in the government knew, but to suspect that the entire government knew-- and to suspect that the president knew, for that matter-- may be presuming too much. The death of Bin Laden may bring to the surface old rivalries between the military/ISI factions and the civilian government. Pakistan, already a country divided, has become even more heated in light of Bin Laden's death, and more divided than they already were.
For the United States, there are not a lot of options available. It is obvious that letting nuclear Pakistan become a failed state is not a plausible option-- funding cannot be terminated. It would only make bad problems worse. Yet the ISI is unlikely to drastically alter its allegiances. Most recently, Pakistan allegedly released the name of a supposed CIA operative who was directing CIA operation in Pakistan-- and so presumably oversaw the SEALS operation. That, Dr. Scarcelli says, was Pakistan's way of getting back the United States, however meaningless it may be in comparison. Yet for the United States, Dr. Scarcelli agrees, there is little one can do-- except avoid being naive about the issues surrounding Pakistan. The ISI and many military factions may be decidedly anti-United States; yet that does not mean that the US does not have any audience inside the Pakistani government. It does suggest, in any case, that as suspicious as we were before this incident, we should be more suspicious after it. At the same time we should try to ensure that the divisiveness inside Pakistan does not disintegrate into civil war-- we cannot, therefore, marginalize any large sector of the military or ISI.
Dr. Scarcelli also brings up that fact that it seems almost impossible that Pakistan is uninvolved with the Afghanistan drug trade, the prosperity of which is in part due to the lengthy conflict in that country. In a sense, one might conclude, the longer violence reigns in Afghanistan, the longer Pakistan will have an economic incentive to be complicit in that violence-- and again there are factions loyal to the Taliban and factions loyal to Al Qaeda. Violence in Afghanistan, however, cannot simply be solved with an influx or a withdrawal of troops.
The optimists are hailing Bin Laden's death as the end of Al Qaeda. The decentralized network, now without its most central figurehead and in the midst of the Arab Spring, will be unable to sustain itself and largely disabled. Dr. Scarcelli, along with a great many scholars, refutes this. Al Qaeda does not require the nod from Bin Laden-- Al Qaeda is a network of cells trained with the capacity to operate independently. Furthermore, Al Qaeda does not even require a central command-- the influence of Al Qaeda is enough to gain recruits who sometimes will act on their own, without even having been trained. Bin Laden's death, in the most real view, is perhaps entirely symbolic-- in which case we must consider that symbolic acts can have real and lasting effects. Yet the events and circumstances surrounding his death merit our attention, in that on many stages they have the capacity to change the way we do act-- or change the way we should act-- toward certain actors around the globe. Now is not the time to dismiss the legitimate political demands of terrorist groups aiming to enfranchise themselves in a larger, more stable political process, and to proclaim unilaterally the death of terrorism. Now is the time to continue the crackdown on Al Qaeda while working to trim down their base of support and their capacity to recruit by seriously reconsidering the way we act on the international stage-- that is an effort which will not only lead (hopefully) to the demise of Al Qaeda, but also to a peaceful and stable environment in Palestine.
Concerning Pakistan, however, it is not entirely possible to bridge the gaps, nor is it necessarily plausible to even talk of such things, until a large variety of internal factors work themselves out, and that is another discussion entirely. As for Pakistan, the most that the United States can do is to continue funding (while monitoring the appropriation and application of that funding) in support of stability, and to address the issues of Afghanistan and Pakistan as inter-related and at times conjoined.