05.04.10

What Pakistan's Terrorists Want

As investigators probe the Times Square car bomb suspect’s ties to Karachi, Bruce Riedel warns of the Pakistani Taliban’s growing threat to America.

While Faisal Shahzad, the accused Times Square car bomber, appeared to live a suburban American life, evidence is mounting that he trained with the Pakistani Taliban. As investigators probe his ties to Karachi, Bruce Riedel warns of the Pakistani Taliban’s growing threat to America.

The arrest of a suspect, Faisal Shahzad, in the Times Square car bomb case is good news. New York’s finest and the FBI deserve credit for fast work and for catching him before he could fly to Dubai and escape into Pakistan. They may already know whether he acted alone or was directed from abroad. Whether he has direct connections to the Pakistani Taliban or al Qaeda or not will become clearer as the investigation proceeds.

The syndicate of terror in Pakistan believes it is winning the global jihad and wearing down American resolve.

What is abundantly clear is that the Pakistani Taliban has the intention of attacking America. Far from being dead as some claimed, its leader Hakimullah Mehsud has just issued a gruesome video message to Americans threatening attacks inside the United States, complete with a map with explosions on it, graphically underscoring the terror threat that is in Pakistan. At the core remains al Qaeda, but around it are a host of other terror groups that are gradually adopting al Qaeda’s global Islamic jihad strategy and targeting its “crusader Zionist” enemy.

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Mehsud’s Pakistani Taliban has been closely allied with al Qaeda since its birth seven years ago. The two have collaborated in a rampage of terror across Pakistan for the last several years. They partnered in the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, a partnership grimly outlined in the recent report of the U.N. Commission that investigated that crime. Al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman Zawahiri, has written a new 120-page book titled The Morning and the Lamp justifying the Taliban war against the Pakistani constitution and state. A Pakistani think tank reports 25,000 Pakistanis were killed or wounded last year in terror-related violence most of it directed by the Taliban.

The Pakistani Taliban has had larger ambitions beyond Pakistan for some time. In 2008 it was implicated in an attempt to attack the subway system in Spain’s second-largest city, Barcelona, because of Spain’s support for the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Their role model was the March 11, 2004 attack on Madrid's trains that killed or wounded almost 2,000. It has also been implicated in foiled operations in Manchester and other British cities.

So far its reach outside of Pakistan has been amateurish, but capability will follow intent. You do not need a PhD in electrical engineering to build a car bomb. Those skills are taught at dozens of training camps and madrassas across Pakistan, 3,500 of them just in the mega-city of Karachi alone.

The syndicate of terror in Pakistan believes it is winning the global jihad and wearing down American resolve. Like most Pakistanis and Afghans they believe the United States will start to run away from south Asia next year when the surge in U.S. forces peaks and begins to decline in Afghanistan. They do not believe President Obama when he says we are there for the long run. They have seen Washington give up in Afghanistan and Pakistan before too many times to believe our resolve to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” al Qaeda and its allies is serious this time.

New York was lucky Saturday night but the quick reaction of NYPD was not due to luck. The city has done a great deal to build its counter-terrorism capability. There is also no reason for a panicky Islamophobic response. We need to work with the Pakistanis to combat this threat. The strategic dialogue the president began last month with Islamabad is the right place to coordinate our efforts together.

Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. At the president’s request, he chaired the strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. His book, The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future, came out in paperback in March with a new postscript.