Al-Zawahiri and Baghdadi: Rifts in Global Jihad

ayman-al-zawahiri-the-al-qaidaBy Iftikhar Hussain Butt

Al-Qaeda’s Arab militants and leaders were anxious for audio or video message of Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri amid leadership crisis in Middle East. But his new video has disappointed them as Dr Zawahiri only announced creation of Al-Qaeda’s new branch with the name “Qaedat Al-Jihad” for South Asia and he did not make direct reference to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and militants of Islamic State (IS). Many journalists and analysts are taking this development as informal declaration of defeat of Zawahiri in Arab world.

Al-Qaeda’s global Jihad is curtailed by rifts as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is cunningly undermining Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s leadership in Arab world. Baghdadi’s global claim of Islamic Caliphate and his success in Iraq and Syria has captured the imagination of Arab militants. As a response to his claim for Caliphate, Al-Qaeda re-asserted its allegiance to Mullah Omar who is recognized as “Amirul Momineen” by its leaders and operatives. Mullah Omar has a hard reality of militancy in Af-Pak region but a non-Arab Mullah Omar is less appealing to Arab masses. Therefore, self-styled Caliph Baghdadi may continue to haunt Al-Zawahiri in the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, Al-Baghdadi and his militants are facing the wrath of US forces in Iraq and Syria which makes them more favorite for Arab militants with Anti-America world view, a creation of Al-Qaeda itself.

Muslim extremist groups, militants and Jihadis from all over the globe had condemned and rejected Baghdadi in their first impression. But strangely according to some news reports, a little known group Tehreek-e-Khilafat Pakistan had expressed allegiance to this Pseudo Caliph. Distribution of leaflets in Peshawar and social media posts in favor of Islamic State (IS) has also astonished many journalists and counter terrorism experts in Pakistan. They believe that TTP, its splinter groups and affiliated sectarian outfits have been strictly attached to Mullah Omer for a long time. Therefore, Baghdadi’s large following in Af-Pak region is impossible. Despite his successes in Iraq and Syria, he will remain limited to that region only.

With Baghdadi’s declaration of Caliphate, all the hopes of his patch up with Zawahiri led Al-Qaeda are shattered. This crisis was triggerred by Dr Zawahiri’s own decision to abandoned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, his commander in Iraq due to his unwanted operations in Syria where Abu Muhammad al-Jolani was based with the mandate of core leadership of    Al-Qaeda. But this tough decision backfired and Baghdadi had become a hard pill to swallow for Zawahiri. Subsequently, Dr Zawahiri’s peace emissary, Abu Khaled Al-Suri who was appointed to arbitrate Between Abu Muhammad Al-Jolani and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was also killed to his displeasure. Now, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s return in Al-Qaeda is out of the question and his group has become a cause for rifts within Al-Qaeda. His group is very violent towards Al-Nusra and its propaganda campaign against core leadership of Al-Qaeda is even more deadly. Dr Zawahiri’s recent messages were aimed at neutralizing it. Zawahiri’s ongoing tensions with Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi have the potential to challenge his authority in other regional branches of Al-Qaeda as well. No senior leader of Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has joined Baghdadi yet, but these leaders are maintaining a meaningful silence over the fighting between Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Abu Muhammad Jolani loyalists. Al-Qaeda operatives and its inspired militant groups are more inclined towards Islamic State (IS).

Al-Qaeda is facing a strange challenge for the first time as a formal branch with belief in Wahabi/Salafi ideology claiming to be true representative of OBL. Dr Zawahiri’s altercations with his own commanders and fighters clearly indicate his difficulties in managing the affairs of             Al-Qaeda in this crisis. To his utter contempt, Al-Qaeda operatives and media experts are openly criticizing his mismanagement of organization in Syria and Iraq on various online Jihadi forums and websites. He was recently heard making clarifications in response to scathing criticism of Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the spokesman of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Similarly, in his recent message, Dr Zawahiri called Mahmoud Abbas a traitor and Hamas and Fatah his supporters. In return, Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf gave him the title of a Zionist. It is pertinent to mention here that Al-Qaeda got the help of Arab Jihadis in the name of Palestine cause. Dr Zawahiri’s disagreements with Egyptian Jihadis are already well-known. These statements and counter statements show anxiety of core leadership of Al-Qaeda in appealing the hearts of Arab masses and keeping Al-Qaeda intact.

Pakistan Security Forces had also started a military operation against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which is hosting Al-Qaeda around Pak-Afghan border. As per media reports and terrorist trends in Pakistan, this operation is going successful and TTP militants are on run. In this situation, Dr Zawahiri must be more concerned about his own security. Therefore, he could not engage in tug of war among his own commanders and apparently his efforts to bring order in Al-Qaeda factions should not get success. Dr Zawahiri was already avoiding appearance in videos and propagating his views through audio statements which were indicating his growing insecurities in wake of these developments. With fumbled voice and rare appearances, he is more likely to lose control of his militant.

According to the reports of Western newspapers, IS militants are making 1 milion dollar daily through sail of oil in Iraq. This capital can also sway leaders and operatives of Zawahiri’s Al-Qaeda to Baghdadi as financially strapped Zawahiri has nothing to offer to them. However, a person with dubious character, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killing Shias and Sunnis alike and his militants are destroying revered Muslim Shrines in Iraq and Syria. This ravage strategy will also backfire and Baghdadi will also be a loser ultimately. He is already being bombarded by US Air Force.
These developments indicate that Al-Qaeda is becoming more disgruntle which will make it more susceptible to external exploitation and infighting. This group brought only evil to Islam and Muslims but unfortunately, many scholars and ulemas become victim of its apparent deception. Some religious leaders and Islamic scholars are not paying heed to ground realities and are found praising Al-Qaeda and its leaders for no reason. Such sympathizers must open their eyes and realize that Al-Qaeda is not an option to address grievances of Muslims. From Egypt to FATA, Muslim countries are engulfed by sectarian violence because of evil designs of this organization.

In Pakistan, the Government and Security Forces are well aware of Al-Qaeda’s evil designs and deadly strategy. Therefore, Army and law enforcing agencies are making utmost efforts to prevent Pakistan from meeting the fate like Iraq and Syria. In view of these facts and observations, we must put our full weight behind Government and Armed Forces in fight against Al-Qaeda, TTP and other likeminded terrorist outfits.

The writer tweets @radiant_J_007

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