The appearance on video of al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri at the end of April issuing a call to rebellion in Pakistan—the second recording of the al-Qaeda leader in a matter of weeks—forces attention back to this important arena for the jihadist program. On April 29, the al-Qaeda productions company al-Sahab posted on the internet forums a 16-minute video of al-Zawahiri, entitled Risala ila Ahl Bakestan (A Message to the People of Pakistan), carrying the date April 2006 (https://www.tajdeed.org.uk).
After a long preamble outlining the failure of the “Western Crusade,” al-Zawahiri talks of “the dark fate toward which the traitor Musharraf is pushing Pakistan,” a country targeted by powers that aim to “weaken Pakistan and split it up into entities subservient to India, ally of the Americans and Jews.” Al-Zawahiri’s address is a highly-structured, succinct yet comprehensive analysis of the jihadi view of Pakistan’s political crisis, in which he lists the reasons why Muslims should make war on the government of General Pervez Musharraf. These reasons are, in essence, Musharraf’s active combating of Islam, not only in his assistance in destroying the Emirate in Afghanistan and the targeting of Arab mujahideen, but in the active efforts made to foster a “jihadless Islam” by suppressing manifestations of Islamic law and the influence of the Islamic madrassas. Part of al-Zawahiri’s charge against Musharraf’s corruption of political life is that the general “is trying to convince the Pakistani people that they are to look after their interests without a view to any doctrinal or moral considerations”—that is, his promotion of a secular approach to politics.
The al-Qaeda leader also focuses on the theme of Musharraf compromising Pakistan’s national security by losing influence in Afghanistan that had provided the country with “strategic depth” against the threat posed by India, the “squandering” of the jihad in Kashmir and his placing “the Pakistani nuclear program under American, and by consequence Jewish and Indian, supervision.” Al-Zawahiri’s most targeted focus, however, is on the Pakistani military, an organization that he maintains “has turned into hunting dogs for the sake of the Crusaders.” He focuses on the esteem and honor of the soldier, forced to operate under a “new combat doctrine” that neither enhances national security—in that U.S. priorities in the war on terrorism are distracting it from the threat of India—nor secures internal order—in that Pakistani citizens are victims of the campaign and that civil war is fostered “on behalf of America in Waziristan and Balochistan.” More cogently, al-Zawahiri touches on their failure to protect the Islamic faith in that the soldiers, in obedience to their commanders, have enabled the U.S. “to kill tens of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan and enabled them to expel the Islamic Emirate.” Accordingly, he calls on “every officer and soldier in the Pakistani army to rebel against the orders of his leaders” and “pay attention to the dismal fate which awaits them in this world and the next.”
Al-Zawahiri’s commentary is timed to make the most of Musharraf’s declining support as he attempts mold-breaking initiatives under pressure from Washington. Al-Zawahiri touches the raw nerve of Pakistan’s progressive loss of influence in its neighborhood, focusing on India’s consolidation over the Kashmir issue and its expanding influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia. With Musharraf’s concessions against historical national policies reaching unprecedented levels, al-Zawahiri is calculating that the level of discontent is broad enough on the street, and high up enough in the military, to produce results if given the appropriate push. Since the foundation of the Pakistani state, the army has been one of the few consistently functioning elements in the country, and thus al-Zawahiri’s choice to target the army by appealing to a new patriotism, at a time when the old nationalist patriotism appears conspicuously undermined, is a masterstroke.