Interview with Terrorism Expert Bruce Riedel
Coup in Pakistan ‘A Real Possibility’
Western countries would like to negotiate with the Taliban, but Pakistan would rather they didn’t. US terrorism expert Bruce Riedel spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about just how explosive the situation currently is in Pakistan and how much influence al-Qaida still has.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some people believe a jihadist takeover is already more likely in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.
Riedel: I don’t think it is imminent or inevitable. It is probably not even the most likely outcome. But for the first time, it is a real possibility. It could come in one of two ways. The Pakistani Taliban insurgence could grow and grow and grow, or, more likely, you could have a coup from inside the military by jihadist sympathizers. There is a lot of unrest in the Pakistani army because of their ongoing operations against militants. We could wake up one morning and have another Zia ul-Haqq in power in Pakistan, a committed jihadist, only this time without the Soviet Union as his enemy.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: It is interesting to note that al-Qaida not only has relations with the Afghan Taliban but also with the Pakistani Taliban, which almost seems to be acting as a kind of al-Qaida proxy.
Riedel: The reason is that al-Qaida learned an important lesson in Iraq: If you put foreigners in the front line, they will eventually turn the population against them. So in Pakistan, the front line is the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e Toiba, all these Pakistani faces. Witness for example the rise of Ilyas Kashmiri, a long time Pakistani terrorist fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Now he is the face of jihad in Pakistan. The same is true for Afghanistan. Al-Qaida doesn’t lead the fight in Afghanistan. They let the Taliban lead it. But behind the scenes they provide support.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Given the complexity of the problem, what should be the international community’s first priority?
Riedel: We have to make sure this is an Afghan-led process. Secondly, we need to send a clear message to Pakistan that it can be part of the process, but it cannot be the dominant power. Afghanistan cannot be a satellite state of Pakistan.