The Fragmentation of Terrorist machine The Times Square Attack and Killing of Former ISI Official


The recent killing of former ISI officar, Khalid Khwaja, at the hands of an unknown group, the Asian Tigers, is an alarming development for the intelligence agencies and counter terrorism experts. The elimination of hitherto Taliban sympathizer at the hands of an apparently breakaway faction of the Taliban or a splinter group shows the terrorists, in the face of drone strikes and effective action by Pakistan Army, are forming smaller groups, which are operating independently of the parent body.


Most analysts agree that there is convincing and compelling evidence of the emergence of such groups, which could be the unintended consequence of the pressure being exerted or part of a deliberate strategy adopted by the extremists. The failed bombing of the Times Square New York could also be the outcome of such rupture.

One of the premises of the new US strategy for Af-Pak region involves creating division amongst the Taliban ranks. Some strategists believe this is exactly what the intelligence agencies are doing by exploiting their differences and creating rifts between different factions of extremist groups, pitching one group against the other. The success of this strategy is yet to be seen. On a positive note, for the first time these tactics are part of a larger political strategy.

According to intelligence specialists, when you take out the central figures of a terrorist organization, chances of several splinter groups coming up increase. These groups could operate independently and have separate agendas. Part of the Al Qaeda operational strategy has always been the analogy of a snake with many heads and therefore cutting off one of the heads would not necessarily end the organization. This strategy now seems to be replicated by many contemporary extremist groups.

The Taliban has always operated as a loose alliance of several Jihadi groups. The first division among the Taliban came when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerged and declared itself a separate organization from the Afghan Taliban. It operated along side the Haqqani group, Maulvi Nazeer Ahmed and Gul Bahadur groups besides others. Many of their recruits were criminals running away from the long arm of justice, sectarian groups targeting Shias and Barveli Muslims in Pakistan and brainwashed young men coming out of Madrassas. Overall, the terrorists were divided into three groups: ultra conservative Islamists, seeking the rule of Sharia where they operate; Islamists who think their first duty is to fight foreign occupation of Muslim territory; and global Jihadis, who dream of dominating the world with their own self defined brand of Islam. Some of these are extremists while all of them have some sort of ideological alignments with others.

The terrorist groups have proved to be very adaptable, as demonstrated by their tactics and strategies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and increasingly in Yemen and the region of Greater Horn of Africa. They appear to be increasingly mimicking the operational model of small independent teams similar to the special operation forces, widely utilized by US and other NATO allies.It is apparent that dispersion of Taliban and other terrorists over a wide area and formation of independent groups would make the job of intelligence specialists much more difficult. Generally speaking, it is easier to locate larger groups, their structure, objectives, operational strategies and plans. Large groups are also easier to penetrate in order to ascertain a true picture of how they operate. But smaller terrorist groups are much more difficult to break into. By virtue of their small size, these groups can operate without detection over longer periods and plan devastating terrorist attacks. They may also slip away into cities, where they would be difficult to track. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies would be forced to commit considerable resources to track such groups. That would require more trained manpower, extra-specialized equipment and greater coordination between intelligence services. Consequently, more funds would have to be allocated for the task.

Additionally, while the drone attacks over the Pakistani tribal areas have claimed to be a success story, in the new scenario the role of this tactics will become even more complicated. Because such groups don’t comprise a large number of people, the terrorists may easily mingle with the local population. As such, it would pose new challenges for the security agencies to take them out without collateral damage. As pointed out before, the drone attacks are having the unintended consequence of spreading the terrorists from the peripheries to deeper into Pakistan.

The Pakistani security apparatus has learned first-hand the dangers of split groups. Many of the suicide attacks taking place in the country are being carried out by small independent groups, whose members once formed the Taliban but were forced to disperse in view of Pakistan military offensives in tribal areas. Most of these cells have no links with each other and seem to be compartmentalized, choose targets on their own, which may include military vehicles, mosques, military operational areas, five star hotels, etc. For Pakistani law enforcement agencies, tackling suicide bombings and raids on civilian and sensitive military installations across the country has been a complex task and will become even more so.

The extremists thus appear to be preparing for a long drawn out insurgency and these actions appear to be the first steps towards countering the US Surge including launching of the Operation Al-Faatha, that the Afghan Taliban has announced will be initiated on May 10, 2010.

PoliTact has also examined other implications of extremist strategies and tactics under a previously indentified pattern, Terrorism 2.0. The terrorists are gradually spreading their tentacles in Europe and Northern America by involving the Muslim community of these regions. Judging by the sentiments expressed in the official comments after the failed Time Square bombing, US risks overreacting and getting militarily drawn in another Muslim country. Not only will this widen the war theater but also accelerate anti-Americanism, and meanwhile considerably strain the American economic resources as well as those of the allies. One of the partners, Pakistan, is already slowly crumbling socially, ethnically and economically under the weight of this war.

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