EDITORIAL: One of the world’s most hunted terrorists with a $25 million bounty on his head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who together with Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden oversaw the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, has been killed in a CIA drone strike over the last weekend.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan he had been living in a safe house in central Kabul along with his family, regularly issuing video statements and edicts. There he felt so secure that he is said to have been often spotted standing in the balcony of his house.

That is where two Hellfire missiles got him. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid later confirmed that the man killed was indeed who he was, when he strongly condemned the killing calling it a violation of “international principles.” Yet according to American officials, members of the Taliban took swift action after the strike to conceal al-Zawahiri’s former presence at the safe house, moving his wife, daughter and her children to another location.

President Joe Biden who gave the go-ahead for the drone attack can congratulate himself for the big success. He and others in that country, however, need to pay heed to what former president Barack Obama said while paying tribute to Biden’s leadership and to intelligence operatives “who have been working for decades for this moment” when he added “tonight’s news is also proof that it’s possible to root out terrorism without being at war in Afghanistan”.

Considering that al-Zawahiri did not command loyalty by al Qaeda rank and file as did bin Laden and was generally viewed as figurehead, his elimination may not seem a huge victory but for his role in the 9/11 atrocity. Al Qaeda has also been decimated to a large extent and overshadowed by the Islamic State (IS). Nonetheless, it is still believed to have considerable presence in Afghanistan, some Middle Eastern countries and the Sahel region.

The IS also is not as hostile to al Qaeda as it is to the Taliban. In fact, a press report quotes an IS member as calling al-Zawahiri a shaheed (martyr) and bringing up “the significant question” as to who will become the new leader now? That though appears to be a case of common curiosity. Regarding al Qaeda in this region, although in its last month’s report, the UN Committee on Sanctions did not see it as posing an immediate threat from its safe haven in Afghanistan since “it lacks an external operational capability from there and does not currently want to cause the Taliban international difficulty or embarrassment” it did express concerns that the country could, once again, become a base for international terrorist attacks.

In the 2020 agreement they signed with the US, the Taliban had promised they would not allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries. So far, they may have generally kept that commitment, but the Pakistan-centric terrorist organisation, the TTP, is not only openly hosted by them, it also enjoys freedom to launch cross-border attacks into this country, and make impossible demands in return for peace. With the peace talks — initiated by the powers that be despite serious objections raised by major political parties and civil society — going nowhere Pakistan also needs to think about making use of drone strikes to eliminate those enemies of the state.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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