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David Miller Online: What Now For al-Qaeda?

It is surprising the number of people who believe that the war in Afghanistan is over. Last week a colleague of mine passed comment that, with the Taliban militia and the al-Qaeda forces dislodged from their position of dominance in the country, the war on terrorism has reached its final stage and Osama bin Laden and his network are finished. I did not disagree outright with this point of view but I do not believe that the war is over. In fact, I would not be surprised that out of the ashes and rubble of Afghanistan, al-Qadea can re-surface.

On the surface, it would appear that bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been dealt a death blow following their spectacular success on September 11. Throughout Afghanistan they have lost their bases and sanctuary for their central command and communication and unless their is compliance from one or more of the Afghan warlords, the network will not be able to run their training camps and logistical system. It would appear the command structure of al-Qaeda is broken. However, appearances can be deceiving.

If al-Qaeda is to survive then its best hope lies in its organisational structure. The group is reported to be a loose and de-centralised in its structure and is organised into cells and affiliate groups in a number of countries around the world. It means that even if the US is successful in destroying the group in Afghanistan it then must focus its attention to other locations and this could have the potential to not only drag other countries and governments into the war but also erode support the US campaign around the world.

Many countries that have previously allowed terrorists to find shelter within their borders and actively supported it as a means of foreign policy are beginning to change their policies. We have seen Libya and Sudan seek to repair relations with the US in fear of not only being isolated diplomatically but also that they might become a target for bombing. The most visible sign of this change is the efforts by the Pakistan government of General Pervez Musharraf to clamp down on militants and has deployed troops along the border with Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda access to the country.

The tactic for the US is to try and pressure countries around the world to remove the al-Qaeda cells who seek sanctuary there. As long as those governments, for example, Yemen and Sudan feel that there is reason enough to comply then this policy will be successful. However such countries feel that the US pressure is waning or losing its influence then al-Qaeda is thrown a lifeline. Any change in the government with a hardline Islamic movement assuming control then this policy will be dead altogether.

The other problem facing the US is that the impetus for an al-Qaeda operation does not have to be inspired or directed from the top. It is possible that a grass roots element of the network can plan and carry out an attack and that any member of the group at this level may decide that they are the future leader of the group and issue a fatwa or declaration of war. If this happens then the impact from the loss of Afghanistan and the centralised command is minimised.

It is for these reasons why I offer caution when people say al-Qaeda is finished. Osama bin Laden is still at large as is Mullah Omar and the network still spans the globe. The momentum is with the US at the moment as sympathies for September 11 still remain. However as the bombing continues and if it should ever widen then that sympathy will be eroded and al-Qaeda will remain at large to fight another day.

Zimbabwe Must Be Suspended.

The new legislation passed last week by President Robert Mugabe is draconian to say the least. The new laws that force international media from the country and make it an offence to criticise the government represent the desperate measures a desperate man will go to so he can hold power. Mr. Mugabe has seen his hold on the country slip in the past few years and through his policy of land seizures and of stifling dissent has shown that Zimbabwe is no longer a democratic nation. If the Commonwealth is to retain its credibility it must act quickly and decisively to suspend Zimbabwe or else there will be nothing to prevent the abuse of power by Africa’s newest dictator.

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