Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel interviewed by Trudy Rubin — available as MP3 podcast or transcript. Riedel says that Pakistan “is the most dangerous country in the world today”:
Bruce Riedel: I actually wrote those lines for the first time ten years ago in a memo for then-President Clinton. I think Pakistan is the most dangerous country because all of the nightmares of the twenty-first century that should concern Americans come together in Pakistan in a unique way. This is a country with nuclear weapons. This is a county with a history of proliferating nuclear technology. This is a country that has fought four wars with its neighbor, and at least one of those wars went very close to becoming a nuclear war. This is a country that has been the host of numerous international terrorist organizations and is today the safe haven and stronghold of the al Qaeda terrorist organization. This is a country also awash in drugs, narcotics, and this is a country where the clash between reactionary Islamic extremism and democracy is being fought out literally in front of us. All of those issues come together in this one place like nowhere else in the world. That is why it is so important to Americans.
Here’s an excerpt of what is being learned from the British prosecution of the 2006 bombers:
TR: How dangerous is al Qaeda to us? As you know, some terrorism experts have begun to downplay its importance in Pakistan and globally there was a much-commented about article in The New Yorker recently by Lawrence Wright, talking about dissent within al Qaeda, especially amongst imprisoned leaders, and some experts argue that grassroots groups springing up in Europe are more significant than al Qaeda in the caves and mountains of the border areas of Pakistan. Is al Qaeda still the most dangerous group?
BR: According to our own intelligence community, and the British intelligence community, German intelligence community, and other Western intelligence communities, it is. And they have said that in public, not just this year but for the last several years. Larry Wright, who has written probably the seminal book about 9/11, has written some very insightful things about the arguments that are going on within the jihadist movement today. But he does not argue there, as far as I can tell, that the al Qaeda movement is not a threat anymore. I think of al Qaeda as being much like a multinational corporation that operates on a global stage. You have the headquarters in Pakistan with the CEO, Osama bin Laden. Then around the Islamic world it has various franchises, just like a McDonaldâ€™s or a Toyota has franchises. Some of those franchises at any one time are doing well and growing, for example, their franchise in North Africa, in Magrab, and their franchise in Libya. Others are not doing as well. Currently the one in Iraq is in a phase of retreat, and the al Qaeda franchise in Saudi Arabia has been badly damaged by the Saudi authorities. But all of these franchises in some way report back to the al Qaeda center. Do they take orders? Well, they take general instructions. We know this because they say they take general instructions. And then beyond these franchises we have cells, principally in Western Europe, but also in other parts of the world, small al Qaeda cells which are also taking instructions. The British, for example, say that every major terrorist operation foiled in the United Kingdom in the last five years was linked back to the al Qaeda center. We can all take great comfort from the fact that we have not been attacked inside the United States again since 9/11. But comfort should not lead to wishful thinking that the threat has gone away. I would point you to the trial that is going on in London right now with regard to the plot in August of 2006 to simultaneously blow up over the north Atlantic ten jumbo jets. That plot, had it succeeded, would have been worse than 9/11. More people would have died and we would not have known who did it because all the forensic evidence would be at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. What we know is, the bomb worked. That is why Americans cannot take a soda on an airplane anymore. Second, we know that they had the martyrs ready to commit suicide, because we have their martyrdom videos, which have been introduced into court. Third, we know the flights that they wanted to attack because they were on their Blackberries. That was a serious attempt by al Qaeda to outdo 9/11. Thanks to British security and intelligence it was thwarted. It is a wake-up call to us all, that these guys are still plotting evil from that lair in Pakistan.
Riedel says the genesis of jihadi support stems from the conflict with India
BR: I think that is one of the most important things we can do. If you look at the itch that Pakistan has been scratching for the last thirty years that has produced this jihadist culture, it is all about India, and in the end it is all about Kashmir. The conflict in Kashmir is what drives the Pakistani armyâ€™s pursuit of supremacy within the country. The conflict in Kashmir is what has been at the heart of the ISIâ€™s relationship with terrorist organizations. There is a unique opportunity here; for the first time in many years the battlefield in Kashmir is relatively quiet. India and Pakistan have begun negotiations about trying to improve their relationship, and they have made some important moves in that regard. The United States ought to, very quietly and very discreetly, be encouraging that process. We ought to be giving assurances to both New Delhi and Islamabad that if they continue down this process, the United States is right there with them and will help them in every way possible, economic assistance, diplomatic assistance, whatever it takes; it has to be done with discretion and reliability, quietly, but I think this is one of the great opportunities that the next president will have.
But the only policy prescription he offers is more foreign aid.