“TERROR EXPERT” AND OBAMA ADVISOR BRUCE RIEDEL:
‘A Nightmare We Cannot Afford in the 21st Century’
In a SPIEGEL interview, Bruce Riedel — a CIA veteran, al-Qaida expert and advisor to President-elect Barack Obama — discusses the likely perpetrators of the attacks in Mumbai, Pakistan’s role as the breeding ground of the global jihad and strategies for combatting terror.
Taliban in Afghanistan: “We have to show that terrorists are murderers rather than good Muslims.”
* from the “poverty causes terrorism” department…
* Newsflash: another Talib-chief roastedÂ Â in Targeted Operation
SPIEGEL:Â Mr. Riedel, in your book you described the following scenario: A devastating terrorist incident shakes India. It emerges that the Pakistani Secret Service is involved. The Indian military strikes back and suddenly the world is on the cusp of nuclear war. Should we fear such an escalation following the attacks on Mumbai?Â
Riedel:Â It would be a nightmare if the Indians do find evidence of Pakistani government participation either through the army or the intelligence services. So far both sides are being careful: India says that the terrorists came from Pakistan but they have not said that they were assisted by the government. And Pakistan is saying it will cooperate with the investigation.
SPIEGEL:Â What roll will the fact that Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers play in the current crisis?
Riedel:Â I have said on many occasions that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world: International terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the threat of nuclear war, drugs, democracy deficit and Islam all come together in an extraordinarily combustible way. India and Pakistan have already fought three wars and just five years ago were on the brink of a fourth. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. Nevertheless, South Asia is the most likely place where in our lifetimes we might see a nuclear war.
SPIEGEL:Â You have called the Mumbai attacks “a milestone in global Jihad.” Why?
Riedel:Â The sophistication of the use of multiple teams of very well-trained killers, as well as the choice of targets — Americans, Brits, Israelis — has all the hallmarks of the global jihad to which al-Qaida and its allies like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) have committed themselves. I think this will become a role model for terrorists around the world. You will see the copycat phenomenon where others will try to imitate what has just happened in Mumbai.
SPIEGEL:Â What is so special about Mumbai?
Riedel:Â These attacks dominated global news for 72 hours non-stop. Achieving that amount of media coverage is exactly what the terrorists wanted. With the exception of Sept. 11, we have never really seen such global coverage.
SPIEGEL:Â How solid is the evidence pointing to Lashkar-e-Taiba?
Riedel:Â This kind of attack does not appear to be the work of amateurs. If you look at the list of likely suspects, you have to put Lashkar-e-Taiba very high on the list. The one terrorist who has been captured has already confessed to being a LeT member. LeT has the capability and the motive to create a crisis between India and Pakistan.
SPIEGEL:Â The new Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, just started the thawing of relations between the two countries.
Riedel:Â Zardari has said remarkable things. He said that violence in Kashmir is terrorism. He said that India does not need to be Pakistan’s enemy forever. He said that Pakistan would adopt a policy of no first strike for nuclear weapons — a complete reversal of Pakistani policy. To those who thrive on this conflict, Zardari’s move is anathema. They want to see that derailed.
SPIEGEL:Â So they want more than to just bomb the Indians out of Kashmir?
Riedel:Â Mumbai is the symbol of India’s economic and cultural life. Mumbai is as valuable a target as Washington, London or Berlin and has been a target on many occasions. Foreigners, diplomats and financial entrepreneurs were the targets. In the twisted world of al-Qaida and Lashkar-e-Taiba, Europe, the United States, Israel and India are all part of an alliance of crusaders, Zionists and Hindus.
SPIEGEL:Â Did Osama bin Laden, the current godfather of global terrorism, participate in the founding of LeT?
Riedel:Â Back in the late 1980s, bin Laden and the Pakistani intelligence service ISI were actively involved in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. They wanted to apply the lessons they learned in fighting the Soviets against the Indians. They created Lashkar-e-Taiba. Osama bin Laden was engaged in supporting them by helping to raise money and by training them.
SPIEGEL:Â Why was bin Laden, an Arab, interested in the Kashmir conflict?
Riedel:Â For those in the global jihad, the Kashmiri cause is another example of a persecuted Muslim population and an occupation of Muslim lands. In many ways it is like a second Palestine.
SPIEGEL:Â How close is the connection between LeT and al-Qaida?
Riedel:Â LeT has sent operatives to fight with al-Qaida and with the Taliban in Afghanistan against NATO forces. It has even sent operatives to fight in Iraq. Many of the major al-Qaida figures who have been captured in Pakistan have been found in LeT safe houses.
SPIEGEL:Â Does the Pakistani Intelligence Service ISI still work with terrorists today?
Riedel:Â This is an area that is extremely murky. What we do know is that back in the pre-9/11 days, there were very close connections. After Sept. 11, President Musharraf promised to break all of those ties. At the same time, though, Indian authorities and Afghan authorities assert that the Pakistani intelligence service is still actively engaged in supporting the Taliban and Kashmiri terrorism.
SPIEGEL:Â The Americans have worked with ISI too. When the mujahedeen were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, the CIA was not giving weapons and money directly to them. That was done through their colleagues at the ISI.
Riedel:Â The Pakistani government insisted on that. In this way, by developing a weapon against the Soviets in Afghanistan, we have created a Frankenstein monster that has gotten out of control. It has gotten out of the control of its ISI handlers too. Some of these groups that they have helped in the past are now even targeting the ISI. They tried to kill Musharraf and they will try to kill President Zardari.
SPIEGEL:Â How much latitude will the military cede to Zardari and his civilian government?
Riedel:Â President Zardari said that he would get control over the ISI and that he would end the policy of hunting with the hound and chasing with the rabbit — that is, to be on both sides in the war against terrorism.
SPIEGEL:Â Does he mean what he says?
“The Search for al-Qaida.” Brookings Institution Press, Washington; 196 pages; $26.95.
Riedel:Â His own wife, Benazir Bhutto, was murdered by this terrorist syndicate of al-Qaida, LeT and militant Taliban groups. He himself is now target No. 1. That is why this is such a complicated picture. Pakistan is both a sponsor and a victim of terrorism.Â
SPIEGEL:Â Is Zardari capable of bringing the Pakistani intelligence service under control?
Riedel:Â The Pakistani army and the intelligence service have never been under the full control of an elected civilian leadership.
SPIEGEL:Â How did the tribal regions in western and northern Pakistan become the global breeding grounds for Islamist terrorism?
Riedel:Â These regions were never really governed by anyone — not by the British, not by Pakistanis. The result is that these areas today are chaotic, largely lawless and extremely poor, with remarkable illiteracy rates. This is the kind of primitive tribal structure in which al-Qaida can thrive. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida’s No. 2, has married a tribal leader’s daughter in order to cement good relations. This area is now the epicenter of the world’s most dangerous terrorist movements.
SPIEGEL:Â Europeans as well as Americans must now assume that new deadly attacks will originate there?
Riedel:Â In all likelihood. The terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, London in July 2005 and who tried to attack Germany in the fall of 2007 all had contacts to the Pakistani-Afghan border region. Every major incident in the United Kingdom has been linked by British security authorities back to Pakistan. For Lashkar-e-Taiba and al-Qaeda, the 800,000 British citizens of Pakistani origin are a particularly attractive target. They can travel to Pakistan and anywhere in the world without attracting attention. You are not going to get 15 Saudis coming on one-way tickets to the United States anymore. But British citizens are going to get through Dulles Airport just as fast as you and I get through.
SPIEGEL:Â How capable of action is al-Qaida today?
Riedel:Â Al-Qaida today remains the most dangerous threat to the security of the US and to the security of our allies around the world. In the seven years since Sept. 11, al-Qaida and its close allies have struck worldwide even though they number in the hundreds, perhaps in the low thousands.
SPIEGEL:Â Which targets do you think al-Qaida will strike next?
Riedel:Â We know the airline business is high on their target list. In addition, al-Qaida has decided that if and when it attacks in the US again, it has to outdo Sept. 11. Intelligence cooperation between our own intelligence services and those of friendly countries has improved considerably. But in the business of terrorism, we have to be lucky 100 percent of the time. The terrorists only have to be lucky once or twice.
SPIEGEL:Â Last week, an expert group published a report for Congress warning that the probability of a biological or nuclear terror attack will grow in the next five years …
Riedel:Â … and this is where Pakistan comes into the picture again. It has fissionable material, it has nuclear weapons. If there is any place in the world where al-Qaida might hope to steal nuclear material, Pakistan would be the most logical.
SPIEGEL:Â Is Pakistan really an ally of the United States in the war against terror?
Riedel:Â It is one of the most important allies we have, but it is also the most difficult one. Pakistan is the eye of the storm. Getting the Pakistanis’ cooperation is critical to victory.
SPIEGEL:Â In recent months, President Bush has authorized strikes by Predator drones and the deployment of special forces against al-Qaida in Pakistan Does that make sense?
Riedel:Â Anything that puts pressure on al-Qaida’s senior leadership is a useful thing to do. But there is a very delicate balancing act to make sure that the gains outweigh the downside. These attacks alienate the Pakistani people. They make President Zardari’s efforts to crack down on terrorism much more difficult. In the long term, only Pakistan can really provide law and order in these areas.
‘Where the Road Ends, the Taliban Begin’
SPIEGEL:Â Isn’t it necessary to first solve the Kashmir conflict and bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians before we can succeed in defeating al-Qaida?
Riedel:Â It is essential to the business of drying up support for the terrorists. We are not going to get al-Qaida to change its mind. These are fanatics. What we want to do, though, is to separate the fanatics from the rest of the Islamic world. We have to demonstrate that they are not real Muslims but a bunch of murderers. Al-Qaida fears the idea of a just and fair solution for the Palestinians, which would undermine their appeal in a dramatic way. That ought to be a key priority of any American government.
SPIEGEL:Â Why hasn’t the US tracked down bin Laden yet?
Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed in Islamabad: “Very high on the list of suspects.”
Riedel:Â Part of the problem is that the war in Iraq diverted critical resources away from the hunt for bin Laden, with the withdrawal of key special forces and agents. At the beginning of 2002 when bin Laden was probably most vulnerable, we stopped hunting with our best capabilities. Seven years later, we are trying to get back on the trail, but the trail is not just cold, it’s frozen.Â
SPIEGEL:Â Was the US ever close to capturing or killing him?
Riedel:Â The closest we ever came was in November and December 2001 when he did seem to be cornered in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Right at that moment you had an American hammer on one side and a Pakistan anvil on the other, but the anvil was taken away because of the attack on the Indian parliament. And the hammer was taken away to go to Iraq. Those two events saved al-Qaida.
SPIEGEL:Â You recently proposed a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan …
Riedel:Â … that’s right, because we need to dry up the misery that so many Afghans and Pakistanis live in. Afghanistan’s only significant export crop is heroin. In 2003 and 2004, the United States devoted less than $1 billion dollars towards economic recovery in Afghanistan. We got the predictable results: The situation is deteriorating and going in the wrong direction.
SPIEGEL:Â Therefore, more development aid and less war are essential for the security of the country?
Riedel:Â Development aid and security are intimately related. In Afghanistan, a major priority should just be building roads. Heroin can be put on a donkey whereas wheat requires roads. Seven years after the war in Afghanistan began, we still haven’t build the Ring Road that is the economic lifeline of Afghanistan. NATO commanders on the scene have often said, that where the road ends, the Taliban begin.
SPIEGEL:Â So you believe the US must more clearly focus on Afghanistan’s reconstruction, so-called nation-building?
Riedel:Â Nation-building was an idea the Bush administration rejected and which we now belatedly realize is essential. We should not make the same mistake three times in a row. We ignored Afghanistan after the war against the Soviet Union and we got 9/11. Next we ignored Afghanistan after the liberation of Kabul and we have seen a revived Taliban and al-Qaida.
SPIEGEL:Â And what should be done about the jihadists in Pakistan?
Riedel:Â If we want to kill the Frankenstein monster, we have to try to support a democratic, civilian government in Pakistan. President Zardari has been very brave in saying he is going to take on these challenges. We should be supporting him, economically as well.
SPIEGEL:Â Since 2001, the country has received more than $11 billion from the United States.
Riedel:Â Pakistan’s army got $11 billion in aid from the Bush administration. That’s something else. Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, when he was a senator, proposed an increase in American assistance to Pakistan which would triple economic assistance to $1.5 billion a year and commit to doing so for 10 years. We cannot allow Pakistan to become a failed state. That would not be another Somalia or another Lebanon. A failed state in Pakistan will be a failed state with 60 nuclear weapons. That is a nightmare we cannot afford in the 21st century.
SPIEGEL:Â Mr. Riedel, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Cordula Meyer.