January 22, 2006:
The recent attempt to kill al Qaeda's number two guy, Ayman al Zawahiri, in Pakistan, is threatening to damage intelligence operations in Pakistan. It all began when good intel was received that Ayman al Zawahiri, and some of his staff, were going to have dinner at the compound of some Pakistani tribal supporters. Al Zawahiri was late, but the Hellfire missiles from the Predator UAVs overhead were not. While several al Qaeda officials were killed, so were some Pakistani civilians.
Pakistani Islamic radicals, who are a potent political force in the country, promptly made this Hellfire attack into a major political issue. Many Pakistani military and intelligence officials support the Taliban, and some even back al Qaeda. The Islamic radicals in Pakistan have enough clout to turn the al Zawahiri into a political issue, not so much because civilians were killed, but because Americans were operating on Pakistani soil. This has not been a secret, but there were, until now, few obvious examples of this American presence. Now there is, and the Pakistani government is under a lot of pressure to "expel the foreigners" (not al Qaeda, but the Americans.) That won't happen, because president Musharraf needs U.S. support to stay in power. While Musharraf is the latest in a long line of Pakistani military dictators, he is not, like some of his predecessors, into Islamic fundamentalism. This has put Musharraf's life in danger, from Islamist Pakistanis as well as al Qaeda foreigners. In self-defense, Musharraf may curb some American intel activities. This would hurt Musharraf, as U.S. UAVs and intel agents have been a major assist in keeping local Islamic militants from causing more damage. But in the short term, surviving an outraged public may become a higher priority. Long term, the U.S. intel operations will continue in Pakistan, and more Hellfire attacks are likely.