The Evolution of Al Qaeda

May 23, 2007

How should we think about al Qaeda? Mortal enemy or troublesome pest? Are they the same now as 5 years ago? What is their strategy?

The answer to these questions was given in a testimony last year before the House Armed Services, Subcommittee on Terrorism. The author was terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman.

Hoffman says that we should think of al Qaeda as four different types of organization.

First, al Qaeda central. This is the “remnants of the pre-9/11 organization”; Bin Laden, Zawahiri and their followers. This group is believed to be in Pakistan, possibly in the Northwest near the border with Afghanistan, and to retain the ability to coordinate and command attacks. President Bush today stated that bin Laden had attempted to coordinate activity with sympathizers in Iraq.

Second, al Qaeda affiliates and associates. These are local insurgent or terrorist groups who bin Laden has attempted to establish links with. These groups are across the globe, in countries such as Uzbekistan, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Bosnia and Kashmir.

Third, al Qaeda locals. These are experienced al Qaeda members, who have fought in Algeria, the Balkans, Chechnya, and Iraq. They may have trained in an al Qaeda camp, but are unlikely to be in direct contact with al Qaeda central.

Fourth, the al Qaeda network. These are home-grown radicals who seek to join or support al Qaeda for ideological reasons. They are unlikely to be known to local authorities, or even to be part of an organized group. Some evidence suggests that this network could be substantial, especially in Europe. Last year, the then head of the British domestic intelligence service, Eliza Manningham-Buller, said that they were keeping 1,600 individuals under surveillance.

So what does this mean? The nature of al Qaeda has changed since 9/11. Thinking about the organization as “a bunch of guys in a cave” in Pakistan is a serious mistake.


The Legacy of the Turkmenbashi

May 23, 2007


Isolated, ruled until last December by an eccentric meglomaniac, Turkmenistan doesn’t seem like an attractive destination for international business. That’s until you consider its natural resources. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Turkmenistan’s reserves of natural gas are the 12th largest in the world, and, if recent claimed discoveries are accurate, possibly the 5th largest. That puts Turkmenistan in the same company as Russia, Iran and Qatar.

So what do we know about this country and its politics? The answer is: not much. In an essay in this week’s New Yorker, Paul Theroux describes a trip through Turkmenistan he took in 2006, in the last months of the Turkmenbashi’s reign.

Turkmenistan, from the time it gained indepencence from the Soviet Union, in 1991, until the end of 2006, was a tyranny, run by a madman, Saparmurat Niyazov. He died of heart failure last December, at the age of sixty-six, but while he lived he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful lunatics on earth. He treated Turkmenistan as his private kingdom, a land in which everything belonged to him, including the country’s plentiful natural gas…

It’s too early to tell how Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, will fare. He’s only been on the job a couple of months. But actual and potential investors should ask themselves the following questions. Will Berdymukhammedov be able to rule in the same autocratic manner? And if the authoritarian government begins to crack, what will replace it?


May 23, 2007

Welcome to Globalization 3.0, a new blog on international politics, economics and security. I’m interested in how unexpected things connect, and the new opportunities they generate. One of the largest changes in the next 20 years will be the industrialization of the ‘developing’ world. Political alliances as we know them will change, and new blocs will form. Nations will compete over access to resources; energy and raw materials at the top of the list.

These changes also lead to opportunities, for those able to see them. I’d like to act as a guide, or perhaps a pair of opera glasses.

Drosten Fisher