The The killing of Ayman al-ZawahiriThe al-Qaeda leader in Kabul is an important moment in the global campaign against terrorism. Al-Zawahiri did not have the dangerous charisma of his friend and fellow traveler Osama bin Laden, who after his murder – also by US forces, in a special operation inside Pakistan in 2011 – took command of the group. Moreover, the rise of ISIS with a terrorist pattern of its own along with its regional ambitions has put al-Qaeda in the shadows. Most major terrorist attacks in Europe have been considered the work of ISIS or ISIS-inspired units or individuals. There are no clear successors after bin Laden’s son, Hamza, was expelled by the United States. Despite the apparent weakness, as the leader of a terrorist group that continues to spread fear from America to Indonesia through its model of privilege, al-Zawahiri remained a threat to his ability to mobilize cadres. He was the guardian of al-Qaeda’s ideology and co-plottor, along with bin Laden, of its most spectacular attacks from the 1990s through 2001 and beyond.
For India, banishing the base, under new leadership, will be the challenge. India’s success is that the group has failed to make any impact in a country with the second largest Muslim population. Al-Zawahiri, in a 2014 video, announced the formation of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Last year, he sought common cause in Kashmir, when he issued a message of condolence on the death of Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani. And earlier this year, after the hijab controversy in Karnataka, he sent another message asking Muslims to take up arms against their “persecutors”. However, this interest in India failed to gain any traction for the group here.
Al-Zawahiri was killed on his balcony by Hellfire missiles fired by an unidentified remotely operated drone in Kabul. President Joe Biden may have won a few home points with this counterterrorism success. But more than anything else, al-Zawahiri’s presence in the Afghan capital exposed the so-called Doha Agreement as a failure in all respects. His terms demanded that the extremist armed group that took over Afghanistan by force less than a year ago should not provide safe haven for al-Qaeda or its associates. A United Nations panel drew attention to this violation in June of this year, and also noted the presence of al-Qaeda allies in the Taliban regime in addition to the advisory role that al-Zawahiri was playing. Now the Taliban may find it more difficult to gain legitimacy from the international community. For the Afghan people, under a medieval system, with terrorism as part of their ecosystem, the suffering seems endless.