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THE issuance of a specific set of guidelines concerning ‘jihad’ by Al Qaeda chief Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri for the first time appears to be a relative softening of the Islamist militant movement’s otherwise hard-line agenda. The Egyptian militant has urged his followers to practise restraint whilst targeting Muslims of different sects as well as non-Muslims and limiting violent responses to combatants only. The need for propagation — as opposed to combat alone — has also been highlighted. The guidelines appear to have been issued as the Al Qaeda chief has realised that the militants’ increased ferocity and widespread practice of takfir (declaring other Muslims infidels) is not winning over the Muslim world; in fact, the tactics have backfired. Previously Al Qaeda remained largely silent on sectarian killings in Iraq and Syria. However, more chilling are Zawahiri’s comments on what he hopes to achieve in Pakistan.

Zawahiri has urged fighters to “create a safe haven for Mujahideen in Pakistan” so that it can become a base for “establishing an Islamic system”. If what the TTP, which is rumoured to be sheltering him, and other militants have done in Swat and Fata, as well as the campaign of terror that has shaken Pakistan, are anything to go by, we have a fair idea what sort of ‘Islamic system’ Zawahiri has in mind for Pakistan. This is not the first time the Al Qaeda head has focused on this country; last year Zawahiri urged the people of Pakistan to rise against the government and the army. So while Al Qaeda may be regrouping in Yemen, clearly the transnational militant network has not lost interest in Pakistan. In fact, the state’s recent peace overtures to the TTP must have emboldened the Al Qaeda high command. The government must weigh its options. Zawahiri and his band have effectively declared war on Pakistan. And not taking action against foreign militants in this country and their local backers would clear the way for Al Qaeda to carry forward its Pakistan-specific agenda.