Information gleaned after the killing of Osama bin Laden seems to indicate that bin Laden was much more centrally involved in running al Qaeda. Even so, his death is not a decisive blow to the network and it would be wrong to hail it as such. In fact, al Qaeda's enduring links to other militant Islamist groups in the region and the expansion of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network's operational territory inside Pakistan serve to broaden the group's room to maneuver and increase its survivability.
Al Qaeda operatives, due to their status as "outsiders," require the patronage of local host organizations to survive in the region. Al Qaeda has, over the years, intertwined itself intimately with, among other groups, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, regional Uzbek terrorist groups, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other "Punjabi Taliban" groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and perhaps most prominently, the Haqqani network. Al Qaeda operatives embedded within these organizations have worked almost like consultants, providing experience and expertise, advanced training, financial assistance and other support.
The current operational leader of the Haqqani Network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, grew up having close contacts with foreign Islamist extremists and al Qaeda operatives, and is exceedingly close with them, as a result. The links between the Haqqani network and al Qaeda are well documented and appear to be enduring. News that the Haqqanis are beginning to expand their sanctuaries and area of operations would be, therefore, doubly unsettling because it would mean increased space within which al Qaeda operatives could shelter, move and plan attacks.
Reza Jan is a research analyst and Pakistan Team Lead for the Critical Threats Project at AEI