Mar 26, 2004

new Zawahiri tape

WHITFIELD: Well, what does it mean for Mr. Musharraf and his allies, including the United States? CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen joins us live from our Washington bureau.
Good to see you, Peter.


WHITFIELD: All right. Well, how powerful are these words coming from al-Zawahiri, in terms of on the receiving the call to arms of Pakistanis?

BERGEN: Well, Fredricka, late last year, Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audiotape also calling for attacks on Musharraf. And shortly thereafter, there were two very serious assassination attempts against him, as Nic indicated. One of them just blowing up seconds after his motorcade across the bridge.

So the fact is, is that, while most Pakistanis may not be energized by the tape, the kind of jihadists, the al Qaeda sympathizers sadly will. And sadly, one of their principal goals is trying to get rid of Musharraf because they see him as cooperating with the war on terrorism, which is obviously a problem for them. So I think the tape may have some outcomes.

WHITFIELD: So of those tribesmen that he's addressing, do you believe, in fact, that they are listening to his calls, and he is the one giving the directions for them as well?

BERGEN: Well, he's making calls for the Pashtun tribal grouping, and also the Baluchi (ph) tribal grouping. These are very large tribal groupings. In fact, there are 13 million Pashtuns sprinkled throughout the region, including in Iran and Afghanistan.

I don't think that he's calling the shots for the vast majority of those people, but certainly there are sympathizers who will respond to this tape from Ayman al-Zawahiri. And obviously there are people who are hiding al Qaeda in that region.

WHITFIELD: Well, is there a resounding feeling of not just those who are, you know, publicly saying they're followers of al-Zawahiri or al Qaeda, that Musharraf is "suppressing the Muslim nation?"

BERGEN: That's a very good question. I mean, that would be an interesting polling question in Pakistan.

There is undoubtedly widespread admiration for bin Laden in that part of the world. Does that transfer into, you know, terrorism or actively helping al Qaeda? Probably not. But certainly, bin Laden is regarded as a hero for sort of standing up against the West. And, unfortunately, that's just a fact there on the ground.

WHITFIELD: There are the other accusations that Zawahiri is saying on the tape, that the government troops are destroying houses, they're making mass arrests, they're killing people in the markets in the tribal areas. Any real credence to that? How does that get proved or disproved?

BERGEN: Well, I don't think -- I mean, there are clearly the people who are dying, and there are also people being captured. But, I mean, that seems overblown. I mean, the military operations are, you know, killing dozens of people, not hundreds. So that seems overblown.

WHITFIELD: The CIA is now feeling fairly confident that this is the voice of al-Zawahiri on this tape. What's your gut feeling tell you about when this may have been recorded? Something within the past week, since the fighting began on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan?

BERGEN: I think it's a little unclear, Fredricka. He doesn't refer specifically to this Waziristan fighting that's been going on intensively since last week. He does refer more generally to Pakistani military operations, which have been going on along the tribal region arguably for a year.

Certainly, the tempo went up in the last month or so. So, to me, it is very ambiguous about when exactly it may have been made.

WHITFIELD: Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, obviously very tight in the al Qaeda network. Any belief that these two would be together while this kind of conflict is taking place, or do you believe that they strategically have separated themselves?

BERGEN: I don't know the answer to that exactly. But I think that they would certainly be in close communication, if not together. Simply because they're very close friends.

Ayman al-Zawahiri is sort of bin Laden's mentor; he's also his doctor. But I think the large question of where they might be is a very open one. I think that we really don't have any clue, to be honest.

WHITFIELD: All right. Peter Bergen from Washington, thanks very much.