Good Reads: Al Qaeda's No. 2, Africa hearts Qaddafi, and an American (jailed) in Pakistan

Today's top stories feature deeper looks at Al Qaeda's No. 2 man, why Africa still loves Qaddafi, and what Alabama has to do with Pakistan.

Ismail Zetouny/Reuters/File
In this June 30, 2009 file photo, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi delivers a speech at The 21st summit of Heads of State and Government of member countries of New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in Sirte, about 370 miles east of Tripoli.

Here's what Monitor editors liked from the news feed of the past 24 hours – good, meaty, well-reported stories with strong analysis on issues that matter: Why does the killing of Al Qaeda's No. 2 man signal a turning point for the terror group? Why does Africa still "heart" Qaddafi? (Hint: money). And what's a nice guy from Alabama doing in a Pakistani prison?

Even after a decade, the war on terror continues to draw attention, and Brian Fishman in Foreign Policy argues that the reported killing of Al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Atiyah abd al-Rahman al-Libi, may be a turning point in bringing down the terror network. Why? Because Atiyah was the communications guy, the one who could slip across borders and share information with operatives as far as North Africa. All the media’s attention may focus on Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, but at a time when information is crucial for survival, Atiyah was the man with the real power.

“Atiyah's death, if confirmed, will hasten the demise of al-Qaeda as a functional covert network. Although one must assume Atiyah prepared for his death, his contacts must nevertheless now wonder what U.S. intelligence personnel knew his activities and communications that might now put them at risk. In a network reliant on trust, that suspicion creates a host of challenges for regenerating Atiyah's functional role. The door is open for intelligence agencies to play all sorts of tricks on folks in Atiyah's network -- and his contacts must know that.”

In Kabul, the Monitor’s Tom A. Peter also notes that since Atiyah was the second senior Al Qaeda leader killed inside Pakistan, a fact that rankles many Afghans who are starting to weary of the 10-year-long US military presence in their country.

Peter gets this quote from Saleh Mohammad Saleh, a member of the Afghan parliament from the border province of Kunar. “After Osama and a lot of other Al Qaeda leaders were killed [in Pakistan], still America is here in Afghanistan. This makes the Afghans not trust anyone and be suspicious of the activities of America.”

In Libya, news that Qaddafi’s family members are fleeing across the border into Algeria were just the latest sign that things aren’t going so well for the king of kings. But this excellent piece by Monitor reporters Gert Van Langendonck and Kristen Chick shows that victory for the rebels is still not assured. Part of the reason is that rebels from the western part of the country don’t trust rebels from the eastern part of the country – generally not a good sign for a new government.

One of the ways Qaddafi has managed to stay in power for 42 years was by keeping his people divided, playing up rivalries between Tripoli and Benghazi, two of the country's largest cities. Now that rivalry continues to play out among members of the opposition. The consequences, Van Langendonck and Chick write, could undermine the new interim government.

“[W]hile the rebels successfully came together to expel Mr. Qaddafi from Tripoli after 42 years of dictatorship, their ability to maintain that unity and lead a successful transition to democracy is already coming into question. If an interim government fails to take firm control very soon, Libya could face a power vacuum in which disparate armed groups fight for control of the oil-rich country.”

Meanwhile, in capitals around the continent, many African leaders remain loyal to the all-but-ousted-in-an-undershirt Qaddafi, a fact that is nicely explained by Simon Allison in South Africa’s web-only news magazine, the Daily Maverick (and its newly launched iPad version, iMaverick). The answer, as with so many foreign policy questions, has to do with oil and money and power. Qaddafi ruled a country that had oil, Mr. Allison writes, and Qaddafi shared that oil wealthy freely, in return for power and loyalty.

But loyal African friends of Qaddafi are being shortsighted, Allison continues.

“Given they’ve [the Libyan rebels] most of a country to rebuild, as well as four decades of Gaddafi’s eccentric leadership to rehabilitate, it’s likely they’ll have a few other things to do with their money rather than keep up Brother Leader’s largesse on the continent. Most pressing is the question of AU [African Union] contributions - the continental body is quietly desperate for Libya to start paying again, as it can ill afford a 15% revenue cut for very long.”

In the Guardian, veteran Islamabad bureau chief Declan Walsh tracks down an American who had lived in Pakistan, and then fell astray of the law at the worst possible time, after the arrest and release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis and after the Navy Seal operation that killed Osama bin Laden. At a time when Pakistani-US relations are at such a low point, the case of young American Matthew Barrett is about so much more than just a guy who took a wrong turn into a sensitive Pakistani military zone.

As Walsh sums it up thus, “Is the young American really a CIA operative, part of a covert team such as the one that tracked bin Laden, or others that are trying to inventory Pakistan's nuclear stockpile? Or is he simply a young romantic who fell in love with the right woman from the wrong country, an unwitting victim of the geopolitical spy wars between two countries who cannot bear to be friends nor enemies?”

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