‘Bin Laden’ Poll Analysis: Part 1b

UBL’s death would potentially bring many outcomes including some of the fourteen choices identified in poll question 1.  I found it hard to choose just one result from the fourteen choices.  “Other AQ member in AF/Pak becomes new leader of AQ Central” ended up being my selection.  This was a tough decision but here was my logic in relation to the other choices.

1.  Zawahiri is ‘no fun’

Zawahiri might make a good “#2”, but I’m not sure other AQ members, the Taliban or the Haqqani network will let him ascend.  I’m uncertain why exactly.  However, I get the feeling that Zawahiri is always trying to outshine Bin Laden, lacks Bin Laden’s charisma, and finds it hard to make friends amongst other AQ members.  Zawahiri is also from the North African (EIJ) strain of AQ.  Despite his legacy with the group, I think AQ Central will turn to someone from the Gulf or Central/South Asia to take the reins.  Zawahiri may be talented from a terrorist sense but he has a 1990’s Al Gore feel to him and thus I believe will never rise above #2.  This poses another question, if Zawahiri were not to assume the top job post-Bin Laden, would this fracture AQ’s base of North African support? Would there be damaged relations between AQIM and AQ Central?  Would love to hear opinions in this!

[poll id="8"]

2.  Haqqani protection won’t extend forever to Zawahiri

My guess is the Haqqani network will not provide protection for a Zawahiri-led AQ post-Bin Laden.  While the Pashtunwali code for protecting guests has served Bin Laden well, I suspect that his death will bring the end of what has been an amazing level of Haqqani support.  I also estimate that the Haqqani’s would not like to see Zawahiri emerge as the new leader of AQ Central, instead preferring someone with local interests (AF/PAK) of equal or greater priority than global jihad.  Will the Haqqani’s support an AQ led by Zawahiri?  Would love to hear opinions on this!

[poll id="7"]

3. New AQ leader needs to be AF/PAK capable

To maintain safe haven in Pakistan, AQ Central must maintain Haqqani support, placate ISI members, retain AQ group initiative, and sustain global funding.  To accomplish these four things, a current AQ member from AF/PAK other than Zawahiri will emerge to lead AQ Central.  I do not believe Zawahiri will be able to do these four things post-Bin Laden.  A Gulf Arab or South Asian AQ leader will have an easier time gaining local support, sustaining resource flows from donors and illicit networks, and cooperating with the ISI.

4.  AQ Central shifts focus

Sustaining local support for AQ in AF/PAK will require AQ Central to focus on ‘near enemies’ as much as ‘far enemies’.  Bin Laden’s death and the emergence of an AF/PAK centric AQ leader will bring renewed focus on central/south Asian insurgencies.  AQ Central will not forget the need to attack the far enemy, but their base of popular support and wealth of recruits post-Bin Laden will come from countries in the larger AF/PAK region more than abroad.

So, ultimately I chose “Other AQ member in AF/PAK becomes new leader” but I could have easily picked three or four other choices.  I’ll add more to this with the results of questions two and three in the coming days.  In the meantime, I’d enjoy any thoughts on what I missed.


  1. Hi Clint,

    As far I’m concerned, I’ve chosen for al Zawahiri as the Usama bin Ladin’s successor. I’m gonna quote points I’ve already made to a fellow reader of Selected Wisdom:

    For starters, it should be mentioned that in any jihadi organization, the amir has the last word, period. Even if all members of the Majlis al Shura agree with one decision, the amir still has the right to take a different direction.

    In the history of al Qa’ida, we have often seen that bin Ladin was able to take decisions even against the advices of others, from both jihadis and al Qa’ida core members and leaders (Jalalabad battle, camp fixed structures, 9/11 attacks, Tora Bora battle, etc…).

    His entourage has already talked about this issue which led to many frustrations among al Qa’ida and Arab-Afghan ranks. See the Abu Mus’ab al Suri’s letter where he pointed to bin Ladin’s failure in terms of practicing consultation. Or also the letter of Sayf al Adil to Mukhtar where he said that “if someone opposes him, he immediately puts forward another person to render an opinion in his support, clinging to his opinion and totally disregarding those around him, so there is no advice nor nothing.” Not to mention the writings of Abu’l Walid al Misri.

    My point is that even if al Qa’ida has indeed a Majlis al Shura, the rule is that the amir’s opinion is prevalent and al Qa’ida history showed us that bin Ladin’s style of leadership overused this rule and that the latter didn’t listen to others opinions if they opposed to what he thinks. That’s the way bin Ladin goes.

    Given this style of management, I don’t know how could others decide what bin Ladin’s successor should be. They will give their opinion, no doubt about that. But again, at the end, bin Ladin has the final word because he is the amir, that is the prevailing rule, not to mention his style of leadership. So I don’t think that Taliban or Haqqani network have not to be mentioned in this process. It’s an internal decision from within the core organization. No outsiders could be part of this process.

    I’m pretty sure that UBL would take an old mujahid friend with whom relationship is strong. Trust is key in this kind of choice. So that is why I think he would take a trusted friend rather than a more qualified mujahid for this job. Even if the Shura is against his decision, he would not mind and prefer to pick a less qualified but more trusted mujahid as his second-in-command. We have to take into account the other side’s criteria not ours.

    When Abu Hafs al Misri was killed in Kandahar in November 2001, it’s obvious that al Qa’ida would not have left this place vacant. So they had to replace Abu Hafs. And who except al Zawahiri could have replace him? Given al Zawahiri-bin Ladin close relationship, al Zawahiri’s significant influence on bin Ladin, his long jihadi career, his friendship with Abu Hafs, etc…, I don’t see anyone who had the same status at that time and still don’t see anyone today. Again, al Qa’ida had to replace Abu Hafs and look a this period and you will see no one except al Zawahiri for this job.

    As for today, even if we have to pay attention to the “new generation”, I have no doubt that al Zawahiri is still the second-in-command. If we look at his involvement in some big plots, we can establish for sure that he is the one who give the go-ahead and acts as the man of the al Qa’ida leadership in bin Ladin’s “absence”. No one seems to be above him in the leadership. He really acted as the last echelon before bin Ladin himself. He appears to be responsible for approving the external attacks. Also, see the letter from al Zarqawi to the two shaykhs. It’s pretty obvious he was referring to bin Ladin and the Doctor. So if these two are considered as the two most important individuals within AQC, it leaves no doubt that al Zawahiri is indeed the n°2.
    Furthermore, I see even less people who could have this job today, given that part of the old crew is now gone, the latest was Sa’id al Misri. The “new generation” is still too young to have such responsibilities.

    One could argue that even if al Zawahiri was taken as na’ib 10 years ago, this decision is now dated and maybe the Shura will take someone else after UBL’s death. But do you imagine what a mess it would be among AQC ranks? Even if the current Shura disagrees with bin Ladin’s choice, I don’t see it overruling his decisions, that would clearly be considered as a betrayal of his legacy. There would be splits between al Zawahiri supporters and the Shura’s protégé. That would make no sense. I don’t think that AQC would like to appear as divided as the Emirate of Caucasus.

    Besides, I consider the group of UBL as more disciplined than others. His leadership has never been in danger and despite the many mistakes he made, the Shurah has always followed him in his decisions. 9/11 is the most obvious example. I think that what happened to the two Egyptian groups in the 1990′s (splits, internal fights, etc..) is a good example of what AQC is not. Its leadership in general and its amir in particular are strong. No such splits happened within their ranks. So I don’t think that the decisions of bin Ladin, as dated as they could be, could be ignored if he dies one day. His legacy will have to be respected and if he took the doctor 10 years ago, then the doctor will be the effective amir.

    One could also argue that bin Ladin is no longer reachable and that doesn’t have full control of his tanzim as he did before. That of course could crash my analysis and lead the Shura to go over bin Ladin head for the na’ib choice if there is a disagreement, given bin Ladin’s potential weak position within his organization.

    But still, my take is that he has still the control even if he is not reachable for almost everybody. I mean that he still takes strategic decisions and give orders for big plans. And given that he is a control-freak, he would surely not let this na’ib issue in the hands of others. It is too important to be left to other than him.

    Look at what happened after Muhammad Tahir Faruq’s death. He took Uthman Odil as his na’ib 10 years ago and when he died, the Shura respected his will and so appointed Odil as the new amir.

    That is (in a nutshell :D) why I think al Zawahiri is bin Ladin’s successor.


    K. Jackson.

    • This is a great post. I started writing a response and it was way too long. So I’m just going to turn it into a post. I’ll make a new post and refer to your comments above. Thanks for writing this. It’s excellent.

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