Looking back, I realize al-Qaeda made a tremendous effort to destabilize Pakistan, but only a token effort to overthrow it. It wouldn’t want the burden of running a poor country, but it didn’t want the burden of effective law and order cramping its profits either. Disorder and instability are the hallmarks of a country where al-Qaeda has set up shop — it is as if Osama bin Laden read Thriving on Chaos and said, “You know, if you pick a poor enough country, you can employ this strategy on a national scale.” Pakistan was perhaps a little too resourceful and proud for al-Qaeda’s chaos strategy to work there.
One problem with seeding chaos as a strategy is that you can never tell where chaos will end up once it gets started. It is al-Qaeda that is in chaos now, with newfound logistical and administrative problems undermining its revenue just as newly seized documents reveal operational secrets.
The analysts who suggest that al-Qaeda will carry on as if nothing has happened are not following the money. They are treating al-Qaeda as if it were a purely political organization. That’s a form in which it never really existed, though its more idealistic adherents might have imagined it that way. Bin Laden was the financial mastermind behind al-Qaeda, the chairman of the board who saw that few strategic mistakes were made in its criminal enterprises. He was found in part by following couriers. The mere fact that couriers were needed on a regular basis shows that al-Qaeda could not function without bin Laden’s strategic direction. Without him, then, mistakes and financial losses will occur on a regular basis. Deprived of its criminal profits, al-Qaeda will be hard pressed to finance the murder of thousands of Muslims this year — instead, it will be al-Qaeda that is bleeding.