Ayman Al-Zawahiri has recently declared war on Pakistan and is marshalling al-Qaeda and the Taliban to disrupt or overthrow the government. President Musharraf responded by renewing the war in Waziristan.

This appears to have ignited a simmering power struggle within the al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Abu Yahya al-Libi and his faction opposes Zawahiri’s powergrab.

Al-Qaeda is a confederate structure that bears more in common with tribes than a hierarchical military or corporation. Zawahiri is the leader of Jamaat al-Jihad, an Egyptian organization. He signed an alliance with Osama bin Laden and a number of other Islamist organizations.

Zawahiri acted as the Grand Strategist for the Islamist movement. He articulated the strategy of using terrorist attacks against non-Muslims (Far Enemy) to rally support for the insurgency against Muslim governments (Near Enemy).

Zawahiri is not actually the Deputy Leader of al-Qaeda. Nor is Osama bin Laden the leader of al-Qaeda. There is a confederacy of many leaders of individual organization who allied themselves to an ideological abstraction called al-Qaeda. This gives them a certain degree of flexibility. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is lead by al-Masri, who essentially is an “equal” of bin Laden. Other leaders in Somalia, Indonesia, and elsewhere are autonomous as well.

There is a falling out between the Libyan and Egyptian AQ factions. The Libyans call Zawahiri an extremist and believe he is endangering Al-Qaeda’s stronghold by making an overly ambitious attack on Pakistan.

We also know there was a violent dispute between the AQ linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Taliban during the past winter. Clearly many of these factions have conflicts of interest.

Osama bin Laden cannot intervene. He is probably dead. If he is still alive, he was never much more than a figurehead. He has no true leadership powers over the confederacy. He functioned as their spokesperson for the ideology. His silence over the past few years means he is as good as dead.

The anti-Zawahiri faction in Al Qaeda fears his actions may be jeopardizing that safe haven, according to the two jihadists interviewed by NEWSWEEK. […]They say Zawahiri’s personal jihad has angered Al Qaeda’s so-called Libyan faction, which intel officials believe may be led by the charismatic Abu Yahya al-Libi[…] The Libyan Islamists, along with bin Laden and other senior Qaeda leaders, would love to see Musharraf gone, too. But they fear that Zawahiri is inviting the Pakistani leader’s wrath, prematurely opening up another battlefront before the jihadists have properly consolidated their position.

The Taliban began spreading its influence beyond the Tribal areas since the ceasefire agreement last fall. Pakistanis became aware of the growing “Talibanization” of the country, and the Red Mosque in the capital was the symbol of this creeping radicalism.

Instead of slowly taking the countryside, Zawahiri directly challenged the Pakistani military government. This brings the two forces into direct conflict.

The Libyans must approve of the cautious strategy. They and other AQ leaders may want the Taliban to stay quiet in Waziristan so they can direct operations worldwide from a true sanctuary.

U.S. officials say Al Qaeda has vastly improved its position there since Musharraf signed a controversial peace deal with North Waziristan’s Pashtun tribal elders in September 2006, which gave pro-Taliban tribal militants full control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani tribal leaders supply the manpower: both fighters and the growing ranks of suicide bombers. Scattered across the rugged and remote mountains are small training camps and command and communications posts set up in hundreds of mud-brick compounds.

The Pakistani military previously attacked the tribal areas with 100,000 troops. This was insufficient to make real headway. The terrain is poor for large operations and the Pakistanis lack real counterinsurgency training and doctrines. The Taliban and Pakistan reached a sort of equilibrium where neither had the momentum to attack the other.

Zawahiri seems to be pushing the Taliban on the offensive despite lacking enough strength to overthrow Musharraf. So he really is arrogant.