War on Terror
The phenomenon of Americans injecting themselves into transnational terrorism points to the need to get away from the usual spatial way of thinking of terrorism in terms of some state territories that are havens and others that are targets, and of radicalism spreading across boundaries like the imagery of oozing red paint or falling dominoes that heavily influenced thinking during the Cold War. President Obama used spatial imagery in his speech at West Point. Mixing metaphors of earthquakes and disease, he described Afghanistan and Pakistan as “the epicentre of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda,” and declared that “we are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country.” The recent cases give scant support to the idea of an Afghan epicentre having special importance not shared by other unstable countries to which radicals can go. ...
The principal lesson to draw from the recent cases is that terrorism, either generally or specifically the Islamist variety is not solely or even primarily a matter of states, sponsorship, havens, and well-known groups. It is at least as much a matter of angry individuals, angered primarily by certain salient conflicts. It is more a matter of such individuals, already radicalized, seeking out groups than of the groups being Pied Pipers luring the individuals. The United States reduces the problem to the extent that it can help to resolve the conflicts. It exacerbates the problem, and risks becoming more of a terrorist target itself, to the extent that it escalates conflicts and makes them even more salient. -- Paul R. Pillar
The context within which people live their lives shapes everything — from their political outlook to their religious one. The reason there are so many frustrated and angry people in the Arab-Muslim world, lashing out first at their own governments and secondarily at us — and volunteering for “martyrdom” — is because of the context within which they live their lives. That was best summarised by the United Nation’s Arab Human Development reports as a context dominated by three deficits: a deficit of freedom, a deficit of education and a deficit of women’s empowerment. The reason India, with the world’s second-largest population of Muslims, has a thriving Muslim minority (albeit with grievances but with no prisoners in Guantánamo Bay) is because of the context of pluralism and democracy it has built at home.
One of the main reasons the Arab-Muslim world has been so resistant to internally driven political reform is because vast oil reserves allow its regimes to become permanently ensconced in power, by just capturing the oil tap, and then using the money to fund vast security and intelligence networks that quash any popular movement. Look at Iran. --Thomas L. Friedman
Mr. Obama could not be very specific about his Pakistan strategy, his advisers conceded on Monday evening. U.S. operations there are classified, most run by the CIA. Any overt U.S. presence would only fuel anti-Americanism in a country that reacts sharply to every missile strike against extremists that kills civilians as well, and that fears that America is plotting to run its government and seize its nuclear weapons.
Yet quietly, Mr. Obama has authorised an expansion of the war in Pakistan as well — if only he can get a weak, divided, suspicious Pakistani government to agree to the terms. --David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt
“I have been warning Pakistan,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a speech early this month, “not to play games with us. The last game should be the Mumbai attacks. Stop it there…If terrorists from Pakistan try to carry out any attacks in India, they will not only be defeated but will be retaliated against.”
In the wake of November’s carnage, Islamabad assured the United Nations Security Council that it would proscribe the Lashkar’s parent organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. A year on, it is yet to do so. Key suspects believed to be involved in the Mumbai attacks, like Lashkar military commander Muzammil Bhat, have not been held. Worse, offices of the Lashkar and groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad continue to function; and their propaganda magazines, so critical to recruitment, are still being published.
Home Minister Chidambaram’s words point us in the direction of just why these issues need to be taken seriously: another major terrorist attack on India could have consequences that would destabilise both countries, and could conceivably precipitate a regional crisis. In both Islamabad and New Delhi, Mr. Chidambaram’s speech was interpreted as a warning that India would respond to future mass-casualty attacks by targeting jihadist bases and logistical facilities in Pakistan. That, in turn, could snowball into a conflict that would bring misery to all of the peoples of South Asia. No rational person would seek such an outcome, but another major terrorist attack could generate a hawkish public mood in India that politicians would not be able to resist. India, Pakistan, and the world must beware of the possibility that the last shots of last November’s maximum terror attacks on Mumbai might not yet have been fired — and do all that is in their power to avert a far larger tragedy. – Editorial in The Hindu, New Delhi
A year ago this week, the world was horrified by the scenes unfolding on 24-hour news channels in the heart of one of Asia’s great cities. Those who were there, or who witnessed it on television, will never forget those image — especially those from the Taj Mahal Hotel on Mumbai’s waterfront. The cold-blooded killers who planned the attack had deliberately sought to make it as public and horrifying as possible, in the hope of terrorising all who saw it.
It is hard for rational, civilised people to understand what could drive young men to carry out such atrocities -- or what sort of people could dream up such macabre plans. But, a year on, it seems clear that this was an effort to spark conflict in the region -- and that it failed in this aim...
It was quickly recognised that the Mumbai attacks emanated from Pakistan. The British government has been working with the Pakistani authorities over the last year to try to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice, and further such attacks do not happen. I don’t say this simply through empathy for the victims and their families of bombings and shootings across South Asia -- of which there are far too many -- but because terrorism with roots in this region also has a huge impact on my country. As I have said before, three quarters of the most serious terror plots being investigated by U.K. authorities have links to South Asia. Unless and until this threat is dismantled, people in Europe and Asia will continue to face the sort of indiscriminate killing that we saw in London in 2005 and in Mumbai last year. –Sir Richard Stagg, U.K. High Commissioner to India
The Pakistani army has no love for Islamic extremists now, but it differentiates between the Afghan Taliban, which it sees as a potential ally in a pro-Pakistan Afghanistan if US efforts there fail, and the Pakistani Taliban, which is viewed as a threat to the state.
In reality, the two Taliban groups and al-Qaida are closely allied. Both Taliban groups acknowledge the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar as head of the essential jihad against Western forces in Afghanistan. Even though Afghan Taliban leaders are careful not to fight alongside their Pakistani brothers in South Waziristan, they would be happy to see larger parts of the NWFP controlled by the Pakistani Taliban so that their own base areas could expand....
To avoid a regional debacle and the Taliban gaining even more ground, Obama needs to fulfill the commitment he made to Afghanistan in March: to send more troops — so that US-NATO forces and the Afghan government can regain the military initiative — as well as civilian experts, and more funds for development. He must bring both India and Pakistan on board and help reduce their differences; a regional strategy is necessary for any US strategy in Afghanistan to have a chance. The United States needs to persuade India to be more flexible toward Pakistan while convincing Pakistanis to match such flexibility in a step-by-step process that reduces terrorist groups operating from its soil so that the two arch-enemies can rebuild a modicum of trust. --Ahmed Rashid
A reader of a column of mine on the social consequences of abandoned street children wrote to point out that my prognosis that these little Lords of the Flies would grow up as the new Bin Ladens, primed to wreck vengeance on established societies, was mistaken. “Osama bin Laden’s anger did not develop out of poverty,” she argued, “but out of a middle class malaise”. Of course. And so did Che Guevara’s and Stokely Carmichael’s and that of Marx and Lenin. But this does not exclude the undisputable, well-researched, fact that poverty, particularly when it exists in a society of gross inequalities, breeds violence, crime and the urge to deal out deadly punishment on conventional society. The leaders may be educated; the shock troops often come from the underclass. ...
If one survives to grow up in this environment and by some means of good fortune learns at least the rudiments of why one’s family and people were neglected, is it not likely that an anger will burn within that one day might find its true target? When it does happen we might wonder, as with bin Laden today, why it has taken so long for someone to rise up and hit us in the solar plexus. There were people who forecast a bin Laden twenty-five years ago and they were not taken seriously. Both for them and for us, let us not make the same mistake with the “wretched of the earth”. -- Jonathan Power
Retrospectively, it is clear the Mumbai assault served — successfully — several possible strategic goals for Rawalpindi if not Islamabad as well. First, it exacerbated tensions between India and Pakistan and disrupted the ongoing peace process. Notwithstanding the views of prominent American journalists, this author remains dubious that the Pakistan army would ever want a rapprochement with India given that the security competition with India legitimises its sweeping role in running the state. The ensuing rupture in India-Pakistan relations may have re-energised an enervated Pakistan army that loathed Musharraf’s various policies.
Second, the anticipated military response from India afforded Pakistan a convenient opportunity to move forces to the east from the west, where it was engaging the Pakistani Taliban in what was, at that time, a deeply unpopular war. In April 2008, one Pakistani officer had remarked to this author that it was a bad time to be in the Pakistan army because he had joined to kill Indians not Pakistanis. The tensions that followed the attack on Mumbai resuscitated the relevance of Pakistan’s conventional conflict amidst international insistence that the army invest in equipment and training, as well as doctrinal reorientation, for counterinsurgency operations. The attack demonstrated — to the military and intelligence organisations — that attacking India remains a central ambition of their organisations and gave a fillip to those militants who were impatient with Pakistan’s post-9/11 “moderated jihad” strategy. -- C. Christine Fair
In his leaked report, Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that “increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures.” This is a bizarre criticism. India is the hegemon of South Asia, with enormous influence throughout the subcontinent. Its GDP is 100 times that of Afghanistan (not a typo). As Afghanistan opened itself up after the fall of the Taliban, the cuisine, movies, and money that flowed into the country were, naturally, Indian. This is like noting that the United States has had growing influence in Mexico over the last few decades.
The Indian government’s aid to Afghanistan has mostly gone to build infrastructure. And while New Delhi is trying to gain influence with the Kabul government, US officials tell me that Indian intelligence has limited operations in Afghanistan. America can’t and should not want India to banish itself from its own subcontinent. In fact, India’s objectives are exactly aligned with America’s — to defeat the Taliban and to support the elected Afghan government. -- Fareed Zakaria
One of the most striking examples of a local militia rising up on its own is in Achin, a predominantly Pashtun district in Nangarhar province that straddles the border with Pakistan. In July, a long-running dispute between local Taliban fighters and elders from the Shinwari tribe flared up. When a local Taliban warlord named Khona brought a more senior commander from Pakistan to help in the confrontation, the elders in the Shinwari tribe rallied villagers from up and down the valley where they live, killed the commander and chased Khona away.
The elders insisted that the Taliban stay away from a group of Afghans building a dike in the valley. When Khona’s men kidnapped two Afghan engineers, the Shinwari elders decided they had had enough. “The whole tribe was with me,” one of the elders said in an interview. “The Taliban came to kill me, and instead we killed them.”
Since the fight, the Taliban has been kept away from a string of villages in the Achin district that stretch for about six miles. The elders said they were able to do so by assembling a group of more than 100 fighters and posting them at each end of the valley. -- Dexter Filkins
Photo: Members of the local tribal militia stand guard in the outskirts of Wana, the main town of Pakistan's South Waziristan along the Afghan border.
By Muzaffar Ejaz, renowned Pakistani columnist
In 2005, the BBC aired a three-part documentary called, “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear”. The film was not aired in the US, but it is available to purchase or view on the internet. And in a very clear sense, it is obvious why this documentary was never run on American TV. “The Power of Nightmares” demonstrates that Islamic Fundamentalism and the Neoconservative movement are two sides of the same coin.
The Islamic Fundamentalist movement and the Neoconservative movement began separately, independent of each other. One in the Mid-East, the other in America. But both were reactions to the failures of Western modernity to create a world of sane social orders. At least, initially they were. -- Stephen Dufrechou
In Afghanistan, for example, we have already increased our troop presence by 40,000 troops since the beginning of last year, yet the result has not been the promised stability but only more casualties and a strengthened insurgency. If the last surge of 40,000 troops didn’t help, why will the next one be so different? ...
Already American troops have created a backlash with Kabul University students this week burning US President Barack Obama in effigy until police dispersed them with gunshots. The heavier the military footprint, the more resentment — and perhaps the more legitimacy for the Taliban. Schools are not a quick fix or silver bullet any more than troops are. But we have abundant evidence that they can, over time, transform countries, and in the area near Afghanistan there’s a nice natural experiment in the comparative power of educational versus military tools. -- Nicholas D. Kristof
Perhaps the time has come for all rational moderates of the country to unite around the conviction that there is no difference between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban; if one is bad the other can never be good. Moreover our response to the threat posed by the Taliban should be comprehensive and unanimous, not fractured or reductionist. And finally it is about time we decide whether we want to be an intolerant and confused theocracy or a modern progressive republic. If we choose to be the latter, as reason dictates, moderates present in parties and in all segments of society should play a proactive role in advocating permanent changes in our collective outlook. Remember, fanatics can only win battles, not wars. This intellectual struggle is the war for our survival. If we fail now there may not be any hope left for our future generations. -- Farrukh Khan Pitafi
Worse, in the midst of unprecedented anti- Americanism in the country, it is portrayed by a religio-nationalist media as being “servile” in its dealings with the US. The latest example of this is the near- universal rejection of the Kerry- Lugar Bill which aims to cough up US$ 1.5 billion a year over the next five years for bankrupt Pakistan from America’s ailing exchequer because some of the conditions attached to it, which the government has shrugged away as being inconsequential, are seen as “ humiliatingly intrusive”. The Pakistan army, which doesn’t see eye to eye with America about its Af- Pak strategy and wanted to send an indirect signal of its unhappiness, exploited the situation recently by egging on the media and opposition to “reject” the aid and put the Zardari government on the defensive. -- Najam Sethi
My last guiding principle: We are the world. A strong, healthy and self-confident America is what holds the world together and on a decent path. A weak America would be a disaster for us and the world. China, Russia and Al Qaeda all love the idea of America doing a long, slow bleed in Afghanistan. I don’t. The US military has given its assessment. It said that stabilising Afghanistan and removing it as a threat requires rebuilding that whole country. Unfortunately, that is a 20-year project at best, and we can’t afford it. So our political leadership needs to insist on a strategy that will get the most security for less money and less presence. We simply don’t have the surplus we had when we started the war on terrorism after 9/11 — and we desperately need nation-building at home. We have to be smarter. Let’s finish Iraq, because a decent outcome there really could positively impact the whole Arab-Muslim world, and limit our exposure elsewhere. Iraq matters. -- Thomas L. Friedman
The traditional nexus between the religious right and the military is no secret. Superficial divisions surfaced after the army, under General Musharraf, took a U-turn on its traditional pro-jihadi stand following the cataclysmic events of 9/11, but the bond remains strong. They share notions about defending Pakistan’s ideological frontiers and the ‘real enemy’ (India), and a distaste for democracy (especially the Pakistan People’s Party). ...
The daring attack and siege of the General Head Quarters (GHQ) rallied opinion around the men in uniform. Confusingly, this includes religious right-wing parties linked to the very forces the army is pitted against (not so confusing when one remembers the generals who termed the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as true ‘patriots’ after they offered to fight India in the post-Mumbai attack fallout). -- Beena Sarwar
And even though 28,000 troops are now fighting the Taliban in South Waziristan, the bulk of the Army still faces east. Against this backdrop, imagine how many sleepless nights the prospect of a "third front" must be causing. The recent attack by Jundallah in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province has raised the spectre of hot pursuit into Pakistani Balochistan. Although this is not an imminent prospect, there are Iranians who are itching to cross the border to crush this terrorist group that has been a thorn in their country’s side since it was established in 2005 by its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi. Jundallah (not to be confused with Jandola, a Pakistani terrorist group) came into being to supposedly protect the rights of the Sunni Baloch in Iran. However, its close links with drug smugglers and the Taliban in Afghanistan make it anathema to Tehran, and its deadly campaign against the Iranian state has caused scores of casualties. -- Irfan Husain
The Pakistani military has launched an offensive in Waziristan against forces of the Pakistani Taliban, causing another refugee crisis in one of the world's poorest areas. One-third of the population has fled their homes already, and those numbers are sure to rise. The assault in South Waziristan follows an offensive in Swat earlier this year--also allegedly targeting Islamist militants, and also taking a devastating toll on ordinary people. Saadia Toor, an assistant professor at Staten Island College, author of a forthcoming book on Pakistan from Pluto Press, and part of the group Action for a Progressive Pakistan, talked to Ashley Smith about the situation in Pakistan today.
Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main opponent in the election, is a Tajik, and he will not be accepted to lead the country by either the Pashtuns or the Uzbeks, the two largest components of Afghanistan's tribal structure. Abdullah's "Westerly ways" further undermined his credibility among nationalists. Once the commission investigating the recent election fraud declares its conclusions, the United States should move on and concentrate on setting benchmarks for Karzai, especially on development projects. - Change the media theme from attacking the Taliban and calling them the terrorists to concentrating on al-Qaeda and "foreign terrorists." By removing the stigma of terrorism from the Taliban, you can pursue meaningful negotiations with them. -- Turki al-Faisal
Vice-president Joe Biden has reportedly proposed an alternative strategy focusing more on al-Qaeda and less on Taliban. That means reducing troops and relying more on airpower and precision strikes by Predator UAVs. In purely military terms, there could not be a more surefire prescription for disaster. As in Vietnam, ultimately the war in Afghanistan would be won or lost in opinion polls back home. Political sensitivity to casualties will be the key factor moulding American will to stay the course. CI operations are manpower-intensive and the Afghan campaign has been drastically under-resourced for far too long. If the Americans are serious about pacifying the region, they will need to commit enhanced resources and stay the course for at least one to two decades. Anything less will lead to a regional disaster with grave security implications for India. Curtailment of ammunition resupply is the key component of the defeat mechanism. Effective border fencing helps achieve this effect; it had drastically curtailed terrorism in Punjab and later J&K. The money the US is throwing at Pakistan could be better spent by constructing a fence on the Durand Line. -- G D Bakshi
Al-Qaida only numbered 300 members. Most have been killed. A handful escaped to Pakistan. Only a few remain in Afghanistan. Yet President Barack Obama insists 68,000 or more U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida and prevent extremists from re-acquiring "terrorist training camps." This claim, like Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is a handy slogan to market war to the public. Today, half of Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Anti-American militants could more easily use Somalia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, North and West Africa, or Sudan. They don't need remote Afghanistan. The 9/11 attacks were planned in apartments, not camps. -- Eric Margolis
Having rushed his fences earlier this year, Mr. Obama is having serious second thoughts. With advice pouring in from all sides, the bottom line question is: will Mr. Obama pull the plug, will he downgrade the US commitment, will he cut and run, as hawkish Republicans will interpret it? Or will he heed Gen. McChrystal and escalate. Will he pursue a widening, indefinite war, will he risk a second Vietnam, as panicky Democrats see it? The sacked diplomat Peter Galbraith’s weekend broadside alleging U.N. complicity in electoral fraud is but the latest of many considerations pushing Obama towards some variation of the latter downsizing option. -- Simon Tisdall
The United States and the Afghan government need to make much greater efforts to wean Pashtun tribes away from the most radical Taliban factions. It is unclear how many Taliban fighters believe in a global jihadist ideology, but most U.S. commanders with whom I've spoken feel that the number is less than 30 percent. The other 70 percent are driven by money, gangland peer pressure or opposition to Karzai. And when we think through our strategy in Afghanistan, let's please remember that there is virtually no al-Qaeda presence there. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently acknowledged what U.S. intelligence and all independent observers have long said: Al-Qaeda is in Pakistan, as is the leadership of the hard-core Afghan Taliban. -- Fareed Zakaria
The strategic implications of a Western defeat in Afghanistan for American relations with other major powers are similarly troubling. The biggest game-changer in the nuclear standoff with Iran is not new sanctions or military action but a popular uprising by the Iranian people that changes the character of the radical regime in Tehran -- a prospect one would expect to be meaningfully diminished by the usurpation through violence of the Afghan government, against the will of a majority of Afghans, by the religious extremists of the Taliban. And despite welcome new unity in the West on a tougher approach to Iran's development of nuclear weapons following revelations of a new nuclear complex in Qum, how can Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin stare down the leaders of Iran. -- Dan Twining