War on Terror
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
The newest and maybe most active front in this war is not Afghanistan, but the “virtual Afghanistan” — the loose network of thousands of jihadist Web sites, mosques and prayer groups that recruit, inspire and train young Muslims to kill without any formal orders from Al Qaeda. The young man in Dallas came to F.B.I. attention after espousing war on the U.S. on jihadist Web sites. ... So, what President Obama is actually considering in Afghanistan is shifting from a “war on terrorists” there to a “war on terrorism,” including nation-building. I still have serious doubts that we have a real Afghan government partner for that. But if Mr. Obama decides to send more troops, the most important thing is not the number. It is his commitment to see it through. If he seems ambivalent, no one there will stand with us and we’ll have no chance. If he seems committed, maybe — maybe — we’ll find enough allies. Remember, the bad guys are totally committed — and they are not tired. -- Thomas L. Friedman
"We proclaim moral principles when justifying our actions, but we wreak havoc and destruction on a backward, ancient world we do not understand," retired U.S. Army colonel and author Douglas Macgregor wrote in Defence News on September 28. He added: "Our troops are not anthropologists or sociologists, they are soldiers and Marines who have been sent to impose America's will on backward societies. The result is mutual hatred -- not everywhere, but in enough places to feed what American military leaders like to call an 'insurgency' . . ." -- Norman Solomon
Tomgram: Will NATO's 60th Anniversary Be Its Last?
If Afghanistan is the test, then NATO is flunking. The Taliban has made a steady comeback since its rout in 2001. More American soldiers, as well as more soldiers from the other coalition partners, have already died in 2009 than in any of the previous eight years. The number of civilian casualties -- 2008 was a record year and 2009 will likely break that record -- fly in the face of NATO's "responsibility to protect" guidelines. There aren't anywhere near the number of troops necessary for an effective counterinsurgency campaign, if such a thing were even possible in distant Afghanistan, and what troops are there have proven ill-trained for "hearts and minds" work. Nor are there sufficient Afghan troops trained, almost eight years after the initial invasion of that country, to "Afghanize" the NATO side of the conflict. As for the grander projects of democracy promotion and nation-building, Afghanistan's rudimentary economy remains heavily dependent on opium poppy production and its political system suffers from rampant corruption of which the irregularities of the most recent presidential election represent only the tip of the malfeasance. -- John Feffer
America may have developed Intervention Fatigue, but are we really considering throwing Afghan women back into the darkness after their return to freedom?
Today the grounds for betraying Afghan women again are being fertilized by the received wisdom of the “quagmire” lobby, which keeps summoning up the analogy of Vietnam. But Afghanistan is not Vietnam, and the Taliban is not the Vietcong. The Vietcong had the sympathies, if not the active allegiance, of 80 percent of the people. The Taliban approval rating is no more than 8 percent, even in the grassroots Pashtun southeast region. The Taliban may want to separate their image from al Qaeda’s after we bombed the hell out of them, but they still share al Qaeda’s radical Islamic ideology, expressed in beatings, suicide bombings, and hostility to female education. -- Tina Brown
As for the Swat action’s impact on militancy beyond the region, it has put militants on the defensive, halted their advance and reduced their ability to extend the war outside the NWFP. A more favourable political climate has been created to conduct counter-militancy operations. This doesn’t, by any means, imply that the threat of militancy is over. The factors that fuel that threat and determine the fate of the TTP go way beyond Swat and are inextricably linked to the instability in Afghanistan, which is worsening rather than showing any sign of ending. -- Maleeha Lodhi
'It's a very powerful ideology — it's not just about bombings and hijackings. It is really about a thesis that once upon a time Muslims were a prosperous, creative power. They lost power and they want to regain power. All ideologies are stories of a glorious past, a miserable present, for which somebody else is responsible, and a glorious future when that person is got rid of. That story has knitted together a variety of local struggles in the Philippines, India and elsewhere.' Prof Desai said that Marx and Engels had called for the workers of the world to unite. There was, in fact, no working class but it had created the idea of the world working class and, in talking about the Umma across the world, Osama bin Laden had created the possibility that people would do things for it. -- David Watts
Could Mr Obama’s commitment to fight the “good” war in Afghanistan be fading? Two recent developments are bound to influence his thinking. First, support for the war is declining. A national CNN/Opinion Research poll in mid-September found 39% in favour of the war in Afghanistan compared with 58% against. Embarrassingly for a Democratic president whose concessions on health reform have already annoyed many on the left of his own party, most of the support comes from Republicans. A second factor weighing heavily on the administration is the blatant ballot-stuffing that occurred during last month’s fraud-ridden presidential election in Afghanistan.
NATO is running out of time in Afghanistan: On August 31st he submitted his long-awaited review to NATO leaders, saying “the situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable.” The assessment is confidential (and bleak, it is said) but the commander’s priorities are known, not least from a directive to his troops of five days earlier containing the bull-and-matador simile. They are: protect the Afghan population rather than kill or capture insurgents; build up Afghan forces; boost the legitimacy of the government in Kabul and improve the co-ordination of civilian aid. The Taliban and the Western-backed Afghan government are fighting for the allegiance of the Afghan people, says the general; the people will decide who wins. -- The Economist
There are three ways to change security conditions in Afghanistan. First, increase American troops. Second, increase Afghan troops. Third, shrink the number of enemy forces by making them switch sides or lay down their arms. That third strategy is what worked so well in Iraq and urgently needs to be adopted in Afghanistan. A few years from now, we can be sure that Afghanistan will still be poor, corrupt, and dysfunctional. But if we make the right deals, it will be ruled by leaders who keep the country inhospitable to Al Qaeda and terrorist groups like it. That’s my definition ?of success. -- Fareed Zakaria
There’s not much to show for the last eight years of Western presence in the country and there’s little time to turn things around.
Western forces first went in to combat Al Qaeda in 2001. That seemed to be largely ineffective and the remnants of Al Qaeda nipped smartly across the border into Pakistan, which almost ever since has been seen as the major base for the projection of international terrorism across the world. When British combat forces were first deployed in 2006 the mission was billed as being an effort to provide security for development projects, instead that morphed into an all-out battle with the Taliban, which resulted in the British deploying heavy weapons to defend themselves at grievous cost to the Afghan population getting caught not only in the crossfire but being at the butt of search and interrogation techniques deeply offensive to their culture. Thousands were turned into internal refugees. -- Andrew Small
We almost lost sight of a profound pre-9/11 background to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. The U.S. intended to recognise the Taliban regime in Kabul in 1996. Senior Taliban officials were welcomed in the U.S. Big Oil financed the Taliban. The U.S. encouraged the Central Asian states to work with the Taliban. Key U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates generously helped the Taliban and accorded it diplomatic recognition. A major NATO ally, Turkey, kept up official consultations with the Taliban regime right till 2001...
Islamism will remain a principal instrument of geo-strategy for the U.S. towards Central Asia, North Caucasus and Xinjiang. The rehabilitation of the Taliban in Afghan mainstream politics is on the cards even without its formal disarming. India needs to factor in what the ascendance of political Islam in the region will entail for its security. Equally, there should be clarity of thinking to differentiate between shades of Islamism. The imperative of seriously engaging Russia, China, Iran and the Central Asian states on issues of regional security as powers affected by extremism emanating from the AfPak belt cannot but be stressed. -- M. K. Bhadrakumar
Potpourri of comments: Some Optimistic, a lot Pessimistic
THE August 21 Presidential election in Afghanistan will not immediately change the fundamentals of the situation there, whatever the final outcome. The deficiencies of the principal political protagonists, opportunistic alliances, the ethnic divide, warlordism, the development deficit, poor governance, the Taliban insurgency, foreign military presence, poppy cultivation, drug trafficking, Pakistan's strategic ambitions in Afghanistan — all are established realities on the ground. -- Kanwal Sibal
Whatever the outcome of last week's Afghan elections - the results are due Sept. 17 - the cruel fact is that the Afghan war is a deadly trap. It makes no difference whether Hamid Karzai or his former foreign minister Abdallah Abdallah is declared the winner. Rather than pouring in more troops, the United States and its NATO allies should urgently seek an exit strategy from that unfortunate country.The war in Afghanistan has lasted eight years, with no end in sight. It has claimed 780 American lives and more than 200 British ones. It has cost the American taxpayer $220 billion which, had it been spent on development, could have transformed not only Afghanistan but its neighbors as well. The war is being widely compared with Vietnam. The time to get out must surely be approaching. -- Patrick Seale
The West is spending a fortune
Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That's certainly one for the record books.
And it hasn't ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA's drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) warned that "in one to six months" we could "see the collapse of the Pakistani state," at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Pakistan a "mortal danger" to global security.
What most observers don't realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It's at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire. -- Juan Cole, author of most recent book Engaging the Muslim World.
Unfortunately, the United States has acted in ways that have often empowered the militants. We have lavished more than $11 billion on Pakistan since 9/11, mostly supporting the Pakistani Army. Yet that sum has bought Pakistan no security and us no good will. In that same poll, 59 percent of Pakistanis said that they share many of Al Qaeda’s attitudes toward the United States, and almost half of those said that they support Al Qaeda attacks on Americans. One reason is that America hasn’t stood up for its own values in Pakistan. Instead of supporting democracy, we cold-shouldered the lawyers’ movement, which was the best hope for democracy and civil society. -- NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Coming Home to Roost?
In addition to fighting against the regime in Algeria, Algerian militants have also been very conspicuous on jihadist battlefields such as Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq. Some studies have even concluded that Algerians were the single largest group of foreign jihadists who fought in Iraq during the height of the insurgency.
One of the things we have been anticipating for several years now is a boomerang effect as foreign jihadists leave places such as Iraq and Pakistan and return home. While many foreign jihadists have been killed in such places, those who survive after fighting sophisticated foes like the American military are not only hardened but also possess insurgent tradecraft skills that make them far more lethal when they leave those battlefields than when they entered them. Indeed, we have seen a migration of IED technology and tactics from Iraq to other theatres, such as Afghanistan.
With developments in Iraq over the last few years that have made Iraq increasingly inhospitable to foreign jihadists, and with Pakistan now quickly becoming less friendly, many of the Algerian militants in those places may be seeking to return home. -- Scott Stewart and Fred Burton, Stratfor
Why is an Aussie anthropologist coaching American generals on how to win wars? David Kilcullen, an Australian army reservist and top adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the troop surge in Iraq, has spent years studying insurgencies in countries from Indonesia to Afghanistan, distinguishing hard-core terrorists from "accidental guerrillas" -- and his theories are revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West. Kilcullen spoke with Outlook's Carlos Lozada on why Pakistan is poised for collapse, whether catching Osama bin Laden is really a good idea and how the Enlightenment and Lawrence of Arabia helped Washington shift course in Iraq. Excerpts:
David Kilcullen: Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn't control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don't follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today.
In my mind, this is one of the big problems with using the phrase “war on terror.” It gets people in a frame of mind where they’re thinking of analogies like “what would I do to a Nazi tank column?” rather than “what would I do to a crime-plagued neighbourhood?” And when trying to figure out the right approach here, the right thing to do isn’t to ask yourself whether international terrorism is “really” a kind of warfare or “really” a kind of crime. The right thing to do is to ask yourself what kind of strategic goals you have and what kind of tactics are likely to achieve them. What we want is for Muslim communities around the world to cooperate with various governments around the world to smoke out and apprehend would-be violent extremists. That’s more like a crime-fighting mission. -- David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum
…now that the Pakistani security state has strictly been ordered by its paymasters to stop its own creation and its children from the mayhem they were at, it is imperative for the government to immediately order an extensive probe by a high-powered commission to investigate the delay in taking on the Yahoos and related matters to do with their sudden rise. This is imperative because the intelligence failure and the consequent delay resulted in the Yahoos getting stronger, which in turn allowed them to look for other prizes after Swat i.e. Buner which they took in a matter of days, and which “victory” in turn spread fear and despondency across the land because districts like Haripur and Hazara were next in line, some villages in Haripur already in their thrall. The body, set up on the lines of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission, should be made up of the many eminent gentlewomen and men we have in Pakistan….
The commission must go into the details of the Commando’s and his coterie’s handiwork: from giving Sufi Mohammad refuge in the Dera Ismail Khan jail in 2001 when his own people wanted to lynch him for getting their innocent children killed in the American assault on Afghanistan, to the rise of Fazlullah and Baitullah and Mangal Bagh and other such Yahoos, to the complete detriment of the country.
It must be noted that the security establishment will oppose this investigation (for that is what it will be, and will seek to apportion blame) with all its might but the political leaders simply must take the bit between the teeth and go for it. Let me add here that the commission might well find that politicians are to blame, or civil servants. Well, so be it, but it is high time that all those that have made the country a plaything to kick about as it takes their fancy be held to account and be firmly told that this is the end of the line for them. -- Kamran Shafi
Unless the U.S. President can break his hard-line posture, the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan could prove his Vietnam. -- Pankaj Mishra