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War on Terror

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

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

 
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