The Threat Is Common
6 Feb 2009, 0000 hrs IST,
Herzliya (Israel): In the face of a spreading jihad culture, President Barack Obama has ended America's global "war" on terror as dramatically and unaccountably as his predecessor had initiated it. With the stroke of his pen, Obama has effectively terminated the war on terror that George W Bush had launched to defeat terrorists who, he said, wanted to "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia".
The asymmetric weapon of terrorism is a lethal one. Dealing with such unconventional warfare remains a central theme in international discourse, as at Israel's Herzliya Conference involving participants from the highest levels of government, business and academia. But the blunt truth is that the war on terror stood derailed long before Obama took office. The US occupation of Iraq proved so divisive in international relations that it fractured the post-9/11 global consensus to fight terror. Guantanamo, CIA's secret overseas prisons and the torture of detainees, including through water-boarding, came to symbolise the excesses of the war on terror.
The abrupt end of the war on terror thus means little. With Iraq and Afghanistan searing his presidency, Bush himself had given up the pretence of waging a global war on terror a war he had once equated with the Cold War struggle against communism. In fact, ever since Bush declared his war on terror, the scourge of transnational terrorism has spread deeper and wider in the world. The war's only outcome has been that it enabled the Bush administration to set up new US military arrangements extending from the Caspian Sea basin to South East Asia.
Not calling it a war any longer but labelling it a "struggle" or "strategic challenge" doesn't change the grim realities. Secular, pluralistic states have come under varying pressures, depending on their location, from the forces of terror. After all, vulnerability to terrorist attacks is critically linked to a state's external neighbourhood. A democracy geographically distant from the Muslim world tends to be less vulnerable to frequent terrorist strikes than a democracy proximate to Islamic states. The luxury of geography of Australia and the US contrasts starkly with the tyranny of geography of India and Israel. It is such realities that no change of lexicon can address.
Still, Obama is right in saying "the language we use matters". He has been wise to reach out to the Muslim world and to start undoing some of the excesses of the Bush years. The international fight against terrorism will be a long, hard slog. After all, the problem and solution are linked: Terrorism not only threatens the free, secular world, but also springs from the rejection of democratic and secular values. Worse, terrorism is pursued as a sanctified tool of religion and a path to redemption. Thus, the struggle against transnational terror can be won only by inculcating a liberal, secular ethos in societies steeped in religious and political bigotry.
In that light, the with-us-or-against-us terminology and use of offensive terms like "Islamofascism" were counterproductive. Counterterrorism is not a struggle against any religion but against those that misuse and misappropriate religion. The need is to reach out to Muslim moderates through correct idiom, not to unite the Muslim world through provocative language. Obama's gentler, subtler tone no doubt will help. But such a tone can be sustained only if the US continues to be free of any terrorist attack, as it has been for more than seven years. If a terrorist strike occurs in the US on Obama's watch, the president will come under intense attack for dismantling tools that had successfully shielded that country for long.
Having appointed a special envoy for each of the two regions central to the global fight against terrorism the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt and the Middle East Obama is likely to discover that ending the war on terror was the easy part. In fact, at a time when America's challenges have been underscored by a deep economic recession, increasing reliance on capital inflows from authoritarian China and jihad-bankrolling Saudi Arabia, two overseas wars and eroding global influence, Obama has already started redefining US anti-terror objectives more narrowly. His defence secretary has given the clearest indication yet that the new administration will seek to regionally contain terrorism rather than defeat it.
While outwardly the US looks set to pursue a military strategy in Afghanistan and a political approach towards Pakistan, in reality its troop surge in Afghanistan is intended to cut a political deal with the Taliban from a position of strength. According to Robert Gates, US objectives have been "too broad and too far into the future" and the new scaled-back goal is "to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base for al-Qaeda attacks on the US". There isn't enough "time, patience or money", in his words, to pursue ambitious goals there. Washington's proposal to triple non-military aid to Islamabad while keeping existing military aid flow intact, other than to tie it to concrete Pakistani cooperation on the Afghan front, will free Pakistan to continue its asymmetric war of terror against India.
The jarring US intent to focus on preventing attacks against America by regionally confining terrorism means that democracies with uncongenial neighbourhoods, like India and Israel, will bear the brunt of escalating terrorism.
The writer is professor, Centre for Policy Research.
Kashmir not the issue, Pak-Afghan border is
Harsh V. Pant
Feb.6 : It now turns out that Indian lobbying was successful in ensuring that India and/or Kashmir is not part of Richard Holbrooke’s official brief. Mr Holbrooke was named "special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan" by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton after India made clear its sensitivities on this issue to the Obama administration. The Indian government was apparently so concerned about the Holbrooke mission to South Asia that they informed Obama officials that it would not hesitate to make Mr Holbrooke persona non grata should his brief include India or Kashmir. The Obama administration, realising that they might have a diplomatic crisis on their hands at the very beginning of their term, promptly complied. While this does not mean that the Kashmir issue has gone off the agenda, it demonstrates the limits of Western influence on the issue, especially as it comes after British foreign secretary David Miliband’s disastrous visit to India.
During his recent trip to New Delhi, Mr Miliband not only revealed his fundamental ignorance about regional issues but in one stroke demolished whatever little credibility Britain had in India. His hectoring of the Indian government that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute is essential to solving the problem of extremism in South Asia revealed a man completely out of his depth.
Granted that Indians tend to overreact whenever there is even an indication of any outside interest on the issue of Kashmir, but Mr Miliband’s ill-informed pronouncements and complete lack of sensitivity towards Indian concerns underlie a larger problem with the emerging Western response to the evolving security environment in South Asia. It started with US President Barack Obama’s suggestion that the success of US endeavours in Afghanistan depend on greater American activism on Kashmir. Mr Miliband, it turns out, was rather prompt in taking his cue for the changing winds in Washington.
India has been a victim of terrorism long before the Twin Towers came down on September 11, 2001 and the London subway was bombed on July 7, 2005. The West created, supported and helped the Mujahideen dislodge the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and, when the Soviets left, the West promptly left Afghanistan to its own devices. The gravest consequences of the Talibanisation of Afghanistan and the Islamisation of Pakistan have been felt by India which has, over the years, seen a sustained increase in cross-border terrorism of growing lethality.
The Kashmir conflict is a very small part of this larger dynamic and with two consecutive successful elections, the last one witnessing around 60 per cent participation by Jammu and Kashmir’s electorate, it is hardly the reason why Mumbai was attacked or why the West is losing the war in Afghanistan. To rationalise the terrorist attacks in Mumbai by linking them to the Kashmir issue not only defies logic and is devoid of any serious analysis but it is also profoundly irresponsible and dangerous. It ignores Indian attempts over the past decade to acknowledge the aspirations of Kashmiris with the liberal, democratic and secular framework of its Constitution as well as bilateral attempts by India and Pakistan to reach some sort of understanding on this vexed issue.
It also weakens the position of the newly-established civilian government in Pakistan vis-à-vis the military. For the Pakistani military, the bogey of Kashmir is essential to retaining its predominant position in the Pakistani society and state.
It is true that the West is on the verge of losing the war in Afghanistan and it desperately needs Pakistan’s support. Pakistan keeps threatening to move its troops from the western to the eastern frontier and is demanding its pound of flesh for helping the West. And the only thing that the West seems to be able to offer is Kashmir.
Mr Miliband needs to realise that those who attacked Mumbai and are creating problems for the West in Afghanistan do not give a damn about Kashmir. The targets in Mumbai — hotels, a train station, foreign visitors, Jews — reveal the ever-growing ambition of groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba whose leader, Hafiz Saeed, has openly talked about creating a "Muslim South Asia". Islamist radicalism is not a consequence of the Kashmir problem and just as 9/11 and 7/7 cannot be attributed to the non-resolution of the Palestinian issue, Mumbai attacks cannot be a consequence of the Kashmir problem. The vast tribal areas in Pakistan, which have never been under the effective control of any Pakistani government, have become the breeding ground of Islamist radicals. And from there they are wreaking havoc in Afghanistan — not allowing new democratic institutions to take root and allowing for a possible return of a reinvigorated Taliban. Radical Islamist ideology is also now penetrating far and wide. Recent terror attacks in Britain owe a lot to these lawless areas where several British citizens have come, trained and gone back to terrorise their country.
India cannot be expected to give in to Pakistan’s territorial ambitions so that the Pakistani Army can fight more effectively in the troubled border regions of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). It is the underlying fragility of Pakistan’s basic institutions that is haunting Pakistan and with it the entire region as well as the West’s war on Islamist extremism. The state institutions — the civilian government and the military — seem unwilling to acknowledge the obvious: that the threat of extremism that is haunting the very survival of Pakistan today is the consequence of Pakistan’s long-standing policy of using Islamist extremist mobilisation and jihadist terror for domestic political purposes as well as for projecting Pakistan’s ambitions in its neighbourhood.
The real threat to the West today comes from the lawless borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan where Al Qaeda and Taliban are riding a wave of resurgence, steadily gaining more and more territory. Mr Miliband would be well-advised to open his eyes to the two-faced policy of the Pakistani Army and instead of rationalising its dangerous policies he should be holding its feet to the fire. The answers to the British and American problems in Afghanistan lie in Pakistan, not in Kashmir.
Mr Miliband rather grandiosely concluded his article in the Guardian by suggesting that the best response to terrorism is to refuse to be cowed down. But that’s exactly what he preached to New Delhi during his failed visit. Thankfully, India learned its lessons from the Miliband trip.
Harsh V. Pant teaches in King’s College London