Sunday, April 5, 2009

Obama’s Anti -terrorism Strategy

By Saeed Qureshi

United States under the new administration of President Barack Obama is on the threshold of a new strategy to defeat the resurgent Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The strategy puts Pakistan at the heart of the fight in its nearly a decade old war against Al-Qaida and Taliban.

As the focus is entirely riveted on the lawless tribal belt between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Iraq war no more prominently figures in the US offensive against the international terrorist bands. America, of late, has concluded that the hub of all terrorist activities emanate from the FATA regions of Pakistan that provide safe haven and sanctuaries to the insurgents and terrorist groups to operate against both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Clearly perceiving that war on terror in Afghanistan is being lost, the United States has drastically revamped her policy of dealing with the menace of terrorism. The plan incorporates increase in the ground forces for combat and advisory roles. The new strategy looks more pragmatic and realistic as compared to that of Bush era when only use of force and mere killing of the suspected terrorists was in vogue. But understandably that one sided strategy did not pay off as Al-Qaida and also Taliban have, of late, emereged more defiant than ever before.

It appears that the United States wants to relinquish most of its anti terrorism war baggage that it has been carrying for years now after the 9/11 tragedy. NATO and other allies’ participation by way of contribution of troops has been only token and symbolic. It is only United States that has been bearing the major burden both militarily and financially.

Realising that war in Afghanistan cannot be won alone by military means, Obama administration has decided to adopt a strategy of wooing those factions of Taliban that would be prepared for reconciliation and thus drop or cease fighting against the foreign troops. This would lessen the burden on the allied forces in Afghanistan to exclusively target Al-Qaida. America wants to close many fronts in her on going war on terrorism.

While in the tribal corridor, Pakistan army was combating Taliban and other die hard factions, the US is content that at least a proxy war was going on by a strong ally. If the new strategy of winning over the pliant Taliban makes headway, the pressure on Pakistan army would also recede considerably and therefore it would also be relatively relaxed to focus on Al-Qaida. But to muster popular support for the Pakistan army to carry on its military operations against the insurgents in the tribal areas, US has decided to increase Pakistan’s economic aid, threefold. If the fruits of US aid reflect on betterment of Pakistani people, the general trend of opposing US might diminish. It means that the US wants to win the sympathy and support of the people of Pakistan more than the army and the government.

The strategy being Pakistan friendly takes off much of the pressure from Pakistan as was being exerted by the previous Bush administration to do more. An under pressure Pakistan can falter in the war as well as become suspect before the people for playing a crony’s role. The commitment of 4000 additional troops for training betokens America’s resolve to train the domestic armies of Pakistan and Afghanistan like Iraq to fight even without American or NATO forces on their own. It also indicates that US intends to keep only a token presence in this volatile area and intimately withdraw from this region as it is doing in Iraq.

The more significant part of the new strategy is that the countries in the region are also being involved in this war that was so far confined to Pakstan and Afghanistan. Iran is being cultivated to cooperate with United States to tame and rein in the pro Iran faction within Taliban fold. Iran is decidedly against Al-Qaida and that is a plus factor for United States. India and Pakistan are being encouraged to sink their differences, defuse tension and reconcile with each at least on defeating and militating against Al-Qaida and hard core radical Islamic militants.

America is now fully aware that the NATO countries and other allies of the coalition against terrorism will not commit more troops in Afghanistan. Of late, this reality too has dawned on America that it was not possible to defeat the militants by use of military force alone. Despite an eight years intensive war, Taliban and Al-Qaida are resurging with new vigor and vitality. The policy of physical annihilation and wearing down the militants has not worked. Instead it is the coalition military contingents that are war fatigued.

America wants to build up a regional group to act against the insurgents. For this purpose America is in consultation with China, Russia, India along with Iran and Pakistan to form a coalition not for military purposes but to coordinate their efforts in order to isolate Taliban and other radical militants, now fighting in and around Afghanistan. At the same time America wants to undertake development of infrastructure and pump in aid for reconstruction into the tribal regions to gain support of the non combatant citizens. These are salutary measures that in the longer run would pay off.

It is for the first time that President Barack Obama categorically pledged that US troops would not go in hot pursuit of extremists across the Afghan border into Pakistan. He has, albeit, strongly urged Pakistan to step up and intensify the anti-terrorism struggle. It clearly signifies that America is unleashing Pakistan from an expectation and commitment that Pakistan should alone was bound to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaida. President Bush had been pressurizing Pakistan for doing what the combined military might of the NATO and US forces couldn’t do. On the contrary Obama has publicly acknowledged Pakistan’s sacrifices as an ally of America in the war on terrorism. Pakistan at its end is using cash and carrot policy. It is trying to elicit support from the tribal notables and at the same time fighting against the militants. If America wants to generate more goodwill of the people of Pakistan and enlarge its scope of influence in the tribal areas then it should forthwith stop Drone attacks that are fermenting lot of anti US sentiments both in Pakistan and the tribal belt.

But all said and done, It is foregone that America cannot win this war on terrorism in the battlefield. At the end of the day America will have to wrap up its military operations and withdraw from Afghanistan as well. The policy of remote control and assigning the responsibility to the regional states to weed out militants and Islamic radicals would definitely bring dividends. The war against relgious fanatics is not exclusive to America and the west alone. It is also a danger to the established democratic polities and civil societies in respective countries. Even if America leaves the region, abandons her military onslaughts, yet Pakistan and Afghanistan and all other target counties will have to purge their societies of this diabolic menace. For this they will, not only have to fight but also undertake far reaching socio-economic reforms to make their societies and the people enlightnened and progressive so as to become strong bulwark against the orthodox and obscure relgious ideologies.

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