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Home > India > News > Columnists > Harold Gould

US must adopt a tough Al Qaeda policy

February 27, 2008

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Pakistan Elections
Benazir Bhutto assassinated
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The United States must henceforth adopt policies that treat Al Qaeda [Images] and the Taliban as a hostile state.

I have chosen my words carefully here: I am saying that Benazir Bhutto [Images] was executed, not assassinated.

What her death on December 27, as well as the previous attempt on her life after she reached Karachi, really exemplifies is the fact that the Taliban/Al Qaeda nexus has created the rudiments of a radical Islamic state in the mountain fastness of the Hindu Kush, with enough power, cohesion and political reach to ordain and carry out executions of its ideological enemies anywhere in the region.

After Bhutto's "execution" Mustafa Abu Al-Yazd, reputedly the main Al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, telephoned the Italian news agency Adnkronos International to declare that Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri had ordered her 'extermination' in October, because she was 'the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat the Mujahideen.' (Times of India, December 28, 2007).

Bhutto was not their first or only target, of course -- General Pervez Musharraf [Images] himself has evaded their 'judicial wrath' several times; but thus far Bhutto is clearly the most prominent individual to be successfully terminated by their death squads.

In the words of Ambassador Tariq Karim (former Bangladeshi ambassador to the US and currently adjunct professor of government and politics at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland), Bhutto was targeted because 'she was a multidimensional symbol of everything that [the Taliban/Al Qaeda] opposed...' (The Daily Star, December 30, 2007).

The renowned journalist, Arnaud de Borchgrave (editor-at-large, Associated Press and Washington Times) concurs, saying, "There is little doubt Al Qaeda and Taliban had ordered Bhutto's assassination. They saw her and her plans as the biggest threat to their privileged sanctuaries..."

In the light of events like this, and the resurgence of Mujahideen activity throughout southern Afghanistan, it is a mistake not to believe that what has taken form in Waziristan and its montane environs is anything less than a form of nascent state-formation, which has already attained the level of a rudimentary governmental system capable of managing domestic affairs within its 'borders' and propagating its policies and decrees well beyond them; with a paramount leadership consisting of Osama bin Laden (who fancies himself as a medieval Caliph, indeed a reincarnation of Saladin); Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri, the second and last 'emir' of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (who serves as Osama's lieutenant); and Mullah Mohammed Omar, a saintly Pashtun cleric (who provides the doctrinal and demographic link between the Taliban and al Qaeda).

'Taliban/Al Qaedaland,' ruled by this fanatical triumvirate and their true-believing followers, encompasses Northeast Frontier Area, Waziristan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and Swat.

Within this domain lie two urban centres, Kandahar and Quetta whose cosmopolitan facilities are for all practical purposes at their disposal, affording connections with the global economy and international media networks.

They have mobilised the region's human and material resources sufficiently to raise an army able to not only conduct guerrilla warfare, including suicide bombings, throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan and across the frontier into India, but as well to engage the regular Pakistani army in direct military engagements.

"In two of the seven FATAs," says de Borchgrave (Ibid, December 27), "the Pakistan army in the past two years sustained more than 1,000 killed and 3,000 injured fighting Taliban guerrillas and their Al Qaeda allies."

They conduct their own foreign policy through their access to Al Jazeera and other mass-media outlets.

They operate their own 'educational system' in the form of the thousands of madrassas that dot the countryside.

Within the portions of the Afghan hinterland which they control, Taliban/Al Qaedaland harvests an abundant share of the capital-generating, opium-based agricultural economy which last year yielded 8,000 tons and "supplies Taliban with cash for modern weapons." (Ibid, December 31).

Finally, they promulgate their own 'judicial system' under the aegis of their arcane interpretation of Shariah law, which in their view affords them the legitimacy and sanctity to carry out 'public executions' of persons adjudged to be enemies of the state, as exemplified by their ordaining the execution of Bhutto.

This nascent terrorist state has come into existence under the nose and through the strategic bungling of the United States government along with the complicity of numerous sections of the Pakistani government and military. It has been literally carved from the corpus of an allegedly friendly country, long touted by President Bush, his vice-president and his secretary of state as the premier 'frontline state' in America's war on terrorism.

As K Subrahmanyam aptly declares, 'cronyism' dating back to the 1965 war with India and the Bangladesh secession is the principal ingredient which has led to this outcome.

"The same cronyism that overlooked the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme... in the 1980s and the consequences of Wahabi conditioning of the mujahideen during the Afghan war... and in the last six years in the war on terror." (South Asia Monitor, January 1, 2008).

The most immediate reasons for why Al Qaeda and the Taliban were able to morph into an Islamist quasi-state are by now well known.

Rather than finish the job which the original defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the decimation of Al Qaeda by American B52 bombers at Tora Bora, made possible, the US, driven by the neo-conservative political evangelism of the Bush administration, diverted itself into a quixotic invasion of Iraq which has achieved none of its stated strategic or ideological objectives, has destroyed its international legitimacy, and ruined its economic and fiscal viability.

What must the United States do if there is any chance for it now to use its power and influence to stem the political tide that is threatening the disintegration of Pakistan? Clearly the policy of 'cronyism' has got to end and be replaced by 'tough love.'

What this means is that whoever becomes the next president of the United States must put an end to the appeasement of the Pakistani military-industrial complex now ruling Pakistan.

De facto war must be declared against Taliban/AlQaedaland by the United States and, with or without Pakistani agreement, American military forces must be given the green light to enter this quasi-state and destroy its capacity to make war and exercise suzerainty over the Hindu Kush populations.

What this says is that the United States must henceforth adopt policies that treat Al Qaeda and the Taliban as more than merely a collection of disparate terrorist bands; rather it must be deemed to be a hostile state whose capacity to govern, to degrade women, to make war, to poison the minds of young Muslims in captive madrassas, and to carry out pseudo-judicial executions against its designated transgressors and enemies must be ended.

It must be done with or without Pakistani acquiescence because it is a region where in fact Pakistani sovereignty has ceased to exist.

This is where 'tough love' comes in. Among the current American presidential candidates, Barack Obama alone has broached this possibility.

He did not go as far as this author has, as indeed he could not have in the context of an election campaign; but he did state that if after he becomes president, if Osama bin Laden is located within Pakistan's borders he will order the US military to take him out, with or without the Pakistan government's acquiescence. (See 'Obama and the Pakistan conundrum,' India Abroad, September 26, 2007).

While waging war in Taliban/AlQaedaland, the US must cease placating Pakistan's military and Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and invest the bulk of its resources where it should have invested them decades ago -- in promoting the evolution of viable civil institutions.

The time has come where this must be the primary policy of the US government towards Pakistan.

Says former ambassador Peter Galbraith: "In Pakistan's six-decade history, it never has developed effective government institutions. Democracy has never taken root. The country never has developed a truly national identity." ('My friend died...,' The Washington Post, January 8, 2008).

If the ultimate human tragedy is to be avoided, and Pakistan itself is not to be absorbed into a nuclear armed 'Taliban/Al Qaeda emirate,' the United States must come to grips with political reality in South Asia.

This means once and for all shifting American support from Pakistani generals to the Pakistani people.

Harold Gould is a visiting scholar in the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia

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