Global war on ter­ror seems to be fiz­zling out

The Asian Age - - Oped - D. C. Pathak The writer is a for­mer di­rec­tor of the In­tel­li­gence Bureau

In both Syria and Afghanistan — the prime the­atres of the Amer­i­can- led of­fen­sive against Is­lamic rad­i­cals trig­gered by 9/ 11 — a stale­mate is set­ting in to the ad­van­tage of the ISIS and Tal­iban- Al Qaeda axis re­spec­tively, and this must cause con­cern to the demo­cratic world in gen­eral and In­dia in par­tic­u­lar. This has un­mis­tak­ably hap­pened due to three de­vel­op­ments. First, the “war on ter­ror” that was launched on two premises failed on both the counts — the ex­pec­ta­tion that the “mod­er­ates” in the Mus­lim world would fight the rad­i­cal ex­trem­ists at home and the pre­sump­tion that the lib­eral fund­ing from the US would push forth the cause of democ­racy in the Is­lamic coun­tries. Sec­ond, the bur­den of tak­ing down the Is­lamic ter­ror­ists fell solely on the United States and made the “war” a project of di­min­ish­ing re­turns for the lat­ter, pri­mar­ily be­cause of Pak­istan’s role on the Afghan front and the reap­pear­ance of the Cold War legacy in Syria that had made Hafez al- As­sad, the father of Syria’s cur­rent Pres­i­dent Bashar al- As­sad, such a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent of the West and a friend of the erst­while So­viet bloc.

In the present civil war in Syria only a sec­tion of the Mus­lims backed by the US are tak­ing on Pres­i­dent Bashar, while the ISIS con­tin­ues to con­front the Amer­i­cans in pursuit of its goal of es­tab­lish­ing a caliphate.

The third par­a­digm shift in re­la­tion to the “war on ter­ror” — and this is the cu­mu­la­tive out­come of the first two fac­tors — is the silent en­dorse­ment that Is­lamic rad­i­cals were en­joy­ing on con­sid­er­a­tions of faith, across the Mus­lim world. The rad­i­cals are “re­vival­ists” who carry the his­tor­i­cal mem­ory of the Wah­habi move­ment of the 19th cen­tury that was led by the Ulema — in the for­mat of ji­had — against the West­ern en­croach­ment on Mus­lim lands. Their slo­gan is to re­vive the pu­ri­tan­i­cal Is­lam of the “golden pe­riod” of the first four caliphs for restor­ing its glory. This gives them an ac­cept­able place in the Is­lamic spec­trum and leaves lit­tle ground for the rest of the Ummah to re­ject them. Pak­istan is an ex­am­ple be­fore the world of how a coun­try, while pre­tend­ing to be on board with the US- led in­ter­na­tional coali­tion against the new global ter­ror, did not take on the Tal­iban en­trenched in Khy­ber Pakhtunwa ( KP) — from where it has been or­gan­is­ing at­tacks in Afghanistan.

The Pak­istan Army’s to­tal fo­cus is on the “proxy war” launched against In­dia us­ing In­dia- spe­cific mil­i­tant out­fits un­der its con­trol. Pak­istan had taken ad­van­tage of the Amer­i­can soft- ped­alling on this Pak- spon­sored cross- bor­der ter­ror­ism — mak­ing a dis­tinc­tion be­tween “good ter­ror­ists” and “bad ter­ror­ists”. Pak­istan’s game is now ex­posed, and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has sus­pended aid to that coun­try, which un­sur­pris­ingly has led Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan to pub­licly de­clare that Pak­istan had

The Pak­istan Army is look­ing at Is­lamic mil­i­tants of all shades as its strate­gic as­sets, and this is clearly in ev­i­dence in Afghanistan, where it is clev­erly play­ing on Mr Trump’s im­pa­tience over the con­tin­u­ance of US troops

com­mit­ted a mis­take in fight­ing “the Amer­i­can war”. The Pak­istan Army is look­ing at Is­lamic mil­i­tants of all shades as its strate­gic as­sets, and this is clearly in ev­i­dence in Afghanistan, where it is clev­erly play­ing on Mr Trump’s im­pa­tience over the con­tin­u­ance of US troops in that coun­try to po­si­tion it­self as a me­di­a­tor be­tween the US and the Tal­iban. It is Pak­istan that had in­stalled the Is­lamic Emi­rate of Afghanistan in 1996 un­der Tal­iban chief Mul­lah Mo­ham­mad Omar. Left to them­selves, Pak­istan and the Tal­iban had no prob­lem with each other.

Although the US and In­dia are talk­ing of an Afghan- led and Afghan- owned peace process, Pak­istan is look­ing for an out­come that would en­able it to hold sway in Afghanistan and keep In­dia out of the frame there. The lat­est Tal­iban at­tack on the train­ing es­tab­lish­ment of the Afghan se­cu­rity forces out­side Kabul in which at least 125 per­son­nel were killed sig­nals the in­trin­sic in­ad­e­quacy of Afghanistan to de­fend it­self against the covert of­fen­sive of Is­lamic rad­i­cals. The “war on ter­ror” seems to be ta­per­ing off — not­with­stand­ing the in­duc­tion of drones for in­tel­li­gence­based elim­i­na­tion of ter­ror­ist lead­ers. The Tal­iban en­joys a tacit un­der­stand­ing with the Pak­istan Army, which has sensed vic­tory is in the off­ing. In­dia could be in for an en­hanced threat from the Pak­istan- Afghanistan belt be­cause of the ease with which the Pak­istan Army and its In­ter- Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence would be able to spread rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion in In­dia and ma­noeu­vre Al Qaeda- Tal­iban groups to tar­get this coun­try.

The geopo­lit­i­cal di­men­sion of the “war on ter­ror” worked for In­dia so long as the pres­ence of US troops in Afghanistan helped the process of re­con­struc­tion of the Afghan Na­tional De­fence and Se­cu­rity Forces ( ANDSF) and pro­vided scope for In­dia to con­trib­ute to that coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment. As it is, the govern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani has its writ run­ning only on just half of Afghanistan’s ter­ri­tory. China and Rus­sia, for their own rea­sons, want to be on the Afghan ta­ble for peace ne­go­ti­a­tions — their wish­ful think­ing is that a friendly Pak­istan would be help­ful in keep­ing the Mus­lim- dom­i­nated ar­eas on their pe­riph­ery free of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism and rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion. They have not for­got­ten the im­por­tance of Afghanistan as the “ge­o­graph­i­cal pivot of his­tory” since the days of the Great Game. In­dia had en­thu­si­as­ti­cally supported the US-led “war on ter­ror” be­cause it had seen how the Tal­iban regime of Afghanistan had apart from its his­tor­i­cal an­i­mos­ity to­wards the West and the Shias, started tak­ing out its wrath on the world of idol­a­trous people by de­stroy­ing the Bud­dhist stat­ues of Bamiyan.

It is in this back­drop that the dec­la­ra­tion by the US spe­cial en­voy for Afghan rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Zal­may Khal­izad, on Jan­uary 26 — at the end of his six- day talks with Tal­iban rep­re­sen­ta­tives at Doha — that the two sides were close to an agree­ment on a cease­fire by the Tal­iban in lieu of a phased with­drawal of Amer­i­can troops, is to be scru­ti­nised care­fully. The Tal­iban is yet to agree on talks with the Afghan govern­ment. The US has the com­fort of dis­tance which In­dia does not have as far as the threat of Is­lamic ex­trem­ism is con­cerned, and Pak­istan’s de­signs of fish­ing in In­dia’s do­mes­tic pol­i­tics on the is­sue of the al­leged “in­se­cu­rity” of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity here gives an added di­men­sion to the threat to our in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. A multi- pronged strat­egy must be worked out with­out de­lay, of which coun­ter­ing rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion on our own soil is a mat­ter of the ut­most pri­or­ity. Mr Khal­izad had re­cently met Mr Ashraf Ghani af­ter vis­it­ing China, the UAE and In­dia for fur­ther­ing the process of Afghan- led and Afghan- owned peace ne­go­ti­a­tions in­volv­ing the Tal­iban.

The test for the US spe­cial en­voy is now to bring around the Pak­istan Army to play its part in restor­ing democ­racy in war- torn Afghanistan. This is a tall or­der, to say the least. A half- baked for­mula of bring­ing Is­lamic rad­i­cals into the “na­tional main­stream” will only serve the in­ter­est of Pak­istan and not de­crease In­dia’s se­cu­rity con­cerns. In­dia can’t do any­thing about this ex­cept to pre­pare for the pos­si­ble emer­gence of a hos­tile Pak- Afghan re­gion in the near fu­ture.

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