Following a statement by the US intelligence chief that he believes Bin Laden is alive and hiding in Pakistan, come fears that the White House may actually consider raiding the Pakistan tribal areas to try to capture Bin Laden. Some opinions interpret the homeland security adviser’s remarks as an open admission that the American military has already staged attacks against Al Qaeda within Pakistan. Still others think that invading Pakistan, not Iraq, is an opportunity lost.
The real military options available to the US are all unpalatable, however:
When asked how the United States would respond if Al Qaeda were to plot a successful attack on the United States from the tribal areas, the answer from one intelligence officials was direct: “We’d go in and flatten it.”
But the US is facing a major dilemma:
“There can be no wait-and-see approach by the US in terms of Pakistan, but neither can there be any unilateral action like a covert operation against these areas,” says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs. “That would be the kiss of death for any broad move against the extremists, and it would inflame the already strong anti-American feelings in the country.”
So, what should the US do? While I am the staunchest supporter of the ‘war on terror’, I think (like many others) that it has gone terribly wrong. One of the reasons Al Qaeda is gaining ground is that the US strategy is alienating all Muslims:
Americans who think that all Muslims hate the United States may be surprised to hear that many Muslims believe they have it precisely backward. Our questionnaires showed that Muslims worldwide viewed Islamophobia in the West as the No. 1 threat they faced. Many Muslims told us that the Western media depict them as terrorists or likens them to Nazis.
The above article, “Bush still doesn’t get it“, is an excellent read “galvanized by the need to help Americans better comprehend the Muslim world”. Yet another op-ed from the Baltimore Sun echoes this view:
Al-Qaeda is not simply an outlaw organization that can be put “on the run.” Rather, it is part of a broad, religion-based social movement that has deep support in elements of the Muslim world. If al-Qaeda can be isolated and deprived of public support, it will wither and die. If not, it will continue to be a resilient franchise capable of regeneration, growth and ultimately additional strikes inside the United States.
Point 1: US needs to be more sensitive to Islamic aspirations, and project a vision for the future that embraces moderate Islamism. It can do many more different things in Pakistan, like helping revamp education (a dear thing to many Muslims), rather than simply pouring billions of dollars in aid for the army, which the people of Pakistan say is ultimately used against them.
Second, a civil war or extremist surge across Pakistan would be worse than not capturing Bin Laden. This has to be prevented at all costs. And the only political process that can help avert that is democracy. However, after six years of supporting Musharraf’s dictatorship, there are sensitivities involved that need to be balanced. But supporting the roots of democracy would likely pay off:
More broadly, however, the US must work – fast – to pressure Musharraf into opening up Pakistan’s political system and tapping into its shallow but existing democratic roots, experts say. “Musharraf simply won’t be able to mount an effective campaign against the extremists without broad civilian support,” says Cohen. And for that, he adds, the military leader will have to move to a system of power- sharing that encompasses Pakistan’s political parties.
Point 2: Urgently pursue all diplomatic efforts to broaden the political support for the war against extremism in Pakistan. Chacko from Indian Mutiny even exhorts India to take up the cause.
Why am I writing this? There are many reasons why America should not invade Pakistan. This blog post by Eric Margolis, who has actually spent time in these tribal areas of Pakistan, offers a realistic on-the-ground picture and reasons why America’s invasion of this territory would be a catastrophic mistake. I can only add that it would completely destabilize the entire region. India cannot afford the risk of civil war or an extremist Pakistan. We cannot afford Pakistan turning into Iraq Version 2.0.
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