“Terrorism Anywhere is Terrorism Everywhere”October 18, 2009
With Democrats weary of our engagement in the Af-Pak region becoming a Vietnam-esque quagmire, Republican’s remain hesitant to cut and run but public support is dwindling at just 40% for what Obama once said was our “war of necessity”. Apparently the “necessity” of this war is now shifted to the Pakistan front. BBC has a brief, but powerful article on how critical this war is to Pakistan by documenting thoughts of everyday citizens on the military’s recent offensive against terrorists. The piece reveals young men and women resoundingly support militarily obliterating insurgents who have spilled over from Afghanistan. But what is most pressing is the human element the article brings as we learn the unity with which each citizen describes the “fear” and “stresses” that have crept into their daily lives. Terrorism has brought a dangerous anxiety to Pakistan that didn’t exist prior to 9/11.
I was in Karachi on 9/11 and stayed for a few weeks before coming back to California. I remember President Musharraff coining the notion “Pehla Pakistan” (Pakistan First) and explaining the country would support the United States in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan because that was the right thing to do for Pakistan. But mostly I recall feeling sad, gripped: I stayed up all night on 9/11 watching footage and listening to news, not completely understanding what was happening. I was deeply saddened, yet not immediately scared. Sadness resounded minus physical fear because I was immediately safe. Pakistan was for the most part safe from terrorist activity. The Daniel Pearl incident was frightening, but it was well known that Al Qaeda had no significant presence or intent to attack within Pakistan. The BBC article today reveals a much different, severely deteriorated Pakistan.
News stories have kept me abreast of countless suicide attacks against civilians, but this particular article leaves me stunned. Again, I’m not immediately scared because I’m physically away from terrorists, but realizing that our efforts after 9/11 have not thwarted terrorists from attacking again is still saddening. Instead, terrorists continue to grip the daily lives of innocent civilians 8 years later. Secretary Clinton said “terrorism anywhere is terrorism everywhere” and that’s difficult to argue with today.
Looking beyond the fact that Pakistan is strategically poised to serve our geopolitical energy interests through Central Asia and is a good ally to have in the face of an ascending China, there’s a profound humanitarian reason to aid Pakistan in this situation.
Secretary Clinton’s remarks are reminiscent of her husbands policies. Former President Clinton’s doctrine can partially be defined as American intervention in even the most remote, far away regions for the sake of humanity which ultimately serves greater international interest (think American intervention in Bosnia). In a similar way, citizens living in constant fear beseeches us to address a perpetually devastated Afghanistan and an increasingly crippled Pakistan with a long term strategy of ensuring that terrorism is not just obliterated, but uprooted.
The difference between obliterating and uprooting terrorism is one of time. Obliterating a few thousand Taliban/Al Qaeda might be accomplished swiftly with a major Pakistan & US military offensive, through the heightened use of drones, and a stepped up counterinsurgency. But that runs a risk of tremendous collateral damage which can impoverish and ultimately isolate moderates against Pakistani and US forces. The situation is already being described as a “civil war” and a short term, merely military strategy runs the costly risk of hurting our long term plan of engaging Pakistan diplomatically (we have plans of creating massive embassies in the north). Uprooting terrorism on the other hand requires a longer term engagement because it involves ‘winning hearts and minds“.
Winning hearts and minds can be achieved through sustainable economic development that tangibly alleviates pain for people in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An American hand in such development ultimately eliminates reasons for people to join terrorists who harbor anti-American ambitions.
The Kerry Lugar bill is a fair attempt at addressing this issue, but fails to realize that in Pakistan, the military has historically and relative to civilian governments, been fairly efficient at achieving development in tandem with security. So while Democrats and Republicans debate the time frame for our engagement in the Af-Pak war, I think Obama’s administration should begin a U.S. strategy from the premise of uprooting terrorism. It’s no longer just about retributive justice of “smoking them out” as Former President Bush put it. This war is expanding internationally at the expense of innocent civilians who increasingly fear, rather than welcome American assistance . Our strategy should aim to remove terrorists for the long haul, ensuring allies like Pakistan are securely comprised 0f prosperous, welcoming citizens.