Posts Tagged ‘Al Qaeda’

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America the Resilient

May 2, 2011
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta
President Obama & CIA Director Leon Panetta

9/11 changed the face of US hegemony and after 10 years of what began as a sweeping War on Terror, that face changes again tonight as America prevails proud, resilient and rejuvenated. President Obama’s address confirms Osama bin Laden has been killed and his body is in U.S. custody.

Special forces brought bin Laden to justice and our President thanked those who served us in the military, in counterterrorism and intelligence officials who had been watching the compound and gathering actionable intelligence that ultimately took out enemy number one in a firefight.

It’s a proud day for America, but questions already abound regarding relations with Pakistan: “Osama bin Laden was not in a cave, he was in a city in Pakistan” as one analyst on ABC news reported which had Christian Amanpour then raise the question “whose been protecting him?”

But before entirely implicating Pakistan for harboring the worlds most wanted man, it’s important to recall Obama’s increased intelligence operations in Pakistan since he took office. As the war shifted to Pakistan, so did ISI CIA collaborative operations. With closer collaboration came butting of heads where U.S. intelligence speculated if Pakistani intelligence was doing enough and such rifts peaked last week when Admiral Mike Mullen voiced harsh criticism of the ISI.

But the President’s comments and ongoing reporting indicates that today’s victory that comes after 10 long years of war, struggle and sacrifice, was a joint operation with Pakistan on the ground. GEO News in Pakistan confirms most of the information we’re hearing here, save some reporting that 1 American helicopter was shot down. Nonetheless, Peter Bergen on CNN says Elite Black Ops and Paramilitary CIA who were the likely heroes, operated with cooperation of the Pakistani government. Yet this success does not negate or allow us to ignore the concern of who, or at worst, what elements of the Pakistani government knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts.

Today prompts us to reassess and revamp relations with Pakistan, who once again has proven itself as an effective ally at wartime. This victory is an opportunity to foster a fresh relationship that can be something more than transactional and more transparent. Skepticism of one another in both states is beyond a misalignment of interests, it’s a misalignment ofconceptions of one another. Perceptions matter and it is no secret that anti Americanism can be formidable fuel to our enemies abroad. U.S. Intelligence amidst constant rhetoric of “Blowback” is redeemed today; the Intelligence agencies are heroes to Americans everywhere, and in this instance, even for Pakistani’s who suffered tremendously since 9/11. With an ever crippling economy, and a seemingly endless barrage of violent onslaughts from Al Qaeda suicide bombers in the past 10 years, Pakistani’s along with American’s should rejoice at today’s victory while policymakers in both countries take time to capitalize on this game changer and move forward anew.

Step 1, halt the drones.

ORIGINALLY POSTED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

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Gadaffi Makes Ahmadinejad Look Reasonable & Osama Bin Laden Seem Rational

February 24, 2011
How Can you Not Chuckle at This? - Libya's Dictator M. Gaddafi

How Can you Not Chuckle at This? - Libya's Dictator M. Gaddafi

It’s week 8 of a 10-week quarter in graduate school and suffice to say in such a system one is inevitably swamped from the onset. Despite my itching to write about Imran Khan’s talks since Davos on counterterrorism and the Cricket World Cup , I simply haven’t had the time or energy.

However, a friend came over this evening and we watched CNN coverage of Libya (more like CNN spotlight on “Crazy Gadaffi”) and I just couldn’t help but jot down some thoughts. At one point Wolf Blitzer had the former House Intelligence Committee Chair in the Situation Room and commented:

Is Gadaffi on drugs, there’s always been something off with him. He must be on drugs”.

The Congressman responded You know, two out of three times I met him, he was rational and completely in his senses. That third time though you could tell something was off. (this is paraphrased)

Hilarious. Hilarious  because this comedy was not the least bit intentional, it was prime time news. CNN went hours today with repeated images of Gadaffi in overwhelmingly monotone attire: this dreadful toasted camel tone, from head to toe and on that head was his 1984 curly mullet. It was too much. My friend and I laughed at the video clips and talked about a recent article in Vanity Fair entitled “Dictator Chic” depicting what was clearly portrayed as catastrophic fashion choices over the years. We laughed at a notion of giving Gaddafi a makeover as an effective means of American Intervention, but as students of International Relations/Security Studies that was all the segue required to transform our down time into a serious debate on shady men in international politics who manage to command the worlds attention for decades on end.

My friend (who is sure to be an expert on Iran who we’ll see on CNN one day) commented

It’s funny there are similar protests in Iran right now with crackdown on protestors but Ahmadinejad still publically calls for other dictators to hear peoples requests”.

I said, “Dude, Gadaffi makes Ahmadinejad look reasonable”.

Wow

Wow

We laughed in agreement, but got quiet for a second afterwards in serious thought.

She asked So…..Gadaffi, or bin Laden….whose more irrational?

I didn’t pause to reflect and immediately reacted “Bin Laden. He calls for establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Bin Laden is operating from a premise of ideology rather than rationality”

We looked at each other for a half a second, before I realized two things: One rationality and ideology need not be mutually exclusive in all situations, and secondly: if rationality in International Relations is understood (in a super simplistic nutshell) as a cost benefit analysis determinate of behavior, then my initial thought is incorrect.

I realized this and retracted, “Wait. Bin Laden has very real political objectives. He wants U.S. troops withdrawn from Saudi Arabia and an overthrow of the current Saudi regime. And whether we find that objective absurd or not, they are, according to his calculations attainable political objectives that he thinks are worth the costs he invests in terrorism”.

She was of my initial mindset and countered “No. I think he initially started off that way but has since called for overthrow of all Arab regimes and is so angry at what the west has done in the Muslim World that he would not have Al Qaeda stop targeting America for all that its done over the years

I responded “So the four biggest grievances Bin Laden has regarding the West in the Muslim World are troops in Saudi and Afghanistan being the top two. Next on his list is our military presence in Palestine and Iraq. Let’s assume all four of these, which he finds are legitimate grievances, are miraculously altered in his favor, I don’t think he would then continue to attack American targets

She smiled, and said “Solving those four eh? Now that’s hopeful!

We laughed and I continued, Because if we can agree that Bin Laden sincerely believes both that these objectives are legitimate grievances and his tactics can be effective, then he’s acting rationally. And if those grievances get solved, why would he bear the costs of investing in terrorism afterwards? It requires, money, organization and is very high risk. He would have to begin from scratch in rallying a support base with new objectives. Because he would no longer have reason to wage what he thinks is “jihad” if there were nothing to gain from it”.

She stopped for a moment, then thought about it aloud “So, then Osama Bin Laden does act rationally

It was a disturbing sort of conclusion we both very hesitantly came to. Because it’s immediately easier to assume our enemy is an irrational mad man, (a la the images of Gadaffi on CNN) than understand, recognize and deal with the root causes of their actions. Which has led me to expand focus from solely military forms counterterrorism in my studies. When the crux of the issue is one of grievances over U.S. troop presence in the so-called “Muslim World”, an amplified U.S. presence in response is increasingly seen as counter productive. It’s among the main reasons our initial target of obliterating the Taliban in Afghanistan at the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom has shifted instead to finding ways of negotiating with the group.

Although the United States policy of non negotiation with terrorists on the grounds that concessions reinforce and empower terrorist activity is reasonable, an over reliance on military means simply has not been sufficiently effective into our 10th year of engagement in Afghanistan, and as a dire result, now in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a prime example of how negotiations in tandem with diplomacy supported by military coercion is key to combating terrorism today. Spillover of Al Qaeda and radical militarization of Taliban among other terrorist groups has proliferated in direct correlation with our military operation in Afghanistan since 2001. Bridget Nacos of Columbia University in her work “Counterterrorism Strategies: Do We need Bombs over Bridges” describes a main reason for this:

As the Iraq war demonstrated, massive military force can result in a recruiting bonanza for terrorists. And as ground and air operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban figures in Pakistan’s tribal region showed, such strikes can trigger further waves of Terrorist attacks

Where does that leave us? The aforementioned point of negotiations with the Taliban is a fair starting point. No matter how unpalatable and in stark counter to international norms on human rights the Taliban seem, they were not engaging directly in terrorist activity prior to Bush’s “War on Terror”. The Taliban’s objectives were intrastate, domestic ideological goals of imposing their radical, warped brand of Islam on Afghani’s. In fact, Fawaz Gerges, scholar and author of “The Far Enemy: Why Jihad went Global”  explains while allowing Al Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan, the Taliban was actually at odds with them over their ambitions to wage attacks against American targets, or the “far enemy” if you will.

So, negotiation with groups by attempting to understand their grievances rather than ideology is key. Negotiations attack the support base of terrorist groups, whereas military means have shown to radicalize them in recent years. Groups whose ideologies, and constructed identities are repellent to us, may still be brought back into the fold of non-violence and retreat back into not targeting the United States. This is important because these very groups have aligned with terrorist organizations and made the past few years for our troops the deadliest ever and with General Patreus predicting an even worse situation for 2011, new strategies are essential.

Understanding that terrorism carried out by Al Qaeda is not entirely irrational, but rather calculated, orchestrated and heavily invested in to achieve what they feel are legitimate political grievances is critical in counterterrorism, especially efforts aimed at the spillover and expansion of attackers. An accurate assessment of not only the enemy but also potential sympathizers and supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan requires immediate and preventative measures. Nacos suggests robust diplomacy through traditional channels, and engaging media and general public. It’s a fair argument, and given the deteriorating situation, her recommendations are very worthy of consideration.

Republished @ The Foreign Policy Association

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When Martial Law = Democracy

October 15, 2009

What happens when a majority of one country’s citizens opt for martial law but the democratically elected government in power including judicial, executive and legislative branches are against a military takeover? It’s quite the political conundrum because either side offers legitimate democratic authority, but they’re diametrically opposed. A rational answer is to let the democratically elected government fulfill it’s term and allow citizens to elect politicians to office who will support martial law in the next term. That might work in a fully functional democracy backed by institutions that can uphold legitimacy and granted the state is sufficiently secure. However, in light of decreasing security, severe economic downturns and age old skepticism of U.S. actions in Pakistan, ever so gradually the country shifts it’s gaze toward the military.

Decreasing Security :: To offer partial explanation in a nutshell: Since 2001, terrorists fleeing Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, spilled over into Pakistan at the nebulous northern border areas which are historically autonomous from federal regulation. The fact that Pakistan already housed one of the worlds largest refugee populations allowed this spillover a massive and destitute demographic from which to exploit support. As a result, we now see unprecedented terrorism in Pakistan where Al Qaeda and the Taliban had no significant presence prior to 9/11.

Skepticism of U.S.’s Role in Pakistan :: Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, bilateral realations with the United States have been defined by cooperation wherein Pakistan served as a proxy for U.S. Containment throughout the Cold War (i.e. security pacts like SEATO, CENTCOM, then aiding our Afghan led defense against Soviet incursions in the 1980’s). In exchange, Pakistan’s military with U.S. support, bolstered itself as the strongest, most efficient and stable institution in Pakistan. Some argue civilian governments and democratic institutions were thus never given an opportunity to compete with such a well funded, strongly backed military. And therein we find multifaceted dimensions that help explain the controversy over current U.S. support of Pakistan. Former Pakistan to U.S. ambassador Maleeha Lodhi describes the Kerry Lugar bill:

“the offending part of the legislation sets up the country as hired help and puts the military in the dock, presumed guilty on many counts and having to prove its innocence to Washington”

Pakistan is “hired help”, that’s the crux of  skepticism on the Kerry-Lugar bill. Concern is rooted in a long history of cooperation with the United States that some argue  created a behemoth military institution costing them a fair chance at democracy. In attempt to address that very concern, the Kerry Lugar bill mentions no military aid in exchange for cooperation on the War on Terror, unlike previous assistance packages from the Cold War. Ironically, bleak affairs in Pakistan now which are partially a result of pervious cooperation, particularly during the Soviet Afhgan war, prompt arguments that the military is exactly what needs support right now. Thus, the Lugar Bill receives not only skepticism from Pakistan’s strongest institution, but increasingly the public.

Although Secretary Clinton and Senators Kerry and Lugar have made no indication of altering the bill, to avoid  future skepticism and potential resentment of U.S. involvement in Pakistan it could be wise to make changes so as to not sideline the military at this critical period in our War on Terror. Unlike previous Republican presidencies, the Obama administration is committed to dealing with civilian governments in Pakistan. It’s a noble idea and even though i don’t suspect that as the military gains legitimacy the civilian government will collapse soon, we should think twice before riling such concern over a bill that has just a 5 year life span. Central and South Asia are critical regions for our interests and we may need to engage strategically positioned Pakistan in more years to come. So a backlash by the most powerful institution in that country is something we should anticipate, and work actively against.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @

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Pakistan’s Domestic Agenda: Battling Terrorism

October 13, 2009

Pakistani forces are in full offensive mode today, bombing northern areas of South Waziristan. Although planned months in advance, this comes immediately following a siege at military headquarters, and a number of suicide attacks for which Taliban have claimed responsibility. Simultaneously, the Kerry-Lugar Bill elicits concern that contingencies on funding potentially violate sovereignty, US controlled drone attacks continue and the economy has yet to pick up. Needless to say, the War on Terror have been tough times for Pakistan, and I hope the military succeeds in securing northern areas swiftly.

But an interesting perspective that is perhaps overshadowed by statistics, strategies, and tangible costs/benefits of our engagement in Operation Enduring Freedom, are the multifaceted issues of Pakistan’s agenda, which should describe handling security breaches at the forefront of their interests.

The Christian Science Monitor has a piece  entitled Pakistan Taliban Bombing Spree Could spur Backlashreporting on today’s military offensive, but the thrust is that the Taliban siege at military headquarters “spurs” Pakistani forces to fight harder, and stronger against the Taliban. By attributing an increased fight to the  “backlash” of this weekends attacks, the article rests on an implied assumption that Pakistan would otherwise have made suboptimal efforts at obliterating terrorists. At the end of the article an alternative view is offered by a security analyst at the INternational Institute for Strategic Studies in London explaining:

“I don’t think any serious military is baited in that way. It will certainly annoy the military intensely and strengthen resolve, but the South Waziristan operation – which will inevitably occur at some point – isn’t going to be accelerated just because of this.”

But this is an external analysts view and the article is preceded by a statement from a Pakistani professor:

“By launching these attacks on the very citadel and symbol of the Pakistani Army they have just crossed a red line, and there is no turning back as far as the Pakistani Army is concerned. I think they will be made to pay for it.”

Certainly, a brazen attack on military headquarters will rile a staunch response. But the articles title still suggests that the siege fuels the military offensive rather than an inherent interest in combatting terrorism.

This idea is an extension of what is now a widespread misperception that Pakistan is not entirely interested in combating terrorism, when on the contrary, this weeks offensive reaffirms Pakistan’s struggle for security. And I wonder if the skeptical lens with which reports question Pakistan’s effort stem from a stage set for discourse back in 2001 when former President George Bush decided countries were simply “either with us, or against us”.

The effectiveness of that strategy is debatable, but 8 years later it doesn’t offer sufficient explanations for allies like Pakistan who work “with us”, yet face persistent accusations of not doing enough. Because this weekend’s siege on military headquarters indicates Pakistan’s inherent interest in uprooting terrorism, but without a comprehensive reading into the situation it’s easy to have only a “with or against us” understanding. The northern areas where Afghani militants have spilled over is an autonomous region, historically beyond the realm of federal authority. Yet its inhabitants share with greater Pakistan a similar culture, ascribe to the same religion (although interpretations vary), and even share a physical resemblance making it a very sensitive area where any state would use force only as a final resort. Militarily obliterating such an area is unpalatable to the general Pakistani public and therefore a difficult issue to deal with for policymakers. In addition, Pakistan’s forces are only 60+ years old and trained predominantly in conventional warfare to face a potential Indian threat.

Thus, there are extremely sensitive considerations and multiple dimensions in the Pakistani approach to dealing with terrorism that since 2001, is an increasingly domestic battle. Just militarily obliterating this kind of demographic is not only potentially destabilizing for Pakistan, but is impractical without additional funding, training, and intelligence sharing with our forces. So Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States is not a black or white, “with us or against us” situation. The Obama administration understands this as if applies General McChrystal’s recommendations to differentiate Taliban from Al Qaeda as targets in the War on Terror. Such practicality takes into considerations long term realities and sensitivities of the region as cooperation in our War on Terror looks increasingly domestic for Pakistan.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @

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Tolerating the Taliban

October 9, 2009

After months of consideration on how to deal with our escalating engagement in the AF-Pak region, Obama’s administration has decided:

“the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement”

An article in the Washington Post today cites the administrations re-vamped goal of mitigating a Taliban capacity to interfere in the establishment of a stable Afghan government while assuring us that Al Qaeda is the primary threat, and our strategy will focus squarely on eradicating them.

It seemed news on Pakistan in the past year revolved around Islamabad not doing enough to eradicate the Taliban; equating the group to Al Qaeda in terms of importance in the War on Terror. But today marks a clear departure from such criticism. Distinguishing Al Qaeda from the Taliban is a huge step forward for the United States. Because connecting our goals to eliminate both immediate security threats and major elements of Afghan society that are unpalatable to our values, has proven counter productive. Having lived in Pakistan to experience the ill effects of hyper conservative religious factions, I know we mean well in trying to uproot extremism, but it just hasn’t worked in tandem with our military offensive. And I’ve mentioned the importance of a distinction between these groups previously:

The Taliban is historically distinct from militant groups like Al Qaeda. Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda is directly responsible for 9/11. Simply put, the Taliban was an ideologically fundamental group, while Al Qaeda is a militant, terrorist group. Both are dangerous as such, but the Taliban has national interests in controlling Afghanistan under strict ideological rules while Al Qaeda is a militant organization with international ambitions.

It’s not a novel contention, but only just being reflected in policy, and I think it has potential for success. As an ideological force, the Taliban foster an ultra conservative brand of Islam, but are not necessarily a threat to our security interests. Plus, if General McChrystal’s goal is defined as establishing a sustainable, democratic Afghan government, in order for it to be considered legitimate, it must be rooted in Afghan values and according to Afghan preferences. Such preferences might seem backward, or entirely unpleasant to us, but so long as our interests are being protected, impressing our brand of democratic values should take a back seat for the time being. I think the Obama administration has taken a wise step in revamping the Af-Pak strategy and hope it yields lasting success.

ORIGINALLY POSTED @

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Defeating Terrorism with Development

September 25, 2009

kerry lugar

Senate unanimously passed a bill authorizingappropriations to promote an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan”. The legislation is likely to receive similar support in the House later this week before being sent to President Obama for final approval. Initial versions of legislation were presented as the Biden-Lugar bill last year led by democrats Joe Biden and Senator Kerry, and supported by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Currently, the bill is coauthored by Republican Senator Dick Lugar making it widely bipartisan which reflects our growing desire to engage Pakistan ensuring stability and ultimately our interests in the region.

The Legislation triples foreign aid to our major non NATO ally” allowing up to $1,500,000,000 for their cooperation in “counterterrorism/counterinsurgency describing Pakistan’s ongoing struggles and successes against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It cites assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Islamabad and Mumbai hotel attacks last fall among other suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some of which involved deaths of US citizens to underscore an immediate need to assist Pakistan at this critical time. As we face mounting deaths in the War on Terror, send additional troops to Afghanistan and President Obama works closely with generals to revamp our strategy there, the bill is meant to forge a new relationship with Pakistan.

It extends diplomatic rhetoric directly to the people of Pakistan by describing the daily plight of citizens who are “especially hard hit by rising food and commodity prices and severe energy shortages” with 2/3rds of the population living on less than 2.25 and 1/5 of the population living below the poverty line”.  It further mentions “Compatible goals of combating terrorism, radicalism and promoting economic development through building of infrastructure and promoting social and material well being for Pakistani citizens through development of public services”. And most interestingly, the bill cites Pew opinion polls finding:

Pakistan has historically viewed the relationship between the United States and Pakistan as a transactional one characterized by a heavy emphasis on security issues with little attention to other matters of great interest to citizens of Pakistan”.

Then referring to the current civilian government as an “opportunity to place relations on a new and more stable foundation”. The bill’s ‘statement of policy‘  identifies the following objectives:

  1. Support the consolidation of democracy, good governance & rule of law in Pakistan
  2. Support economic growth & development to promote stability/security
  3. To build a sustained, long term, multifaceted relationship with Pakistan
  4. Expanding bilateral engagement with Pakistan
  5. To work with Pakistan and bordering countries to facilitate peace (a possible reference to mediating the Kashmir issue. President Obama mentioned doing so during his campaign run for President)
  6. Expand people to people engagement between US and Pakistan through increased educational, technical and cultural exchanges (possibly in the form of more student/professional visas. Envoy Holbrooke mentioned this in visits to Karachi in July)
  7. Work with government of Pakistan to:
    • prevent Pakistani territory from being used as a base/conduit for terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or elsewhere
    • Coordinate military, paramilitary & police action against terrorist terrorism
    • Help bring peace, stability and development
      • (this might entail counterinsurgency/counterterrorism assistance and cooperation through intelligence sharing, arms development/trade and training of Pakistani forces)

Pakistan is aptly described as a major non-NATO, long-standing ally. But cooperation has been dominated by security issues generally in the form of military dictators supported by the States in exchange for Pakistan’s military assistance throughout the Cold War and current War on Terror resulting in the Pakistani mindset of solely “transactional” relations. This bill is a fair attempt to shift that context to a more positive tone with the aforementioned objectives and diplomatic rhetoric.

However, certain specificities such as timetables and solid oversight must be transparently accessible to the Pakistani and American public to ensure more positive relations are achieved. Already experts are weighing in with concerns. Despite the commitment to development in addressing the plight of daily Pakistani’s, Foreign Policy Magazine mentions that the bill doesn’t say exactly how much of these funds are to be allocated toward military assistances. And although senator Kerry insists “Clear, tough minded accountability standards and metrics” are contained in the bill, Dawn News cites Rand Corporation expert Dr. Christine Fair raising the issue of “greater transparency” and wanting to ensure international accounting standards are applied in allocating these funds. Such concerns are equally felt in Pakistan, where past commitments of economic development have not always found their way to alleviating the plight of daily citizens for whom funding is supposedly intended.

For this reason a concerted conviction to improving the daily lives of Pakistani’s is required by Pakistani politicians who have ultimate control over how these funds are applied. I hope that President Asif Zardari along with Parliament works closely to ensure monies are responsibly allocated to a “sustainable” development the bill calls for.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @

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Considering the ISI

September 23, 2009

In a recent report, General McChrystal explains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan are aided by international intelligence agencies, referring specifically to Iran’s Quds Force and Pakistan’s ISI. This is perhaps the first time a top ranking official cites a current, and direct link between the state run ISI and Taliban. McChrystal says the insurgency in Afghanistan is supported by way of aid given through “some elements of Pakistan’s ISI”. That is alarming, and definitely runs against our interests. However, most reporting on this news leaves out details that elucidate the situation and might help maintain productive, progressive work with Pakistan during this critical period.

Most importantly, the Taliban is historically distinct from militant groups like Al Qaeda. Unlike the Taliban, Al Qaeda is directly responsible for 9/11 and the reason President Obama refers to our engagement in Afghanistan as a “war of necessity”. Before, our invasion the Taliban were not as violently inclined against international targets. Simply put, the Taliban was an ideologically fundamental group, while Al Qaeda is a militant, terrorist group. Both are dangerous as such, but

distinctions between Taliban and Al Qaeda are increasingly blurred and both spilled over into Pakistan in a security vacuum created since our invasion. A security vacuum allowed both groups to find safe haven in an economically and politically volatile Pakistan, while we simultaneously face mounting casualties in Afghanistan and send more troops there now.

Effectively addressing the security vacuum and ISI links involves a look at history. In a nutshell, during the 1980’s in cooperation with the United States, Pakistan’s ISI was funded to train ideological extremists and militant groups who could defeat the Soviets in a long, costly engagement, ultimately ushering a fall of the USSR. Once this was achieved, redevelopment efforts for Afghanistan were missing, and neighboring Pakistan became home to one of the worlds largest refugee problems. What happened to the battle hardened extremist and militant groups who fought the Soviets? Some found there way into Pakistan, along with their Klashinkovs, others stayed in war torn, perpetually unstable Afghanistan. Eventually one extremist, well armed group, the  Taliban garnered control:

“The Taliban emerged as a force in Afghan politics in 1994. They gained an initial territorial foothold in the southern city of Kandahar, and expanded their influence through a mixture of force, negotiation, and payoffs. In 1996, they captured the capital, and took control of the national government”

Taliban thus had national interests in controlling Afghanistan under strict ideological rules while Al Qaeda is a militant organization with international ambitions. Both however developed in opposition to Soviet invasion:

In 80s, the Services Office, a clearinghouse for the international Muslim brigade opposed to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—run by bin Laden—recruited, trained, and financed thousands of foreign “holy warriors”, from more than fifty countries. Bin Laden wanted these fighters to continue “holy war” beyond Afghanistan and formed al-Qaeda around 1988″

Pakistan’s ISI has no present, or past link with this group, explains Steve Coll of the New Yorker in a PBS interview:  there was not a strategic partnership between ISI and Al Qaeda, certainly not prior to 9/11. There were also sources of tension between ISI and Al Qaeda”. The Taliban on the other hand, with de-facto control of Afghanistan and limited by only national aims, bound Islamabad to dealing with their neighbors as best they could. Plus given training Pakistan offered in the 1980’s, some ISI inevitably have associations with the Taliban until today. But that does not necessarily mean those associations are defined by cooperation.

The ISI is a vast institution with over “25,000 active men on staff, not including informants and assets”.

I speculate the latter group of “informants and assets” is the “aid” Genearl McChystal refers to in speaking of links to the Taliban. Plus Pakistan’s amplified offensive in the War on Terror, especially this year is yielding far too many blows to the Taliban in capturing top level leaders. And in Pakistan without full ISI support such successes are not achievable.

So, General McChrystal’s analysis is useful in drawing out history which can help craft more pin-pointed strategies in dealing with the Af-Pak quagmire . To avoid mistakes from the Soviet Afghan war to our current War on Terror wherein extremism has not subsided, but increasingly inflamed this region, considering historical realities is key. Because pin-pointed, more effective policies require a comprehensive understanding of recent history and beckon amplified social and developmental efforts in addition to our troop increase.

ORIGINALLY POSTED @

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