Posts Tagged ‘zainab’

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Romney’s Big Bird Problem

October 11, 2012
How to Save Money in today's Economy - Romney Style

Saving America’s Economy – Romney Style

Who didn’t chuckle when Romney said Big Bird at last weeks presidential debate? Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Tea Partier; no matter who you are, summoning an image of Big Bird makes you happy.  He’s yellow, feathery, rides a unicycle, sings and lives in a nest on Sesame Street. Baby Boomers raised their kids on him and we loved it. Kids still love him. Understandably then Romney’s spending cuts that threaten Big Bird’s livelihood have been met with alarm. The Obama camp promptly pounced on the opportunity to exploit Romney’s gaff with an ad this week.

And amidst all this Big Bird hoopla, I can’t help but wonder if European and Asian democracies are snickering at our squabbling politicians at the heels of an election. But then I realized, Big Bird commands this much political attention because he is a symbol of the American childhood experience. And when Romney so bluntly made axing him a pillar of his economic policy, it demonstrated his unintentional, but apparent lack of empathy for the public.

Most people may not have a problem with an argument to cut government subsidies to certain programs, but by specifying Big Bird, Romney just confirmed aloofness to the average American experience. Any politician may have made an argument for cuts to public spending but might not have singled out Big Bird and the very host who was moderating that debate. Romney however seems so convinced that his success in business necessarily will translate to all realms of politics that he seems to forget that what matters most to him (dollars and cents), is not what matters most to all Americans, all the time.

Even in this difficult economy, people may want more than a detached businessman in office, and justifiably so. Someone who sees public broadcasting as nothing more than a dollar figure that can be cut does not understand the cultural value it holds. An unadulterated business person without nuances to see the limitations of free market capitalism and rational actor model just does not seem like a good pick in an economy suffering a financial meltdown as a result of insufficiently checked private markets. And Romney’s Big Bird comment epitomized this imbalanced approach to not just economics, but America.

By extension, I think the reason women have had such a hard time with Romney is not just because of his right wing stance on hot button political issues including abortion and contraception, but because this lack of empathy is unnerving. Beyond a business man with aggressive economic success, I don’t know what this man stands for. It’s unnerving because according to classic economic and rational actor theory, maximizing profit are ideal objectives. So when Romney talks about cutting spending, it doesn’t matter how many American families actually feel  about public broadcasting, it doesn’t matter if Big Bird has come to symbolize a child’s happy, healthy world of learning and imagination. Rather, Romney’s gaff is a sincere commitment to the bottom line; dollars and cents. It’s a gaff because it inadvertently revealed a lack of empathy and economic arrogance.

Mitt Romney's Idea of Economic Reform

Mitt Romney’s Idea of Economic Reform

His Big Bird comment reminds me that a leader of this country needs to be more than just an accomplished professional, but also an empathetic person. It is still a unipolar world and the American President has a tremendous responsibility to this country and beyond. I think Americans are more nuanced than Mitt Romney, and no matter how much spin and politicking takes place from here on out, I hope we realize that this country represents more than a dollar figure.

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I Miss My PC

September 29, 2012
Oh How I've Missed you PC

Zainab actually misses her PC, who would have figured…

Didn’t think I’d say it, but I miss my PC. I officially made the switch to Macbook after my Sony Vaio crashed in the summer of 2009 and I couldn’t bear any more accusations of “committing an illegal operation”  each time I innocently started up my machine. I watched enviously as my brothers looked on disdainful, but sympathetic then went right back to creating hipster music on their macbooks. Within a week I had a shiny, solid new, 13″ Macbook pro that would take me through two years of Graduate school, a vacation to Spain, Hawaii, Pakistan and conferences across the country and never, ever did it crash. But, now that I have graduated and work means I’m on a computer at an actual desk on not my bed, I realize there are things I miss about Windows. Serious things:

  • Biggest reason: software – plain and simple. I have MS Office on my MAC because Microsoft just makes more powerful software than Apple. Here’s why: 
    • Word, Powerpoint, and Outlook are far more friendly and full of more useful tools than their versions for Mac, or their counterparts for that matter
    • Itunes is lame. And yes, I miss Windows Media Player. A one stop device that played ALL my movies, stored ALL my music, connected to ALL my music players and never once pressured me into buying anything
  • Second reason is files are just not as easy to access and organize
    • I know people are going to slay me for this one, but Windows makes systematic file organization much easier. I can search for my most recent places at any given time on any given software. I am ALWAYS given the option to create subfolders to my hearts content  and when something is downloaded rather than just forcing it into a download folder I have the option to “save” it “as” anything and anywhere I want.
    • Icon and icon + text views of files are not so helpful. I much rather would revert to Windows large, extra large, medium and small icon thumbnail views which I find more useful; not prettier, but more useful for sure.
    • When attaching files to email, content is often difficult to access, like pictures. The right hand side access pane for attaching files has a folder for IPhotos but none for saved pictures. Rather, it wastes space for less accessed shortcuts for things like IDrive. Also
  • Finally, I’m actually tired of of the application bar at the bottom that NEVER hides

Which makes me realize, thebest  way to deal with PC; the crashing and all is to love it, albeit firmly and right off the bat. Stop thinking of the sexier Mac and just uninstall any programs that came pre-installed that you do not need upon purchase. Keep the desktop clean, anti-virus software updated and stay away from SPAM and other dodgy websites and software. It’s really not asking much. But I suppose this is just me missing, and loving being back on a PC. Sure it could just be that I’m on dual flat screen, hyper RAM driven, new desktop computer  which is so much different than being on a laptop. But still, having admitted to missing my PC, there are things from the Mac that have really spoiled me and where PC just can’t compete:

  • Single touch, uber sensitive trackpad
  • Pinch & Zoom. Nuff said.
  • Super fabulous HD screen

So perhaps I’ve stumbled into my tech sweet spot: desktop PC at work, Macbook Pro or Macbook Air at home. See, because the more Apple gains market share in the mobile, tablet and cell phone space, I realize this sentiment to be true; Apple is an entertainment company. Their products are fun, pretty and ever amusing. Microsoft may not come with the prettiest computers, but their company does make me more productive. And as you grow up you realize, it takes more than just entertainment and a pretty exterior captivate you forever. But then again, that could just be me – I always was a sucker for nerds.

First World Problems - Deciding Between PC & Mac

Tough Decision: Zainab says keep the Nerd at work and pretty boy at home

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Empowering the Worlds 6th Most Populous Country

June 23, 2012

Schools in Pakistan’s Rural Areas

The big news in Pakistan right now is about the newly elected Prime Minster, deteriorating diplomatic relations with the United States and match fixing charges on star cricketers, but there is a less publicized, but important story that CNN published last week “Family’s 20 Kids Highlight Pakistan’s Population Explosion”. The article warns that Pakistan is currently among the top ten most populous countries and by 2050 will rank third only behind China and India. The author’s attribute this population explosion to a lack of birth control, and insufficient access to family planning information. And while birth control and family planning organizations are certainly effective means to control population growth, dissemination of information that counters prevailing cultural norms and attitudes that discourage limiting family size are also important. The article accurately describes “a majority of the population – 70% is largely illiterate and resides in rural areas lacking the most basic services” and it is in those regions in Pakistan that are most influenced by the deep conservatism that often views birth control as “un Islamic”, but does not account for the large number of efforts that have been made to curb illiteracy in these areas. Well known nonprofit organizations including The Citizens Foundation  and Development in Literacy are focused on educating Pakistan’s rural populations and DIL in particular focuses on countering female illiteracy.

DIL claims “empowering underprivileged students, especially girls” as part of their “student centered model schools in remote areas of Pakistan” as part of their mission statement. And female empowerment is exactly the kind of education that can help disseminate valuable information to facilitate controlling Pakistan’s population bulge. Successful NGO’s in the Microfinance space including Grameen Bank  have demonstrated success in assisting with a reduction of birth rates of their members. Like DIL, Grameen Bank claims female empowerment as part of their mission, but unlike DIL, puts in place more direct mechanisms to achieve such objectives. Their “sixteen decisions”  is testimony to a commitment to female empowerment making finance contingent to social development goals, including educating children, cleaner homes, maintaining and caring for one’s health, personal discipline, and cooperation with other females in the community. Number 6 on Grameen’s list explicitly has women pledge “We intend to have small families” and through these guidelines their microfinance model is supplemented by female empowerment strategies that encourage family planning and overall develop the social environment in which they live.  Similarly, Microfinance organization Pro Mujer provides poor women with mechanisms for empowerment in Latin America in addition to development opportunities through lending capital. Their approach reads:

 While most microfinance institutions focus only on financial services, Pro Mujer uses a holistic approach, making sure that clients are better prepared physically, emotionally and economically to improve their lives and that of their children. Education is one strategy. Pro Mujer teaches women about domestic violence, communication skills, and women’s rights, using workshops and group discussions to raise their awareness about leadership, gender issues, and self-esteem. It also links clients with other organizations for counseling, legal assistance, and education and vocational training programs. Women also become empowered as they join and become active in their communal associations. Pro Mujer organizes women in groups of 18 to 28 clients and teaches them how to organize and manage a community bank. The women elect a board of directors to run the meetings, form a credit committee to approve loan applications, and create solidarity groups to guarantee each other’s loans. Members of the communal banks gain confidence and self-esteem as they successfully borrow and repay their loans, set up savings accounts, and become more aware of their own potential and abilities. What’s more, they apply their new skills as leaders in other community organizations.

Education + Empowerment for development

Pro Mujer and Grameen Bank are first and foremost Microfinance institutions, as DIL is to education. These organizations converge in their commitment to “women’s empowerment”, but diverge in their mechanisms to achieve that objective. Microfinance, and education are important development goals for a larger purpose of empowerment so it is important that direct efforts are put in place that have a positive impact on female empowerment. Nonprofit organizations have a profound responsibility not only to those they seek to help, but to their donors, and women’s empowerment must be more than just a catch phrase in Pakistan. It requires a serious commitment by organizations who want to have a positive, long term and sustainable impact for women. Education is an important starting point, but the work will not end there. Given the population growth numbers, empowerment must increasingly become part of the plan to develop Pakistan. Education focused NGO’s are in a good position to begin such models of development, especially if empowerment is a stated part of their mission.

 

 

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Would Imran Khan call Ron Paul to Bat?

January 9, 2012
American Congressman Ron Paul

Ron Paul speaks during the Republican Leadership Conference: 2011

Is it just me, or are seemingly incessant GOP debates the past few months allowing President Obama’s lack of public exposure to seem more and more like solid leadership? The Republican lineups simplistic, square and reactionary focus on “Anti-Obama” rhetoric especially on foreign policy has highlighted a resoundingly hawkish stance on Iran with little attention to our current engagements in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while it may be expedient amongst a certain political base to try and one-up each other in aggressive foreign policy talk, only Ron Paul challenges the party line on Americas role in the world.

When it comes to Pakistan, compared to Democrats Republicans have a consistent history of preferring to work closely with the military establishment in Islamabad. While there is a level of bipartisanship post 9/11, (case in point is Obama’s continuation of Bush era drone use with little debate), Republicans have through the Cold War and beyond preferred dealing with the military establishment rather than focusing on democratic, or liberal institution building. Which is not necessarily an entirely erroneous  policy; part of the rationale is that state building is expensive in blood, toil, time and treasure and rarely feasible. Further, there are an endless number of constraints and uncertainties that profoundly hinder institution, or democratic state building in a place like Pakistan, rendering Republican policies simply pragmatic.

Which brings us to current policy: the bipartisan endorsed “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act” (S. 1707)  enacted in 2009 has yet to bear tangible fruit. Granted the aforementioned that institution building is time exhaustive, the fact remains that Pakistan has deteriorated politically, in the realm of security and economically. And having watched everyone from Gov. Romney, Sen. Santorun, Gov. Perry, Rep. Bachmann and yes even the soft spoken Gov. Huntsman, reiterates hawkish foreign policy while refusing to acknowledge a need for meaningful improvement. In the Republican camp only Rep. Ron Paul’s extreme calls for an isolationist posture offer some semblance of change. And because his prescriptions have yet to be tried, the utility of his ideas have yet to be tested. And now may be a time to consider his stance since they call for exactly what the Pakistani public wants right now.

Referring to our policies to Pakistan as nothing short of “Bombs for Bribes” Ron Paul acknowledges the nobility, yet inherent futility in calling for democratic institutions in places of strategic engagement. He understands that we are already engaged in “130 countries” with “700 bases around the world” and in this speech against the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, he bluntly explains:

the way we treat our fellow countries around the world is we tell them what to do and if they do it, we give them money. If they don’t we bomb them. Under this condition we are doing both. We are currently dropping bombs in Pakistan and innocent people get killed. If you want to promote our good values and democratic processes, you can’t antagonize the people”

He goes on to suggest dialogue and trade as alternatives to current policy. And although his statement is simplistic and was made in 2009, it highlights Ron Paul’s isolationist, more economically focused prescriptions on foreign policy that seek to reduce our military footprint abroad based on pragmatic constraints, like military and fiscal overstretch. And these calls seem more reasonable than before, especially when it comes to Pakistan and the fact that our aid has yet to yield satisfactory results. So while the Obama administration continues engagement and GOP candidates refuse to acknowledge much concern over current policy to Pakistan, can Ron Paul really be the only alternative available?

Someone once considered completely out of left, excuse me, right field, could be the reminder we need to moderate our engagement with countries of interest. Because what is interesting is that current rhetoric in Pakistan is very much in line with Ron Paul’s ideas. Ron Paul isn’t touting conspiracy theories, nor does he echo far left foreign policy thinkers like Noam Chomsky. Rather, his past statements on our engagement in Pakistan as “inadvertently causing chaos” and “violating security and sovereignty” are exactly what the average Pakistani seems to feel and hears about in their mainstream TV, and print media. Takeaway for us means, it’s a perception the is realistic; perhaps more so than current policy reflects.

In fact, legendary cricket star turned politician Imran Khan’s recent surge in popularity is in large part due to his highly critical foreign policy rhetoric that vociferously calls for D.C. to adopt a more isolationist stance so Pakistan might reclaim lost autonomy. Imran Khan steadily built support for his party on the continued observation that America’s “War on Terror” has intensified insecurity and his subsequent promises to curtail American involvement is a first step in alleviating Pakistan’s problems.

He underscores Ron Paul’s sentiment that perceptions urgently matter in a climate where American intervention is increasingly received hostilely.  Both politicians insistence on winnings hearts and minds renders Ron Paul’s foreign policy prescriptions worthy of consideration. Imran Khan’s recent ascendency and Governor Paul’s gradually increasing support marks a convergence in shifting to a direction of a less militarized approach to Pakistan. Two men once considered out of the realm of politician viability now increasingly resonate in their respective publics; policymakers ought to take note.

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED @ THE FOREIGN POLICY ASSOCIATION

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How Old Was Cinderella & Prince Charming?

May 3, 2011

In kindergarten the last thing we did before going home was have story time. And I best recall Cinderella in particular because I interrupted Mrs. Woods twice during her reading: first because I didn’t understand why the glass slipper didn’t change back to Cinderella’s original shoe when everything else did at midnight, and then I wondered why out of all the girls in the land, how could that slipper just not fit anyone else?

Suffice to say, Cinderella didn’t add up when I was 5 (for some odd reason, Alice in Wonderland did, but that’s another matter altogether). Then in high school and undergraduate Women’s Studies and Sociology classes we deconstructed seemingly endless dangers of these fairy tales with their adverse impact on female agency (or rather, a complete omission of it), which certainly didn’t help the skepticism I already had for this princess. But Maureen Dowd asks us to revisit her in an article on Sunday. Yes, I will grant that the whole damsel in distress cliché in fairy tales (and to a large extent in Hollywood to this day) did little to empower women, but in light of this weeks Royal wedding, Dowd describes a redefinition of Cinderella:

“Teaming with the spirit of her dead mother, Cinderella cleverly rescues herself from servitude, conjures up her own glittery makeover and then saves the prince from the same torment she endured living with her hideous stepsisters”

Was Cinderella more clever than my volumes of feminist theory posited? And in that light, can we credit the new Duchess, Kate Middleton as being an empowered woman with agency who married a Prince but is actually the leading heroic figure in their tale? Dowd likens her to Cinderella given their so called, “commoner” background and the solemn image of a deceased mother figure (Princess Diana) that looms large in their pasts:

“You could sense a collective prayer among the spectators that Kate, with her Cinderella coach, Cartier tiara and satin slippers, was not a lamb being led to slaughter. Many assured the invading celebrity journalists that Kate was older and more grounded than the virginal and high-strung 20-year-old who married an older man who loved another woman”

And therein we find agency, in a place no one ever encourages you to look: in a females age. The fact that Kate is nearly 10 years older than Diana at the time of her marriage changes the story completely. Testimony to this are a string of articles in the past couple years describing an increasingly buffoon like modern day male, painfully complacent in his inability to think or act for himself, versus an increasingly assertive, confident and successful modern female. The result is that both sexes converge in delaying marriage and other markers of adulthood more than ever before. Not that the Prince is any way buffoon like, or Kate a high strung, domineering partner, but they are entering into a relationship that seems much more complementary than what William’s mother entered into. And that might have much to do with age and this delayed experience of adulthood that has ironically given girls a chance to be girls longer, but simultaneously offers greater opportunity to discover, and attain our interests. Couple this girl with a guy who evades the buffoon like existence and you’ve probably got a happy ending.

So, we go back to Dowd’s question: did Cinderella and Kate “marry up” or was it the other way around? Well, I suppose it’s both. Because whether it’s the new Duchess and Duke of Cambridge or Cinderella and her handsome prince, there’s a very interesting balance that each person found by acting with keen self-awareness, and taking time to thoughtfully determine a plan independent of external pressure which they then executed with utmost confidence and presentation. Go figure: fairy tales wound up being more pragmatic in adulthood than in kindergarten 🙂

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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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