A recent article in the Economist asks are we winning or losing the “global war on terror:
Nearly seven years into America’s “global war on terror”, the result remains inconclusive. Al-Qaeda lost a safe haven in Afghanistan, but is rebuilding another one in Pakistan; Mr bin Laden is at large, but Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who masterminded September 11th, has gone on trial in Guantánamo Bay; many leaders have been captured or killed, but others have taken their place; al-Qaeda faces an ideological backlash, but young Muslims still volunteer to blow themselves up.
This month we have seen some changes in the “war on terror”, with the hint of a troop withdrawal in Iraq. However, an escalation of violence in Afghanistan has led the US general in charge to ask for a least a doubling of the troops required to conduct operations:
Yesterday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs acknowledged publicly what has been said quietly for a long time – our focus on Iraq is hurting our efforts in Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen said "I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq." This admission, taken with Admiral Mullen’s past comment that "In Afghanistan, we do what we can…In Iraq, we do what we must," is a clear sign that the Bush administration has failed to prioritize the war in Afghanistan and has pushed our military to its limits. Urgent action is required that returns Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, to the center of our counterterrorism policy and provides the troops and resources that the mission requires.
While Iraq has been the main focus of the so-called “war on terror” Al-Qaeda has been regrouping in Pakistan and with renewed strength is putting enormous pressure on the US troops in Afghanistan. At the same time Israel and the US still threaten military action against Iran. With the US struggling in Afghanistan how would they support expanded military operations into Iran and Pakistan?
It is hard to imagine a victory of any sort for the US in either Iraq or Afghanistan. As long as the troops remain in Iraq or Afghanistan the threat of the war expanding into Iran or Pakistan is enormous. The Iraq and Afghanistan civilian populations are paying a bloody price, with civilian casualties being reported nearly everyday. While war rages it is impossible to build the necessary infrastructure such as hospitals and schools. More young Muslims are being led to join the ranks of Al-Qaeda as a result of the suffering.
Deepak Tripathi, a former BBC correspondent in Kabul, has been following events unfolding in Afghanistan since the communist takeover in 1978. He has been a reporter in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Syria. He has written extensively on Afghanistan and South Asia in various international publications, including The Economist and The Daily Telegraph, London. In a recent study conducted for the Observer Research Foundation, Dialectics of the Afghanistan conflict: How the country became a terrorist haven, former BBC correspondent Tripathi writes:
The American-led invasion of Iraq overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein, but it also dismantled the entire state structure of the country.
The break-up of Iraqi national institutions – the armed forces, the police and the administrative system – was violent and sudden and alternatives were tentative and slow to emerge. The dialectic started by the US-led invasion created stubborn resistance to the occupation forces, polarised Iraqi society and created a culture in which Iraqis found themselves in conflict with fellow Iraqis and militant Islamic groups were drawn to Iraq to fight the occupation forces.
Parallels can be seen in Palestine, in Lebanon and other places, where social and institutional frailties, combined with outside intervention, fuel a dialectic of violence which, in time, becomes part of the culture. Violent players and their victims become used to coercion, their thinking and behaviour driven by the perceived justification for, or expectation of, use of force to resolve matters. Players and victims may be different in each place. What triggers a cycle of violence is unique and where events will lead to may be unknown. Still, where the appropriate agents are present, a violent dialectic and terror are close companions.
The presence of foreign troops provides an excuse for violence. The sooner the troops are withdrawn the faster the chance of some kind of peace being returned.
Even if that peace comes by the leadership of a strongman lacking in democratic principles, it is still better than constant war.
The best way the democratic world can help is through the provision of aid and the constant pushing of human rights through trade and the UN.
The only way to win the “war on terror” is to be less willing ourselves to use terror to win a political victory. The war on terror will be won when all terrorists – including those financed by democratic governments – are brought to justice in the International Criminal Court.