Eight years on, global terrorism remains

Illustration: Nino Jose Heredia/Gulf News

Eight years on, global terrorism remains

By John L. Esposito Special to Gulf News
Published: September 13, 2009, 23:13

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush and many policymakers and mainstream religious leaders were careful to emphasise that America was waging a war against global terrorism, not against Islam. Bush declared his respect for Islam and the need to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the actions of terrorists. However, America’s pursuit and prosecution internationally and domestically of its broad-based war against terrorism, the rhetoric and policies of the administration that accompanied them, reinforced a negative reaction that cuts across much of the Muslim world, from North Africa to Southeast Asia, and was a serious concern of many of America’s European allies.

If President Bush was initially sensitive to distinguishing the religion of Islam from the actions of terrorists, that sensitivity has seemed to fade in subsequent months as the Bush-Cheney administration seemed guided by the ideology and policies of neo-con members of the administration and its advisers with their vision of the creation of a New American Century and an “unholy alliance” between many neo-cons and the hardline Christian Zionist Right.

The trajectory of the Bush/Cheney administration’s foreign policy and military actions – the broadening of the American-led military campaign’s scope beyond the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan to second frontiers, the identification of an “axis of evil” (comprising a majority of countries that were Muslim), the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the Bush administration’s failed leadership in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Lebanon’s Hezbollah-Israel and Gaza wars – fed anti-American sentiment among the mainstream as well as the hatred of America among militant extremists. America came to be seen as a neo-colonial imperial country, whose overwhelming military and political power has been used unilaterally, disproportionately and indiscriminately.

Grievances of Muslims from one Muslim country to another varied, but a prominent concern involved America’s longtime support for authoritarian Muslim regimes over the years from Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and Zein Al Abedin Ben Ali’s Tunisia to Saddam Hussain’s Iraq (1980 88) and Parvez Musharraf’s Pakistan. Critics pointed to America’s double standard in promoting its fundamental principles and values (democracy, political participation, human rights, and basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press) selectively or not at all when it comes to the Muslim world.

Majorities in virtually every majority Muslim nation surveyed in a Gallup World Poll said they disagreed that the United States is serious about establishing democratic systems in the region.

Muslims had to look no further than the Bush administration’s Iraq policy to find corroboration for their concerns. When weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, the administration boldly declared that the US-led invasion and toppling of Saddam were intended to bring democracy to Iraq as part of a broader policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East. Nevertheless, majorities of Muslims and others in the world saw the invasion of Iraq as a war of occupation.

Abuses in Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Haditha, as well as Guantanamo Bay and the rendition of prisoners (that is, transfer of suspected terrorists to “CIA prisons” in countries employing harsh interrogation techniques and torture), undermined the US record on human rights and outraged not only Muslims but many others across the world. The Bush administration gave unconditional support for Israel’s massive, disproportionate military response, a 34-day war in Lebanon in 2006, to ostensibly respond to Hezbollah’s July 12 seizure of two soldiers and killing of three others.

While the track record of most American presidents, as witnessed by the US voting record in the UN, has demonstrated the nation’s consistent tilt toward Israel, Bush had taken America’s relationship with Israel to the next level. The administration’s uncritical alignment with Israel supported Israel’s reliance on military might rather than diplomacy in its invasion and wars in Lebanon in 2006 and later in Gaza, ignored its sidestepping of international law, and risked America’s complicity in war crimes. As in Lebanon, so too in Gaza the Bush administration supported an Israeli invasion and war whose major victims were civilians, mainly women and children, condoned destruction of the infrastructure and institutions of society (homes, neighbourhoods, universities and schools, mosques, police stations, hospitals) and inflamed the hatred and radicalisation of a future generation of Palestinians.

Eight years after 9/11, global terrorism remains a threat for the foreseeable future and countering the eight year Bush/Cheney legacy and redefining and rebuilding American foreign policy and credibility in the Muslim world a challenge. The political hurdles remain formidable: entrenched authoritarian regimes; militant governments; unstable and fragile political conditions in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, whose populations remain vulnerable daily to acts of violence and terror; a US congress which like its presidents has too often supported policies that result in a double standard in the promotion of self-determination and human rights in the Muslim world.

President Barack Obama has clearly indicated that his administration recognises and is critical of past mistakes and wishes to forge a new way forward. However, like the economy, cleaning up the inherited political/military “mess” from the Bush years will require not only a bold new vision but also a leadership willing to take significant political risks at home as well as abroad. While the president faces many critical issues, in particular turning the American economy around, the first anniversary of the Obama administration will also be a time when many will review US foreign policy in the Middle East and ask “Where are the markers that signal a new way forward?”

Dr John L. Esposito is director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding and co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.

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Political Islam and ISI

Political Islam and ISI

By Andre Gerolymatos

The crisis in the Middle East has inadvertently overshadowed the greater crisis in South Asia where the conflict between Pakistan and India can easily accelerate into a nuclear confrontation. Underlying the tensions that have plagued the relations of these two countries is religious zealotry and the ongoing territorial dispute over Kashmir.

In the case of Pakistan, religious militancy (as manifested by political Islam) will certainly aggravate the precarious truce between Pakistan and India. Currently, Pakistan is a thinly veiled democracy and for most of its existence it has been ruled by the military. However, unlike Turkey, in which the military has been the bulwark of secularism, in Pakistan the army is the medium by which political Islam is rapidly taking over the country.

The roots of this state of affairs reach back into the British Raj and are the byproduct of divide-and-rule policies of colonialism. It was British policy beginning in the late 19th century to enlist Indian soldiers from the so-called “martial races” of the Northwestern Frontier.

The British believed that the northern regions of India were populated by “warlike and hardy races,” while the south was composed of “effeminate peoples.” The British colonial authorities in India deliberately kept the northern areas un-industrialized and under-educated to protect their recruiting base and keep the “martial races” from engaging in other pursuits and occupations.

As a result of the ‘martial races’ recruitment policy, a disproportionate number of South Asian soldiers and officers were recruited from Muslim and Sikh tribes. After Pakistan’s creation in 1947, successive Pakistani governments continued to recruit from the same geographical regions, following the British policy of cultivating the “martial races.”

During the 1980s three-quarters of the Pakistan Army was recruited from three districts in the Punjab and two from the Northwest Frontier Province; areas that collectively represent only nine per cent of the population. These recruits also served in Pakistan’s intelligence service (the ISI) and the fact that they have family and tribal ties in the troubled northwest region of Pakistan has created a unique relationship for Pakistan’s intelligence establishment with the northwest frontier. In the early 1980s, for example, general Akhtar Abdur Rahman, the director of ISI was, like many Pakistani officers, a Pashtun from Peshawar on the Afghan frontier. In 1987, Gen. Hamid Gul, a devout Muslim from the Punjab with close ties to the Saudis, replaced him as head of the ISI. Both men owed their appointments to Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s dictator after 1977, who also came from the Punjab.

Zia’s regime was given legitimacy by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The ensuing jihad against the Soviets created the ideal environment for Pakistan to intervene directly in Afghanistan — with the connivance of the United States.

When the Americans decided to take on the Soviets in the region they also opted to work through Pakistan’s intelligence community. Under this arrange-ment, funding was channeled through the ISI to the mujahedeen. The ISI, in turn, used Pakistani Islamic organizations and parties to build up militant Islamist movements in Afghanistan.

The power and influence of the ISI within Pakistan has continued to grow after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as its contacts with radical Islamic organizations. The triangular link between the Pakistan government, the ISI, and fundamentalist mujahedeen continued under Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto’s government was directly involved in infiltrating Taliban recruits into Afghanistan in the 1990s, while Bhutto claimed that Pakistan was merely returning Afghan refugees to their homeland.

The direct links between Pakistan’s government and the ISI continued after Bhutto. Several key members of Musharraf’s military regime, which came to power in 1999, including Musharraf himself, were also officers in the ISI.

The ISI has been directly involved with the formation and ongoing support of the Taliban. By 1993 the Taliban had become a formidable force with direct ties to the ISI and through it access to recruits from Pakistan’s religious schools.

The ISI’s deliberate entanglement with the Taliban and other extreme groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba has made political Islam a major factor in Pakistan. The ISI — created by the British, nurtured by the Americans and the Saudis — has become a serious impediment to Pakistan’s social and political evolution. The events in Mumbai in 2008 have demonstrated that parts of the ISI are now almost interchangeable with extreme Islamic organizations. (The Vancouver Sun)

Andre Gerolymatos is professor of Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University and blogs on The Vancouver Sun’s Community of Interest.

‘Urgency’ in US Middle East talks

[The “urgency” is the closing window of opportunity for a first strike on Iran.   Netanyahu is afraid that Israel must “use it or lose its,” speaking of its current nuclear monopoly, as he warns the world that Israel may be about to and eliminate Iran’s nuclear facilities with its own nukes (Israel’s only sure method for eliminating these deep hardened facilities).   Israel is prepared to commit a war crime that dwarfs all its past war crimes combined, and American congressmen, like Rep. Berman and Ackerman, are readying support for Israel’s actions with a technical embargo of gasoline. More radical friends of Israel support a first strike on Iran, comparing it to the American atomic bombing of Japan.  Leaving aside arguments about lives saved by the bombs there is no justification for releasing radioactive clouds over southeast Asia. Iran has not attacked Israel, or threatened to.  The only real threat that Iran represents to Israel is a loss of Israeli hegemony in the region, or to Zionist plans for “Greater Israel.”  Congress would do well to avoid linking our fate to Israeli adventurism in the world and should set its own house in order before it passes judgment on another government.  Peace will come to the Middle East when foolish men with notions of national or racial superiority are restrained by the real “civilized world.”]

‘Urgency’ in US Middle East talks

George Mitchell and Israeli President Shimon Peres, 13-09-09

George Mitchell (left) met Israeli President Shimon Peres

The US Middle East envoy George Mitchell said Washington shared in a “sense of urgency” following talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The US has launched a new effort to finalise terms for fresh negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

McChrystal’s Focus to Shift to Border Region, or, Gen. Kayani Has Really Screwed-up Now!

[Gen. Kayani acted like he really believed that he had a choice in the matter, that Pakistan could live off of US money while resisting American demands for a military resolution of the security situation in FATA.  If Pakistan will not help the United States secure oil and gas pipeline corridors and supply routes for military equipment for Afghanistan, then why should the United States give billions in aid?  By Imperial reasoning, the US has purchased the right to clean-out Waziristan itself.  Either Pakistan draws a distinct “red line” for the US, or it will erase them all itself.]

US to engage militants near Pakistan border

Senior lawmakers, including Nancy Pelosi (above), the Democrat speaker of the US House of Representatives, have questioned proposals to increase American troop strength in Afghanistan. — Photo by AP

WASHINGTON: The United States may shift the focus of its military operations close to the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan, US experts say.

Diplomatic sources in Washington say that General Stanley McChrystal, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, has recommended a change of focus in a report he submitted to the Obama administration last week.

Gen McChrystal, who took charge in June, is said to have questioned whether the fight in other regions was as crucial to defeating the insurgency as previously believed.

The United States currently has around 7,000 troops in the east, after Gen McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen David McKiernan, doubled their number. But US policy planners believe they may have to send more troops to this region.

The experts say the Americans are particularly worried about the insurgents’ ability to find sanctuary and support in Fata. They also believe that senior Al Qaeda leaders are hiding in the region, possibly across the border in Waziristan.

This necessitates a change in the US strategy for dealing with the militants, the sources said.

US President Barack Obama also alluded to this change in an address on the 8th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, reminding Americans that the real war was against Al Qaeda and its associates who were busy planning more attacks on the US soil.

‘In defence of our nation we will never waver; in pursuit of Al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter,’ he vowed, while invoking the memories of a series of terrorist attacks eight years ago.

US military commanders in Afghanistan, while talking to various American media outlets, also emphasised the need for targeting Jalaluddin Haqqani and other insurgent leaders hiding in eastern Afghanistan.

Major Gen Curtis Scaparrotti, a US military commander in eastern Afghanistan, said Mullah Haqqani ‘is the central threat’ in the area and ‘he’s expanded that reach’.

Experts in Washington say the need for redirecting US focus on the east follows a realisation that the Obama administration may not be able to send enough troops to cover the entire country.

Reports in the US media say Gen McChrystal could ask for up to 45,000 additional troops, which would take the number of US forces well above 100,000.

But Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat speaker of the US House of Representatives and a key Obama ally, said at the weekend that she saw ‘no great support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress’.

And Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin advised the administration not to send any more US combat troops to Afghanistan beyond those already approved by President Obama until more Afghan security forces are trained.

Senator Levin said he had conveyed this sentiment to both Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, as well as to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Mr Levin will also meet National Security Adviser Gen Jim Jones and Vice-President Biden next week to discuss his proposal.

Republican lawmakers, however, oppose any move that may weaken US military strength in Afghanistan.

‘Many of the Democrats raising questions about our efforts in Afghanistan are the same voices who declared Gen Petraeus a failure in Iraq before his new strategy even had a chance to succeed. They were wrong then. They are wrong now,’ said House Minority Leader John Boehner.

Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel, said he ‘could not disagree more profoundly’ with Senator Levin on the call to limit troop deployments.

‘If we await the day when the Afghan National Army is increased in size and capable of carrying out all of these operations fully on its own, it may well be too late,’ Mr McCain warned.

‘We will need more US combat forces in Afghanistan, not less or the same amount as we have today,’ he said.