By D Suba Chandran
With the primary conspirator behind 9/11 finally killed, almost a decade after the beginning of the US led War on Terror, should the campaign finally come to an end? Has the war really ended? Does the war of terrorism led by the al Qaeda pose no threat to the region and the rest of the world after Osama bin Laden’s killing?
In particular, the rhetorically sound President of the US is likely to use the death of Osama in two different ways. First, the President will over play the death of Osama for his domestic audience within the US, and say that the War on Terror has reached its desired end. The US should hence should go ahead and pull out the troops as early as possible. With the US already having announced the pull-out time table from Afghanistan, this will only help save face internally. Second, the President is also likely to convincingly argue for and lead the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan (and perhaps diminish the larger American presence in the Af-Pak region). After all, the earlier rhetoric that the Afghans should be the masters of their own home will have more resonance now. Also, the death of Osama and the end of the War against Terror will become an internal political issue for the next round of Presidential elections in the US. Obama will thus have to look into other issues and devise a larger strategy to address American concerns.
Has the War on Terror really come to an end? This is where one should distinguish between the campaign against Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, and international terrorism. Clearly, the al Qaeda has become ‘the base’ and a source for multiple terrorist organizations and radical groups all over the world, from Spain to the Philippines. These groups function as independent cells in their respective countries and had/have little linkages with the base and Osama. From Madrid to Bali, how many radical leaders have actually met Osama in person?
Both Osama and the al Qaeda have the makings of a phantom, rather than that of a well-knit international organization. Outside the Af-Pak region, many terrorist organizations and radical groups used the al Qaeda as a banner and became its franchisees. The death of Osama obviously is a psychological set back to these groups, but it is unlikely to break their back and resolve to fight moderate forces.
More importantly, Osama and the al Qaeda are not the root causes of terrorism. They are rather an expression of a deeper malady in a particular environment. There are numerous individuals and groups in the Islamic world which share the beliefs that are expressed by the al Qaeda. They consider the US and its allies a primary reason for most of the political ills afflicting their respective countries. Anti-US sentiment is not limited to the al Qaeda alone. There are many outside the al Qaeda who would like to see the US falter and fall. The reasons are too obvious to repeat here.
The War on Terror has in fact just begun. The killing of Osama is a major achievement in this war, but certainly not the end. The US should now go further and complete the process – both politically and militarily. The US President should unveil a strategic road map, highlighting a reconciliation process vis-à-vis the Islamic world.
Obama should also initiate and support a uniform political process starting from Tunisia and Libya to Indonesia and the Philippines. There cannot be different yard sticks for democracy, freedom, human rights and fundamental rights. What is applicable to Egypt and Tunisia should be applicable to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as well. Support for freedom and fundamental rights cannot be selective vis-à-vis select states like Libya and Iran. This needs to be universal. The international community will stand behind Obama if he decides to take the lead.
The US should not abandon the Af-Pak region now and attempt an exit. The exit, if there is any, should be narrowly limited to the withdrawal of troops from the ground. However, there should be a deeper political and economic engagement in these countries, coupled with accountability from political and military actors. This engagement should ensure there is adequate space for liberal and democratic forces, and no support should be given to any military intervention. Unfortunately, the US preferred to work with Zia and Musharraf because they were considered a strategic tool. Worse, between these two dictators, the US preferred to ignore what was happening within Pakistan and outside it, as the Cold War had then just ended.
The US closed its eyes to Pakistan’s antics across the Durand line during the 1990s in terms of propping the Taliban, and in the east, in terms of aiding the militants led by the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen. The US and the rest of the world watched India struggling against terrorism, despite Indian complaints of multiple terrorist attacks.
History should not repeat itself in terms of American engagement in the region with the death of Osama bin Laden. The War on Terror has just begun. Let the US, with support from the rest of the international community; pursue this to its logical end.
D Suba Chandran
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