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The Real War on Terror

October 28, 2009

President Barack Obama says that he is skinny but that does not mean he is not tough. Maybe he was talking about how he will get tough with terror. One does not need to be a WWF champion to be tough on terror. Obama understands that. The fact is that the US, the western world and other countries are already fighting terror. The perceptions differ. Matthew Hoh, the senior State Department official in Afghanistan’s Zabul province resigned sighting difference in perception as far as the US strategy in its war against terror is concerned. The man has a point. This war on terror has gone all wrong. Western presence in Afghanistan and in Iraq is fuelling terror rather than fighting, or dousing it. There are two instances, however, that give us hope. One is the capture of two men in Chicago plotting overseas attacks and the other is the slapping of charges on the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in Pakistani courts. The visit of Hillary Clinton may have hastened the action against the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks. Her arrival in Pakistan, however, was marked by one of the deadliest bomb attacks in Pakistan in recent history when a suicide attack in Peepal Mandi in Peshawar saw more than 90 people dead and 150 injured. The toll could rise. What the Secretary of State’s visit has done is that the cases have again been started and this I hope will make some useful headway.

The timely arrest of the two men in Chicago was reported thus in the BBC:

Two men from Chicago have been charged with plotting overseas attacks, including on the Danish newspaper which published cartoons about Islam.

David Coleman Headley, 49, and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, 48, were arrested earlier this month. US prosecutors say Mr Headley travelled to Denmark twice to plan an attack on the Jyllands-Posten newspaper offices.

They say he was infuriated by the paper’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2006.

The two men detained belong to the LeT (Lashkar-e-Toiba) which has close links with the al-Quaeda. Hussain is a Pakistani living in Canada. Both received military training in Hasan Abdal Cadet College, the military school run by the Pakistan army. This has raised eyebrows about possible Pakistan establishment involvement. Another instance of Pakistan’s proximity to the various terror groups that thrive there.   They were also planning attacks against India, it is believed. This is the real war on terror, a tangible war on terror.

The resignation of Matthew Hoh, however, has come as an embarrassment to the Obama administration. The situation is compounded by the fact that what Hoh has to say is not being disputed by many in the State Department. The wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq have become an intractable issue and one that will need to be tackled soon. This reminds one of Vietnam and the horror that the war was for not only those fighting there but also the people back home. Matthew Hoh’s resignation was reported thus by the BBC:

A senior US diplomat involved in Afghanistan has become the first American official to resign in protest over the eight-year war, saying it was fuelling the insurgency in the war-torn country.

“I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the US’ presence in Afghanistan,” said Matthew Hoh, who was the senior State Department official in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, a hotbed for Taliban militants.

“To put simply, I fail to see the value or the worth in the continued US causalities or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year-old civil war,” Hoh wrote in his resignation letter last month that has been made public.

People are increasingly veering to the perception that American presence in Iraq and in Afghanistan does not necessarily make America and the rest of the world a safer place. This past month more than 55 American soldiers have lost their lives. Obama quipped that he will not unnecessarily put on line the lives of Americans in Afghanistan. He could have added Iraq too. One can see that Obama is finding it difficult to decide as to what to do. He is dithering, someone said. That could be disastrous for the campaign in Afghanistan. If the top leadership is unsure, then that sends a very wrong signal to the world. This will embolden the terrorists and will show that the world does not have the resolve to take them on.

The recent attacks in Baghdad where more than 160 people lost their lives including 30 children and the attack on the UN building in Kabul, which has seen a few foreigners having been taken hostage is a stark reminder of the gravity of the situation. I had earlier advocated a quick and seamless withdrawal of American and western forces from both Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan more so, as this is one war that the west may never be able to win. The recent developments have shown that the situation in Afghanistan is much more difficult than previously thought. The west can however afford to withdraw from Afghanistan in the knowledge that the Taliban will take over major chunk of the country. Such a development is manageable. It is Iraq that will blow up in the face of the world were the west to withdraw completely. On Iraq there is a need to ensure that there is a consensus among the various powers. American withdrawal from Iraq is going to be a much trickier business.

There are no two ways now that the real war on terror has to be fought on our territory and not in a foreign land. The need of the hour is to screen all foreigners and to make sure that our internal intelligence and information gathering takes precedence over everything else. Sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan does not make our countries safer. This may have an opposite effect. The strategic considerations must be taken stock of in the firm knowledge that the west cannot afford to remain in Iraq and in Afghanistan forever. And if that is the case, why not withdraw right now. There are issues though and the withdrawal should be hastened taking into account the needs of the region. It will also depend on how the situation in Iran pans out. Once the Iran question is taken care of, I guess, the west can then withdrawal forthwith. Unless the skinny man is out to prove that he is tough and adamantly decides to stay on in the inhospitable land without any thought. But that is very unlikely to happen. The way the situation is deteriorating day by day, it is very likely that Obama will have little difficulty in making the right decision.

Update 30.10.2009: The case of the two LeT men detained from Chicago is getting curiouser and curiouser by the day. It now appears that they knew the head of the Pakistani consulate in Chicago very well. In fact all three had gone to the same military school in Pakistan. The other aspect that has raised the hackles of the security agencies here in India is the fact that in their communiques both mention one ‘Rahul’. The Indian agencies are wondering as to who this ‘Rahul’ could be. Conjectures have thrown up different names one of them being that of  Shah Rukh Khan who has played the character named ‘Rahul’ in at least six of his movies. Indian intelligence wants to talk to these terrorists separately. The question is why? Are they afraid of divulging facts that are inconvenient? It may be recalled that a couple of months back Shah Rukh Khan was detained at the Newark- New Jersey airport when he was about to fly for Chicago. He was questioned for quiet sometime till the Indian embassy intervened. The LeT is known to have sympathizers across the world. The challenge is to get to the bottom of it all so that terrorism can be nipped in the bud. In the meantime the US has again issued an advisory to all its citizens against travelling to India, fearing an imminent attack.

A hazy picture has been released by the al-Quaeda and it appears to be that of Osama bin Laden. Till such time that these organizations keep cocking a snook at international community this way, I reckon it will be very difficult for the US and the west to vacate the space in Afghanistan, and even in Iraq.

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