Saturday, July 09, 2011

Regional Geopolitics after Laden

The recent American military operation which killed Osama bin Laden has raised many questions related to the deeper truths of the phenomenon of Al Qaeda, Terrorism and role of US in the region. Osama bin Laden, has been the most dreaded name in the annals of terrorism, the chief of Al Qaeda.

Pakistan authorities have been caught in a strange situation. They had been claiming that Osama was not living in Pakistan; there are no terrorists in Pakistan etc. In this backdrop, Osama is found at the walking distance of the famous military academy of Pakistan. The US did not inform Pakistan about the military operation which it undertook on Pakistan’s land. On the top of that US is refusing to apologize for this violation of Pakistan’s air space, for using its military in another country. Now fears are rife that US may do similar things to wipe out Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Due to Pakistan’s lie about Osama’s living in Pakistan, there are voices calling for declaring Pakistan as a terrorist state. Indian army Chief is telling loud and clear that Indian armed forces are also competent to undertake such an operation.

In the whole spectacle created around the death of Osama bin Laden, there is some deeper truth which is hidden from the public eye. It has been the whole game of United States in first helping the creation of Al Qaeda, supporting Osama bin Laden with money and armaments to join the anti Russian forces. While Pakistan has to take the blame for ‘housing’ Osama, the deeper fact is that Pakistan army and ISI had mostly been hands in glove with the US policies for control over the oil wealth of the region.

To counter the Soviet presence in the area, US played a clever political trick. It resorted to encouraging and supporting the militant version of Islam. US-CIA helped set up Madrassas in Pakistan through the ISI. These Madrassas distorted the Islamic words Jihad and Kafir. Osama, a Saudi Arabian Civil engineer was supported to take the lead of Al Qaeda and rest is by now too well known.

Advent of the theory of ‘Clash of Civilizations’, in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War, which subsequently became the guiding principle of US foreign policy, in nutshell stated that the ‘backward Islamic civilization’ is out to attack the advanced Western Civilization. Gorge W. Bush used the word Crusade, in his speech in US Congress in the aftermath of 9/11, 2001, as his cover for attacking Afghanistan and outlined this thesis of Clash of Civilization in simple words, “Americans are asking: why do they hate us? They hate our freedoms-our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

The events of 9/11 opened a gateway to an unexpected future: The war in Afghanistan, which threw NATO’s previous reluctance to go “out of area” out the window; bombings in London and Madrid; the war in Iraq, which descended into brutal sectarian warfare and divided the West; Guantánamo; the surge in violent Islamist extremism globally; and even, most recently, the democratic revolutions of the Arab Spring.

For a time in 2001-02, it looked as if the effort to defeat the terrorists would go quickly. The Afghan Taliban – who had sheltered Al Qaeda – fell from power in a matter of weeks. The siege of the caves at Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden had fled, promised to bring about his demise and a strategic defeat for terrorism.

By late 2003, the Bush administration had learned that “killing the terrorists” was a short-term tactic, not a long-term strategy. But with bin Laden at large, the war on terror was never far from consciousness.

On top of all this, the financial crisis and recession hit America hard and sapped self-confidence. The cost of the wars – compounded by the costs of the financial bailout, economic stimulus, and new legislation – has left America with unprecedented levels of deficits and debt. Under President Obama, the near-successes of the “underwear bomber” and the “Times Square bomber” have reminded the people that the terrorist threat had not receded. The toll on America’s psyche was palpable.

Militant Attack on Pakistan Naval Base

The siege by militants on a Pakistani military base on 23 May has been instrumental in increasing concerns about Islamabad's capacity to protect its nuclear arsenal. The attackers destroyed two high-tech spy aircraft provided by the United States. It took Pakistani authorities the better part of the day to overpower the attackers who were armed with grenades, rocket launchers and guns. The Pakistani Taliban reportedly took credit for the siege, which it said was retaliation for the U.S. killing earlier this month of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Pakistani officials have long asserted that domestic extremist activity does not threaten the nation's nuclear weapons. The warheads are built for delivery by missiles or bombers and are kept at undisclosed facilities generally located throughout Pakistan's Punjab region, according to experts. As retired Pakistani Gen. Talat Masood said recently: "I'm sure there will be concerns around the world about this [attack], there's no doubt about it. I think Pakistan will have to make certain that anything like this cannot be repeated from the standpoint of nuclear installations."

Former U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David Barno said the siege "comes at a tough time for the Pakistani military. Not only was the U.S. able to infiltrate Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden under their noses, now militants attack a Pakistani base. This has a shock value."

Safety of Nuclear Weapons

According to a report published in New York Times on 23 May, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani in recent closed-door discussions with journalists and military experts signaled he wishes to bolster the confidence of the military and eliminate suggestions of inadequacy by increasing antiterrorism operations. The general also underlined multiple times that the nation's nuclear arsenal was well defended, one expert who attended a discussion said.

Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables reportedly show, though, that the United States' chief atomic security concern in Pakistan is that someone employed in the nation's expanding nuclear weapons program could gradually pilfer away enough bomb-grade material to construct a crude weapon for militants.

David Albright, President of Institute for Science and International Security, recently told the Financial Times: "There is more concern about the plutonium and highly enriched-uranium in production facilities and laboratories, which involve considerably more people and facilities that aren't as protected as well as military bases. You (would worry that extremists) could try to size a reactor in order to have a very visible suicide mission where they could threaten to damage the reactor or cause a massive radiation release."

However, according to Mahmud Durrani, one-time Pakistani national security adviser, "The biggest assurance is that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are not deployed. They are kept disassembled and in different locations."

Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at Bradford University, feels that the recent terrorist assault ‘reinforces the fear that terrorists have now developed a range of tactics -- foreknowledge, use of uniforms, simultaneous attacks on different entry points, etc. -- which enable them to penetrate high-security bases and, crucially, hold space within them for hours.’

India’s Worries

Voicing India’s worries about the defenses of nuclear weapons in rival Pakistan following a militant siege this week of a naval base in Karachi, India’s Defense Minister A.K. Antony said: "Naturally it is a concern not only for us but for everybody. Our services are taking all precautions and are ready round-the-clock. But at the same time we don't want to overreact." Though estimates vary, recent analyses indicate Islamabad could hold more than 110 nuclear weapons. The country's is viewed as having the world's fastest growing nuclear arsenal.

Geopolitical Impact

The post-Laden scenario in South Asia and South-West Asia and Central Asia is likely to witness new configuration of powers. The Afghan Taliban may exacerbate tension along Pakistan-Afghanistan border to build pressure on Pakistan not to extend military and logistic support to the US and NATO-led forces. At the same time Tehrik-e-Taliban of Pakistan, which has recently shown its military and strategic clout by occupying Pakistan’s naval base, may also continue to build pressure on Pak military as a diversionary tactics and thereby support their counterparts across the border.

The present situation in Afghanistan is very fragile and at the same time scenario in the neighbouring Pakistan and Iran is also not congenial from regional security and stability perspective. Under these circumstances, both US and NATO-led forces stationed in Afghanistan can ill afford to leave Afghanistan. While continuing its offensive against the insurgents, US should also strengthen Afghan National Forces with proper training and equip them with modern and sophisticated weapons to match their Taliban rivals.

Stability in Pakistan is vital for the peace and security of South and Central Asia. Ruling elite, including military in Pakistan is tasting the fruits of harbouring terrorists on its territory. Common people of Pakistan are the ultimate sufferers of terrorist violence. Islamabad should heed the sane advice from New Delhi and Washington to tame the terrorists having camps on its territory and accede to genuine demands of India for carrying forward the agenda of peace.

Undoubtedly, it will take months, if not years, before the impact of bin Laden’s death is fully understood. However, some broad estimates of impact of post-Laden period, which are based on various media reports:

•Islamist terrorism will not come to an end overnight. But it may no longer be seen as a monolithic menace. One may again be able to distinguish the subtleties.

•Some extremists will vow to fight on, and new terrorist attacks may occur as a result. But for the majority of Muslims in the world, bin Laden is no longer some folk hero, but a radical extremist whose violent ways ultimately led to his death. That is no inspiration.

•By contrast, the real inspiration comes in the form of peaceful protests across the Arab world, by people who do not demand an extremist Islamic caliphate – but instead demand fundamental human rights and political freedoms.

•Americans may begin to come out of their self-doubt and anxiety, and restore that quintessential American determination and optimism that in years past made it the envy of the world.

•Pakistan, which appears to have harbored bin Laden, will have to come to reckoning with its role in the world.

•And Afghanistan, already on a path to assume responsibility for its own security in 2014, must know that the reason for America’s involvement there in the first place has now been eliminated. More and more voices will now say it is time to move on – so Afghanistan had better be ready.

Article by:

Dr Arvind Kumar

India Water Foundation

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