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A recharged jihadism is rising in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Reader comment on item: Red Mosque in Rebellion

Submitted by Billa (India), Aug 22, 2007 at 02:52

In a few weeks, the war in Afghanistan by one count will be six years old. By another, it has been going on for more than three decades. This war has made Afghanistan (especially its southeastern region, along with western Pakistan) the epicenter of global Islamist-jihadist terrorism.

The war during the 1980s, directed, funded and waged for geopolitical reasons through irregular fighters often proudly praised as "mujahideen," led to three significant influences: the propagation of irregular sub-conventional war through terrorism in the name of religion; a phenomenal spread and diffusion of military-specification sophisticated weapons to the jihadist groups; and important perceptions of the outcome of that war.

All these are dominant templates in the current war in Afghanistan, though in an enormously expanded scale that undermines security and stability in the Middle East and beyond. Perhaps the most difficult issue to deal with, having ramifications in terms of its impact on the ongoing war in Afghanistan (and Iraq), are the perceptions of victory and defeat. The Soviet Union pulled out after a decade in a fairly organized manner, leaving behind a well-entrenched Afghan regime with a capable military force that successfully defended its outposts for years. But across the world, especially among Muslim populations, the perception rapidly grew that the jihad waged by Afghan mujahideen had "defeated" a superpower and its surrogate regime in Afghanistan.

Radical jihadist terrorism erupted from the Balkans through Kashmir to the Philippines. An even more radical Taliban was created to unseat the mujahideen regime in Kabul. The 1993 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and other acts of Islamist terrorism were but some of the tragic consequences. Religious terrorism itself became an instrument of policy for many, promoted and propagated by an increasingly fundamentalist army in Pakistan that invoked holy scripture to legitimize terrorism after including "jihad" in its motto.

Unfortunately, despite its enormous military acumen and capability NATO has not, even after six years, succeeded in ensuring peace and security in Afghanistan. If anything, the Taliban show deeply disturbing signs of resurgence; Waziristan in West Pakistan appears to be slipping out of Islamabad's control (which was tenuous at the best of times). The political goals and military objectives of the global war on terrorism, whether achievable or not, appear to be increasingly irrelevant. The failure of NATO to achieve a recognizable "victory" over radical terrorist forces will have far reaching consequences for the region from the Mediterranean to the South China Sea, especially when this happens to coincide with the inability of the sole superpower, even after four years, to win the peace in Iraq.

There are already signs of a replay of the post-Soviet development of Islamic militancy and jihad now that it is clear that NATO and the United States are unlikely to win the war on terrorism. Hizbullah's semi-conventional war last year raining thousands of short-range rockets on the Israeli population is a recent example - in spite of the skillful performance of the Israel air force.

Meanwhile, America's withdrawal of the bulk of its military forces from an Iraq on fire can only add to the two-decade-old belief that Islamic militancy and jihad can defeat even a superpower. Pakistan, which has been playing a major role in the war in Afghanistan, contributing to its radicalization and militancy, is itself facing a defining point in its turbulent history. A weakened army regime, the forthcoming elections, and a patchwork democracy that leaves the army (and its intelligence agencies) free to wield influence, though not accountable for the further growth of terrorism will provide more space for expansion of Taliban and jihadist influence in Pakistan in the coming years.

We need a stable and non-radical Afghanistan if growth of global terrorism is to be reversed. This requires careful crafting and sustained policies to encourage moderate, albeit tribal cultures. The time may have come for a fundamental shift in strategy in Afghanistan from trying to defeat Al-Qaeda to containing the Taliban and insulating the badlands from the rest of the country.

However, even this cannot be done without the full participation of Islamabad on one side and the cooperation of Iran on the other. Current trends read against the backdrop of past lessons indicate that both will be more difficult as time goes by. The US-Iran confrontation on nuclear issues has helped the hard-liners in Tehran to move toward assertive chauvinism. As for Pakistan, a civilian government with little actual power would find it more difficult to curb religious extremism, as indeed was the case through the 1990s.

That's why we may be on the threshold of the further spread of religious extremism and terrorism emanating from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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