THE SHIFTING BATTLE LINES IN WAR AGAINST TERRORISM
May 04, 2012
President Bill Clinton rightly cautioned sometime in 1990s that terrorism is a problem which has to be managed not eliminated. His successor in the Whitehouse made too much of something which could have been tackled without much blustering and blabbering. A single man alone could cause so much politicking in the US and drain the financial resources to nab or kill some one was hardly imaginable in the past decades when the US focused primarily on its global rival, Soviet Union.
It was for the first time that CIA had a cell wholly devoted to keep tabs on an individual, but could not succeed in catching or killing him before he inflicted considerable damage to the prestige of the country. After spending ten years placing a crushing burden on the national kitty and shedding blood of scores of its soldiers and thousands of innocent civilians in the extended theatre of war on terrorism i.e. Pakistan and Afghanistan, the most wanted man, Osama Bin Ladin, was killed in the dark of the night and then swooped away by the raiding commandos to be consigned to the ocean lest the earth should throw him up to wreak havoc again.
Bin Ladin’s death was certainly greeted as the turning moment by the US and its Western allies, but for Pakistan it turned out to be a moment of reckoning illustrated by its relations with the US. Osama is gone but the ominous shadow cast over the working chemistry between Pakistan and the US by his death is proving to be a task hard to cope with for both sides. Diplomacy is trailing behind to clean up the mess created by the defence establishments from both sides. In fact, the current bad patch in the ties was already testing the limits on both sides when Bin Ladin was found, what President Obama termed, “deep inside Pakistan.” The damage control is under way but small pinpricks are causing the balloon to burst in the absence of mutual trust and more importantly the shared commitment and common goals to counter the menace of terrorism.
A million dollar question is whether the world is a safer place after Bin Ladin? One needs a blinkered vision to answer this question in the affirmative. Bin Ladin had already been rendered inoperational as a sort of shadow commander in Al-Qaeda after the deposition of the Taliban regime. Al-Qaeda after 9/11 was fighting a battle of survival, not the battle to stamp its agenda as it was concerned with before 9/11. The success of Al-Qaeda was that it did not let the US succeed in its stated goal to liquidate the outfit. After Bin Ladin’s death, the organisation’s hard core operatives are now establishing themselves in Yemen, the ancestral home of its founder which happens to be in the midst of revolutionary upsurge after the stepping down of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh’s last battlecry was that extremists are coming to replace him but it did not prove to be sufficient to galvanize the outside support he needed at that time.
It is a fateful coincidence that Bin Ladin’s death came at a time when the popular upsurge in the Arab World is in full swing. The Islamist parties and groups are already busy filling the vacuum created by the downfall of secular autocratic regimes. Al-Qaeda is lacking the popular appeal to jump to the political centrestage to give legitimacy to its vision and worldview, but it has been observed that in places like Libya and Iraq, the activists or at least sympathisers of the group are busy in spreading their message. Yemen constitutes a different case compared with the rest of the Arab World when viewed against the backdrop of Al-Qaeda’s presence and its impact on the recent upsurge. Here the group has acquired a renewed strength and feels emboldened after Saleh’s exit from power. Yemen is going to be a next battleground between Al-Qaeda and its opponents. The resurgence of the group is going to be a main task of its leadership in Yemen where power tussle is mainly between the secular forces and the Islamists, of whom most powerful happens to be Al-Qaeda, although the tribal affiliations also come strong in the deadly mix of fighting forces. Al-Qaeda is going to push hard to make its mark in Yemen no matter how far it has to go because in Pakistan’s tribal areas and Afghanistan, the issue of militancy is once again localized with the Taliban taking the matters in their own hands.
After the passage of a year since Bin Ladin’s death, it is safe to assume and assert that the man is gone, but his ghost is still alive haunting the hard wanton killers and the soft willing captors. The US might have thought that after Bin Ladin’s death, there is going to be a major breakthrough in the war against terrorism. But hard ground realities seem to have defied all predictions and defeated future calculations with regard to combat mission in Afghanistan. Alkaeda’s sanctuaries have been simply taken over by the Taliban fighters not eliminated as hoped and planned by the US. The US is all set to pack up its mission in Afghanistan, but it does not have stomach to initiate similar anti-terrorism campaign to hunt down the Alkaeda militants in Yemen. Reliance on drones alone is not going to produce the desired outcome in Yemen and putting ground forces there is not a possibility in near future.
Alkaeda has lost its leader but found a new safe haven more secure because it is going to be home territory for its ragtag warriors. Yemen with its restive population living at margins on account of rampant unemployment and poverty is going to be a fertile ground for Al-Qaeda, hence the group is determined to seek power and sustenance from this new sanctuary, opening a new battle-front in war against terrorism or whatever label is given by the US and its allies after their withdrawal from Afghanistan.