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Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Failed airline attack raises fresh questions about battle against al Qaeda

departuresIn the absence of a coherent narrative about the failed Christmas Day attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the debate about how best to tackle al Qaeda and its Islamist allies has once again been thrown wide open.

Does it support those who want more military pressure to deprive al Qaeda of its sanctuary on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, or suggest a more diffuse threat from sympathisers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa? Should the United States open new fronts in emerging al Qaeda bases such as Yemen and Somalia, or focus instead on the fact that the attempted airline attack did not succeed, suggesting al Qaeda's ability to conduct mass-casualty assaults on U.S. territory has already been severely degraded in the years since 9/11?

The evidence so far about the attempt by 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to set off an explosive device on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit can  pretty much be stacked up in favour of whatever argument you want to make.

Abdulmutallab was from a wealthy family in Nigeria, where al Qaeda and its Islamist allies have been trying to make inroads, by and large unsuccessfully so far. Residents in his family home town said they believed he was radicalised during his studies abroad, which included education at a British boarding school in Togo, followed by a course in engineering at the prestigious University College London.  He would not be the first educated young man to be inspired by Islamist radicalism in London -- among those who came before him was Omar Sheikh, convicted for the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Can China help stabilise Pakistan?

forbidden cityWhen President Barack Obama suggested in Beijing last month that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed to "all of South Asia", much of the attention was diverted to India, where the media saw it as inviting unwarranted Chinese interference in the region.

But what about asking a different question? Can China help stabilise the region?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and Afghanistan:how do al Qaeda and the Taliban respond?

peshawar twoIn openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.

"Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption - even now, after eight years of war - that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive," he writes.  

from The Great Debate:

War and Peace, by Barack Obama

Bernd Debusmann-- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

It is a timeline rich in irony. On Dec. 10, Barack Obama will star at a glittering ceremony in Oslo to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. That's just nine days after he ordered 30,000 additional American troops into a war many of his fellow citizens think the U.S. can neither win nor afford.

from Afghan Journal:

Afghanistan: sending the young to war

President Barack Obama's announcement that the United States will begin pulling its troops out Afghanistan in 2011 provides a good opportunity to look back and study history. This will, after all, be the second time Afghans have bid farewell to a superpower, and Nikolai Gvosdev in Foreign Affairs offers an interesting take on what happened the last time, when the Soviets pulled out in 1989.   A portrait of former Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah is pasted up inside a window in Kabul on Dec. 11, 2009. Najibullah, who clung to power for three years after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and was hung from a traffic lamp by the Taliban is now a popular figure among many Afghans who remember his rule as a gentler time than life under the warring factions that toppled him. Photo by Peter Graff, Reuters.  

The man the Soviets left in charge was Mohammad Najibullah, who clung to power for three more years, then sheltered for another four years in the U.N. compound in Kabul, before finally ending up strung up by the Taliban from a Kabul traffic lamp in 1996. Najibullah's grisly end means his career hardly seems like one that President Hamid Karzai would want to emulate. Yet Gvosdev's account is a reminder that Najibullah actually held on to power far longer than most in the West expected. His government in fact actually outlasted the Soviet Union itself, which collapsed in 1991.

In Gvosdev's account, the key to Najibullah's success lay in part in lavishing funds on tribal and provincial chiefs. That tactic became impossible after the Soviet Union disintegrated and the money dried up. Even so, Najibullah might have still hung on had Pakistan not been given free rein by the West to back the Mujahideen that unseated him.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: the missing piece in the Afghan jigsaw

One year ago, I asked whether then President-elect Barack Obama's plans for Afghanistan still made sense after the Mumbai attacks torpedoed hopes of a regional settlement involving Pakistan and India. The argument, much touted during Obama's election campaign, was that a peace deal with India would convince Pakistan to turn decisively on Islamist militants, thereby bolstering the United States flagging campaign in Afghanistan.

As I wrote at the time, it had always been an ambitious plan to convince India and Pakistan to put behind them 60 years of bitter struggle over Kashmir as part of a regional solution to many complex problems in Afghanistan.  Had the Mumbai attacks pushed it out of reach? And if so, what was the fall-back plan?

from Afghan Journal:

Can the West salvage Karzai’s reputation?

karzai

That sure was fast.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told American TV audiences that Afghan President Hamid Karzai needed to take steps to fight graft, including setting up a new anti-corruption task force, if he wants to keep U.S. support. Less than 24 hours later, there was Karzai’s interior minister at a luxury hotel in Kabul -- flanked by the U.S. and British ambassadors -- announcing exactly that. A new major crimes police task force, anti-corruption prosecution unit and special court will be set up, at least the third time that Afghan authorities and their foreign backers have launched special units to tackle corruption.

There are just a couple of days left before Karzai is inaugurated for a new term as president. Perhaps a few more days after that, U.S. President Barack Obama will announce whether he is sending tens of thousands of additional troops to join the 68,000 Americans and 40,000 NATO-led allies fighting there.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and Afghanistan: “the bad guys don’t stay in their lanes”

Given the debate about whether the United States should refocus its strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan more narrowly on hunting down al Qaeda, it's worth looking at what happened immediately after 9/11 when it did precisely that.   In a new book about his years fighting terrorism, former French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere casts fresh light on those early years after 9/11. At the time, he says, the Bush administration was so keen to get Pakistan's help in defeating al Qaeda that it was willing to turn a blind eye to Pakistani support for militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to fight India in Kashmir.   Basing his information on testimony given by jailed Frenchman Willy Brigitte, who spent 2-1/2 months in a Lashkar training camp in 2001/2002, he writes that the Pakistan Army once ran those camps, with the apparent knowledge of the CIA. The instructors in the camp in Pakistan's Punjab province were soldiers on detachment, he says, and the army dropped supplies by helicopter. Brigitte's handler, he says, appeared to have been a senior army officer who was treated deferentially by other soldiers.   CIA officers even inspected the camp four times, he writes, to make sure that Pakistan was keeping to a promise that only Pakistani fighters would be trained there. Foreigners like Brigitte were tipped off in advance and told to hide up in the hills to avoid being caught.   Reluctant to destabilise Pakistan, then under former president Pervez Musharraf, the United States turned a blind eye to the training camps and poured money into the country. In return, Pakistan hunted down al Qaeda leaders -- among them alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in 2003. "For the Bush administration, the priority was al Qaeda," writes Bruguiere. "The Pakistan Army and the ISI would focus on this - external - objective, which would not destabilise the fragile political balance in Pakistan."   Pakistan denies that it gave military support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and has banned the organisation. But India at the time accused western countries of double standards in tolerating Pakistani support for Kashmir-focused organisations while pushing it to tackle groups like al Qaeda which threatened Western interests. Diplomats say that attitude has since changed, particularly after bombings in London in 2005 highlighted the risks of "home-grown terrorism" in Britain linked to Kashmir-oriented militant groups based in Pakistan's Punjab province.   Last year's attack on Mumbai, blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and more recently the arrest in Chicago of David Headley, linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and accused of planning attacks in Denmark and India (pdf document), has underlined international concern about the threat posed by the group.   But for Bruguiere, one of the major lessons was that Islamist militants can't be separated into "good guys and bad guys", since they were all inter-linked.    "You should take into account, this is crucial, very, very important," Bruguiere told me in an interview. "Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistan movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand the violence worldwide."   Bruguiere said he became aware of the changing nature of international terrorism while investigating attacks in Paris in the mid-1990s by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These included an attempt to hijack a plane from Algiers to Paris in 1994 and crash it into the Eiffel Tower -- a forerunner of the 9/11 attacks. The plane was diverted to Marseilles and stormed by French security forces.

This new style of international terrorism was quite unlike militant groups he had investigated in the past, with their pyramidal structures. "After 1994/1995, like viruses, all the groups have been spreading on a very large scale all over the world, in a horizontal way and even a random way," he said. "All the groups are scattered, very polymorphous and even mutant."

Gone were the political objectives which drove terrorism before, he writes, to be replaced with a nihilistic aim of spreading chaos in order to create the conditions for an Islamic caliphate. For the hijackers on the Algiers-Paris flight, their demands seemed almost incidental. "We realised we faced the language of hatred and a total determination to see it through."

from Afghan Journal:

Afghanistan: neither Vietnam nor Iraq, but closer home perhaps

AFGHANISTAN/

[Women at a cemetery in Kabul, picture by Reuters' Ahmad Masood]

As U.S. President Barack Obama makes up his mind on comitting more troops to Afghanistan, the search for analogies continues. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot be compared with Vietnam or Iraq  beyond a point. The history, geography, the culture and the politics are just too different.

The best analogy to Afghanistan may well the very area in dispute - the rugged Pashtun lands straddling the border with Pakistan and where  the Pakistani army is in the middle of an offensive, argues William Tobey in a piece for Foreign Policy.

from UK News:

Drawing the line against the Taliban

afghan1Fight them there or fight them here?

Former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells poses the question in the Guardian in a piece made grimly relevant by Wednesday's shooting dead of  five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman.

Howells says troops should be brought back from Afghanistan and that the billions of pounds saved should be used to beef up homeland security in Britain -- drawing the front line against al Qaeda around the UK rather than thousands of miles away in Helmand province.

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