Countering al Qaeda, a must-read for Pakistan

July 30, 2008

File photo of Osama bin LadenIt’s probably unusual to link to a report by the RAND Corporation and an op-ed on Foxnews.com in the same blog, but since both address the same subject – tackling al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region – here goes.

The first is a detailed report by RAND called “How Terrorist Groups End”. 

Its analysis of 648 groups that existed between 1968 and 2006 concludes that ”military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, and few groups within this time frame have achieved victory.” Calling for a rethink of U.S. strategy, it argues that policing and intelligence, rather than military force, should form the backbone of U.S. efforts against al Qaeda.”

Pakistan’s leaders have long argued that military force alone can’t work and have sharply rebuffed any suggestion that U.S. troops in Afghanistan might cross its border in pursuit of al Qaeda and the Taliban. “The U.S. military … should generally resist being drawn into combat operations in Muslim societies, since its presence is likely to increase terrorist recruitment,” the report says.  It does however say that military forces, but not necessarily U.S. forces, are a necessary component when al Qaeda is involved in an insurgency.

File photo of Kashmiri children during a gunbattle in Indian KashmirSince the report has been written from a global perspective, its prescriptions do not always fit easily into the Pakistan context. For  example it dismisses the Kashmir conflict as one that may take generations to resolve and  ”not a primary reason” for al Qaeda’s existence or support, without tackling the web of historical, militant and strategic links that bind together the fates of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and India. But it’s packed full of data and analysis and worth reading in full. 

And for those who prefer easier reading and don’t mind the flippant tone, this piece on Foxnews.com caught my eye. The writer, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer, is determinedly irreverent, suggesting for example that North and South Waziristan should be renamed North Fubar and South Fubar.

But his conclusion is far from flippant: “The reality is that U.S. forces can’t operate in the region unilaterally unless we somehow suspend disbelief and decide the risk versus gain is worthwhile,” he says. “The next possibility, U.S. and Pakistani troops fighting side by side against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is also highly unlikely given the backlash the Pakistani government would experience.”

“Over the next year or two we’ll undoubtedly pull troops out of Iraq and add troops to the effort in Afghanistan. That will in all likelihood help to further stabilize that country and allow for continued progress in the development of the infrastructure and government. What it won’t do unfortunately is resolve the problem across the border in Pakistan,” he says.

 

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