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 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 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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For the time being just forget about what the Rand Corporation and Fox News has to say on this subject and listen to a cry in the wilderness.

When the towering figure of 20th century psychology, Jean Piaget, found the secrets of human learning and knowledge hidden behind the cute and seemingly illogical notions of children Einstein called it a discovery “so simple that only a genius could have thought of it. [Time March 29, 1999 page 67]

In this world during the course of various human activities we every so often come across some complex situations or problems which prima facie seem insoluable but every now and then we discover that their solution was a simple one. An example of one such problem was that of finding the cause of space shuttle accident in 1986. Richard Feynman, a genious, discovered and demonstrated it on TV that the cause of the accident was just the material of a seal which lost its resilience at temp 32 degrees.

Now you may be wondering what all this has got to do with the issue at hand which is ‘ tackling al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region’. I would say it is most important that we should not forget that the solution to this problem may also be a very simple one. I don’t lay claim to be a genious but I do feel the solution to all this terrorism problem may well be as follows.

a. America should change its foreign policy in the middle east making it more equitable and just for all the stake holders in that region. Currently this policy seems to be biased against Arabs and unduly in favour of Israel. It is the major cause of unrest in the Muslim world and spread of terrorism in the world.

b. America should get out of Iraq and Afghanistan as fast as it can and deal with these countries deplomatically like it deals with other countries.

You will see how America’s move in these two directions has an immedite salutry effect and the tide of terrorism starts receding. I can give detailed reasons for this course of action on the part of America but since the solution is so simple I would like the readers of this post to think about it and decide whether or not what I am proposing makes sense.

You may well say that the policy is sound but the devil is in the details of its implementation. To that I will say the devil in the implementation of present policy of use of force and force alone is much more stubborn, hardy and mischevious.

Posted by Kabir Das | Report as abusive


The RAND report does briefly address this issue. It notes that some people have argued that any attempt to tackle al Qaeda should include a range of tools, including the resolution of the Kashmir and Palestinian conflicts.

But it argues that such a wide-ranging approach does not prioritise a finite amount of resources and attention.

“For example, economic sanctions are rarely effective in changing other states’ behaviour, including on issues related to terrorism,” it says. “In addition, the resolution of conflicts in places such as Kashmir and Palestinian territory may take generations and is not a primary reason for al Qa’ida’s existence or support. We must therefore look elsewhere for an effective strategy that helps prioritise resources and attention.”

Personally, I found this to be one of the more interesting conclusions in the RAND report, which is why I mentioned in my blog that it had set aside the impact of the Kashmir conflict on relations between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

After you raised the issue, I thought it would be useful to provide its comments in more detail. (You can find it in Chapter Seven of the full report if you are interested in looking at it further.)

Posted by Myra MacDonald | Report as abusive

Unfortunately, Colin Powell, who said that it should be called “A Campaign Against Terror,” not a “war,” left us in less than high favor after he let GWB lower him to a mendacious level.
Also unfortunately, the American electorate is more comfortable with John Wayne leading than with George McGovern or Adlai Stevenson; pity because we do have the talent to lead with diplomacy and police and political action. Bernie Kaye

Posted by Bernard Kaye | Report as abusive