Pakistan and Afghanistan: “the bad guys don’t stay in their lanes”
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.”
Many have argued against this view of international terrorism as a new and nebulous Islamist network without obvious political objectives, which found its most powerful expression in al Qaeda. Just as Lashkar-e-Taiba grew out of rivalry between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the GIA sprang from anger about the annulment of elections in Algeria that an Islamist group was poised to win. Its attacks on Paris in the mid 1990s were seen as a reprisal for France’s role in supporting the government in its former colony. Many of those who support al Qaeda and other Islamist groups are driven by anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other perceived injustices across the Middle East.
Yet if he is right that the United States and its allies are facing a loose international network of Islamists with no clear pyramid structure, then it would suggest that no amount of drone bombing of al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership of the kind promoted by counter-terrorism supporters would work. Nor would it be enough, alone, to address political grievances at a national level without taking account of a network which operates globally and does not recognise the validity of the nation state. Rather, you would need a sophisticated and comprehensive strategy which went far beyond the kind of focused counter-terrorism first used by the Bush administration.
Browsing through the New Yorker profile on U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, I noticed the same argument was raised there:
“A pure counter-terror approach had, in fact, been the Bush Administration’s policy for years: kill or capture terrorist leaders, with minimal support for political institutions in Kabul and Islamabad,” it said. “It had created the mess that (President Barack) Obama inherited, with two countries under threat from insurgents and Al Qaeda’s strength increasing.
“‘Al Qaeda doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” it quoted former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, who led Obama’s first review of strategy, as saying. “They’re part of a syndicate of terrorist groups. Selective counterterrorism won’t get you anywhere, because the bad guys don’t stay in their lanes.”
(Photos: Jean-Louis Bruguiere; Pervez Musharraf, the Taj in Mumbai, the Marriot in Islamabad)