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War On Terror: Drama or Real War

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It is looking like the rulers have been staging a "drama" in the name of the war on terror. The statements of politicians and articles by journalists have been strengthening the impression that the war on terror is just a drama.

Now the drama has been taking an ugly turn, at least for the people of tribal areas, as daily hundreds of tribesmen are being killed or maimed, but the rulers are silent.

The poor tribesmen are being subjected to the worst type of terrorism, but the leadership of the United States have been showering laurals on the rulers of Pakistan.

The U.S. leadership is forgetting one thing --  that the presence of terrorists in the tribal areas may cause more horrible catastrophes than that of 9/11.

A New York-based Pakistani writer Arif Rafiq in its dispatch carried out by leading Pakistani newspaper tried his best to prove that the war on terror is a drama. He stated that Pakistan is emerging as a frontline state in yet another war: the battle for the presidency of the United States.

The firestorm caused by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s roundly criticised pledge to violate Pakistani sovereignty should President Musharraf not respond to actionable intelligence concerning Al Qaeda has since subsided. But rather than letting out a sigh of relief, Islamabad should see Obama’s comments as an ominous sign of things to come.

The current US political environment makes Pakistan the ‘perfect culprit’ during high-stress periods in the American “war on terror” and is marked by increased levels of pessimism towards and opposition to the war in Iraq and an imminent, subverted, or successful terror plot against a Western country.

A bi-partisan consensus on Iraq as an irreversible failure, or a successful terrorist attack on European or US interests, could put Pakistan in great difficulty.

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There are two reasons for this push-Pakistan dynamic. First, it is easier to go after identifiable targets than an elusive adversary. Plus a thought is precipitating that the Taliban-Al Qaeda lifeline starts in Pakistan. If Pakistan is not effective in stemming the tide on its side, there is no point mopping up the floor in Afghanistan; the US should attempt to turn off the tap and that lies in Pakistan.

Second, it is election season in the US: partisan sentiments are high, terrorism is a major issue, and American voters prefer strength to weakness. Democrats largely favour a pullout from Iraq, but by no means will lay down their guns. They cannot be seen as pusillanimous, so they will replace ‘a war that cannot be won and should have never been fought’ (in Iraq) with the ‘real war Bush didn’t finish’ (in Pakistan-Afghanistan). The Pakistan card is the Democrats’ means to establish their national security credentials.

Republicans might have little choice but to join the chorus. This is an unlikely scenario and dependent on their abandoning Iraq and the easing of US-Iran tensions. The latter possibility would generate interest in and free up resources to focus on Pakistan and a ‘winnable war’.

But the most dangerous is the potential for unilateral action in Pakistan by the Bush administration. It is conceivable in two scenarios. In the first, a legacy-driven Bush administration in its last year in office is desperate to cap the war on terror and needs a ‘decisive’ achievement. It possesses what it believes trustworthy intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri in the northwest of Pakistan. Pakistan’s ruler at the time is politically, militarily, and psychologically unable to act upon the information.

Seeing its potentially last opportunity to apprehend or eliminate one or both of Al Qaeda’s top two vanishing, Bush authorises one or more of the following against the high-value target(s): a US Predator strike, capture by teams of US Special Forces, or elimination by a not-so-surgical air strike.

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In the second scenario, Al Qaeda successfully attacks the US again and a mix of intelligence, assumptions, and political convenience help Washington conclude that the plot emanated from Pakistan. Not only does the American president authorise actions from scenario one against Al Qaeda in Pakistan, but sees fit and is compelled by political allies, opponents, and public opinion to punish Islamabad diplomatically, economically, and even militarily.

The range of potential punitive actions against Pakistan is wide and the resulting damage even wider. At its worst, Pakistan could be cemented as an economically backward, socially fragmented, politically unstable, militarily weak international pariah for decades.

So what must be done to prevent such a dire outcome? Islamabad must first appreciate that a worst-case scenario is indeed possible. Next, it must take preventative measures to reverse the push on Pakistan trend before it fully takes hold.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)
 

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