Special Feature - Terror Attack Aftermath

Credibility, Diplomacy and Military Reality
Conflict Will Follow Taliban's Fall
'With Us, or With the Terrorists':
A new New World Order?

 

Credibility, Diplomacy and Military Reality
2220 GMT, 011016

Summary

As the U.S. air campaign shifts to attacks on Taliban troops, Washington is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain both broad international support and cooperation from the various factions on the ground in Afghanistan. While the former requires the United States to dial back on the air war, the later requires credible evidence that Washington will remain committed to the battle at hand. Balancing these coalition-building needs with the military realities of Afghanistan leaves Washington with few good choices.

Analysis

As the U.S. air campaign shifts to attacks on Taliban troops, the Bush administration finds itself increasingly trapped between its grand strategy of international coalition-building, its internal Afghan strategy of energizing anti-Taliban forces and a complex and difficult military reality. The easy part of the war is over for Washington; the hard part is starting.

Coalition-building is the foundation for all American warfighting in Eurasia. It is partly driven by America's desire to position itself as the leading power of a broad international movement opposed to a particular nation -- be it Iraq, Yugoslavia or Afghanistan.

This desire is driven by more than sentiment. Whenever the United States goes to war in Eurasia, its forces automatically and overwhelmingly are outnumbered by those of the country it is fighting. Even if the adversary is technically primitive, numbers still count. The United States needs to bolster its forces with allies for military as well as psychological reasons.

Should things go badly and reinforcements be required, other, closer nations would be in a position to supply them before the United States could do so. In a sense, the United States is always in search of sufficient numbers on the ground to supplement its air power, logistics and technology. This was true in World War II, during the Cold War and today.

The United States is creating two different coalitions. On the one hand, it is trying to build a coalition of nations -- particularly Islamic nations -- to share the warfighting burden, or failing that, to allow the United States to wage war from their territory. Failing even that, they could at least provide moral support. On the other hand, Washington is trying to build a coalition inside Afghanistan to stand and fight the Taliban. Indeed, the administration hopes to split off elements of the Taliban itself for inclusion in the coalition.

Each of these coalition partners is now demanding completely contradictory things. Key Islamic countries are publicly calling for an end to the bombing of Afghanistan. These countries -- including Saudi Arabia, which is important to U.S. warfighting -- think the air campaign is excessive. They accept the notion that the United States has a right to pursue al Qaeda. They will even accept the notion that the Taliban regime is a legitimate target. But the general bombardment of Afghanistan, which will inevitably result in civilian casualties, puts them in a difficult position.

These regimes, having broken ranks with another Islamic government -- in this case the Taliban -- face serious potential problems at home if they are seen as supporting the American attack on a Muslim population. Thus, several key allies have either publicly called for a cessation of bombing or have privately pressed the United States to end the attacks.

For Pakistan in particular -- and Pakistan is the most important of all the allies -- the bombing has a double edge.

First, it generates serious opposition to the regime of President Pervez Musharraf from Taliban supporters in Pakistan, as well as from those who cannot side with a non-Muslim nation attacking Muslims. Second, and of equal importance, the fact that the bombing pattern is shifting to attacks on Taliban troops north of Kabul is particularly worrisome. If U.S. bombardment breaks the back of Taliban resistance, the Northern Alliance will be able to attack and seize Kabul. Pakistan intensely dislikes the Northern Alliance and would be appalled to see it increase its power.

Clearly, keeping the international coalition together while bombing is going on is extremely difficult.

The United States has exactly the opposite problem inside Afghanistan. Many of the tribes and factions that Washington is trying to recruit into an anti-Taliban coalition recall the United States less than fondly. The United States supported them with weapons and supplies from Pakistan during their war with the Soviets. Once that war was over -- coinciding with the collapse of communism -- the United States lost interest and left them to their own devices. One result of this is, of course, the Taliban government.

The Afghan opposition remembers quite well what they see as a betrayal. They also remember that the United States was prepared to fight to the last drop of Afghan blood. The U.S. supplied training and perhaps some support inside Afghanistan but would neither commit forces to the battle nor absorb casualties. From the Afghan viewpoint, this was one reason the United States could withdraw and lose interest so easily: It simply didn't have much skin in the game.

Inside Afghanistan, the current bombardment appears to be more of the same. The United States has, thus far, carried out a bloodless campaign, at least from the American side. Not only has the air campaign not cost American lives, but it also has not -- at least thus far -- offered the prospects for a sustained ground campaign. U.S. airpower has consisted of three elements: cruise missiles, strategic area bombardment and carrier-based aircraft. All of these are extremely useful. None of them satisfies the needs of a ground war.

What the Afghans want to see is close air support, delivered by tactical fighters and helicopter gunships in sufficient numbers to provide meaningful support and in sufficient proximity to provide real-time intervention. Strategic air power and naval air power are not useful for close air support at the ranges involved. When a firefight breaks out, close air support needs to be minutes away. Right now it isn't, and the Afghans know it. U.S. dollars are undoubtedly buying support from chieftains and warlords around Afghanistan, but no amount of money can generate confidence as military commitment can.

The Afghans certainly know that they will have to carry the bulk of the fighting if they go to war with the Taliban. They also know many of their engagements will be without air support. What they are not sure of is whether the United States is utterly committed to this war. The United States has a huge credibility problem in Afghanistan among the people it wants to induce into its coalition.

In order to hold its international coalition together, the United States is under pressure to cut back or halt the bombing. In order to create its Afghan coalition, the United States is under pressure not only to increase the bombing but also to shift to a type of aerial warfare that is more intimate with the terrain -- and therefore more risky. Taking risks builds confidence inside Afghanistan. That confidence will be the precondition for a successful coalition.

Washington has now offered a limited show of such a commitment, bringing an AC-130 gunship into play over Kandahar Oct. 16. The United States will need to show very clearly that this was not a one-time affair. Further, it will have to demonstrate an ability to bring in more time-critical aircraft, planes that can respond to events and intelligence on the ground in tens of minutes.

The problem is that deeper U.S. involvement -- for which the United States is certainly prepared -- requires cooperation from neighboring countries other than former states of the Soviet Union. In other words, it needs Pakistani cooperation. Substantial close air support has to be land-based, and the closest place for quick-response times is Pakistan. The same is true for ground forces. But it is not clear that Pakistan or any of the United States' Islamic allies can tolerate an intense and extended war in Afghanistan.

In other words, the precondition for building the internal Afghan coalition is that the international coalition must permit the United States to do things the international coalition can't tolerate. Thus, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Pakistan in hopes of inducing a change in Islamabad's core posture. If that proves unsuccessful, the United States will pound the Taliban fighters as hard as it can, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them -- while trying to minimize causalities. The hope, which may well be realized, is that the strategic bombardment coupled with non-time-critical, tactical air attacks (such as those involving F-18s and AC-130s) will break the back of the Taliban quickly.

If not, winter is coming. Strategic air power might be enough to give the Northern Alliance the road into Kabul. The United States will be able to end the campaign in November with a non-trivial victory and months to work on its coalition problems, inside and outside of Afghanistan.

But Islamic countries remain the key. If they simply cannot buy into a sustained war, the United States will have trouble building its coalition inside Afghanistan. The solution would be for indigenous Afghans to go public with their support for the U.S. attacks, making their own struggle that of the Islamic world. That might get the Saudis and Pakistanis off the hook. Perhaps.

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Conflict Will Follow Taliban's Fall
1630 GMT, 011009

Summary

The United States has begun its military campaign in Afghanistan without first forging a post-Taliban regime. Although opposition forces will take advantage of U.S. air strikes to attempt to drive the Taliban from power, this will only usher in another round of fighting among the victors. Because the United States needs a friendly and stable regime in Kabul to facilitate its primary mission of rooting out Osama bin Laden and his Afghan Arabs, it will find itself drawn into an attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan. This is an intractable problem that could draw the United States into a lengthy, costly and ultimately doomed engagement in Afghanistan at the expense of its primary mission.

Analysis

The United States on Oct. 7 began an active military campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The move was premature -- driven by the approach of Ramadan and winter -- and the United States had not yet locked down political support or deployed the forces necessary for sustained combat. But Washington could not afford to wait until next spring to begin operations.
U.S. Attacks Boost Northern Alliance Offensive

U.S. air strikes on the Taliban greatly improve the ability of the opposition Northern Alliance to wage war on the ground. The group appears to be working closely with Washington and will focus its attacks on the northern cities of Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

As the first round of cruise missiles slammed into targets in Kandahar, the United States and Pakistan had yet to settle on a successor regime to the Taliban. The deep fractures remaining among the Afghan factions opposing the Taliban, as well as competition between the countries that sponsor them, will return to haunt the United States as it attempts to achieve its military goals in Afghanistan, and later as it attempts to disengage from that conflict.

Reports from Afghanistan indicate that opposition forces already are capitalizing on the U.S. strikes. Within an hour after the first air strikes, Northern Alliance troops based at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, began Katyusha rocket attacks against Taliban positions in the surrounding mountains. Northern Alliance officials and spokesmen in Tajikistan told reporters that they had received forewarning of the U.S. strikes and are acting in close coordination with the United States. Rahimullah, an official in the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, said the Northern Alliance may coordinate with U.S. air strikes to attempt to move into Kabul, the Associated Press reported.

Other Afghans are apparently rebelling against the Taliban as well. Several local commanders have reportedly defected from the Taliban. And according to the Iranian news agency IRNA, fighting has erupted between residents of the western border town of Ziranj and Taliban forces in the wake of the U.S. strikes.

Although there may be signs of promise for the U.S. effort to topple the Taliban, there is little to suggest that a viable plan is in place to replace the regime. The United States and Pakistan remain divided over the preferred composition of a post-Taliban regime, Russia and Iran have their own ideas and the various Afghan factions are not necessarily inclined to cooperate with any externally imposed scheme.

The Taliban could be driven from power, but that will only mark the beginning of U.S. problems in Afghanistan. If the United States is to achieve its minimum stated goal of purging radical militants from Afghanistan, it will have to work with a post-Taliban regime. To do so, Washington will likely get dragged into trying to forge a stable Afghan government. Given the factors standing in the way of that mission, the United States may find itself bogged down in nation-building instead of militant-hunting.

Geography

Geography is perhaps the main factor standing in the way of a unified Afghanistan. The country is nearly bisected by the Hindu Kush mountain range, running southwest to northeast through its center. Lowlands surround the mountains in an arc. Military resistance has historically been strong in the mountains, making it extremely difficult to link the northern and southern halves of Afghanistan. Compounding the problem, Afghanistan's generally poor infrastructure diminishes to almost nothing in the mountains, which are largely inaccessible to motorized vehicles.

When the Taliban first entered Afghanistan, they pressed north from Kandahar to Kabul, where their advance was balked north of the capital. There, the eastern plains taper to a mountain-ringed cul de sac. The valuable Bagram air base is located on the plain north of Kabul, and north of that is the mouth of the Salang Tunnel -- the main pass from Kabul to northern Afghanistan.

This is a perennial killing zone, where Tajik forces emerge from the Panjshir Valley to the northeast, Hazaras occupy the mountains to the northwest and Pushtuns press north from Kabul. Unable to continue north from Kabul, the Taliban then swept southwest, skirting the mountains to take Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif before arriving north of Kabul.

Afghanistan is also landlocked, rendering any government and any opposition dependent on one or more of the six neighboring states for trade and transit. Afghanistan's borders are generally porous, making smuggling easy for any aspiring opposition force.

Finally, Afghanistan is geographically significant in the strategic calculations of its neighboring states. It is a crossroads for legal and illegal trade from Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East. It is also a buffer between these regions. Afghanistan's strategic value has enticed foreign powers to meddle in it for centuries.

Ethnic Competition

Ethnic divisions run a close second among factors keeping Afghanistan divided. Afghanistan is home to several major ethnic groups, the most prominent of which are the Pushtuns, who make up 38 percent of the population. The Pushtuns are divided into two main branches: the Durrani and the Ghilzai. Tajiks make up 25 percent of the Afghan population, while the Hazara comprise 19 percent. Uzbeks are the final major ethnic group in Afghanistan, at 6 percent, while the remaining 12 percent of the population are drawn from a host of tribal and ethnic groups -- including the Aimaks, Baloch and Turkmen.

Language and religion divide Afghans as well. Nearly all Afghans are Muslim, though 84 percent are Sunni and 15 percent -- primarily the Hazara -- are Shiite. Language reflects the geographic and ethnic divisions of the country. Some 35 percent speak Pushtu, 50 percent speak Dari -- an Afghan variant of Persian -- and 11 percent speak Turkik languages, primarily Uzbek or Turkmen. Thirty minor languages are spoken in Afghanistan.

Though there is some distribution across Afghanistan, the major ethnic groups are concentrated in geographically distinct regions of the country. The Pushtuns occupy the southern plains, from around Herat in the west through Kandahar to Kabul. Within that territory, the Ghilzai Pushtuns are concentrated in the eastern provinces, near Kabul and along the Pakistani border.

The Tajiks are concentrated in the northeast, from Kabul to around Feizabad and into the Pamir Mountains, with smaller concentrations around Herat and scattered in the southwest. The Hazara live primarily in the Hindu Kush, centered around Bamiyan. The Uzbeks are concentrated in the north, around Mazar-e-Sharif, Baghlan and Kunduz, and the Turkmen occupy the strip along the border with Turkmenistan.

Afghanistan's politico-military factions also are formed around ethnic and geographic lines. Until his assassination in early September, Ahmad Shah Massoud led the Tajik armies from his base in the Panjshir Valley. Gen. Rashid Dostum leads a predominantly Uzbek army. The Hizb e Wahadat army represents the Hazaras.

The Taliban members are, for the most part, Durrani Pushtun, though they have been reaching out recently to the Ghilzai Pushtun in hopes of precluding the rise of opposition in areas under their control. Pakistani daily The News quoted Taliban minister Rahmatullah Wahidyar recently as saying the Taliban regime was ready to share power with tribal leaders in the eastern provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika.

Foreign Intervention

Competition for control of Afghanistan among neighboring and colonial powers has been heated for centuries. Arabs, Persians, Mongols and Greeks invaded Afghanistan. The Great Game pitted the United Kingdom against imperial Russia for control of Afghanistan's trade and transit routes. The Soviet Union tried to secure Afghanistan as a base within reach of the Straits of Hormuz. And since shortly after the end of the Cold War, Pakistan has nurtured the Taliban as a proxy for control of access to Central Asia.

This struggle for control is only heightened by the potential collapse of the Taliban, and this is reflected in deep disagreements between the United States, Pakistan, Iran and Russia over the eventual composition of a successor regime.

The United States initially sought to draw on the combat potential of the Northern Alliance to topple the Taliban, while building a post-Taliban government around exiled King Mohammad Zahir Shah. The idea was that Zahir Shah, a Durrani Pushtun, could bring together the Pushtuns of the south and the primarily Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek Northern Alliance.

The Northern Alliance was not amused with this arrangement and has refused to cut a power-sharing deal with the king. Not only was the burden of fighting put on its forces, with the benefits of rule falling to a Pushtun, but Zahir Shah is no even-handed Pushtun moderate. He has been a vocal proponent of a greater Pushtun nation, a stance that has alienated even the Pakistani government.

The Durrani Pushtuns ruled Afghanistan from the late 1700s to the early 1970s, and the Taliban nearly succeeded in resuming that reign. The Northern Alliance rejected the Taliban's efforts to create a Pushtun-dominated state almost more than it rejected the Taliban's religious extremism. For them, Zahir Shah is little better.

Instead, the Northern Alliance is moving swiftly to take advantage of the U.S. air strikes, seize Kabul and present their government as a fait accompli. After all, the Northern Alliance includes the exiled government of President Burhanuddin Rabanni, which the United Nations continues to recognize as legitimate.

Pakistan, eager to maintain its grip on Afghanistan, initially proposed a plot for a coup by former foreign minister Mullah Mohammed Hasan Akhund against Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, according to a Tehran-datelined article in The Guardian. The idea was allegedly to put a moderate faction of the Taliban in control and thus maintain Pakistani influence over the Afghan government. However, Washington has made it clear that it will not tolerate any form of Taliban government. Pakistan's leadership has acknowledged this and is looking for a substitute.

Pakistan is deeply concerned about the potential for the Northern Alliance to seize power and has warned the opposition against such a move. But it is not comfortable with Zahir Shah in complete control of Afghanistan, either. Islamabad has now proposed supporting Syed Ahmed Gialani, former advisor to Zahir Shah, to control the king and the alliance around him. Gialani organized a meeting of Afghan exiles in Peshawar to build support for this plan.

Russia and Iran are not absent from the current struggle for control of post-Taliban Afghanistan, either. Russia wants to secure its control of Central Asia. To do so, it needs to keep fundamentalists out of the region. To this end, Moscow supports the Uzbek and Tajik Afghan armies. That is not to say Russia seeks a complete victory, as a small fundamentalist threat in Afghanistan justifies a Russian troop presence in Central Asia, and Russia prefers not to open Afghanistan as an export route for Central Asian resources.

Iran, like Russia, wants to protect its access to Central Asia by denying Pakistan a route through Afghanistan. Tehran supports the Shiite Hazara, and it appears to have already encouraged a split within the ranks of the Northern Alliance. Northern Alliance spokesmen in Tajikistan all claim to be coordinating actively with the United States, with an eye toward seizing Kabul. However, Touriali Ghiassi, the alliance representative in Mashhad, Iran, said U.S. attacks made the opposition forces' job easier, but that the Northern Alliance was waging its own campaign for northern and western Afghanistan.

History

The past 12 years of blood-letting in Afghanistan make forging a coherent and cohesive government even more difficult. The Taliban initially invaded Afghanistan in response to brutal warlordism among the factions that now make up the Northern Alliance. The shifting loyalties of opposition factions, encouraged by bribes and the tides of battle, greatly facilitated the Taliban's rapid advances and bloody setbacks.

Most of the factions in the Northern Alliance have fought against one another as often as they have fought side by side. The combat has generally been merciless, and it will be nigh impossible to forge trust between these factions in a future government. All factions look first and foremost to self-preservation and will be unwilling to risk disarming.

Treachery is prevalent even within the Northern Alliance armies. In one prominent example, Mazar-e-Sharif fell in 1997 when Dostum's right-hand man, Gen. Malik Pahlawan, defected with his forces to the Taliban. Six days later, and after handing over opposition commander Ismael Khan and 700 prisoners to the Taliban, Malik turned on his new allies. In two days of heavy fighting, Malik drove the Taliban out of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing 300 and capturing thousands. In the course of the subsequent offensive, Malik's troops and those of his Hazara allies massacred thousands of Taliban and buried them in mass graves.

Economy

The central government is, by the very nature of Afghanistan, weak. Besides the problems of geographic and ethnic fragmentation, the government in Kabul has to face the fact that there are no national-level structures to govern. Afghanistan is basically functional at village level. Its cities are rubble, it has no infrastructure to speak of and the economy is all but nonexistent. There is not much to the legitimate economy beyond subsistence farming and animal herding.

The three major sources of income and one potential source of income for any future Afghan regime are all major sources of corruption. These include the control of aid distribution, control of smuggling and control of narcotics cultivation, processing and export. Oil transit fees provide a potential, though unlikely, source of income as well.

All these sources of income are windfalls, requiring no investment or fiscal discipline. They require only collection and distribution of the wealth, something unlikely to be done in an even-handed or forward-looking manner.

Balance of Power

One last feature precluding the formation of a stable regime in Afghanistan is the country's precarious balance of power. Afghanistan is divided between several large ethnic groups -- each firmly rooted in a particular section of Afghanistan, and each with a sponsor in a neighboring state -- all ready to vie for power. Due to the country's isolation, poverty and rugged terrain, combat in Afghanistan is so low-grade, low-budget and low-tech that even a small influx of resources can shift the balance of power between these groups. This means that at any one time, with minimal effort, a group or its sponsor could torpedo any coalition.

By the same token, since disruption is cheap and the candidates for rebellion are plentiful, maintaining a strong central government in Afghanistan is staggeringly expensive.

Conclusion: Quagmire

In the end, overthrowing the Taliban is no panacea, even given the limited goal of eliminating Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan will be quickly divided between feuding factions, making it difficult to stage search-and-destroy missions for bin Laden and his estimated 10,000 Afghan Arabs. In order to forge the minimum stability necessary just to carry out the primary mission, the United States is likely to get bogged down in an exercise in nation-building.

Long occupation or operation of Afghanistan as a protectorate by the United Nations or some third power would be extremely costly, given the primordial state of the country's economy, infrastructure and politics. Logistics alone would be nightmarish, as Afghanistan is landlocked and the transport facilities available to anyone wishing to supply the country are crude.

Given the competing agendas of the various factions in Afghanistan, as well as of their external sponsors, an attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan would be more analogous to Somalia than to Bosnia.

Even if overthrown, the Taliban are guaranteed to fight on, as will other factions that are not satisfied with their piece of the post-Taliban pie. The United States could quickly find itself targeted by feuding post-Taliban factions.

As the United States begins the military campaign to destroy bin Laden, his supporters and his hosts, it may be taking the first step toward a protracted, costly and ultimately doomed engagement in Afghanistan at the expense of its primary mission. It is entering a quagmire.

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A new New World Order?
Oct 8th 2001
The Economist Global Agenda

The global coalition assembled by America to fight terrorism includes far more countries than just its traditional allies. But does this amount to a lasting change to the world’s political map, or no more than an ad hoc and short-lived arrangement?

THIS will be, America’s leaders keep saying, “a different kind of war”. In sharp contrast to the Bush administration's unilateral tone before the attacks on September 11th, it has assiduously courted both allies and countries which have sometimes seen themselves as American opponents. In his statement announcing the American strikes on Sunday October 7th, George Bush went out of his way to stress how much support from other countries America had for its action. “We are supported by the collective will of the world,” he claimed.

Will Mr Bush be able to make such a claim, with even a hint of plausibility, a few weeks from now? That must be one of the biggest questions hanging over America's efforts to destroy Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, and the Taliban regime which has harboured him. Holding together such a broad, and inherently fragile coalition, will be difficult. And yet at times Mr Bush, other US officials, and some of their allies, have also held out the hope that this “war” will achieve much greater aims: to rid the world of “evil”, to destroy terrorism, to bridge established divides. After stumbling over the name “Infinite Justice” for this effort (deemed sacrilegous to Muslims), America's planners have dubbed it “Enduring Freedom”.

Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, has waxed most eloquent about these more elevated goals. In a speech last week he described a world in which decades-old hostilities will be forgotten in the joint pursuit of a greater evil; where lingering cold-war divisions are at last mended; where a new awareness of what Mr Blair has called “the fragility” of frontiers creates a safer, more peaceful world through “the moral power of a world acting as a community”. Mr Blair added: “the kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.”

Cynics will find such millenarian rhetoric overblown and even preposterous. A much less idealistic interpretation of the international response to the attacks on America is available: a bunch of more or less unpleasant governments find themselves in the unusual position of being able to offer America something it badly needs, and are taking full advantage of their position. A high price is being paid in concessions made to a range of undemocratic regimes from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. At home, meanwhile, in America and elsewhere, governments are exploiting their citizens’ new sense of vulnerability to extend their own powers at the expense of the citizens’ freedom. A new world order may indeed be in the works; but it is nastier, more dangerous, and less free.

The truth, of course, probably lies somewhere between these two extremes. Some of the changes in international relations brought about by the devastation of September 11th may prove durable; others just a tactical realignment. Into the former category fall shifts that might have happened anyway, but have now been accelerated.

In Japan, for example, the crisis has coincided with the term of a newish and very popular prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, known to want his country to play a political and military role more commensurate with its economic weight. That has allowed its cabinet, on October 5th, to approve an interpretation of the country’s pacifist constitution that will allow it to give logistical support to an American military campaign. Similarly, before September 11th, reformists in Iran had been looking for ways to reopen a dialogue with the West, and perhaps ultimately with America. The visit to Tehran last month from Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, however, was prompted by the response to the attacks on America.

For many other developments, it is too early to tell whether they constitute a lasting change. When he visited NATO and the European Union (EU) in Brussels last week, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, spelled out in general terms some of the benefits he hopes to reap from his co-operative attitude towards American coalition-building: EU help in securing Russian membership of the World Trade Organisation; a dialogue with the Union’s collective-security arm; and perhaps a transformed relationship with NATO itself. He even suggested that if NATO were to become more a “political” than a military alliance, Russia might drop its long-standing objections to the eastward expansion of its membership, to the Baltic.

He has already won one prize: European and American acceptance of Russia’s long-standing claim that part of the trouble it faces in the restive region of Chechnya stems from the independence movement’s links to Osama bin Laden, the man accused of inspiring the September 11th atrocity. So Mr Putin will expect to be less bothered by criticism from western governments about the human-rights abuses of Russia’s often brutal rule in Chechnya.

This is just one example of a troubling phenomenon: that some of the Taliban's enemies, whose help is now needed, have used the real or perceived threat of Islamic extremism to justify policies that the West in normal times abhors. China, which fears insurrection in its western region of Xinjiang, suppresses all protest ruthlessly; Uzbekistan, under the nasty and authoritarian regime of Islam Karimov, the president, does likewise, but plays an important part in military plans. Indeed, all five Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union fall short of western democratic and human-rights standards.

Some of the Taliban's enemies, whose help is now needed, have used the real or perceived threat of Islamic extremism to justify policies that the West in normal times abhors

The same is true of Pakistan, where General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999. Yet Mr Musharraf is now courted by the West, visited by Mr Blair, and looked to, rather anxiously, as a bastion of moderation against the forces of Islamic fundamentalism. America has already lifted sanctions which it imposed on Pakistan following its explosion of a nuclear bomb in 1998, and is poised to ease those introduced after the coup.

More fundamentally, a recent tilt by America towards Pakistan’s rival, India, seems to have stalled. India, too, has benefited from the lifting of nuclear sanctions. But it has failed so far to convince America to take action against what it says are camps in Pakistan in which terrorists are trained to fight in Indian-controlled Kashmir. These are directly equivalent, in India’s view, to Mr bin Laden’s camps in Afghanistan. On October 1st, a suicide attack on the state-assembly building in Srinagar, the capital, killed at least 38 people and injured 60 more. The following day, India’s prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, wrote to Mr Bush to express his country’s anger. This message was also aimed at Pakistan, which India blames for a decade of insurgency that has claimed some 30,000 lives.

An impossible dream?

India has been less explicit in its attack on perceived American hypocrisy than has Israel, whose prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has accused America of appeasement in its efforts to marshal Arab support for its anti-terrorism campaign. Mr Sharon considers America’s efforts to be at Israel’s expense, and compared this to the abandonment of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany before the second world war. His remarks followed Mr Bush’s statement supporting a separate Palestinian state as part of a settlement and American pressure to restart talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and to agree a ceasefire.

But this notional ceasefire has not brought an actual end to the killing, a reminder that many intractable conflicts remain that way even in these extraordinary times. Mr Sharon’s anger also highlights the obvious difficulty about a war against terrorism: that one country’s martyred freedom-fighter is another’s mass murderer, and that a new world order where that is no longer true seems less a kaleidoscopic vision than an impossible dream.

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'With Us, or With the Terrorists':
Arab Governments in Quandary
2300 GMT, 011008

Summary

Most Muslim governments have initially avoided condemnation of U.S. air strikes against Afghanistan. But the muted response does not necessarily portend these governments' future positions on the war. An extended U.S. campaign against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime risks incensing Islamic radicals in several countries, presenting a very real danger to the governments of those nations. For the moment, the danger is minimal and controlled, but as time passes, the threat will increase in direct proportion to the defeat of Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Analysis

Palestinian police killed two demonstrators Oct. 8 after protesters showing support for Saudi exile Osama bin Laden began firing at security forces, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported. The clash occurred at a rally organized by Muslim militant group Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority has banned such protests to avoid a repeat of the Sept. 11 demonstrations, in which Palestinians were shown celebrating the terrorist strikes on New York and Washington.

Too Little Too Late in Egypt?

Domestic pressure is mounting within Egypt to sever diplomatic relations with Israel. As a result, Cairo, a key mediator in the Middle East peace process, has taken a more rigid stance against Israel. The ruling National Democratic Party’s shift in attitude toward Israel may temporarily affect its position in peace negotiations. But the move may come too late to save it from losing seats to the outlawed Islamic opposition in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
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The Palestinian Authority's ban on protest rallies is a telling example of how Muslim governments in general are responding to the U.S.-led military campaign against Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Islamic governments throughout the world ignored recent calls by bin Laden and the Taliban for jihad, or holy war, against the United States. But siding with Washington, even if by default, will become more politically dangerous for these governments in the days to come.

The governments of Muslim nations such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen must now balance cooperation with the United States against a surge in radical Islamic opposition. Their de facto approval of U.S.-led military operations against Afghanistan suggests these governments -- for the moment at least -- feel secure against a radical threat. This is an important factor in determining the policies of Arab and Muslim governments regarding the U.S. anti-terror campaign in the coming months.

During the upcoming Organization of Islamic Conference summit, scheduled for Oct. 10, discussion will center on the U.S. war against Afghanistan. But the underlying issue -- and the sideline meetings -- will involve discussions of plans to stave off looming threats from Islamic radicals.

A multitude of radical organizations have a presence in nearly every Islamic nation. Bin Laden and his al Qaeda network represent only a fraction of these groups. From underground militants in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia to guerrilla forces in Algeria, Pakistan and Yemen, Islamic radical groups have been trying to overthrow their respective regimes since the 1930s.

The predictable and recently begun military campaign against bin Laden and the Taliban threatens to embolden these fringe groups, expand their support base and give them an opportunity to revive popular opposition to their respective governments.

The rise of radicalism is exactly what most Muslim governments -- even conservative ones such as that of Saudi Arabia -- fear. For example, the Palestinian Authority was quick to distance itself from statements bin Laden made in a previously recorded videotape broadcast by Qatar's Al-Jazeera television station Oct. 7. Bin Laden vowed that the United States would know no peace until there was peace in Palestine, but the Palestinian information minister said his people "don't want crimes committed in the name of Palestine," the Associated Press reported.

Some nations, including Iran and Iraq, have condemned the U.S. military strikes, but they have little to lose and much to gain by adopting such stances. Neither country is threatened by Islamic radicals, and both are already suffering under U.S. sanctions. In Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's condemnation of the U.S. campaign bolsters support for his hard-line clerical regime and underscores Iran's own geopolitical interest in Afghanistan, where Tehran has long supported forces opposed to the Taliban.

On the one hand, a U.S.-led war against bin Laden and the Taliban will exponentially increase the value of some Muslim nations as allies to Washington. Jordan, for instance -- which is threatened less by Islamic fundamentalism than by a growing Palestinian population -- offered the United States limited military aid in its campaign, including the use of the kingdom's air space and the pre-positioning of equipment and troops, Middle East News Line reported Oct. 8. This follows recent reports that al Qaeda had planned to assassinate King Abdullah of Jordan and his wife last year. Amman knows offering the United States such direct support may secure the tiny nation's chances for U.S. military aid and investment in the future.

But at the same time, Muslim governments must not appear supportive of indiscriminate U.S. attacks on another Muslim country. For example, protests by Egyptian student Oct. 7 and 8 in Alexandria and Cairo drew thousands, according to Agence France-Presse. In Saudi Arabia dissident clerics have issued religious decrees -- known as fatwas -- threatening to excommunicate the Saudi royal family for its support of U.S. strikes against Afghanistan, The Guardian reported Oct. 8. Public government statements from either Cairo or Riyadh would spark unrest in both capitals.

Both moderate regimes such as that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and conservative rulers like the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia now face the danger of a rising tide of radicalism that opposes ties with the United States. Meanwhile, any Muslim government that condemns the U.S. action risks its own relationship with Washington by appearing to side with the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States.

Faced with two equally bleak options, most Muslim nations will do nothing decisive in the short term. Beyond tightening security at home and criticizing the impact on civilians, nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia will sit tight and wait for the chips to fall.

Inaction, however, can be as risky as action. As the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban heats up and fighting in Afghanistan pulls in a variety of factions, radical fringe groups in many Islamic countries are likely to grow.

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