Saturday, January 9, 2010

Quotation from Peter Ustinov

I came across a quotation from Peter Ustinov, whom many of us have seen in the movies. I wanted to share his thoughts.

He says, "Terrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich."

Modifying Peter Ustinov's maxim, Richard Moodey professor of sociology Gannon University said, "Terrorism is the war of the poor, the weak and the annonymous; war is the terrorism of the rich, the strong and the famous."

I wanted you to ponder over these statements as terrorism is very much on our minds these days.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Using human development as antidote to Islamic terrorism

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.

Umar Abdulmutallab’s audacious attempt on Christmas Day — to ignite explosives that he had smuggled on board a Northwest Airlines flight approaching Detroit from Holland — has been a top story for the past few days.

Quick thinking by passengers who pinned him down averted what could have been a major tragedy.

Abdulmutallab is quoted as saying that he obtained the deadly explosives from al-Qaeda agents operating in Yemen. He reportedly spent some time in Yemen recently and presumably got indoctrinated there to attack Americans in the sky.

Parallels with Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” who tried something similar 8 years ago, come immediately to mind.

A somber President Obama said that the obvious security lapse, which allowed a passenger to smuggle explosives sewn in his underwear, was “unacceptable.”

More interestingly, Abdulmutallab’s father, a retired banker, had gone to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria late last year to warn it that his son had been radicalized. Further, that he was a potential menace to the United States. It is not known why the father’s courageous denunciation of his son did not have the desired effect of putting him on the no-fly list.

Five American youth are in custody in Pakistan because their parents had notified the FBI that they were missing and might be in contact with al-Qaeda. This example shows that the Muslim community worldwide is becoming more proactive in revealing contemplated acts of violent extremism emanating from their kith and kin.

Obama is right to order a thorough probe of the Christmas day bombing incident. Better sharing of intelligence among the American security agencies is key to thwarting such attempts to harm Americans. The Department of Homeland Security, the CIA and others must cooperate in getting to the bottom of this security failure.

There are an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity. A minuscule proportion of Muslim young men, for a variety reasons, become radicalized. Extremist organizations recruit them after pointing to alleged U.S. culpability in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Such alienation leading to radical behavior is not peculiar to Islam. It exists in other major religions as well. Blaming Islam for the acts of a few individuals exhibits both ignorance and bias.

Obama should also be very cautious about getting embroiled in Yemen, a desperately poor country with a weak government facing more than one violent insurgency. He already has his hands full in Iraq and Afghanistan. By all means, Yemen’s counter-terrorism apparatus needs U.S. advice and financial support. But an even more critical need is to use soft power for human development.

If the energies of hundreds of thousands of young Yemenis could be channeled into gainful employment, they are much less likely to be recruited by extremist organizations. Al-Qaeda and their ilk find a ready clientele in poverty-ridden and fragmented states such as Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan — and in the lawless tribal areas abutting the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Poverty was not the motivating factor with Abdulmutallab. He came from an affluent background and was educated in Britain. This goes to show that violent extremism has many faces. It is not possible to build a single profile of what motivates radicalization.

It is virtually impossible to eradicate violent extremism root and branch in our far from perfect world. But the international community — working together and taking affirmative action in impoverished areas of the globe — can certainly reduce such incidents.

Human development is the single most effective antidote to such behavior.

- S. Azmat Hassan

Monday, December 21, 2009

Drone attacks deaden diplomatic track in Pakistan

U.S. and Pakistani interests in Afghanistan converge but only up to a point. From 2002 to 2008, the U.S. poured in over $10 billion to the Musharraf government for its support in the “war on terror” in Afghanistan.

The money was largely utilized to replenish the Pakistani military’s capabilities. Not much was devoted to human development in the most needy and impoverished tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Today, the United States and Pakistan are no doubt allies battling violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas. It was inevitable that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, after being routed by the United States in 2001, would cross the porous border to seek sanctuary among fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.

The media tends to conflate the Pakistani Taliban, who are battling the Pakistani government, and the Afghan Taliban, whose main motive is to drive away foreign forces from Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army, in its counterinsurgency campaign, has achieved some success against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan. This group had directly challenged the writ of the state.

But despite the U.S. prodding Pakistan to go after the Afghan Taliban — whose leadership is reportedly hiding in Pakistan’s border areas — the Pakistani government is reluctant to do so.

The reason is simple: the Afghan Taliban do not launch attacks against the Pakistani people. Secondly, the Pakistanis do not want to antagonize a group which could play a dominant role in a future Afghan government.

It would be much wiser if the U.S. and Pakistan undertook a more realistic appraisal of the limits of their alliance. For the Pakistanis, the U.S. has often been an unreliable ally, which has abandoned them in the past. Bitter memories of these episodes remain.

President Obama has announced that the US will start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. Nobody can predict how long the US will remain in Afghanistan after that date.

Meanwhile, the Taliban will remain a major force in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s influence there will grow if the Afghan Taliban become a partner in a new government in Kabul, which could be on the horizon sooner rather than later.

The U.S. should not feel offended if the Pakistanis cannot meet its demands regarding the Afghan Taliban. On the contrary, since a military defeat of the Afghan insurgency is practically impossible to attain, the U.S. should open serious negotiations with Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban.

Omar has publicly stated that his fight is against the Karzai government. He is not against the United States.

If Omar is promised a share in power, a new coalition government can come into being in Afghanistan. This scenario will further marginalize the dwindling fortunes of al-Qaeda.

Nobody knows the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, or whether he is dead or alive. He has not been sighted for the past 8 years. His allure as an Islamic leader has been considerably dented. It is unwise to give him an importance or stature that he does not have any longer.

The U.S. should use its considerable soft power in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By helping in building schools, roads and hospitals in the region, the U.S. will achieve much more success in winning hearts and minds.

Hard power has been tried for the past 8 years. It was not successful. The drone attacks targeting Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan have killed some al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Regrettably, they have also killed many more innocent people. Much ill will against the US was created in both countries by this “collateral damage.”

Ultimately, drone attacks are not likely to make an appreciable difference to the insurgencies raging in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A negotiated political approach has a better chance of success.

Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.