America and Al-Qaeda
One path now leads to the Arab Spring. Better both take that
DATELINE SRINAGAR BY ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB
Dust is settling down in Kashmir’s western neighbourhood. The bravado phase seems slowly overtaken by reason and reflection. Sabre rattling is less intense. All this is a welcome change.
The grim irony, however, is that the aftershocks of the Abbottabad operation are far from over. They will clearly remain here for a longer while.
As the fog is dissipating, we seem to have a better idea of things now. Some things are pretty clear. As what the US Defence Secretary said on Wednesday, there is nothing to suggest Pakistan’s political or security leadership knew about Osama’s Abbottabad presence. The goof up in not locating Osama was most probably a case of ‘intelligence failure, just like 9/11 was’. US military and development aid to Pakistan is not going to stop either. There is not going to be a Bollywood remake of the Abbottabad’s Hollywood version – Indians have made that clear.
What is also ominously clear is that Pakistan is ready for a war, and, shockingly, has even done a rehearsal to hit targets in India. India, on its part, is ever ready, as what the security review meeting Dr. Singh chaired last week showed. It is like fingers are ready to go on all kinds of triggers. But that no war is actually going to happen is far more clear.
Some other things appear clearer too. Obama administration very well knows that without Pakistan on its side, its Afghan war will be like a night operation in the Himalayan wilderness sans any guidance, including night vision goggles. That the Chinese are going to remain on Islamabad’s side till ‘eternity’ is clear too. And Pakistan doesn’t look that lonely either. Take the handful of the Caucasian militants out from the picture in Pakistan; Islamabad might even have the Russians on its side. The Afghan jihad may be forgotten history!
Beyond all this, all rational thinking people today need to ask questions: what about America’s foreign policy for the Arab world and this region from now on? Would a post-Osama Al-Qaeda do some introspection?
And how about Pakistan’s future direction? Where is it headed? How would it reconcile to the US demands and some of its people’s sensitivities about Al-Qaeda remnants in that country?
How would it brace for a post-NATO Afghanistan? How would it deal with the Pashtuns – who have never recognised the Durand Line that divides them between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
It is not an easy situation for the country. Circumstances have forced it in where it is today. It needs empathy from rest of the world. The fundamental question about Pakistan today is its approach to Al-Qaeda. Does this almost-defunct organisation serve any of its interests? The plain answer is - no! That was abundantly explained by well-known Pakistani columnist Irfan Hussain in his Dawn column recently.
There is simply no political or strategic conversion between the Pakistani state and the Al-Qaeda. But widespread public perception in the West thinks otherwise. It is possible that individuals in the Pakistani establishment have sympathy for Al-Qaeda. But that is not unique about Pakistan alone. That Al-Qaeda has support or sympathy across the Muslim world, including among governments, is no secret.
A time has come when rather than war, the possibility of reunion of Al-Qaeda’s members with their families and parent countries is explored. The fundamental reason that Al-Qaeda took birth is that it acted as a readymade platform for people who faced persecution for their political opinions in their parent countries. Osama bin Laden was a product of the same situation.
The biggest silver lining for such a reunion of these transnational wanderers is the political change in the Arab world today – referred to as Arab Spring. A thought on the Arab street today is that the Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden actually died when Egypt and Tunisia brought down their governments. This is not a mere rhetoric, but a reality.
Most of the Al-Qaeda members who wander through Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries face persecution in their home countries. There must be a dignified way to get them home and ensure they are part of the peaceful political change in their countries.
The Arab Spring has left almost no room for Al-Qaeda type of movements. Osama bin Laden’s just-released tape is testimony to that. It was a rare message in which he didn’t speak about waging wars against despotic Arab regimes and the West; he talked peaceful revolution – the Arab Spring.
The change people’s power has brought about in Egypt and Tunisia is bound to have a domino effect. That change may not necessarily come through regime changes. But slowly and steadily, greater political reform and democratisation in the Arab world is inevitable. That is what the Arab dissidents who have faced persecution for their political thoughts need to experience now.
When it comes to Pakistan, a similar and very important change towards democratic accountability there went largely unnoticed. The appearance of the powerful army chief and the head of the country’s intelligence before the parliament are unprecedented. So is the parliamentary supremacy. This change is likely to manifest in other areas of Pakistan’s political life too. Supported by a far freer press and a vibrant civil society now, the country could indeed break new democratic ground.
When it comes to Afghanistan, it is understandable that the Taliban are important for ensuring long term stability there. Likewise, it is understandable that Pakistan finds it hard to reconcile with an unfriendly Afghanistan regime which doesn’t reflect the majoritarian Afghan aspirations, especially the Pashtun realities.
Today Pakistan would do better to consider an inclusive political system in Afghanistan rather than a mono-ethnic regime there. Afghanistan badly needs a representative government, based on the principle of proportionality. That will make it more stable and help international efforts.
The Pakistani Taliban or the Pashtuns cannot be defeated by war. No one has been able to do that throughout history. With Al-Qaeda members back to their home countries, reconciled to a serious process of political reform and human rights, Pakistani state and the Pakistan Taliban may have ample room to reconcile.
For the US, a dialogue with Al-Qaeda need not be seen as a remote fantasy. The political changes in the Arab world could be its main bargaining chip. Some degree of common ground is not impossible in the current situation, though a complete convergence of interests remains as remote as ever.
(The columnist is presently an advisor in international development and based in Beijing. Feedback at Arjimand@greaterkashmir.com)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 21 May 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 21 May 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 22 May 2011 00:00:00 IST
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