Tag Archives: Taliban

Clashing Dreams in the Middle East

As revolution rushes through the Middle East, radical Islam and democratic secularism will clash and confront one another. (Source: beforeitsnews.com)

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his dream lives on. His was a dream of violence, bloodshed, and sectarianism, one in which a new Islamist caliphate could take power, and his repressive ideology would flourish.

Bin Laden also envisioned a Middle East that would be sympathetic to his ideas and ideals. And while most people are repulsed by his beliefs, there are a frightening number of people who hold the same bloodthirsty views as him. Many of these are already involved in al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other distinct terrorist entities. But this mindset can be found all throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is an idea that advocates the violent enforcement of one’s own beliefs, and is not only a grave danger to lives, but an offensive and woefully misguided interpretation of the otherwise peaceful and fairly welcoming religion of Islam.

Yet the Arab Spring, as it is now known, is seriously calling into question the efficacy and popularity of bin Laden’s violent Islamist vision for the Middle East. Unlike the religious revolution al Qaeda dreams of someday bringing about, the Arab Spring which brought down both Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was almost exclusively secular, and motivated by secular desires and aspirations. It’s democracy that the Arab people seem bent on achieving, not an Islamic state or caliphate.

So there seem to be two conflicting viewpoints in the Middle East right now. On the one hand, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and all who share their twisted views see a future in which their own beliefs about religion and society are paramount. On the other hand, a powerful new youth movement is swelling in the Middle East, a movement that, despite al Qaeda’s fondest wishes, is a secular one.

The stage seems set for yet more tension in the Middle East. Even as a new dream of freedom and democracy builds momentum in places that previously suffered under terribly repressive states, a different kind of repression, this time of a religious variety, is still in the arena. As these two dreams of the future, one of religious nationalism and the other of secular democracy, face off over the coming years, the people of the Middle East will have a choice. They must make it wisely.

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Filed under International Focus, Religion & Reason, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

A Bad Moon Over Pakistan

Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Source: ACUS.org)

Things have recently gone south over the past weeks and months in an already-rocky relationship between America and Pakistan.

Truth be told, this relationship hardly goes back far. After the terrorist attacks of September 11 back in 2001 and the beginning of America’s War on Terror, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf agreed to give the US the support it needed in the Middle East, and even to help in America’s counter-terrorist aspirations in Afghanistan. Since joining the War on Terror as a US ally in 2001, Pakistan has lent its assistance to American anti-terror operations and opposed the Taliban within its own borders and across the line in Afghanistan.

Well… sort of. The young relationship between the US and Pakistan has run into tough times as of late, due to a distinct gap in trust between the two countries, and it seems that this nascent alliance is in danger of disappearing soon.

There are a few reasons for this. First, no one on either side seems to be completely sure of the other’s intentions. This has been something of a chronic problem since the beginning of the US-Pakistan alliance, but it has heated up to dangerous temperatures recently. Both sides feel as though they are being kept in the dark about the operations and intentions of the other. This is particular troubling from Pakistan’s point of view, as they are unsure of the extent to which American agents, technologies, and agendas are secretly operating in their country.

The US has been extensively using drone aircraft to strike Taliban and al Qaeda targets. These drones have not been popular with the Pakistani brass, who feel that the US should not be operating their weaponry inside of Pakistan’s borders, especially without consulting the military leadership in the very country in which they’re operating. On top of that, these drone strikes have killed a number of civilians, which the Pakistani government can hardly be blamed for objecting to. This adds yet another layer of complexity and distrust to the murky relationship between the nations.

Second is the covert nature of US operations in Pakistan. The CIA has had a shadowy involvement in Pakistan almost since the alliance began, and it’s still unclear to Pakistani officials exactly what that involvement is and how far it goes. This uncertainty surfaced violently after a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, fatally shot two Pakistanis in Lahore. A third man was killed as another vehicle rushed to assist Davis.  An unknown number (though it’s come out that the number is likely between 40 and 60) of CIA agents are operating in the country at this point, and after the Davis incident, that’s naturally unsettling to Pakistani leadership.

Finally, the US and Pakistan seem to have very different goals and visions, both for the future of the Taliban and Afghanistan as a whole, and these are coming into the light more and more as the Afghanistan endgame approaches. While the US wants to simply crush the Taliban into submission, the Pakistani government seems to have less-straightforward plans for the terrorist group. US intelligence officials have long known of Pakistan’s tactic of choosing between “good” and “bad” Taliban groups. Whether America likes it or not, Pakistan also has its own interests in Afghanistan, and is not above using certain parts of the Taliban to advance those interests. There have been reported incidents of the ISI (Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency) warning certain Taliban factions of imminent drone strikes or other attacks, as these factions hold strategic significance to the ISI or greater Pakistani command.

With all of these entanglements and trust deficits, it’s a small wonder that things are so tense between the US and Pakistan. It’s beginning to seem that what was never a committed or involved alliance is splitting at the seams. And when things finally begin to settle down in Afghanistan (pray that this comes soon), there is little way of knowing how the two nations will resolve their differences.

I used resources from the New York Times (clicking this will use a free view), Long War Journal, and the ACUS for this article. If you want to learn more about the issue, check out these links!

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Dead Ends in Afghanistan

American soldiers exit a transport chopper in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

Most if not all of my information for this post was taken from this article in the New York Times –  just to let you know! I’d encourage you to read it as it provides a lot more detail than I do!

As the war in Afghanistan grinds on, many soldiers (not to mention critics) are beginning to seriously question how much is really being accomplished there.

In many ways, the war strategy has moved from one focused on the “key” areas of contention in the country: large cities, major thoroughfares, and borders with neighboring nations. But more and more, the fight is being taken to minute, previously unknown (to foreigners at least) villages and towns, with American and Afghan forces trying to clear the Taliban out of the country one building at a time.

As you may have guessed, this isn’t going all that well. This war has been a difficult one since it began way back in October of 2001, and I think it’s safe to say that it hasn’t gotten much easier.

The real problem behind this war’s difficulty has been the Taliban’s elusiveness and at-best shadowy presence in the country. Since being forced from formal power by Operation Enduring Freedom (the post-9/11 military retaliation), the Taliban has snaked into the shadows of the country, using fear to maintain small cells of power-by-terror that dot Afghanistan. Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is similar to trying to wave away clouds of smoke; as soon as they’re cleared out of one village, chances are they’ll pop up in another. To add salt to the soldiers’ wounds of seemingly pointless skirmish after seemingly pointless skirmish, many civilians in these tiny townships are far from cooperative. Some will simply play dumb or mute, some may lie, and some even signal troop movements to Taliban fighters nearby.

But can these people really be blamed for this? The Taliban has a near stranglehold on many of the common people across much of Afghanistan, especially in areas out of the reach of government and police forces. They’re held under the extremists’ power by threats and violence, so it only makes sense that their loyalties are more likely to lie with the people who will kill them or their families if they defect.

All the same, this makes the job of American soldiers immensely difficult. Tracking this secondary, shadow government of religious extremism is nearly impossible to do effectively when the people in the villages they’re attempting to clear are afraid to cooperate. The idea behind this small-village strategy has been to expand American presence in Afghanistan, essentially giving Taliban fighters fewer safe zones and places to seek refuge or terrorize civilians. The problem is, as the NYT article put it, is “translating presence into lasting success.” I used the analogy of smoke before: You may be able to clear the smoke of the Taliban away temporarily, but it somehow always manages to flow back in after you go.

This war, which has already been trudging forward for more than 9 years, still seems like a dead end (and an expensive one at that). I know that the Taliban’s influence is a difficult one to root out, and that the group poses a very significant threat, both to people in the region and around the world. But how much longer can we keep trying? How much progress has really been made? The government in Afghanistan, nominally headed by Hamid Karzai, is corrupt at best, and many Afghan security forces (such as police or military) are either afraid or equally corrupt! This really makes one question how much the US has accomplished in Afghanistan. We’ve captured a few important Taliban figures, sure, but there has been little factual evidence that our efforts there are having much success.

Does this mean I know what to do? No. I won’t claim to be a five-star general! I do, however, think that the US must refocus and redouble our efforts towards the reformation of the Afghan government and local forces. There can only be stability in this country if the people who live and belong in it know how to take their security and liberty into their own hands.

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