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Paradoxes of countering terror!

The evolving impasse on shooting down of  a Russian military aircraft by Turkey indicates that international effort to counter terrorism is indeed a fractured. President Barack Obama vowed on November 22 that the United States and its allies would not relent in fight to combat Daesh extremists and would hunt down their leaders and cut off the group’s financing. “Destroying (Daesh) is not only a realistic goal, we are going to get it done…We will destroy them. We will take back land they are currently in, take out their financing, hunt down leadership, dismantle their networks, supply lines and we will destroy them.” he told a news conference in Malaysia. Rhetoric resembles that by George W Bush in the wake of 9/11.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Russia and the United States to cooperate in rooting out terrorism and said he would unveil a comprehensive plan to fight extremism and violence early 2016. Moreover, Barack Obama and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev have separately called on all countries to coordinate and thwart Islamic State after its recent devastating attack on a Russian plane and on multiple targets in Paris.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the French Embassy in Islamabad on November 17 to extended condolences for the lives lost during the Paris attacks, French Ambassador to Pakistan HE Martine Dorance said that the French people and government had a lot to learn from the Pakistani nation and government’s resilience [against terrorism]. Nawaz Sharif offered to assist the French government in this hour of need and share Pakistan’s expertise on counter-terrorism efforts. This is an appalling incident and Pakistan is one the biggest victims of terrorism. Pakistan shares the pain and grief of the French people and dilemmas of the French government.

There is necessity and urgency for reappraisal of international counter terrorism effort since 9/11. As of now, international effort to overpower terror is showing clear signs of fatigue, whereas terrorism may itself be only at the formative stages. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, calling it a “blessed foray” in response to France’s involvement in the “Crusade Campaign”. Paris terror attacks on November 13 is one of those exceptional events which are poised to have a deep and lasting impact on international counter terrorism effort—it is necessary to monitor and ensure that such effort is not headed in the wrong direction.

Paris carnage came just one day after Daesh had executed another attack in Beirut, leaving at least 47 killed and 200 wounded. Beirut attack focused areas with high concentration of Hezbollah members; this Iran supported entity aids the incumbent Syrian regime militarily and is a staunch opponent of Daesh. Within a week there was a hostage focused attack by Al-Qaeda in Mali, killing 27. Earlier on October 10, an attack was carried out on Ankara’s trains where 96 were killed and hundreds were wounded. This reflects Daesh and Al-Qaeda’s ability to organize well-coordinated attacks in different geographic locations; and inability of victim states to anticipate and thwart such attacks.

Unfortunately, sequence of counter terrorism steps after Paris attacks is strikingly similar to post 9/11 actions with a variation that this time it may be Europe that is poised to provide and sustain military boots on ground. At a press conference in Turkey after the G20 meeting, President Obama explicitly ruled out putting US boots on the ground to destroy Daesh. “We have the right strategy,” he declared, “and we’re going to see it through.” This confusion over US strategy, jockeying between containment and annihilation via rollback, is a reflection of American strategy’s inherent contradictions. These policy level paradoxes were evident before the Paris attacks; and there is no sign that these would be resolved.

Obama, who campaigned as the antiwar candidate in 2008, and promised to extricate the United States from intractable ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, could not resist the temptation of getting sucked into a third war — against Daesh. Extension in the stay of residual troops in Afghanistan indicates that though America no longer likes overseas wars, these war are in no mood to let America disengage. Missing element in the international counter terrorism strategy continues to be lack of political will for acknowledging the underlying causes and generating a wholesome effort to address them through non-military means as well.

Obama administration has so far pursued a variant of the Nixon Doctrine, which had sought to facilitate American geostrategic cutback while preserving American interests in vital regions. Central to Obama strategy is nurturing of effective allies—in and around conflict zones— who could assume greater responsibility for regional security as the United States disengages. Through its efforts to raise national armies in Iraq and Afghanistan for this purpose, it attempted to transfers security responsibilities to local semi-skilled and poorly motivated forces. And now a chance has propped up that could facilitate America to outsource the entire Daesh dilemma to Europe-cum-Middle Eastern conglomerate while maintaining just notional leadership and leading from the back. However, this neo-Nixon Doctrine may further make the matters troublesome for America. Moreover, it will be interesting to see how and where do China and Russia fit into this mosaic.

Political rhetoric, resolution in the UNSC, cobbling together of an alliance of the willing; ongoing rounds of bombing to eliminate the IS all echo back to 2001. Apparently another long war is in the making; Middle East is certainly in for a long haul. Recent confessions and admissions by Tony Blair and Obama indicate that though there is increasing awareness of the blunders made while countering terror since 9/11; there are no indications of a long due bold course correction. French president called the attack “an act of war” and promised to face the IS relentlessly. Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on TV that they will hit back the enemy until it is destroyed. This represents a pretty high level of escalation. Earlier, soon after p/11 President Chirac had envisioned to nuke the terrorists!

France is likely to become more vulnerable on domestic front as it ups the ante in the Middle East, blowback effects cannot be wished away. However, immediate sufferers would be potential Syrian refugees, who had so far been acceptable to Europe—though grudgingly; and hapless Muslim countries of Middle East whose public would face death and destruction from aerial bombing, without any system of prior air raid warning for the innocent non-combatants. Some countries could go through forced regime changes. And when the things are thoroughly messes up, the predators would abandon proclaiming victory, leaving behind resource-less puppet native regimes to deal with the debris of the conflict for decades to come.

Results of international counter terrorism effort have so far been akin to lawn moving, whereby availability of willing recruits has outnumbered the killed terrorists and or political militants. Carrying out frequent trans-country attacks all around the globe with persistence, lethality and impunity is an expensive enterprise involving heavy finances and precise logistical intricacies. Despite a whole range of international and state level legal tools to curb facilitation of terrorist entities, no major militant outfit is short of either finances or logistics.

Political violence or terrorism has been shifting venues in the face of pressures generated by application of military instrument in countering terrorist entities. Quick ability of these outfits to morph from one politico-military brand to another indicates their better understanding of opponents alongside ability to adapt, improvise and innovate. Apparently little intellectual work has gone into devising the matching ways and means by those responsible to counter extremist violence at international level.


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Blasphemy issue needs a permanent solution

The good sense has prevailed, an imminent catastrophe has receded. In a written statement issued on August 30, Geert Wilders announced "not to let the cartoon contest go ahead.” The contest was to be held at the tightly guarded offices of his Party for Freedom in the Dutch parliament building. Meanwhile, the Netherlands government had been at pains to distance itself from the contest. Prime Minister Mark Rutte questioned Wilders' motive for organising the contest. Pakistan’s foreign minister congratulated the nation and Muslim Ummah on their moral victory and termed the cancellation of the contest a victory for Pakistan on the diplomatic front. Cancellation announcement came within days after Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement saying the act was hurting the sentiments of Muslims living all around the world. Condemning the blasphemous cartoon competition in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Imran Khan had blamed the recurrence of such incidents a collective failure of the Muslim world, saying he would take up the matter at the United Nations General Assembly’s upcoming session. After the publication of Salman Rushdi’s blasphemous book ‘Satanic Verses’, it has become very easy to malign Muslims in the West, the prime minister said. “And they have been successfully doing it.” If they [Western countries] feel pained discussing the Holocaust, why haven’t we been able to convey to the West how much we feel pained when they do blasphemous things against Islam and our beloved Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him)?” Pakistan’s foreign office is undertaking a hectic diplomatic campaign to avert the exhibition of profane cartoons in November. Hopefully the good sense would prevail. Time and again, Western Christian countries purposefully hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims through public display of profane audio-visual and print material about Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), under the pretext of their so called doctrine of freedom of expression. In a stark contradiction, same very European States immediately imprison anyone questioning the veracity of ‘Holocaust’, while Muslims and their religion don’t get the similar preferential treatment. While earlier such incidents in Netherlands were an act of non-state actors, this time parliamentary permission to hold the forthcoming exhibition inside parliament premises had made the government of Netherlands a party to this nefarious act of religious extremism. Opposition leader Greet Wilders has a track history of airing anti-Muslim sentiment. In December 2017, he proposed that European countries should adopt Donald Trump-style travel bans to counter a wave of Islamisation, according to him, sweeping the continent. Wilders also urged Europe to adopt Australia’s tactics in turning back migrant boats and to build new border walls, as Trump had vowed to do along the US frontier with Mexico. Wilders is the parliamentary leader of his party in the House of Representatives. During his election campaign, Wilders had published a one-page election manifesto calling for a ban on all asylum seekers and migrants from Islamic nations, and urged his country to leave the European Union. Wilders also stands for banning the Quran and closing all mosques and Islamic schools. Political environment in Netherlands is quite murky and thoroughly mired in populist rhetoric, where both the government and the opposition are, more often than not, competing to appear more racist and exclusionist. Wilders was defeated in March 2017 elections by Mark Rutte. According to Guardian “cost of latter’s victory against Geert Wilders’ anti-EU, anti-immigration, anti-Islam Freedom PVV party was a pyrrhic victory”. Mark Rutte’s VVD party had adopted the very rhetoric of Wilders to beat him. Rutte had said: “something wrong with our country” and claimed “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom”. Close to end of his previous tenure as Prime Minster, Rutte thought that being tough on Turkey would fetch him more votes, therefore he “happily sparked a mini-international crisis for the sake of votes”. While during the electoral campaign, Rutte said stopping Wilders was about stopping the “wrong sort of populism”. Situation is akin to India where both BJP and Congress compete to articulate more pro Hindu rhetoric to encash Hindu vote bank. Pakistan had approached Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to lodge a protest against this planned cartoon competition in Netherlands. Former caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Haroon had set the dice rolling by writing a letter to the OIC Secretary General seeking his leadership for a collective action to register a protest of OIC countries with the Dutch authorities, who in turn had written to the Dutch foreign minister, on behalf of 57 Muslim countries, protesting against this abominable event. It is not the first time that the Netherlands is holding such competition. In the past also such acts have frequently been committed by this country with a malicious intent to target the noblest personality of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh). Pakistan has called upon the Dutch Ambassador to Pakistan and the EU Ambassador, who represents 28 European countries, to register the protest. “We have conveyed our condemnation of this deliberate attempt to vilify Islam. Such incidents should not go unpunished,” Foreign office spokesperson said. Pakistan’s new government had taken forth the process. During its first meeting, cabinet decided to take up the matter at bilateral level. Pakistan lodged a strong protest with the Netherlands over an announcement of holding a competition of blasphemous caricatures. “The charge d’affaires of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was summoned to the Foreign Office on August 13, and a strong protest was lodged”, Foreign office stated. Deep concern was conveyed at this deliberate and malicious attempt to defame Islam. “Pakistan’s ambassador in Hague has been instructed to forcefully raise the issue with the Dutch government along with ambassadors of OIC member states,” the Foreign Office went on to add. Foreign minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi also spoke to his Dutch counterpart. Pakistan’s permanent representatives to the United Nations in New York and Geneva were directed to take up the matter with the UN Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN bodies and procedures. The issue would also be discussed in the forthcoming meeting of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, scheduled to be held on the side-lines of forthcoming 73rd ministerial session of the UNGA. Though the triggering issue is behind us, OIC should not lower its guards, it should firm up an action plan if any individual or government attempts such a misadventure in future. During this meeting the Muslim countries should send a loud and clear message that the despoliation of Muslim holy personalities is not acceptable to them. The silver lining is that there have been saner voices from within Dutch civil society. Demonstrations were held by Dutch nationals to show solidarity with Muslims. During March 2017, Dutch citizens gathered at a mosque in Amsterdam, to show solidarity with the country’s Muslim population. People representing a broad coalition against racism gathered at the central Al-Kabir mosque to show opposition to anti-Muslim sentiments in the country. “We as a Muslim community pose no danger whatsoever to society,” said Najem Ouladali while addressing the gathering. “We believe that what Wilders is doing is very dangerous to our society,” Ouladali added. Najem was one of the organizers of the gathering. Pakistan should continue to work closely with all the OIC member states to find a permanent solution to this recurring issue. Matter should be persistently raised at the relevant international fora until a sustainable way is found by the international community for preventing such abhorrent acts.

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