Wednesday, January 14, 2009



Despite differences over strategies and tactics in the fight against global jihadi terrorism, there is a convergence of views between theoutgoing administration of President George Bush and the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama as to what should bethe ultimate objective of the US war against global terrorism.

2. They are both agreed that the ultimate objective should be to prevent another 9/11 in the US homeland by Al Qaeda and an act ofcatastrophic terrorism involving either the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material or devastating attacks on the criticalinfrastructure.

3. In their view, of all the terrorist organisations operating from the Pakistani territory, only Al Qaeda has the capability for launching another9/11 in the US homeland and for organising an act of catastrophic terrorism. Hence, the first priority of the Bush administration was to thewar against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, its ideological ally. This priority will continue under Obama too. During the election campaign,Obama's criticism of the policies of Bush was not because of the focus on the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but because of what helooked upon as the inadequacy of that focus as illustrated by the perceived failure of the Bush administration to have Osama bin Laden andhis No.2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri killed or captured and the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda in the Pakistani tribal belt destroyed.

4. He attributed the inadequacy of that focus and the failure of the Bush Administration to destroy or even seriously weaken Al Qaeda towhat he looked upon as the unnecessary US involvement in Iraq, which took resources and attention away from the war against Al Qaeda inthe Pakistan-Afghanistan region. According to him, the real threat to the US homeland comes from the Pakistan-Afghanistan region and notfrom Iraq and hence there should have been no diversion of the attention and resources from there. He said during the election campaign:"We are fighting on the wrong battlefield. The terrorists who attacked us and who continue to plot against us are resurgent in the hillsbetween Afghanistan and Pakistan. They should have been our focus then. They must be our focus now.” In a speech at the Wilson Centre inWashington DC on August 1,2007, he said: “When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won…The first step must be getting offthe wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

5.Anoher point on which there has been a convegence between the views of the two is over th importance of Pakistan in the war againstglobal terrorism. Both feel that the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be won without th co-operation of Pakistan, which,essentially means the Pakistani Army. Obama said during the campaign: "Success in Afghanistan requires action in Pakistan. While Pakistanhas made some contributions by bringing some al Qaeda operatives to justice, the Pakistani government has not done nearly enough to limitextremist activity in the country and to help stabilize Afghanistan. I have supported aid to Pakistan in the Senate and ... I would continuesubstantial military aid if Pakistan takes action to root out the terrorists." He also said when Pervez Musharraf was still the President: “If wehave actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will. I firmly believe that if we know thewhereabouts of bin Laden and his deputies and we have exhausted all other options, we must take them out.”

6. His proclaimed determination to act unilaterally against high-value targets of Al Qaeda in Pakistani territory is no different from the policypursued by the Bush Administration in the last year of its presidency. Unmanned Predator aircraft of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)carried out over 30 strikes on suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistani territory during 2008 as against 10 in 2006 and2007. These strikes were carried out despite protests by the Pakistan Government and Army and resulted in the deaths of eight middle-levelArab operatives of Al Qaeda and Rashid Rauf, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, who was related by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, theAmir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM).

7. Even if Obama wants the CIA to further step up its Predator attacks, their effectiveness would depend on a further improvement in theflow of human and technical intelligence. Obama has avoided specific pronouncements on his willingness to order land-based strikes on thesanctuaries of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistani territory. Under the Bush administration, the US special forces did try a land-basedstrike in South Waziristan in September,2008, which was not successful. It did not launch any more land-based strikes following a furore inPakistan. While the Asif Ali Zardari Government is avoiding any action to resist the Predator strikes despite its open condemnation of them,there seems to be a fear in Washington that if the US continues to undertake land-based strikes, public pressure could force the PakistanGovernment and the Army to resist them resulting in an undesirable confrontation between the armies of the two countries.

8. Obama is likely to face the same dilemma as Bush faced. The sporadic successes of the Predator strikes alone will not be able toeffectively destroy the terrorist infrastructure of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistani territory. To be effective, land-based strikes wouldalso be necessary. However, the political consequences of repeated land-based strikes would be unpredictable. There is alreadyconsiderable anger in the tribal belt against the Pakisan army for co-operating----even half-heartedly--- with the US in its war against AlQaeda and the Taliban. How to make up for this unsatisfactory co-operation by the Pakistan Army by stepping up unilateral US covertactions in the Pakistani territory without adding to the public anger against the Zardari Government? That is a question to which theadvisers of Bush were not able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Even the advisers of Obama do not seem to have an answer to this sofar.

9. A recommendation of Gen.David Petraeus, the Commander of the US Central Command, to induct another 30,000 US troops intoAfghanistan in the coming months to counter the activities of the Taliban has already been approved by Bush. This decision has the supportof Obama. But, more troops alone to step up the operations against the Afghan Taliban in Afghan territory would not serve the purposeunless accompanied by action to choke the supplies of men and material from the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Pakistaniterritory and the flow of funds from the once again flourishing heroin trade in Afghanistan.

10. No terrorist organisation in Pakistan can exist without State complicity if not sponsorship, sanctuaries and funds. Not only Al Qaeda andthe Taliban, but also the largely Punjabi terrorist organisations of Pakistan operating against India in Indian territory enjoy these threeessential elements of survival in Pakistan.A ground reality not realised in Washington DC is that all the jihadi terrorist organisations basedin Pakistan make available to each other the use of their hide-outs, sanctuaries and training centres. One recently saw the instance ofRashid Rauf of the JEM being killed in a Predator strike on an Al Qaeda hide-out. There have been reports in the Pakistan media of twoPunjabi terrorists belonging to what they have described as the Punjabi Taliban being killed in a Predator attack on an Al Qaeda vehicle inSouth Waziristan on January 1,2009. The Predator strike targeted and killed Osama al-Kini alias Fahid Mohammad Ally Masalam, describedas responsible for Al Qaeda operations in Pakistan including the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on September 21,2008, and hisNo. 2 Sheik Ahmed Salim Swedan. Both were Kenyan nationals. In addition to the two of them, the Predator strike also reportedly killed twomembers of the JEM, who were also in the same vehicle. One would recall that in March,2002, Abu Zubaidah, the Palestinian member of AlQaeda, was caught in a hide-out of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab.

11. From such instances, it should be clear that one cannot make a distinction between sanctuaries of Al Qaeda, those of the Taliban andthose of the anti-India organisations. All sanctuaries have to be attacked and destroyed irrespective of to which organisation theybelonged. The Bush Administration was not prepared to follow such a clear-cut policy and tried to make an operational distinction betweenanti-US terrorism and anti-Indian terrorism. Pakistan fully exploited this ambivalence.

12. From the various statements of Obama and his advisers, there is not much reason for India to hope that this ambivalence woulddisappear under him. The double standards vis--vis anti-US and anti-India terrorism, which have been the defining characteristics of UScounter-terrorism policies since 1981, will continue to come to the rescue of Pakistan. It would be futile for India to expect any majorchange under Obama. We should deal with the terrorism against our nationals and interests emanating from Pakistani territory in our ownway, through our own means and on our own terms. So far as India's fight against terrorism is concerned, the advent of Obama as the nextPresident of the US is not going to make any major difference.

13. At the same time, even if he succeeds in damaging if not destroying the capabilities of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, India will have somebeneficial fall-out, but it will not be the end of Pakistani use of terrorism against India. We should wish him well and help him in whateverway we can professionally without accepting any political interference by the US in matters such as Jammu & Kashmir and India's presencein Afghanistan. We should not accept any US overlordship in the region under the pretext of a regional approach to the problem ofterrorism.(15-1-09)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. E-mail: )