Opinion: The War on Terror Can′t be Won by Military Might Alone | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.09.2008
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Opinion: The War on Terror Can't be Won by Military Might Alone

DW's Thomas Baerthlein says political, not military, solutions are what Pakistan needs after a suicide bomber killed more than 50 lpeople at an Islamabad hotel.


The suicide bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday, Sept. 20, is just the tip of the iceberg. The extreme precariousness of the security situation in that country becomes even clearer when you look at the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. For the most part, they are still controlled by the Taliban.

It has become a sort of ritual in the "war on terror" to make a pledge of toughness and decisiveness in the wake of these sorts of massive attacks. But what do these pledges really mean? A military solution for the Taliban and al-Qaeda in north-western Pakistan has as much hope of succeeding as the coalition troops that have spent the past seven years in Afghanistan: that is to say, not much.

Military operations do not provide safety from terrorism. On the contrary, the rule is that bombing attacks multiply in reaction to military offensives.

US steps up border pressure

This pattern applies to current events as well. In the past week, the US has intensified pressure in the region. US President George W. Bush has apparently authorized troops to advance on Pakistani territory from within Afghanistan. But given everything that's emerging about US operations, it's been a disaster.

Due to a lack of reliable information, the US, like Pakistan, frequently carries out imprecise attacks that hit innocent civilians. Serious estimates say hundreds of thousands of people are on the run from the fighting. If that isn't fertile ground for terrorists, then what is?

Thomas Baerthlein portrait

Thomas Baerthlein

Moreover, the political environment in Pakistan completely contradicts a purely military approach. Anti-Americanism is deeply rooted in the country and, if anything, seems to be growing. Many -- possibly a majority -- of Pakistanis believe the USA is actually leading a war against the Muslim world in the name of an anti-terror campaign. For many Pakistani soldiers, the Taliban are not the enemy, but rather, fellow countrymen.

In terror fight, cynicism abounds

That the army under ex-President Musharraf misused the anti-terror campaign as a way of getting rich; that hundreds of Pakistanis have disappeared without a trace or a trial; and that the double-crossing army and espionage agencies continue to support the extremists -- all that has made folks cynical when it comes to talk of fighting terrorism.

In fact, an alternative political strategy would not be so hard to develop. The idea is not to give in to the Taliban but, first and foremost, to see to it that they are politically isolated.

In Pakistan, people are not thronging to the Taliban, as elections have shown thus far. They only flourish where there is a collapse of free government under the law. But in order to create a wide alliance of democratic and moderate powers against the extremists, it has to be clear that the fight against terror isn't being led by foreign powers, and that that such a fight is being led in accordance with the rule of law.

Land of missed opportunity?

The tragedy is that there was already an opportunity to act on such a strategy, when there was a grand coalition government after parliamentary elections. But the current president, Asif Ali Zardari, spoiled that chance when he declined to reinstate the non-partisan chief justice, and Nawaz Sharif pulled out of the coalition as a result.

Zardari has barely taken office, and already many people are seeing him as a puppet of Washington -- similar to his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, or his Afghani counterpart, Hamid Karzai, who was an honored guest at his swearing-in.

When it comes to the future of the fight against terrorism and extremism, we should all fear the worst.

Thomas Baerthlein is the deputy head of the South Asia service at Deutsche Welle (jen)

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