On a scale of 1 to 10, an American editor of a defence newspaper told me that his threat perception on terror attacks inside the United States would merit an eight. A German minister rated it at four adding that ?war against terrorism? was difficult to win ?as they were one too many.? An Indian general fighting terrorism exported from Pakistan in Kashmir for past few decades responded nonchalantly ?may be two!? These responses exhibit that farther the theatre of war, higher was the paranoia. We have withstood the onslaught for the past two decades without nation'smorale plummeting while the West that joined the war on terrorism fairly recently is despondent.
On the other hand, the responses also show that the former imperial powers will order military overkill at the drop of a hat while we, on the other end of the spectrum, are so utterly laid back that even if our parliament is attacked, we will display indecisiveness and paralysis of an extraordinary nature. The war against terrorism is indeed winnable provided these two extreme positions on the spectrum and the faulty strategic approach to the challenges posed by asymmetric warfare is reconciled.
Similarly, avowed objective of exporting western democratic role model fell flat as such norms evolve keeping in view the internal societal compulsions. They cannot be sledgehammered into an alien society overnight. Especially, if there are double standards that insist on support to a dictator in Pakistan, in which two former prime ministers are forced to live in exile, while in its neighbourhood, democracy is being pushed down the throat of Iraq in an unjust war.
The wheel came full circle with ISAF and NATO now pitted against the same irregular Islamic terrorist, forces that they helped Islamabad raise against Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and Pakistan is deploying them covertly to expel ISAF and Karzai from Kabul while overtly extracting millions of dollars from America in aid in the name of launching war against them! The false excuse of WMD to attack Iraq and at the same time, overlooking of proliferation by Islamabad provided adequate incentives to Iran and others since they became vulnerable after attack on Iraq to blackmail, if they do not develop nukes. By removing Saddam'sregime, Shia power comprising of the suppressed class within Islam, now runs unchecked from Iran to inside the borders of Saudi Arabia, flush with largesse of petro-dollars that invigorate the Shias of Mehdi Army in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The largest casualty in this counter-productive war devoid of a relevant strategy despite the fire power available, are the American and British democracies which now curtail the freedom of their citizens through enactment of draconian laws. The hunters have become the hunted due to extreme paranoia with reported terrorist camps running inside the United Kingdom. Possibly the biggest strategic folly committed by Bush is the mistake of uniting Islamic countries against the West in a clash of civilisations syndrome despite their ingrained divisive lines.
If America, the symbol of free world stumbles, other democracies will experience stress, which they may not be able to counter, as stated by the German minister. Therefore, it is necessary to consolidate the military and intelligence assets and redirect the effort to nuetralise the core of the problem. Looking purely from an American viewpoint, this war can be won, if it is waged intelligently, shorn of rhetoric, despite the heavy losses incurred so far.
To cut it'soverstretching, despite the loss of face America will incur; Washington must regroup its forces. If its leadership does not display good generalship by redrawing its strategy, they will not succeed on either fronts-Iraq or Afghanistan-Pakistan. Instead Washington along with its alliance partners will continue to bleed on both fronts. The choice is either to withdraw forces from Iraq or Afghanistan. Closing the Iraq chapter is recommended on multiple counts. First, it is considered an unjust occupation. Second, the epic centre of terrorism is located in Afghanistan-Pakistan and is orchestrated by ISI. Under its directions, Pakistani Irregular Forces export terror to India, Afghanistan, Central Asia including Chechnya, to South East Asia and West Asia and EU and North America. If Afghanistan-Pakistan (particularly Pakistan) area is sanitised, the terrorist fervour will reduce instantly by almost 60 percent.
To put halt to Talibanisation of Afghanistan and Central Asia is the only method to ensure the security of the energy routes. Therefore, occupation of Iraq must end. Let it fall apart with Shias, Sunnis and Kurds parting ways. The division of Iraq due to ethnic reality in any case will ultimately occur and is a better bet than the dismal strategic situation that prevails at the moment. Kurds will become restless and are likely to create problems for Turkey with demand for greater Kurdistan but that premise is more manageable than the current positions. Americans may also manage to retain a foothold in the Kurdish area. Iran in long run will act as a natural counterpoise against the Sunni terrorism. This remains the only way to convert military deficit into substantial surplus for America. The new military surplus will prove a formidable force on redeployment in Afghanistan. Thus, the loss of face should be considered a temporary phenomenon as a calibrated tactical retreat.
This strategically is a sound move on the international chessboard as Americans and the West can boast of every resource required for waging war except the young demographic profile. Despite every technological and resource superiority available, conventional wars still require adequate manpower to enable land forces to hold the ground. On the other hand, the Islamic terrorist forces and the states that sponsor them do not have the reach through blue water navies or air power with sufficient capabilities to achieve dominance and suffer from land locked mentality due to their medieval outlook. However they do boast of sufficient deployable manpower to indulge in terrorist activities. While the coalition forces hold Baghdad and Kabul, public perception is that Iraq and Afghanistan are under occupation of the West. The truth is that the writ of the Western forces led by America does not run beyond Baghdad and Kabul. Since the Islamic terrorist forces have the manpower and retain element of surprise natural to a guerrilla army, they can mount attacks within these capital cities too. Therefore a stalemate persists as neither side is in a decisive position to win the war. Hence, it is important to vacate Iraq, which will result in different guerrilla factions keeping themselves fairly occupied by fighting each other and concentrate on Afghanistan-Pakistan to disrupt in its entirety the main breeding ground and the supply route of the Islamic terrorism factory. Through this redeployment the lateral strategic spin-off that will accrue is the disruption of the main Chinese proxy besides the destruction of the nerve centre of terrorism. The maps then can be redrawn for Baluchistan and other areas to disallow future rejuvenation of epic centre of terrorism to ever re-emerge.
Facing onslaught of terrorism helplessly on the eastern borders of Pakistan is another victim, i.e., India. Unlike the Western Alliance, it has a young demographic profile but remains an unusually reluctant warrior. While America'sgeographical location renders it a secure environ, India is located bang in the midst of the Islamic terrorism'sfervour. Surrounded by Islamic countries on its East, West, and the Southeast, India over centuries has been a mute spectator to invasions from the Western borders that originated as far away as Central Asia. Therefore, New Delhi'sconfusion over whether India is a victim of export of terrorism from Pakistan for over two decades or is Islamabad the victim is understandable. Reluctance to face reality of conflict is part of the elders psyche born before Independence for many centuries-a hand me down generation-to-generation mantra! The actuality is that India'sland frontiers from east to north and north to west are in constant turmoil due to infiltration, insurgency, and creeping invasion, changing demography in the border areas and spreading terrorist network in rest of the country.
(The writer is editor, Indian Defence Review.)