Traveling in a tube, a train or an airplane how many times has it happened that some fellow traveler shocks you with his or her rash outburst or sudden movement? Does your pulse race? Do you feel nauseated by the possibility of a terror attack? You know many people do. This is the legacy of the age of terror. And yet it is clear that you must have quite often thought of the distant lands being rummaged and ravaged for the search of the terrorists. How many innocents die in the name of the war on terror? And yet the more successful we feel the less safe we are. Why is it so?
There are reasons why the so-called war on terror is more complicated and deeply psychological in nature than the Cold War. The USSR had a clear face and clear interests. That implied that there was clear limit deterioration of the situation. That is no more the case. The phantom of terror knows no bounds. It can make two countries fight battles that are not theirs. And the terrorists in the post-modern age care two hoots about any state. What to do then? And above all, why is the ongoing war on terror failing?
There are various reasons to explain away the failures. There must be some who think that the war is failing because it fails to address the actual seeds of discord like Palestine and Kashmir. There are others who think that the current discord and degeneracy is a gift of the economic realities of today. Poverty breeds intolerance and extremism. Yet there are others who think that the US double standards on democracy and human rights are the reasons behind this mess. Why is the US, which would have done every bit to remove a dictator from its own backyard, actively support Musharraf and the Saudi despots? And then of course there is this explanation of the cultural shock and deficit where people are really frightened of the change brought by Western modernity. Well, most of these are valid points and should be kept in mind. But these are long term issues. If you are looking for a short term contingent factor, here it is: today the war on terror is marred by distrust and blowbacks because the US and its allies’ forces failed to nab Osama bin Laden and his coterie in the rugged terrain of Tora Bora. This is quite a giveaway. In other words, the US still finds itself capable of invading sovereign states because it failed to stop the disease from spreading. When does such a thing happen usually? Usually when the doctor does not want the patient to be cured too soon. Naturally, in view of the long term personal gain. Ask yourself, had Osama and his benighted friends been caught or killed in Tora Bora would the US have the mandate to keep invading as many countries as possible? But I do not wish to implicate the peace loving citizens of America or even most of their lawmakers. No sir, I have complaints against only a few, mostly unelected wily politicians and bureaucrats whose only excuse to stay in power is in the burgeoning environment of hatred and intolerance.
Those who perpetrated the heinous crimes of 9/11 wanted to provoke the US into a silly reaction that would make it appear unfit to lead the world or else to get engaged in a war which would only benefit a few and not the state itself. I was going through George Tenet’s autobiography and something kept occurring to me repeatedly. The al Qaeda is almost an exclusive discovery of the CIA if not its invention. Yet the point that stood out among all others was that the realisation and the response to the challenge came almost before the challenge itself. And with an exception everything came after George Tenet’s rise to the leadership of the CIA. This is saying something, for the world’s premier intelligence agency was facing a serious crisis of identity by then. The sole purpose of the CIA’s creation was fight communism and after the demise of the USSR there was no justification for its existence. Miraculously then the man who took war to the US belonged to a family of very close financial allies to a former Director of Central Intelligence and then President George Bush senior. And then the most terrible of all attacks took place during the days of his son George W Bush and George Tenet. I know coincidences can happen anytime but given the CIA’s track record these are one too many. George Tenet we know had long term connection with the neo-cons through his good old friend Newt Gingrich who wanted the US to wage World War III. And through this assertion I do not mean to implicate the field operators of the pickle factory. For anyone who recognises bravery their role for their motherland has been only too heroic. However, you cannot overrule the chances of the involvement of the desk at Langley.
On the other hand, if we take the CIA’s claim of being taken by a surprise on face value then we have to look into another serious matter. The post-9/11 assault on Afghanistan was quite well-conceived and yet Osama managed to escape Tora Bora. That would imply that al Qaeda had a contingency plan and was informed in advance of such a situation. And that in turn opens the avenue for the presence of mole(s) at Langley. Has the US done everything to stop such leaks or is it that the charade of counter terrorism has taken the needs of counter intelligence? I believe it is the latter if not my first assumption. The US intelligence community is badly bruised and needs time to repair itself. And at the same time there is a need to revisit the very rationale of the CIA’s continued existence. The CIA assets the world over can be imbibed by a new outfit charged with defending the homeland rather than anything ambitious like defeating or reinventing foreign threats. Meanwhile, the US influentials need to trust Pakistan more on the matters of fighting terrorism for the country is deeply embroiled in a battle of reform and can work out that bit without foreign involvement, which would only complicate matters further. The only thing Pakistan needs today is the unwavering support for democracy and discipline among the officer cadre. Reform and not mere belligerence is the only way to fight terrorism and extremism.
The writer is a Pakistani television journalist and a commentator on political and security issue. He can be reached at his website: www.pitafi.com .