August 05, 2021
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Enduring Freedom Or Enduring Musharraf?

Under the US leadership, the so-called war against terrorism has essentially become a war against Al Qaeda, but there are other adversaries too. To win against them all, US has to realise that freedom and Musharraf do not go together.

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Enduring Freedom Or Enduring Musharraf?

The fifth anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone without any major act of terrorism coinciding with the anniversary and attributable to Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front (IIF). The three explosions, which took place at Malegaon in the state of Maharashtra on September 8, 2006, resulting in the death of 31 innocent civilians are under investigation and there are no indicators so far to suggest that they might have been timed to coincide with the anniversary.

The fifth anniversary of the launching of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, is just three weeks away. The Operation, which was launched by the coalition led by the US, had three objectives—to prevent the possibility of another 9/11 in US territory by destroying the command and control of Al Qaeda (which was till then based in Afghan territory); to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan (which, in defiance of international pressure, had given sanctuary to Al Qaeda in its territory since 1996 and thereby facilitated its jihadi terrorist operations against the US); and to have the Taliban regime in Afghanistan replaced by a regime devoted to democracy and modernity.

To what extent, these objectives have been achieved? Before attempting an answer to this question, I may be permitted to draw attention to an article written by me three days after the launching of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In that article, I had stated, inter alia, as follows: 

"By personalising the campaign around the personage of Laden, Bush and Blair have given him the halo of a religious leader, which he did not have before September 11. Large sections of the Muslim Ummah, including in India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, have come to look upon him as a courageous protector of their religion. Moreover, he has become a hero in the entire Pashtun belt. The 'war' is no longer looked upon as one against international terrorism. Instead, it has come to be perceived as a 'war' against Islam and, more particularly, a 'war' against the Pashtuns.....Bush and Blair have committed the same mistake as Indira Gandhi did before November 1984, by personalising the counter-terrorism campaign in Punjab around the personage of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. India had to pay a heavy price for it during the next 12 years through the tragic assassinations of Mrs Gandhi and General Arunkumar Vaidya and the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of terrorists....The present 'war' being waged by the US and UK is unlikely to see the end of international terrorism fed by religious fanaticism. It will, most probably, be the beginning of a new and more virulent form of punishment terrorism of the kind witnessed on September 11. No country having a sizeable Muslim population and no economy will be safe from its debilitating impact."

Within three years of the launch of Khalistani terrorism in Punjab, the Indian security forces succeeded in killing Sant Bhindranwale in the Golden Temple in Amritsar in June,1984. Neutralising him was the easiest part of our operation against the Khalistani terrorists because everybody knew he was inside the temple. But, killing him did not see the end of Khalistani terrorism. It set in motion the beginning of a more aggravated form of terrorism, which played havoc in Punjab and elsewhere for another 11 years before it could be brought under control.

Even five years after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, the US is as clueless about Osama bin Laden as it has been since he and his followers escaped into Pakistan in the beginning of 2002 after giving a slip to the US forces at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. The search for him has already cost millions of dollars and recently the US Congress is reported to have voted another 200 million dollars to fund the search for him.Neither the offer of millions of dollars in rewards nor the latest hi-tech gadgetry has found any trace of him.

The failure to capture or kill him so far need not reflect negatively on the USA's counter-terrorism operations. It is very difficult to find terrorists, who are security conscious and who enjoy some local support. It is even more difficult to neutralise terrorism master-minds, who enjoy the sympathy and protection of another State. India knows this bitter reality more than any other State of the world. Twenty of the most despicable terrorists of the world, who have killed thousands of innocent civilians in India since 1981 and hijacked aircraft, have been enjoying the hospitality and protection of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Our hunt for Sukhdev Singh Babbar and Talwinder Singh Parmar of the Babbar Khalsa took us 11 years before we killed them in Punjab in 1992. The French search for Carlos took 19 years before they ultimately caught him in Khartoum in August,1994, and the Germans took a similarly long time before they could find Yohannes Winrach alias Peter of the Red Army Faction in Yemen.

Our success against Talwinder Singh Parmar, the French success against Carlos and the German success against Peter were made possible by the co-operation received from the intelligence agencies of other countries (not Pakistan). Ultimate US success in tracing and neutralising bin Laden, his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri and other Al Qaeda leaders still alive would depend on the co-operation from Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment. The Pakistani co-operation has been less than sincere so far.

Has the US at least been able to weaken the command and control of the Pakistan-based Al Qaeda? To a certain extent, yes. The arrests of Abu Zubaidah, Ramzi Binalshibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Abu Faraj al-Libi and many others in different parts of Pakistan have definitely had a negative impact on Al Qaeda's command and control. Despite all the claims and bombasts of Pakistan-based bin Laden and Zawahiri from time to time, Al Qaeda's operational capability has been affected.

If that is so, how come the depredations of the jihadi terrorists continue to take place in dfferent parts of the world—Bali twice, Jakarta, Mombasa, Casablanca, Istanbul, Madrid, London, Sharm-el-Sheikh, Amman, Chechnya, New Delhi, Mumbai and so on ? It continues unaffected by the losses undoubtedly suffered by Al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan jihadi homeland. It is because pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism in different countries of the world inspired by the example of Al Qaeda has acquired a self-generating and self-sustaining momentum of its own, which is not necessarily dependent on a centralised command and control.

Even if bin Laden and Zawahiri are ultimately killed or captured and the remaining elements of their command and control are destroyed, that will not be the end of jihadi terrorism. Under the US leadership, the so-called war against terrorism has essentially become a war against Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is only one of the adversaries of the civilised world, even if it may be the principal adversary in the US eyes. There are many others—the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Jundullah, the Jemmah Islamiya (JI), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),the Hizb-e-Islami, the Taliban, the various jihadi groups which have come up in Iraq etc.If the war against jihadi terrorism has to be finally won, it can no longer afford to be focussed only against Al Qaeda. It has to be focussed against each and every one of these organisations.

Islamic anger against the non-Islamic world is not a new phenomenon. It was there even before 9/11.But, it has acquired an aggravated virulence since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom due to the over-militarisation of the campaign against jihadi terrorism. Use of air strikes and heavy artillery resulting in heavy civilian casualties, the perceived anti-Muslim tone of the rhetoric, Guantanamo Bay, secret prisons for jihadi terrorists, occupation of Iraq after overthrowing a secular regime, alleged atrocities at Abu Garaib etc have all contributed to this aggravation. Only now, the US has understood the need for a mid-course correction as seen from the recent decisions of President George Bush to put an end to secret prisons and bring the Guantanamo Bay detention centre under the purview of the Geneva Convention. This is a belated, but welcome correction. More are needed in order to see that the anger at least does not increase further even if it is not possible to reduce it quickly.

The war against Al Qaeda, as distinguished from the war against jihadi terrorism, has become a three-front war—the three fronts being in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The resurgence of the Al Qaeda and Pakistan supported Taliban in Afghanistan is threatening tio neutralise whatever gains were made in 2002. The oxygen for this resurgence has been coming from Pakistan. A combination of pro-Al Qaeda jihadi terrorists and resistance-fighters has kept Iraq bleeding despite the stationing of over 100,000 troops of the US-led coalition.

In the short term, the Iraqi front looks more daunting, but the war there is winnable if the US continues to make the required mid-course corrections. No external power is undermining the US efforts there.The dubious role of Iran and Syria is a worrisome factor, but it has not assumed a serious dimension so far.

In the long term, Afghanistan will prove more difficult to pacify. Any pacification, in order to succeed, has to start in Pakistani territory. US leaders and officials are still not prepared to admit that Pakistan is the source of their problem in Afghanistan. Paying a tribute to the role played by Gen.Pervez Musharraf in the war against terrorism, US Vice-President Dick Cheney was recently reported to have pointed out that more Al Qaeda terrorists have been killed or captured in Pakistan than in any other country of the world.

He does not realise that this was so because more Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorists are sheltered, fed and fattened in Pakistan and operate from there than in any other country. All jihadi roads lead to and from Pakistan. It is the incubator of jihadi terrorism. There will be no respite for the world from jihadi terrorism till this incubator is put out of action.

The earlier the US realises it, the better will be the chances of its ultimate success in Operation Enduring Freedom. It is in the interest of the international community that the US succeeds. It has not yet won the war against terrorism. It has not lost it either. Nearly 2,500 young American soldiers have died in this war against terrorism. More continue to die every week. This has not affected their morale and determination. The world owes a debt of gratitude to them.

Morale, determination, resources and gadgetry alone cannot win this war, if Pakistan, the USA's much-vaunted ally, continues to undermine their courageous fight. Who is more dangerous to the lives and interests of the Americans—bin Laden and Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, , who make no secret of their determination to keep killing the Americans and their allies wherever they find them or Gen.Pervez Musharraf, who openly parades himself as a time-tested ally of the US and slyly protects bin Laden, Mulla Omar and many others of the same kind? This question has to be squarely faced.

In order to succeed, the US must realise that Enduring Freedom and Enduring Musharraf cannot go together.

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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