Ending the Unending War on Terror, Need to explore other policy options


“Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach … The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower, and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly. Daesh is a formidable adversary and the number of Daesh fighters now far exceeds what al-Qaeda had at its height.”

John Brennan  (Director Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

The above-quoted words are a sort of confession as well as a warning that came after 16 years of US military campaigns in across the Middle East, Afghanistan and more recently in Syria. This confession of an absolute failure is an apt remark and says a lot about what Americans think about the end result of their years-long war on terror that has turned the whole world into an inferno. Brennan is giving a confirmation to warnings that many political scientists and international relations analysts have given time and again which say that using military strategies to defeat terrorism only leads to the creating further acts of terrorism. And, they were not wrong at all.

But, isn’t it true that the United States is itself to be blamed for all the miseries and afflictions the world, and the US itself, face today. They made policies that divided world’s peoples into two forces that were poles apart in their ideologies. The fact that the United States has a long and torrid history of backing terrorist groups is absolutely undeniable and it will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore history.

It’s not a secret now that the CIA first aligned itself with extremist Islam during the Cold War era. It was a period in the history of the modern world when the world was bipolar and had two centres of power i.e. the US and the Soviet Union. Americans saw the world in rather simple terms: on one side, the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side, Western nations and militant political Islam, which America considered an ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union.

Lest we forget, the CIA gave birth to Osama bin Laden and breastfed his organization during the 1980s. Former British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, told the House of Commons that al-Qaeda was unquestionably a product of Western intelligence agencies. Mr Cook explained that al-Qaeda as originally the computer database of the thousands of Islamist extremists, who were trained by the CIA and funded by the Saudis, in order to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.

Another monster of our times is the militant self-styled group of Islamic State. The group was created, much like al-Qaeda, in order to oust Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from power and to ensure American control on the oil-rich Middle East. But, the policy of creating a proxy has certainly backfired. IS, which is now known as Daesh, rose to international prominence after its members began beheading people and uploading their videos on the Internet. At present, reports suggest that the terrorist group controls an area the size of the United Kingdom.

If, on the one hand, this policy of creating proxies has inflicted colossal losses to American economy, its ripple effects have been felt across the globe, on the other. In case of our own country, Pakistan, we have been facing the wrath of terrorists in form of huge losses of life and property. The Federal Minister for Finance, Mr Ishaq Dar, recently reported that terrorism, fuelled by cross-border and foreign sponsorships, has driven up losses for Pakistan to $118.3 billion since 2001 and the country suffered losses, both direct and indirect, worth $5.6 billion in the fiscal year 2015-16 only.

Recently, a club in American State Orlando came under attack when Omar Mateen opened fire at the club and killed at least 50 people. Ataturk Airport in Istanbul has also witnessed suicide bombing which devoured at least 41 people. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are also bearing the brunt of the war on terrorism but it seems that no lessons have been learnt by the spearhead of the war, the United States because it is still adamant on using the force. Recent speeches of prospective presidential candidates i.e. Donald J. Trump and Hillary R. Clinton, are an indication that the world is not going to be a peaceful place anytime soon.

We must also remember that isolated and relatively rare terrorism attacks will continue to happen and it means that the global war on terrorism must not be fought with the same old tools and methods. All the experts are united in saying that a change of perspective is needed — and fast — both in countries who are suffering terrorism for years as well as those who are new to the phenomenon.

This demonstrates the futility of attempting to bomb or shoot terrorism out of existence. When bombing and shooting are the methods of choice, the targets are not “terrorism,” but cities and people. Air strikes and drone attacks — on people in a car, in the desert, in a hospital, or at a wedding party — may sometimes kill individual terrorists (and always other people), but do nothing to stop terrorism. Leaders are soon replaced, and the most adept bomb-makers soon turn out to have trained a successor. And, it confirms the fact that war begets and fosters terrorism in several ways. Terror itself is often a tool in war, used to sow an atmosphere of fear and undermine governments.

Military engagement may have worked in some areas to oust Daesh forces from territory they controlled, but the cost of such campaigns is extraordinarily high for the people and nations where they occur. People face the absolute destruction of their homes and city. They may become refugees or internally-displaced people for a generation or more. For instance, in Fallujah, thousands of desperate civilians fleeing the fighting in mid-June found that no preparations had been made to care for them — with clean water, food, shelter from the searing heat, and medical care all lacking.

Hence, the US-led military campaigns “against terror” continue to set the stage for more terror attacks, and to create more terrorists, as anger turns to rage, especially for the people in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan and beyond.

If the United States really wants to end this botched war on terror and bring an enduring and long-lasting peace to the world, then there are a host of non-military approaches that hold far more promise than bomb-drone-kill policy. Diplomacy, humanitarian support, arms embargos, economic assistance, more diplomacy all these can be used instead of military action, not alongside it.

As long as these wars rage, the problems they generate will not stay confined to the Middle East. Only a fraction of a fraction end up fighting, and even fewer engage in terrorism, but only a small number need to respond for the problem to be serious.

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