Al Qaeda’s resurgence a self-fulfilling US prophesy: Gen Ehsan
(Daily Times) Washington: General Ehsanul Haq told a conference here on Tuesday that the post 9/11 trauma suffered by the Untied States and the attempt to “glorify” Al Qaeda, portraying it as a terrorist force with a worldwide network and reach, had turned out to be a “self-fulfilling prophesy”.
General Haq, a former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) who has recently retired from the army, was part of a panel on post-Iraq war jihadists at the one-day annual conference of the Middle East Institute at the National Press Club.
He called for a new relationship between Islam and the West based on trust, tolerance and peace. Pakistan, he said, was a victim of the scourge of terrorism and success in the war against terror was an existential issue for the country. As a predominantly Muslim nation, Pakistan considered it an obligation to succeed in the struggle, which was one “for our faith and to project Islam in its true form as a great religion of peace”, he said.
Invasion of Iraq: Pakistan, he said, was determined to stabilise Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban. “We were opposed to the invasion of Iraq as we were concerned that it would not only distract us from our focus on the situation in Afghanistan and countering terrorism, but run the risk of unleashing the forces of ethnic and sectarian fratricide. Moreover, we feared that this would strengthen [Osama] Bin Laden’s contention of a US crusade against Islam” aimed at dominating the Arab and Islamic world and control its resources, he said. Subsequent events, he stressed, had proved Pakistan’s worst fears and today, Iraq has emerged as a base for international terrorism, energising terrorist forces in the region and the wider world. Iraq now acts as the cause celebre for jihadists, and is bringing into being a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives.
Gen Haq, whose last post was Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee chairman, said that Washington’s “stay on course” policy on Iraq was becoming “increasingly untenable”, though there were “no easy alternatives”. Continuation of the current strategy or a phased or immediate withdrawal, all ran “catastrophic risks that need careful deliberation”, he added. A Coalition withdrawal from Iraq or any cutback in forces or operations, without the required politico-strategic safeguards, would lead to continued violence, reinforced ethnic and sectarian fault lines and a power vacuum that could be filled by Al Qaeda or terrorists giving shape to a new order for Iraq. He warned that there was a chance that militants might seize power in Baghdad or in a significant part of Iraqi territories to provide a sanctuary for Al Qaeda and other militants, as in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Given the present situation in Iraq, he warned, national cohesion might be difficult to achieve.
If Iraq looked like it would disintegrate, he said, neighbouring states might be compelled to intervene to protect their strategic interests. Since the war, the Shiite-Sunni conflict had become serious, undermining the country’s stability, he added. The tilt in the power balance in favour of either group would further polarise sectarian alignments across the region, extending from Palestine to Pakistan, he said.
Iraq melting pot of militants: He called Iraq a “melting pot of militants from all over the region and international terrorist networks”. He suggested that any evaluation of the emerging situation in Iraq must recognise the linkage and interconnection with terrorism in the global context.
Gen Haq said that a predominantly military approach to counter-terrorism was deeply flawed and might not take the world anywhere. “It can at best achieve tactical effects of affording time and space for the application of a comprehensive strategy aimed at addressing the root causes that drive radicalisation of Muslim societies and recruitment into the ranks of extremists and terrorists,” he said.
He said that Muslims today feel that they are being singled out. They also see that great injustices have been perpetrated against them in Palestine, Kashmir and many other places. He said the perception of Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan successfully surviving the military onslaught of the US, NATO and the rest of the international coalition highlights two lessons. First, it shows that a purely military approach does not work. Second, it highlights the resilience of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. The international war on terror, he said, had to be sustained as a long term struggle, not merely to win immediate military or intelligence objectives, but to win the war of ideas. There has to be a sincere attempt to develop bridges and a strategic rapprochement between Islam and the West.
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