When President Obama announced his regional initiative to fight terrorism in both Afghanistan and Pakistan it was met by some officials in the region with skepticism and pessimism. Candidate Barack Obama ran for president asserting his predecessor took his eye off the ball when he diluted American resources to fight terrorism by invading Iraq. The President says he has a clear and focused goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Few would argue that America can combat terrorism alone because it is clearly a global threat and one that reaches far beyond US targets. And unlike the Bush approach that included Iraq, Americans can ill afford to operate unilaterally or in a vacuum to combat it. But the US also cannot assume the role of savior of the world from terrorism either.
Unlike during World War I or II, terrorist attacks on US targets or soil will not threaten to redraw the borders of the country. Battalions of soldiers trying to invade and occupy a country are by far the most serious threat to any national security. But Islamic extremists’ violent and destructive acts tear at the very fabric of American security altering its lifestyle and curbing its freedoms. Despite what a handful of misinformed critics say, America’s approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Obama Administration is not one of imperialism but to aid and assist the citizens onto a path of independence and development of their own brand of Democracy. Corruption, opium drug trade, a poor justice system and areas not controlled by the government are but a few of the stumbling blocks that can thwart the best of plans.
But it is the people who reside in these two countries and their elected leaders that must find a way to reclaim peace and order within their borders lest they run the risk of becoming a nation similar to Somalia where a weakened centralized government has resulted in law that is ruled by the one who is holding the weapon.
American resources in the form of military reinforcement and training of national security forces in both countries is a good start but this situation will not stabilize if the idea is to look to the US to be the “saving grace” here. While America has a vested interest in ridding the world of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, US policy alone cannot successfully resolve this problem. In fact a unilateral approach to fighting terrorism can result in the opposite effect as in Iraq where there was no clear exit strategy leaving the government weakened and more vulnerable to outside threats.
With elections coming soon, I am still unclear on how Afghanistan plans to become an independent flourishing nation. While US policy includes improvements in infrastructure to aid the economy, Afghans must implore their own vision and have concrete strategies and tactics to achieve goals. This is no small task considering the limited educational and economic levels of many of its residents. Some have expressed disappointment in the leadership of Presidentbut no one has come forth with a legitimate challenger and Karzai himself has offered little in the way of a plan of action. To paraphrase one world leader, Afghanistan cannot be run from another country. Clearly this will take an inside-out solution.
US presence in both nations has not come without its own share of controversy even with the change in administration. Targeted killings of suspected terror camps has caused backlash from Afghans who say the strikes kill innocent civilians as well. If this is a fact then they are clearly right to oppose these types of actions in their country. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be angry when Americans do this and look the other way when Islamic terrorists within your own borders place your citizens in harm’s way. It is widely believed that terrorists are purposely embedding into civilian areas to try to prevent strikes. It seems the propaganda of terrorists has influenced some Afghans more than the grave reality of the circumstances they exist in and how they came about. They should use the same passion they have when they feel America has done something wrong and channel it into a national movement to reclaim their country from all internal and external threats.
Some Pakistani officials welcomed the regional approach on one hand because it brings in additional resources and money but fear the lumping together of Afghanistan and Pakistan will cause more terrorists to react with violence. The problem with this line of thinking is that the status quo has already allowed for terrorists to set up camp within their border. If an America-led solution results in an escalation of violence then what is the alternative? Pakistan has failed to control this situation on its own. It has needed and wanted assistance from outside forces so there is no simple solution that will hinder terrorists from wanting to evoke their brand of terror on any perceived enemy under any set of circumstances. There is also the possibility that any escalated violence could be successfully met with a surge of unified forces.
The goal for the Pakistani government should be to take more of a lead and act out of courage and not fear to reclaim stability in all areas of their nation so it will no longer be the “haven of choice” for terrorists looking to set up camp.
In the mix of all this Americans are not without their own blind opposition to what is best for them. Many have been preoccupied with the rights of detained suspected terrorists, habeas corpus, Guantanamo Bay closing, photos of water boarding and prisoner abuses of the past. While Americans have allowed their focus to be heavy rhetoric and dialogue about past misdeeds, the same elements that plotted to kill so many American lives on American soil are continuing to flourish and plan their next attack. In the Black community there is a saying that goes “You worrying about the wrong thing”. It means you are focused on a problem that is way down on your list of immediate priorities.
Americans cannot afford to be distracted by these issues in a manner that takes us away from the larger picture, especially during an economic recession and recovery period. Hopefully the Obama Administration will be able to successfully balance executing tough terrorist policies with health reform, finance reform and economic initiatives all at the same time.
Multiple intelligence sources suggest fresh attacks on American soil are being planned by terrorists and history has proven that enemies always try to strike just after a change in government. This means it is ever more crucial that Afghanistan and Pakistan immediately step up their efforts to fight terror groups within their own borders with an overall vision that includes initiatives to take independent control of their regions as soon as possible. Anything short of that happening is an exercise in futility for the Obama Administration.
America cannot be placed into the position of savior of all the 42 lead-nations in the region who all benefit from stability and the demise of terror camps. With all the problems currently facing the US, there is no room left for miracles in other nations, especially when we are in such dire need of a few of our own.