x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Qa'eda rebuilds its base

America's fight to destroy the terrorist network is "just kind of drifting" says former top Bush administration official, while Washington and Islamabad try to paper over what may be irreconcilable differences.

With President Bush just a few months away from leaving office, an article in The New York Times raised serious questions about the crafting and implementation of what had been the signature policy of this administration: its aim to destroy al Qa'eda. The article focused on inter-agency disagreements and a drain on resources that ensued from the war in Iraq. It portrayed the US government's challenge in tackling its nemesis as preeminently a military task that had been hobbled by political obstacles. The New York Times said: "When American military officials proposed in 2002 that Special Operations forces be allowed to establish bases in the tribal areas, Pakistan flatly refused. Instead, a small number of 'black' Special Operations forces ? Army Delta Force and Navy Seal units ? were allowed to accompany Pakistani forces on raids in the tribal areas in 2002 and early 2003. "That arrangement only angered both sides. American forces used to operating on their own felt that the Pakistanis were limiting their movements. And while Pakistani officials publicly denied the presence of Americans, local tribesmen spotted the Americans and protested. "Under pressure from Pakistan, the Bush administration decided in 2003 to end the American military presence on the ground. In a recent interview, [former deputy secretary of state, Richard] Armitage said he had supported the pullback in recognition of the political risks that Mr Musharraf had already taken. 'We were pushing them almost to the breaking point,' Mr Armitage said. "The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 added another complicating factor, by cementing a view among Pakistanis that American forces in the tribal areas would be a prelude to an eventual American occupation." In the Middle East Report Online, Graham Usher provided some of the political context within which the American fight against al Qa'eda must be placed. He wrote that: "on February 18, the Pakistani electorate voted for change ? and against Musharraf, Islamabad's participation in what most Pakistanis see as an American war and the army's involvement in governance. Prior to her murder, [Benazir] Bhutto had confected the idea of a 'moderate middle' to obscure the contradiction at the heart of her return. With her party in government, the contradiction stands naked. Whether on Afghan borderlands or in the federal capital, the centrism of the Pakistan People's Party's politics ? appealing to the masses while trying to toe the US line ? cannot hold. Very simply, there is no centre in Pakistani politics, no 'moderate middle': There is policy decreed by Washington and an electorate, including now large parts of the army, that rejects it. "... the summer thaw in the Hindu Kush, with the attendant rise in Taliban attacks, could prove the final tripwire for a full-fledged US incursion into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). [Khalid] Aziz [a former first secretary in the Fata, and now an analyst] is mordant about the consequence of that collision. 'If there is a peace agreement [with the Taliban] followed by a major Nato attack inside Pakistan, it would stretch the US-Pakistani alliance to the breaking point. It would destroy everything.' "Is there shelter from the gathering storms? The government could return to its election pledges. It could reinstate the judges [who were sacked by President Musharraf in 2007] and, concurrent with dialogue with the Taliban, commit to a mass investment for 'empowerment, education, employment' for the poor in all of the smaller provinces, but especially the Fata and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). But for all this to transpire, Musharraf would need to stand down, the army would need to stand back and Washington would need to exhibit a 'strategic patience' unseen since September 11, 2001. None of these eventualities is likely." Meanwhile, a military operation against militants who have recently threatened to overrun the NWFP capital, Peshawar, was quickly declared a success by Pakistan's new government. The target of the operation, Mangal Bagh, was not a member of the Taliban. McClatchy Newspapers reported: "In the Khyber area, locals in Bara marketplace denounced the operation. They insisted that Mangal Bagh had enforced law and order to an area that, while under government control, was notorious for smuggled goods, drugs and kidnappings. "'There is peace here, what is the point of the operation?' said Said Ayaz, a trader in Bara. 'Mangal Bagh is not a bad man. The problems are elsewhere.' "Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-e-Islam movement, the main target of the military action so far, is not allied with the Taliban and has not adopted their more brutal tactics, such as suicide bombings and attacks on the army. "Claiming thousands of armed followers, Mangal Bagh over the last three years has developed his movement unchecked by the authorities. He has been allowed to gain control much of the Khyber area, which includes the famous Khyber Pass, a crucial supply line for Nato troops in landlocked Afghanistan." In April, McClatchy reported: "A local politician who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said: "If we finish Mangal Bagh, the Taliban will come in. He's a better alternative. At least he will never pick up his gun against Pakistan."

"A court case to ban Turkey's Islamist-rooted ruling party moves closer to a verdict, with the prosecutor and party officials set to present their arguments before judges this week," AFP reported. "Chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya will be the first to appear before the Constitutional Court in a closed hearing on Tuesday to beef up his case on why the Justice and Development Party (AKP) should be outlawed for undermining Turkey's secular system. "An AKP team will then address the 11-judge tribunal on Thursday, again behind closed doors, to deliver the party's defence." In an editorial, The Times said: "Turkey's constitutional court opens a case today that will have momentous, and possibly disastrous, consequences not only for Turkey but also for much of the Muslim world. It is a case that could end Turkish hopes of joining the European Union forever and transform one of the West's most vibrant strategic allies into a feuding and embittered society, torn between military repression and Islamic fervour. "For what the court is attempting to decide is whether Islam is compatible with secular democracy. If it rules that the present Islamist government has undermined Atat¸rk's constitution, it will declare the entire ruling AKP illegal and order the dissolution of one of Turkey's most popular and successful governments. If that should happen, Islamist parties throughout the Muslim world may turn their backs on democracy, arguing that, since secularists will never accept them, they should ignore the democratic process and seize power. "Few court cases have been more political or less justified. When the chief prosecutor opens proceedings today with the accusation that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, is seeking to transform Turkey into an Islamic state, most Turks will hear the voice of the powerful and resentful armed forces." The New Statesman reported: "This is a fight not between secularism and Islamism in Turkey, but between old and new power elites, between nationalism and democracy "The battle over Turkey's future as a democracy is getting ever nastier. Despite the air of normality in bustling Istanbul, optimists are hard to find. "It is two months since Turkey's highest court agreed to hear a case to close the governing AKP and ban the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Abdullah G¸l, and 69 other AKP members ? including a third of the cabinet ? from politics for five years. "Sitting at an outdoor terrace in Istanbul's Taksim Square, the commentator Cengiz andar describes the situation as a judicial coup. The government and ruling party are now under a legal siege," he says.