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Volume 2, No. 4 - September 2002

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The Iraq Strategy: Accelerating the Islamist Confrontation
Editorial Team

While India struggles through its deadlocked confrontation of Islamists assault of Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir for the last dozen years, September 11, 2001 has brought about a sea change in the US strategy to tackle its own Islamist enemies. The results are not yet in, but there is potential for considerable progress in the US war in a much shorter period of time, relative to India, which has never been able to put an overt or covert strategy in place that works.

In the first phase of the “anti-terror war”, the United States went after the well known and widely accepted enemies such as the Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, Taliban, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. This was necessary to pre-empt immediate threats of massive terrorist attacks against US interests. Bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Mohammed Atef and Juma Namangani, whether dead or spending their days and nights avoiding capture are a greatly diminished threat to the lives of Americans. The strategy has worked so far, although it probably won't work for too long.

The reason is that there is a far larger threat, which comes from the widespread support for anti-American Islamist ideology in so-called allies of the United States: countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. No one, including the trigger happy Bush administration, dares to confront these nations openly. A recent report of a Pentagon briefing on the fickleness of the US-Saudi relationship was quickly disavowed. Bush has gone to great extent to talk about his being “tight” with his “stalwart” ally, the tinpot Pakistani dictator and terrorist sponsor Pervez Musharraf.

Now comes the apparent one-way march towards war with Iraq. On the face of it, the policy seems to be gravely illogical. Saddam is boxed in, and is hardly a threat to his neighbors, leave alone the shores of the United States. The Al Qaeda connection to Iraq turns out to be bases in Kurd-controlled territory, hardly an indictment of Saddam. Almost the entire world, save Israel, has expressed opposition to the US plans. Yet every time a domestic or foreign voice speaks out against Iraq strikes, a Bush official immediately steps in to say that war is inevitable.

Surely Bush's advisors have discussed the possibility of an Islamic backlash against an attack on a nation that has not attacked anyone in a dozen years and is trying to mend fences with most of its neighbors. It is likely that such an action will bring out the worst in the Saudi Wahabbis and the Pakistani jehadis, who may otherwise, given enough time,  coalesce into a mortal danger for the US. Would it then give the US the rationale to tackle those obscure enemies, which it knows it can not confront openly for the moment? Could it be that the Bush strategy really is not as illogical as it seems to be?

There may or may not be much to this theory. Maybe the Bush gang is merely a trigger-happy bunch of cowboys raring to go after the guy who Bush Senior let off the hook. But maybe India should itself look at innovative, long term ways to tackle the Pakistan problem, rather than the Kashmir problem. Pakistan is described as the next on the failing state list in the current issue of the Washington Quarterly. India needs to  examine covert ways to accelerate that process.

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