One man’s terrorist, they say, is another’s freedom fighter. Terrorism is a global phenomenon that is complicated to define and explain. It is a matter of varying perceptions. A Palestinian who took up arms against Isreali occupation is deemed a freedom fighter in the Palestinian circles but from the frame of reference of an Israeli, he is a terrorist. In the global arena, terrorism has posed a number of challenges to democracy. These include; weak civilian institutions, corruption, incompetence, insurgency and last but not the least, death and destruction.
A scenario replete with such ills is not at all conducive for democracy to flourish.
A collective effort to combat international terrorism has become imperative in the present arena but there is a cost to it as well. In the wake of 9/11, the world has seen such a move in the form of American occupation of Afghanistan. But, a decade of insurgency has brought more death and destruction and has done little to ameliorate the situation. The insurgency today is at its strongest which paints a bleak picture about future prospects.
President Obama claim to “finish the job” by bringing the war to a “just end” but the success is far from being achieved. He is losing domestic support for the war that he inherited from his predecessor.
Presently, the US wants to retreat from the battle ground in a “graceful” manner. According to Fareed Zakaria, “America is in the midst of a war that is no going well. Scaling back now would look like cutting and running” Washington strongly asserts that they are “not losing” in Afghanistan.
Barack Obama seems to have ceded to the domestic pressures. The Americans have vociferously condemned the war efforts. They are more concerned about jobs and education. If Obama continues to follow his predecessor’s policies then it is highly unlikely for his to secure the next term in office. He is also cognizant of this fact and the announcement to pull back troops is a step in that direction.
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Afghanistan, is a text book example of a region where democratic institutions couldn’t be strengthened because of a bloody insurgency. The war torn region is riddled with terrorism and apparently there is no end to the insurgent movement. The main source of funding this insurgency comes from drug trafficking. According to BBC, 92% of worlds opium is produced in Afghanistan.
George Bush’s “blank cheque” to the Karzi government led to rampant corruption and mismanagement. The onus rests upon Karzai to wash away the stigma of corruption and cronyism. He has to prove himself by introducing effective reform in good governance, which is the only way to strengthen democratic institutions in the country. Karzai’s recent initiative in the form of “reconciliation strategy” is a positive step forward. He aims to form an inclusive government that is a mirror of Afghanistan. In such a government all the main actors in Afghan politics will be the stake holders, thus envisioning a coalition government type arrangement. This vision, if materialized, will indeed be in the best interest of Afghan people because of its ‘representative’ nature. In pursuance of this vision, a serious and concerted effort on part of the Karzai government is required in order to ensure smooth achievement of the goal.
The Afghan situation also shows that proper checks are a must to materialize a vision. During the Bust years, absence of proper checks led to corruption and incompetence because of which development and re-construction could not be pursued the way it was envisioned. Obama administration has brought with it a much needed change of air. Obama in his speech declared that the “days of giving blank cheques are over.” This has led to a monitoring mechanism under the aegis of Washington.
Afghanistan has grossly suffered because of terrorism. The situation has not improved much and it is highly unlikely to reverse the Taliban momentum in a years’ time. By the time Americans will start withdrawing the situation will be very much remain the same as it is today. What cannot be done over a span of 9 years is a daunting task to be achieved in a year.
International terrorism today derives its inspiration from the holy jihad waged against the Soviets back in 1979. That was indeed a turning point in the international political arena. The years ahead saw a small movement took root that wrecked havoc of colossal magnitudes. History might have taken a different shape if there had been no resistance posed to the Soviet Invasion. Going back in time, Pakistan was afraid of being run over by the Soviets – whose main intention, presumably, was to control the warm waters of Pakistan. In that pursuit, Pakistan had to demonstrate stiff resistance to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In many circles, it is widely believed that Pakistan decision to aid and abet the ‘holy war’ was the right decision. Pakistan didn’t have a choice at that time and it was a do or die kind of a situation. But, in the aftermath, the mess that has been created is so great that it has become a Herculean task to stem the tide of terrorism.
Islamist insurgency has permeated across the globe. From Africa to Indonesia,it is ubiquitous. The most recent example of such an attack is the ‘Daghastan Bombing’ in Russia that speaks volumes about the omnipresent threat posed to international community. What started as a small resistant movement is now so strong that it has its various off-shoot operative in various parts of the world. Their acts of terrorism so horrendous that nothing can be done to change their mind set. People across the globe are living in great insecurity because of international terrorism. This insecurity will take the shape of strong resistance against their respective government who have been unable to provide them security. According to a former Ambassador: “States gain respect by providing security to their people, not by going nuclear.” Contemplating the present situation through the lens of this quote, nations today are more concerned with their security needs but are paying less head to beefing up security within their country. The problem lies within, not without. If states are unable to stem the tide of international terrorism then they will lose domestic support for their other international endeavours.
The essence of democracy lies in the will of people. Democracy is indeed a government for the people, by the people, of the people. People are at the centre stage in a democracy. Therefore, these concerns need to be strictly dealt with before the situation gets out of control.
Democratic institutions are at the heart of democracy. They are strengthened over a span of decades. It is rightly said that nothing happens over night. These institutions flourish because of public support and cooperation. In the presence of a deteriorating law and order situation, growing unrest will prevail and the incumbent government will loose public support. The state would inflict a crackdown on the culprit who will retaliate in a vicious manner targeting innocent civilians. This, as a consequence, will result in depleting support for the crackdown amongst the masses. Something very similar has happened in Pakistan. In the aftermath of a military crackdown in South Waziristan, TTP is attacking ‘soft targets’ to decrease public support for the military operation.
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Another important aspect is that, with a growing insurgency the importance of establishment (read: military) comes to the fore. The security establishment’s strength is congruous to the law and order situation in the country. This position of importance make the military more susceptible to encroach the political domain by dictating terms. For example, in the case of Pakistan, it is widely believed that military is dictating terms to the civilian government. Although, it has gone back to the barracks but the recent episodes such as the reservations over the Kerry Lugar bill have manifested the dilemma of this country – it’s the military that calls the shots. This causes the imbalance and leads to the situation the situation is vulnerable for a military take over. Richard Holbrooke was reported to have said that in Pakistan we (America) is not on the drivers seat. It is General Kyani who is in the drivers seat in Pakistan. Kyani, delivering the speech on Pakistan’s regional security concerns is a manifest explanation of the reality.
Terrorism has also hampered efforts to introduce the real essence of democracy in Afghanistan. It is a state that has been under Pakistan’s influence over the years, especially after the Afghan war. Pakistan would like to continue with the status quo.
In his recent speech, General Kyani spelled out Pakistan’s regional security concerns by saying: “We want strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it.” Afghanistan , which has been a breeding ground for terrorism, has become a territory where a number of regional states are struggling for influence. China and India are major investors in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is cognizant of Pakitsan’s ulterior motive to control it therefore it is forging greater ties with other neighboring states in Central Asia but most importantly with India. One important reason for forging closer ties with India is to counteract Pakistan in the region. This multilateral influence in Afghanistan is an implicit erosion of its sovereignty because its regional partners will be stakeholders in Afghanistan’s domestic politics as well. Therefore, Afghanistan will not be a ‘sovereign democracy’ in the true sense of the term.
Democracy has indeed suffered a lot because of the challenges posed by international terrorism. Terrorist groups (read: Islamist Terrorism) have an agenda to propagate their brand of Shariah and establish an Islamic caliphate in letter and spirit. To accomplish this mission they are resorting to barbaric and vicious acts to force the respective governments to cede to their demands. So far, they have not been able to materialize their vision but the present situation indicates an escalation of global terrorism executed through the respective off-shoots. The world today is indeed at cross-roads that requires a concerted effort by the world leadership to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the terrorist network emanated from the badlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Islam vs. the West is a conflict that needs to be resolved through a concerted effort before it gets out of control. Dialogue is the only viable option left on the cards. Use of force has invited brutal retaliation at the expense of innocent civilians. The institution of democracy cannot prevail in a situation where law and order is violated. It requires conducive environment to take root and flourish. This environment can only exist in ‘peaceful co-existence’. Concession need to be granted to the terrorists, through dialogue, because a zero-sum game is impractical in this situation. Experienced mediators, in conflict resolution, should be involved to negotiate peace with the extremist. At the same time, the world needs to be patient with the outcome of the constructive efforts. It takes decades and an honest amount of hard work to establish a viable and long lasting system.
But one thing is for sure – Dialogue is the only way to salvage democracy from the ills of international terrorism.
The challenges ahead are indeed numerous. International terrorism largely depends on drug-trafficking for funding. That needs to be stopped as well. Corruption is a menace that needs to be curbed. These are the ills that endanger democracy. It has been an established fact in international arena that democracy is a viable source of governance. Therefore, to safe this institution, the world leadership needs to take scrupulous measures not only for the betterment of this generation but for the betterment of the coming generations as well.
Only time will tell on how far this effort will bring fruit but one small step in eradicating international terrorism will count a lot, if engineered in a meticulous manner. The situation today demands a responsible role by the present generation to take on the task of a peace-maker to make this world a secure place for the generations to come.
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