This paper delves into the various military views regarding terrorism and advocates for a different stance in dealing with the issue due to the adverse results that current military-based methods have had on the world’s perspective on America. With the various uprisings that have been occurring within the Middle East as of late, these all require some form of military backing. If members of Al Qaeda were to pose as members of the uprising with access to weapons, it is highly plausible that they would rise quickly to become leaders of the uprisings and thus become part of the new regime once the dust settles and the old regime is no longer in power. As such, it is necessary to address the potential threat that terrorists pose from both a military and regional security perspective. However, the problem with the current approach in dealing with Muslim extremism is that at times foreign actions in Middle Eastern countries, such as those done by the U.S., oftentimes lead to bad relations with various Muslim groups. This is due to the civilian casualties that occur as a result of the various military interventions done by the U.S. lead coalition forces over the course of their actions in the Middle East. Thus, new methods need to be implemented to resolve such issues and prevent the world from vilifying the act of addressing the issue of terrorism.
Understanding the Threat of Al Qaeda and various Terrorist groups in Northwest Pakistan from a Military Point of View
While Pakistan cannot be considered a completely lawless state, large sections of its territory, particularly those bordering Afghanistan, are under the control of various insurgency groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaida which have been labeled an international threat by the U.S. and numerous other foreign governments (Grosscup 2011). Not only that, the mountainous region along the northern mountains in Pakistan actually contains the largest illegal arms market in the world where guns, bullets and ammunition are made, bought and sold on an almost daily basis (Grosscup 2011). With Pakistan having little military strength to effectively control its borders, from a military perspective this creates a situation where the country could act as a base of operations where insurgency groups can train, stock up on weapons and ammunition and effectively cause bloodshed on various states connected to Pakistan.
The extent of the Security Challenge
What must be understood is that the current pro-democratic uprisings that are engulfing the Middle East have the potential to rapidly spiral out of control should extremist groups suddenly insert themselves into the various protesting populations. While the regimes that are currently in place are somewhat friendly to various international business interests, it cannot be said that the new regimes that will come into power via the uprisings will be just as friendly (Murphy 2013). There is the potential that certain uprisings would be a method by which members of Al Qaeda could insert themselves into powerful government positions which they could utilize to dictate the foreign policy of the Arab world. It has already been established that organizations such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban have access to various automatic and semi-automatic weapons and various types of RPGs, all of which are supplied by Pakistan’s illegal arms market. All uprisings require some form of military backing and should members of Al Qaeda pose as individuals with access to weapons, it is highly plausible that they would rise quickly to become leaders of the rebellions and thus become part of the new regime once the dust settles and the old regime is no longer in power (Tung 2006).
While it may be true that Al Qaeda and various insurgency groups are not concentrated primarily in the northwestern region in Pakistan, the fact remains that enough individuals are there that the region becomes a safe haven for various Al Qaeda and Taliban group leaders. During the invasion of Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. military stated that they would attempt to hunt and destroy every single leader of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in their supposed “war against terror”. Unfortunately, they have only been marginally successful since enough leaders survived that various terror plots can still be planned, funded and carried out by Al Qaeda agents. The potential bombing of a passenger jet over Detroit by an Al Qaeda operative supposedly under orders by an Al Qaeda leader is proof enough that should the situation in Pakistan, as well as in other countries where such leaders are hiding, remain unresolved there continues to remain a significant global threat from terrorism which could impact not only the U.S. but other countries around the world as well.
Current Approaches to dealing with this Security Challenge
Various U.S. military commanders have called Pakistan “the epicenter of terrorism” citing that it is a location where terrorists gather and deploy their forces in order to carry out acts of terror on civilian populations. As a result, the U.S. has partnered with the Pakistan Intelligence community in order to track down terrorists in their cells and send in remote-controlled drones or missiles to attack the structures directly. While such methods have proven to be effective, the inherent problem with what the U.S. is doing is that it is fighting an ideology rather than an organization of individuals.
Ideologies can easily be passed down from one person to the next with the succeeding individual being the latest member of the terrorist organization. Domestically, Pakistan does not have anywhere near enough resources to deal with the various terror cells in the country due to limited budgets and the fact that the yearly monsoon seasons leave such an impact on the country that the government is usually more concerned with helping victims of typhoons than they are at hunting down Al Qaeda members. Other methods have been employed such as placing rewards for the capture or information leading to the capture of various terror group leaders. Unfortunately, such a technique has been largely unsuccessful resulting in relatively few leads. On the other hand, the U.S. and various European countries are trying to build good relations with various sectors in the Middle East by supporting the various uprisings that are occurring which should, in theory, help to foster better relations in the future.
Flaws in the Approach
The problem with the current military approach in dealing with Muslim extremism is that at times foreign actions in Middle Eastern countries lead to bad relations with various Muslim groups. This is due to the civilian populations that have been adversely affected by the various interventions the U.S.-led coalition has done over the course of their actions in the Middle East (Mandel 2013). Not only that, targeting terrorists in the mountains in Pakistan is useless when people within your own borders can become terrorists themselves as was seen in the potentially horrific Detroit airplane bombing where a U.S. citizen was the primary suspect in the case. In order to resolve this issue, what must be targeted are not the people themselves but rather the ideology they represent. When Al Qaeda started killing Muslims in Middle Eastern countries, they lost a lot of support due to their actions (Evans 2013). Evidence of the need to shift tactics from upfront to a more underhanded approach (i.e. a media campaign against terrorism) can be seen in the case of the failure of the U.S. in the case of the 1970 revolution in Iran.
The 1970 revolution in Iran was actually precipitated by three distinct factors that led to the eventual downfall of the Shah and the rise of Ayatollah Khomeinii as the leader of Iran, namely: the human rights violations precipitated by the Shah’s secret police, the loss of support from the Arab League due to the Shah’s western leaning policies and the machinations of Ayatollah Khomeinii who used his religious influence to precipitate the fire of revolution in the Iranian people. The result of the revolution was the dissolution of the previous Shah regime, the end of Iran’s close relationship with the U.S. and the creation of a government that was more inclined towards Islamic rather than Democratic tenets (Wheeler 1991).
The end result of the 1970 revolution was a decidedly anti-American stance within Iran that developed as a result of the Shah’s close ties with the U.S. which defined his regime. This culminated in the subsequent hostage situation in Iran wherein several members of the U.S. embassy were held hostage over a period of 444 days. To this day, relations between the U.S. and Iran are strained at best and antagonistic at worst due to the persistent anti-U.S. sentiment which appears to be a cornerstone of Iran’s foreign policy from the start of the revolution all the way to the present (Wheeler 1991). What this shows is that America’s support of regimes from a military standpoint is ineffective when it comes to controlling the issue of terrorism. Both attacking militarily and supporting barbaric regimes only serve to turn people against the U.S.
Resolving the Issue
As such, in order to prevent the “beast” so to speak from growing, the best way is to first cut off support in the form of tactics aimed at vilifying Al Qaeda and its methods to the majority of the Muslim population through mass media. Such a method has the potential to remove all financial support and prevent more people from joining the ranks of Al Qaeda. Not only does this prevent the organization from growing but eventually it should result in the organization going into remission. From a military perspective, such a tactic is more efficient and effective as compared to expending millions of dollars on expensive invasions in order to hunt down a few terrorists. It is based on this perspective that this paper advocates for the aforementioned strategy which should result in better relations between the U.S. and various Middle Eastern countries.
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