Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mumbai

Combatting the Plague of Religious Extremism in Pakistan

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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“Imperial Presidency,” Huh?

It’s fun to tally up the pieces of the convoy President Obama will bring with him to India on Saturday. But there is, of course, nothing wrong with the president traveling abroad in this fashion. Here’s one report on the preparations:

Communications set-up and nuclear button and majority of the White House staff will be in India accompanying the President on this three-day visit that will cover Mumbai and Delhi.

He will also be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast during his two-day stay there beginning Saturday. The measure has been taken as Mumbai attack in 2008 took place from the sea. …

Two jets, armed with advanced communication and security systems, and a fleet of over 40 cars will be part of Obama’s convoy.

Around 800 rooms have been booked for the President and his entourage in Taj Hotel and Hyatt.

The President will have a security ring of American elite Secret Service, which are tasked to guard the President, along with National Security Guards (NSG) and personnel from central paramilitary forces and local police in Mumbai and Delhi.

If the president were not well protected when visiting a city struck by armed terrorists two years earlier, we’d first have something to complain about.  Yet, reading this account put me in mind of someone who has warned against such a robust American demonstration of security abroad. In his 2008 book, The Post-American World, one of Obama’s biggest fans, Fareed Zakaria, complained about George W. Bush’s overseas visits. “President Bush’s foreign trips seem designed to require as little contact as possible with the countries he visits,” Zakaria wrote. “He is usually accompanied by two thousand or so Americans, as well as several airplanes, helicopters, and cars.” Lamenting the “Imperial Presidency,” Zakaria approvingly quoted former European minister for external affairs Chris Patten:

Attending any conference abroad, American cabinet officers arrive with the sort of entourage that would have done Darius proud. Hotels are commandeered; cities brought to a halt; innocent bystanders are barged into corners by thick-necked men with bits of plastic hanging out of their ears. It is not a spectacle that wins hearts and minds.

“Apart from the resentment that the imperial style produces, the aloof attitude means that American officials don’t benefit from the experience and expertise of foreigner,” Zakaria commented. I await his scathing condemnation of Obama’s gross escalation of an already arrogant and self-defeating practice. And in Zakaria’s hometown, no less.

Man, when Bush was president, you could write a book about anything.

It’s fun to tally up the pieces of the convoy President Obama will bring with him to India on Saturday. But there is, of course, nothing wrong with the president traveling abroad in this fashion. Here’s one report on the preparations:

Communications set-up and nuclear button and majority of the White House staff will be in India accompanying the President on this three-day visit that will cover Mumbai and Delhi.

He will also be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast during his two-day stay there beginning Saturday. The measure has been taken as Mumbai attack in 2008 took place from the sea. …

Two jets, armed with advanced communication and security systems, and a fleet of over 40 cars will be part of Obama’s convoy.

Around 800 rooms have been booked for the President and his entourage in Taj Hotel and Hyatt.

The President will have a security ring of American elite Secret Service, which are tasked to guard the President, along with National Security Guards (NSG) and personnel from central paramilitary forces and local police in Mumbai and Delhi.

If the president were not well protected when visiting a city struck by armed terrorists two years earlier, we’d first have something to complain about.  Yet, reading this account put me in mind of someone who has warned against such a robust American demonstration of security abroad. In his 2008 book, The Post-American World, one of Obama’s biggest fans, Fareed Zakaria, complained about George W. Bush’s overseas visits. “President Bush’s foreign trips seem designed to require as little contact as possible with the countries he visits,” Zakaria wrote. “He is usually accompanied by two thousand or so Americans, as well as several airplanes, helicopters, and cars.” Lamenting the “Imperial Presidency,” Zakaria approvingly quoted former European minister for external affairs Chris Patten:

Attending any conference abroad, American cabinet officers arrive with the sort of entourage that would have done Darius proud. Hotels are commandeered; cities brought to a halt; innocent bystanders are barged into corners by thick-necked men with bits of plastic hanging out of their ears. It is not a spectacle that wins hearts and minds.

“Apart from the resentment that the imperial style produces, the aloof attitude means that American officials don’t benefit from the experience and expertise of foreigner,” Zakaria commented. I await his scathing condemnation of Obama’s gross escalation of an already arrogant and self-defeating practice. And in Zakaria’s hometown, no less.

Man, when Bush was president, you could write a book about anything.

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Low-Level Urban Terrorism: The Next Big Thing for Al-Qaeda?

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

Terrorism analysts Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson had an intriguing op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday suggesting that al-Qaeda is moving away from trying to stage 9/11-style spectacular attacks and toward low-level urban terrorism. That, they argue, is the import of the warning from Washington and our allies that terror attacks may be imminent in Western Europe. There is little doubt that such operations have the capability to terrorize and paralyze. Witness the Mumbai attack in 2008, which they cite — or, for that matter, the Beltway sniper attacks in 2002, which they don’t mention.

Still. it’s quite a stretch to invoke comparisons with “Belfast or Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s.” Beirut was the scene of all-out warfare that included the use of artillery and other heavy weapons, pitting against each other primarily Muslim vs. Christian militias, who between them claimed to speak for most of the Lebanese population. Belfast was the scene of persistent terrorism carried out by the Provisional IRA, which claimed to represent the Catholic population of Northern Ireland (44 percent of the total). Whether or not the Lebanese militias or the IRA really spoke for most of their co-religionists, there is little doubt that they had a high level of support within their communities. Can the same be said about al-Qaeda and associated jihadist movements?

They probably enjoyed the greatest support in Muslim countries. Most of those countries are, however, dictatorships with effective security forces. They are unpromising terrain for urban warfare, as jihadists have learned in Syria, Egypt, and Algeria, among others. Western Europe and North America are more lightly policed and have Muslim communities where al-Qaeda can expect to draw some support — more in Europe than in the United States, but still a lot less than the support enjoyed by the IRA, Hezbollah, or other groups that have waged effective urban warfare. Al-Qaeda certainly has the capability to pull off isolated acts of terror along the lines of the London Underground bombing or the Mumbai attacks. But I very much doubt they have the capacity to stage such attacks in the West day after day as al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Jaish-al-Mahdi did in Iraq after 2003.

We should certainly take prudent precautions against such assaults, but we should also keep some perspective. It is still “spectacular” attacks that we need fear the most — and especially the prospect of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which, as President Obama accurately observed, would be a “game-changer.”

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Naming Names in the War on Terror

Sen. Joe Lieberman takes issue with Obama’s insistence that we not name our foe — “violent Islamist extremism.” As Lieberman points out, unless we are crystal clear about the identity and motivations of our enemy, we’re going to be less than successful in defeating those who wage war on us. He makes a key point: “Al Qaeda” is an insufficient descriptor of our enemy:

Defining the enemy by reference to al Qaeda implies that this war is primarily about destroying an organization, rather than defeating a broader political ideology. This war will not end when al Qaeda has been vanquished—though that, of course, is a critical goal—but only when the ideology of violent Islamist extremism that inspires and predates it is decisively rejected. That ideology motivates many other groups and individuals.

For example, the ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, recently warned about the growing danger to the U.S. posed by the Pakistan-based Islamist extremist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the devastating 2008 attack in Mumbai, India.

Finally, characterizing this war as being against a specific organization risks distracting our government from important policy questions about how to combat the ideological dimensions of the war that is taking place within Islam. It also may send a message to moderate Muslims that they can and should remain on the sidelines of this fight, while governments use conventional means to defeat al Qaeda.

If the Obama brain trust thinks it is avoiding antagonizing “the Muslim World,” it is dangerously mistaken. “We must encourage and empower the non-violent Muslim majority to raise their voices to condemn the Islamist extremist ideology as a desecration of Islam, responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of innocent Muslims and people of other faiths,” Lieberman writes. “How can we expect those Muslims to have the courage to stand and do that if we are unwilling to define and describe the enemy as dramatically different from them?”

For a president who bragged that he understood the “Muslim World,” it’s quite apparent that his understanding is as faulty as his grasp of market economics and executive leadership.

Sen. Joe Lieberman takes issue with Obama’s insistence that we not name our foe — “violent Islamist extremism.” As Lieberman points out, unless we are crystal clear about the identity and motivations of our enemy, we’re going to be less than successful in defeating those who wage war on us. He makes a key point: “Al Qaeda” is an insufficient descriptor of our enemy:

Defining the enemy by reference to al Qaeda implies that this war is primarily about destroying an organization, rather than defeating a broader political ideology. This war will not end when al Qaeda has been vanquished—though that, of course, is a critical goal—but only when the ideology of violent Islamist extremism that inspires and predates it is decisively rejected. That ideology motivates many other groups and individuals.

For example, the ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, Daniel Benjamin, recently warned about the growing danger to the U.S. posed by the Pakistan-based Islamist extremist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was responsible for the devastating 2008 attack in Mumbai, India.

Finally, characterizing this war as being against a specific organization risks distracting our government from important policy questions about how to combat the ideological dimensions of the war that is taking place within Islam. It also may send a message to moderate Muslims that they can and should remain on the sidelines of this fight, while governments use conventional means to defeat al Qaeda.

If the Obama brain trust thinks it is avoiding antagonizing “the Muslim World,” it is dangerously mistaken. “We must encourage and empower the non-violent Muslim majority to raise their voices to condemn the Islamist extremist ideology as a desecration of Islam, responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of innocent Muslims and people of other faiths,” Lieberman writes. “How can we expect those Muslims to have the courage to stand and do that if we are unwilling to define and describe the enemy as dramatically different from them?”

For a president who bragged that he understood the “Muslim World,” it’s quite apparent that his understanding is as faulty as his grasp of market economics and executive leadership.

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Only Thing “Spectacular” About Taliban Attack Is MSM Overreaction

So let me get this straight. Seven Taliban staged an attack in Kabul. They failed to blast their way into the Central Bank as intended. In the end they were hunted down by Afghan security forces. Five attackers were gunned down; two committed suicide. The entire attack apparently killed three soldiers and two civilians — far below the death toll of the Columbine massacre, to say nothing of Mumbai. And this is supposed to be a “spectacular attack” that shows the “resiliency” of the Taliban?

All it shows is their flair for publicity. True, the attack showed a fair degree of organization, but it was not terribly successful. More impressive than the attack was the Afghan response, which did not involve any American troops. Once again, the Afghan security forces showed themselves to be more proficient than the Indian security forces did in Mumbai. Unfortunately there will continue to be more such attacks as long as the Taliban know that the international news media will give  them publicity out of all proportion to their military achievements.

So let me get this straight. Seven Taliban staged an attack in Kabul. They failed to blast their way into the Central Bank as intended. In the end they were hunted down by Afghan security forces. Five attackers were gunned down; two committed suicide. The entire attack apparently killed three soldiers and two civilians — far below the death toll of the Columbine massacre, to say nothing of Mumbai. And this is supposed to be a “spectacular attack” that shows the “resiliency” of the Taliban?

All it shows is their flair for publicity. True, the attack showed a fair degree of organization, but it was not terribly successful. More impressive than the attack was the Afghan response, which did not involve any American troops. Once again, the Afghan security forces showed themselves to be more proficient than the Indian security forces did in Mumbai. Unfortunately there will continue to be more such attacks as long as the Taliban know that the international news media will give  them publicity out of all proportion to their military achievements.

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