May 2nd 2009

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Articles from this issue:

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor's 'people overboard' fiasco

EDITORIAL: Human rights consultation hijacked?

TRADE: Government pushes China free trade agreement

FIJI: Australia and NZ silent as China bankrolls military junta

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: From Baghdad to Beijing: Labor's dodgy dealings

TRADE UNIONS: WA unions host Cuban ambassador... Why?

ILLICIT DRUGS: Australia's $10 billion industry - organised crime

GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR: A desperate fight to the death

THAILAND: Land of smiles descends into turmoil

PRE-SCHOOL: Conscripting our toddlers for political activism

OPINION: Legislative assault on freedom of conscience

POLITICAL IDEAS: Crisis of credibility that has shaken the world

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Productive investment vs. financial speculation / Free speech curtailed for the sake of pluralism

Human rights hearings (letter)

Australia to import food? (letter)

Telstra (letter)

ETS to cost billions (letter)

CINEMA: Katyn - Sombre depiction of unpunished WW2 crime

BOOKS: REFUGEES AND REBELS: Indonesian Exiles in Wartime Australia, by Jan Lingard

BOOKS: GIRLS LIKE YOU: Four Young Girls, Six Brothers and a Cultural Timebomb, by Paul Sheehan

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A desperate fight to the death

by John Miller

News Weekly, May 2, 2009
Western appeasement of Islamist extremists will not stop the relentless "Talibanisation" of Pakistan, writes John Miller.

I finished my last article (News Weekly, April 18) with a promise to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, which I regard as critical. Unexpectedly, in the intervening period, Pakistan leapt into the headlines, with mass arrests in Britain during the night of April 8-9 of 12 suspected Islamic militants who were allegedly planning a massive terrorist attack over Easter.

I have referred elsewhere to an area I call the "arc of instability" - alphabetically, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Recent events there have prompted me to conclude, pessimistically, that this area cannot be neatly compartmentalised merely by lines on maps, taken to be national boundaries. It is irrefutable that tribal areas in that part of the world cross borders and link peoples, and recent developments events in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be seen in isolation of each other.

Seven wasted years?

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described US intervention in Afghanistan as seven wasted years (Washington Post, March 31, 2009). Much of the countryside there is in the hands of the fanatical Islamist Taliban.

The bulk of the heavy fighting is conducted by US forces with subsidiary, often critical, roles being played by allied troops, including an Australian contingent, and the untested Afghan Army; but the military situation is parlous.

Seldom has a modern superpower succeeded in waging asymmetrical warfare. We need only consider the US in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Only the British, in the 1950s and later, managed to conduct effective counter-insurgency operations and defeat the Communist enemy on the Malayan Peninsula.

Some experts point out that the Taliban is not a monolithic organisation and draws on support from many tribes. This is true, and there are signs that not all Taliban groups want to be at war, especially with the possibility of an unexpected visit by an unmanned combat aerial vehicle, the Predator drone.

If the Soviets learned one thing from fighting in Afghanistan, it was that, even if it was possible to engage a tribal grouping, its long-term loyalty was dubious. Many tribesmen would also be with the Mujahedin, and it made no difference whether they were armed by the Soviets or the US, via Pakistan; there was never any sense of fidelity to their suppliers. The weapons the tribesmen acquired in this way were used to settle old scores before being turned on the infidel.

In October 2007, Lord Paddy Ashdown, a former leader of the UK Liberal Democrats who served with the British SAS, declared quite bluntly that "NATO had lost in Afghanistan" and, furthermore, failure to bring stability there could provoke a regional sectarian war on a grand scale. (Daily Telegraph, UK, October 29, 2007).

This dire prediction appears to be coming true. The Taliban holds the Northwest Frontier provinces of Pakistan, whose populations have links with brethren across the Afghan border. The attack on the Pakistani police academy in Lahore on March 30 was claimed to have been carried out by the Pakistan Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban, a lethal Islamist group headed by Batullah Mehsud, who is now hell-bent on carrying attacks more deeply into Pakistan and Washington (WorldFocus, March 30, 2009).

In response, no less a person than former CIA analyst and Middle East expert, Bruce Reidel, has concluded that stabilising Pakistan should now be given the highest priority (The Telegraph, UK, March 14, 2009).

If media reports are correct, President Barack Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, agrees with this view and, on April 17, called for greater civilian assistance, i.e., funding for these countries (Reuters, April 18, 2009).

There is a growing feeling that President Obama's preferred course of action was to be modelled on the agreement between the Pakistani government and the Taliban in handing the latter control of the Swat Valley earlier this year.

The terms of the deal were that the Taliban would disarm and refrain from pressing its attacks more deeply into Pakistan and, in return, Shar'ia law would be introduced in that area.

The Taliban did not disarm but instead visited a repeat of its brutal rule in Afghanistan. Girls' schools were closed down; women were stoned for breaches of Shar'ia law; and beheadings of men who resisted the new rulers became frequent.

"Moderate" Taliban

In early March, however, President Obama declared his intention to reach out to "moderate" elements of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

My initial reaction to this was one of shock and disbelief. Undoubtedly, there must have been prior consultation behind the scenes, especially with US General David Petraeus and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, before the US President made his announcement.

I could easily fill several pages with quotations and comments by experts about the worth of a dialogue with the Taliban. As for my own position, I believe that dialogue with the devil is inadvisable, if not impossible.

I have been struck by the words of Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst and former official in both the Taliban and the Karzai governments, who has written a book on the Taliban.

"Obama's comment [on dialogue] resembles a dream more than reality. ... Where are the so-called moderate Taliban? Who are the moderate Taliban?" asked Mozhdah - and he should know.

Another Afghani analyst, Qaseem Akhgar, repeated virtually the same question. "Moderate Taliban' is like 'moderate killer'. Is there such a thing?" he asked (Hyscience, March 9, 2009).

Within just hours of President Obama's conciliatory speech, an Islamist suicide-bomber blew himself up in a mosque on the Khyber region of the Pakistan-Afghan border.

One dire prediction is that these continuing killings are evidence of the relentless "Talibanisation" of Pakistan. A worse nightmare, though, is the possibility that Pakistan as a state will fail and its nuclear weapons will fall into the hands of ruthless fundamentalist Islamic groups.

If that is not enough to start to turn the new American President's hair grey, as some commentators have already noticed, it is now well-known in the intelligence world that the CIA is conducting operations on British soil because the CIA assesses, quite justifiably, that British authorities cannot monitor all extremist groups.

While extreme Islamist organisations might go by different names, the Pakistan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Toiba overlap in terms of membership and ideology and can be considered partners of Al Qaeda.

I wonder whether Barack Obama ever thought that his job as US president would present him with so many troubles in such a short space of time?

Domestic opposition to the war will doubtless grow, but appeasement of the enemy is no solution. If they are not defeated on their home territory, they will carry their fight to Washington, London and the European capitals.

Whatever the nay-sayers and doomsayers might predict, Australian cities will be no safer by precipitate withdrawal.

- John Miller is a former senior intelligence officer.

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