"Building sustainable international defences against terrorism"
Presentation by Gareth Evans, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC, 14 November 2001
When events are moving as fast as they have been in the last few days, the hardest task for decision makers – and I know because I have been in the eye of a few storms in my time – is to keep your eye on the main game, and in particular make sure that your long term objectives are not subverted by your short term objectives, and in particular the constant need in democracies to be seen to be doing something.
The international policy challenge that the US has been set by 911 is fantastically difficult and complex, and so far – with only a few minor glitches along the way – it has been handled extremely well indeed. Like most of that legion of sceptics who were profoundly troubled by many aspects of Bush Mark I foreign policy (the one that applied from January to September 10) I have been very pleasantly surprised indeed by the way in which State, the Pentagon and the White House have got their act together, articulated sound and measured objectives, and effectively advanced them.
But every day is a new day, and with things in Afghanistan at least partially falling into place, backburner issues like what to do about Iraq will very quickly come to the frontburner, and the potential for policy missteps remains very high.
It has never been more important in these circumstances for all those with some capacity to intelligently and practically influence the policy process to pull out all stops to do just that. That’s the role, whether presumptuously or not, that the ICG has set itself, and we are rapidly putting in place the infrastructure that will enable us to be credible and serious policy players across the whole spectrum of issues involved in the global war on terrorism.
Since Senior Vice President Mark Schneider spoke to this group on 28 June, we have – with support from $1 million in new foundation grants – moved to significantly extend our operations in two main ways, both of which will be up and running by early next month:
we are opening a new field office in Islamabad – to work through the Pakistan/Afghanistan dimensions of the issue, in close interaction with our existing Central Asia program based in Kyrgyzstan; we are opening a major new Middle East regional office in Amman, with a team of analysts covering the whole range of issues involving Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Israel-Palestine-Syria-Lebanon-Jordan, and Egypt – linking in to work we are already doing in Algeria and Sudan; with a new Middle East Program Director, Rob Malley, working out of Washington.
In addition ICG has an existing capacity to analyse and report on Islam-related issues, as they bear on terrorism, in the Balkans and Indonesia ( where we have already put out reports analysing the extent of the threat as we presently see it - not in fact as great as some breathless international reporting and local political opportunism would have it). And we have the capacity to address terrorism issues in other areas of our activity around the world, including in particular Colombia.
The basic analytical and policy approach that we are adopting so far as Islamist-based terrorism is concerned, that we will be urging upon the US and other relevant governments – and that will be the broad framework for our reports, briefings and advocacy in the future – is that the international response to the terrorist threat must have four clearly delineated objectives, and that it is absolutely crucial that they work in harmony. Those four objectives, and the most important specific issues that arise with each of them, can be summarised as follows.
1. Punishing the Perpetrators of Past Attacks
how to take enforcement action against the perpetrators of terror and those harbouring them without generating new grievances feeding extremism;
to achieve and maintain stability in areas of great continuing tension made even more volatile by the prospect of strong measures being taken against terrorists or those harbouring them.
2. Building Cooperative Defences Against Future Acts of Terrorism
how to build the capacity and will in individual countries to fight terror originating from within their own borders, in effect to eliminate safe havens; how to build better international cooperation in intelligence and enforcement; how to achieve these objectives without destabilising already fragile countries, and the region around them; how to achieve these objectives without propping up unsavoury, unresponsive or inept regimes (and thus storing up more problems for the future).
3. Addressing the Political and Security Issues that Feed Grievance (and Affect the Capacity and Will of States to Cooperate)
identifying and weighting the issues that have most salience or resonance in feeding extremist sentiment;
identifying the policy approaches by the international community that are likely to most productive in reducing that salience - in particular here talking about the Israel-Palestine issue, but not only that - a crucial further issue here, for example, is how to achieve democratisation of the non-democracies and anti-democracies of the Arab world in an environment where extremist or near-extremist Islamist forces could emerge as those with the strongest popular following.
4. Addressing the Economic, Social and Cultural Issues that Feed Grievance, (and Affect the Capacity and Will of States to Cooperate)
identifying and weighting the issues (including absolute and relative economic deprivation, lack of educational opportunity, role of extremist Muslim clerics and the misuse of Islam for political purposes) that have most salience or resonance in feeding extremist sentiment;
identifying strategies for addressing them by governments, intergovernmental organisations and key non-governmental organisations.
Managing Current Tensions
I am not in a position today to give more than an outline sketch of the approach that ICG has in mind on some of these issues - that will emerge out of the field-based analysis and policy thinking that we will be doing in the months ahead - but let me offer at least some reaction to the most immediate issues now facing policy makers.
Immediate Challenges in Afghanistan
With the war in the north effectively won, the immediate challenges are:
to restrain the Northern Alliance forces some repeating the outrages they perpetrated on both their opponents and the civilian population in Kabul and elsewhere when last in power there in the early 90s: apart from the moral and humanitarian issue, this would be desperately counterproductive in terms of holding together any kind of coalition in the Muslim world. The US special forces will have to assume a particular responsibility in this respect, until the second challenge is met:
to put in place as soon as humanly possible a UN authorised multinational security force to hold the ring while a new political authority gets established and some semblance of effective administrative normality is put in place: the obvious candidates are non-neighbouring Muslim countries like Turkey, Morocco, Bangladesh and Indonesia, one or two of whom have already indicated a readiness to play this role;
to put in place a government that can keep the peace in the longer term – and satisfy Pakistan. Both elements of this equation are going to be hard to satisfy (with Musharaff’s political comfort, and perhaps personal survival, depending on getting a significant Pushtun component into that government), but everyone is acutely conscious of the problem, and probably nothing much more can be done than is already feverishly under way with the Brahimi UN process;
to extend the humanitarian relief effort throughout the country, in all those areas where it is possible to operate, and begin planning for a smooth transition from emergency support to longer-term redevelopment aid;
to put in place a UN sponsored transitional administrative support structure capable of beginning the task of recreating functioning government until Afghani institutions can be developed: having seen the Cambodian operation at close quarters and watched others at a distance over the years, I am not especially confident about the UN system’s capacity to handle this kind of operation, but if we don’t try there will be a serious vacuum.;
to complete the process of crushing al-Qaeda, the Arab Afghans and Osama bin Laden: although this is of course the immediate rationale for the whole Afghanistan enterprise, it can probably be pursued by more measured steps than continuing a massive airborne and other military assault of the rapidly dispersing Taliban forces, with the continuing risk of further civilian casualties. In particular a bombing pause for Ramadan, which made no military sense before the collapse of the north, should now be seriously contemplated as a gesture to the Islamic world whose support is still going to be crucially necessary for the rest of the campaign against terror ahead. The argument here would be: - there is much less prospect of the Taliban, and in particular the Arab Afghans, being able to regroup and fight again as guerillas, now that they are so widely despised; - there is a much better chance now of the necessary human intelligence to track down Oslama bin Laden and the key Taliban leadership being forthcoming; - the saturation surveillance capacity the US will now have, together with the greater effectiveness of infra-red heat sensors, means that the onset of winter is a much bigger problem for the bad guys holed up in the mountains than it is for those chasing them.
to find a method for trying bin Laden if he is caught alive, that won’t risk getting egg all over the collective Western face, given the likely state of precise, useable evidence against him. Thus the scramble to reinvent special military tribunals and the like, all of which have serious credibility problems. The US hope will obviously be that he dies resisting – and no doubt will be able to bear with fortitude the prospect of his martyrdom in some quarters…
The Challenge of Iraq
With Afghanistan on the way to resolution, pressure will obviously build for action against Iraq. There have already been a few misspeaks from Paul Wolfowitz and others on this subject, and if ICG Board member Ken Adelman’s views, as recently reported in the New Yorker have any currency, we are in for an interesting time.
There is no question that Iraq poses a huge problem, above all in its undoubted WMD capacity and its demonstrated willingness in the past to use it. It may or may not have had a hand in 911, and the later anthrax attacks, but as yet there is no compelling evidence.
Some action is going to be necessary on the WMD front – with the need to establish a new inspection regime there being absolutely compelling – but the question is what and when, and whether the military option makes any sense. On this front there are some obvious caveats:
However much Iraq is detested by its Arab neighbours and Iran – it still has an extraordinary capacity to win support if it can paint itself as oppressed, as we have seen in the playing out of the sanctions issue.
The evidence of responsibility for past attacks or planned future attacks would need to be very strong.
It cannot be assumed that any military victory would be easily won, result in the collapse of the Saddam regime and anyone likely to be as bad, and be sustainable: there will be a repeat of the dilemma of 1991 – what does the dog do when it catches the car?
The views of Turkey – which has suffered grievously (to the est tune of some $30 billion dollars economically since the Gulf War, with its subsequent trade embargoes) – would have to be taken closely into account. In particular the often favoured military/political approach of a three way split of Iraq into Shiite south/ Sunni middle and Kurdish north is seen by Turkey as a nightmare scenario – reviving all its worst anxieties about separatist Kurdistan sentiment within its own territory.
The challenge of stabilising Central Asia
Afghanistan is not an isolated conflict but part of a regional web of problems. The conflict has gone on since the 1970s with the actors often changing. The one thing that has remained constant is a steady flow of inputs to the conflict – arms and money. The country is already flooded with weapons so it is better to tackle money which means cutting back on drug trafficking and smuggling of consumer goods to Pakistan. Tackling drugs requires a comprehensive program of crop substitution, poverty reduction, interdiction efforts and demand reduction in the region. Tackling smuggling to Pakistan means reducing Pakistani tariffs – as tariffs have been lowered smuggling has already declined. This means significant budgetary support and a total reworking of the Pakistani fiscal system (a nightmare but possible).
To get the neighbouring countries to be cooperative in the fight against terrorism and to encourage them in the rebuilding of Afghanistan it is necessary to alleviate their concerns about the country. For Iran this means drugs, refugees and the treatment of Afghanistan’s Shia minority. For Pakistan it means not having a hostile government in Kabul (Pakistan has had hostile relationships with the government in Kabul for all but about five of the past 50 years – the only friendly govt was the Taliban. Afghanistan even voted against Pakistan’s membership in the UN). For India it means closing Pakistani training camps and ensuring that Arab-Afghans and others don’t end up fighting in Kashmir (and more diplomatic attention to implementing new confidence building measures enabling a fresh start on addressing the Kashmir problem). For Uzbekistan, it means closing down IMU activities. The other Central Asia states are mostly concerned about drugs, refugees and spill-over of conflict.
Terrorism provides the main rationale for military and economic intervention at the moment but it is in the interests of the West to be significantly involved beyond getting rid of bin Laden. The region provides 80 per cent of opiates reaching Europe and a rising amount of those reaching the U.S.. 29,000 Afghan asylum seekers arrived in Europe in 2000. More importantly than all these reasons – this area has multiple causes of instability (drugs, border disputes, religious and ethnic tensions, unresponsive authoritarian regimes, mafia economies), a very real potential for economic and environmental collapse and is surrounded by four nuclear-armed powers. There are no guarantees that massive western intervention will work but it can almost be guaranteed that the region will go on causing major problems to all western nations if nothing is done.
There are many more issues on the agenda here which I haven’t begun to touch – not least the kinds of strategies necessary to address a number of the root cause political and econonomic issues in the wider region that are so important in creating the climate in which extremism and terrorism flourishes, and in inhibiting the capacity and will of regional governments to act effectively.
But hopefully I have said enough to indicate that ICG has its work cut out for it in the months, and maybe years, ahead, and that there will be no shortage of issues for us to be able to bounce around with the community of scholars here, which I am delighted to have the opportunity of doing today.