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Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Here's a very interesting article today in The New Yorker: Fact section. It's about the continuing search for Osama Bin Laden, but there's alot more to it than that. Read the following excerpts:

'. . .Ijaz said he’d been told that bin Laden was surrounded by concentric circles of security: an outer ring of loyal villagers, a second ring of tribal leaders, and an inner ring of personal aides and bodyguards. “Since he’s surrounded by devout followers, there’s virtually no chance of the U.S. being able to pinpoint him,” he said.'


' “The reason bin Laden is so hard to get is that people are helping him,” Cofer Black told me. The search has been stymied not so much by tactical or logistical hurdles as by political ones. The tribal regions of Pakistan are impoverished and increasingly fundamentalist, and there is ambivalence within Musharraf’s government about how vigorously to press in the fight against Muslim jihadis. Although Musharraf has been an outspoken ally of the United States, the aggressive pursuit of bin Laden poses political risks for him, since it is sure to incite his regime’s fundamentalist opponents. Some skeptics argue that the capture of bin Laden may not be in Musharraf’s interest for other reasons as well. As long as bin Laden and other top figures in Al Qaeda are believed to be on the lam in Pakistan, they say, Musharraf can be assured of receiving favorable treatment from the United States in exchange for his coöperation. Since September 11th, Pakistan has been rescued from the verge of bankruptcy. The United States lifted economic sanctions that were imposed in 1998, after Pakistan began testing nuclear weapons, and it restored foreign aid, last month promising a five-year package of three billion dollars in return for Pakistan’s continued help in the fight against terrorism. “Essentially, Musharraf was very lucky this happened in his neighborhood,” Yusufzai told me.'


'Nevertheless, the United States and Pakistan have never completely agreed on which militant Muslim groups qualify as terrorist organizations. In particular, rounding up members of the Taliban has been a sticking point for Pakistan’s intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or I.S.I. According to Jessica Stern, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, the I.S.I. is like “an unreconstructed K.G.B.” The Taliban was virtually created by the I.S.I., which wanted to insure that a friendly government took over in Afghanistan after the Soviet war. “If you think about how Pakistan views Afghanistan, then it’s no surprise that it supported the Taliban,” Roger Cressey, a former director for Trans-National Threats on the National Security Council, told me. “The Taliban provided strategic depth to Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistan political game. Without Pakistani support, the Taliban would have been a bunch of frustrated students of the Koran sitting in coffeehouses.”'

Let's consider for a moment the political position of the U.S. versus Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (as well as Osama Bin Laden himself) with respect to Iran/Iraq/Saudi-Arabia/Pakistan/Afghanistan. As the article above states, OBL and AQ have lots of both formal and informal political support within Pakistan. It's also of some benefit for Musharraf to allow Bin Laden to hang around because he provides a reason for the U.S. to give aid to Musharraf. Now, let's mix into this equation the politics of Pakistan generally, i.e. Bin Laden's support among the more fundamentalist sections of Pakistan, close to the Afghanistan border. Add on top of that Bin Laden's official and unofficial support in Saudi Arabia (which we're not supposed to know the details about because of the 28 pages which were dropped from the 9/11 comission's report). He gets money from the Saudi royal family because of his connections to them. Saudi Arabia is also an ally of the U.S. (see a pattern here?) who is in a precarious political situation (see the Atlantic Monthly cover story from the May issue). It doesn't take too much looking to see that the U.S. is on the defensive politically in the region, and no matter how strong the U.S. military is, it cannot do the impossible and defeat public opinion. While the U.S. is trying to force its way into the region's politics via Iraq, OBL already has a wide-ranging base of support.

Now, let me ask this question; When power changes hands the next time in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, who will have more influence on that change, especially if its done democratically? This presents a conundrum for U.S. foreign policy in the region which cannot be undone by military campaigns alone.

Andrew 11:53 AM : |


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