'Pakistan is the powder-keg of the contemporary world.
I said this six years ago, in my investigation of Daniel Pearl's death.
I repeated it on September 12th, 2003 in a piece published by the Washington Post. Its thesis was that the war in Iraq would persist because it was a grossly miscalculated target, one of the worst strategic errors ever to have been committed by the American administration.'
The first statement is a commonly agreed truism. The second, a much repeated bit of pundit folk-wisdom. "I told you the Iraq war would be a disaster!! See what a clever boy I am!" Trouble is, the Iraq 'war' is over and the Iraqi government/US won; despite the best efforts of Al Qaeda, Jaysh-al-Mahdi, the Sunni tribes, the Irainian government, the Syrian government, the French government, the Spanish government, the Russian government and many many more. What a spectacular victory, won with a staggeringly low casualty count by historical standards, and despite the utterly depraved actions of the enemy such as constantly bombing mosques and marketplaces.
Mr Henri-Levy, like most pundits of the same view, fails to state why the Iraq intervention was a strategic error. To generically assert that this or that intervention is a strategic error is asinine- answer the question why if you want to be even vaguely legitimate. I can list at least ten good strategic reasons to invade Iraq and get rid of Saddam Hussein. Can you list ten good reasons why it shouldn't have, Mr Henri-Levy? I bet you can't.
1. To get rid of Saddam Hussein, and his hideous, beastly tyranny
2. To create a focal point for islamist terrorists that was NOT the continental United States; to gather them up and kill them; a killing ground if you will.
3. To put a 155,000 man army on the border of Iran, with the obvious implications for the Iranian government.
4. To put a 155,000 man army on the border of Syria, as above.
5. To indicate to China and the other emergent powers that the American military is not limited to sitting in its bases, and will be used for advancing American strategic objectives.
6. To show Saudi Arabia that the US would not allow Iran and Iraq impunity to attack it.
7. To create a showpiece democracy in the Middle east, friendly to the US.
8. To ensure that the flow of oil from easy-extraction countries was not interfered with.
9. To turn the US military from a bloated, relatively low-morale, unblooded bureacracy into a hardened veteran, legitimate fighting force with high morale.
10. Most importantly, to counteract the world-wide perception that the US did not have the stomach for a fight any more.
Sadly, most of these strategic gains derived from the hard graft and sacrifice of American soldiers, marines and airman have been squandered by the intellectual giant in the White House.
'And where lie the roots of this disturbing Pakistani situation? There is, first of all, the fact that when we refer to the “Taliban” in Pakistan, we are talking about Al Quaeda, and literally Al Quaeda, since the constituent elements of its sphere of influence – groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Lashkar-e-Janghvi, or Jaish-e-Mohammed – comprise the hardcore of Bin Laden’s organization itself.'
From everything I have read about Pakistani terrorist groups, that is a deformation of the actual situation. For example, Lashkar-e-Toiba is the main vehicle for Pakistani terrorism and destabilisation operations in Kashmir. It's been around a very long time, much longer than Al Qaeda. Lumping together all islamic terror groups as simply elements of Al Qaeda provides no insight whatsoever. The Taliban government in Afghanistan were happy to host Al Qaeda, but they weren't Al Qaeda. The Afghani Taliban had very different goals. They were happy to have Afghanistan as their scope for action. Al Qaeda have always seen the whole world as their stage. The Afghani Taliban were the Stalinists, Al Qaeda Trotskyists, if you will.
Not only that, a very large part of both Afghani and Pakistani Taliban motivation is Pakhtun culture, the Pahktunwali. They are proud mountain warriors, and they despise the farmers and traders of the lowlands. They have always lived by the gun and extortion. In contrast, Al Qaeda are the islamist fascist vanguard, spoiled children of middle-class muslims from all over, but especially the richer countries. They see it as their role to murder their way to world domination in the name of a stark, puritanical wahhabist islam.
Indeed, Al Qaeda is a hodge-podge of malcontents from all over, whose main unifying principle is murderous intent. Most of the groups named by Henri-Levy have very different goals indeed. Laskar-e-Toiba want Kashmir in toto to be ruled from Islamabad. Where is the cross-over with Al Qaeda? There is very little. Most of the groups named are also creatures to some extent of the Pakistani government, and act as its proxies. Al Qaeda is not. It is useful to no one, really, due to its rediculously extreme positions and 7th century ideas, and habit of murdering other muslims. How many of the rank and file of the Taliban, Laskar-e-Toiba etc want the return of a caliphate, the destruction of America, the re-conquest of Al-Andalus, and all the other Al Qaeda holy grails, in any other than a very theoretical way? Their goals and aims are far more concrete and local.
There is no question that the whole of Pakistani society provides a friendly pond in which ALL islamist terror groups can swim. The police will only very infrequently interfere with them, and the man on the Islamabad omnibus is heartily in favor of their goals. This does present the rest of the world, but in particular India and Afghanistan with a depressing long-term problem. Al Qaeda may be an unwelcome guest in Pakistan, but most Pakistanis will do nothing to help destroy it.
The question in my mind is this: will myopia in Pakistan eventually lead to the almost complete destruction of Pakistini civil society from within, and invasion by its neighbors enraged by the constant attentions of the Pakistani government proxies? There is a strange symmetry here between the arc of Al Qaeda, and the country of Pakistan. Initial success before the victims determine the real intentions, followed by long-term defeat, indeed annihilation. Lets hope for the sake of millions of disinterested ordinary Pakistanis that thats not true.