Saturday, February 6, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Feb 7, 2016

Anti-IS struggle A recently released US intelligence report says there has been a 20 percent decrease in Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria and Iraq, currently running at 25,000 fighters compared to a previous estimate of up to 30,000. The contributory factors in this decrease include battlefield casualties, desertions, successes of the military campaign against IS and international efforts to stem the flow of foreigners seeking to join IS. Despite this heartening trend, the report is realistic enough to underline that IS continues to pose a substantial threat. In Syria, the Russian intervention has turned the military tide against IS, with heavy fighting in and around Aleppo currently symptomatic of the advances of Bashar al-Assad’s government, helped by its allies Iran and Hezbollah. While Iran, Hezbollah and now Russia have tipped the war al-Assad’s way, there is confusion and discord amongst the western allies attempting to come to grips with the IS threat. For example, Canada’s newly elected government headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has reiterated its campaign promise to withdraw Canadian jets helping the bombing campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq. Although Trudeau promised to stay engaged, including boosting the presence of Canadian soldiers in Iraq on a training mission and keeping reconnaissance and refuelling planes in the region, the development has Canada’s western allies worried. Meanwhile opposition is growing within and outside Congress in the US to the CIA aiding al Qaeda proxies in Syria. These so-called ‘moderate’ groups have been exposed by a report by the House Armed Services Committee that reveals they are essentially extremist jihadi groups that have been largely taken over and now controlled by al Qaeda or IS. US funding, weapons, other help is being funnelled through the so-called moderate groups to their ‘controllers’. The report records as ironic the fact that Al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is being supported while the US is still engaged in fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq (the latter in the transmogrified shape of IS). The report points to the unintended consequences in the past of backing jihadi proxies in Afghanistan, a venture that eventually created the Taliban who hosted al Qaeda. The rest, as they say, is history. IS is spreading like the plague from South East Asia to Libya. In the last named country, western intervention to support rebels in the overthrow of Gaddafi has produced a virtually failed state, with two parliaments, two governments, militia rule, and IS growing in between. If IS links up with terrorist groups in Niger and Chad, this cross-Sahara front will be very difficult to roll back. The US-led west’s ‘romance’ with jihadi militants starting from Afghanistan in the 1980s and continuing in North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring of 2011 promises the same disaster as visited the first ‘experiment’. An entire arc of countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific is now threatened by the growing power of IS. Perceptive analysts insist military means alone are insufficient to defeat groups like al Qaeda and IS. Killing foot soldiers of the terrorist international does little to damage the ability of their leaders to recruit fresh replacements, brought to them by the conveyor belt of Muslim extremist preachers and madrassas preparing new generations of terrorist fighters. Pakistan, particularly in the avatar of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, is as usual ‘dealing’ with the problem through denial. This ostrich-like head-in-the-sand posture is neither convincing nor confidence inspiring. The modus operandi of IS is different from al Qaeda (from whose womb it evolved in Iraq initially) in that it has proved adept at using existing terrorist groups to widen its reach, control and capability of wreaking mischief. Is there not readymade fertile soil for just such a strategy in Pakistan (and Afghanistan)? How then can the Pakistani authorities be so derelict in their duty and oblivious to the looming threat? Just as the world tended to wake up late to the IS threat, and that too only when it exploded onto the scene, capturing large swathes of territory in Iraq (where the US-trained army disintegrated) and Syria (taking advantage of and manoeuvring in the fractured political and battle landscape), Pakistan may one day wake up to rue the day it failed to respond in timely fashion to pre-empt the reported efforts of IS to win over the Pakistani terrorist groups and carve out a niche for itself here. The world needs to find the will and unity to defeat IS on a ‘global’ scale while Pakistan needs the same to pre-empt the threatened growth of IS on our soil.

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