"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

The gloves are off in Pakistan

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

Pakistani authorities have compared Saturday evening's devastating truck suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel in the capital Islamabad to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

In terms of its psychological effect, the blast, which killed more than 80 people, injured hundreds and burnt out the hotel, has traumatized the nation, and, like 9/11, marks the beginning of a new battle: this time not the "war on terror", but the war by terrorists.

Pakistan is now the declared battleground in this struggle by Islamic militants to strike first against American interests before the United States' war machine completes its preparations to storm the sanctuaries of al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

Just how will Pakistan fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Syed Saleem Shahzad notes in his article that over 300 American "trainers" just arrived in Pakistand and have taken over large area in Tarbella where the CIA operated out of in the 1990s.

There is little doubt in the minds of those familiar with the American activities at Tarbella that preparations are being made for an all-out offensive in North-West Frontier Province against sanctuaries belonging to the Taliban and al-Qaeda led by bin Laden. Pakistani security sources maintain more American troops will arrive in the coming days.

Now the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

I noted before Al Qaeda's bombing of the Marriott hotel was a huge mistake. It did not accomplish its tactical objective (killing Pakistani and foreign leaders) nor its operational objective (making the Pakistani leadership succumb to Al Qaeda's rule), and it had strategic consequences. Pakistanis themselves do not want a rampant insurgency in their country. The Marriott bombing shows they have one and the newly elected leadership will now go after them in earnest. The Marriott bombing has allowed the Pakistani leadership to take off their shackles to allow the full force of American Intelligence into Pakistan to hunt for the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership.

Do not forget that Pakistan represents Al Qaeda's last unassailable base from which to plan, coordinate, and conduct terrorist training and operations. Al Qaeda saw this battle coming with the loss of Iraq which is why Al Qaeda forces there have been redirected to Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the surge of forces in Afghanistan and Pakistani forces in the FATA/NWFP region, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will now be battling for their last remaining sanctuary.

Expect a tough, violent battle in this region. As the battle continues, expect Al Qaeda to alienate the Pakistani population more and more with indiscriminant attacks on innocent civilians to intimidate them. However, expect the Pakistani military to provide security rapidly for the population effectively limiting the intimidation. With an intelligence network already deeply entrenched in Pakistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will not last for very long. Nor will Pakistani leaders who are in bed with these members.

Looking back, one can understand why Al Qaeda fears a democracy more than anything else. It spells their death and destruction.

As we look forward from 9/11, we see several democracies on the rise in Muslim countries -- Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Al Qaeda made Iraq its central front of its war of terror. It lost that battleground despite the help of some unlikely players, namely Iran and Syria. The small surge of American troops in Afghanistan coupled with a new defensive posture of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan due to attacks directly in Pakistan will result in Afghanistan's democracy coming of age next year or a year later. Finally, with its defeat in Pakistan, we will now have three countries which have fought and won their democratic right.

The only thing we need to do at this point is to continue to support democratic reforms in these countries. This fact should be the crux of the debate when American go to the polls in November.

Al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks not only sought to bring down America militarily, but also economically. It was close to achieving its goal, and may very well do so in the near future. However, we should not go down without a fight. It appears the real fight has just begun, now that the battle for Pakistan begins in earnest.

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