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Old 2009-12-13, 11:37   Link #5007
Feeling comfy
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Singapore
Age: 44
It's a long opinion-editorial, even after I've taken the liberty of abridging it as far as I can. Follow the link to the full version on the NYT website.

To beat Al-Qaeda, draw lessons from Indonesia
By Scott Atran (Dec 12)

IN TESTIMONY last week before Congress, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr Karl Eikenberry, insisted that President Barack Obama's revised war strategy will "build support for the Afghan government", while General Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, vowed that it will "absolutely" succeed in disrupting and degrading the Taliban.

Confidence is important, but we also have to recognise that the decision to commit 30,000 more troops to a counterinsurgency effort against a good segment of the Afghan population, with the focus on converting a deeply unpopular and corrupt regime into a unified, centralised state for the first time in that country's history, is far from a slam dunk. In the worst case, the surge may push Gen McChrystal's "core goal of defeating Al-Qaeda" further away.

Al-Qaeda is already on the ropes globally, with dwindling financial and popular support, and a drastically diminished ability to work with other extremists worldwide, much less command them in major operations. We're winning against Al-Qaeda and its kin in places where anti-terrorism efforts are local and built on an understanding that the ties binding terrorist networks today are more cultural and familial than political. Consider recent events in South-east Asia.

In September, Indonesian security forces killed Noordin Top, implicated in the region's worst suicide bombings — including the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings in Jakarta on July 17 this year. He headed a splinter group of the extremist religious organisation Jemaah Islamiyah, which he called Al-Qaeda for the Malaysian Archipelago.

Research by my colleagues and me, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Defence Department, reveals three critical factors in such groups inspired by Al-Qaeda, all of which local security forces implicitly grasp but American counterintelligence workers seem to underestimate.

Three factors
What binds these groups together? First is friendship forged through fighting: The Indonesian volunteers who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan styled themselves the Afghan Alumni, and many kept in contact when they returned home after the war.

The second is school ties and discipleship: Many leading operatives in South-east Asia come from a handful of religious schools affiliated with Jemaah Islamiyah. Out of some 30,000 religious schools in Indonesia, only about 50 have a deadly legacy of producing violent extremists.

Third is family ties.

Understanding these three aspects of terrorist networking has given law enforcement a leg up on the jihadists. General Tito Karnavian, the leader of the strike team that tracked down Noordin, told me that "knowledge of the interconnected networks of Afghan Alumni, kinship and marriage groups was very crucial to uncovering the inner circle of Noordin".

So, how does this relate to a strategy against Al-Qaeda in the West and in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Al-Qaeda's main focus is harming the United States and Europe, but there hasn't been a successful attack in these places directly commanded by Osama bin Laden and company since 9/11. The American invasion of Afghanistan devastated Al-Qaeda's core of top personnel and its training camps.

Rather, the real threat is home-grown youths who gain inspiration from Osama but little else beyond an occasional self-financed spell at a degraded Al-Qaeda-linked training facility.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq encouraged many of these local plots, including the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In their aftermaths, European law and security forces stopped plots from coming to fruition by stepping up coordination and tracking links among local extremists, their friends and friends of friends, while also improving relations with young Muslim immigrants through community outreach.

Protect your guests
Now we need to take this perspective to Afghanistan and Pakistan — one that is smart about cultures, customs and connections. The present policy of focusing on troop strength and drones, and trying to win over people by improving their lives with Western-style aid programmes, only continues a long history of foreign involvement and failure.

A key factor helping the Taliban is the moral outrage of the Pashtun tribes against those who deny them autonomy, including a right to bear arms to defend their tribal code, known as Pashtunwali. Its sacred tenets include protecting women's purity (namus), the right to personal revenge (badal), the sanctity of the guest (melmastia) and sanctuary (nanawateh). Among all Pashtun tribes, inheritance, wealth, social prestige and political status accrue through the father's line.

And according to this code, hospitality trumps vengeance: If a group accepts a guest, all must honour him, even if prior grounds justify revenge. That's one reason American offers of millions for betraying Osama fail.

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Osama was the country's guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause problems for his host, Osama should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the US ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al-Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

American-sponsored "reconciliation" efforts between the Afghan government and the Taliban may be fatally flawed if they include demands that Pashtun hill tribes give up their arms and support a Constitution that values Western-inspired rights and judicial institutions over traditions that have sustained the tribes against all enemies.

Riding over local values
Outsiders who ignore local group dynamics tend to ride roughshod over values they don't grasp. My research with colleagues on group conflict in India, Indonesia, Iran, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories found that helping to improve lives materially does little to reduce support for violence, and can even increase it if people feel such help compromises their most cherished values.

The original alliance between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda was largely one of convenience between a poverty-stricken national movement and a transnational cause that brought it material help. American pressure on Pakistan to attack the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in their sanctuary gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban, who forged their own ties to Al-Qaeda to fight the Pakistani state.

In fact, it is the US that holds today's Taliban together. Without us, their deeply divided coalition could well fragment, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Taliban were to sever ties to Osama if he became a bigger headache to them than America.


Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, John Jay College and the University of Michigan, is the author of the forthcoming Listen to the Devil.
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