11 Sep 2008
Terrorism Index 2008: Blindsided by Pakistan
A whiff of optimism detected in this year's Index masks mounting security concerns over Pakistan Peter Buxbaum writes for ISN Security Watch.
By Peter A Buxbaum in Washington for ISN Security Watch
The fourth annual Index, which was gathered from opinion surveys of US foreign policy and security experts across the ideological spectrum, suggested a ray of optimism. A year ago, 91 percent of the experts said they believed the world was growing more dangerous for the US; this year, that figure fell to 70 percent.
But Musharraf's resignation added a major element of uncertainty to the picture, acknowledged participants in the survey effort at a press briefing in Washington. It highlighted one of the major conclusions suggested by the Index: Pakistan now represents the central front on the war on terror. Musharraf's departure added a degree of instability to the country's politics and with that, greater risk. But these recent developments, they also said, should not necessarily detract from the sliver of optimism this year's terrorism report offered.
The optimism reflected in the Index appears to emanate almost exclusively from developments in Iraq. For the first time, the US national security establishment perceived progress in the country's efforts to fight terrorist networks, and this sense of progress appears to be fueled by good news out of Iraq.
When confronted in 2007 with the statement, "The United States is winning the war on terror," six percent of the experts agreed. This year's Index has 21 percent of the experts saying the US is making headway in fighting terrorism. The percentage of experts who see the threat of global terrorist networks as increasing dropped from 83 percent in 2007 year to 55 percent this year. On the Iraq front, 60 percent of the experts say that the troop surge in Iraq had a positive impact on the war effort. Last year, 53 percent said the surge was failing.
On the other hand, half of the experts said that the most important outcome of the Iraq war has been to strengthen Iran. Three-quarters of the experts believe that the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions is rising.
Nor did the experts have much good to say about any other aspect of US national security policy. Eighty percent said that the US has focused too much on the war in Iraq at the expense of the conflict in Afghanistan. Two-thirds insist the war in Afghanistan is having a positive impact on US national security, but that figure is down 27 points in the last two years.
Musharraf resignation foments uncertainty
As for Pakistan, it was seen as a country beset with instability, even before the Musharraf resignation. Over two-thirds of the experts considered Pakistan the country most likely to transfer nuclear technology to terrorists. More than half the experts said Pakistan was the country most likely to serve as al-Qaida's next home base, up from 35 percent a year ago.
The Index's experts are not impressed with how the United States is attempting to address these challenges. They give US policy toward Pakistan a score of 3.7 on a 10-point scale. Sixty-six percent believe that the policy is having a negative impact on America's national security, an increase of 13 points from a year ago. Most of the experts believe that correcting course will require the US to support integration of the tribal areas into the Pakistani state, increase development assistance and condition aid on Islamabad's willingness to confront militants.
Musharraf's resignation, and its implications for US-Pakistan relations, was the major topic of conversation at the Terrorism Index press briefing. "The resignation leaves a great deal of uncertainly with regard to Pakistan's relationship with the United States and its future degree of cooperation with the war on terror," said Carolyn O'Hara, a senior editor at Foreign Policy magazine.
The former Pakistan president was indeed an avowed ally of the United States in its war on terror and the Bush administration backed its ally through thick and thin. On the other hand, Musharraf was enormously unpopular with the Pakistani public, and the US image in that country has suffered concomitantly.
A July 2008 International Republican Institute poll of Pakistani public opinion showed that 83 percent of the Pakistani population believed that Musharraf should resign, noted Caroline Wadhams, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.
"Musharraf promised a good fight against terror but he didn't deliver," said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, a former CIA officer and a member of the Terrorism Index panel of experts. "Al-Qaida has expanded its influence in Pakistan. It is an open question whether Pakistan's weak civilian government can exert sufficient authority to stem the growth of al-Qaida and of domestic terror against the Pakistani state."
Whether the Pakistani public wants its government to move in that direction is also questionable. "One legacy of the US policy in Pakistan over the last few years is that our prestige is at an all- time low," said Riedel. "Sticking with Musharraf until the bitter end tainted the US in the eyes of the Pakistani public."
Opportunity for policy adjustment
But Wadhams saw a silver lining to Musharraf's resignation, by providing an opening for an adjustment in US foreign policy. "Musharraf's political ship has been sinking fast since a series of political missteps over the past year," she said, and rattled off a laundry list: the July 2007 raid on the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad in which hundreds were killed; the declaration of emergency rule in November 2007 to ensure Musharraf's re-election; changes to the Constitution to enlarge the powers of the presidency; and Musharraf's undermining of the judiciary, the political opposition, and the media.
With Musharraf gone, the United States has an opportunity to broaden its ties inside Pakistan and move beyond its heavy reliance on individual leaders, Wadhams asserted. "The absence of a single controlling dictator will mean that the United States must now cultivate multiple poles of interest in the country," she said. "Musharraf's resignation is an opportunity for the United States to finally distance itself from its past policy of relying on one man to hold all of Pakistan's problems in check."
Wadhams advocated a reorientation of US policies toward Pakistan and creating a comprehensive strategy for enhancing security in Pakistan, one that would include curtailing extremism and militancy, as well as strengthening Pakistan's economy and democracy and reducing tensions between Pakistan and its neighbors.
Riedel agreed that the US should take the opportunity reinvigorate its Pakistan policy. He expressed support for legislation currently pending in the US Congress which would triple development aid to Pakistan and pledge to keep aid at that level for the next 10 years.
Such an aid strategy, it is hoped, could provide an effective means of dealing with the related issues of tenuous US-Pakistan relations, Pakistan's role in the war on terror, and the security implications of Pakistan's delicate internal situation. Over the last year Pakistan has endured the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and 56 suicide bombings, killing hundreds in Pakistan's cities.
The country also faces increasing fiscal and trade deficits, double-digit inflation and shortages of oil and food precipitated by skyrocketing prices. "These put enormous pressure on a struggling Pakistani population, as well as a weak and divided coalition government," said Wadhams.
But a change in US policy will hardly produce overnight results. "Pakistanis perceived that Musharraf was doing America's bidding in its war on terrorist networks," said Riedel. "The US needs to persuade the Pakistan government and its people that this is their conflict as well. But the perception problems are enormous and they will take some time to erode."
Peter Buxbaum, a New York- and Washington-based independent journalist, has been writing about defense, security, business and technology for nearly 20 years. His work has appeared in publications such as Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Information Week, Jane’s Defense Weekly, Military Information Technology, Homeland Security, and Computerworld. His website is www.buxbaum1.com.
Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported