Archive for the ‘ terrorism ’ Category

Pakistan’s Other Taliban

By Malik Siraj Akbar for The Huffington Post

The sectarian war in Pakistan between militant Sunni and unarmed Shia Muslims is turning uglier by the day. A bomb blast targeting Shia pilgrims on September 18 in southwestern Balochistan province killed three people and also injured security guards who were officially assigned to protect the pilgrims from a terrorist attack. Sectarian offensives are expected every day but thwarted very infrequently.

The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), an underground Sunni extremist group that allegedly receives support from units of Pakistani intelligence agencies, has accepted responsibility for most of such attacks in the recent past.

The LeJ has extraordinarily increased its violent operations during this year. It has emerged as a dangerous force after succeeding in recruiting a new cadre of homegrown extremists. The freshly inducted fighters enjoy unmatched knowledge of local geography and safe hideouts. They are sophisticated shooters who are deeply motivated to live and die for what they deem as a “religious cause.” Theirs is a cause designed to cleanse Pakistan of Shias.

The LeJ asks Shias to either quit Pakistan or convert into Sunni Islam. Both of the demands seem unacceptable considering the fact that Pakistan has the world’s second highest Shia population. Many Shias serve as top-ranking professionals and enormously contribute to Pakistan’s politics and economy.

The LeJ is rising as a confident, self-reliant, invincible and ambitious power that will lead in the near future Balochistan’s march toward Islamization and expulsion or persecution of religious and sectarian minorities. There are scores of reasons why we should fear the rapid rise of the LeJ and Pakistani government’s inaction against it.

Pakistan’s handling of the LeJ is very similar to its disastrous experience of dealing with the Pakistani Taliban during the initial days. The country’s security establishment created and patronized radical Islamic groups but kept underestimating them until they transformed into such monsters that become impossible to micromanage or dismantle.

On August 30, the LeJ target killed Zulfiqar Hussain Naqvi, a judge in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, along with his driver and security guard.

Besides sectarian reasons, the larger motivation behind Mr. Naqvi’s killing was to intimidate and influence government institutions. Extremist groups carry out such attacks to dissuade government personnel from participating in counter-terrorism operations.

A LeJ spokesman says his organization would even target the Chief Justice of Pakistan if he takes stern action against some of the organization’s detained operatives.

“Any judge who sentences our arrested activists will meet the fate of Naqvi,” the spokesman warned in a statement published in the local media, “the Chief Justice and all other judges will be on our hit-list if they harden their attitude toward our activists whose cases are currently pending in the courts. We do not only issue warnings but also do what we warn to do.”

It turned out to be true.

Only a week after murdering Judge Naqvi, the LeJ killed a top police officer in Quetta on September 7, 2012. The slain officer, Jamil Ahmed Kakar, had newly been promoted as the superintendent of police (Investigation branch). Colleagues in the police department and foes in the LeJ unanimously agree that Mr. Kakar was instrumental in painstakingly investigating the Lashkar’s activities and taking action against key leaders of the terrorist outfit.

“Jamil Kakar was involved in the martyrdom of our colleagues,” confirmed the LeJ spokesman.

LeJ’s dramatic rise is perturbing for the following reasons.

All top LeJ commanders in Balochistan come from lower-middle class Baloch families. The Balochs have historically remained a secular people with rare connections with forces that fought in the name of religion. Hundreds of Muslim religious schools established across Balochistan with the covert funding of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani government to counter the ongoing Baloch separatist movement richly provide manpower to Muslim extremist groups.

Left-wing Baloch nationalists admit that self- Jihadist groups are actively engaged in employing young Balochs from religious schools for their unholy battles. The regional nationalists describe this phenomenon as a “deliberate policy” of the Pakistani intelligence agencies to undermine their movement. Radical Islam, they say, is used as an antidote to address mounting anti-Pakistan sentiments in Balochistan.

At present, there are no overt tensions between Baloch nationalists and neo-Jihadists in the Baloch-populated districts. The nationalists say they are already engaged in a full-fledged battle against the Pakistani government and cannot afford to open another front against extremist Islamic groups. But the current non-interference policy in each other’s operations may not last long. Tensions have been brewing, although slowly.

According to LeJ accounts, all of the organization’s key leaders come from Baloch families.

The growth of Sunni extremism has come with new dimensions and fresh techniques of terrorism. For example, direct suicide blasts on Shia processions reduced in 2012 but the year witnessed an upsurge in mass killings of Shia pilgrims by intercepting passenger buses in various parts of Balochistan. The LeJ is actively involved in attacks on NATO supplies, too. In 2010, as many as 34 drivers were killed in Balochistan while attempting to transport goods to foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The LeJ is steadily growing so big in Balochistan that, at one point, it will start considering its anti-Shia operations as an inadequate match with its huge infrastructure and extended network of operatives and sanctuaries. The organization is already closely connected with Taliban in Afghanistan and has renewed connections with Jundullah, the anti-Iran Sunni militant group. In common, all these groups share abhorrence for the Shias.

The sectarian killers are, in fact, Pakistan’s other Taliban. Most of their top leaders do not face official action. They roam freely and make hate speeches across the country and incite violence against the Shias.

After the persecution of its chief, Abdolmalek Rigi, in the summer of 2010 by the Iranian authorities, Jundullah is too weak to continue with the robust suicide blasts it once used to conduct in Iranian cities under the leadership of Rigi. So, the Jundullah now continues (what Cricket fans call) ‘net practice’ with LeJ inside Pakistan until it fully regains the lost strength.

While the forces of Islamization consolidate their grip in Balochistan, there seems little interest on the part of the government or the regional opposition parties to cooperate with each other to collectively fight religious extremism. Promoting radicals may temporarily assist Pakistani government in fighting the nationalist-separatist insurgency but, in the long run, it is going to multiply the causes of unrest in Balochistan, making conflict resolution further impossible.

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Rand Paul Filibuster on Pakistan Aid Could Force Senate Into Overtime

By Lauren Fox for US News and World Report

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul could push the Senate’s session into the weekend if he doesn’t back off of a promise to filibuster all legislation as long as Senate leadership keeps a bill to stop sending aid to Pakistan off of the floor.

The obstruction is a replay of last week’s Senate session when Paul stood in the way of a veterans’ jobs bill in an effort to see his anti-Pakistani funding bill on the floor.

In a letter to his colleagues, Paul requested that his fellow lawmakers join his cause to stop backing Pakistan as long as the country keeps playing “both sides of some of the most important issues while openly thwarting our objectives in the region” and continues holding Shakil Afridi, the man who assisted the U.S. with its efforts to locate and kill Osama bin Laden.

“Dr. Afridi remains under arrest for his role in finding bin Laden, and no country that arrests a man for helping to find bin Laden is an ally of the United States,” Paul wrote in his letter. “If Pakistan wants to be our ally–and receive foreign aid for being one–then they should act like it, and they must start by releasing Dr. Afridi.”

This week, however, Paul has expanded his efforts.

After rebels seized the U.S. embassy in Egypt and Libyan rebels murdered four Americans including Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Paul is calling for a bill to halt funding to those nations as well.

“I urge you to take immediate action to pass a much-needed bill demanding cooperation and accountability from the countries involved in the recent violence directed at our embassies and consulates,” Paul wrote. “The bill should send a strong clear message to these entities: You do not get foreign aid unless you are an unwavering ally of the United States.”

Meanwhile, the White House has other plans to handle the attacks on the embassies in Egypt and Libya. Because the attackers were not affiliated with the government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will look to Congress to authorize more funding to support Egypt in its quest for democracy.

“Particularly in the light of this kind of extremist and spoiler activity…we think it is absolutely essential that we support those forces in Egypt who want to build a peaceful, stable, democratic country with prosperity restored, jobs for people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday during a briefing. “And that’s what the assistance that the president has pledged and that we are working with the Hill on is for.”

Paul’s protest won’t endanger the Senate’s ability to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded for another six months, but it could significantly affect the Senate’s ability to stay on schedule.

The House passed the stopgap measure 329 to 91, but Paul’s floor protest could push the Senate into a weekend session.

The Opposite of American

By E.J.Graff for The American Prospect

The Sikh temple shooting, which left seven dead including the shooter, has left me feeling more shaky than the shooting in Colorado, which seemed more random.

I write that even though the skeleton of these stories is roughly the same. One man with a grudge takes semi-automatic weapons and opens fire at a public or semi-public event where people are gathered for some socially acknowledged purpose—education, work, politics, entertainment, worship. Some people die. Others are wounded. The gunman may or may not have the presence of mind to execute himself. Or he may choose to be martyred, putting himself in line for police to kill him.

The gunman’s race and age vary, anywhere from 12 to 50. In the U.S., the majority of such gunmen are white, disproportionately (although just slightly) to their numbers in the population. They are overwhelmingly male. Sometimes the gunman has a personal motive for making others suffer: He lost his job, or girlfriend. Sometimes his motive is putatively political: Liberals are ruining Norway, or abortion clinics are killing babies. Sometimes he’s just crazy—psychotic, or with a deeply disturbing character disorder—but sane enough to follow the cultural script.

Even knowing that the story has a plot that I can strip down to familiar elements, this particular shooting upsets me more than most—because Wade Michael Page shot up a gathering of a religious minority, darker than white, in the bucolic Midwest, in what police are calling an act of domestic terrorism. The FBI has been called in. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Page was, as many of us suspected, a “frustrated neo-Nazi who had been the leader of a racist white-power band.” (Okay, I didn’t guess the band part.) Dave Weigel goes into the background documents and offers up the relevant nuggets in an excellent post at Slate, including a link to one of Page’s hate songs.

Sikhs have been targeted and attacked in hate crimes since 9/11; CNN has a summary of some of the publicly reported attacks here. Many of the news reports quoting Sikhs about this attack emphasize that they’re mistaken for Muslims, as if attacking Muslims would be more understandable. But post-9/11 hatred focused on the “other” hasn’t been that specific; Sikhs are visibly south Asian and, with those turbans, non-Christian. That’s enough for a neo-Nazi or any xenophobe who nurses an irrational resentment.

Here’s why this one leaves me particularly shaky. I grew up in the only Jewish family in my southern Ohio township, and probably the county; for nearly a decade, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in my jam-packed grade school, junior high, and high school. (My graduating class had 675 people.) The area was so German-American white that my medium-brown hair (see picture to the right) counted as dark, and left me irrationally unwilling to date anyone blond, although I’ve known consciously that that’s ridiculous. Somehow, I never had the presence of mind to connect my feeling of exclusion to what my dear friends the Conchas, the township’s Hispanic family, might be feeling, much less how the handful of black kids might have felt; as a child, my focus was on trying to shut off that sense of exclusion. Not until adulthood did I learn, instead, to expand it into empathy.

It’s hard to express how or why this incised me with vulnerable outsiderness so profoundly. Was it the time my friend Patti chased me around at recess, telling me that the Jews killed Jesus, and the teacher made me sit in the corner for crying? Was it having to stand every day in fourth grade as everyone said the Lord’s Prayer, which I knew wasn’t mine? (Yes, that came after the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in schools, but I wasn’t yet well-versed enough in the law to object.) Was it getting those little choose-Christ-or-go-to-hell pamphlets in our Halloween bags, which probably went into everyone’s bags but which I interpreted as specifically meant for my Jewish family? Or having my sixth-grade teacher call me into the hall at school, asking whether the class could have a Christmas tree?

Another child might not have felt all this so keenly, of course, but I did. And my friends who grew up in urban or suburban Jewish clusters—Los Angeles, Cleveland Heights, Long Island—had a vastly different experience as American Jews. After I left for college, a Hindu temple moved in, and I was happy that my little brother and sister would have some fellow outsiders to befriend. For me, being the Jewish kid in Beavercreek, Ohio, was a lot harder than coming out later as gay. Which is probably why I never write about this subject, and why it’s so easy, comparatively, for me to write about sexuality and gender.

And it’s why, after 9/11, I was so grateful to march with members of the tiny Cambridge, Massachusetts mosque, which sits one street over from the tiny Cambridge synagogue, as befits religions that are such close cousins. However much the 9/11 bombers resembled, say, Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph (who bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Atlanta Olympic games, in that order) in their message of politically targeted hatred, I knew that after 9/11 all Muslims would be slandered as responsible in a way that all white Christians had not been. In fact, the one thing I thought George W. Bush got absolutely right was insisting that Americans should not blame a religion for its most extreme members’ unhinged actions.

Police may not have definitively determined Wade Michael Page’s motive. But I see a group of brown people gunned down in their temple, almost certainly for their religious outsiderness, out there in the hyperwhite Midwest. I grieve for every Sikh in the country, and for every Muslim and Hindu and South Asian and Middle Eastern American who knows the message was aimed at them as well.

Page may have been a shooter like all other shooters: just another grudge-holding male who decided to feel powerful by becoming the lord of death. And yet his bullets nevertheless delivered a specifically white message of “patriotic” hatred: You don’t belong here. You are not us. Go directly to hell.

Will someone—everyone, really—please stand up and say that what Page represents is the opposite of American?

Pakistan and its Image Problem

By Eric Schmidt for Google

Pakistan, a Muslim country, has spent about half of its independent life under military governments. Today, Pakistani leadership celebrates the ruling coalitions success in almost finishing the first five year term in history (previous leaders indicted by the courts, assassinated by extremists or brushed aside by the generals.) In meetings last week with the senior General, Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, they made the case for a new and updated image of Pakistan: one of the largest democracies in the world, with a vibrant and open press, an upcoming demographic dividend of hardworking young people, and a highly educated elite leadership of the country. Islamabad and Lahore, where we visited, were relatively safe and certainly safer than Afghanistan. It was clear to us that Pakistan has an image problem.

Pakistan also has a power problem, as in electric power. Power is now off two hours out of three all day and all night. Estimates are that the country has enough generation capacity (hydro and oil based) to handle all the load, but corruption, power stealing, poor payment rates and the classic mistake of underpricing power compared to its real generation cost means that industrial production is threatened. Everyone of means has a UPS, and the air-conditioning seldom works on a 45 Celcius day. Our meetings often were literally in the dark, a common enough occurrence that people did not even remark about it.

Pakistanis are on their way to full mobile penetration with more than 110 million users, and all effective political communication programs now rely on SMS. 3G licenses are underway and the start of a real software industry can be seen.

Against this backdrop, another side of Pakistan emerges. The consensus is that the military drives the foreign policy of the country with unforeseen consequences. Alleged use of extremist groups to fight in Kashmir enables a criminal element to flourish, and the hosting of the Taliban in the autonomous regions (called FATA) to the north and west in the mountains turned an ungoverned area into a very dangerous area. The Army Generals explained the difference between fundamentalism (which they support) and extremism (which they fight), and the political leadership explained that the extremism now comes from “seminaries” where youth are indoctrinated, housed and fed in the rural areas where there are no opportunities at all.

Until recently a strong US ally, Pakistan is now on very good terms with China, and has improving relations with India (with whom they have had three wars.) The development of a nuclear stalemate between India and Pakistan seems to have forced them to pursue accommodation and trade is now increasing rapidly. The press are generally hyper-critical of the United States policies in the region and take the view that the India-US relationship is driving much of our countries behavior. The drone strikes are universally condemned as a violation of sovereignty and their constitution and are subject to much negotiation between the two countries. The bin Laden raid is viewed with strikingly different perspectives in the two countries.

The son of the chief of the Supreme Court is under investigation for corruption, and the media in turmoil after the appearance of staged interviews. In return, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Prime Minister is unable to govern after he was sentenced to a 30 second (yes, that’s right) detention for failing to investigate a corruption case against the President. The Prime Minister, so proud of the stability of the political system in his comments a week ago, is now the former-Prime Minister. The lack of trust within the society weakens both the real and perceived effectiveness of the government on security, corruption and good government matters.

We met a number of impressive Pakistanis, none more so than Masarrat Misbah of Smile Again. Every year, hundreds of young rural women have acid thrown on their faces by men as punishment for some dishonor, including being raped by the men who pour acid on her. This horrific crime, which often leads to death or blindness, requires painful rehabilitation and rebuilding of the woman’s life. Masarrat Misbah’s home in Lahore provides a temporary safe house. The perpetrators, most often direct family members, are seldom prosecuted and almost never convicted of anything. I will never forget the faces of these shy, young women so grievously injured in such an evil way.

Much of what people say and think about Pakistan is absolutely true for most of the FATA provinces (autonomous areas) and for Baluchistan. Pakistan’s image problem results from the fact that people outside the country believe the realities of North and South Waziristan and Quetta are reflective of what the larger country looks like. Islamabad and Lahore are certainly safer than people realize, unless you are a politician (many prominent politicians still suffer assassination attempts and threats inside these cities).

Pakistan’s major security challenge comes from having two many fronts. FATA represents a Haqqani network and Taliban problem, threatening the establishment in Islamabad. Baluchistan is a persistent separatist movement. Afghanistan is a threat because Pashtuns are allowed to go back and forth undocumented. All of this, including India, is simply too much for a government like Pakistan to take on right now.

We ultimately see three Pakistans: 1) The places where the security issues are true (FATA, Baluchistan, parts of SWAT Valley, and Kashmir); 2) the rest of Pakistan for the average citizen, much larger than the first and which is reasonably misunderstood and relatively safe; 3) The politician’s and military’s Pakistan, which whether in FATA or Islamabad, is turbulent, unsafe, and complex.

There is a good case for optimism about Pakistan, simply because of the large emergent middle class (#2). The country, vast, tribal and complicated, can follow the more successful model of India. Connectivity changes the rural experience completely.. illiteracy at 43% can be overcome relatively quickly, and providing information alternatives can dissuade young males from a life of terrorism. The well educated elite can decide to further reform the countries institutions to increase confidence in the government. The war in Afghanistan, destabilizing to Pakistan in many ways, winds down after 2014 and buys time for Pakistan to address its real and continuing internal terrorism threat (more than 30,000 civilian terror deaths in the decade.)

Technology can help in other ways as well. The power problem is mostly a tracking problem (tracing corruption and mis-distribution). The problem of extreme crimes (like acid, or stoning) in poorly policed regions can be mitigated with videos and exposes that shame authorities into prosecution. The corruption problem can be tracked and traced using mobile money and transparent government finances. We met with clever Pakistani entrepreneurs who will build large, new businesses in Pakistan in the next few years and global multinational will locate sales and eventually manufacturing in the country.

The emergent middle class of Pakistan won’t settle for a corrupt system with constant terrorism and will push for reforms in a burgeoning democracy. Here’s to the new civil society of Pakistan, who will use connectivity, information and the Internet, to drive a peaceful revolution that brings Pakistan up to its true potential.

Edhi Faces Abduction Threat, Authorities Reveal

As Reported By Salman Siddiqui for The Express Tribune

Leading humanitarian worker Abdul Sattar Edhi is in danger of being taken hostage by a militant group in exchange for prisoners that it wants sprung free, authorities have revealed.
Edhi, while talking to The Express Tribune, stated that he was informed by the authorities a few weeks back that his life was in danger. “I was told that the ‘fauj’ (Pakistan Army) had intercepted a conversation of militants where it was being discussed that I may come to be harmed,” he said.
Edhi Foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi elaborated that the nation’s most recognisable charity worker was warned that he could be taken hostage in exchange for some prisoners that the ‘Taliban’ wanted to get released —

an allegation the militant group has denied.

Crime Investigation Department (CID) Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) Chaudhry Aslam confirmed that the intelligence reports they had received sometime back indicated that Edhi may be kidnapped by militants in exchange for either “some of their men in custody” or a “large ransom amount”.

“There was a letter in which there were three names, which included my name, Malir SSP Rao Anwar’s and Edhi’s,” he said.

This is the first time that Edhi’s name has been mentioned in a militant group’s hit list. After SSP Anwar was attacked in a suicide bomb in April, it was decided that Edhi’s security would be beefed up as a precautionary measure.

Security provisions

Despite the threat to his life, Edhi remains unfazed and calm in light of this development. “Only God knows what the truth is,” he says. “I don’t have enmity with anyone or any group. I do humanitarian work for everybody without any prejudice.”

Since the threats surfaced, Edhi is being provided with round-the-clock police security — with two official guards escorting him everywhere he goes. “Never before in his life had Edhi ever asked or given security by the state,” the spokesperson said.

Currently, two policemen from the Kharadar police station have been deployed for his security who work in two shifts of 12-hours each, according to Station House Officer (SHO) Agha Asadullah. “We can increase the number of policemen, if need be,” he said.

Edhi himself appears irritated by the presence of policemen near him at all times — especially given that he has to keep the Kharadar police station informed about his movements constantly. “I don’t want any of this security. I really feel there’s no need for it,” he said modestly. Although he is being asked to restrict his movements as a precaution, Edhi said he won’t allow anything to stop him. “I am going to Hyderabad next to do some relief work there,” he said.

TTP reaction

His son Faisal revealed that a three-member delegation of the local chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) recently came to the Edhi office to clarify their position about the alleged threats.

“They said to us that this is all government propaganda to malign the Taliban movement,” he said. “They also added that they respected Edhi for his humanitarian work and could not even think of doing him any harm.”

SSP Aslam said that the good news was that according to recent reports, Edhi’s name had not been mentioned again. “We receive a number of intelligence reports which mention a lot of famous personalities on the hit list on a weekly basis. So hopefully all will remain well.”

Reacting to the development, Edhi said: “I don’t know who [wants to harm me] or why. “I only know that I have to continue to do my work — no matter what.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The Taliban have once again showed their true colors by threatening a man of Mr Edhi’s caliber. To threaten a person who is akin to Mother Teresa for Pakistan, a living saint, shows us how far off the cuckoo’s nest they really are. Just another reason for us here at Pakistanis for Peace to have great disdain for this group of people.

Pakistan Acquits 4 Men in Times Square Bomb Plot

By Reza Sayah for CNN

A Pakistani court has acquitted four men accused of taking part in a botched 2010 plot to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square.

Attorney Muhammad Imran Safdar said his client, Humbal Akhtar, and three others were acquitted Saturday: Muhammad Shouaib Mughal, Shahid Hussain and Faisal Abbasi.

The latter remains in custody to face charges on a separate case, the lawyer said. He did not provide additional information about the other case.

The four were accused of assisting Faisal Shahzad, who tried to explode a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010. The bomb failed to detonate.

Prosecutors said Shahzad carefully selected a highly populated target and intended to strike again if he wasn’t caught the first time.

He was arrested two days later in New York while trying to leave the country on a flight bound for Pakistan.

Shahzad pleaded guilty and admitted to getting training from the Taliban, and was sentenced to life in prison in October 2010.

Akhtar welcomed the acquittal, his lawyer said.

“He hugged me and thanked me for my efforts,” Safdar said. “He was so happy and relieved. It’s been a tough time for them but this was a day of liberty for them.”

His wife said he was resting at home and enjoying his time back with his three children.

“We said in the beginning, all these allegations were fabricated. Now it’s been proven in court,” said Rahila Humbal, the wife. “Thank God … justice prevailed.”

Authorities had accused the four of providing financial and logistical support to Shahzad, which they denied.

The lawyer said the case against the men was weak and blamed what he described as a deficient Pakistani court system for dragging out the hearing for nearly two years.

“These men are law abiding citizens. They would never imagine doing what they were accused of,” he said.

Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts are closed off to the public. Despite the charges, the government never made public any evidence that linked the four men to the plot.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteAnother sign that Pakistan does not see the fight against terror as its fight also but rather the US’s alone.

It’s Too Early to Consider Al-Qaeda a Dwindling Force

By Paul Koring for The Globe and Mail


Amid an uneasy anniversary of the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a daring U.S. special forces raid, there’s a temptation to consider the war won.

Al-Qaeda’s infamous leader is dead; the cunning mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, goes on trial this week in Guantanamo; while missile-firing Predator drones have grimly decimated al-Qaeda’s commanders in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

More than a decade later, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, $1.2-trillion in spent bullion, 6,000-plus lost American lives – and perhaps 50 times that many other lives – the “war on terror” is, at least, a defunct term, banned by President Barack Obama’s administration as it shifted rhetorical focus in the struggle against violent, extremist Islam.

But the broader conflict remains unresolved and may have become far more complicated.

No significant terrorist strike has hit an American target since 2001. The Madrid and London bombings of 2004 and 2005 were the last major attacks on Western cities. Al-Qaeda has been battered and decapitated. Yet the threat still looms.

“It’s wishful thinking to say al-Qaeda is on the brink of defeat,” warns Rand analyst Seth Jones. Yet even in the Muslim world, support for al-Qaeda is way down. Only in Egypt does its approval rating top 20 per cent, according to a recent Pew Research poll. In Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed in a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and anti-U.S. fervor runs high, barely 13 per cent hold a positive view of al-Qaeda, and in much of the Arab world support is mired in single digits.

The violent fringes of radical Islam seem to have lost traction among even disenfranchised and repressed Muslims. At the same time, political Islam is emerging as a key force in the change sweeping aside repressive regimes in the Middle East.

As the terror threat and fear of another spectacular attack like the catastrophic destruction of New York’s twin towers diminishes, the nature of the struggle against radical, repressive Islam remains unfinished and the West’s role is increasingly unclear.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is winding down. The coalition of Western nations that sent combat troops – including Canada – is falling apart as nations head for the exits. The dream of transforming Afghanistan from a haven for terrorists run by Taliban brutes into a modern democracy where girls go to school in an oasis of central Asian stability has been eclipsed by harsher realities.

The war’s aims have been reduced to propping up the Karzai regime, talking to the Taliban and hoping Afghanistan doesn’t slide back into a narco-state run by warlords or return to a Taliban fiefdom.

Neighbouring Pakistan, once the supposedly key ally in former president George W. Bush “war on terror” may pose an even greater threat than Afghanistan should it collapse.

Meanwhile, as popular uprisings topple repressive regime across the Arab world, the inherent contradictions in Western policy are being exposed. Backing dictators and monarchs as long as they repressed radical Islamists, kept cold peace with Israel and the oil flowing, was the pragmatic, successful, strategic policy for decades.

In its place is a rapidly evolving effort to stay on the right side of history. So Washington jettisoned longtime loyal ally, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and then sent warplanes to back the Libyan rebels who ousted and killed Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Still backing pro-democracy forces isn’t a one-size-fits-all shift in policy. Mr. Obama’s support for the Saudi royal family remains unflinching while the unfolding violence in Syria seems to have hamstrung the West.

Al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, continues to issue calls to arms, urging jihadists to seize the moment. That rallying cry seems, so far, to have had little resonance among the tens of millions of Muslims seeking – and in some nations tasting – freedom across the Arab world. But there has been a spate of suicide bombings – hallmarks of extremist jihadists – in Syria.

If moderate, democratic, freely-elected governments – likely including Islamists – fail to deliver in Egypt and elsewhere, the unfulfilled expectations of tens of millions may provide new recruiting grounds for the extremists.

“Al-Qaeda franchises are still a major factor,” former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke told ABC. “Groups calling themselves al-Qaeda or claiming affiliation … have large, armed formations in Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and in the Magreb and the Sahel regions of Africa. They are conducting military-styled attacks in some countries and waves of bombings in others. They are participating in the ‘Arab Spring’ fighting in Libya and Syria.”

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