Posts Tagged ‘ Afghanistan ’

Latest U.S. Drone Operation in Pakistan Should Be Judged a Success

An Editorial By The Globe and Mail

The use of a drone to kill al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Pakistan, confirmed on Tuesday by U.S. officials, is good news that has nonetheless provoked a diplomatic protest by Pakistan. The country’s position is understandable, and doubtless its posturing is necessary for domestic consumption. But it does not alter the fact that Pakistan is either unable or unwilling to act against terrorists in its lawless tribal lands and, though they occur in a foreign country, that Washington’s actions are defensive in nature.

Abu Yahya al-Libi was a global jihadi figure who incited attacks on Western targets and served a critical propaganda role for al-Qaeda. His apparent death follows several similar drone strikes against senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, that have seriously diminished the terrorist group’s capability and, frankly, have made the world a safer place. What is more, the use of the unmanned stealth weapons has both preserved the lives of U.S. servicemen and women and resulted in limited civilian casualties.

Louise Arbour, the former war crimes prosecutor and Supreme Court of Canada justice, wrote recently in Foreign Policy that the use of drones “stretches legal boundaries to the breaking point and alienates people in Pakistan.” In calling for the rules for use of strike drones to be “clarified,” Ms. Arbour expressed concerns over the “very real risks to civilians.” There is indeed a need for a clarification of the rules. It would be folly to believe that the proliferation of the technology is without implications for international law and policy.

But any such debate must be built upon some pertinent facts. Strike drones are surgically targeted, and those killed are generally not good people (there is always the unfortunate risk of exceptions when terrorists hide among civilians).

In the case of the latest attack, American officials say Mr. Libi was the only person who died. Local tribesmen dispute this, saying others died, but they confirm no civilians were harmed. The same can hardly be said of the consequences of U.S. inaction in the face of al-Qaeda’s threat. This operation was then, by any reasonable measure, a success. Ms. Arbour and others concerned about drone wars need to reflect on the question of proportionality.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteUntil and unless Pakistan goes after the terrorists in its borders earnestly, the drone strikes and their often effectiveness in killing top wanted members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban will most likely continue, despite the collateral damage to Pakistan’s sovereignty and loss of civilian lives.


Pakistan: Between a Rock and A Hard Place

By Yekaterina Kudashkina for The Voice of Russia

Interview with Dr. Theodore Karasik – the Director of Research and Development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai.

Particularly you have to first understand that the situation in Pakistan is rather icy politically, as well as on the religious scale. Pakistan now finds itself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to how it fits into the US and Western plans to halt fighting in Afghanistan as well as to get rid of terrorist events in the northwest frontier province. So, the Pakistani press is going to be very inflamed though, not only because of the NATO Summit, but also because of the sentencing of the doctor who outed Bin Laden for a sentence of 33 years.

Apparently what happened was that the US had managed to find a Pakistani physician who was able to pinpoint the location of Bin Laden’s compound and as a result of the leakage of this information in the US and foreign press this doctor was arrested and tried very quickly in Pakistan and sentenced to 33 years in jail for giving up Bin Laden’s position. This is a political trial where Pakistanis want to make an example of this individual by arguing that he managed to fail the state by giving up the secret of where Bin Laden was hiding.

Do you think that this case is going to further deteriorate the relations between the US and Pakistan or is it just a root in development?

I think it is a bit of both. I think that will embarrass the US-Pakistani relations. I think that will be pressuring the United States of why did the US revealed the identity of this doctor. There is also a discussion about how this relationship with Pakistan and the United States will continue in terms of transport of nonlethal goods to Afghanistan.

Now, talking about that issue. Do I get it right that the negotiations are still under way in Islamabad regarding the transportation routes agreement, the new one?

Yes, the negotiations are still ongoing in Islamabad about transferring nonlethal goods into the Afghan theatre. And Pakistanis are using this episode to put political pressure on US to make concessions, particularly when it comes to military aid or paying of very high prices for use of this supply lines.

Are we talking about concessions in terms of money or in some other aspects?

It’s a combination of both money and political support for the Zardari Government.

Is the US prepared to offer a political support for Zardari Government in the present circumstances?

At this time I would say that the United States is going to play quite tough with Pakistan. Let’s face it – Pakistan is just barely above a failed state. And the US needs to make sure that Pakistan does not descend in the total chaos while at the same time applying pressure on Pakistan to guarantee that the state remains somewhat coherent together.

The signals of the resumption of negotiations in Islamabad were generally seen as a sign that perhaps they could be ameliorating. And then came Zardari’s visit to Chicago. By the way, why would the Pakistanis be so disappointed with the results of his visit? What were their expectations?

I think that they were expecting to be treated more as an equal and key to solving the Afghan problem as well as to part of trying to help with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. But instead you had this political issues popup and then you had Zardari acting in a very strange way by missing the key events like the group of progress of all the leaders and so on. I think that they left Chicago messed.

Does the United States want to ameliorate them and what needs to be done if there is a certain desire to make them better?

Clearly a lot of problems need to be discussed and we need to find the right remedies that would help both countries work together in this difficult time. I think it is going to get more difficult as tensions build over what to do with Afghanistan and the withdrawal from Afghanistan of NATO forces. Pakistan has an important role to play in all this because of the supply routes as we talked about previously. So, I think we are going to be entering a period of more jostling for position, negotiation that could get quite ugly at some points.

Afridi Sentence Pushes U.S.-Pakistan Relations From Bad to Worse

As Compiled by Araminta Wordsworth for The National Post

Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe. Today: One country’s freedom fighter is another nation’s traitor, from Benedict Arnold on down.

That’s the fate of Shakil Afridi. The Pakistani doctor is now behind bars, serving a 33-year sentence for treason and excoriated by fellow citizens.

His crime: helping the Americans track down the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

The physician organized a fake vaccination drive in Abbottabad, a leafy town about an hour north of Islamabad where the al-Qaeda chief had been bunked down, apparently for years. Nurses went from house to house, taking DNA samples. Among the doors they knocked on was that of bin Laden.

The sentence has been greeted by outrage in Washington, where relations with Islamabad are going from bad to worse. Americans believe they should at least get co-operation for the $1-billion in aid they dish out to Pakistan each year.

Pakistanis meanwhile are affronted by perceived infringements of their sovereignty — chiefly the US Navy SEALs’ raid that killed bin Laden, which was carried out without notifying Islamabad; but also U.S. drone attacks, a friendly fire accident that killed about 30 government troops, and the CIA’s continuing clandestine operations.

Reporting from Islamabad for The Guardian, Jon Boone explains the Pakistani position.

For some Americans the Pakistani doctor who worked on a clandestine operation to track down one of the U.S.’s greatest enemies is a hero who should be given citizenship. But for Pakistan’s security agencies Dr. Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old physician who once led campaigns to vaccinate children against polio on the Afghan frontier, is a villain.

On Wednesday a representative of the country’s main spy agency said Afridi had got what he deserved when he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for conspiring against the state, for his role in trying to help the CIA track Osama bin Laden to his hideout in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
American lawmakers quickly responded, hitting Pakistan in the pocketbook, writes David Rogers at Politico.

Angered by the prosecution of a Pakistani doctor for helping the CIA locate Osama bin Laden, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to cut another $33-million from an already much-reduced military aid package: $1-million for each of the physician’s 33-year prison sentence.
The 30-0 roll call followed a brief but often bitter discussion that underscored the deteriorating relationship between Washington and the Islamabad government, which remains an important ally in the war in Afghanistan.

“We need Pakistan. Pakistan needs us,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, who helped to craft the amendment. “But we don’t need a Pakistan that is just double dealing.” Judson Berger at Fox News believes the Obama administration was caught flat-footed by Afridi’s conviction.

Former U.S. intelligence officers accused the Obama administration of dropping the ball … — with one openly challenging the State Department’s claim that it pressed his case “regularly” with Islamabad.

Officials are now raising a slew of concerns with how the U.S. government has handled the case.
Peter Brookes, a former analyst and adviser with several intelligence agencies who is now a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News on Thursday that the U.S. should have had a plan to get him out of Pakistan immediately following the raid.

But CNN’s national security contributor Fran Townsend told the program Starting Point Afridi probably thought he was “safe enough” in Pakistan and didn’t want to leave, especially without his extended family.

The United States is working to secure Afridi’s release, and Townsend confirms that [U.S. Secretary of ] State Hillary Clinton has intervened on the doctor’s behalf. Although she believes that Afridi may face some jail time, Townsend says that she ultimately thinks he’ll be released through negations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Pakistan will use it as a leverage point,” Townsend explains. “They’re going to want some concession, some commitment from the United States that there will be no use of Pakistani citizens inside their own territory by American intelligence.”

Her view of Afridi as a bargaining chip is confirmed by the BBC’s M. Ilyas Khan, who explains the significance of trying Afridi under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tribal law .

A trial by a regular court could have gone on for months, involving a proper indictment, witnesses and lawyers, all under the glare of television cameras.

But the political officer in Khyber has made sure that it stays secret and swift … Analysts say the Pakistani establishment has done this not only to defy the Americans but also to send a message to all Pakistani contacts of American diplomatic missions to desist from repeating Dr Afridi’s “mistake.”

They also point to an enduring feeling in Pakistan that at some point it has to mend fences with its Western allies, in which case the release of r Afridi could be one of the bargaining chips.

As and when that happens, the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province can legally order his release.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- The jailing of Dr Afridi is not only another stain in the US-Pakistani relations, such as the hiding of OBL, but rather it is another carriage of injustice in a nation that is guilty of it daily with its population. From the lack of providing rights and freedoms to many of its citizens to the downright shameful behavior towards its religious minorities and women, it regularly is guilty of miscarriage of justice.

Please don’t even get us started on failing miserably to provide basics such as power, clean water, security from home grown terrorists or even a remotely functioning democracy. This action, as well as others in the last thirteen months illustrate, in our view, simply no reason other than, we are sad to say, that Pakistan has essentially told the Americans that we are not with you.


US-Pakistan Tensions Deepen as Obama Snubs Zardari at Nato Summit

As Reported By Ewen MacAskill for The Guardian

The rift between the US and Pakistan deepened on Monday as the Nato summit in Chicago broke up without a deal on Afghanistan supply routes.

Barack Obama, at a press conference to wind up the summit, made no attempt to conceal his exasperation, issuing a pointed warning to Pakistan it was in its wider interest to work with the US to avoid being “consumed” by extremists.

Seldom in recent years have the tensions between Washington and Islamabad been on public show to the extent as at the Chicago, overshadowing the two-day Nato summit.

The main point of friction is Pakistan’s closure of Nato supply routes to Afghanistan in protest over drone attacks and a US air strike in November that killed two dozen Pakistani troops.

Obama refused to make time during the two-day summit to see the Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari for a face-to-face bilateral meeting. In a press conference, Obama made a point of stressing that the only exchange he had with his Pakistani counterpart was short. “Very brief, as we were walking into the summit,” Obama said.

The US president said he “did not want to paper over the cracks” and that there has been tension between the US-led international force in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last few months.

But ultimately, it was in the US interest to have a stable, democratic and prosperous Pakistan, Obama said, adding it was in the interest of Pakistan to work with the US to ensure it is not consumed by extremists.

There are fears in the US that the Pakistan government is unstable and that the government could fall, to be replaced by hardliners. The risk for Obama is displaying his annoyance with Pakistan at the Chicago summit is that Zardari could leave the summit feeling humiliated and even less willing to play a positive role over Afghanistan.

Obama declined to meet Zadari one-to-one because Pakistan is refusing to re-open its Afghanistan border to Nato, which means the US and others are having to resupply their military forces through the slower and more expensive routes from the north and Russia.

The president claimed that he never anticipated the Pakistan supply line issue being resolved at the summit and, taking a more optimistic view of the stand-off, he said they were making “diligent progress”.

“We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues,” Obama said.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, at a press conference in Chicago, reflected the irritation with Pakistan, describing the blocked routes as “frustrating”. Cameron said he expected a deal eventually but not at the summit.

In its final communique, Nato formally committed to its withdrawal of the 130,000-strong force from Afghanistan based on a timetable agreed earlier by Obama and Karzai. All international combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014. But the communique said a smaller force would remain to help “train, advise and assist” the Afghan army.

The communique does not say how many troops will be left but US commanders in Kabul are looking at a Nato force of around 15,000-20,000. Reflecting the public mood in Nato countries tired of the war, the comminque said the withdrawal timetable is “irreversible”.

Obama, at the opening of the second day of the Nato summit on Monday morning, showed his displeasure with the Pakistan government by singling out for mention the Central Asia countries and Russia that have stepped in to replace the Pakistan supply route and made no mention of Pakistan. Zardari was in the room at the time.

To ram home the point, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, also held a meeting at the Nato summit with senior ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Panetta expressed his “deep appreciation” for their support.

Zardari has demanded an apology from the US for the killing of the 24 Pakistani troops in November in return for reopening supply lines. He is also proposing that the tariff for each vehicle be raised from $250 to $5,000. The US is bitter about this, noting the amount of American military and other aid that goes to Pakistan annually.

In his wrap-up press conference, Obama stood praised the Chicago police for their handling of the demonstrations but also defended the rights of the protesters. “This is part of what Nato defends: free speech and freedom of assembly,” Obama said.


Panetta to Confront Pakistan at NATO Summit on Transport Costs

By David Cloud for New York Daily News

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta heads to this weekend’s NATO summit prepared to confront Pakistan over what he considers price-gouging for transport of supplies to Afghanistan and hoping for a “consensus” among allies over the war effort.

In an interview before his arrival in Chicago, where the summit is scheduled to begin Sunday, Panetta all but ruled out paying Pakistan $5,000 for each truck carrying supplies across its territory for NATO troops waging the Afghanistan war. Pakistani officials have demanded that amount as a condition for reopening supply routes that have been closed to the alliance since fall.

“Considering the financial challenges that we’re facing, that’s not likely,” Panetta said of the demand.

Before the supply routes were closed in November after a mistaken U.S. attack on two remote Pakistani border posts that killed two dozen Pakistani troops, NATO convoys were paying an average of about $250 a truck, a senior U.S. official said.

U.S. officials say they remain hopeful they can resolve the dispute, perhaps at the summit. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari accepted a last-minute invitation to attend the meetings, although he is not expected to meet one-on-one with President Obama, officials said.

Thousands of trucks a day carrying supplies would go through multiple border crossings from Pakistan to Afghanistan, making the fees a potentially massive source of revenue for the cash-strapped government in Islamabad.

The U.S. has shifted deliveries to different routes through Russia and other countries to Afghanistan’s north. But the massive withdrawals of equipment due to unfold over the next 21/2 years as troops leave the country will be “significantly” more difficult if routes in Pakistan aren’t used, the Pentagon acknowledged in a report last month.

The Obama administration hopes the two-day summit will highlight what Panetta called a “consensus” within NATO about how to disengage militarily by the end of 2014. Exhausted after more than a decade of war, the U.S. and its allies want to hand off responsibility for fighting the Taliban to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, even though its army and police remain well short of being able to stand on their own.

“Everybody in the alliance recognizes that for this to work, we can’t pick up and leave. We’ve got to remain there to provide support and to assist them in that effort with training, with assistance, with advice,” Panetta said.

But he acknowledged that there would be difficulties, both on the battlefield and within the alliance. Those splits are exemplified by the new French president, Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party leader who campaigned on a vow to withdraw all 3,300 French troops by the end of this year. Hollande met with Obama at the White House on Friday.

Panetta, who plans to meet the new French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Chicago, indicated that the U.S. hopes France will agree to keep some forces in a noncombat role in Afghanistan for the next 2 1/2 years, even if they withdraw all combat troops early.

Yet a more rapid exit by France than planned could lead other allies to speed up their own troop withdrawals.

“There are some countries — Canada, France — that want to bring their combat operations to an end on a faster time track, but that doesn’t have to mean they won’t accept the responsibility to continue to provide the needed support,” Panetta said.

Panetta acknowledged that U.S. efforts to persuade other countries to make long-term financial pledges to fund Afghanistan’s army and police, a key objective of the two-day Chicago summit, is running into difficulties.

“Of course, it’s not easy considering the financial difficulties that a lot of these countries are going through,” he said. “Many of them have come forward and said they would be willing to make a commitment, and I really do think we will be able to achieve the support levels we need.”

In an effort to secure more pledges, the U.S. is asking other countries to commit to providing aid for only three years, though Afghanistan’s armed forces are expected to need foreign assistance for at least a decade, a Western diplomat in Washington said.

A year ago, the Obama administration was hopeful it could draw the Taliban into peace negotiations with Karzai’s government, but Panetta acknowledged that he didn’t see a deal to end the conflict happening “any time soon.”


NATO Summit May Pose Few Political Risks For Obama

By Lynn Sweet for The Chicago Sun Times

With the American public — and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney — focused on the economy, President Barack Obama may not have much at stake politically if there are diplomatic flaps at the NATO Summit in Chicago.

And since Obama already signed a “Strategic Partnership Agreement” with Afghanistan to have most U.S. troops out in 2014 — he flew to Kabul for the May 1 signing — there may not be much of a price to pay domestically if pressure comes from the new president of France and other NATO partners in Afghanistan to shorten the timetable.

And if all heck breaks loose in Obama’s hometown from protesters? Well, a riot in a president’s hometown at a global summit is obviously not good. But the ramifications may not be far reaching. As political time goes, the presidential election is light-years away.

“Nobody in November will remember what happened,” an Obama team source told me. It will be a short news cycle on the cable outlets “and a month in the [Chicago] papers.”

Romney’s team headquartered in Boston is hardly paying attention to the NATO gathering and was not, when I visited on Friday, sizing it up as an obvious political opportunity for them because they want an almost exclusive focus on the economy.

The rapidly expanding Romney operation (overlooking the Charles River) on Friday was ramping up the “message of the week” theme for this week — on government spending. Romney hits the Chicago area on Tuesday for a fund-raiser at the Winnetka home of Pat Ryan — the insurance mogul and civic activist — and his wife, Shirley.

The Romney campaign could mull commenting on some policy difference that emerges — but that would depend on the specifics and if strategically it paid for them to go off message. Same goes if protests get ugly or it there is some serious security incident. It all depends on the situation, I’m told.

Obama’s biggest diplomatic stake

The biggest diplomatic stakes for Obama are the package of issues surrounding Afghanistan, made more complex because of the election of a new French president.

Three announcements are expected at the Chicago NATO Summit: When in 2013 the combat mission in Afghanistan shifts to supporting the Afghan National Security Forces; how much support, financial and otherwise the “ANSF” will get from NATO partners; and agreement on a “roadmap” for NATO’s post-2014 role in Afghanistan.

France’s new president, Francois Hollande — a Socialist — will be sworn in on Monday. He campaigned on a platform to pull out French combat troops by the end of 2012.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Chicago NATO Summit on Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon was asked by committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) about Hollande.

Obama at the last NATO Summit — in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010 — got the Afghanistan partners to agree to the 2014 timetable, Gordon noted.

“The French assure us that they are committed to our common success in Afghanistan, and I’m sure we’ll find a way forward that ensures that common success. All I can do is speak to our own view, which is that this principle of ‘in together, out together’ remains critical,” Gordon said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has much more at stake in the summit — as Obama’s former chief of staff, he grabbed the Summit, seeing it as a terrific opportunity to showcase Chicago. But he neglected to get buy-in from rank-and-file Chicagoans who see the inconveniences more than the advantages.

Emanuel has just one portfolio for the NATO Summit as host mayor. Though he once did while in the White House, Emanuel this week doesn’t have to worry about the future of NATO, transatlantic security, ballistic missiles, Russia, free and fair elections in Afghanistan and how to make NATO allies take on their fair share of financial responsibilities and spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Obama wanted the summit to be in Chicago in part because he wanted to show off for foreign leaders a city that relishes it diversity — with almost every ethnic group that is part of NATO and its partners.

The last U.S. NATO Summit was in 1999; this is the first outside of Washington.

“In addition to the opportunity to showcase one of our nation’s great cities, our hosting of the summit in Chicago is a tangible symbol of the importance of NATO to the United States. It is also an opportunity to underscore to the American people the continued value of this alliance to security challenges we face today,” Gordon said at the Senate hearing.

Emanuel, on the other hand, wanted the summit to drum up business for Chicago.

My thought is Emanuel far more than Obama owns the summit if things go wrong — and will likely bear the brunt even though the Secret Service is taking the lead coordinating security.

Emanuel will find it harder to change the subject if there are horrible demonstrations. Obama, working off a national and global stage — will be able to move on if all that goes wrong are protests.

“Foreign policy in the minds of the American people right now is not nearly as important as it has been in past elections,” Brookings Institution scholar William Galston told me. “… They are focused almost exclusively on the economy.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley noted when we talked that demonstrations at world summits “are not unique to Barack Obama or to America today.

“Demonstrations happen every time there is a big gathering now of any leaders of the world anywhere,” Daley said.

I asked Daley if the fact the summit is in hometown Chicago raises the stakes for Obama.

He said no. “Just cause it was his hometown people would say, ‘boy, he could not control his home therefore we are not going to vote for him as president.’ … I don’t see it. … Obviously, it wouldn’t help. But I don’t see the American people holding him responsible for what may or may not happen by demonstrators who come from all over the country and all over the world to the city.”


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.”