Swat – The New Frontier on the War on Terror

11 05 2009
King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has spoken of the urgent need for Middle East Peace

King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has spoken of the urgent need for Middle East Peace

King Abdullah of Jordan, in an interview with The Times this morning, has delivered a warning to those wishing to see peace in the Middle East; “If we delay our peace negotiations, then there is going to be another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in the next 12-18 months.” The King also spoke of the efforts of the Obama administration to attempt to secure a lasting peace in the region by attempting to get Israel and the Arab World to recognise and negotiate with one another.

“What we are talking about is not Israelis and Palestinians sitting at the table, but Israelis sitting with Palestinians, Israelis sitting with Syrians, Israelis sitting with Lebanese,” The Jordanian Monarch claimed. He outlined plans for all 57 states in the Middle East (including Palestine and Israel) as well as incentives to get Israel to the bargaining table for a two-state solution, which could include allowing the Israeli airline, El Al, airspace over previously hostile Arab Countries.

Yet the King’s tentative talk of peace comes at the same time that Taliban fighting reaches new heights in the Swat region of Pakistan. Pakistani forces have attempted to take control in the region, after severe attacks by Taliban militants led to the area being described as ‘Talibanistan’. It comes as Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently passed a law which allowed rape within marriage and severlely curtailed the rights of women, in an attempt to placate extremists in Afghanistan. Whereas finding peace in the Middle East is, and always has been, determined on a two-state resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the region of Swat in Northern Pakistan and the uncontrolled areas of Afghanistan are the new frontiers of the War on Terror, or, as it’s referred to by the Obama administration, the ‘Overseas Contingency Operation’.

Swat, Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan - The new frontier for the War On Terror

Swat, Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan - The new frontier for the War On Terror

With 700 militants alledgedly dead, and at least 1.3 million people thought to be refugees from the Swat Valley in the upcoming weeks and months, it seems the use of military force is inevitable, indeed Swat is, in everything but name, a warzone. It’s difficult to come up with an equitable solution to avoid the military when one sees the images of Taliban forces whipping teenage women in Swat, or look at the law that President Karzai of Afghanistan had to pass to placate some of the militant forces in his country. But these are not just isolated incidents. It simply isn’t a case of the odd bad egg- the Taliban has massive support in the region, as does conservative (bordering on fascist) Islamic regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is a result of long-held religious and traditionalist beliefs that have defined a culture for thousands of years. So is there any hope for reconciliation? Or is Swat just the new Iraq, and the War on Terror, Overseas Contingency Operation, or whichever monicker a new administration chooses, set to roll on forever?

It comes with choice. Reconciliation in these distressed regions cannot begin while one party holds a gun to the other’s head. This will mean, in the short term, inevitable military action against those hard-line elements of the Taliban that seek to destroy anything that is not their dystopic view of the world. But it will also mean the need for prominent voices in Islam to come forward and defend the moderate, peaceful religion that millions of Muslims worldwide participate in. This is made difficult by the theological structure of Islam – by its very nature, it does not provide a representative council or leaders to negotiate with, such as other hierarchical religions do. But nonetheless, there is a great Islamic ‘silent majority’ – the people being persecuted in Swat for not wanting to lose their heritage yet not join one of the most militant and destructive forces in the world today.

Generalisations and Racism will not help the world in trying to overcome the massive barriers in the way of Middle East, and subsequently, World Peace. This will be done on two fronts : on the attempts of the Obama administration to broker a seemingly impossible peace between Israel and Palestine, and to win the cultural war of what it means to be Islamic and/or Middle Eastern. Obama has a unique and unusual credibility as a new President in the Middle East, and he needs to use this to try and shift the focus of how it is possible to live in a democracy and maintain Islamic values.

Those traditionalist elements that want to impinge democratic freedoms, both in terms of women, and universally, need to be persuaded that it is the least perfect, but fairest form of government. This can be done by harmonising concepts of respect and fairness found in Islam with the ideas of equality and opportunity found in democracy. It is by no means an ‘infidel’ concept, as a pro-Taliban cleric in Pakistan, Sufi Muhammed, declared last week. It is difficult, a constant battle, and often painful to create. But for those who have tasted freedom, even just a little bit, there is another quality it holds – it is inevitable.

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3 responses

14 05 2009
Alex

Very well written Mike. A fair overview of the situation =)

14 05 2009
Alex

however do you not think that the fact that war has been engrained into many middle eastern regions that it will be incredibly difficult for them to lay down arms. I agree whole heartedly that there needs to be a definite call for peace in the middle east but, much like Ireland, some forms of prejudice have become so prevelant that peace on a legistrative level may not be enough?

14 05 2009
miketighe9788

Peace on a legislative level is never enough, because what happens on paper never forges the true peace that has to be established in the psyche of different cultures. But look at Ireland now – it has sustained peace thanks to the clampdown on armed groups and legislative support as well as a shift in perceptions. The recent outcry over the horrific murders of police over there demonstrates this.

What I’m arguing for is a complete non-negotiation with hardliners and an embracing of Islamic culture that is both democratic and fair in an effort to restore trust among the masses, which will in turn lead to co-existence.

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