A free society and integration at the very heart of the European Union is seriously under threat at the hands of the terrorists. After the dastardly Paris attack in November last year, now Brussels has come under a brazen assault by ISIS.
Perhaps EU’s 9/11 moment has finally arrived. ISIS has been quick to extract revenge for the arrest of the Paris incident culprit Salah Abdeslam from a Muslim neighbourhood of the Belgian capital only a few days ago.
The mayhem perpetrated at Brussels’ Zaventem airport and at the metro station near the EU headquarters is a clear message for the west: the terrorists have the capability of striking at will through their sleeper cells. That the Belgian state apparatus simply lacks the capacity to ensure safety if its citizens is stating but the obvious.
Ironically Salah Abdeslam, the captured Paris fugitive, and the deceased brothers at the core of the Brussels attack were born and bred in Europe. These wayward but highly radicalised and motivated souls were living in their own shanty neighbourhoods in Paris and Brussels. ISIS propaganda — freely available on the Internet — brainwashed them to the extent that they were willing to wear suicide vests for their cause.
One of the deceased terrorist brothers, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, was deported to the Netherlands from Turkey only last year. Reportedly he and his brother had a criminal record but ostensibly no terrorist links. Nonetheless Ankara claims that it had forewarned Brussels about a possible terrorist attack.
Quite clearly the third country in the equation is Turkey, itself facing a wave of terrorism, the latest incident happening only last week in a popular square in Istanbul. As recently as March 11 there was a dastardly terrorist attack in Ankara, the Turkish capital, in which at least 37 people perished.
This prompted journalist Kadir Yildirim to pen an article in the Huffington Post interestingly titled: “The reality of Turkey’s Pakistanisation.” According to the writer, “This refers to the increasing ability of extremist and armed groups (often supported by Turkey) to export violence into Turkey’s borders.” The author claims, perhaps unjustifiably, that this is a symptom of either the state unwilling or incapable of dealing effectively which such threats.
Yildirim thinks that as in Pakistan’s case, such a country becomes a breeding ground of radicalisation itself and eventually undermines neighbouring countries. So far as Pakistan’s own experience in dealing with terrorism is concerned, there is a kernel truth in the author’s assertions.
The jihadist monster nurtured for decades by the deep state finally turned its venom on the Pakistani state. Credit goes to the present leadership –military and civilian — for changing course by declaring war on terrorism in the form of Zarb-e-Azb. Some might argue, too late and too little!
However in dealing with terrorism, despite some obvious shortcomings, Pakistan is a success story. The state apparatus can now credibly claim of having a handle on the existential threat facing the nation. Its professional army and civilian and military leadership have worked in unison to substantially reduce the existential threat to their citizens.
Perhaps Islamabad, wary of listening to sanctimonious lectures about ‘doing more’ ad nauseam from Washington, can give a few useful tips to its European and Turkish allies about how to effectively deal with problem.
Paradoxically, effective intelligence sharing amongst its own agencies and even with the US helped Pakistan to flush out terrorists from its badlands. Washington’s much maligned and controversial drone program literally dealt a death blow to terrorists holed up in Pakistan’s tribal belt and inside Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, the nub of the terrorist problem lies in America’s and Europe’s policies since 9/11. Since then the US has managed to keep its mainland, with a few exceptions, virtually free of terrorism. But in the process it has left most of the Middle East and Afghanistan in turmoil.
The west’s obsession with eliminating dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi in the name of democracy, but in reality for its strategic interests, has left these countries in tatters and in ruin.
Both oil rich Iraq and Libya, in dire economic straits, are facing a virtual civil war situation. Thanks to the myopic policies of the west.
But Syria is another story. Washington and its allies, despite their best efforts, have failed to remove Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. President Obama drawing a red line and accusing the Syrian dictator of using chemical weapons has been forced by circumstances to reassess his strategy.
The reason Assad has survived the onslaught of the western powers to remove him is that he has powerful backers in the form of Russia and Iran and Iran-backed Hezbollah. Nonetheless by supporting the Syrian opposition Washington and its European allies including Turkey have created a bigger monster in the form of ISIS.
Unlike al Qaeda, techno savvy and financially resourceful, ISIS has used western tools like the Internet and social media to spread its message not only amongst Muslim youths but also to a swath of disaffected populace in the west. By virtue of controlling some oil rich territories ISIS has the financial clout to finance its terror campaign.
Ostensibly ISIS is still relatively dormant in South Asia. Our leadership bends backwards to deny its existence. Our ubiquitous establishment’s hands are too full grappling with years of flawed Afghan and India security policies.
There is a belated albeit slow realisation that the strategic depth security paradigm — a favourite hobby horse of past military strongmen — is no longer working for us. Although having a handle on terrorism we still have to grapple with the mess being left behind by the NATO (read US) forces in Afghanistan.
Anti-terrorism raids are being carried out in Paris and Brussels to nab the perpetrators of the recent terrorist attacks. It is really an uphill task, especially for Brussels. The Belgian state apparatus and intelligence network is simply too disjointed to effectively deal with the existential threat it is facing.
Obviously the recent terrorist attacks will further stoke the fires of Islamophobia in Europe. In the US the xenophobic Donald Trump’s anti Muslim crusade will get a further impetus. Pakistanis travelling to Europe and the Americas will have to grapple with even stricter visa and entry regimes.
The EU as an integrated and political unit has simply failed to get its act together. Perhaps it will have to lean more on the US for intelligence sharing and capacity building.