Osama’s death will not change the War on Terror. Al Qaeda is a franchise.

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After 21/2 years in Pakistan, I took another view on the ‘War on terror’.

Osama’s death will not change the War on Terror. Al Qaeda is a franchise.

Sometime in the future, scholars may look at Al Qaeda in a similar way to McDonalds. The McDonald’s franchise model sees no direct ‘command and control’ lines between the centre in the h US, and a remote McDonalds store in Islamabad. All that is needed is an agreement to follow a certain philosophy and product range (ie Big Macs) and then there can be a share in profit.
Likewise with Al Qaeda. There is not always a command and control line from the centre out to a terrorist. However, if the terrorist follows a certain ‘belief’ to kill ‘infidels’, then that terrorist reaps the supposed profit, in the next world ‘Paradise’.
So what now that Osama is dead?
The ‘War on terror’ is not like war as we used to understand it. There is no single ‘front line’ separating troops of opposing armies. There is no clear battlefield and no easy way to assess who is winning and who is loosing.
This so called war is more metaphorical than physical. It is a clash, not of cultures, but of beliefs. And whilst troops may be visible in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and whilst Osama bin Ladan is now dead, the metaphorical frontline exists not between Christianity and Islam, nor between capitalism and tribalism, but within Islam itself. The metaphorical frontline pits radical Islam against conservative Islam, and conversely also unites radicals and conservatives against ‘secular’ and moderate Islam.
Pakistan is a country central to this ‘war’ not because of its border with Afghanistan and Iran, but because of the ideological battle that goes on within its complex mix of cultures. The ‘conservative’ Islamists (who may be peaceful but highly sensitive to their religious and cultural values) neither agree with suicide bombers, nor with the open expression that ‘secular’ and moderate Muslims accept in western values.
Pakistan’s sometimes confusing model of democracy has to balance the role of the military and civilian governments. At the same time it dances the fine line of a national culture seeking equilibrium between the views of radical, conservative, secular and moderate Islamic thinkers.
To understand this, let’s examine a strange analogy. Let us look at the response to the massive earthquake that struck in northern Pakistan in October 2005.
The earthquake hit six weeks before a Himalayan winter was due to strike. A population the size of Melbourne – 3.5 million people – was made homeless. Six thousand schools and 600 hospitals and medical facilities were wiped out. Snow and freezing temperatures threatened most of the survivors.
As a result the Pakistan people, Pakistan Army and International Community responded to what the United Nations now calls the best run relief operation ever. This operation kept people alive through the winter and then had to prepare the people for the forthcoming monsoon season.
When preparing the contingency plans for the monsoon season I had to meet with the Provincial Relief Commissioner of the North West Frontier Province (roughly equivalent to Victoria’s Emergency Services Commissioner) who had responsibility for preparing his province (the equivalent of an Australian state). I asked him his view of the contingency plan.
“Well Andrew,” he began, “you need to understand something. God sent the earthquake because the people were bad. If the people are good then the monsoon season will be alright. If the people are bad then God will punish them again. Who am I to get in the way of the will of God?”
He believed therefore that planning for the monsoons was unnecessary as it was all in the hands of God. Insha’Allah.
I returned to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, to discuss the same issue with more moderate and secular minded decision makers. Their response was that one can not say wether the Provincial Relief Commissioner was right or wrong, as his view was based on his belief in God. The decision makers in Islamabad believe that planning for monsoons was necessary, but they would not say that the Provincial Relief Commissioner was wrong.
And here is the metaphorical front line. As a foreigner I would never be able to persuade the Provincial Relief Commissioner that he should undertake contingency planning – even though the decision makers in Islamabad thought it was needed. This was a problem for the Pakistanis to sort out.
In Australia that there are often conflicts between Steve Bracks and John Howard on issues that they may call ‘ideology’ – be it the role of the State in the health, education or industrial relations systems – or even disaster preparedness and response. Australian disagreements are on a much simpler scale than the Pakistani disagreements based on the belief in and role of God.
So let us return to the front line in the metaphorical War on Terror.
If the terrorists of Al Qaeda, in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere, are motivated by their particular radical version of conservative Islam, who is better placed to dissuade them? Is it the United States through military means, or is it moderate and secular Islamic thinkers through dialogue, and force where necessary?
It was not my role to dissuade the Provincial Relief Commissioner of his view of the role of God in disaster preparedness. Likewise it is not for the Americans to ‘win’ the war on terror by killing Osama or even by dissuading the radicals of their view of the role of God. Moderate Islam must take on this dialogue, and the American must realise the limitations to their role and the counter-productivity of hypocrisy.
Andrew Macleod spent 2 ½ years in Pakistan seconded into the office of the Vice Chief of General Staff working on earthquake reconstruction.

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