Posts Tagged

Terrorism

Newly confirmed as US Secretary of State, John Kerry delivered his first policy speech last week, making the case for a renewed and proactive American diplomacy. Directing his remarks to the US Congress – and to Beijing’s leaders – more than to his actual audience at the University of Virginia, his message was urgent: “This is a time to continue to engage for the sake of the safety and the economic health of our country. This is not optional. It is a necessity.” Given the looming March 1 deadline for across-the-board sequestration which would reduce State Department operations by $850 million and foreign assistance by $1.7 billion, the US’ chief diplomat used his speech to defend the foreign policy budget against spending cuts, portraying foreign affairs as the guarantor of American economic prosperity.

Appealing to his Eurosceptic domestic constituents, Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent proposal for a UK-wide referendum on Britain’s membership to the European Union has been declaimed by EU supporters as an easy, if irresponsible, exit strategy. While the UK has a history of ambivalence towards European integration, Cameron’s official speech has placed the EU at a strategic inflection point in its development. Using his speech to ask ‘tough’ questions about the future of the European project, Cameron rejected the argument that a Europe in crisis ought to eschew such introspection. Instead, he declared that this is the moment to “examine thoroughly what the EU as a whole should do and should stop doing”, with nothing “off the table”. Although Cameron’s announcement raises anew the long-standing ‘widening versus deepening’ debate for some, the context of Cameron’s pronouncement ought to bring new scope to these questions.

In January 2009, Pakistan’s Swat valley was fully under the control of a Taliban affiliate, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi(TNSM), and its leader Sufi Muhammad had issued a decree banning female education in the area. Only a handful of schools there had escaped the Taliban’s destructive wrath. While fear gripped the entire valley, Malala Yousafzai, an eleven years old girl from Swat’s Mingora town, began telling the world her innocent tales of surviving the Taliban’s ban on education.

Last week the University of Oxford was fortunate enough to host Ambassador Thomas Pickering who gave the 2012 Fulbright Lecture on the topic of “The Decade Ahead: The US Role in the World”. It would have been difficult to find an individual more qualified for such a task, given the Ambassador’s highly successful four decade long career in the foreign service and considering that he is a man whose (deceptively, given his mental acuity) long life has been spent both in the study of international affairs and in the pursuit of the US’s interests and values within the world. His message comes at a poignant time, given the current academic fervour over the perceived decline of the US in the …

Ahmed Rashid, the veteran Pakistani writer on the conflict in Afghanistan and Central Asia, has authored another book, titled Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan. A sequel to his four earlier books on the subject since mid-90s, especially Descent into Chaos (2008), the study underlines the precariousness of the Pakistani state’s chances for survival and the urgent need for policy resolutions. It also explains the causes of the recent deterioration in US-Pakistan relations and how they can be rectified; pinpoints factors responsible for the failure of the Obama Administration’s approach towards Pakistan and the Afghan war; and suggests ways to stabilise Pakistan and achieve a lasting peace in Afghanistan, amid the withdrawal of US and …

The Iraq war was not a success. It was a failure. A dismal failure, and Western governments should learn from their mistakes. Of course, nobody can deny the brutal crimes that Saddam Hussein was responsible for. The savage attacks against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq, the invasion of Kuwait and the terrorising of innocent civilians in the town of Dujail after an assassination attempt serve as prime examples of the sadistic nature of the Iraqi dictator. The world is definitely safer without him, but this in no way outweighs what the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, have had to give up. Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perception Index (measured in 2010) ranked Iraq as having 175th most …

When Boko Haram killed nearly 70 civilians over the Christmas holidays, many observers in the Western media were quick to chalk it up to wanton Islamic extremism. The attacks, it was concluded, reflected global jihadist activity. Emphasis was placed on the group’s links to al Qaeda. This narrative is shortsighted. For one, it ignores Christian retaliation just days later, including the bombing of a madrasa that injured seven. More broadly, it decontextualizes the violence. Nearly 500 Nigerians were killed in the northeast in 2011 due to sectarian conflict. Suicide attacks, car bombings, and assassinations-by-machete have been documented throughout the country, Africa’s most populous and the linchpin of Western engagement with the continent. Such killings are not new to Nigeria: religious strife has been a constant for decades, …

Sir Graeme Lamb is not fond of theorising. However, the former Director of the UK Special Forces can claim to have played an important part in the initiative that pacified large parts of Iraq after 2006. Much of what he argued for is now part of the official US counterinsurgency strategy. But while it is easy for academics and other observers to demand that armed forces should ‘reach out’ to insurgents, there is precious little guidance on the practicalities of initiating a meaningful conversation with the people determined to bomb the foreigners out of their homeland. Lamb shared his insights as part of Emma Sky’s seminar series in Oxford on 25 October, jointly hosted by the Changing Character of War …