From Doug Saunders at the Globe & Mail:
… there is only one question that can decide whether this war has run its course: What is the possibility, today or in the near future, of any kind of international terrorist attack being launched from within Afghanistan?
I’m surprised at how infrequently this question gets asked. Earlier this year, I visited several regions of Afghanistan and asked military leaders in regions held by British, Canadian and U.S. forces how many al-Qaeda fighters they were seeing within the country’s borders. In all cases, the answer was “none.”
Ali Jalali, one of Afghanistan’s most astute politicians (he was astute enough to quit the government of Hamid Karzai), believes that al-Qaeda could not conceivably re-establish itself in Afghanistan because the folks who are overtaking the country do not sympathize with them.
“Only 20 per cent of insurgents who form the core of the Taliban are fighting the ideological war,” he told the Indian media recently. “The rest are aggrieved tribes who have been mistreated by some government official or drug trafficker or some foreign intelligence operators or by the transnational al-Qaeda terrorists. It also consists of unemployed youth and criminal groups. All these are alliances of convenience. They are fighting for different reasons.”
In the bloody, Taliban-infested provinces of Kandahar (Canadian-held) and Helmand (British-held), the insurgents are both physically and ideologically remote from al-Qaeda, which looks to them like another foreign invader.
… that leads to the next question: To the extent that al-Qaeda and its supporters remain active in Afghanistan, how much is that because of and not in spite of our military presence there?
Richard Barrett, the man who runs the UN agency that monitors al-Qaeda’s activities, warned recently that the presence of large numbers of foreign troops is mainly serving to bolster the terrorist group and provide it with a convenient, two-dimensional un-Islamic enemy to make its rhetoric sound plausible and build up its recruiting.
“You could say that the threat of foreign occupation is giving them oxygen in the region with tribal leaders, leaving aside local differences to unite against foreign forces,” Mr. Barrett said.
If so, we have a stark conclusion: Al-Qaeda is gone, and not likely to return. To the extent that it is still around, it’s because we’re attracting it.
If both those statements are true, then no matter how ugly it looks, the war’s over.
Read the whole thing here