December 6, 2008

A Test for Obama and the World

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“Watch, we’re gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.” Vice President-Elect Joe Biden said these words only several weeks ago and it seems, at least in part, that his prophecy has come true. The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India are really a test for not only President-Elect Obama, but for the world. The manner in which all parties involved choose to respond to these attacks may well determine the course of the War on Terror.

The first issue at hand is the now ever apparent animosity between India and Pakistan. Stemming in large part from violence in the Kashmir region, these two nations have had a history of tension. Preliminary investigations by the Indian government, supported by the U.S., indicate that most, if not all, of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai came from Pakistan. There has yet to be a connection made between the terrorists and the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. Nonetheless, most players in the international community seem to think that there is some link between the Mumbai terrorists and Pakistan.

Now, even if the connection is weak, there should be some sort of substantial response from Pakistan. The Pakistani government is conducting investigations and by most accounts is working hard in order to help India. However, there has been no response from the Pakistani people. As The New York Times columnist Thomas Freidman points out, consider the Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad. People throughout the Muslim world, including Pakistanis, were up in arms about this cartoon. However, when nearly 200 are dead in a terrorist attack in a neighboring country, the Pakistani people show nothing. This is not to say that individual Pakistanis have not spoken out against the attacks, or that the people of Pakistan do not feel sympathy. Yet, there has been no collective outpouring of support and this should be of great concern to the international community.

This should be of particular concern to our next president. Yes, the military is an important force in order to stop terrorism and violence. However, our limited military involvement in Pakistan has not produced much. Furthermore, the threat of U.S. military operations in Pakistan has not done enough to motivate the Pakistanis to act. In his victory speech, Barack Obama stated that, “The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals…” If Mr. Obama hopes to bring some level of peace to the India-Pakistan conflict and hopes to win the War on Terror, his best weapon will be reaching out to the people in these countries. The terrorists only succeed because they are able to promote their ideology to a people who are willing listeners.

Take the FATA region of Pakistan, where many terrorists are suspected of hiding and planning their operations, for example. This region is not entirely subject to the laws of the Pakistani government and the people here are of a completely different culture and mindset than the rest of Pakistan. Yet, there has been little to no effort on behalf of the U.S. government to reach out to people in the FATA region and embark on a goodwill campaign. Rather, the U.S. has conducted a few military operations in this region with the hopes of eliminating high priority targets.

If the Pakistani people who live in the metropolitan areas are not outraged by the Mumbai attacks, how can we ever hope to sway those in the FATA region? This is a question that President-Elect Obama will have to answer. The world should be calling on the people of Pakistan to not only condemn the Mumbai attacked, but to do something more: to show the world that they too are outraged by these attacks and that they will throw their full support of bringing perpetrators to justice.