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Pol/Econ: Unintended consequences: Diplomacy and the War on Terror
Sunday, 20 May 2007 Written by Henry Midgley
President Bush declares war on terror

President Bush on September 20th 2001 defined what he took to be the course of foreign policy throughout the remainder of his Presidency:
Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom... now depends on us. Our nation – this generation – will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.

The President hence reordered American foreign policy around the elimination of those that supported terrorism and the restriction of the access of terrorists to weapons of mass destruction. His intention was and remains to strengthen governments which pose no threat to the West in the Islamic world- whilst destroying those that do pose a threat.

Most of the controversy and indeed discussion around the President's efforts has centered on the destruction of regimes- Iraq and to a much lesser extent Afghanistan were controversial targets- and the policies pursued after the successful conquests have not led to the kinds of results in either country that the populations of the powers involved were led to expect. But Bush's policy has been directed in other directions too- and its worth examining some of the unintended consequences of what Bush has done to countries that he sees as pro-Western.

Prominent amongst the early allies of the United States in the war on terror was and still remains the Pakistani regime of President Musharraf. Pakistan's strategic position, as one of the centres of Islamic militancy and a base for operations in Afghanistan, has made it a key ally in the war on terror. President Musharraf's government acknowledges that Islamic militancy is a problem within Pakistan and argues that it has strategies in place to counter it. However as former US envoy Terista Schaffer has argued Musharraf's own future as President is in doubt and given that there is some concern about the direction of current Pakistani policy remaining the same.

Even with those doubts though, interesting questions remain about the relationship of Pakistan to the wider war on terror. A report from the Centre of Internatonal and Strategic Studies has provoked a lot of press attention both in the United States and in India. The report, whose text is not public, makes clear that the US has spent over 10 billion dollars in military aid directly to Pakistan in the four years since 2002- but despite that amount of aid, Pakistan recently announced that it was diminishing its own patrols in territories near those controlled by militants. Rather the US funding has been used to bolster Pakistan's heavy artillery and air defences against a possible war with India. The United States has therefore found itself funding one side in the dispute between India and Pakistan rather than bolstering the Pakistanis against the militants.

Now there are plenty of ways to defend this arrangement- American officials would no doubt point to the utility of Pakistan's involvement in the war on terror- both at an intelligence level and at a military level the Pakistanis have been indispensible. Furthermore this funding may well have gone to fund Pakistani buildup against India- but actually as the Economist recently reported Musharraf has made more progress on peace talks with India than any previous Pakistani ruler. Fixing conditions to spending furthermore could have been a problem for him and his regime- the 10 billion may not be aid to fight terrorists but a bribe to reward Pakistan for fighting terrorists. In which case it looks more defensible.

Lets take all those arguments into the equation. Its still worth urging caution because the United States may well have involuntarily altered the balance of power towards Pakistan on the Indian/Pakistani border. Ultimately one has to wonder whether strengthening a military dictatorship versus its imperfectly democratic neighbour is something that is in the longer term interests of the West as a whole or whether a short term policy may lead us to regret President Bush's generosity in the future. A change of government in Pakistan and worse relations with India may prompt us to reevaluate the wisdom of this policy- afterall its consequences could be a mushroom cloud in New Delhi or Islamabad.

I'm not arguing that the United States are wrong to do what they have done- merely that this one incident demonstrates that the War on Terror interracts in a complicated way with many other policy priorities of many other actors on the world stage- including the US. Ultimately countries will use the war on terror for their own ends- the most notable example being the way that President Putin seized on the war on terror to explain the Chechnyan conflict- Pakistan is a great example of this. The War on terror has hidden effects in terms of other conflicts- and we should carefully evaluate the way our interventions fit into the pattern of world politics, not merely work out whether they are pro or anti terrorist.

It would be a very cruel irony if a policy designed to impede terrorists ultimately led to the creation of other problems which made the world a more dangerous place than it would have been otherwise.