Obama’s State of the Union address


WEB DESK: In his last State of the Union address, the US President Barack Obama focused not just on his achievements and the things he still planned to do in the remaining months of his administration but also the future. Some of the challenges he listed are of direct concern to this part of the world.

Speaking of the “terrorists plotting an ocean away” he warned those trying to shape the debate as a clash of civilisations saying “over the top claims that this is World War III just plays into their [IS’] hands.” Obama also argued against irresponsible anti- Muslim remarks made by people like the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump pointing out that “when politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalised, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t’ make us safer.”

His sensible advice was not to echo the lie that “ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are – killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted and destroyed.” That objective though cannot be achieved through military means alone; the reasons behind the problem also need to be addressed.

Obama exactly identified the cause of the problem saying there is a link between militancy and instability, adding that although militants are concentrated in Iraq and Syria instability will continue in many parts of the world – in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The common factor contributing to the rise of violent extremist organisations in all these countries has been both direct and indirect foreign military interventions, which ousted existing governments or weakened their control. The US’ war in Afghanistan spilled over into Pakistan’s tribal areas giving rise to the so-called TTP.

Following the military operations first in Swat and then in North Waziristan many of the TTP leaders took refuge across the border in Afghanistan, where until recently the Kabul government chose to turn a blind eye to their presence due to its own complaints about Afghan Taliban using this country’s semi-controlled tribal areas to launch cross-border attacks. Some of these militants have now declared allegiance to the IS not because of its own efforts but because these insurgents needed a purpose to go on. Similarly, al Qaeda in Iraq emerged from the chaos of the US’ war devastated Iraq later morphing into IS and then ISIL.

The ISIL took advantage of the situation in Iraq as well as the conflict in Syria, fuelled by Western powers and their regional allies’ proxy interventions, to establish its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Dealing with this challenge requires addressing its cause, namely instability. Hopefully, the ongoing Pakistan, Afghanistan, US and China quadruple consultations to find a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict will lead to durable peace. It will take time to completely root out violent extremism from these societies, as Obama noted, but as long as the key belligerents are willing to end hostilities things are destined to get better. The world powers having belatedly realised the folly of their efforts, are also trying to end the Syrian civil war.

The region will remain in turmoil as long as its two rival powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, remain embattled through their proxies. Tensions between them need to be defused so that national governments can focus on the challenge the IS poses them and others farther afield.

Source: Business Recorder