In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

International Security 26.3 (2002) 79-93

[Access article in PDF]

The United Statesand Terrorism in Southwest Asia:
September 11 and Beyond

Samina Ahmed

The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon transformed U.S. policy in Southwest Asia. As the United States embarked on a long-term, comprehensive campaign to counter global terrorism, Pakistan once again assumed the position of a frontline state, just as neighboring Afghanistan became the target of a new U.S. hot war in Asia. U.S. indifference to the turmoil within Afghanistan evolved into a policy of active intervention, and past differences with Pakistan were overlooked in the effort to develop a military partnership in the war on terrorism. These changes in U.S. policy in Southwest Asia could bear long-term implications for American security.

In formulating U.S. policy toward terrorism in Southwest Asia, George W. Bush and his administration should analyze the challenges they confront from a historical perspective. In doing so, the United States may be able to avoid past mistakes and identify the most effective ways of combating terrorist threats from the region and beyond. With global terrorism becoming the focal point of U.S. policy, the United States must also assess the long-term implications of this policy for Pakistan and Afghanistan in particular and for a complex and conflict-prone neighborhood more generally. Recognizing that terrorists and terrorist networks have a global presence, the Bush administration emphasizes that the war against terrorism will not end with the elimination of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda associates in Afghanistan. The policies that the Bush administration pursues will, however, determine its effectiveness in eliminating terrorist threats to U.S. security from Southwest Asia.

Flawed U.S. Policies and Terrorism in Southwest Asia

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has emphasized that the U.S. war against terrorism in Southwest Asia will be fought largely through unconventional means. 1 In the 1980s the United States fought another war in this region [End Page 79] through similar means, a covert war against the Soviet Union and a series of Soviet-backed regimes in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and his terrorist associates, their Afghan hosts, and the Pakistani military are all part of this past U.S. history. 2 In December 1979 the Soviets intervened militarily in Afghanistan to protect a pro-Soviet regime against Pakistani-backed Afghan insurgents. Given an opportunity to undermine the Soviet Union, the United States became a partner in Pakistan's proxy war.

The United States chose Afghan religious extremists as their allies in this covert war. They were handpicked by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from among Pakistan-based Afghan dissidents and refugees to head the resistance. Trained by the Pakistani military and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and given generous U.S. military assistance, the mujahideen (holy warriors) waged a jihad (holy war) against the government in Kabul and its Soviet allies. Although internal alliances were forged initially along tribal, ethnic, and regional lines, external patronage of Afghan religious extremists gradually transformed Afghanistan's political landscape. 3

Throughout the 1980s religious extremists gained ground against their moderate and secular counterparts within the Afghan diaspora and resistance, and after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, within Afghanistan itself. Following the Soviet withdrawal, as the holy warriors fought among themselves for power, forging and breaking alliances, another contender for power--the Taliban--emerged in 1994. By 1996 this diverse group of Pashtun military commanders and religious leaders and their students (taliban) had gained control over most of the state. It is these Pashtun commanders, clerics, and their cadre who became bin Laden's hosts and protectors in Afghanistan. 4

During the 1980s, as the United States forged an informal global coalition in its proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, it brought onboard allies such as Saudi Arabia. The Saudis saw in the Afghan war an opportunity to export to [End Page 80] the region their brand of Sunni orthodoxy: Wahabism. 5 Also during this period, the CIA recruited thousands of religious...