While the United States has been fighting the 'war on terror' with a focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Gulf region has been recently identified as the source of funding for Taliban militants. The US policy of demonizing Pakistan and Afghanistan as the homes of terrorism ignores the role that the Gulf States play in funding them.
Ignoring this factor is ironic given the focus on stemming terrorism at the source. This failure of US policy to properly administer blame needs immediate change.
Reports that the Taliban are funded through drug money raised by poppy cultivation in Afghanistan have been quoted as established fact for some time now. However, this was placed in context when the US special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke disclosed that the Taliban were receiving more funding from the Gulf countries than from within Afghanistan.
Holbrooke, during his recent visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels, stated that the Taliban operations in the Pashtun belt are supported by drug money, while overall activities are funded from outside Afghanistan. An unnamed NATO official agreed with Holbrooke, saying that drug money represents only a portion of the Taliban's operational funding.
Barely three days later, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, following a meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal, asserted that the US and Saudi Arabia were working together to "deny terrorists safe havens and access to funding in Pakistan and Afghanistan."
If one considers the efforts to combat terrorism since the September 11 terror attacks it appears that Washington uses a stick to punish Pakistan while offering carrots as incentives to Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that most of the terrorists involved in the 9/11 tragedy were born in the Gulf state. Al Qaeda and Taliban members usually belong to the Wahabi school of thought, which comes from Saudi Arabia.
While Pakistan, despite being the victim of terrorism itself, has been threatened by the US with "either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us" policy, its tone and gestures towards Saudi Arabia have always been mild. The US has also accused the Pakistani premier spy agency - Inter-Services Intelligence - of supporting the Taliban, perhaps forgetting that Washington supplied funding and armed the Mujahideen during the Soviet invasion to contain the spread of communism and influence in this strategically important region.
The accusations made by Washington may be true, but the fact remains that it has never adopted a harsh or threatening policy towards Saudi Arabia. If, according to the US, Pakistan had to safeguard its own national interests by supporting the Taliban, it was and is also in US interests to adopt a mild tone in its dealings with Saudi Arabia or other so-called progressive Gulf countries for that matter. The reason is simple, Saudi Arabia has the biggest oil reserves and the US, at the moment, does not wish to jeopardize its supply. The second reason is the huge investment made by Saudi Arabia in the US which might be withdrawn if the Obama administration decides to take a tough stance against the oil-rich country.
Nevertheless, if the US wants to take the bull by the horns, it must cut the lifeline of the terrorists, the funding from the Gulf. For that it needs to take concrete steps rather than half-hearted rhetoric. Terrorists are nothing without weaponry, and for weaponry they need money. It is time that Washington takes measures against the Gulf states or any country from where the funds for supporting terrorist activities are coming.
In this scenario, bombarding Pakistani villages with drones while giving preferential treatment to the Gulf states can only add fuel to the fire, increasing anti-America sentiment among the Pakistani and Afghan populations. Although there is still a sentiment of hatred towards the US in Pakistan, the people at large have denounced the Taliban and Al Qaeda for unleashing a reign of terror with suicide bombings.
Terrorism is not the predicament only for Washington, it has become a global menace. If the US really wants to eliminate terrorism, the time has come for it to start treating all the stakeholders on an equal footing rather than with dual policies.
Following Sept 11, Pakistan made a choice by withdrawing its support for the Taliban in order to deal directly with the issue of militancy within its borders. Its previous support for the Taliban was based on the need to counter external threats but the then President Pervez Musharraf renounced that in favour of support from the US. He then paid a heavy price as the move invited the wrath of religious political parties.
Now it is the turn of the US to make a choice. It will have to make serious efforts to cut funding to militants, and sacrifice a bit by dealing with all the players without discrimination.
Shazad Ali is a journalist and writes on international affairs with a focus on counter-terrorism, Asia and Europe.
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