Most of us, I think, have an utterly skewed view of the impact of terrorism – weighted heavily towards (very rare) attacks on Western cities or the murder of high-profile figures, such as Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab. In reality, however, it is the poor and marginalised, in countries like Pakistan, who bear the brunt of terrorist violence.
As a corrective – and to ruin your morning – consider this attack on a school, using the novel tactic of a horse-drawn cart-bomb:
A bypasser was killed and 17 persons, including six boys and three girl students, were injured in a remote-controlled bomb explosion outside a private school here on Wednesday.
A bomb disposal unit official, Malik Shafqat, said a device containg five kilogrammes of explosives had been planted in a horse-drawn cart near the graveyard outside the Shah Faisal Public School in Nauthia Jadeed.
The device exploded when the students had just started reaching the school in the morning. The explosion was so loud that it was heard all over the city. The cart-owner was arrested and was being interrogated, a senior police official said.
Rescue teams and volunteers rushed to the spot soon after the explosion and the injured were rushed to the Lady Reading Hospital. Doctors said one body and 17 injured people had been brought to the hospital. They said the condition of two injured was serious.
The slain person was identified as Umar Aziz, son of Abdul Aziz, resident of Bara Gate. He was a bypasser caught in the explosion.
The injured included Jamshed Khan, Taimur Khan, Yousaf Khan, Ishaq Khan, Rutba, Remeen, Sidra Ishaq, Iqra Ishaq, Badshah Khan, Tahira, Nigah, Rizwanullah, Naveed, Safeena Riyaz, Sana, Shahzeb and Abdur Rahman.
Spend a second, at least, reading those names, because they’ll almost certainly never be seen in print again. These victims of terrorism are almost completely anonymous, and the families of the deceased receive little or no support, neither do the injured who lose their livelihoods.
This – by the way – is part of a systematic campaign to target Peshawar’s schools. There have been three other attacks in just the past month. Imagine the reaction if that were to happen in Birmingham, UK, or Birmingham, Alabama.
In a talk I gave at Demos early last year, I wondered whether Islamic extremists in different parts of West Africa, who had hitherto acted in isolation, might one day join up to become a cohesive pan-regional force.
Now it seems that Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, whose activities have centered on Mauritania, Algeria and Mali, is making efforts to link up with Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement, now imaginatively renamed the Taliban, to create a broad-based West African terror group.
AFP reports that AQIM’s leader has told his Nigerian brothers that, “We are ready to train your sons on how to handle weapons, and will give them all the help they need – men, weapons, ammunition and equipment – to enable them to defend our people and push back the Crusaders.” So far, negotiations remain at a fledgling stage, but the intent is there and, given the region’s notoriously porous borders, so too are the means.
– Writing in E!Sharp magazine, David Charter examines some of the contentious debates surrounding the shaping of the new European External Action Service (EEAS). Jan Gaspers, meanwhile, suggests that the EEAS will mark the “real vanguard of a stronger EU in international affairs”, and given time could pose a significant challenge to national diplomacy.
– Bruce Schneier offers his take on the reaction to the attempted Christmas terror plot. “The problem”, Schneier argues, with the solutions being proposed (full-body scanners, passenger profiling, etc.):
“is that they’re only effective if we guess the plot correctly. Defending against a particular tactic or target makes sense if tactics and targets are few. But there are hundreds of tactics and millions of targets, so all these measures will do is force the terrorists to make a minor modification to their plot.”
“What we need is security that’s effective even if we can’t guess the next plot: intelligence, investigation and emergency response.”
– Elsewhere, Samuel Brittan, argues in favour of taking a “fresh look” at certain liberal values – “[h]owever difficult it is to define a liberal”, he suggests, “it is not hard to spot anti-liberals.” John Gray, meanwhile, explores the relationship between neoliberalism and state power, suggesting that “[t]he consequence of reshaping society on a market model has been to make the state omnipresent.”
– Finally, the FT’s Gillian Tett has an interesting piece on the potential social impact of fiscal cuts and the implications of this for bond markets and national standing over the next decade.
The arrest of a Nigerian national suspected of plotting to blow up a transatlantic plane is another worrying piece in the jigsaw of West African Islamic terrorism. Until a year or two ago, Al Qaeda’s presence in the region was more a rumour than a serious concern to Western governments. The group was thought to be involved in diamond smuggling during the Sierra Leonean civil war in the 1990s, and some observers believe it has profited from the heroin trade through the Gulf of Guinea.
But as recently as February this year, when I gave a talk to the UK’s Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism, the British government did not believe Islamic extremism in West Africa would coalesce into a serious threat, especially outside the region itself. Although the FCO has placed half of Mali and Niger and all of Mauritania on its list of travel blackspots, their people still seemed unruffled when I talked to them about their West Africa strategy a couple of months back.
They may be sleeping less easily now. Although Al Qaeda’s infiltration of the region remains at a fledgling stage, the arrest of the Nigerian and the kidnappings of four Spaniards and two Italians – all in the past six weeks – are an indication of the potential dangers both within and without West Africa’s borders. And the pressure that is encouraging young Africans towards extremism – the great collision between demography and poverty that is taking place against a background of inept and venal governance – is intensifying by the day.
The authorities are doing what they can. Nigeria’s police cracked down violently on the Islamist Boko Haram movement back in August, and Mauritania’s police take copies of taxi drivers’ ID cards so that they can haul in their families if passengers disappear.
But without economic development the region’s governments will be fighting an impossible war. Al Qaeda’s wealth will buy off police and army as well as luring in new recruits. It is development that people need – relevant education and infrastructure investment provided by their own governments that are responsive to them and not to donors or other vested interests, and that provide a fair enabling environment for businesses large and small; assistance from the West by means of getting out of the way of trade and migration and forcing Western businesses to behave honestly; and they also need a large dose of luck: they need leaders to emerge who have the will and courage to stop the cycle of selfishness and corruption at all levels of government and to shed the burden of aid in favour of self-reliance; and they need their neighbours to remain stable and peaceful. Only West Africa itself has the power to stop extremist violence in the long-term. As many people I have spoken to in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau realise, the rest of us can help most by clearing their path.
– With the eighth anniversary of war in Afghanistan, debate about the strategic direction of the conflict continues apace. Foreign Policy has an extract from Gordon M. Goldstein’s Lessons in Disaster – chronicling the key turning points of the Vietnam war and reportedly forming required reading in the current White House. Over at the New Republic, William Galston argues that General McChrystal was right to air his concerns about Afghan strategy in public and ratchet up pressure on President Obama.
– RUSI, meanwhile, assesses the issue of troop numbers on British shores, viewing the commitment to hard power through the lens of the country’s world role. In related news, the Conservatives are set to confirm that General Sir Richard Dannatt, recently retired as Chief of the General Staff, is to advise them on defence policy.
– Elsewhere, Professor John Merriman asks if the bombing of a Paris café at the end of the 19th Century spawned terrorism in its modern form. Current policy, he suggests, would do well to take better account of historical experience.
– Finally, with the slew of annual awards from the Nobel committee well under way, attention turns to possible winners of the economics prize – to be announced on Monday. Thompson Reuters offers its annual, citation-based, predications here. Brad DeLong, meanwhile, suggests that this year’s gong should go to Mark Gertler and current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke.