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Terrorism Works: Pakistan Edition

As Stirling pointed out earlier today, Terrorism works.  The Mumbai attacks, targeted deliberately at both foreigners, and more importantly, India’s own elites, led to an entirely predictable response: India started seriously threatening Pakistan and demanding Pakistani leaders do things (like turn over Pakistanis to the Indian legal system) which no Pakistani politician could do and stay in power.  Indeed, it’s unlikely they could do such a thing and stay alive.

So Pakistan moved its forces from the tribal areas to the border with India, in response to India’s threats, and the terrorists no longer have to deal with the Pakistani military.  This is, clearly, what they wanted.  Terrorism worked. 

It also means that the US is now solely responsible for its own  supply line into Afghanistan.  Given that essentially the entire US airlift capacity is being repositioned for the surge into Afghanistan, this means the number of troops the US can reliably support is now sharply limited by that airlift capacity.  Win-win for the terrorists: they no longer have to worry about Pakistani troops, and harassing US supplies has become so much easier.

Remember that 9/11 was also a great success, not just operationally, but strategically.  It accomplished what bin Laden wanted—it got American troops in on the ground where they could be killed and the cost of the war put the American economy under great strain.  It continues to pay dividends, as the US army, smarting from what it privately knows was a loss in Iraq (you don’t pay people to stop attacking you if you won the war) wants a do-over in Afghanistan, not because it makes sense strategically (it’s destabilizing Pakistan, a far more important place than Afghanistan) but becase their pride has been hurt.

Terrorism works.  It works not because it can succeed operationally, but because elites play into the hands of terrorists and do strategically stupid and counterproductive things when terrorists prod them hard enough.  Both the Mumbai attacks and 9/11 were aimed at people who mattered—wealthy and important people in both countries. 

Expect there to be a lot more terrorism going forward.  The results to cost ratio is very very high.  It works.  As long as it continues to work to effect policy (major trillion dollar wars, major shifts in military deployment, major shifts in diplomacy) it will continue to be used.

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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in and BlogsCanada. He is also a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

His homeblog is at