Yemen: new theatre in the war on terror

THE closure of US and British embassies in Yemen over fears of an al-Qaeda attack depicts the worsening security situation in the area. The impoverished country of 23.6 million people which lies just few hundred miles away from Mekah is on the brink of becoming a failed state after decades of internal fighting. Facing a Shia rebellion in the north and separatist insurgency in the south, the authority of the Yemen as a state is dwindling with every passing day.
Shia rebels have been fighting government troops in Yemen’s mountainous north since 2004, complaining of marginalisation. In the south separatists are fighting for independence of southern Yemen, which unified with its northern neighbour in 1990 and failed to secede in a 1994 war.
Further complicating the situation, the militant group in neighbouring Somalia has announced to send fighters across the border to help al-Qaeda in Yemen. Also, according to US intelligence, al-Qaeda fighters are fleeing crackdown in Pakistan and Afghanistan and gathering in Yemen, the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden to open a new front against Washington.
The strife-torn country came under spotlight after the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who attempted to bomb a US-bound passenger plane on Christmas Day. The countries around the world had to boost airport security after the failed attempt. The alleged bomber is believed to be trained by a militant group in Yemen.
The incident not only prompted United States to impose strict security rules at the airports but also forced Washington to focus attention on al-Qaeda activities in Yemen. Grappling with a tough war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration is seeking to bolster Yemen’s government amidst fears that al-Qaeda might exploit its instability to launch more attacks across the globe.
United States has already announced to double its US$70 million ($98m) security assistance to Yemen. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also announced that his country will intensify joint effort with the United States to tackle “the emerging terrorist threat” from Yemen and Somalia. Backed by US and allies, Yemen government is expanding operations against al-Qaeda and tightening security on its coast to stop militants infiltrating from Somalia.
From all these measures, it appears that Yemen is emerging as a new theatre for “war on terror”. One should hope that these military measures would yield positive results; however, the world has already witnessed such actions failing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The excessive use of force would result in massive civilian killings and the backlash can further destabilise Yemen pushing the state towards total failure. The instability in Yemen is becoming critical. If the state fails, al-Qaeda is sure to gain a greater foothold in the country and neighbouring Saudi Arabia will also be affected.
In August, Saudi Arabia’s deputy interior minister, Prince Muhammad bin Naif, narrowly escaped assassination when a militant blew himself up at the prince’s house. The bomber had planned and prepared the attack across the border in Yemen. Al-Qaeda has announced that its networks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia have merged to create al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Instability in Saudi Arabia, the spiritual nerve centre of the Muslims Ummah, is something that the world can never afford.
This is a very delicate situation which calls for a careful, multi-prong strategy. Fight against terrorism cannot be won through military means alone. Violence only breeds violence. There has to be a political solution . The United States and allies will have to isolate terrorists by trying to solve genuine issues facing the people of Yemen. Oppression, poverty and social and economic discrimination always fuel anger and distrust among people. If these issues are addressed, terrorists will never be able to misguide ordinary people. This is the only way to win the war of hearts and minds in Yemen and ensure peace and stability in the region.

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