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U.S. Envoy Says Terrorism No Excuse For Repression

  • Ahto Lobjakas

BRUSSELS, November 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department's ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, Dell Dailey, maintains a precarious balance.

He must secure the best possible cooperation from other governments in fighting terrorism -- the No. 1 U.S. foreign-policy priority.

But he must also stand up for the values Washington says are at stake in this struggle -- freedom and democracy.

There are few places in the world where these dual imperatives are more sharply juxtaposed than in Central Asia. The historically Muslim region is a key battleground for extremists, but it is also home to some of the world's most autocratic and repressive regimes.

Ambassador Dailey said concerns over terrorism in Central Asia must not serve as an excuse for domestic repression. "If counterterrorism is being used as a tool to crack down on their populations, that is inherently wrong," he told RFE/RL. "There are legitimate terrorist concerns that may have nothing to do with the Muslim population in the countries, so we don't want them to become singularly focused, thinking it's their Muslim population that is the source of terrorism. There may be other aspects, too."

Dailey says that Washington does not turn a blind eye to rights violations in Central Asia. In Uzbekistan, for example, the mass killing of demonstrators in the Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005 had an impact on the overall U.S. approach to the country.

Discreet Criticism

But Dailey is also at pains not to directly criticize any of the countries in the region -- all of which, he says, are "very good" partners for the United States in the fight against terrorism. He says that when the United States does take issue with one its partners, Washington prefers to pass along its criticism "in a very discreet manner" to avoid public confrontation.

The U.S. envoy also notes that Washington offers human rights training as a regular part of its military training programs in the region.

On the subject of Afghanistan, Dailey praised the democratically elected authorities there as "very useful" in the fight against terrorism. He says that the counterterrorist effort in Afghanistan focuses on the Taliban, but that its strategy must also address the close ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

"The Taliban has received its lifeblood from Al-Qaeda, be that funding, training, or assistance in recruiting or in its infrastructure," Dailey said. "So, when we see Al-Qaeda, we see the Taliban. In the Afghan-Pakistan area we look at them as a real challenge. In Afghanistan there is an effort to try and eliminate Al-Qaeda, as it sticks its head out occasionally, but clearly the Taliban.”

Dailey says there is no "specific" information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, including information on whether bin Laden may be in Pakistan. But, he says, bin Laden is likely to seek refuge where he can find safe haven in the cultural, religious, social, and political environment.

The envoy praised Islamabad's "immense" contribution to counterterror efforts, which have resulted in the arrests and killings of Al-Qaeda leaders in urban areas, but noted that the results have been different in the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Dailey said Pakistan has had "its good days and bad days," but declined to comment on the effect the recently declared state of emergency may have on his work.

Dailey says the U.S. government believes that Al-Qaeda is "severely degraded or beaten" in Iraq's Al-Anbar governorate after coming into conflict with Sunni tribesmen. He says other provinces and towns are also likely to eject Al-Qaeda fighters now. However, the terrorist network still has potential for growth in Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia, as well as in the Western Sahara and the Philippines, he said.

Asked how long he thinks the struggle with global terrorism will last, Dailey quoted President George W. Bush, saying it will be a "generational fight."