A Dastardly Act


The terrorist attack on the US in the morning of Tuesday Sep 11 was at once horrific and devastating. In the matter of minutes the terrorists inflicted far more damage in a well planned and coordinated attack than all the Japanese bombers and fighters did in a few hours on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7, 1941, clearly surpassing in sheer brutality and callousness “a day that will live in infamy”, to quote President Franklin D Roosevelt, Jr. The timing of the attack sixty years apart was the key, while the Japanese went in shortly after dawn, targetting mostly military targets, causing maximum casualties among uniformed personnel, this particular terrorist attack was deliberately timed for the early part of the morning office rush hour, inflicting maximum civilian human collateral damage, on innocents without any even a hint as to why their assailants had targetted them. Unfortunately these men, women and (even) children were simply pawns in greater game, one that is making monsters out of human beings, one that is threatening not only civilized society but the concept of civilization as well. The US well never again be an open society, and can one now blame them? The raising of the terror quotient was accomplished by inflicting grievous public damage on prime time TV on the most vulnerable. On the pattern of an “eye for an eye”, prima facie it seems to have been carried out by associates of Osama Bin Laden. The Japanese tested US patience by their violent sneak attack, the ultimate reaction came in the form of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. What will the US do this time?

On Aug 29, 1998, I wrote in THE NATION an article entitled “FREEDOM FIGHTER OR TERRORIST?” and I quote, “Osama Bin Laden started off as a freedom fighter, a Mujahideen, against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. In the early 80s this was not unusual since the Afghan movement attracted activists from all over the Muslim world, what was unusual was that this was a moneyed man, a scion of a famous construction family in Saudi Arabia, personally worth over US$ 300 million. That he chose to face the rigour and the risks was indeed worth notice – and praise. He was actively sponsored by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, soon making his mark by acts of bravery, leading his men in action from the front. As any person of any military consequence knows, the sound of a bullet is a great equalizer, it separates the men from the boys. As a leader Osama Bin Laden earned the respect of men hardened in battle. The purity of his purpose symbolized his penchant for sacrifice, at that time suiting CIA and other handlers. As the Afghan War wound down, Osama Bin Laden came into his own and started looking at horizons beyond Afghanistan, falling first out of favour in his own homeland for his rather “radical” views with respect to the established customs and traditions. As the Afghan cauldron heated up due to internecine quarrel in the aftermath of the Russian departure, Osama remained mostly neutral in the fray, building up strong relationships in the geographical areas adjacent to and/or in the proximity of Pakistan, roughly approximating the area of origin of the Talibaan. Commanding respect among all Afghan factions, obviously there was something much stronger in his bonds with the present rulers of Afghanistan. His sanctuary in Afghanistan became that much safer with their advent into governance.”

I did say at that time that “The US Cruise missile attack on the Afghan bases was uncalled for and wrong, as wrong as were the bombings of the US Embassy buildings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Two wrongs do not make a right. A terrorist act cannot be met with retaliation in a form equivalent to a terrorist act, particularly when it infringes on sovereignty and self-respect. The moment Osama Bin Laden attacked non-combatant targets, he stopped being a freedom fighter in the classical sense and became a terrorist. The worst thing any soldier can do is to kill an unarmed prisoner, even worse than that is targeting old people, women and children. A majority who died in the blasts in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi had no idea of the secret war being waged between the US and Bin Laden and even if they had they wanted no part in it. They were innocents caught in crossfire, deliberately engineered. There is no bravery in planting bombs and maiming innocents, that is the stuff of cowards. Should we accept the RAW atrocities against us as an act of war or pure terrorism? Purely on the logic of escalation (the US Cruise missile attack) sets off a cycle of violence between civilizations bringing some truth to Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”. It puts at risk US citizens all over the world, in turn it invites US reaction on a majority of Muslims who are innocent of even thinking of any wrongdoing. Above all, it provides adequate grist to the fire and brimstone-types whose only logic is to resort to violence at the slightest pretext. While the US, as any other country, is well within its rights to react to acts of terrorism against its citizens, the modus operandi should be to go in for precise, surgical operations and they should be prepared to take casualties in the accomplishing of the mission rather than rely on the Cruise missile all-encompassing method. Before such an operation is launched there must be incontrovertible evidence of guilt. As the Cruise missile failing to clear Balochistan Province for technical reasons can verify, machines can and do go wrong.”

The US is now preparing an appropriate response and if they do attack, with the firepower they have the country they target will become just one big parking lot. Obviously the US has the necessary intelligence potential to nail down the perpetrators of this most heinous tragedy, what they will be looking for is a smoking gun. What one worries is that somebody really unscrupulous may be exploiting Osama Bin Laden as the obvious, what about the Serbs and Saddam Hussain as possible suspects? God knows that not only they have the motive they also have the money and expertise. Look at the arrogance of Slobodan Milosevic being tried as a war criminal, the former Yugoslav President has virtually been sneering at his captors while in the dock in the Hague. And have the Serbs not publicly threatened retribution on the US for raining bombs on them? While Osama Bin Laden may or may not be guilty of this one, for me personally the Serbs had more notice, inclination and the sick mind to go with perpetrating this horror, not to count the necessary expertise and the Caucasian features to escape detailed security attention. Also Saddam Hussain is as strong as ever, both these monsters are capable of brutal murder and mayhem on a vast scale. Remember Saddam using chemical weapons to kill over 30000 Iranian troops in the Fao Peninsula during the Iran-Iraq war? In modern times these two have inflicted brutality without limits on their own people than anyone else. We thought mass graves had ended with Hitler targetting the poor Jews during World War 2, what about the mass graves of able-bodied Muslims all over Bosnia? What stops such people from targetting the thousands of innocents in the US? That is why it is necessary that there be absolutely no doubt about the guilt of those being targetted. The very nature of the precise operation, its timing, the readiness of the hijackers to commit suicide, the targets chosen, the technical expertise, the easy access etc must give the investigators plenty of room for thought. And if Osama Bin Laden is the guilty party, than one must agree that Afghanistan’s Talibaan are as guilty of collaboration in the US atrocity. The level of horror inflicted requires that I reverse my thought of not matching terror for terror. If Osama is guilty, the Afghan people must unfortunately be ready to suffer because of the callousness of their leaders in allowing this outrage by protecting the perpetrator.

Those who have been distributing sweets in the streets to celebrate this recent US tragedy should choke on those sweets. Is this humanity, to express joy at the murder and maiming of thousands of innocents? The US has every right to react to attack on its citizens and installations, after all self-defence is a God-given right. Whoever it was and wherever he is, the terrorist must be given short shrift.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.