Afghan War: Some Pertinent Queries

The on-going war in Afghanistan raises some queries in the mind of a student of international affairs, particularly as it deviates from the familiar format of wars. It is a war against terrorism -a faceless, impalpable enemy- and consequently against those countries that harbor the perpetrators of this evil.

Under the sponsorship of the United States -the richest and mightiest state- an alliance has been formed comprising almost all important states to fight this scourge. On the other side is only Afghanistan, perhaps the poorest country whose one-third ( 8million) population is facing starvation deaths. It has a rag tag militia that is already engaged in an internecine war with the Northern Alliance. It has, no doubt, the backing of Osama’s mindless assassins but they number just a few hundred.

Neither the Taliban, who have provided sufficient evidence of belonging to the lunatic fringe, nor their guest, Osama, have accepted responsibility for the dastardly attacks on WTC and Pentagon. Sufficient evidence has, however, become available linking Osama and his cohorts to the unconscionable acts of terrorism.

Adhering to their tribal code, Pakhoonwali, the rigid Taliban clerics have refused to hand over Osama to any outside power to be brought to justice. Their verdict has nothing to do with Islamic precepts.

This situation has brought the current war somewhat closer to the traditional pattern: Osama has provided a face, an icon of terror, and Afghanistan a territory to the enemy.

Considering the amount of force brought to bear on Afghanistan, the war is likely to culminate sooner than later.

Would that end the action, as being hoped for by Pakistan and other countries of the region? Would that pacify the infuriated and intense sentiments for revenge and retaliation among the people of America? Their outrage is quite understandable. They are, otherwise, a highly compassionate and giving people; the best in my experience.

The U.S. ambassador’s letter informing the UN that the campaign may need “further action in respect of other organizations and other states” gives an inkling of the shape of things to come. Another indicator is the list of 22 most wanted terrorists released recently. It incorporates names of nationals belonging to various countries in the proximity of the heavy deployment of allied forces.

Osama has, on the other hand, called for a holy war, jihad, in a statement over Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite TV and has warned the people of America that they would have little peace until the Iraqis and the Palestinians are allowed to live in peace. This was followed by a message a few days later on the same TV of Sulaiman Ghaith, a close aide of Osama, saying that “the storm of hijacked planes will not stop”, virtually admiting Osama and his Al-Qaeda’s involvement in the Sept.11 plane-bomb catastrophes. Such infuriating threats and conceited statements show the red rag to the bull.

It was perhaps such a fear that kept the delegates to the Islamic (OIC) summit in Qatar wary of unguarded, emotional statements. The call of Osama for a jihad has been, as expected, ignored contemptuously. The governments have instead given tacit, if nervous, support to the US campaign. But the Muslim world is not at ease with the situation. The demonstrations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and elsewhere reflect the simmering sentiments.

The ruler of Qatar who chaired the Islamic summit said on October 10: “The Islamic world was among the first to have called for a dialogue of civilizations, instead of divisions on the basis of ‘you are either my friend or my foe'”

President Bush has many a time publicly assured the Muslim community that the war is not against Islam or the Muslim world, but against the terrorists who have profaned a great religion.

America is trying to fight on two fronts. It needs majority Muslim opinion on its side if its campaign is to succeed. But, it also needs to take its war deeper and further if its goal is to successfully eradicate terrorism.

Terrorism is an international phenomenon; it exists in all parts of the world and knows no national boundaries. Why then, one may ask, has the leader of the current campaign identified the 22 from Middle East only as the most wanted terrorists?

Washington’s image in the Middle East, according to a recent BBC commentary, hasn’t been helped by the praise heaped by Israel on the action against terrorists and Afghanistan their hideout.

A section of the American broadcast media too has been denigrating Islam and Muslim world and forecasting “a clash of civilizations”. One wonders whether such ideas are being projected with a well-calculated, ulterior motive?

On the other hand, Osama, once a favorite Mujahid of CIA and now the supreme terrorist suspected of having masterminded the attacks on WTC and Pentagon, is viewed as a cult figure by the poor and illiterate in many Muslim societies. He speaks in the name of Islam, while all his terrorist activities traduce that great faith. It is equally unfortunate that he has chosen to resort to indiscriminate terror to make his voice heard against an oppressive social structure in Saudi Arabia and the injustices against Palestine.

Terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate grievances through illegitimate means. Nor, can terrorism be eradicated by a super power alone or in concert with several states without removing the root cause. Terrorism is but a symptom, not the ailment.

The questions therefore are: Would the problem come to an end with the end of Osama and the entire ruling mullacracy of Taliban? Would the US win the current war against terrorism without drastically revising its foreign policy goals in the Middle East?

How long would America remain indifferent to the forcible Jewish settlements on Palestine territory and procrastinate the recognition of Palestine as a sovereign, independent state? When would an end be put to the “no fly zones” over Iraq? When would the US troops pull out of Saudi Arabia?

While I am writing this column, reports are coming in about a large anti-American, anti-Musharraf demonstration in Karachi. Similar rallies have been held a few days back in Peshawar and Quetta by the religious extremists.

Musharraf will be able to control these elements as they do not at the moment command much following. But, his people have yet to recover from the trauma of the U-turn in Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan.

Pakistan, which has nurtured the Taliban, is expected now to garrote them while the US is using the most modern weapons to turn their land into a graveyard. It was already a graveyard due to the decade-long anti-Soviet war followed by another decade of internecine tribal wars. The bombs are merely scrambling the graves and disturbing the dead.

Musharraf has reshuffled the top echelon of the army to streamline it for the pursuance of the new policy. He has succeeded in persuading politicians, academics, intellectuals and mediamen etc in favor of his pro-US policy.

Would the US once again say thank you, shake hands and walk away from the rubble once the war is over and the immediate target achieved? Or, would they realize the wisdom, in their own long-term interest, of coming out with a plan for the rehabilitation of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to preclude the possibility of the inevitable frustration spawning fresh Osamas?