Operation Infinite Justice and Afghanistan


While the various elements of Washington’s response, code named Operation Infinite Justice, to the terrorist attacks of September 11 are still to crystallise, work on one objective has already begun; the objective of removing the Taliban regime from Afghanistan. The current Taliban have left no doubt in anyone’s mind that they will not surrender Osama Bin Laden and his thirteen other collaborators to the US. The deadlock over the Osama issue remains despite the unprecedented step taken by the Taliban leader Mulla Umar, after advise from the Pakistani delegation that visited him on September 17. He asked a 1000-men strong ulema shura to advise him on Osama’s future. Recognising the possibility of a US-led military attack on Afghanistan the shura recommended that Osama be asked to voluntarily leave Afghanistan. Endorsing the decision Mulla Umar announced that the decision will be conveyed to Osama. The status quo remains ruling out virtually all possibilities of a compromise on the Osama issue.

The Taliban leadership like many other in the Muslim and non-Muslim world including American specialists in international law like Francis Boyle and Richard Falk have asked that Washington must produce evidence against Osama in an independent court to ensure that he gets a fair hearing. The International Court of Justice in Hague has been identified by many as a possibility for Osama’s trial. Specialists in international law question the legal validity of Washington’s demand that Osama be surrendered to the US government or of Washington’s demand articulated by US President George Bush to acquire “Osama dead or alive.” The point of fighting the scourge of international terrorism by violating international law which is against capture of a foreign citizen residing on foreign land by a state without in possession of legal arrest warrants has also been raised. All these arguments notwithstanding the logical move by any individual or state interested in genuinely exposing Osama, if indeed he is behind these terrorist acts, would be to insist on a fair and open trial of Osama. If he is indeed responsible for the death of thousands of innocent individuals, many Muslims who otherwise lionise him, would be forced to question whether his acts of killing innocents is not directly in conflict with Qur’aanic injunctions which declare that the murder of one innocent person is tantamount to murdering the entire human race.

In the crisis that emerged around the Osama issue indeed existed the opportunity for initiating a much broader debate on the issue of violence and of double standards for people engaged in struggles and for the state apparatus and government often attempting to tackle the growing cancer of terrorism – of use of force against innocent people. A fair trial in an international setting would indeed raise some of the most difficult issues that the human race currently faces; of how to roll-back the ease with which your freedom fighters or my terrorists take to violence, blind hate and mass destruction.

These are indeed the issues that left unexamined and debated logically and honestly will be responsible for much of the human pain and destruction in months and years to come. But for those areas of the world where rule of the jungle prevails, where state-power overlooks all moral issues, where law enforcement is still largely dependant on coercive measures, especially with the context of inter-state relations, to view Osama’s trial as an opportunity to wisely fight terrorism would be a far-fetched act. That being so, it still does not take away from the basic force of the argument that a fair trial for Osama would be the logical step to take. One weighty argument against Osama’s fair and publicised trial could be that it would provide Osama the world stage enabling him to project his own world view; a view that could lead to further dissensions and divides within societies and with civilisations. Preventing a fair trial will unleash it own dynamics. The capture or death of an untried Osama against the backdrop of blatantly double-standard policies adopted by organisations like the UNSC whose charter claims that all states are equal will ensure the multiplication of the Osama factor.

That the principle guardians may one day see wisdom in tackling the roots of the problem of growing induction of violence as a legitimate tool against oppression, shall remain an unfulfilled dream, about that there is no doubt. Hence the first major step being taken under Operation Infinite Justice will be the deployment of US military force in collaboration with the Afghan opposition the Northern Alliance, to add a national colour to what will essentially be an international military onslaught against the Taliban government. The Taliban government which did not cooperate with the international community including its supporter Pakistan on the issue of terrorism and has been unable to evolve into an effective governing body still managed to remain in power for five years controlling over 90% territory despite repeated and collaborative efforts made by Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and India to military defeat them by supporting the multi-group opposition called the Northern Alliance. Equally unsuccessfully since 1998 Washington applied, often through the UN, political pressure through sanctions in the face of deteriorating humanitarian conditions and through funding Rome initiative aimed at preparing an alternative Pakhtun leadership after the Taliban are militarily defeated. None of this worked. The Taliban survived.

The Northern Alliance was provided sufficient military hardware but was always short on manpower. Fighting against the Taliban even for the otherwise economically deprived Afghans living in the non-Taliban controlled areas never became a popular form of employment. This summer as the patron states of the Northern Alliance met in Dushanbe, India and Iran offered to increase the stipends for the soldiers. Still the war industry never gained enough popularity to end the manpower shortage faced by the Northern Alliance. A few days before the dreadful September 11 terrorist attacks the military commander of the Northern Alliance Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by suicide bombers posing as journalists.

As the London-based Guardian wrote in a special report over US plan to overthrow Taliban regime, “The US government is pressing its European allies to agree to a military campaign to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and replace it with an interim administration under United Nations auspices. Diplomatic cables from the Washington embassy of a key Nato ally, seen by the Guardian, report that the US is keen to hear allied views on post-Taliban Afghanistan after the liberation of the country”.

According to the Guardian “two large US Hercules transport aircraft landed in Tashkent, capital of the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, on Tuesday loaded with surveillance equipment to be installed along the northern Afghan border.” The Guardian noted that “The secret landing represented a radical departure since it appeared to herald the deployment of squadrons of US fighters at Uzbekistan’s sprawling airfield at Termez, directly on the border. Such a build-up would incur the wrath of Russia which views the Central Asian Republics as its backyard.”

Also the Pentagon continues “its move to a war footing, with orders for up to 130 heavy bombers, fighters, aerial refuelling planes and other combat aircraft to be deployed around the Middle East and Central Asia region. Two B-52 bombers yesterday left Barksdale airbase in Louisiana, joining F-15E fighter-bombers, F-16 fighters, B-1 long range bombers and E-3 Awacs airborne command-and-control aircraft that left on Wednesday. The navy has also sent an additional aircraft carrier toward the Middle East region, which along with the air deployment could place up to 500 US warplanes in the Mediterranean, Gulf and Indian Ocean areas.” According to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair Military strikes inside Afghanistan, targeted on Bin Laden’s training camps, could come in a matter of days. “These people, if they could, would get access to chemical, biological and nuclear capability. We have no option but to act,” he said.

The first phase of Operation Infinite Justice is underway. Looking at Afghan history, the ground realities, the difficulty in capturing human targets, the in-fighting among the National Alliance, the political fragility of the former King Zahir Shah, the nationalist and Islamist factor invoked by the Taliban who chose to fight back, the undetermined nature of the aerial campaigns in an Afghanistan which does not present military targets as existed in Iraq, the absence of reliable human intelligence, the extent and nature of collateral damage done through air raids are some of the elements that will influence the outcome of the war that US, Russia, Iran and other neighbours have launched on Afghan territory. Past the war and removal of the Taliban regime from Kabul and Kandahar will be the challenge of “putting” an acceptable government in Kabul. Removal of the Taliban using this military might may be possible but there will be no sustainable political solutions following a “military victory” of the international coalition against the Taliban.

Soon Washington may realise that what appears to be easily doable and without much criticism after the September 11 terrorist attack in the US, may prove to be far more complex and costly. The reality also is that while Pakistan has promised support in the international fight against the Taliban, unlike the other states including Iran who have assured Taliban that their territory will not be used for an attack against the Taliban, Iranians like the Russians and the Uzbeks and Indians are all in the front-line of the first battle that is underway as part of the US Operation Infinite Justice. Pakistanis have still to be asked for specific support to further this battle against the Taliban. While the news of their role is very prominent, the pledges offered by them have still to turn into reality. Pakistanis understand the risks of a deep involvement in any anti-Afghanistan operation alongside the Americans.