To protect itself from both internal dissent and a foreign war, the then French Government imposed “Terror” as the order of the day on Sep 5, 1793. Targeting opponents within its own midst, almost 17000 being executed in less than a year till July 27, 1794, courts across the country were given a rather stark choice, “Execution or Acquittal!”. Encyclopedia Britannica describes “terrorism” as the “systematic use of terror as a means of forcing some political objective. A government may use it to signal efforts for stifling dissent, insurrectionists or guerillas may use terror as part of an overall effort to effect desired political change”. Commercial passenger aircraft were employed as flying bombs to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC), the terrorists denying benefit of a trial to the many innocent passengers on the flights or the many thousands of almost 80 nationalities making their living in the prime commercial square mile of the world. A sentence of death was carried out by a “kangaroo court” knowing well that those they were executing so brutally had nothing whatsoever to do with the crimes that the terrorists were fighting against. Supposedly for the glory of Islam, the terrorists struck Islam perhaps its most grievous blow in the many centuries of its existence. With such “good” muslims in our midst, does Islam need enemies?
Nine days after the Sep 11 atrocities, the US formally declared war against terrorism. The rhetoric about retaliation or the overdrive in the planning of “Operation Infinite Justice” notwithstanding, the passage of time has brought their judgmental process to a better balance. Due sensitivity was shown to Islamic concerns, the US renaming the campaign as “Operation Enduring Freedom”. The US Commander-in-Chief, President Bush Jr, spelt out a difficult and long drawn out struggle against an elusive enemy, Islam being only a cloak for psychopaths having no compunction to murdering thousands simply to drive home their point. Referring to the history of recent terrorist acts, US Public Enemy No 1, Osama Bin Laden, was targetted as the first objective for bringing to justice, preferably alive, no tears being shed if he should die in the process. Notice was given to those aiding and abetting terrorism in any form ie., protecting terrorists, for being as culpable as the perpetrators of the terrorist act itself. Sanctuary to Bin Laden made Talibaan an accessory to murder, their innocence proven only by giving him up, not a subject for negotiation for the US. On Sep 28, 2001 the UN Security Council passed a comprehensive resolution calling on all member countries to take concrete steps against terrorism including seizure of bank accounts, assets, etc of known terrorists and organizations thereof.
The quick decision to go with the US in the war against terrorism was the tough part for Pakistan, tougher times may still lie ahead. Delay would have been fatal, even a positive answer later not having the positive impact the immediate decision did. Musharraf’s playing for time would have been seen through, having the same adverse consequences as a negative answer. One does not engage in debate with a wounded lion, one falls in line to give unqualified support and hopes that with the passage of time reason will return to its thinking process.
Retaliation will come as surely as night turns into day, can you blame the US for being gung-ho? Human and material damage notwithstanding, financial and psychological destruction has yet to be evaluated, alleviation will take some doing. Meantime the US has gone into a permanent state of internal siege. Not going after the perpetrators would be an open invitation to every other terrorist in the world to have a go at causing some grief to the US. Retribution has to be delivered with maximum impact for the world at large to see, the message being for terrorists and/or those who aid, abet or harbour those terrorists. Built up steadily, the military machine will be in action shortly, from bases in countries adjacent to Afghanistan in Central Asia, from Pakistan and from off-shore in the Indian Ocean as far away as Diego Garcia. Contrary to general perception, the US is not rushing blindly into Afghanistan, guns blazing and bombing everything in sight into oblivion. Acquiring targets being worth their while notwithstanding, history is witness to what happens to invaders in Afghanistan. There is no future in conflict with an elusive enemy refusing to engage in conventional pitched battles, as the Soviets found out at the cost of their empire. With method in what at first seemed to be sheer madness, cold deliberate planning is ensuring that American soldiers will not rush in where angels fear to tread.
War can be waged in a combination of economic and political means. Military means would aim to destroy the opponent’s military potential to wage war, economic blockade will cripple his economic means to survive as a viable entity while political initiatives are meant to undermine the moral support available to one’s enemies. In the classic sense, war is fought between nations, by its very concept modern terrorism generally has no geographical boundaries. The only worthwhile target would be a sovereign nation not only sponsoring, aiding and abetting terrorism but giving protection to its perpetrators. Other than Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria qualify alongwith North Korea, Yemen, etc. for “terrorist nation” status.
Osama Bin Laden’s refusal to face justice to prove his innocence has condemned Afghanistan to being probably the worst country target imaginable. Among the poorest nations on earth, the Talibaan regime does not conform to any modern definition of government. Their standing army is not only bereft of uniforms, the organization and method of the army is of fluid nature, adapted to each location, different for each city and different for different terrains. Command and control among the Talibaan relies more on ideology and personality rather than training, and military education, there is very little of communications. On the other hand merit and experience count for very much, their combat knowledge is of great plus point as is their flexibility in having no vital ground to defend, no real front lines. No building worth naming is left standing in the country, industry is almost non-existent, the country is breathing economically only because of humanitarian aid as well as the bazaar-type commerce that the Afghans have been famous for over centuries.
The Northern Alliance and the Mujhihideen factions that lost out to the Talibaan hate the Talibaan for different reasons, yet domestically there is still massive popular support that should not be under-estimated and that no amount of propaganda seems to dissipate. King Zahir Shah aspires to be installed in Kabul, a city (and a people) far different from which he left, how many days will he last after his arrival? Identifying themselves with the poor masses and visibly shunning the trappings of luxury inherent in government, the Talibaan leaders live in simple, spartan surroundings. The masses seem to accept and tolerate this honesty and simplicity, helping in overcoming the more draconian measures of the Talibaan rule. The majority Pashtun (about 78% of the population) support the Talibaan against the Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks (the balance 22%) who make up the Northern Alliance. Their most potent weapon, Ahmed Shah Masoud, was assassinated just before the Sep 11 New York atrocity. Mercenary warlord Rashid Dostum, who has switched sides often, remains their only known military leader, his nuisance value confined mainly to the Uzbeks around Mazar-i-Sharif. Dostum’s one-time deputy Gen Malek invited the Talibaan to Mazar-i-Sharif as allies, trapping and then executing in cold blood thousands of relatively inexperienced Talibaan who surrendered. Regaining Mazar-i-Sharif the Talibaan retaliated with an even worse massacre. The Pashtuns and Dostum can never stay together long in any coalition.
The threat of war has sent refugees in hundreds of thousands streaming to dozens of crossing points on the long Pak-Afghan border. Without water, food or shelter and with winter approaching very rapidly, a human catastrophe of immense proportion is already happening, on the borders and within Afghanistan internally. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the US-led coalition. With the Talibaan resisting handing over Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan will have to be separated from the Talibaan. The challenge is to feed, clothe and shelter these new refugees, the opportunity is to separate the hearts and minds of the Afghan people from the Talibaan. The diplomatic means being engaged for several years, war has to be both on military and economic fronts, a combination thereof of a “martial” as well as a “Marshall” Plan. Bombing the Afghan indiscriminately without an economic package to assuage their miseries will create more terrorism. On the contrary, smothering the Afghans with humanitarian aid via a Marshall Plan-style will weaken the resolve of even the most die-hard terrorist to wage terror.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).