Stamping on a hornet’s nest

Others have pleaded for wisdom and caution. “Violence will only increase the level of violence,” warned the Dalai Lama, the world’s Buddhist spiritual leader, last week. There are not many points on which the Dalai Lama and Beijing see eye to eye, but this seems to be one of them: the US, both argue, may be able to think of the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington in terms other than those of revenge and reprisal. Official statements from nations that council prudence throng with the same buzzwords, chief among them “concrete and irrefutable evidence” against potential targets, as the Chinese put it. US sabre- rattling will have no effect on the long-term elimination of terrorism, they warn. They are genuinely alarmed at the American agenda.

Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri embarked on a week-long tour of the US, the first Muslim leader to do so after last Tuesday’s attacks. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, has witnessed serious religious clashes pitting Muslims against Christians in recent days. Acehenese separatists and Jaffar Umar Thalib, the leader of the Muluccas-based militant Islamist group Laskar Jihad, received their training in Afghanistan.

Neither Pakistan nor the handful of pro-Western Muslim states can be transformed into seraphs guarding the American superpower’s throne. We need not consult an expert: in virtually all pro-Western countries, the masses deeply resent Washington.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his ruling military clique have pledged to back Washington’s retaliatory measures, but a chorus of ferocious opposition serenades them at present. Anti- American demonstrations have been organised throughout Pakistan. “Today we have been able to control our students, but in case of an attack on Afghanistan, they could get out of control,” a leader of Pakistan’s Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party was reported as saying.

India, with the world’s second largest Muslim community — exceeding the total population of Muslim Pakistan in numbers — has its own militant Islamists, who warn Washington must temper its breast-beating. “If America attacks Afghanistan without showing the world solid proof of Osama Bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks on it or the Afghan government’s involvement, it would also be terrorism,” warned the chief cleric of Delhi’s Jama Mosque, Syed Ahmed Bukhari.

Not all of India’s Muslims agree. “I come from a sub-continent that was divided on the basis of religion some half a century ago. Still some sectarian groups are recruiting young boys at their most impressionable age and training them in religious terrorism from across the border. These terrorist groups are inculcating racial and sectarian hatred among children,” Najma Heptulla, president of the International Parliamentary Union and deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, or upper house of the Indian Parliament, said at the inaugural session of the 106th conference of the IPU in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, last week.

Russia, with its own disastrous record of military intervention in Afghanistan, has ruled out military participation in any armed retaliation. Moreover, Russia strongly objects to the US or NATO launching strikes against Afghanistan from former Soviet Central Asian republics. Three of these, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, share common borders with Afghanistan; ethnic Tajiks, Turkmens and Uzbeks are found across the border and collectively constitute a large minority of the (predominantly Pashtun) Afghan population. The Central Asian republics in turn fear a highly visibly US military presence on their territories, but are keen to solicit Western economic and financial support for their fight against their own militant Islamist groups, which have strong links with Afghanistan.

Russia and China, whose equally militant Islamist groups also have connections with Afghanistan, share a “common interest” in long-term cooperation aimed at weeding out terrorists. Beijing has long been battling against Muslim separatists in the westernmost Chinese province of Xinjiang, bordering Afghanistan and Central Asia. Moscow and Beijing are keen on “global collaboration,” but object to wanton retaliatory strikes that might backfire and enrage the Islamists in their backyards.

“It is for this reason that India took the initiative at the United Nations a couple of years ago to adopt a comprehensive convention against terrorism. As a member of NAM and the G-15, India endorses the Egyptian proposal for convening an international conference on terrorism. The world community must respond decisively and in unison to this collective challenge to peace and security,” Indian ambassador to Egypt Satnam Jit Singh told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“No region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighbourhood,” Singh explained. India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in a nationwide address, fleshed out the details: “At least 53,000 families in India know exactly the pain [the families of last week’s victims] are going through at the moment: for terrorists have mowed down and blown up that number here in India over the past two decades.”

Vajpayee warned: “This region has become the hub of terrorism. Much of the response to the destruction that the terrorists caused on 11 September could take place in our vicinity. Quite apart from the dangers with which we are confronted on our own, this response itself will impose heightened costs. We have to brace ourselves to bear them. And remember that this has come at a time when the world economy was already on the edge of a substantial slowdown.”

The sense of hopelessness that accompanies economic malaise is precisely the territory on which terrorists have concentrated their work. Economic well-being, poverty eradication and improved health and educational standards are the surest means of fighting terrorism. Unfortunately, Washington appears uninterested in the Third World’s predicament — an indifference that many of the world’s poor cannot help feeling is tinged with racist hues. Until that changes, it seems, terrorism will continue to pose a global threat.