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09-16-2007, 09:22 PM
Consequences of the ‘war on terror’


By Khurshid Ahmed

America’s “war on terror” unleashed allegedly in response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington has turned into the longest war of contemporary history. After six years of global witch-hunt and military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, resulting in the two countries’ virtual destruction, the world is nowhere near the end to this unique war. The alleged culprits — Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda — remain at large and the fact of the matter is that the world has become an insecure place. Whatever was achieved over the centuries towards the establishment of the rule of law within and among nations and whatever understanding about norms, principles, protocols and structures for establishing peace and justice among nations and resolution of conflicts through peaceful and constitutional means is in jeopardy. The real question that confronts mankind today is: What has turned out to a greater threat — the terrorist attacks of 9/11 or the U.S. and its coalition’s response to it?

There is almost universal aversion to the US policies in relation to this crusade against so-called terrorism. Those killed in Iraq are now more than seven hundred thousand. Add to these figures the hundreds of thousands of persons injured or incapacitated for life and over five million people forced to migrate from their homes or homelands, and the picture becomes more horrific. In financial terms, the direct cost of this six-year-war to the US taxpayer is estimated to be around $1 trillion, the indirect costs between another $1-to-2 trillion and yet another one trillion dollars for the rest of the world. This US gamble has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

It is time to seriously reflect upon all that has plagued the world during these six blood-letting years. There are a number of searching questions and fundamental issues that must be looked into with objectivity and integrity. Some of these questions and issues are highlighted as food for thought and critical examination on this sixth anniversary of the events that shook the world.

Terrorists began to be treated as “combatants,” and as such legitimate targets for attack and annihilation. This was the first major violation of international law, creating a space for committing crimes against humanity in the name of war against terrorism. For this the US was criticised roundly, even by some of its own generals, who said that terrorists were not combatants but “merely criminals.” Secondly, terrorism remains a vague, undefined and elusive term. There cannot be a war without a well-defined enemy as target. You cannot have war against shadows. Absence of a clear definition has robbed the whole exercise of any legitimacy or usefulness.

The war on terror has become an instrument for terrorising the world, invading sovereign countries, abducting, imprisoning and torturing “suspects” and unleashing a reign of terror in different parts of the world. It is therefore imperative to look into its conceptual, political and humanitarian costs. Has the war to eliminate terrorists succeeded in weeding them out or has it actually resulted in the production of larger and larger numbers of “terrorists”? How is the US looked upon even in the “beneficiary countries” it has attacked to destroy alleged terrorists and to give its citizens gifts of “regime change” and “nation-building”? Has America won the confidence, love and respect of the people of the world? It must be admitted that many of the countries that were peaceful before the war against terrorism have now been turned into fertile grounds for breeding of new terrorists.

Besides, the massive occurrence of human rights violations, without the world at large showing any concern – particularly the right to privacy; the right to freedom from detention, save through due process of law; the right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty; and the right to defence through lawyers of the defendant’s own choice – is mind boggling. Thousands of people have been arrested and detained without trial after 9/11. The percentage of those who have been formally charged is hardly around two percent of those detained. Those finally convicted in a court of law can be counted on the figures. This wanton and large-scale violation of human rights has eroded the entire fabric of the rule of law, and damaged the fortress of constitutionalism in a number of countries, including the United States. What is happening in the name of “patriotism” and “national security” to the civil liberties of common men and women, and of certain targeted religious and ethnic groups, particularly the Muslims in America and elsewhere, is a crime against humanity and a recipe for alienation and violent reactions. New threats have been posed to the values of dignity of man, equality of all human beings and their right to be treated according to the law within the framework of civilized behaviour. Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Bagram are not the only festering sores. Is it not a fact that “rendition” and “coercive interrogation” are now rampant in many parts of the so-called civilised world? The nightmares portrayed in Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984 and Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago are now haunting ordinary people in many part of the so-called ‘free world’.

Whatever has been achieved over the centuries in terms of international law and consensus as to the norms of civilised conduct in war and peace is dangerously at stake. Basic precepts of law and of international law are being rewritten, at least in practice, in a unilateral and arbitrary manner. The powerful are trying to bully and bulldoze others only because the others are weak and powerless. This is what is producing an unending army of terrorists, because terrorism is the weapon of the weak against the strong who are not prepared to respect any rules of law and norms of just behaviour.

Another fundamental question that must be faced squarely relates to the serious limitations of any military strategy in fighting terrorism. Is it possible to bring terrorism to an end by resort to military force alone? Can this stateless and faceless enemy be chained down in that manner? Is it not time to reflect on alternative strategies addressing the causes and factors that breed terrorism? How long are we going to fight the branches while ignoring the roots of the problem? The resistance to occupation, oppression and injustice, is not the problem – the real problem is occupation, oppression and injustice, which cannot but generate resistance. If we target the resistance instead of the causes of injustice and discontent, how can we succeed? Focusing on resistance and ignoring the gruesome realities that give rise to struggles for freedom and search for justice are bound to be exercises in futility. In fact, it could be the very recipe for promoting further terrorism and hatred.

It is time to change the focus and address the real issues in a forthright manner. The crying need is for a paradigm change, and not for marginal changes within the paradigm. Logic, and not rhetoric, should guide our policies. Only then might the world become a more peaceful place for all of us.

Finally, the people of Pakistan must squarely face yet another fundamental question: Why have we been drawn into this wretched US war of aggression and aggrandisement? The US has its own global hegemonistic designs. Why has Pakistan become an accomplice in this war, which is considered by Muslims as a war against Islam and Muslims? Whatever the compulsions in 2001, in 2007 we must rethink our entire policy of unconditional cooperation and participation in this war on terror. We have earned the enmity of our Afghan brothers and have turned our own tribal areas into theatres of war. The recent surrender of some three hundred personnel of the armed forces is an index of the failure of this policy and a message from the armed forces that in the heart of their hearts they do not want to kill their own kith and kin simply to please America. Are we prepared to rise to the occasion to seek liberation from the US-imposed shackles that chain us?

The writer is a Jamaat-e-Islami senator and chairman of the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies.

09-16-2007, 09:59 PM
With all of these people that make such good sense around, how did we get stuck with the bunch of lemons we have?