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A BOTCHED ‘WAR ON TERROR’

The 21st century did not start well. We found ourselves burdened with the same old problems but in their acutest form.

The world has never been so chaotic and violent.  Wars of aggression and attrition, invasions in the name of self-defence, military occupations, massacres and genocides, human tragedies and humanitarian catastrophes, and a culture of extremism and violence came to define the new world ‘disorder’.

Terrorism, as an evil, has afflicted humanity for centuries but it assumed global dimension as a scourge of the new millennium only after the 9/11 tragedy. Today, it transcends all boundaries deeply impacting the political, economic and security environment of all regions, countries and societies. It is a faceless enemy with no faith or creed which lurks in the shadows of fear and frustration, breeds on despair and disillusionment, and is fed by poverty and ignorance. It is a violent manifestation of growing anger, despair, hatred and frustration over continuing injustice, oppression and denial of fundamental freedoms and rights.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of 9/11, the detractors of Islam found an opportunity to contrive stereotypes to malign Islam and to mobilize a climate of antipathy against its adherents by focusing obsessively on the religion of the individuals and organizations allegedly involved in terrorist activities. What was being conveniently ignored was the fact that most of the perpetrators of violence were dissident runaways from their own countries long under Western-supported archaic despotic regimes and had a political agenda of their own in their misguided pursuits.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of 9/11, the detractors of Islam found an opportunity to contrive stereotypes to malign Islam.
The problem is that the world does not even know how to define terrorism. Other than varied descriptions of violence in all its manifestations, there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism which is today generally viewed as “politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents”. A short legal definition used in the UN for an act of terrorism is the “peacetime equivalent of a war crime”. UN negotiations on long-outstanding draft international convention on terrorism remain inconclusive because of irreconcilable differences on the basic issues.

With the essence of the challenge including the legal scope of the proposed convention yet to be determined, the world is already engaged in what is labeled as a “global war on terror.” This US-led war is being fought on Muslim soils with the stated purpose of eliminating the “roots” of violence and religious extremism. But in effect, it is not the root but the symptom which is being targeted. Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan today epitomize the worst case scenario of this botched and ill-motivated ‘war on terror.’

Pakistan, in particular, has become the “ground zero” of the “war on terror” with a full-fledged military conflict going on within its tribal areas suspected of being a “terrorist sanctuary.” There has been a huge collateral damage in this ongoing operation. The biggest casualty, however, is Pakistan’s own credibility. It has staked every thing in this proxy war and has killed thousands of its own people, yet it is being blamed for “not doing enough.”
This US-led war is being fought on Muslim soils with the stated purpose of eliminating the “roots” of violence and religious extremism. But in effect, it is not the root but the symptom which is being targeted.
We never had extremism in our country. General Musharraf allowed this monster to grow only to remain relevant to the war on terror and thus prolong his military rule. We also didn’t have this scale or intensity of violence before he took over. The only violence we knew was sectarian in nature. Our involvement in this campaign today complicates our tasks, both at home and at regional and global levels. Our territorial integrity is being violated with impunity. We are accepting the responsibility for crimes we have not committed. India is particularly using the prevalent global sentiment to implicate Pakistan in every act of terrorism on its soil.

There seems to be no end to this “tragedy of errors” and incessant blame-game. The world also looks at us with anxiety and suspicion as we claim unrivalled distinction of having captured the largest number of Al-Qaeda operatives and handing them over to the US. What is most worrisome at this juncture is that Pakistan is going through one of the most serious crises of its history. With a corrupt and externally vulnerable regime in power, the country is being kept engaged on multiple external as well as domestic fronts. The Salalah episode and its aftermath have amply tested this government which never had a clearer strategic vision of its own and remains totally non-consequential on issues of vital national importance.

What our rulers need to understand is that use of military power within a state and against its own people has never been an acceptable norm. It is considered a recipe for intra-state implosions, a familiar scene in Africa. Excessive use of military force and indiscriminate killings instead of addressing the root causes is not only bringing the government and the armed forces on the wrong side of the people but also weakening the very cause of the war on terror.

After more than a decade-long war on terror, one thing is clear.  Terrorism will not disappear through campaigns motivated by retaliation and retribution alone. Nabbing or killing of few hundred individuals or changing the leadership in one or two countries will not bring an end to terrorism which in its deeper sense is an ugly manifestation of a mindset, a mindset rooted in a sense of despair and despondency. It is a perverse mindset that needs to be treated like a disease. If war is to be waged, it should be waged against poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. It should be waged against oppression and injustice.

We are accepting the responsibility for crimes we have not committed. India is particularly using the prevalent global sentiment to implicate Pakistan in every act of terrorism on its soil.
There can be no two opinions on the need to combat terrorism. But to eliminate this evil, we must address its root causes. To address the root causes is not to justify terrorism, but to understand it and then to overcome it. To win the war against terrorism, we must win the hearts and minds of those who are susceptible to sympathize and support the tactics of terrorism. Having been victims ourselves, we have never condoned acts of terrorism and have been cooperating with international community in combating this universal evil.

What the world now knows is that terrorism is the product of a broader mix of problems caused by bad governments, opportunistic politicians and militant leaders who exploit grievances. When there are no legitimate means of addressing the massive and systemic political, economic and social inequalities, an environment is created in which peaceful solutions often lose out against extreme and violent alternatives, including terrorism.

Only a steady, measured and comprehensive approach encompassing both short-term and long-term political, developmental, humanitarian and human rights strategies that focus on the underlying disease rather than the symptoms would bring an enduring solution to this problem. To address the underlying causes of this menace, the world community needs to build global harmony, promote peace and stability, pursue poverty eradication and sustainable development and ensure socio-economic justice, genuine democracy and respect for fundamental rights of people, particularly the inalienable right of self-determination.

In Pakistan too, it is time to review our militant strategies and to wind down the costly military operations and domestic hostilities. Force solves no problems. Grievances, be they in Baluchistan or in Waziristan, must be addressed through political and economic means.

If Afghanistan is at the heart of the war on terror, no strategy or roadmap for peace in Afghanistan would be complete without focusing on the underlying causes of conflict and instability in this whole region. In the first instance, Afghans alone are the arbiters of any intra-Afghan reconciliation process. No foreign-led reconciliation will endure.

For a global response to this challenge, the UN alone has the credentials and wherewithal to broker US withdrawal as it did for the Soviet withdrawal in the eighties of the last century while also addressing this time the legitimate questions of Afghanistan’s neutrality and regional and global security concerns. Only the UN can ensure a precisely negotiated guarantee of Afghanistan’s ‘nonalignment’ including positive and negative security assurances backed by the UN Security Council.

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