War On Terrorism Leaves South Asia in Turmoil

The following is from Inter Press Service looking at the global war on terrorism’s impact on South Asia. You can see the original article at http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=34622.

ASIA-9/11; Global War On Terrorism Leaves Region in Turmoil

By Praful Bidwai

Inter Press Service

September 7, 2006

NEW DELHI, Sep 7 (IPS)—Five years after U.S. President George W. Bush launched his “global war on terrorism”, the world has become more unsafe, more divided, more strife-prone, more paranoid, and ironically, more vulnerable to terrorism.

The Middle East, the globe’s most volatile region, now seethes with enormous anger, and more violence and conflict than it did before the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. And South Asia, the political birthplace of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and home to two nuclear rivals engaged in a half-century-long hot-cold war, remains a cauldron of discontent.

Globally, Bush’s war has failed to tame, let alone destroy, al-Qaeda. Not only do its two top leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, remain at large but “al-Qaedaism” as an ideology has spread and acquired strength in country after country.

The “global war on terrorism”, waged by a primarily U.S.-British coalition, has deeply hurt and antagonised millions of Muslims the world over. It has created rifts within the Western bloc and alienated the United States’ own allies.

Worst of all, the global war on terrorism’s greatest manifestation, in Iraq, is regarded by a majority of the U.S. population as a mistake. A recent poll finds that a third of the U.S. respondents think the terrorists are winning the war on terrorism. In an earlier survey, 70 percent backed it.

“The greatest political setback for the U.S. is that the global war on terrorism is now widely seen as a figleaf for America’s imperial project,” says Achin Vanaik, political scientist and author of several papers on terrorism. “American neo-conservatives thought they could use the global war on terrorism to establish total and lasting U.S. global hegemony, a sort of modern-day Roman Empire which would allow no rival to emerge for decades. Today, they are looking for an exit strategy.”

Five years ago, Bush enunciated a new doctrine, arrogating to himself the right to act unilaterally against whatever he defines as “terrorism”. He advocated pre-emptive attacks. And he unfurled several banners to rationalise military force: regime change (or forced removal of “oppressive” rulers), humanitarian intervention, promotion of democracy, etc.

He also famously stipulated the “you are either with us or against us” proposition, erasing the distinction between perpetrators of terrorism and the country where they might be based.

Today, the Bush doctrine is in tatters. It’s widely identified as the single most important cause of insecurity and instability in the world. The three states that Bush named as forming the “Axis of Evil” (Iran, Iraq and North Korea) have either emerged more powerful or become greater threats.

Iraq is a bloody mess, fast resembling Vietnam in the late 1960s. The deaths of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, a number estimated by the medical journal “The Lancet”, have produced deep resentments against the occupation, as have the excesses and human rights violations in Fallujah and Abu Ghraib. Iraq may even be “disintegrating” as U.S. military cables say. It has certainly become unmanageable.

Five years on, Iran and North Korea have further advanced their nuclear pursuits. And yet, the U.S. cannot coerce or compel them to fall in line with its demands.

“The U.S. arrogated to itself over-ambitious goals”, says Vanaik. “It didn’t describe the 9/11 attacks as a grave crime against humanity, which must be punished. It described them as the first salvo in a ‘war’, which must be countered by the global war on terrorism. The use of these words was deliberate, not accidental. In a war, you can act militarily at any time. You need not wait for an attack on yourself. And the battleground would now be the whole globe.”

To wage the global war on terrorism, the U.S. had to bypass and sabotage the United Nations and violate international law. It did that in 2003 when it discovered it couldn’t win a second vote in the UN Security Council, for invading. This set a terrible example, encouraging lawlessness on the part of key U.S. allies, especially Israel.

Israel intensified its oppression of the Palestinian people by imposing more closures and blockades and immobilising the Palestinian Authority leadership. It emulated U.S. unilateralism by declaring it must act alone because there is “no dialogue partner”.. It killed the peace process.

Israel stepped up the construction of its illegal “apartheid wall”, and withdrew from Gaza but only to expand its settlements in the West Bank. In July, Israel invaded Lebanon.

Israel’s actions, and U.S. support for them, have generated unprecedented anger and hostility in the Middle East and among the world’s Muslims. Like the detention centres at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, punctuated by Bush’s ill-conceived references to “crusades” and “infinite justice”, this ensured a huge propaganda victory for al-Qaeda.

Five years ago, bin Laden’s claim that the West was engaged in a crusade against Islam convinced very few Muslims. Today, it finds many supporters.

This claim isn’t far-fetched. The global war on terrorism targets “Islamic terrorism” almost exclusively. Till recently, of the 36 organisations on the U.S. State Department’s banned list, 24 were Muslim. The rest were Basque and Irish separatists and leftist groups. There were no Christian, Buddhist or Hindu groups. The State Department also lists 26 countries whose nationals represent an “elevated security risk” to the U.S. Barring North Korea, all are Muslim-majority countries.

This fits into growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. In a recent poll of 1,007 U.S. citizens, 39 percent said they felt at least some prejudice against Muslims. The same percentage favoured requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry a special identification “as a means of preventing terrorist attacks.” About one-third said U.S. Muslims were sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and 22 percent said they wouldn’t want Muslims as neighbours.

More and more Europeans see themselves as particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of their governments’ pro-U.S. foreign policy, especially on Iraq and the global war on terrorism. In Britain, their proportion is 73 percent, according to a poll this week.

The global war on terrorism’s effects on the Middle East stand further magnified after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. This sharply polarised Arab opinion, turning a majority radically against the U.S. and Israel.

Washington’s bullying tactics towards Iran have further antagonised Muslims, especially because the U.S. presumes Iran’s guilt is in respect of its nuclear programme, although it hasn’t the slightest intention of giving up its own nuclear arms.

Israel’s failure to substantially weaken Hezbollah in Lebanon complicates U.S. plans to weaken pro-Iranian forces in the Middle East. Should it start a military misadventure in Iran, Washington will pay an onerous price.

In South Asia, the early phase of the global war on terrorism dramatically changed strategic-political equations. Pakistan, which had groomed the Taliban, turned against it. The war in Afghanistan also strengthened radical Islamist forces in Pakistan’s border provinces. The unrest and secessionist violence in the Baluchistan region is one long-term effect of this.

The Musharraf government has committed some 70,000 troops to the anti-Taliban fight in the border region of Waziristan, and provided military facilities to the U.S. But doubts have been raised about its commitment to the fight. Pakistan is loath to lose its influence in Afghanistan, especially among Pushtuns.

The accord signed last Tuesday between Pakistan and Waziristan’s tribal leaders will allow pro-Taliban militants to operate more or less freely in the area.

In India, home to the world’s second largest Muslim population, terrorist incidents have increased in number and intensity. Official counter-terrorism operations have also become more indiscriminate. These are based on the U.S. model of understanding “Islamic terrorism” and fighting it by solely military means. This has produced rights violations and widespread discontent among Muslim youth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh implicitly admitted on Tuesday that excesses had been committed. He said it is “unfortunate” that terrorism has resulted in the selective targeting of certain sections of the population. He advocated “a pro-active policy to ensure that a few individual acts do not result in tarnishing the image of an entire community, and remove any feelings of persecutions and alienation from the minds of the minorities.”

He also said: “No innocent person should be harassed in our struggle against terrorism. If a mistake is made, effective remedial corrective measures must be taken well in time.”

It is not clear if Singh’s exhortations will be translated into action. But it’s plain that the U.S. war on terrorism, so long as it continues, will impede a transition to a sensible, rational, effective and humane counter-terrorism strategy.

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