November 2001

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Vol. I Number 5

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  A COALITION OF CONVENIENCE

 

By Rohit Kumar

 

September 11 attack on US was an attack like none in history… not even the Pearl Harbour attack. It was not a declaration of war by a sovereign State against another.

 

“Global terrorism struck in the homeland and at the headquarters of globalization. Hyper-terrorism laid bare the vulnerability of hyper-power. The targets were the symbols of economic vitality and the citadel of freedom, “ writes Dr Ramesh Thakur, vice rector (Peace and Governance) at United Nations University in Tokyo and a specialist on security issues.

 

“And no one, anywhere, had suffered terrorist carnage on such a devastating, mind-numbing scale. This must be one of the worst, if not the worst, days of casualty suffered by Americans on a single day, in peace or in war, “ adds Dr Thakur.

As terrorism is a global problem, and  the attack on the United States was a terrorist attack, the response had to be multilateral.

 

US President Bush declared, “This is a war that not only says to those who believe they can disrupt American lives--or, for that matter, any society that believes in freedom, lives--it's also a war that declares a new declaration, that says if you harbor a terrorist you're just as guilty as the terrorist; if you provide safe haven to a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist; if you fund a terrorist, you're just as guilty as a terrorist.”

 

British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave his strong support to President George W Bush over any US response to the attacks.

 

Other traditional allies, such as Canada and Australia, came onside in the US-led response to bomb Afghanistan, where the alleged suspect, Osama bin Laden, is hiding with support from the Taleban rulers.

The coalition expanded to include other Islamic countries in the region, and also countries with common borders with Afghanistan. Everybody is in it for some or the other reason: proximity, NATO partners, need for money,  protection, American intervention to sort out their problems with neighbours, or those fighting their own Islamic citizens.

 

After the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, just two days before the attacks on USA, the Northern Alliance which had been ignored all along, was welcomed to join the coalition.

 

“The West’s new Afghan friends in the war against terrorism and the Taleban are a curious lot,” writes Thomas  Walkom in the Toronto Star, from Toronto, Canada. “ They include Islamic fundamentalists, vitriolic anti-Americans, human-rights violators, one-time allies of Osama bin Laden and soldiers of the former communist regime… officially, they are known as the United Islamic  Front for the Salvation of  Afghanistan. Unofficially, they call themselves the Northern Alliance.”

 

It is ironic that it was the United States with Pakistan that gave ‘birth’ to the Taleban.

 

“The U.S. decision to engage the Soviet Union by mobilizing the Islamic clergy in Afghanistan and Pakistan ordained death and destruction for millions of Afghans… (The Talebans) are the byproducts of the human destruction wreaked by the U.S. – U.S.S.R. clash in Afghanistan,” that is how an article in the Dawn (Pakistan newspaper)  describes the birth and rise of Taleban in Afghanistan.

 

The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference condemned the attacks on US but also said they do not necessarily support any US retaliation that “could lead to casualities amongst innocent civilians in Afghanistan.”

 

Saudi Arabia, the US’s strongest ally in the region, refused to allow Americans to use its bases there to bomb Afghanistan. The royal family is deeply split in its support of  the US. Along with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar have refused to freeze assets of organisations that the US believes are linked to Osama bin Laden.

 

Iran, a key supporter of the Northern Alliance and fierce enemy of the Taleban, is strongly opposed to the US-led attacks against Afghanistan.

 

Pakistan, the main supporter of the Taleban and one of the three countries to have recognised the Taleban  government in Afghanistan, did not have a real choice. In return for US aid, grants and lifting of sanctions, it came on board.

 

The former Soviet central Asian countries, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, on Russia’s prodding, fighting its own Islamic war in Chechnya, joined the US-lead coalition. Behind the broad cover of the anti-terrorism campaign, the autocratic rulers have their own narrow interests to exploit the rhetoric to justify a crackdown on Islamic opposition factions, triggering a violent backlash.

 

The US needs the help, or at least the acquiescence, of regional countries to defeat Afghanistan's ruling Taleban regime and Osama bin Laden's organisation.

 

But, sooner or later, American eyes will turn to the state supporters of terrorism outside Afghanistan. Campaigning hard against state supporters of terrorism such as Iran and Syria might jeopardize that support. Even supposed Western allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have made it clear that they are not ready for an open-ended campaign against global terrorism.

 

When that happens, Washington will have to face the fact that few Arab or Islamic countries even agree with its definition of terrorism, much less agree that it should be stamped out.

 

The war on terrorism to defend the social and democratic; values of the west has  as its partners countries which do not practice the same values as the west.  With the civilians casualities mounting in Afghanistan, there are protests and marches in US Europe, Pakistan, Indonesia, and other countries asking the US to stop air strikes. There are segments of Saudi Society on a collusion  course with their rulers.

 

“With red lights flashing in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, additional instability in Nigeria, could have highly unwelcome ramification for the US… Being a member of   such an alliance for some Muslim States clearly has its own risks.  Even Blair’s carefully staged public support of an Independent Palestinian  state may not be enough to defuse the anger of Muslims enraged over attacks against Afghanistan.  Thus, while the current military actions may eventually topple the Taliban, they could also destabilise pro-US regimes at the same time,” writes Harry Sterling,  an independent writer on foreign affairs and a  former Canadian diplomat.