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August - September 2006


Political News

Geopolitical roots of Global Terrorism: Remembering 7/7 of London and now 11/7/06 - Mumbai

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee


Public opinion across the Arab-Muslim World and the powerful and articulate left-liberal establishment in the democratic societies of India, US, Europe and elsewhere in the world have a broad commonality of views on America’s War on Terror. They are angry with America because despite adverse world opinion it continues to wage its “wrongful and unjust wars” in the Middle East. The neoconservative establishment in Washington care little about the human rights violations of innocent civilians being killed in military action by the coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and have no concern about the civil liberties of ordinary citizens, which are being trampled underfoot in the name of the war on terror. In fact they may not be much different from the perpetrators of terror whom they are supposed to be fighting.

The neocons argue that on 9/11 of 2001 America came under an unprovoked and devastating attack by terrorists inspired and elaborately planned and executed by al-Qaeda and its leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, killing 3500 innocent people in New York and destroying the most visible symbols of its economic power, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The US President, as the duly elected Head of State, had the right to declare and wage war against militant Islam. He did not need anybody’s permission except that of his people who elected him to power and saw no purpose even to seek the authorisation of the UN. America’s masculine response to the terror attacks of 9/11 of 2001 also produced a new theory of war known as the right of pre-emption. It meant that subject to the availability of actionable intelligence, it would not hesitate to exercise the right to launch an attack on an enemy before it has struck and is still at the preparation stage. The policy of seeking regime change in foreign countries by the US became pretty controversial in the eyes of sections of world opinion. It was seen as blatantly interventionist. These matters should better be left to the internal processes of the countries concerned.

As the Iraq adventure turned into a security disaster for the US, the neocons went on the defensive. They are feeling uncomfortable even to admit that America’s War on Terror is an ideological war and that its fight is against militant Islam. Now they are saying that America’s war is against global terrorism and Islam may have nothing to do with it. Terrorists have no religion. Some have suggested that by abdicating their initial tough stand, the neocons may have weakened their case and cause. It is looking more like appeasement of the enemy, the result of an afterthought, which is not helping the war effort. I have read media reports suggesting that the final version of the 9/11 Commission Report was suitably doctored to protect a trusted ally from being excessively exposed of its links with the “twin towers operations” of al-Qaeda on 9/11 of 2001. On this side of the Atlantic, the British Government is standing firm against commissioning a public enquiry on the 7/7 attacks in London reportedly perpetrated by British-born Pakistanis. Is the Government trying to hide something or is it attempting to protect the involvement of the West’s most trusted ally in these bombings? There is widespread public concern over this. The victims of the outrage are in the forefront of this protest.

Appeasement or not, this U-turn in US policy has not in reality reduced Washington’s suspicion of Muslims in general who keep complaining of America’s continuing bad behaviour towards them. Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are examples.

Islamists on the other hand have shown no hesitation in declaring openly that America’s war on terror is unashamedly a clash of civilisations, a Christian crusade against Islam. The Muslims, moderates and the extremists alike the world over, accept this line of argument. As the arguments and counter-arguments intensify, it is becoming more and more obvious that the Islamists by their straight talk have achieved greater clarity of thought and articulation compared to the confused gobbledegook of Western pronouncements. It is time therefore for the West to remove the confusion and openly acknowledge the Islamists’ line of thinking.

Whatever the West has to say, the world needs no reminding that in the ongoing war on terror against militant Islam there are echoes of West’s ideological wars of the 20th century, namely WW2 against Nazism (1939-45) and the Cold War against International Communism (1945-1989). America came out victorious in both the last two wars and emerged out of them as the sole superpower. This time round, it is not known who will be the winner.

The West was solidly united in the 21st century’s ideological wars. In its current ideological war, the West is deeply divided. France and Germany, both NATO allies, opposed the US-UK invasion of Iraq as a matter of principle. Similarly China, Russia and India, the three emerging giants of Asia, refused to be drawn into the war for the same reasons.

A direct consequence of these divisions is that the so-called coalition of the willing has been reduced to a small and an ineffective alliance arguably unequal to the challenges of a big long-haul war with an invisible global enemy. That is why the coalition forces are almost always pathetically short-supplied in “troops-to-task” ratio - the management of manpower requirements - as well as “teeth-to-tail” ratio, or in other words the management of firepower requirements.

The Islamists read in the existence of such divisions and shortages of men and material as signals of the weakness of the West and see in them as opportunities to intensify the ferocity of their attacks on the Christian infidels.

Iran’s defiance of the West on the nuclear issue should be read in this backdrop. The leadership in Tehran believes that the West in general and the US/UK alliance in particular are in a state of military overstretch and therefore there is some scope for manoeuvre and room for frivolity.
Increasingly, the West’s argument is getting less convincing and seemingly more one-sided.

President George W. Bush is busy introducing democracy in the Arab-Muslim world but allows, as an exception, military rule in Pakistan. Washington looks the other way when fresh evidence keeps tumbling out of police investigations almost routinely confirming Pakistan’s place as the epicentre of Wahabi and Deobandi indoctrination and the incubating home of the Taliban. On top of it all, Islamabad is also allowed to maintain a lethal arsenal of weapons of mass destruction as well. Iran is not entitled to have any of these luxuries. America’s non-proliferation concerns are understandable but why this discrepancy between Pakistan and Iran? Is there a subtext to it? Is there an American denominational bias in favour of the Sunnis? Iran is convinced that this certainly is the case.

There is a gargantuan power struggle going on between Shi’ism and Sunni Islam about who is going to win the doctrinal argument and write the next chapter in the history of Islam. Admittedly both sides resent foreign intervention but a little help from one or the other superpower makes a difference. Such relationships are entirely mercenary and there is no place for gratitude.
When the Sunni Mujahideen, the Warriors of Islam, defeated the Soviet Union’s “invincible” Red Army in the battlefields of Afghanistan, it created euphoria among the Muslims all across the world and with it grew a widespread conviction that if one superpower could be defeated by a rag-tag army, it was possible to take on the might of the last remaining superpower, the US, and perhaps defeat it too.

Overnight yesterday’s ally became today’s enemy and this enmity will last till eternity until success is achieved. It is a game of numbers, a struggle between the American version of democracy versus the vast population of the Muslim world.

In the Afghan War (1979-89) the Shias of Iran and Iraq were furious that the US tilted on the side of the Wahabis and the Salafis represented by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Which explains why Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian Shia revolution, had described the “interventionist” Americans as the Great Satan. The introduction of democracy in Iraq should have paved the way for the creation of an independent new Shia State. This has not happened as yet. As the US tries to keep Iraq united, Tehran sees in this as the continuation of the old American bias against Shiism. The fear of the Sunnis losing their power base in Iraq has also added grist to the mill of their animosity against Washington. The ferocity of the insurgency in Iraq suggests that. Such cross-currents of strategic thinking on both sides of the Islamic divide get combined into a lethal mix which have gone on to empower separately both Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s Salaafi leader as well as Mehmoud Ahmedinidjad, the leader of Shia Iranian. Islam’s war against the “Christian West” is billed to last a long time.

The compulsions of geopolitics in Central and South Asia also got entangled in the denominational war within Islam and its battles against the crusading West. South Asia’s ubiquitous India-Pakistan ideological conflict is fuelling global religious wars in its own peculiar way. While secular democratic India remains broadly a status-quoist power, pacifist and defensive in a turbulent region, Pakistan ruled by an alliance of the military and the mosque is driven by a clear-cut expansionist strategic ambition and is pursuing its aims aggressively. To the east across the Line of Control lies the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which Islamabad seeks to annex by the use of force. In Pakistan’s largely unreported decade-old secret war against India, 82,000 people lost their lives. The daily routine of cross-border terrorist activity, the sub-conventional war, continues relentlessly. To the west of NWFP across the Durand Line lies Afghanistan, the battleground of superpowers and the playground of their Great Games. The great powers will one day leave Afghanistan out of sheer fatigue when Pakistan hopes to step in and occupy the land and quietly absorb it into its territory. Afghanistan does not like intervention by foreigners but Pakistanis are co-religionists and both are Deobandis in their doctrinal allegiances. Its vast land mass will give Pakistan the much sought after “strategic depth” which it will need in the event of a future war with India.

The Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic student movement, was created on the soil of Pakistan to serve as the human shield of Pakistan Army’s military campaign in Afghanistan. It proved useful to arm them too. Religion thus became the critical tool to buttress Islamabad’s geopolitical expansionist aims on both sides of its borders. Terrorism in time also became a highly profitable business, although it is a risky source of substantial income, for everyone involved in that industry. While the indoctrinated youth coming out of Islamic Madrassas run by the Intelligence Agencies are used as the cannon fodder of terrorism, the beneficiaries are their poor parents who are paid after successful suicide missions of their children.

Pakistan is no ordinary country. Although resource crunched, Islamabad is fighting wars on two fronts concurrently. They are low-intensity, low-cost wars but together they add up to commitments of large funds, amounting to a substantial outflow.

Who then is financing Pakistan in its warlike adventures?

Pakistan is lucky to have some powerful, long-standing, trusted and generous strategic alliance partners. Massive grants from foreign government sources keep flowing into the Pakistani exchequer regularly. From one source alone it has received nearly $10 billion since 9/11 of 2001. No questions are asked when such government grants are made. It is easy to divert development funds to multipurpose use. Such diversion of funds serve as oxygen to global terrorism. As local-area terrorism becomes a profitable venture, it fans out into global terrorism in search of higher gains.

Abductions and extortion rackets produce significant amounts of loose cash and there are reports that these are used in financing global terror activity. An example will be sufficient to illustrate this point. Just before the terror attacks of 9/11 of 2001 in America, reports of the kidnapping of the owner of a shoe manufacturing company in Calcutta, India appeared in the media. The kidnappers were Pakistani boys. They reportedly collected $250,000 as ransom money following which the victim was released. After pocketing their cut, the handlers transferred $175,000 through illegal money laundering channels to Karachi and from there to New York, finally ending up in the hands of the terrorists of the 9/11 attacks. My sources of information are the media reports carried in Indian newspapers.

Opium cultivation in Afghanistan and narco-trade, a lucrative source of income for ordinary Afghans, are also providing critical funding for global terrorism. Mosque collections particularly in the West also add up to a lot of money. These are then transferred to Pakistan by money laundering channels supposedly for charity work.

It is time that Washington and London take off their blinkers and honestly acknowledge that poor Afghanistan is being helplessly sucked into Pakistan’s unscrupulous and reckless geopolitical war games in Central Asia. This must stop. The routing of the abominable Taleban must be the first priority. This can be achieved only by great power intervention. In South Asia, the unrelenting low intensity war against India, unless stopped, one day sooner than later, would push New Delhi to the edge, when it will be left with no alternative but to challenge the tormentor in an outright conventional confrontation. This will have the potential to end up in a calamitous nuclear exchange, which will not remain restricted to the region. Both Washington and Beijing share burdens of great responsibility for reining in their strategic ally. Without honest acknowledgement of the ground realities, it will not be easy to find realistic solutions and implement them. The key to finding a solution to the problem of the spreading phenomenon of religion-based global terrorism lies in the international community’s ability to contain Pakistan’s expansionist ambitions both in South and Central Asia.

For the sake of intercivilisational harmony and multicultural coexistence, the US may also have to reconsider its policy of meddling in the internal affairs of the Islamic world. It would perhaps be better to leave it alone, to devise its own destiny, as it thinks best.

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