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An Overview of the global war against terrorism
By Syed Shahabuddin

Mankind has unequivocally and universally condemned the terrorist attack on the USA on 11 September, 2001 as a crime against humanity, as an outrage against conscience, and expressed its unreserved sympathy for the victims, irrespective of their nationality or religion. Practically all states have offered, in principle, all possible cooperation to the USA in its resolve to root out terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, from all parts of the globe. Some have joined the USA-led alliance and are privy to its war plans. But while preparing to ‘smoke out’ Osama bin Laden from his shelter in Afghanistan by all possible means, the USA and its allies have wisely taken note of the criticism of USA goals, immediate and long-term, and of the legality and effectiveness of the methods contemplated.

The USA is now making a distinction between Osama bin Laden, the Afghan people and the Taliban regime, which is still in control of the Afghan territory and commands the allegiance of a majority of the Afghan people, though it is now recognized only by Pakistan. The stated goal of the US military action now no longer mentions bombing Afghanistan ‘back to the Stone Age’, which would have implied killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent Afghans. It has even disavowed the goal of toppling the Taliban regime, so long as it does not impede the capture of Osama, leaving it to the continuing civil war, which appears to have gathered momentum since 11 September and to the emergence of the ex-King Zahir Shah as the head of an interim national Government. By delaying military action, the USA is not only trying to ensure the success of its pin-pointed intervention when it comes but also to reduce loss of life and property to the minimum. It has created the impression that it is not acting hastily, in anger or revenge, but executing a well-considered plan to achieve an objective which generally enjoys the overall support of the people of the world.

Yet, critical questions remain to be answered. While the USA may have showed the evidence it has to link Osama bin Laden or the Taliban with the terrorist outrage, to its close allies, it is yet to place them before such staunch supporters like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan which were to play key role in the USA strategy, and before the people of the world who remain sceptical about the world outreach of an individual, or his terrorist network.

Secondly, the UN Security Council has reiterated no doubt its condemnation of terrorism but has not sanctioned unilateral use of force by the USA. The USA may not care but the world would have been more satisfied if the military operations against Afghanistan were not taken unilaterally but under the UN flag. The basic dilemma is whether US undertakes this operation as right of self-defence under Article 51, or as the head of a UN collective operation to eliminate a threat to world peace. Self-defence plea by a superpower against an individual looks ridiculous to many people. It is doubtful whether the UN Charter when it was adopted envisaged aggression against sovereign states by individuals or private groups in the form of terrorist strikes. The UN system is an inter-state system and is designed to deal with the relationship of states with each other which are held accountable for their action and inaction, in the larger interest of world peace and stability. The Charter cannot envisage chasing shadows but responsible and accountable states. What the world needs is a comprehensive UN Convention against Terrorism which obliges states to cooperate politically, economically and militarily, to fight terrorist networks across the globe and defines terrorism to take in acts of terrorism, internal or international, by individuals, groups or states, directed against states or their people, or a section thereof, to overawe them, in order to promote or gain a political objective.

Thirdly, Osama bin Laden has repeatedly linked his hostility to the USA and even his ‘Islamic’ zeal to the USA military presence in the Arab Peninsula, of which Saudi Arabia occupies nearly 75%, and to the USA policy towards Palestine. While the first factor is not widely known nor does it evoke much reaction, being limited in scope, the second, indeed, is the basic source of the widely prevalent antipathy, nay, hostility, towards the USA throughout the world particularly in the Arab and Muslim world. One hoped that the USA would, at this tragic moment, engage in introspection as to why, despite its unquestionable greatness as the most powerful State in human history, and, its unparalleled contribution to the progress and welfare of mankind in many fields and its generous sharing of its wealth with the stricken people everywhere, it does not command love. Perhaps, the powerful do not need nor care for love. But the USA must try to understand the genesis of the condensed anger and frozen hatred which motivates fanatics to hurt it, at the cost of their own lives. There is no sign yet that the US has undertaken any review of its long-term policy towards Israel which exists only because of continuous flow of US aid, military and financial, and more so, towards the Palestinian people who have been defrauded at every turn and robbed of their homeland, and today live at the mercy of Israel, like animals in cages! It has even made no attempt to restrain Israel from committing ever-expanding punitive acts against the civil population, which have reached new levels of savagery since 11 September, with anti-Muslim and anti-Arab waves which have surged in the West and even reached our shores. This is an unfortunate development as terrorism has no religion and no habitation. In India, we recognize the many features of terrorism which are not limited to any particular religion or ethnicity or locale.

Also there is no doubt, considerable resentment in many parts of the world towards the hypocrisy implicit in the USA consistently chanting democracy and supporting dictators, evoking freedom and repressing people! USA also comes in for criticism for adopting double standards even in humanitarian situations. But such criticism presupposes the hope and trust the people of the world repose in the capacity of the USA to set things right, to put the world on the right course.

The USA has so far failed to show full consciousness of its moral responsibility as the only superpower today. Terrorism arising out of a deep sense of national grievance or ethnic humiliation or religious persecution cannot be eradicated from the face of the earth through military means but only through political means. People of the world, above all, want peace and justice. They all believe that no cause, howsoever just, can justify the cold-blooded massacre of innocent human beings; they are all prepared to engage the scourge of terrorism in a global campaign but not selectively.

Finally, by focusing so far on Osama bin Laden in the first phase and by arousing but not fulfilling the expectations of other States and peoples which have been targets of terrorism, indigenous as well as imported, for decades, the USA has failed to harness, in full measure, mankind’s profound revulsion in the wake of 11 September tragedy. The least that could be done by the US policy planners, by themselves or through the UN system, is to take the initiative to build an international structure against terrorism in all its forms and manifestation and at the same time revive and reinforce the UN machinery to tackle the political roots of terrorism.
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