Afghanistan is yet to be a holiday destination and is unlikely to be one for some time to come. But the gaiety with which Id was celebrated in Kabul on Monday shows how repressed Afghans were under the soul-sapping regime of the Taliban.
The paradox could not be keener. The self-styled ‘upholders of true Islam’ would be puzzled to find how Afghans have thronged to the mosques after they have been sent packing. But there is really no surprise in this. Cracking the whip has never been the best way of convincing people about a cause or belief.
Apart from the spontaneous act of flocking to mosques, the people of Kabul are also tasting the sweet joys of expressing themselves after years of repression. For eight long years, Afghans were barred from singing, dancing, flying kites — a traditional pastime — watching television or even listening to music. Cinemas and beauty parlours were outlawed as were other forms of sport and entertainment. In this atmosphere of ultra-puritanism, enjoying was a sin. As a result, the neurotic Taliban have managed via negativa to make Afghans celebrate Id — and life itself — with a vengeance.
The most blatant act of rejecting the Taliban past has been displayed by the women of Afghanistan. Not only were their lives constricted by barbaric ‘laws’, but they were also treated as sub-humans existing only as a sort of necessary evil. In the past, Afghan women have played a prime role in the modernisation of the country.
The flight of the Taliban, therefore, signals not only the resurrection of spontaneous emotions in Afghanistan but of the country itself. While women have not rejected the burqa outright (and why should they, considering it is a part of Afghan culture predating the Taliban), they symbolically renounced the symbol of Taliban oppression by observing Id without wearing one. Despite the severe hardships facing Afghans, this year’s Id will be remembered as the one in which a battered people started to celebrate life once again.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, December 18, 2001
For the Taliban, history has come full circle. If Kandahar was their launching pad, it has now proved their graveyard. In the winter of 1994, a mysterious group that was to put the mark of Cain on the world, conquered Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, from where it pushed northwards. In time it captured the country’s capital. Kabul’s fall to these forces in September 1996 signalled the arrival of Afghanistan’s new conquerors — or, rather, new tyrants. Within two years, they had 90 per cent of the country within their grip. Today, they have been officially declared as a dead force, with Hamid Karzai, the new chief of the interim administration in Afghanistan, pronouncing that ‘‘the Taliban rule is finished — as of today, it is no longer a part of Afghanistan.’’ Osama bin Laden may not be within view as yet, and the future of Omar Mullah is shrouded in mystery. But clearly, the Taliban have vanished from centre stage.
How did the seemingly unorganised talib, or Islamic student, come to assume the importance he did, sometimes without even firing a shot?
How did a group of young madrassa students — some of them mere teenagers who never knew what it was like to live in peace-time conditions, streaming across from refugee camps in Pakistan — come to exercise total sway over a country notoriously difficult to rule? These will remain some of the great questions of contemporary Afghan history. Clearly, for a war-ravaged nation, the Taliban, with their promise of peace, almost appeared at one stage to be liberators, a force that could finally tame the warlords that had carved up the country into innumerable fiefdoms after the retreat of the Russians and perpetrated innumerable atrocities upon the people. The fact that they were largely derived from Pashtun ethnic stock, and seemed to represent Pashtun nationalism, helped galvanise strong public support for them in the southern half of the country. They also held out the hope of performing the task of cleansing society, with their messianic brand of Islam, combined with the strict Pashtun tribal code. Above all, they proved extremely adept at facilitating deals and buying loyalty through the simple expedient of bribing key commanders.
It wasn’t long, however, before the ugly contours of the new political dispensation came into view. The murder of one-time president, Najibullah, and the brutal mutilation of his body in 1996 — symbolised the brutality and peremptory punishment that were soon to become the hallmarks of the new order. Public submission was extracted through fear created through a combination of public executions and extraordinarily oppressive codes of conduct for women. Their exit from the scene, therefore, of this band of desperadoes can only be cause for the greatest relief — and delight. But the delight will necessarily be tinged with concern over the future of a nation, that was once described by poet Mohammed Iqbal as the heart of Asia but which is really in many ways the orphan of the world. The Taliban brand of tyranny has passed on, but that is still no guarantee that others of the same ilk will not emerge from the wasted stretches of Afghanistan at some future date.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, December 10, 2001
The fall of Kandahar on Friday, which had been held out as the last bastion, has put paid to all those quixotic claims. The Taliban’s earlier declaration of resolve to fight to the last man has proved hollow. As the US bombing campaign persisted day after day, they seem to have realised that their game was up, and sued for surrender. At least in that one act, they seem to have demonstrated better sense than this conglomeration of rag-tag medieval fighters is usually thought capable of. With the capture of Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden, which is expected to happen in the next few days, the essential targets of the military campaign may be assumed to have been achieved.
What then remain are the problems of peace which may be far more complex and harder to tackle than delivering bombing sorties. The humanitarian needs of a population that has been bombed back to pre-Stone Age conditions remain enormous. As the country directly hit by Al-Qaeda’s acts of terror, it was the US that was in charge of the military mission. But as the guns begin to fall silent, it is the international community that should now have a larger role to play in restoration of normalcy in Afghanistan. Whether it is the task of bringing to justice those found guilty of involvement in acts of terrorism or delivering the humanitarian help, the UN should have a larger role to play than it has during the bombing campaign.
Such an approach would also involve being mindful of the sensitivities of the position of the new leadership in Kabul which is keen to restore the image of its government as a sovereign entity. Any attempt to ‘backseat drive’ these leaders is likely to come unstuck, as has often happened in the past. It is an indication of such sensitivities that Younous Qanooni, the new interior minister, flew to New Delhi for talks here following the Bonn meeting. Apart from signalling recognition of the goodwill and support the new regime enjoys in New Delhi, it indicated a desire to enlarge the interim government’s regional support network. The new leadership is aware that Kabul’s exclusive dependence on any one country has not worked to its advantage in the past, and its desire to enlarge its circle of friends could only help in its stability in the future.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, December 10, 2001
THE `NEGOTIATED SURRENDER' by the Taliban at Kandahar and the fallout of unanswered questions seem to illustrate America's acute dilemma in the present phase of its ongoing war on terrorism in Afghanistan. The leadership of the obscurantist Taliban and its brutal ally, Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, still remain the elusive targets of the U.S. in the context of its declaratory ``principles'' of this anti-terror war. In choosing a horde of tactical allies and friends who might be able to pursue the leaders of the Taliban-Osama axis, the U.S. has encouraged even adversarial Afghan groups on the basis of their compatible professions of an anti-Taliban agenda. Since the very beginning of this war two months ago, the only factor uniting these antagonistic Afghan groups with the U.S. was their litany of grudges against the Taliban. The U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush, has sought to rule the sky during this period and let his Afghan proxies hound the Taliban on the ground. The limited presence of America's land-based Special Forces is said to have more to do with the ``hunting'' of Osama and the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. It is within this tactical space of such war aims that the U.S.' proxy, the Northern Alliance, gradually wrested control of almost all strategic areas, including Mazar-e-Sharif and the capital of Kabul, from the Taliban. And now, the Taliban's original springboard, the Kandahar city, has ``fallen'' into the hands of a loose coterie of Pushtun tribal groups. Unlike the Northern Alliance, which is primarily dominated by Afghanistan's ethnic minorities, these Pushtun groups hail from the country's majority population that was the mainspring of the Taliban too.
In some ways, the farcical aspects of the Taliban's ``negotiated surrender'' to an amorphous front of Pushtun tribal groups can be linked to the eagerness of both sides to avoid a bloodbath involving some political adversaries of the same ethnic stock. Surely, there is nothing at all wrong with a largely bloodless ``surrender'' by the Taliban at Kandahar. However, the international community is simply aghast at the amateurish manner in which the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, has been allowed to remain at large instead of giving himself up in line with the terms of a ``negotiated surrender''. This may exemplify America's troubles with its own proxies. However, Washington's promise of a sustainable `campaign' in the future against globalised terror will call for political candour as also strategic credibility of a very high order that was not witnessed during the ``fall'' of Kandahar at this time.
Surely, the Bush administration does not seek to downplay the dangers and difficulties ahead as it tries to capture Osama and Mullah Omar. The larger concerns of the global community, inclusive of the U.S., go beyond tactical necessities. Already, genuine doubts have arisen regarding the viability of the power-sharing agreement that the U.N. brokered only a few days ago for a post-Taliban dispensation in Afghanistan in the short run. This has much to do with the political ambitions of the various Afghan groups that signed the relevant accord. More disturbing is the trend of some U.S.-friendly Pushtun groups allowing a sizable number of the Taliban radicals to flee from Kandahar with their weapons. A tiny fraction of such fugitives has been engaged by the small contingent of the U.S. Special Forces on the ground. The overriding imperative is that the U.S. should ensure that the lapses of its proxies do not result in a future shock for the other countries including India on the hit-list of the Taliban-Osama axis. The essentially apolitical ``principles'' of the present war - a universal anti-terror agenda and the need to avoid humanitarian tragedies - cannot be lost sight of for any reason.
-- Editorial, The Hindu, Chennai, December 10, 2001
THE UNITED NATIONS seems to have drawn a rough but promising road map that might help steer Afghanistan, a failed state, towards a civilised political future. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Afghanistan must be liberated from the clutches of the notorious Taliban and its cohort, Osama bin Laden, the suspected czar of international terrorism. Their agenda of grisly political terror as also social obscurantism has already ravaged the country that straddles an important region in the geopolitical neighbourhood of India. With the Taliban now clearly on the retreat in the face of nearly two months of a massive military offensive by the United States, Afghanistan is generally regarded to have become increasingly inhospitable to Osama too. In one sense, a critical matter of concern to the international community is that the actual fate or present whereabouts of Osama as also the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, are still far from clear. Yet, the overall international mood in regard to Afghanistan is to count out the Taliban-Osama axis as a durable factor of instability within that country itself. It is in this context that the U.N. has found it possible to take an optimistic view of the lingering uncertainties. A subtle, unstated, distinction appears to have been drawn by the U.N. between the possible future of Afghanistan as a Taliban-free society with a democratic polity, in one scenario, and a larger international order without the scourge of political terror, on a separate plane. This alone can explain the current efforts by the U.N. to place Afghanistan on a slow track towards an orderly polity even before the Taliban-Osama axis has been conspicuously decimated in line with the stated objectives of the U.S.
If the U.S. as also its allies and friends can exercise due care to ensure that the residual battle against the Taliban-Osama axis does not ruin Afghanistan's march towards a civilised polity, the U.N.'s current efforts may be seen to be truly meaningful. The Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban force with some basic Afghan characteristics, is now in control of much of the country including the capital, Kabul. As America's present-day proxy on the ground in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance has not only gained from the U.S.' air strikes against the Taliban but also contributed to the American war plans in some measure. This aspect accounts for the Alliance-weighted power-sharing formula worked out by the U.N. for the Afghan transition towards democracy over an estimated period of about two-and-a-half years from now.
The rough blueprint, approved by the Afghan delegations that have held intensive discussions under U.N. guidance for over a week in Germany, provides for an interim `Prime Minister' with a Cabinet. In about six months, a loya jirga or a traditional national convention will be called, perhaps under the moral authority of the former Afghan monarch (`King' Zahir Shah), to establish a new dispensation. The `government' so formed is expected to put the country through the paces of a transition to a democratic order which will be ushered in through polls to be held on the principle of political pluralism. While the interim `Prime Minister' will be from the majority Pashtun community, the Northern Alliance will get the pivotal portfolios of defence as also foreign policy and internal affairs in the run-up to the loya jirga. On paper, the division of power for this proposed `interim' period reflects the ground realities. Yet, the success of the U.N.-engineered plan will depend on a number of imponderables including the likely equation between the Northern Alliance and the planned international security force, which (if it takes off) may have more to do with turning Afghanistan into a terror-free zone rather than a democratic society.
-- Editorial, The Hindu, Chennai, December 7, 2001
The western coalition, looking for a way to launch the new government in Afghanistan, had invested so much in the Bonn meeting of the non-Taliban Afghan groups that it simply could not afford to let it fail. So even though it took some arm- twisting to make the four main formations participating in the Bonn conclave to fall in line, everybody was relieved when they finally put their signatures on the final agreement on Wednesday.
That should pave the way for the installation of an interim administration mandated to rule in Kabul for a six-month period when a Loya Jirga, or an assembly of the tribal leaders, will be summoned as part of a process to enlarge the representative character of the interim government. According to this time-table, national elections will be held in about two years so that a stable and fully representative government is finally put in place.
As of now, the agreement seems to have managed a balance of interests among the participating groups. While the position of the majority Pashtuns has been acknowledged in choosing the 44-year old Hamid Karzai as prime minister of the interim government, it is the Northern Alliance — since rechristened as United Front — that has emerged as the most influential group. The Alliance has bagged 17 of the 23 ministerial positions, besides three of the five posts of vice-chairmen. With a total of eleven Pashtuns in the 29-member government — which will have former King Zahir Shah as its nominal head — the numbers nearly match their percentage of population in the country. However, what remains in question is the representative character of those selected. Only two of those chosen are apparently able to speak Pashtu, while most of the others have been living outside Afghanistan and have had little contact with the ground situation.
While these imbalances are expected to be set right when the elections are held, what happens in the interim period shall have a vital bearing on the working of the proposed time-table. One critical factor is the time it takes to terminate the fighting. The Taliban, of course, would try to keep hitting in order to increase the vulnerability of the new government. And if it goes awry, the presence of even a multi-national peace keeping force may not be of much help. Likewise, it may not be too difficult to mollify the outgoing President, Burhanuddin Rabbani. But managing the northern warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who too has been side-lined in this dispensation, could be somewhat difficult — especially in a country where past hurts or humiliations are not easily forgiven or forgotten.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, December 7, 2001
Well wishers of the Afghan people will definitely be enthused by the broad agreement reached at the Bonn talks, which paves the way for a representative government in Kabul. The talks held at the initiative of UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has prepared a timetable which, if followed, will eventually result in a democratically elected government in that war-torn nation. If things go as planned, a new interim authority will be in place in Kabul around December 22. Pashtun leader, Hamid Karzai, assisted by five deputies and 23 other ministers, the names of whom are yet to be announced, will head the authority. This means the current regime led by Burhannudin Rabbani will be supplanted. Karzai will hold fort for six months, after which a loya jirga, or grand traditional assembly of elders, will be called to frame a constitution for the country and form an interim government. A larger loya jirga will ratify the constitution under which democratic elections will be held. The agreement also mentions the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force to ‘‘assist in the maintenance of security for Kabul and its surrounding areas’’. Women will get a fair representation.
There is no doubt the agreement is quite comprehensive. However, its success will depend on whether the various Afghan factions will stand by the agreement. Some difficulties in the implementation of the agreement can be foreseen. First, questions will be raised about the representative character of the four Afghan delegations that took part in the Bonn talks. Sceptics will say that Afghan society is ethnically so divided that vast sections of it went unrepresented at Bonn. Rabbani would find it difficult to reconcile himself to the loss of power, although he has in the past expressed his willingness to abdicate in favour of a consensus leader. The reference the agreement makes to the glorious role he and his Mujahideen had played in the struggle ‘‘against terrorism and oppression’’ may not be sufficient to keep him content. Already, Rabbani and his allies had begun hinting that the participants in the Bonn talks were allowing the West to take over the country, by introducing foreign troops, disarming the Mujahideen and organising war crimes trials. This could be his future line of attack.
The Northern Alliance may appear united in the fight against the Taliban but it is divided not only on ethnic lines but also on the proximity of their leaders to the West, Pakistan, Iran and the former Soviet Union. Sorting out these differences is central to the success of the agreement. In this context, the decision to include in the loya jirgas representatives of Afghan refugees living in Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere, as also members of the Afghan diaspora, makes sense. While the idea of confining the UN-led multinational force to Kabul and its surrounding areas is to let the US-led forces have complete freedom in their operations against the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda, disarming the various militia operating there could indeed be messy. After all, the Afghan’s passion for the gun is well known. But if law and order are to prevail in the country, the wielders of guns will have to be disarmed.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, December 6, 2001
Quite simply, the reason was that ordinary folk did not quite comprehend the monstrous scale on which the Taliban system worked, abetted by tainted funds supplied through ‘benefactors’ like Pakistan. Nor was it adequately understood that long before the twin towers went down in New York, the real victims of the terror networks for years were ordinary Muslims in predominantly Islamic societies, such as West Asia and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the worst hit were women and children.
Nevertheless, so pervasive had become the malign influence of the networked propaganda machine of the mediaevalists that it was easy to whip up the frenzied idea that the world was ganging up against Islam and Muslim Afghanistan. The Muslim poor became particularly susceptible to this influence. The whipping up was being done by the Al-Qaeda’s global networks, masquerading as religious or welfare bodies dedicated to education, healthcare or waqf matters. Since the Northern Alliance fighters — Muslim to a man — pushed the Taliban back and went rushing into Kabul to a hugging welcome by its residents, the lies have suddenly exploded. The ‘street’ has gone quiet in Islamic lands. Peshawar and Quetta are no longer being rocked by revolt. The supposedly intrepid ‘jehadis’ are running away from the battle which is being won every passing day by Muslims sworn to wipe out the Taliban and reconstruct life anew in Afghanistan.
In these circumstances, it is hardly a surprise that our own loose cannon, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, has fallen silent. He had made it his business to inflame passions, boost pro-terrorist sentiment and denigrate public figures like Shabana Azmi in the hope of cashing in on carefully manufactured popular paranoia among the poorer Muslims. But all said and done, the historical retreat of the spurious jehadi sentiment must await the day when democrats speak up across the Muslim world.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, December 3, 2001
AMERICA'S MILITARY `CAMPAIGN' against international terror seems to have acquired the proportions of a war without rules on the rugged terrain of Afghanistan. In a political sense, the battle lines themselves are overshadowed by controversies. In a clear escalation, the U.S. has begun to deploy hundreds of ground troops on the outskirts of Kandahar - presumptively, the fall- back bastion of the suspected terror twins, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda organisation. The mandate of the U.S. Marines has been variously outlined. However, the central theme pertains to their training for dexterous operations that might require high skills for non-conventional manoeuvres as also the more orthodox combat duties. The message being conveyed by Washington is that the U.S. will now try every trick in the book and beyond it to carry forward what may turn out to be the ultimate push in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his chief Taliban host, Mullah Omar. In America's apparent reckoning, the two are thought to have made the Kandahar region their final sanctuary in the war which the U.S. launched on October 7 with a massive show of cruise missile attacks and aerial bombardment against the Taliban's military and other infrastructure facilities. Despite the incremental military steps that the U.S. has taken since then, the latest battle lines evoke a poignant dilemma. There is no doubt that the U.S., on one side, and the Taliban as also Osama's Al-Qaeda, on the other side, regard each other as the sworn enemy. What complicates their standoff, though, is the obvious plight of the ordinary Afghans. It is this aspect that blurs the `moral' dividing line that certainly exists between the U.S. and Britain as the allies-in-combat, in one formation, and the Taliban- Osama axis.
From the beginning of this war, the U.S. has not been found wanting in its articulation of concerns about the well-being of innocent Afghan civilians. However, there is little encouraging evidence to show that either the United Nations or the U.S. itself has been able to ameliorate the obvious hardships of the ordinary Afghans in a meaningful manner. If this is inevitable in a war without precedent against terrorism, the sheer disorder that seems to define the amateurish conduct of the `campaign' itself raises many disconcerting questions. The motley anti- Taliban group, known as the Northern Alliance, is America's acknowledged proxy or ally (depending on one's perspective). Yet, shockingly messy is the manner in which the Northern Alliance has sought to quell a major riot by the Taliban's non-Afghan comrades after they were taken prisoner during the battles for Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif. This demonstrates a failure by the U.S. to ensure that the recognised norms of war are adhered to by those acting under its auspices.
On a higher plane of war aims, the U.S. has not so far produced the fine judicial-grade evidence that the larger international community would like to see regarding Osama's proven complicity in the terrorist crimes against humanity that occurred on American soil on September 11. However, this does not negate the other reality that Osama himself may have in some ways taken credit for the tragic events on that day. Discernible beyond these niceties are two disturbing aspects of the `war' on terror. First, the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush, has yet to outline clearly a blueprint of political-diplomatic goals that determine his disproportionate use of force in Afghanistan at this time. Second, he seems to be in a hurry to enlarge the definition of terrorism, solely from a U.S. perspective, without leaving the task to a forum like the United Nations.
-- Editorial, The Hindu, Chennai, November 28, 2001
The end game in Afghanistan could well have begun. The landing of US marines in Kandahar means the Americans are willing to take a huge risk. They have so far confined themselves to making the passage smoother for the Northern Alliance by bombing and destroying vital installations of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda. The fall of one city after another to the Northern Alliance shows the US strategy as having met with success. It is now only a matter of time before Kandahar, from where the Taliban strongman Mullah Omar had been controlling Afghan affairs, also falls to the Northern Alliance. So what has prompted this sudden deployment of ground forces which could result in American casualties? It could be because the US does not want the impression to persist that it is afraid of a ground war. Also, Kandahar is in the southern part of the country where the Northern Alliance does not enjoy any groundswell of support or natural advantages. In other words, the Northern Alliance cannot be depended upon to conduct the war in the south with the finesse they displayed in the north. But whatever be the reasons, the Taliban have got an opportunity for a direct combat with the US forces.
This, then, will be the most decisive battle of all. The deployment of the marines could also be a measure of US confidence, not only about their invincibility but their abilities in locating Osama bin Laden. If the Taliban’s claim that they had been withdrawing for strategic reasons is true, the Americans could indeed be in for a rude shock. In any case, it is too optimistic to believe the Taliban would surrender in Kandahar without a fight because Kandahar represents all that the Taliban stand for. The fight they put up at Kunduz, even after they surrendered to the Northern Alliance, could be a pointer to the shape of things to come. Of course, this is not to discount the possibility that the so-called ‘revolt’ by the Taliban was stage-managed by the Northern Alliance to finish them off. Reports suggest that there are no Taliban survivors after the horrendous ‘clashes’ in Kunduz. Given the UN reluctance to ensure the safety and welfare of the surrendering forces under the relevant international conventions, the fate of those defending Mullah Omar and bin Laden cannot be any different.
All these killings and counter-killings would have made some sense if they finally led to the establishment of a government acceptable to all the various ethnic sections of Afghan society and which is able to ensure law and order in the country. President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s conciliatory stance towards other ethnic groups is a welcome trend as, indeed, Pakistan’s readiness to do business with the powers that be in Kabul. It is against this backdrop that the UN-sponsored conference on Afghanistan is taking place in Bonn. The success of the conference where India has the observer status depends on the willingness of the Northern Alliance to give a fair representation to the Pashtuns, who are Afghanistan’s single largest ethnic group and without whom there cannot be a representative and enduring government. However, the Taliban have by their conduct forfeited their right to have a say in the decision-making process of Afghanistan.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, November 28, 2001
THE TALIBAN'S ROUT in Kabul, the Afghan capital, has not settled the fundamental issues of concern to the global community as regards the ongoing U.S.-led military `campaign' against international terrorism. A critical reality during the relative lull over the week-end was that the cruelly regressive Taliban's `commanders' held out at Kandahar and virtually sued for their face-saving surrender at Kunduz, both strategic towns in Afghanistan. Elusive, as a result, is the terror-axis that links the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, the suspected evil genius behind the heinous carnage that shook America and the entire civilised world on September 11. Outwardly, the Taliban's high command is now reported to have claimed that it has severed links with Osama's Al-Qaeda network. On a different but relevant plane, Pakistan has finally stripped the Taliban of its last fig leaf of diplomatic recognition. Originally, the U.S. did appear to have persuaded Pakistan to become a tactical ally for the present phase of the anti-terror `campaign' that was launched on October 7. Moreover, Washington found nothing really amiss until very recently about Islamabad's autonomous decision to keep the diplomatic door open to the Taliban, originally Pakistan's political protege. In this regard, the latest official `spin' in Washington is that Pakistan's diplomatic channels of communication with the Taliban were indeed of some avail as long as the fanatical Afghan group held a few Western citizens captive before finally releasing them very recently. Whether or not Islamabad has actually been guided by this aspect or by the political implications of the Taliban's latest flight from Kabul, Pakistan's decision at this time to snap ties with the radicalised Afghan group can be of strategic importance to the ongoing American `campaign' inside Afghanistan itself.
At one level, the Taliban must have read the signal that its isolation on the international stage cannot be more decisive. It, therefore, remains to be seen whether this fact alone can persuade or pressure the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, to let his ideological alter-ego and partner, Osama bin Laden, face the U.S. and the international community on his own without any `moral' or material backing from the Talibanised Afghans. On a totally different plane, the Taliban's final estrangement with Official Pakistan seems to account for the credible but unconfirmed reports that the Taliban fighters are willing to strike a deal with the ascendant Northern Alliance and save their own lives and to do so by leaving their ``foreigner comrades'' in the field, many Pakistanis as also Arabs and Chechens, to their own devices and fate. The U.S.-backed Northern Alliance is a motley coalition of anti-Taliban forces with quintessential Afghan moorings.
It is in this context that Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, appears to be running out of options for saving the Pakistanis inside Afghanistan, given especially the reports from Washington that the U.S. has not authorised any air-lift of such people of concern to Islamabad. It is doubtful, however, whether Gen. Musharraf, who in September took the courageous `moral' and strategic decision to back the U.S. in the face of opposition inside Pakistan, will now allow this issue to impede the international efforts to break the Taliban-Osama axis and to pursue the two separately. Given the international stakes, the Northern Alliance, which now controls Kabul and has agreed to participate in a U.N.- sponsored conference on the political future of Afghanistan, should also act responsibly. In monitoring these developments, New Delhi should not spoil its copybook by resorting to any unseemly jockeying for a strategic `presence' in Afghanistan.
-- Editorial, The Hindu, Chennai, November 26, 2001
Except for the suspicion that a recent fire in the army headquarters was not due to a short-circuit, as was claimed, but the burning of documents relating to the army’s and the ISI’s links with the Taliban, Pakistan has covered its tracks fairly well. This hasn’t been a mean feat considering the long years of partnership between the two, which preceded the formal takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in 1996. True, there has been a few embarrassing moments, as when an ISI delegation was suspected of having advised Mullah Omar to carry the good fight against the Americans instead of asking him to surrender, as it was meant to do. The questioning of Pakistani nuclear scientists by the Americans is another matter which must be a cause of concern in Islamabad, for no one knows what may finally emerge from their depositions.
However, nothing can be as disconcerting for Pakistan as the uncertain fate of its trapped nationals who had gone to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. It isn’t only the deep distress which will be generally felt in Pakistan if they are mercilessly gunned down in accordance with the Afghan tradition which must be unnerving for Islamabad. What must be no less unsettling is the revelations they might make if caught. Although a majority of them may have gone there on their own, the chances of official involvement cannot be ruled out in the context of the earlier close ties between Pakistan and the Taliban. It is possible that the Pakistani helicopters have already ferried out the regular army personnel who had been trapped in Kunduz. But the capture of the others, who number in hundreds, is bound to cast further doubts on the Pakistani disclaimers about being involved in terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, Islamabad has been insisting on a safe passage for its nationals, with the promise that they will be arrested on entering Pakistan. But it is not a request which the rest of the world can accept. The Pakistanis, and also the Arabs, Chechens, British Muslims and others, hadn’t gone to Afghanistan on a tourist visa. They were — and are — terrorists who waged a jehad on behalf of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and will continue to do so if given a reprieve. So, the only course open for them is to lay down their arms and surrender to the besieging forces which, in the case of Kunduz, happen to be the Northern Alliance.
--- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 26, 2001
ON THE DAY the Northern Alliance, a friend of India and present ally of the U.S., scored a breakthrough victory in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan - the first on the ground on behalf of the global alliance - Indian diplomacy secured a triumph of sorts in Washington. The formulation in the joint statement issued at the end of Mr. Vajpayee's talks with Mr. George Bush, describing both countries as ``targets of terrorism'' and clubbing the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington and the October 1 assault on the Assembly building in Srinagar, is acknowledgement by Washington, in however roundabout a manner, that it accepted in theory the need to root out this menace everywhere. New Delhi's ceaseless campaign to bring the focus on the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism it has been battling for more than a decade had begun paying dividends. In remarks at a joint press conference earlier, Mr. George Bush had half-met India's concerns over the sponsorship of terrorism from across the border. Calling it the ``evil'' of the politics of terrorism and murder, Mr. Bush had declared that there was but one universal law of anti-terror, implying that it will be applicable to all forms of such activity but giving no clue if and when it will be applied to specific other cases. It did not matter that this was vague enough to mean all things to all allies and friends. It also did not matter immediately that while Mr. Vajpayee may be talking of targets in his neighbourhood, his host may have his sights on old enemies further west in the Gulf region.
There were some other gains, too, on the bilateral front, more promises and few clear losses from the Prime Minister's mission to Washington as part of a three-nation voyage. It was clear that while India was eager not to compound Washington's worries by highlighting its specific concerns - Mr. Bush openly hailed the ``understanding'' shown by Mr. Vajpayee - the U.S was anxious to ensure that New Delhi was not alienated and understood American compulsions. As the two countries took one more step at the summit level to turn the estranged democracies into engaged democracies, the state of health of post-Sept. 11 bilateral relations was on public view on the precincts of the White House: there was the single-mindedness of purpose and steely determination of the U.S on one side of the podium and on the other the genuine worry and concern of India that it may have to fend for itself in tackling cross-border terrorism sponsored by its western neighbour after the Afghan crisis eases and world attention shifts away. Mr. Bush apparently brought no pressure to bear on Mr. Vajpayee to return to the dialogue process with Pakistan.
If Mr. Vajpayee's visit to the White House was itself the message at these extraordinarily sensitive times in the U.S, he did win friends by declaring that India will not overload the agenda of the global coalition, thereby unambiguously addressing a major U.S concern and promising to continue the policy of restraint that came under severe strain on Oct. 1 in the wake of the terrorist attack in Srinagar. The Prime Minister effectively projected India's basic argument that a frontline partner of the U.S-led coalition cannot be allowed to sponsor terrorism. In the end, there was but one message, and one objective. Washington let it be known to India, which was among the first to offer to join the fight against terrorism, that the global alliance's guns will for now be fully and solely trained on ``enemy number one'' Osama bin Laden, his network and the rag tag army of the Taliban. It brooked no diversions or distractions.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, November 12, 2001
BUILDING A VIABLE alternative political arrangement for Afghanistan is proving to be as frustrating and elusive a goal as defeating the Taliban and its benefactor, Osama bin Laden. A full month after the U.S.-led alliance against terror launched its bombing campaign against the Taliban, efforts to work out a power-sharing arrangement have been stymied by internal contradictions, factional rivalries, clashing interests and the power games of the neighbouring countries. In fact, all the factors that have been behind the trauma and tragedy of Afghanistan in the past half a century are in play. The apparent early gains that Washington and its allies in Europe claimed in bringing out Zahir Shah, the ousted former King, and helping forge an alliance between him and his old enemies, the Northern Alliance, have been short-lived. In the last few weeks, the U.S.- led alliance has suffered a series of political setbacks. One charismatic Pashtun leader whom the U.S. seemed to prop up as a possible coalition leader in a post-Taliban setup has paid with his life and another has had to be plucked to safety from the battle ground even as Zahir Shah waits impatiently in his exile in Rome. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance, the present favourite by default of the U.S. and Russia and composed of non-Pashtun factions, inches its way forward, looking to Washington to pave the way to the seat of power in Kabul through the most intensive bombing that the world has seen in several decades.
There are no signs yet that the hold of the radical Islamic group has been loosened over much of Afghanistan. But the urgency of evolving an alternative coalition cannot be overemphasised since a power vacuum in the event of the Taliban collapsing in the face of the bombing onslaught can push the country back into civil war. During his interactions in Washington, the Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, has renewed New Delhi's suggestion that a group of interested countries be formed immediately for Afghanistan's political reconciliation and economic reconstruction. Considering that Afghan society has remained rooted to ethnic, tribal and religious ties that provide links in different directions, it has been impossible to reconcile the interests of the countries around, besides the long-term objectives of the U.S. and its allies. Washington supports the Rome process with the focus on the former King, himself a Pashtun, while Iran and Pakistan oppose Zahir Shah for their own reasons. Pakistan, with whose support the Taliban captured power five years ago, opposes the Northern Alliance, and its appeal for including ``moderate'' Taliban elements has proved a non-starter with most doubting if moderates could have survived in the outfit. In this tangled web of interests, hope rests on the Six Plus Two group - composed of the six nations bordering Afghanistan, including Iran and Pakistan, plus the U.S. and Russia - and on the experience and expertise it has gathered in the two decades it has striven in vain to bring normality to Afghanistan.
The Six Plus Two group plus the United Nations. As the international community continues the search for an acceptable leader from the Pashtuns who form the majority in Afghanistan, the U.N. has also been active on the sidelines and in the shadows, rushing humanitarian relief and coordinating. With winter fast approaching, caring for the population is the immediate task, daunting beyond words. In the longer term, salvaging a country ravaged by two decades of wars can be an equally immense effort. Unlike in the past, however, Afghanistan this time will not be left to fend for itself. The U.S. and the European Union have the blueprint prepared of a massive plan of reconstruction. It is an area in which India can provide assistance without inviting the wrath of rivals in the neighbourhood.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, November 10, 2001
Once again a Pakistani dictator in civvies is being feted in the western capitals. Not only is he being promised all the goodies that he may want, he is also being described as ‘courageous’ for his participation in the US-led campaign against terrorism.
The adjective is important. None of Pervez Musharraf’s predecessors was honoured in such glowing terms. But one man’s courage can be another’s cowardice. The reason why President Musharraf is being so praised is that he has turned his back on a former ally, the Taliban. If it has taken courage to do so, it is not only because one of Osama bin Laden’s anthrax packages may carry his name, but also because his has been a complete reversal of policy of which there are few parallels in international diplomacy.
But can a man who has made such an about-turn be trusted? It is this point which India has to ponder while deciding to talk to him again. So far as India is concerned, there have been two recent betrayals by the same person — one in Kargil and the other in Agra where he tried to hijack the agenda by focusing solely on Kashmir. He is still trying to do so by equating Kashmir with Palestine and blandly denying Pakistan’s role in cross-border terrorism. But even if such ploys are regarded as part and parcel of diplomatic manoeuvres, the point about the trustworthiness of General Musharraf remains. It has to be remembered that even after his ‘courageous’ about-face, he still tried to help the Taliban by pleading for a short war and then favouring the inclusion of ‘moderate’ elements from the Taliban in the next government in Kabul.
Having failed on both counts, General Musharraf is now calling for a halt in the bombing during Ramzan. Probably he knows that he will not succeed in this case either. But if he is still playing these cards, it is evidently to pacify the fundamentalists in Pakistan (and elsewhere in the Muslim world) who have been angered by his ‘cowardice’ in deserting the Taliban. It is no secret that, despite the recent purges, there are elements in the Pakistani army and the ISI who support the murderous outfits of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. And why shouldn’t they? After all, till the morning of September 11, their leader — General Musharraf — thought that the Pakistani policy towards the Taliban was a ‘correct’ one, as he told the BBC. Given this background, the difference between General Musharraf and other military dictators like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul-Haq is that he may not enjoy the full support of the army and the ISI. While dealing with him, therefore, it is this factor which India has to keep in mind.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 10, 2001
AS THE PRIME Minister concluded the Moscow leg of a marathon mission abroad and headed for Washington, it was clear that a treaty partner of Cold War vintage was in the process of readjusting and retuning its own world vision. As befitting a long-standing, time-tested relationship, there were, doubtless, points of convergence of ideas and interests between India and Russia on key areas of mutual concern. But there were also differing perceptions and different nuances as the Prime Minister and the Russian President discovered at their summit talks. The Moscow declaration and the separate joint statement that Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Vladimir Putin initialled after the talks underlined the post-September 11 geopolitical reality that in this era of flux no bilateral relations will remain the same. One other reality stood out in the documents: the large shadow of the United States as the two countries strive to develop their own independent equations with the sole superpower. Eager to stress the areas of commonality of purpose - as with the clear emphasis on the primacy of the United Nations in the fight against global terrorism - both were equally anxious not to cause offence to Washington. A new ethos in Indo-Russian relations is emerging, qualitatively different from the one seen after Mr. Putin's breakthrough visit to India late last year.
Bilateralism, for a while, apparently took the backseat at the summit. Mr. Putin appeared disinclined to oblige his Indian guest on the issue of Kashmir, impliedly suggesting that New Delhi give up its obduracy and return to the negotiating table with Pakistan. Moscow would welcome the resumption of the direct dialogue, the Russian President said at his press conference, in effect endorsing Gen. Pervez Musharraf's suggestion for a meeting in New York and rejecting the hardline stand of the Indian Government. The absence of a reference to the Indian conditions for a resumption of the talks did suggest that Moscow concurs with the line that the U.S. and the European Union have been taking on the India-Pakistan dispute. Moscow was perhaps the only capital on his present itinerary where Mr. Vajpayee would have hoped to receive an endorsement of his policy vis-a-vis Pakistan. He can now expect to come under even greater pressure from Washington and London to respond positively to Gen. Musharraf's invitation for talks.
With their shared experiences, India and Russia could speak with a common voice on terrorism, calling for the completion of negotiations under U.N. auspices on a draft convention that will provide a legal basis to combat the global menace. Itself a sponsor of an anti- terrorism draft, India apparently readily endorsed the Russian proposal that the fight should be launched by legally established mechanisms under the world body, respecting the Kremlin's fears of American unilateral action stemming from the experiences in the former Yugoslavia where a Moscow-friendly regime was targeted by the Western alliance without U.N. sanction. Mr. Vajpayee would also have understood Mr. Putin's anger at the ``double standards'' of the international community. The West and its media had strongly indicted the Putin regime for the manner in which it was tackling externally-sponsored terrorism in the province of Chechnya. Seen from Moscow and Delhi, the contrast with the response following the attacks of September 11 would have been striking and sharp. However, as with the call for ``a new cooperative security order'', where again Moscow's perceptions have changed dramatically, both countries carefully avoided stridency. That is the hallmark of post-September 11 diplomacy.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, November 9, 2001
AT THE END of another high profile visit to New Delhi by an American official, there is greater bilateral optimism. India will be more than satisfied with the Defence Secretary, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld's reiteration of the assurance that the U.S.-led campaign against terror will not be confined to Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network. It will be pleased also with Mr. Rumsfeld's endorsement, perhaps for the first time by a senior U.S. official, of a role for New Delhi in shaping post-Taliban Afghanistan. His remarks after talks with the Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, that the U.S. will pursue terrorist networks wherever it finds them were clear cut. The atmosphere in official New Delhi was apparently much more congenial than during the visit of the Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, with both sides in the interregnum taking steps for better understanding of each other's objectives and concerns in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. The positive signals from Washington and the measures it has initiated in the last few days, including the effective banning of two Pakistan-based terrorist groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir, have apparently cleared the diplomatic air of distrust. New Delhi's concerns over terrorism and its overseas sponsorship are, it is clear, finally being addressed by the U.S.
India will welcome the promise of increased military cooperation held out by Mr. Rumsfeld, raising visions of a strategic partnership for the common good in the future. Invited to the U.S. by his counterpart, Mr. Fernandes was thus justified in expressing satisfaction over the outcome of his interaction with Mr. Rumsfeld. The two countries have an opportunity to discuss the specifics of military cooperation when the Defence Policy Group meets next month. Released from the shackles of proliferation-related sanctions, a steadily expanding strategic relationship received a jolt on September 11. As the two countries are set to resume their interrupted strategic dialogue, it is clear that the shape of the long-term relationship must await the outcome of the current campaign against terrorism. For, in the jigsaw of global diplomacy in the aftermath of the terror attacks in New York and Washington, bilateral relations across the world remain in limbo as strategic visions remain blurred beyond recognition.
Of immediate relevance to India and its geostrategic interests is the declaration by Mr. Rumsfeld that New Delhi will not be denied its rightful say in the building of a post-Taliban political structure in Afghanistan. With its centuries-old cultural and other ties, India can offer help in a big way for implementing the massive rehabilitation and reconstruction plan that the U.S. has reportedly drawn up in conjunction with the European Union. The plan is said to cover all facets of life, including areas in which India has expertise to offer: education, health care and infrastructure. India found itself on the losing side in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan but played a quiet role in the following decade. Its support for the secular Rabbani Government in Kabul pitted it against the Taliban and Pakistan. It worked closely with the U.N. in trying to arrive at a power- sharing arrangement among the mujahideen factions in the wake of the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Its vital stakes demand that it work actively in concert with Iran, Russia and the Central Asian republics, with which Delhi has maintained close relations, for the formation of a liberal, democratic, representative coalition to return Afghanistan to modern civilisation.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, November 8, 2001
PAKISTAN President Pervez Musharraf couldn’t be leaving Islamabad to keep his date with other world leaders at the UN General Assembly session in New York at a worse possible time. There is palpable tension all around. At the country’s borders with Afghanistan, angry Kalashnikov-wielding men of all ages and sizes have been amassing for days on end waiting to cross over and join forces with the Taliban in their battle against the US and in clear defiance of Pakistan’s official stance on that war. They have, so far, resisted the attempts of Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider to rein them in. The house arrest of Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, and the clamping of sedition charges against him, is the other major domestic crisis that has been brewing. Ahmad, incidentally, was scheduled to address a massive anti-America rally in Rawalpindi on Friday. His arrest has now led to calls for a nation-wide strike on that day.
These very factors when viewed against Pakistan’s history of coups have provoked some western commentators to term the Pakistan general a very courageous man for choosing to sally forth into the world with such insouciance in such stormy times. All the more so because he has personally experienced the uncertainties of international travel in times of political crisis. In October 1999, Nawaz Sharif had dismissed him as army chief even as he was flying home from Sri Lanka. But Musharraf’s spin doctors have been quick with their replies — the concerns of state cannot come to a standstill simply because of a few small protests in Pakistan, they argue. A reasonable enough reply if indeed the description of the protests as ‘‘few’’ and ‘‘small’’ is an accurate one. From all evidence it is not.
In such circumstances, General Musharraf’s trip to New York via Paris and London is an act of both faith and courage. The reason why he risks it at this juncture is because it also provides him with the best opportunity possible to strut the international stage as USA’s most important ally in its war against terrorism. The US President, George W. Bush, sensitive to this concern, is planning to host a special dinner for the general in New York on Saturday. The fact that Musharraf’s minister of finance is accompanying him in this excursion means that he also hopes to be properly compensated for his support. There is an additional imperative at work here. The general would like to neutralise, as much as he possibly can, India’s concerns over Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks. He certainly would not like to leave such an important stage clear for Vajpayee to dominate over. Poor Pervez Musharraf, so many factors to contend with, so many equations to work out, so many imponderables to weigh. As he packs his bags for New York, all we can do is to extend some good housewifely advice to him: remember to lock up your house carefully before you leave.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, November 8, 2001
Much of what George W. Bush said on Tuesday will meet with approval from his partners in the war against terror. There is little doubt that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda pose the same kind of threat to mankind as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist version of communism once did.
But more than what the American president has said, it is the timing of his declamation which is intriguing. Just when US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has felt confident enough to claim that the "bombing is improving" and that "we have people on the ground who are... directing the bombing", the rather alarming picture of the end of civilisation painted by Mr Bush may seem rather odd. True, no one expects a quick end of the war. As British Home Secretary Jack Straw has pointed out, even the death of Osama bin Laden may not bring an end to terrorism. But there must be more than such an appraisal of the conflict to explain Mr Bush’s observations.
His hints about the acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by the terrorists are important in this respect. But however frightening the context, it is strange for the American president to virtually hold out a threat by saying that nations may be "held accountable for inactivity". Although he had earlier used the phrase made famous by John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State during the Cold War, that that those who were not with the US were "against us", his displeasure over such a stand has now been made more explicit. Such an attitude may seem strange considering that, for the first time, the US has more nations supporting its war than at any time since the end of World War II.
Throughout the Cold War, for instance, the entire non-aligned bloc was against the US, in the Dullesian sense of the term. The war in Vietnam fuelled enough opposition even at home for the US to finally withdraw. Washington’s policy of intervention in Latin America had few supporters even among its western allies. Much of the continuing dislike of the UN among the American right-wingers is born of the fact that the US was never sure of winning a vote in the General Assembly, where its opponents far outnumbered its supporters. In contrast, there is virtual blanket support for the US action against terrorism, even if the war itself has its critics among the committed pacifists. For Mr Bush, therefore, to call upon the coalition partners to "do more than just express sympathy" suggests a hardening of the American attitude since the war began. If this indicates doubts about its progress, it is a disturbing sign.
Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 8, 2001
Is the United States finally heaving over towards the extreme Right? The September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent anthrax scare have got Americans wondering whether liberal reactions to violent actions are as effective as sinking toothless gums into a piece of tough meat.
"In this autumn of anger", liberals like Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter are nervously rethinking their ideological positions and are even considering — at least on the level of a debate — the use of torture against terrorist suspects. He talks about torture as "something to jumpstart the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history". Coming from a liberal, one can almost hear the heart-wrenching effort made to come up with that line.
A few days ago, former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger spoke in a similar fashion about how the American Constitution was an impediment in the way of delivering swift justice to terrorists. He even went on to suggest that they could be tried in countries where the legal system was ‘quicker’, throwing up the strange image of a captured Osama bin Laden being flown from Washington to Saudi Arabia for a quick hanging from the nearest lamppost. Closer home, an American court banned a schoolgirl from wearing an anti-war T-shirt. With the Constitution out of the way, the penalty could have been more severe.
So what does that make of the professed moral superiority of liberalism over fundamentalism? If the US does take the ‘get-them-by-hook-or-by-crook’ approach — which many remind us it has done in the past anyway — where does the difference between, say, the Taliban and the US lie? ‘Justice’ was delivered quickly to anti-Taliban Pashtun leader Abdul Haq by Mullah Omar’s regime when he was hanged before he could cause any harm to the establishment in Kabul. Will Washington too change the rules a bit, before the threat of more attacks on America turns real? It’s a thought, and a terrible one too.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 8, 2001
IN A FLASH, the world's approach to terrorism changed on September 11. Objects considered ubiquitous till the other day are now seen as potential killers, with the ability to conjure up private and public panic. From aircraft to mailbags, the changed ingredients of the terrorists' arsenal do not augur well for the world. It is one thing to aspire for a change from the status quo - several individuals and groups have done so with success in the past - it is another to deploy terror to reach such an end. The world has seen its share of armed insurrection, it has also seen rival armies resorting to tactics that could go down as the use of biological weapons - Hannibal is credited to have used it in 184 B.C. During the several wars that man has fought against man, contaminating enemy supply lines for instance, has been part of the tactics, and not many states at war have resisted such temptations. The present threats of biological warfare, however, mark a distinct difference from the past. The possible use of such weapons by terrorist groups aimed at innocent non-combatants calls for a complete new look at countering the menace of terrorism. The ease with which biological agents can be concealed and the extent of damage that can be caused by even small amounts make the new form of terrorism more difficult to combat.
If cruel ingenuity killed thousands of innocents in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Terror Tuesday, it takes a real life Prof. Moriarty to sustain the tempo of terror through the threat of the use of biological weapons. Across the globe, mail has now become objects of scare. Of the several possible faceless suspects behind this new-age terrorism, the global spread of anthrax-laced mail points to the possibilities of either a networked organisation or groups working in tandem. However, as it will be ``a capital mistake to theorise before one has data'', it is important that Governments take urgent and concerted steps to track down the perpetrators of this new form of terror. The lack of any credible evidence on who has been behind the innumerable mail - both hoaxes and real ones - points to the ease with which those behind such acts can evade the long arm of the law, thereby making such forms of terror an easy option for outlawed groups. Clearly, the perils of proceeding against unknown enemies are too huge to be ignored, especially given the increasing possibility of their being dangerously armed.
The subcontinent's share of anthrax mail - including those sent to a State Minister in India, a newspaper office in Pakistan and diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka - is a serious pointer to the vulnerability of the region. Given the wide spread of terrorist organisations in South Asia, these are to be taken as an early wake-up call. Responses from the Governments to this new threat have concentrated largely on stemming the spread of panic. The use of technology to scan mail as well as the periodic advisories that have been issued by Governments are indications that the seriousness of the threat has engaged the attention of states. Yet, there are areas that remain to be addressed, including testing facilities, the availability of vaccines, and the ability to respond to a mass emergency. While these and other initiatives are required to be taken by Governments, at the larger level it is imperative that the multilateral mechanism in place to check the production of biological weapons is effectively activated and complete compliance ensured.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, November 6, 2001
The twins who shape US policy on its war against terrorism have both made their whistle-stop tours of South Asia and said their piece in Islamabad and New Delhi while treading the tightrope linking the two capitals. If the visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell two weeks ago was in the nature of a thanksgiving one to the two South Asian neighbours who expressed unqualified support for the US-led coalition’s war against terrorism, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld’s more recent exertions were all about ensuring the continuation of that support at a time when US B-52s are unleashing their awesome fire power on Afghanistan with increasing casualties on the ground. Both officials have had to pick their way through the minefield of India-Pakistan relations and both have taken recourse to the strategy of promising immediate rewards to Pakistan while assuring India goodies in times hereafter.
Two developments have occurred during the period separating the two visits. One, the coalition against terror that had once seemed fairly solid has now been buffeted by several contrary forces, not least of them the rising tide of popular anger in Islamic nations like Indonesia and Pakistan against what is perceived as a ruthless bombardment of a helpless and hapless people. Even in countries that have been traditionally close to the US, like the UK, awkward questions are being asked about the utility of such an approach. The other development is the sharp escalation of tension between India and Pakistan, accompanied by an acrid verbal exchange between the heads of the two states and troop build-up and exchange of fire along the border. Washington seems too busy trying to manage the first to pay more than cursory attention to the second — that at least was the message Runsfeld conveyed. As he put it, ‘‘What we are doing in Afghanistan is that we are engaged in an exercise of self-defence. This is the only way to deal with the problem and that is to take the battle to them.’’ In other words, this is all about their war, not our concerns — so let us not fool ourselves about this.
Chafe as India may against USA’s inability to be responsive to multi-layered realities in its foreign policy formulations, the mood in Washington clearly is to concentrate on Afghanistan and ensure some military breakthrough before the height of winter is upon it. This is what is making Rumsfeld supremely resistant to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s plea that America suspend its bombing operations through the month of Ramzan in deference to Islamic sentiments. But what the US defence secretary does not seem to recognise is that the Pakistan government, under pressure from public opinion over its continued support of the US bombing, is upping the ante on Kashmir in what is clearly a diversionary ploy. Therefore, this policy of turning a blind eye to the Kashmir cauldron, as the US prefers to do at the moment, may not be an entirely wise approach to adopt. All the more so since the US engagement in Afghanistan, from all evidence, promises to be a long and complicated one, no matter what spin Runsfeld chooses to impart to it.
Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, November 6, 2001
To market a product successfully, one must first brand it. While perceptions may suggest otherwise, selling ‘an Islamic cause’ to millions of Muslims hasn’t been much of a success. Reportedly, several hundred youngsters from Britain are leaving their country to fight alongside the Taliban against the US and Britain.
Add to that the thousands of Pakistanis who are ready to wage war against their own countrymen, and one may get a picture of a pan-Islamic mobilisation. But if one looks closer, one may find this ‘clash of civilisations’ model withering away.
The present ‘rush’ of foreign jehadis may seem an inverted version of the Spanish Civil War, where non-Spaniards joined by a common ideology pitched in to fight against the ‘evil’ of fascism. But consider this. The conflict that has troubled West Asia for decades has not a whiff of Islamicism about it. The Palestinian cause is against imperialism, and the very fact that none of the extremist outfits in the West Bank is waging a ‘religious war’ against Israel shows that Samuel P. Huntington’s famous theory may be hanging on a very loose string. Nor has any of the jehadis considered it worthwhile fighting for the Palestinians.
The ‘Islamic rantings’ of Ayatollah Khomeini were more about mobilising a force against a hegemonic superpower — which had earlier set up a puppet king in Tehran — rather than against ‘infidels’. Saddam Hussain, yesterday’s Osama bin Laden, is anything but a mullah in fatigues. The Iraqi despot has always been keen on nationalism, not any pan-Islamic brotherhood. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s ‘ideology’ can be traced to the Marxism-tinged theories of First World-Third World disparity. Even Palestine’s Islamic Jehad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — both only nominally Islamic — are ‘secular’ forces that see the enemy as a usurper of land and power rather than as ‘Jewish evil’. Bin Laden’s success has been to question the fact that ‘an Islamic cause’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ are two different entities. His failure has been that no one of consequence — especially in West Asia — has fallen for his specious brand-building exercise.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 6, 2001
INDIA'S LONG, LONELY battle against fundamentalist terrorism on its soil may be about to be joined, even if indirectly and remotely, by the global coalition as the U.S expands its campaign to include terrorism in its multifarious forms. The American State Department's action in designating the Pakistan-based militant outfits Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad as terrorist organisations - and in effect banning them - will be welcomed in India as the first positive signal that New Delhi's concerns are being recognised and acknowledged. The action, followed up within hours by Britain, coincides with the Bush administration's significant decision to broaden its campaign and expand the terror list to include groups beyond those with links to Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network. The U.S can now seize the assets of these groups and impose other stringent financial sanctions, already imposed against Osama and his group to choke the flow of money. Included in the list are outfits as far apart as the Hamas and the Hizbolla in the Middle East, ETA, the Basque separatist group in Spain, and three Colombian groups operating in the civil war torn South American nation.
The decision to widen the campaign, not totally unexpected or non-controversial, follows criticism that Washington has two standards when it comes to targeting terrorism. The initial moves by Washington after the September 11 attacks did create the impression that its sights were too narrowly focussed on Osama bin Laden and his cadre, to the exclusion of terrorist groups operating elsewhere. New Delhi, which responded by unilaterally offering all assistance to the U.S., found itself on the sidelines as Washington put together a global coalition and placed Pakistan on the frontline. India made no secret of its dismay that Pakistan should form part of the anti-terror coalition despite its record of encouraging cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. Within three weeks of that catastrophic strike against the U.S, Pakistan-based militants launched a murderous attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature in Srinagar in which innocent people were killed. The massacre, for which the Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility, shocked the world and evoked words of sympathy, but India's appeal that the global focus include the groups operating in Kashmir from bases in Pakistan went unheeded. The U.S, which said it was placing the JeM under ``close'' watch, and its allies and friends had their own priorities.
The American decision to broaden the anti-terror campaign, encompassing the action concerning the LeT and the JeM, may end this abnormal situation. The State Department's decision will have a dampening effect on the two terrorist groupings based in Pakistan. Besides having their assets impounded, anyone suspected of providing aid or financial services to them can be targeted. Both groups have their patrons in Pakistan who have openly raised funds and solicited donations for them. With their designation as terrorist groups by the State Department, the Pakistan Government will come under enormous pressure to crack down on their fund- raising activities, effectively neutralising them. Other groups have rechristened and reincarnated themselves, apparently with official backing. But with the U.S-led coalition significantly stepping up its campaign, this ploy may prove less effective in the future. For its part, New Delhi, which has welcomed the U.S. action, must continue to keep its vigil, in the realisation that fighting cross-border terrorism is primarily its own battle, which it has to carry on with restraint, without distracting talk of untenable ideas like hot pursuit. And quite apart from terrorism the political issue with Pakistan and the aspirations of the people in Kashmir need also to be addressed.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, November 5, 2001
NOW that bioterror has visited our doorstep, with anthrax spores detected in Pakistan and a mysterious letter still being analysed in Mumbai, what lies ahead? Is the subcontinent now to be witness to the paranoid drill? A run on antibiotics. A sudden desire to make a fashion statement with gas masks. An equally fervent urge to sport latex gloves. A dash by government officials to the archives for copies of long forgotten conventions on biological and chemical weapons. For all the soothing words from experts — that bioterrorism is more a psychological threat than a real one, that terrorists carting vials of pathogens are unlikely to cause death and destruction on a large scale — the fear is very real. And it is a fear that must be addressed simultaneously at three levels: the personal, the administrative and the futuristic.
Medical personnel are right when they emphasise that the biggest challenge posed by bioterror attacks like the current anthrax mailing list is maintaining a sense of proportion and context. They are right when they caution that while biological weapons have never been (till now, at least) effective weapons of attack in a war, awareness and alertness are the most effective antidotes to the possibility of any unnatural introduction of pathogens. People going about their daily lives can best defend themselves by being on the lookout for suspicious substances (in the current anthrax wave letters bearing white powder, but the possibilities unfortunately are endless) and by resolutely shirking hysteria. For instance, shopping sprees for antibiotics and the impulse to consume doses without a doctor’s recommendation can be dangerous. The biggest fear in tackling outbreaks — naturally occurring ones as well as those caused by bioterrorists — is the spectre of antibiotic resistance. For the authorities, it is important to remember that a bioterror attack must essentially be managed like any other epidemic. It demands quick response, the capacity to cordon off infected areas and provide medical treatment for victims as soon as possible. It also calls for speedy dissemination of information, for immediate intervention to stockpile medicine and plot out responses to different scenarios. Dealing with bioterror involves reassuring the public as much as treating victims and sanitising endangered sites.
The most worrying aspect of the anthrax letters is the implication that evil-doers, for want of a better term, have served notice that all the worst case scenarios envisioned over the years could fast become reality. Planners and policy makers must undertake a crash analysis of what a technologically adept terrorist could do and what must be done to prepare for such eventualities. It may amount to a chilling mix of sci-fi and thriller narratives, but the future’s already here. We have to deal with it.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, November 5, 2001
THIS IS NO time for brinkmanship in the subcontinent. With the U.S.-led campaign entering a very decisive phase, there is, instead, a desperate, urgent need for India and Pakistan to tone down their rhetoric and continue the policy of restraint that has generally characterised their stances since the September 11 terrorist strikes. The ominous prognostications coming from the Vienna-based U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, cast a special responsibility on the two nuclearised neighbours not to say or do anything that can exacerbate tensions and heighten the dangers of a conflagration. It is in this context that one must express grave apprehensions over the war of words that has erupted between the two countries. The open charges and counter-charges in the past few days of troop movement along the border and the sorry spectacle of the United Nations military observer in Kashmir making totally unacceptable remarks and then apologising for them have tended to surcharge the atmosphere. Pakistan has said that these are routine military exercises which take place around this time every year. If India has reason to doubt the statement, it has ways of seeking clarifications and delivering diplomatic protests even as it takes counter measures. Both countries have also set in place confidence-building tools, including the hotline between the Directors-General of Military Operations, which should be utilised to clarify the position and defuse tensions. There is nothing to gain by going public and provoking panic. Islamabad needs to realise too that appeasing domestic constituencies cannot come at the cost of the national, and international, good.
In these extraordinarily troubled times, when the maximum of restraint and caution should be exercised particularly in sensitive border areas such as the Chicken Neck in the Jammu region, the public posturing of the type being witnessed helps neither side. There is the real danger on the contrary of the situation spinning out of control. It is the felt concern that one misstep by either country has the potential to spark a conflagration, with catastrophic consequences for the region and the world, that has seen the avalanche of VVIP visits to India and Pakistan since the U.S. launched its campaign against Afghanistan. The leaders of the U.S., England, Germany and now France have all but one message to both countries: restraint.
Behind the message is the widespread concern over the nuclearisation of the subcontinent, a concern which has been immeasurably deepened by the daring September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The terror campaign has introduced a new element of potential disaster: nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists. This heightened concern, verging on panic in some capitals, is reflected in the stark warning from the IAEA. The agency's Egyptian-born director, Muhammad el-Baradei, has spoken of how the international community is not just dealing with the possibility of Governments (running those ``rogue'' states) diverting nuclear material into clandestine weapons programmes. The world has now been exposed to the potential of terrorists targeting nuclear facilities or using radioactive sources to incite panic, contaminate property and even cause death among civilian populations. The disturbed conditions in Pakistan and the presence and power of the fundamentalist terrorist groups there are a particular source of concern to the international community. The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdul Sattar, has declared that his country's nuclear arsenal is in safe, foolproof custody. This is reassuring but the world will continue to watch warily to see if nations have the resources to prevent the explosive match of the terrorist and the nuclear bomb.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, November 3, 2001
IT is not easy being a national leader these days if air travel leaves you queasy. America’s first war of the 21st century is in progress, no matter how patchy it may be. A grand sounding ‘‘global coalition against terror’’ has to be examined afresh every day for fraying edges and developing schisms. Information technology may offer prime ministers and presidents aids to confer in real time, but there’s nothing like a hearty handshake to conclude negotiations — those itsy-bitsy quid pro quos Washington is doling out these days. So these days special aircraft are on permanent standby to ferry officials between war rooms around the globe. The red carpet too is never really rolled and stored away; there is just not enough time between the departure of a visiting minister and the arrival of another.
Counting down the ministers who have dashed to New Delhi in past weeks would tax even the most fluent linguist. And the frequent fliers’ club is ever expanding, with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee taking off on Sunday for Russia, Britain and the US. You would think peripatetic premiers and foreign secretaries would soon run out of destinations beyond the war zone. Small worry. Just look how purposeful an air these dashes from the tarmac to the corridors of powers and back again to urgently whirring aircraft — with a tiny detour for quickfire press briefings — lend them. There’s nothing like the distant rumble of fighter jets (alright, that’s on TV, but so what?) to make a democratically elected leader feel truly statesmanlike. But even as Tony Blair awaits the trophy for notching up the maximum frequent flier points, it would be apt to ask: is the so-called global coalition any stronger for all this hectic journeying? As Vajpayee’s entourage wends its way through power capitals, would it be fair to expect that Indian concerns will now be factored into battleplans in this ‘‘war against terror’’?
As the American airstrikes against Afghanistan drag on, as the Ramadan month approaches (with its emotive appeal to rally opinion in Muslim countries against the military campaign), the mission is getting blurrier. It will become increasingly more difficult to manage dissent if Washington cannot define its objective. To smash the Al-Qaeda network, to decimate the Taliban, to stop at nothing short of an ethnically representative regime in Kabul, to secure for the Palestinians their homeland, to target every terrorist organisation possible... the tendency by media managers in Washington to hop among these could only loosen coalitional bonds. As for India, surely the top priority for Vajpayee would be to elicit from Western leaders a clarification on the definition of the ‘‘global terrorism’’ they are fighting. Is it terrorism that is killing thousands of innocent people around the globe, or is it terrorism that has the global reach to inflict destruction in sites like the Twin Towers? On forging clarity on these queries will the success of international diplomacy be judged, not on the number of hours spent airborne.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, November 3, 2001
To the rest of the world, an increase in tension along the India-Pakistan border may seem inevitable at such an uncertain time. Since the two countries are known to be the worst of enemies, their relations are hardly expected to remain unaffected by the turmoil in Afghanistan.
But even if a deterioration in their ties is expected, the international community will not be amused by even a minor flare-up. There is every reason, therefore, for New Delhi to ensure that the situation does not worsen to a marked extent. In fact, every effort must be made to behave as sensibly and maturely as possible.
In this respect, India made the right move when it said that it did not want to take advantage of Pakistan’s present difficulties. The reassurance was needed because Islamabad evidently expected India to fish in troubled waters. Hence the advice given by Pervez Musharraf to India to "lay off" even when there was nothing to suggest that New Delhi had any aggressive intention. Since then, however, not everyone in India has behaved responsibly, with broad hints being given about taking out the terrorist training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Suggestions of this nature have also been denied, but it is clear that domestic political compulsions, including the UP elections, have played a part in alternately warning Pakistan and making conciliatory gestures.
Where Pakistan is concerned, it may make use of the bogey of a threat from India to divert attention from its own domestic problems. This may be a reason for its troops build-up in the border region. Any government in trouble prefers a little tension with a neighbour and there is no doubt that Pakistan’s present woes are many. For one thing, General Musharraf is reaping a whirlwind from the jehadi enterprise which he had merrily encouraged to harass India. And, for another, the American misgivings about the continuing support for the Taliban provided by his administration, with or without his knowledge, must be a source of immense concern for him.
At a deeply unsettling time like this, Pakistan would probably like nothing better than to raise the fear of India’s designs, which has been a standard ploy for all Pakistani leaders. There is every reason, therefore, for India to reiterate its earlier reassuring message to Pakistan. Since the US is fighting at least half of India’s war against terrorism, and Pakistan is in greater trouble than it has ever been in its life, India has little to complain about at the moment. All it needs is a state of calm along the border.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 3, 2001
The British media have called it a ‘bad Blair day’. Considering that Prime Minister Tony Blair has for all purposes been the most successful face of America’s ‘war against international terrorism’, Thursday’s ‘failure’ in Syria appears to have taken some of the sheen off the western world’s most dependable grin.
Mr Blair’s visit to Damascus was supposed to shore up more support for the American cause from a quarter that counts the most: the Islamic world. Instead of the expected camaraderie to fight a ‘common cause’, the unexpected happened: the British premier had to endure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s open criticism of Washington’s campaign in Afghanistan, calling Israel a terrorist State and dubbing Palestinian extremists as ‘freedom fighters’. Quite plainly, the visit was a disaster.
To add to his woes, Mr Blair’s attempt to make Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sit down and talk with Palestine Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat ended in little more than exchanging pleasantries. Mr Sharon refused to give a pledge on the time-frame within which Israel is likely to pull out troops from the West Bank. Mr Blair had no alternative but to patiently listen that there would be no movement towards the negotiating table until the Palestinians ended their violence against Israel. In other words, the West Asia peace process remains buried in the ditch.
Despite Mr Blair’s photogenic diplomacy receiving loud applause in London and Washington in the last few weeks, he has finally found himself staring at a different sort of picture. That the Arab world is not in sync with Anglo-American expectations of a new world order is beginning to become more apparent as the war in Afghanistan drags on. In each of this week’s visits to Arab States — Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — Mr Blair was told that the western perception of the Israel-Palestine conflict was overtly biased against the Palestinian cause. This, after Mr Blair’s (and Mr Bush’s) statement that a Palestinian State was a necessity. Perhaps, the British prime minister will now see that winning over friends means more than just firm handshakes and lecturing about a battle against ‘evil’. It also means listening to unpleasant facts.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 3, 2001
Just in case anyone has forgotten how life was for millions of Afghans before the US started its military campaign on October 7, here’s a quick recap. Women brutally denied any rights whatsoever, people murdered under the pretext of some skewed religious logic or the other, millions left to starve because of a complete lack of infrastructure and human sentiment, 4.5 million refugees on the run prior to September 11.
In other words, a barbaric regime ruled a people with an iron fist and a warped mind. Allegations of the Taliban ready to use civilians as ‘human shields’ may seem far-fetched to many — especially since the allegations have been made by the US. But those who have no qualms throwing acid on women’s faces, burying people alive or stoning them to death seem unlikely to have sleepless nights over using their own people as cannon fodder and propaganda.
One positive fallout of September 11 has been that the plight of Afghans under a brutal regime suddenly took on flesh and blood. News of horrors being committed in the name of a religion in a far-away land bothered very few people outside Taliban-country. When the Bamiyan Buddhas were blown up and non-Muslims targeted by clerics, there was some concern. But, once again, matters out of sight were left largely out of mind.
Even with an ongoing war further affecting life itself and anti-American rhetoric growing in non-US quarters, most Afghans have not forgotten their plight under the Taliban. "In the time of the Taliban’s medievalist domination, no Afghan and no sensitive Muslim will be deceived by the ‘nationalistic’ gestures of the Taliban who invite the Afghan people and even the whole Muslim world for ‘jehad’ against America. Any person, group or government that supports the Taliban, no matter under what pretext, is the enemy of the Afghan people," states the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Let no one be in doubt that the Taliban is the primary terror for the Afghan people. Worries about bombs and the takeover by Northern Alliance troops (former mujahideen whose atrocities paved the way for the Taliban five years ago) are comparatively — and only by comparison — milder.
Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 1, 2001
IT’S difficult to recall those days not so long ago when the scariest doomsday scenarios debated by the American media centred around things like the Y2K bug and shark attacks. September 11 was not just the day the country discovered the world, it was also the day it began counting down the different kinds of danger lurking — some real, others in the mindspace. The day it — as well as the rest of the world — began identifying fears to address. Urban vulnerability. Bioterrorism. And now the possibility of nuclear terrorism. For all the fact checkers the New Yorker compulsively employs, it is difficult to gauge the accuracy of Seymour Hersh’s story on the Washington’s contingency plans in case Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf is deposed and its nuclear facilities commandeered by Talibanised security forces.
Amidst the flurry of economic packages that have been showered upon Islamabad, has Washington already extracted some sort of control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal? Or is it really, as Hersh would have us believe, still busy training Israeli commandos (wonder how that is being digested on the Arab street) to take away Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in case renegades try to seize them? Or is this all fantasy, are the Americans not even preparing for such an eventuality? Hard to say. But what is certain is that there’s an edginess — as much here in India as anywhere else, if not more — about instability in Pakistan. Nuclear facilities apart, possible coups apart, other facets of this instability are already in evidence. Nuclear scientists, suspected of harbouring sympathies for the Taliban, are being arrested. Religious tensions are already extracting litreages of blood every day. Cleavages along ethnic lines are being scrutinised as the American strikes in Afghanistan carry on. And members of the Musharraf government are publicly speculating the domestic reaction if Operation Enduring Freedom carries on, without a pause, during the Ramadan month. The mounting numbers of wannabe warriors for the Taliban lining up at the border are being updated with a horrifying urgency.
It is easy then to drift towards worst-case scenarios, to plot contingency plans in case Pakistan gets ‘‘Talibanised’’. What is not easy, however, is to weave into all of this talk of splitting the Taliban and wooing away a ‘‘moderate’’ faction. Indeed, an impression is already gaining currency that the US is pacing its war effort in Afghanistan till some of Mullah Omar’s men can be tempted away with offers of a place in any post-war dispensation. But the possibility of further Talibanisation of Pakistan is directly linked to the very survival of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For every day that the American alliance dithers and postpones decisive strikes on the Taliban, instead mistargeting its ammunition at innocent civilians, provides more nutrition to the ‘‘Talibanised’’ sections in Pakistan — in its army, in the ISI, or in Islamist groups.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, October 31, 2001
One of the conjectures relates to the duration of the conflict, with the admission that it is going to be different from what the world has experienced so far. It was only to be expected, therefore, that the question which is at the back of everyone’s mind, that of nuclear weapons, would also feature in the discussions.
The most unsettling in this respect is the report about the US-Israeli plan to prevent the Pakistani nuclear arsenal from falling into the hands of terrorists. This grim possibility had been a nightmare scenario even earlier. Now, the apprehensions are bound to be greater since the terrorists have already demonstrated their determination to pursue their insane jehadi objective.
The world had faced such a threat only once before, when Mao Zedong argued that enough Chinese would survive a nuclear confrontation with the US to usher in a communist revolution. However, if that was mere bluster, the menace presented by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban is not. For the first time, the world is dealing with fanatics whose thinking is beyond the comprehension of normal human beings.
The safety of the Pakistani arsenal, therefore, is of concern to the entire international community. Apart from the Taliban, the known fact of the Talibanisation of sections of the Pakistani establishment is a matter of deep disquiet. The US is trying its best to keep Pervez Musharraf in good humour by doling out dollars. But what of the fanatics in the ISI, whose links with the Al-Qaeda in the training of the jehadis operating in Kashmir have now come to light? Is it fully under General Musharraf’s control?
The American reiteration of their strategic thinking which does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons, as underlined by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, may also be of relevance if the war drags on indefinitely. Of the last three major wars, the US lost one, in Vietnam, and was only half a winner, against Iraq. It also had to withdraw in a hurry from Somalia.
Its stakes, therefore, are very high in Afghanistan, especially because it is seemingly facing an implacable enemy which has succeeded in taking the war to the American continent unlike any of its other adversaries. The stakes are high for India also because the American success in the war against terrorism is bound to lessen the menace faced by India. But it is the unforeseen complications caused by a prolongation of the conflict which is a cause for deep unease.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, October 31, 2001
The Pakistani establishment, and especially its present leader, Pervez Musharraf, must have known how acting as the friend, philosopher and guide of the Taliban would foment religious extremism in Pakistan as well. But it was a risk which they took in the hope that the damage which Pakistani civil society might suffer would be compensated by the wresting of Kashmir from India. There is little doubt that General Musharraf was a major proponent of this cynical line, of which the invasion of Kargil was an integral part. It was only a few months ago that there was a belated recognition by the Musharraf regime about the danger posed by the extremists to Pakistan itself, leading to a simultaneous ban on a Sunni and a Shia outfit.
But as Sunday’s outrage has shown, it is easy to light a fire but extremely difficult to put it out. It isn’t only the massacre of Christians which has shown how rabid militancy is flourishing in Pakistan, but also the eagerness of several thousand armed men to cross over to Afghanistan to fight on behalf of the Taliban. It is in this highly disturbing context that General Musharraf’s call for picking up the threads of the Agra dialogue has to be seen. Although India has made it clear more than once that it does not want to take advantage of Pakistan’s present troubles, it also has to keep in mind the fact that these troubles are Pakistan’s own creation. Not only that, they had been fomented with the express purpose of conducting a jehad against India, a ‘war’ which has now been endorsed by Mullah Omar.
What is more, even after being burnt by the fiery zeal of the jehadis, there is no sign of Pakistan resiling from its provocative line on Kashmir. It still refuses to acknowledge its role in cross-border terrorism and refers to a settlement of the Kashmir problem in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiris. One might have thought that greater attention might be paid to ascertaining the views of the Pakistanis about the man who usurped power two years ago and has led their country to the present sorry pass. Evidently, by offering to resume the dialogue, Pakistan is trying to retrieve what it can from the wreckage of its Taliban (and Kashmir) policy. After all, Islamabad knows that the jehadis today have reached a stage of insanity where they are as capable of turning against it as against India. New Delhi, therefore, has to be extremely careful about how it wants to deal with the villain of Kargil.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, October 30, 2001
Despite the George Bush rhetoric that the US is slowly but surely dismantling Taliban defences, their installations and their command-and-control structures, signs on the ground are unfortunately far less sanguine. It would be an exercise in self-deception to regard the brutal execution of Afghan opposition commander, Abdul Haq, as just another death in a barbaric war. From all evidence, Haq — as a credible Pashtun leader — was to play a central role in putting together a post-Taliban political order, one with a fair Pashtun representation. In fact, the mission that marked his end was in pursuit of precisely such a goal.
His execution means that the Taliban, even after 20-odd days of unremitting pounding by the US with the help of the most sophisticated arms and ammunition in the world, are not about to give up the ghost. More important, it indicates that their information network and political control over much of Afghanistan remain intact. The brutal manner in which Haq was done to death within hours of his capture indicates that the Mullah Omar regime wished to make an example of him and send out the message that anybody who does business with the US is a dead man as far as it is concerned. This, incidentally, is the Taliban’s second significant strike: last month a suicide bomber had got Ahmad Shah Masood, a lynchpin of the Northern Alliance. There are two possible reasons for the Taliban being able to stave off imminent collapse, apart of course from the pathetic state of the forces opposed to it within the country. The first is through the sheer brutality of its methods. It is a dispensation that survives on an intricate network of fear and exemplary punishment. The second is the potent appeal it makes to country and culture. Note the words Mullah Omar used in exhorting his compatriots to rally to the Taliban cause: ‘‘We must defend our land. Remember our fathers and grandfathers who fell defending this religion and this land.’’
So where does this leave the strategy of the global alliance against terror? That three weeks of aerial attacks have only led to big rubble being reduced to small rubble is cause for concern. Already, there are signs of the US administration getting more realistic about its objectives. Last week, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the US may never be able to get hold of Osama bin Laden. There was also that candid admission by a US rear admiral a few days ago. He had expressed surprise over the doggedness with which the Taliban were hanging on to power. These are useful reality checks and will hopefully moderate the blind ‘‘bomb ’em back to the stone age’’ rhetoric of many Washington hawks. With the holy month of Ramzan just a few days away and winter imminent, the Pentagon will have to tread a minefield. It doesn’t have many options before it but the few it has will have to be pursued with sense and sensitivity.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, October 29, 2001
It can be said without much exaggeration that the finest ambassador that the American state department has had during the ongoing military campaign against international terrorism has been British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Following close on his heel is the American media. The near blackout on stories about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and on any close analysis about the causes — as opposed to the effects — of why the US is disliked tell a tale in which an artificial link can be discerned between journalism and ‘patriotism’. For those who have followed the news through the lens of the American media since September 11, anything critical of US policies is a no-no, as is the trend to go out of one’s way to present facts in an ‘edited’ form.
Being charged of bias is an occupational hazard for any media organisation anywhere in the world. But what can one make of the fact that two columnists in the US were sacked for questioning the actions of President Bush? Or that of encouraging prime-time news programmes which try their hands at deconstructing the word ‘evil-doers’? The muzzle on the mouth of US television networks like CNN, NBC, CBS and Fox may have been self-imposed after a ‘request’ by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. But a muzzle is a muzzle is a muzzle and it hinders one from pursuing the truth. And the media in the world’s most powerful democracy are treating truth as if it were a hot potato.
The president of the Inter-American Press Association, Danilo Arbilla, warned earlier this month that the US media’s "credibility was at stake" and that their duty was to "seek the most information possible, even that which could be considered dangerous". Apart from the American print media’s hush over anything that may ‘counter the cause’ — itself a flawed argument — TV channels are kidding themselves if they think that no one will notice discrepancies. Flashes in the distance may have satisfied an audience during the Gulf war, but thanks to the dissemination of technology, CNN no longer has the monopoly over state-of-the-art media equipment as it had during the Nineties. As is evident in the way the BBC is covering the war, it is possible to be objective during war-time. The moment news becomes propaganda, it simply becomes a veiled parody of an Uncle Sam poster calling all Americans to join the armed forces.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, October 27, 2001
As several Muslim academics, clerics, women activists and ordinary men and women publicly denounce the Jama Masjid Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari’s vulgar personal vituperation against Shabana Azmi on a recent television programme, they reiterate another point as well: that the Shahi Imam does not speak for the community. It is one of the tragedies of the post-WTC world that this point is not more obvious than it seems to be, and that average men and women of the Muslim community in India should feel cornered into providing proof of their distance from those like the Shahi Imam. It is really unfortunate it should have become necessary for them to do so to puncture the smug stereotype of the ‘Islamic response’ to Black Tuesday.
Another war has been afoot since September 11 and not just in Afghanistan. This is the clash, across borders, not of civilisations, but of manufactured images. In this fight, the shriller, more virulent contrivance occupies centre stage. And so, Islam comes to be equated with fundamenta- lism/terrorism. It is necessary, in this moment, to stand up and point out that ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ is not a natural coupling and that it does not represent more than a mere fragment of the truth, either about Islam or about fundamentalism. But it is important to do more than just that. Care must be taken that one stereotype is not fought by resorting to another. The ‘Muslim extremist’ will not be vanquished by the ‘Muslim moderate’. The only way in which justice can be done within a complex reality is by recognising, yes, its complexity. Public spaces within the media and outside need to be opened out to accommodate and broadcast many more voices from the community than they usually do. There is no one voice, extreme or moderate, that can tell everyone else about what it is that is actually happening deep in the recesses of the ‘Muslim mind’. Truth is, as both grapple with daily concerns about education, health, employment et al, the Muslim in Srinagar may react completely differently from the Muslim in Mumbai on any particular issue, and that both reactions can vary from one issue to another.
There will be resistance, of course, to abandoning the stereotypes and the anointed spokespersons for the community. Typecasting is so convenient and it serves so many interests, especially in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state like ours. It suits the media to hold up one view as representative of the entire community because it obviates the effort involved in going out and searching for more. It has also suited the state and the government at various points of time to negotiate with one face of a community — the Shahi Imam has been given a far more serious hearing by the political leadership of the majority community rather than by members of his own. Most of all, it suits the lunatic fringes of both the Hindus and the Muslims to be seen as imaging their respective communities and to sharpen their claws against each other’s edges. Yes, it will be difficult, but there is no alternative to a more nuanced understanding of a multifaceted reality.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, October 26, 2001
Some of the initial assumptions about the war in Afghanistan are being proved wrong. There does not seem much immediate hope of the Americans attaining their objective of ‘smoking’ out the Taliban and hunting them down, as outlined by President George W. Bush at the start of the campaign.
In contrast, the US has now admitted that the Taliban has turned out to be much tougher than what was believed. The desire for a quick end of the conflict was expressed with even greater earnestness by Pakistan, so much so that the US had to deny that it reflected Washington’s view. Pakistan, of course, had its own reason, for the longer the war continues, the more destabilising it may prove to be for Pervez Musharraf.
Already, the deaths in Afghanistan of Pakistani militants belonging to one of its terrorist outfits have exposed, yet again, the links between Islamabad and Mullah Omar’s regime. The arrest of a Pakistani nuclear scientist has also underlined the danger of these holocaust weapons falling into the hands of fundamentalists — the ultimate in scary scenarios. Such dangerous fallouts could only have been avoided by an early end of the war either as the result of a clear-cut military defeat of the Taliban or defection from its ranks. But the present indications are not hopeful. Arguably, a massive ground offensive by the Americans may have made an impact. But the US is evidently unwilling to undertake such a mission because, first, it does not want to get bogged down as the Russians did and, secondly, it suspects that such steps will put an even greater strain on the Muslim partners of the coalition.
It isn’t only that there are no signs as yet about who is winning or losing the war, there is confusion, too, about the post-Taliban dispensation. The only certainties about it is the place of the former king, Zahir Shah, at the helm and the stationing of troops from Muslim countries to maintain order under UN auspices. But there is no certitude about who will run the show on the ground. Neither the unwholesome record of the Northern Alliance nor the identification of ‘moderate’ elements in the Taliban recommend themselves as possible solutions to the problem. For the present, however, even considering a post-Taliban scene may appear absurd in view of the uncertainty of how the war will progress in the coming days and weeks. Indeed, the next most troublesome phase will be the effect of the bombing during Ramzan on the Muslim countries. In India, concern about the conditions in Pakistan becoming more unsettled is bound to be widely felt as the war continues into the winter.
-- Editorial, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, October 26, 2001
THE SPIRALLING RHETORIC on the India-Pakistan front shows how intense are the hard feelings that the Governments on both sides seem inclined to let fly at each other like some uncontrollable sparks. Admittedly, the two countries are very wary of each other's real intentions in a tremendously complex regional context. The growing bilateral tensions are, in a sense, traceable to last month's strategic decision by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's President and Chief Executive, to cooperate with the United States in its war, now under way, against Afghanistan. Relevant to this is the emotional upheaval, which is being felt differently by the people of India and Pakistan, on account of the uncontested belief that Afghanistan's Taliban regime, presently under fire from the U.S., had in the first place owed its genetical links to Islamabad itself. The extent of Pakistan's benign or reformatory influence over Osama bin Laden, the Taliban's patron-guest and America's prime target now, is of secondary importance to New Delhi and Islamabad in this context. An overall regional ambience so perceived seems to have spurred the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, in his latest poser to Pakistan. The burden of his tactical taunt is that Pakistan, which is ``waging a war'' against its own Taliban, can hardly be trustworthy as a dialogue partner.
In a chronological sequence, Mr. Vajpayee's doubts over Pakistan's credentials as a credible interlocutor have only followed Gen. Musharraf's intemperate warnings. Gen. Musharraf asserted only a day earlier that Islamabad would ``teach India a lesson'' if it were to opt for any military ``mischief'' on the bilateral front at this particularly fragile moment in their relationship. The surmise in Gen. Musharraf's official camp at this stage seems to be that India has no business to quarrel with Pakistan if it has been able to join the U.S.-led ``international coalition against terrorism''. The subtle point at issue is that Washington is willing to accept Islamabad as a key player in this unpredictable venture despite New Delhi's line against Pakistan's encouragement of cross-border terrorism within India. In New Delhi's perspective, Pakistan's geostrategic location rather than its `moral' stature should explain the current convergence of interests concerning Washington's ``anti-terror'' war and Islamabad's new foreign policy orientation. New Delhi, provoked by Gen. Musharraf's latest remarks, is now squandering the sign of restraint which it signalled only a few days ago when it clarified that it had no intention for the present to embark on ``hot pursuit'' of the Kashmir-related terrorists inside the territory controlled by Pakistan.
Mr. Vajpayee clearly wants to put Pakistan in the dock on the international stage by pointing out the perceived inconsistencies in Gen. Musharraf's foreign policy. The Prime Minister has asked Pakistan to choose either peace or animosity in relation to India without mincing words or quibbling about policy. Mr. Vajpayee may naturally be eager to let the global community know India's point of view. However, his parallel move to slam the door on the idea of re-engaging Pakistan seems to presage a new and dangerous drift on the bilateral scene. So, both he and Gen. Musharraf must face the true test of statesmanship by reining in the rhetoric so that it does not become a blighted substitute for a genuine and sustainable dialogue. Pakistan's latest `demarche' to India in regard to some statements by its Home and Defence Ministers, Mr. L. K. Advani and Mr. George Fernandes respectively, is illustrative of how far Islamabad has gone down the path of confrontation in a context that has more to do with America's strategic compulsions. While New Delhi is right in wanting to avoid a ``sterile'' debate with Islamabad over each other's rhetoric, it will be unwise to give up the search for a possible re-engagement between the two.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, October 25, 2001
General Pervez Musharraf should not be left untutored in front of a microphone, if his recent comments on PTV are anything to go by. What he had to say on Monday was not just crude, it was downright offensive. Phrases like ‘‘We are not wearing chudiyan (bangles)’’ do not behove presidents of nations — whether they are ‘‘chota-mota’’ or not — and General Musharraf woussld do well to realise that. Perhaps it is the new arrogance that his close partnership with the US in the ‘‘war against terror’’ has engendered which prompts him to choose his words so rashly. Whatever the reason, it does little for his image or that of his country. Finding himself driven into a corner by a hostile response from within his country to his support of the air strikes on Afghanistan, the General clearly finds it expedient to turn on the anti-India rhetoric.
But if General Musharraf is given to talking loosely on Pakistan-India relations, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has a habit of delivering ad hoc pronouncements every now and then. Ironically, his statements to the press on Monday at Lucknow, ruling out a fresh dialogue with Pakistan, contradicted his observations of late August — also made in Lucknow — confirming that he was going to meet General Musharraf in New York. It is true, of course, that a great deal has changed in the intervening two months. They witnessed not just the September 11 strikes in New York and Washington but a dastardly attack on the J&K Assembly building in Srinagar, which even Musharraf was forced to condemn publicly. While events such as these would certainly add complexity to the India-Pakistan dialogue process, the question really is whether they should be allowed to torpedo it or even put it on the back burner. Vajpayee, when he expressed himself against resuming the dialogue process this time, justified the revised stand by pointing to Monday’s Fidayeen attack on the Avantipur Indian Airforce base, near Srinagar. But the fact remains that such attacks are not new and not wholly unexpected either. While we should take every precaution to foil such predatory strikes and ensure security in J&K, they should not in themselves be allowed to define foreign policy formulations and targets.
In other words, India must continue to talk to Pakistan while holding on to the big stick to fight any aggression it may face from that country. Foreign policy by its very nature follows a much larger cycle of evolution than those that describe skirmishes and attacks on the ground. Such policy formulation, therefore, would be destabilised greatly if it were to respond to the acts of terror that J&K has, alas, been witnessing on an almost daily basis. It takes a self-confident nation with clearly defined priorities to pursue the larger objective of working towards achieving sustainable peace on the subcontinent. Both India and Pakistan then have little to gain by trotting out the same tired old statements and shibboleths which have only led them to go around in never ending circles like blinded bulls yoked together by violence.
-- Editorial, Indian Express, New Delhi, October 24, 2001
FOR THE U.S., the ringing chorus by the forum for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) against terrorism in ``all forms and manifestations'' is music indeed. In a different sense though, the United States must reckon with the APEC's collective failure to openly voice solidarity with Washington as regards its ongoing ``counter- terror'' strikes against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Also relevant to any discussion of the actual diplomatic gains by the U.S. at the latest APEC summit in Shanghai is the forum's formulation that the United Nations should ``play a major role'' in combating terrorism comprehensively. Arguably, these are the outward signs of the APEC's hesitation even if it does not connote an absolute refusal to endorse America's present military action. On balance, however, there seems to be something that the U.S. can usefully cite from the subtle sub-text of the forum's overall suggestion about a major role for the global organisation. The U.S.-friendly view from the Asia-Pacific rim is that ``the importance of all relevant U.N. resolutions'' be taken into account in the battle against international terror. Indeed, the legal and moral springboard for America's current military expedition was the resolution that the U.N. Security Council recently adopted to outline a robust policy of facing the terrorist challenges in the wake of last month's outrage against humanity. If seen in this nuanced framework, Washington's claim about ``universal support'' for its anti-terror sentiments is not really illusory as might be indicated by the APEC's eloquent silence on the incremental American military involvement in Afghanistan.
The APEC's diffused perspective on America's efforts to lead an international anti-terror coalition is not of the same salience to Washington as the view of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is. As an acknowledged military alliance, the U.S.-centric NATO has by and large expressed its collective willingness to throw its weight behind Washington in its anti- terror ``campaign''. Now, the APEC, a quintessential regional grouping that was explicitly formed to address the global economic challenges on a sustainable basis, seems to have played a proactive role in addressing the U.S.' concerns about the financial sponsorship of international terrorism. In this manner, the APEC entity, whose centre of gravity extends beyond the U.S. economy, may have raised the stakes of the international community in its battle against terrorism on the financial front in particular. The Asia-Pacific rim is dotted with the world's two premier economies, those of the U.S. and Japan, besides several emerging and interactive ones. So, the APEC can make a positive difference to the ``campaign'' against international terror by translating some of its latest intentions into a reality. Spelt out in this category are some critical APEC objectives - blocking the international transfers of terror- spinning financial assets, strengthening energy security, ensuring the safety of the global transportation networks among other aims.
No less important to the global anti-terror ambience are the bilateral meetings that the U.S. President, Mr. George W. Bush, held with his Chinese and Russian counterparts, Mr. Jiang Zemin and Mr. Vladimir Putin respectively, on the sidelines of the APEC summit. Mr. Jiang advocated a role for the U.N. in this ``campaign'', while Mr. Putin downplayed Mr. Bush's apprehensions that the international terrorists might manage to lay their hands on intercontinental ballistic missiles and activate them. Yet, among all the APEC leaders, it was Mr. Putin who came closest to Mr. Bush in articulating the terrorist threats. With Mr. Bush advocating a missile defence system by showing the terrorist challenge as a new strategic compulsion, Mr. Putin agreed to look at futurist ways of defending global stability only after evaluating the long-term viability of the existing frameworks. A serious Russo-American strategic dialogue seems to be beginning in this new context.
-- Editorial, Hindu, Chennai, October 23, 2001