WAR ON TERROR
Notes of a Bystander
(Continued from previous issue)
It was not long ago that in the "Western" eye Jihad was considered a just war, perpetrated against the invading communists who had been occupying a Muslim country. The word Mujahideen (From Persian or Arabic mujâhidîn, the plural of mujâhid "one who fights a jihad.") entered English dictionaries in the early eighties and, in the following decade, Afghan Jihadis, armed with US-supplied anti-aircraft carriers and rocket launchers started to adorn US magazines as freedom fighters.
Hollywood went one step further: In one of the Rambo sequels, Silvester Stallone, the Rambo, the saviour of the world, was seen fighting the Afghan war along with the Mujahideens. Throughout the decade, Hollywood and Western print media portrayed the Afghan guerrillas as a group of "freedom-loving" angry young men, fighting the might of the Soviet empire to save their cultural identity. Jihad became sexy.
Like the way youth from all over Europe joined the Republican Army against Fascist Franco's regime in Spain, Afghan Jihad, as it is known now, attracted flocks of young Muslim men across the world. One of them was Osama bin Laden. Money had never been a problem to this Arab civil engineer and with the US administration in his pocket, Laden and the faithful soon saw the Red Army crumble and withdrawn back to Moscow. Najibullah's regime soon fell apart and Northern Alliance (NA), an US-backed coalition came to power which consisted of ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hajaras and some small Pashtun clans. Chaos ensued as instead of establishing law and order in the country, the NA members indulged themselves in rape, killing and extortion.
Another group of young men, meanwhile, joined the Jihad and swept victory in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Ghazni. They were the Talibs, Pashtun Madrasa students; some of them were war orphans and others grew up in different refugee camps in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. Mystery surrounded the birth of the Talibans as a political force as they swept victory in Kandahar and Heart and, by October 1995, laid seige on the capital Kabul. Many believe they were armed and trained by the Frontier Constabulary, a quasi-military unit of the Pakistan Army. Whatever it is, the US remained silent even after the Talibs took control of Kabul and publicly hanged former Soviet-backed president Mohammad Najibullah. It was 1996, the Cold War was a distant memory, and for the policymakers in Washington, Afghanistan had become another poor Central Asian country where poppy grew aplenty. Pakistan lost its strategic importance too, and only to add insult to the country's injury, the US started to sell arms to India, Pakistan's arch enemy. US media, one has every reason to believe, even forgot what Afghanistan was until September 11, 2001.
The incident of US assistance to fanatics is not at all new. During the Cold War, subsequent US governments actively funded the Polish church to get rid of the Soviet-backed regime in Warsaw. The late Pope John Paul II, with the blessings of the CIA, sent millions of USD to Lev Walesa, who organised a violent uprising in the Polish city of Gdañsk.
This trend was sporadic in Muslim dominated regions in Asia; the US remained a seemingly innocent bystander as religiosity and fanaticism increased dangerously in countries across the region.
During Bangladesh's liberation war, scared of the socialist-leaning of the Muktijuddho had, the US government actively supported the Pakistani government, who were butchering innocent civilians in the name of Islam. In fact the US vetoed several times in the UN against the emergence of Bangladesh; in the wake of the country's independence, the US sent its Seventh Fleet to help the losing Pakistani Army.
Islam was not the only weapon at the US's disposal at that time. In Muslim dominated regions, the US tried to impose an eerie mixture of religion, "Freedom of Speech" and "Democracy". The last two were just on paper.
And military rulers of different colours crept in and grabbed power in different Muslim countries, sometimes under the pretence of saving religion from the atheist communists and sometimes to "rescue the toiling masses". The US government silently nodded when Zia-al-Haque grabbed power in Pakistan and gagged free press. He was hailed rather as an ally against Communists. That Zia established Sharia in the country did not matter to the US, as long as he stuck to his anti-Soviet stand.
In another Muslim country Indonesia, where Marxists were gaining strong grounds, General Suharto led a bloody coup. Sukarno, the country's elected president, was ousted and killed; and Suharto launched a witch-hunt that had witnessed, according to a moderate estimate, the killing of around 5,00,000 civilians. Throughout his rule, the US showered Suharto with arms and ammunition that the dictator faithfully used against his own people.
In Bangladesh, when the country's founding father Sheikh Mujib was assassinated along with almost all his family members by some disgruntled army men, the US foreign office remained silent. Generals Ziaur Rahman and HM Ershad grabbed power one after another, of them the latter managed to cling on to power for nine years. When things got sour Ershad made Islam the state religion. US never asked for a regime change neither did it want to export democracy.
In fact, during the Cold War, as an export item, democracy was strictly kept for East Europe. So when Saddam Hussein bombed one Iranian city after another, killing thousands of unarmed civilians, the US sold him military logistics because the Ayatollahs in Tehran did not like the US. But the Reagan administration could not but stop there; it sold arms to both Iran and Iraq who were fighting a ruthless war over the Shatt al-Arab straits. With the profit of arms-sales to Iran, the US armed Nicaragua's Contra rebels.
When the war was going on, Saddam faced an insurgency in his Kurdish north. With the help of the US arsenal he had, Saddam dropped poison gas over the Kurdish city of Halabja from March 16-19 in 1988. The bustling city of 80,000 people, which was run over by Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Kurdish rebels, soon turned into a city of ghosts. The US remained silent at its friend's "mischief"; Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, paid the country a visit and gave the Butcher of Baghdad a friendly pat.
In fact, US foreign policy in the Mid East is full of shameless duplicity. The Kings of different Arab countries hold absolute power over their subjects; democracy or human rights is a far cry in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Arab Emirates. Ironically Kuwait, the country that the US so zealously saved from Saddam's clutches during the Gulf War I, did not have women suffrage; the Emir was-- and still is-- an absolute monarch, who controlled the kingdom with an iron fist. Ironic that all the Gulf Sultanates the US used as bases to overthrow Saddam, the vile dictator, did not have democracy by any standards.
Egypt, one of US's staunchest ally in the Middle East, is ruled by Hosni Mubarrak, who does not allow any opposition to his regime. Different White House administrations have been providing Egypt with military and financial aid, as the country maintains diplomatic ties with Israel. That his is one of the most unpopular regimes in the region does not matter to the US, given the dictator clamps down on Islamic Brotherhood or such militant organisations.
The occupation of Palestine and the sufferings the Palestinians are going through on their own land by Israeli forces have become a major source of Muslim anger across the world. Many of them find it difficult to separate the US from the Zionist regime. Though Israel possesses nuclear weapons and denies the UN observers to inspect its Dimona Nuclear Plant, it is Iraq that the US and its allies have attacked to find nuclear weapons, and it is Iran they want to stop from making the N-bomb.
The UK falls in the line too: Because of the country's support to the war on Iraq and "a customary blind eye" towards the plights of the Palestinians, many Muslims consider the UK as the US's partner in crime.
In fact, it is too late for the US to start its campaign to win the hearts and minds of Muslims. A big chunk of the Muslim population, most of whom were born at the height of the Afghan War, have been radicalised; courtesy the war on Afghanistan and Iraq, and, for some, because of the abject poverty in their lives for which they blame the US and its money culture.
By waging its war on terror, the US has become the Frankenstein trying to kill the fiend it once so painstakingly made. On its way to execute that the US is giving birth to more monsters and still wonders why there are so many.
raped: No action was taken on those US soldiers or the members of a government that ordered its soldiers to ethnically cleanse Vietnamese blood.
Throughout the last four decades, the CIA propagated coups d'état in countries across Asia and Africa. Like old gangster movies, the US hired goons to kill political leaders and intellectuals in these regions. Several internal memos circulated during the Cold War that are gradually emerging portray a sordid picture of the CIA's underhand dealings.
One of the major alleged war criminals the US zealously protects is its ex Foreign Secretary (FS) and National Security Adviser (NSA) Dr Henry Kissinger. The accusations run from conspiracy to murder to genocide. Christopher Hitchens, a British journalist, in the March 21 issue of Harper's magazine wrote a two-part series of articles where he gave a list of Dr Kissinger's involvement in war crimes.
The list is big2, an excerpt is given: As US NSA to President Nixon, Dr Kissinger directed the first phase of the illegal and secret US bombings in Cambodia in 1969-1975, resulting in 200,000 causalities; In December 1975, both Gerald Ford and Kissinger met Indonesian President Gen Suharto and gave their approval of the latter's invasion of East Timor. The weapons the Indonesian Army used to murder 20,000, mostly unarmed, East Timorese, were all made in USA, supplied by Dr Kissinger; in 1970, as Nixon's NSA, Dr Kissinger plotted to assassinate Chile's newly-elected President Salvador Allende on his inauguration day. And following his nod, the CIA armed3 Roberto Viaux, a disgruntled General in the Chilean Army. The assassination attempt was botched up and while trying to kidnap Gen Rene Schneider, the Army Chief, the coup plotters ended up in killing him. Hitchens implicates Dr Kissinger in Schneider's murder.
Dr Kissinger, it seems, meddled in Chilean affairs too much. In September 11, 1973, Gen Augusto Pinochet led an allegedly CIA-plotted coup in Chile that killed around 20,000 people in a football stadium, among them was a US journalist Charles Horman. In total it is being alleged that Dr Kissinger helped kill around 100,000 individuals, citizens of countries as diverse as East Timor and France.
After the fall of Pinochet in a mass upsurge a few years ago, Chilean judges wanted to question Kissinger about the killing of Horman. The US, à la Taliban, refused to budge, condemned the Chilean request, and the affair ended there.
On May 31, 2001, French Judge Roger Le Loire had summons served on Dr Kissinger at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, where the latter was staying. The judge wanted to ask him questions about the death of French citizens under Pinochet's regime. To avoid questioning, Kissinger fled Paris that same evening and has never come back to the French capital.
Do the Chileans or the French have the right to invade the US "to find" Dr Kissinger and in doing so kill 50,000 civilians, two third of whom would be women and children? Of course not.
So why did the US attack Afghanistan in the first place? Long before 9/11 or the War on Terror, US Special Forces began joint operations with Kazakhstan in 1997 and with Uzbekistan a year later, training for intervention especially in the mountainous southern region that includes Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. After the fall of Soviet Union, the ex-Soviet Central Asian countries became a lucrative source of oil and gas for US oil companies. Soon different US oil companies acquired rights to as much as 75 percent of the output of these new fields.
The US never wanted to oust the Talibans; in 1999 the US administration even made plans for a covert operation with its Pakistani counterparts to kill Osama bin Laden to soothe audiences at home.4 After Gen Parvez Musharraf came to power, riding a bloodless coup, the plan was aborted. The US administration made do with a UN Security Council resolution that demanded the Taliban hand over Bin Laden to "appropriate authorities"; the resolution did not require he be handed over to the US.
Though Al-Qaeda bombed US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and Osama bin Laden was staying in the country, the Clinton administration did not put Afghanistan on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, neither did the Bush administration do it. Why is such benevolence towards a regime that harbours terrorists? Because discussions were going on about the much-coveted pipeline with the Talibans, and if the US branded the country as a sponsor of terrorism, US oil companies would miss out lucrative contracts.
The US, meanwhile, was preparing for contingencies for what it would do if the Talibans refused the pipeline proposal. In March 2001 Washington was giving logistical support to the Northern Alliance.5 Some shuttle diplomacy followed and by June 26, 2001 it was declared that "India and Iran will facilitate US and Russian plans for 'limited military action' against the Taliban if the contemplated tough new economic sanctions don't bend Afghanistan's fundamentalist regime".6
The battle plan was, in fact, drawn much before terrorists attacked the US. If history had skipped over September 11, 2001, and the events of that day had never happened, it was very likely that the US would have gone to war in Afghanistan anyway, and on much the same schedule.
The War on Terror thus started on a false premise; so did the war on Iraq. Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction we were told; he had the capability to attack British bases in Cyprus, we were asked to believe. But both Bush and Blair knew that the weapons of mass murder that their countries had given the dictator long ago were no longer in use. Saddam under Iraq became a hotbed for Islamic extremists, Bush said in a last ditch attempt to woo Muslims. But the fact of the matter is, though Saddam was one of the worst dictators in human history, he and his Bath Socialist Party always propagated secular values. Saddam ruled the country with an iron fist and, to different US administrations' delight, ruthlessly curbed Islamic insurgency.
In fact, former US president George Bush, after throwing Saddam's occupation forces out of Kuwait in the Gulf War I, did not attack Iraq. When Shias in the Southern Iraq rebelled, banking on a US-promise that Washington will go for a regime change in Baghdad, Saddam killed hundreds and thousands of his citizens in Basrah, Karbalah and Najaf. The US, afraid of the Shia militants' fondness of the Ayatollahs of Iran, did not intervene at that time.
Another reason that was given for the US-led invasion of Iraq was that people were not free under the evil dictator; we were asked to believe that Bush and Blair wanted to save the Iraqis from a vile dictator who once gassed his own people. The tone is unnervingly similar to the Christian evangelists who along with Dutch and British colonists went to Africa: "The kohekohes (in colonialist lingo, Hottentots) are uncivilised; we need to show them the light of enlightenment". Bush's infamous warning, "You are either with us or against us", is based on this Us-and-Them principal.
If the US wants the world to believe that it did not attack Iraq and Afghanistan for the countries' mineral resources, then one has good enough reason to believe that the Blair-Bush duo are modern day evangelists, who want to colonise the world again, and the religion they are propagating is that of big corporations.
Before the UN sanctions were imposed on Iraq, the country had a very strong and vibrant economy: One third of world's total oil under its feet, the country boasted a GDP that was as high as Australia; education and healthcare were free; rate of crime was as low as any West European country; Saddam's government, unlike the Talibans, encouraged women's education; the literacy rate was around 98 percent.
After the US invasion of Iraq, the country has become a metonymy for a failed state. Before the arrest of a dishevelled Saddam from a cave, the US said that it were Saddam and his Bath Party that had been launching terrorist attacks in Iraq. Now with a tamed Saddam in US custody and most of his notorious cronies arrested, the US blames the daily suicide attacks on Al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorist groups.
If Islamic militants are getting a free hand to kill in Iraq, one has to accept that these groups have public support. It is not unlikely that different Iraqi resistance groups have joined hands with Islamic radicals to oust the US occupiers.
1Bin Laden, the Forbidden Truth, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie (Paris, November 15, 2001)
2 Christopher Hitchens later wrote a book titled The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso, May 2001, pp 189). "The United States is home to an individual whose record of war crimes bears comparisons with the worst dictators of recent history. Please stand, ex-Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, Henry A Kissinger," Hitchens writes.
3The Church Committee, headed by Senator Frank Church, in its report found that "the weapons used by Viaux's subordinates were, in all probability, not those supplied by the CIA to the conspirators".
4Washington Post, October 3, 2001
5Jane's International Security, March 15, 2001
6IndiaReacts, June 26, 2001.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005