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De-legitimise terror as state policy

De-legitimise terror as state policy

Author: KPS Gill
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 17, 2001

Most ruthless in the suppression of their own hapless people, and most cowardly in battle. This is how history will probably judge the Taliban. In under a week, once the real fighting started, a Force that had been most arrogant and indiscriminate in its use of violence against its own people was suddenly in full flight, without even a fig leaf of resistance to conceal its disgrace.

Worse still, from the Taliban perspective, has been the sheer jubilation that has greeted the Northern Alliance Forces in city after city that had been forced to forget the colours of life by the oppressive weight of the Taliban's monochromatic vision. The truth, for all their claims to representing the will of "Islamic" Afghanistan's people, is that the Taliban was hated, feared and despised as, perhaps, no other regime has ever been. The Taliban's inevitable end must be a lesson to others-not necessarily of the Muslim Faith-who seek to inflict their own narrow vision, their ignorant bigotry, on people, in the name of exclusionary religions, of oppressive nationalist and cultural ideologies, or of any other political absolutism.

Today, as Pashtun groupings revolt against the Taliban in the South of Afghanistan, the idea that a Taliban "representation" was necessary in any post-war government in Afghanistan rings hollow and absurd. But this was only one of the many misinterpretation of reality, the wrong decisions that Pakistan sought to force on America and the international community. Another, presently and repeatedly voiced by the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, is that only an "Islamic" peace keeping Force would be acceptable in Afghanistan, and that such a Force should only be drawn from the OIC countries. Regrettably, the US and the UN are both apparently falling into the trap of this false reasoning, and there is now talk of a peace keeping Force drawn from Turkey, Jordan, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

But it was not these countries, nor the OIC, who came to the aid of the people of Afghanistan against their oppressive masters. It was, indeed, the Islamic countries that implicitly or explicitly supported and kept the Taliban alive for its years of existence in power. Indeed, the overwhelming and extended presence of foreign "Muslim troops" in a peace keeping Force may well result in their Talibanisation. Not having suffered under the rule of the Taliban, they may still look upon this disgraced menagerie as defenders of Islam. The call to create a purely Muslim peace-keeping Force, moreover, is all part of the arbitrary psychological division that is constantly being reinforced between an Islamic world and a non-Islamic world, and it reflects a characteristic and potentially disastrous failure of intellect-prompted, perhaps by guilt-on the part of the US and its allies, and of the UN leadership. A regrettable fact that must be kept in mind, in this context, is that the UN record of interventions in conflicts in the past, virtually since the creation of the organisation, has not been altogether encouraging.

The collapse of the Taliban also spells the collapse (though not, perhaps, the immediate end) of Pakistan's strategy and "overriding interest", as Mark Husband expressed it, "to achieve internal security by provoking instability among its neighbours". The instability it sought to provoke in its neighbourhood will now return, with redoubled force, to haunt Pakistan itself, and the coming years will be the gravest challenge to the survival of the "criminal enterprise" that has been the Pakistani state since the very moment of its creation. With the imminent defeat of the Taliban, two dominant Pakistani myths have crashed. The first of these is that of religion as a great unifying force that can overcome and neutralise all political divisions and disputes. The second is the belief that you can indoctrinate a pack of illiterates and poorly-educated people on the basis of religion, create an ill-trained and undisciplined rabble-militia, buttress it with leadership and forces from the national Army in civvies, and transform this motley combination into an army of conquerors and liberators. This has been the formula of Pakistan's continuous military misadventures since their first aggression in Kashmir, and it has produced disaster after disaster. Kashmir, Kargil, Kabul, and perhaps a few days from now, Kandahar, is each a monument to the progressive disintegration of Pakistan's untenable delusions of grandeur.

And yet, the war is far from over. What survives of the Taliban will certainly regroup and launch guerrilla and terrorist campaigns. Its main Force may defect to the triumphant Northern Alliance, but the hard core of fanatics will persist, and will pursue a pattern of warfare that is far more difficult to confront, and that does not depend on very large numbers. This compressed force will seek to consolidate itself in the South of Afghanistan-and probably on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and will fan out to commit acts of terror against any new dispensation at Kabul, as well as against Pakistan, India and various others whom it conceives of as the "enemies of Islam". Squeezed out of the larger theatre of the Afghan landmass, they will disperse across as much of the world as will allow them temporary shelter or the anonymity that is necessary to plan their next outrage against humanity. Their sympathisers, sponsors and supporters, currently overwhelmed by the pace of events and by the ferocity of the American and international response to the events of September 11, may lie low till the danger is seen to have passed, but will resume covert support as soon as the risks attached to such conduct are seen to be acceptable-indeed, Pakistan has not, even for a moment, entirely abandoned its advocacy of the Taliban's cause, and there is substantial evidence to suggest a continuous flow of covert assistance and a noticeably mischievous diplomatic role as well, throughout the course of the war in Afghanistan.

The sudden and near total collapse of the Taliban is extraordinary, and was certainly not expected in any strategic circles, least of all by the Americans who had reluctantly prepared themselves for a "long haul". There is a danger of euphoria here, a danger of returning to an old indifference, a habitual arrogance that has been the hallmark of the Western orientation to terrorism that targets non-Western nations. The belief that America's enemies are soon to be destroyed may revive the old 'terrorism tolerating systems and attitudes' that have provided excellent breeding grounds for extremist ideologies not only in the Third World, but in Western nations as well. Were this to happen, in the near or distant future, the gains of the Afghan war would simply be wasted. The succession of events since September 11 have forged dramatic transformations in the world community; the structure and distribution of power across the globe has undergone subtle and complex changes; new opportunities of resolution of old antagonisms have emerged; a powerful voice of the hitherto silent majority of Muslims is articulating its concept of Islam and openly opposing the tyranny and violence of extremist Islamist fundamentalism and terror. These are gains the must not be wasted through future compromises with terrorism, with the forces and ideologies that have promoted it, and with the nations that have supported and sponsored it to further their own political and strategic ends. The present war in Afghanistan should be recorded in history as the beginning of the world's final assault against a scourge that had become a threat to the very possibility of civilisation; and this assault must end not only with a comprehensive defeat of terrorism in every theatre where it is currently manifested, but with a complete and irrevocable de-legitimisation of this method as an instrument of sectarian or state policy.

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