Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Pakistan: Terrorism - Causes and consequences

Besides the historical facts relating to South Asia, the roots of terrorism lie in injustice, whether political or economic. When the legitimate rights of people are violated, and peaceful avenues for redressing their situation are blocked, the affected groups may turn, as a last resort, to terrorism. Perhaps the most blatant injustice has been committed against the Palestinian Arabs, whose homeland has been converted into a Jewish national home, through the backing of Britain and the United States.

Terrorism: Causes and consequences
Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty

Terrorism has emerged as the most pressing concern of governments, and after 9/11, the sole superpower has launched a war against terror, in which those who do not support it are deemed to be against it. A careful analysis of the causes of terrorism would lead to the conclusion that it is the state terrorism launched by the superpower, that has given birth to terrorism at popular level.

The doctrine of pre-emption, which the Bush administration has adopted, creates a system under which the US, that bore the brunt of the terrorist attack of 9/11, has the right to use its awesome force against any state or organization that may be suspected of having plans to use terrorist methods against it. The rationale is that having access to overwhelming force, the US would not wait to be attacked and subjected to damage of catastrophic proportions, but would act in a pre-emptive manner to destroy the weapons of mass destruction prepared against it, and to annihilate those governments involved in drawing up such plans.

Present evaluations link the phenomenon to militant Islam, some elements of whose followers seek to establish a theocratic Islamic state by attacking and undermining the existing order that is dominated by the West. Two observations need to be made on this theory. Firstly, Islam, whose name means "religion of peace", does not preach violence, but seeks to create a harmonious society, in which the rights of all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are protected.

Secondly, terrorism has existed over the centuries, and was practised by the Jews in Palestine in the period immediately after the Second World War, while a terrorist act by a Christian triggered the First World War. The current tendency to view the war against terrorism as a conflict between civilizations distorts realities to justify what is seen as a neo-imperialist drive to dominate the Islamic world.

Religious extremism does exist, among certain groups within all religions. In Pakistan, various religious sects and schools of thought emerged over differing interpretations of the Islamic value system that tended to encourage sectarian violence. Some of the "jihadist" thinking was nurtured in a small number of religious schools, but the main impulses to encourage militancy came from abroad.

The Iranian revolution of 1979, which overthrew the Shah, tended in its early years to encourage Shia communities to assert themselves, through militias and youth movements. This produced a reaction among the Sunni hard-liners who launched their own militia, the Sipah-i-Sahaba. The tussle in the Khomeini period between Iran and Saudi Arabia affected Pakistan in the shape of religious extremism and militancy that resulted in a crisis of law and order, owing to frequent clashes between the religious militias.

The other impulse for militancy came from the United States, which sought to promote the spirit of religious fervour in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in late 1979. The CIA assembled thousands of Islamic militants from nearly 20 Islamic countries.

The services of Osama bin Laden were utilized and the American media praised his role in building up resistance against the Soviet forces. The US also provided liberal funds to support madressahs that were training Afghan militants. These militants later became the nucleus for the Taliban. All this was done to inflict the maximum damage on America's cold war rival.

Once the cold war was over, following the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan to which the Muslim religious sentiment contributed hugely, the United States made a U-turn in its perceptions, and identified Islam as the successor threat to communism. Pakistan was subjected to sanctions, and the jihadist movements that were utilized in Afghanistan were now described as containing extremists and enemies of western civilization. However, the boost that madressahs, and Islamic militants had received, could not be switched off.

In fact, the indigenous movement that was launched by the Kashmiris in 1989, to which India responded with ruthless repression, now aroused militancy in support of the Muslim freedom fighters in Indian-held Kashmir. Some of the foreign mujahideen, who had fought in Afghanistan, also turned their attention to this theatre.

Within Pakistan, militancy in support of the oppressed people of Kashmir gained momentum, and several new organizations were established, based largely on Kashmiris living in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. The movement in Kashmir was considered legitimate because the right of the Kashmiris to self-determination had been recognized in United Nations resolutions.

Besides the historical facts relating to South Asia, the roots of terrorism lie in injustice, whether political or economic. When the legitimate rights of people are violated, and peaceful avenues for redressing their situation are blocked, the affected groups may turn, as a last resort, to terrorism. Perhaps the most blatant injustice has been committed against the Palestinian Arabs, whose homeland has been converted into a Jewish national home, through the backing of Britain and the United States.

Though the Jews suffered from victimization and genocide in Nazi Germany during the Second World War, they have resorted to similar tactics against the Arabs in Palestine, most of whom have become refugees, and whose lands continue to be expropriated by Israel, with the connivance of the US. Such is the state of despair, and revulsion over Israeli tactics that the Palestinians have turned to terror.

They have accepted a series of proposals that have progressively eroded their position; Israel flouts them after accepting them with US backing. The real solution to the problem of terrorism, whether in Palestine or Kashmir, is to respect the resolutions of the UN, which the great powers implement in other cases where they suits them. Russia is facing a similar problem in Chechnya where it seeks to perpetuate its hold on an oil-rich region, without accommodating legitimate demands for autonomy.

Since the events of 9/11, as the US has relied on pre-emption on the basis of overwhelming force, and has shown scant regard for human life or legitimate concerns in Islamic countries, the militant groups have risen up even in places where terrorism did not exist, such as Iraq. No matter how deeply they resent the crusade against Muslim countries, this militant response is not the answer, especially when it is directed against the legitimate authority within the country. The most regrettable aspect of this situation is that it projects a wrong image of Islam.

To cope successfully with terrorism, the governments of Islamic countries need to move decisively against groups organized to use force against the legal authority, including resort to assassinations, that may be based on political or sectarian differences. Not only should such organizations be banned, but also those involved in terrorist acts must be meted out deterrent punishment.

At risk is peace and stability within the land, as well as the image of Islam as one of the great religions of the world. The adoption of the approach based on enlightened moderation, demands that the advocates of extremism and terrorism must be brought to book, and their influence eliminated.

However, the remedy for the curse of terrorism requires broader international action to counter the trend towards extremism. Such action should address the root causes, which is best done by a world body such as the United Nations. Both the solution of political problems, and the reform of the economic order can be best done under the overall direction of the world body, whose charter has the two aims of ending the scourge of war and of promoting the economic and social well-being of mankind.

Though the responsibility for defeating or overcoming terrorism has been assumed mainly by the United States, since it was the target of the 9/11 attack, the terrorist outrage was related to its unqualified support to Israel. As the sole superpower, it has a primary responsibility for safeguarding peace and stability in the world. However, the manner in which it is performing this role has not only earned it unpopularity on account of its seeming indifference to human rights, but has produced a terrorist reaction in the countries it has occupied.

While resort to criminal acts by terrorists must be dealt with by the governments concerned, with technical or financial assistance where needed, the long-term solution of terrorism lies in removing injustices from the world, which would be best coordinated by the UN. However, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) can play a significant role in the Islamic world by implementing the Pakistan-sponsored resolution it adopted unanimously at its summit in Malaysia last year on adopting "enlightened moderation" as the guiding principle to promoting progress and to improving its international image.

Terrorism limits the effectiveness of efforts to improve the quality of life within the country through development. When it turns against friendly foreigners helping with economic projects, as has happened with the Chinese engineers in Gwadar and the Tribal Areas, it damages important relationships, and discourages investment into projects designed to end poverty and deprivation. Terrorism is thus a crime not only against the law, but also against the people and their foreign friends. That is why coping with it has emerged as the top priority of the government.

Hi Pakistan 19/10/2004