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Articles by openDemocracy readers
It was too easy for an ambitious tea-lady to exploit the indecisive MD at The Lemon Press. He could always be found by the photocopier, comforting the work experience girl. As she cried, he murmured: "stick with it, something will come up..."
Rattling her trolley along, Ms Slivovitz noticed the lump straining in the pleats of Maxwell Wynne's yellow corduroy trousers. His face remained softly sympathetic as he handed the girl a bundle of paper. "We need ten of these for the meeting. It's the new Armaminta Clark gardening novel. We're getting nibbles from Japan."
Charles Secrett writes:
Remember Clausewitz: ‘war has an inherent tendency to get out of control’. Bombing civilians will not win the war against terrorism. It will kick-start a spiral of revenge, and escalation. Any military action must follow the principles for a just war.
This means a precise and proportionate response to the original attack, following rules of engagement laid down in international law, and bringing those responsible before an international tribunal for justice.
Our main task should be to win the peace.
The first priority is to ensure sufficient aid reaches the freezing millions huddled across the North-west Frontier.
Second, the UK and other powers should resolve the inequalities of resource use, wealth and authority that divide Muslim and non-Muslim nations. The antidote to the religious poisons seeping through can only be found by the faithful, not outsiders. But outsiders can resolve underlying secular tensions, because they help cause them. Entrenched poverty, unfair trade and the geo-politics of oil have bred angry, suppressed communities throughout Muslim regions. Making good such injustices is the stuff of sustainable development and responsible, moral engagement.
Third we need to establish a resilient world order – see my contribution to ‘How should we feel about globalisation now?’
Charles Secrett is UK Director of Friends of the Earth
The Real War
Varad Pande writes:
I will try to address my views on this issue in two parts. First, is the ‘end’ to be achieved just? Second, are the ‘means’ just?
As far as the end is concerned – fighting terrorism, or the pursuit of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity – there is little disagreement. The problem arises in distinguishing terrorism from legitimate struggles for justice and human rights. So Israel condemns Palestinian extremists as terrorists while a sizeable section of the Muslim world considers them as jehadis (holy warriors). And Pakistan supports the separatist movement in Kashmir, calling it a legitimate struggle for self-determination, while India fights what it believes to be state-sponsored terrorism.
What about the means? Is bombing Afghanistan with the consequent collateral damage just? At the risk of inviting the chagrin of the ever-growing Anti-War Lobby (AWL), I shall argue – with four points - that the means being used are indeed just.
First, it is held that the war is unjust because the United States has double standards. This may well be a fair assessment of American policy. But just because the United States has covertly supported terrorism in the past, that does not take away its right to fight terrorism today. History cannot be used as a tool to condemn just actions of the present.
Second, it is said that the war is unjust because it is punishing the wrong people – innocent powerless civilians of an impoverished nation. True again. But civilian suffering has been endured in every war in modern history. If anything, there is a conscious effort in this war to minimize its civilian human impact. Moreover, the present war is necessary for the sake of the very civilians of Afghanistan who continue to suffer in silence under an undemocratic and unjust regime.
Third, it is argued that the war will further fuel anti-America sentiments in the already enraged Muslim world. Rather, it is an argument in favour of taking additional measures which would give credible signals that the US and its allies are not against the Muslims of the world, including more balance on the Arab-Israel conflict.
Fourth, the AWL say that the present war, merely tackles the symptoms of terrorism. Once again, I consider this an argument in favour of a long-term strategy to fight terrorism in addition to the present campaign in Afghanistan. This strategy must include measures to address the legitimate grievances of the underprivileged sections of humankind and fairer sharing the global fruits of prosperity. Multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization must not be used as instruments to propagate western values or corrupting elites. They should be facilitators of a participatory, egalitarian and sustainable world order. This is the real war we all have to face.
Varad Pande is an economics graduate from Cambridge, UK and Delhi, India
Preventing global mob rule
Simon Burall writes:
There is only one legitimate global institution which can formulate a response to a global crime of this nature; the United Nations. This organisation has been doing much to promote dialogue between the different nations and to come to common agreement about ways forwards.
Almost immediately after the attack, the Security Council adopted resolution expressing the Council's readiness to take all necessary steps to respond to the attacks. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan released a statement condemning the attack, as did the General Assembly. A General Assembly resolution passed at the same time gives official voice to the world community’s response. All condemn the attack in the strongest possible language and pledge support for the international effort to track down and bring the perpetrators to justice. It is right that statements of international solidarity should be made in this global body as it is the voice of the UN which will be heard by countries finding it hard to support the action which is necessary.
The immediate responses by the General Assembly and Security Council follow important resolutions agreed in previous years. In particular, the Security Council agreed an important resolution in October 1999 in the fight against terrorism. This resolution refers to the 1994 General Assembly Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism. In addition to these globally agreed statements on the solutions to international terrorism there are two important internationally agreed conventions.
The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombingsobliges all signatory states to extradite, or try, any person who is suspected of bombing a third party state if adequate evidence is available. The International Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorismprovides a legal method of prosecuting those responsible for raising funds for terrorist activities even if they are not present in the country where the attack is planned or has been carried out.
The media, in the UK certainly, is ignoring the role that the UN is playing in allowing the key players to talk to each other and find common agreement. By ignoring the role that the UN is playing, and could play in the future, it is deceiving the world that the military option is the only answer for justice and destroying terrorism.
The UN is the only truly legitimate international body; we must place it at the centre of any solutions we formulate to the crisis if we are to ensure that international law is adhered to and global mob rule does not prevail
Using the International Court of Justice
Steve Crossan writes:
Found out some more stuff which may be of interest. In particular - does anyone have a background in international law who knows more about this kind of stuff and can advise where this is naive/wrong/stupid?
As I said in a previous post, only the UN or UN agencies can ask the ICJ for an advisory opinion. But there's an interesting precedent. In 1994 the World Health Organisation asked the ICJ for an opinion on the question 'Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons justified in any circumstances'? The ICJ took 4 years to reach a split decision which was carried by the casting vote and ruled that it was not. Pretty political stuff. So there is at least one agency that has a history of acting in this way.
I've been trying to track down the email addresses of the executive board of the WHO. So far I've found 10 of the 32, including the director general, Gro Harlem Brundland. Interestingly, the current make up of the board has strong representation from academia and from the Arab world. What I don't know is whether there are any procedures for the ICJ to act more quickly than over 4 years - i.e. to make an emergency decision.
I also don't know whether it has any competence to rule over states such as afghanistan that are outside the united nations. Does international law even apply in these territories? Or is it the case that, legally, you can do what you want? In which case this whole approach is wrong and we should be concentrating on the moral and political arenas (as others are).
Steve Crossan is a computer developer and works for Steve runtime-collective.com
States who support anti-Western feeling put themselves in the firing line
Peter Presland writes:
I believe that this is likely to become the defining event of the 21st century.
The time for western judicial procedures and standards being used to combat terrorist threats is definitively at an end.
The anti-western bile that pours from the media of certain middle-eastern countries is at the root of the problem. Western populations have become accustomed to applying their own liberal standards to the judgement of countries whose own root motivation is the destruction of those standards and the societies that nurture them. Such behaviour is akin to that of a rabbit fawning before a stoat - thoroughly self-defeating. Enough is enough.
The States who permit and encourage this bile, and who harbour and give succour to anti-western terrorist organisations must be left in no doubt that, in so doing, they put themselves firmly in the firing line. They must change their world view or be treated as though they themselves were the terrorists.
The Arab world has a deeply entrenched and well-understood saying which is at the heart of their civic and governmental relationships: “The friend of my enemy is my enemy”. It is time for the West to announce their whole-hearted adoption of this principle.
Military action would be counter-productive
Paul Rogers writes:
1. The group responsible has engaged in detailed planning over many months and has substantial numbers of supporters with total dedication to its aims.
2. The group should be assumed to be operating in the context of a long-term strategy, and it should be assumed to have the near-term capability for further attacks, either using hi-jacking or some other method(s) with equivalent or greater effect.
3. The aims of the attack were to have an immediate and lasting effect on US financial military and political centres, and deliberately to incite a massive US military response.
4. The group will have prepared for the latter and will have dispersed its assets and key personnel. From its perspective, the most desirable US response would be widespread military action against training, logistical and other anti-US paramilitary facilities in several countries, together with direct attacks against the Kabul regime and possibly Iraq.
5. If the US takes any such action it will be precisely what the group wants - indeed the stronger the action the better. In its view, such action will serve to:
a) weaken the strong pro-US international coalition,
b) weaken the position of the more moderate elements of the Kabul
c) above all, enable the group to recruit more support.
6. The group should also be expected to respond to such action with further paramilitary attacks in the US or against trans-national US interests or its allies. It should be anticipated that such a response would be at least as devastating as the recent attacks. It is less likely to stage immediate attacks in the absence of such a major US military response, as these would further isolate it.
7. Thus, vigorous military action by the US, on its own or in coalition, will be counter-productive, whatever the intense and understandable domestic pressures for such action.
8. Given the extent of the devastation and human suffering, support for the United States among its allies is far-reaching, and extends to a remarkable range of states.
9. The immediate response should be to:
a) develop, extend and cement this coalition,
b) base all actions on the rule of law,
c) put every effort into bringing the perpetrators to justice.
10. The longer-term response should be to:
a) greatly improve intelligence and co-operation,
b) substantially strengthen international anti-terrorism agreements,
c) analyse, understand and then seek to reduce the bitter and deep-
seated antagonism to the United States in South West Asia and the
Middle East from which these actions and groups have arisen.
11. The group responsible welcomes and seeks military confrontation. It is more fearful of being brought to trial, a process that is likely to weaken it, both in the near and long term, far more than direct military action.
Paul Rogers is Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University and is openDemocracy’s International Security Editor. A consultant to the Oxford Research Group. The second edition of his book Losing Control has just been published by Pluto Press.
We need a better understanding of terrorist groups
Lloyd J Dumas writes:
On Tuesday, terrorists finally succeeded in doing what they had tried and failed to do before - bring down the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center. The same man who was convicted of masterminding the 1993 Trade Center bombing also was convicted of a failed 1995 plot to hijack and destroy a dozen American airliners in the same day.
This time, the terrorists managed to knit pieces of both those plots together to devastating effect. To put the magnitude of this week's tragedy into sharp relief, State Department data show that more than 14,000 international terrorist incidents occurred from 1968 to 2000. In all of those incidents throughout the world, fewer than 10,000 people died.
We have paid an awful price. What lessons are we to learn? For one, like it or not, the fact is that all the billions of dollars we have poured into high-tech weaponry - B-2 bombers, nuclear missile submarines and F-22s - didn't and can't prevent or defend us against a devastating terrorist attack. At the very least, we must pull our heads out of the Cold War and face the changed character of the real threats to our physical security.
National missile defense, too, has very little to offer us. No ‘rogue state’ that wishes to cause us terrible pain will launch one or two long-range missiles against us. Long-range missiles are too expensive, too complex and, in the hands of unsophisticated states, too likely to fail. They also are far too easy to trace to their point of launch. We saw on Tuesday how vulnerable we are to much simpler, cheaper and more effective means of attack. And how much more difficult it is to determine who is responsible.
Our own technology has made us more vulnerable. The primary weapons used to cause such horrifying damage in Tuesday's attacks were our own high-tech jumbo jets, loaded with fuel. Had the terrorists decided to crash one of those jets into a nuclear power plant, there is a very good chance we now would have an American Chernobyl on our hands. The only way to fight terrorism effectively is with a combination of improved intelligence, greater international cooperation and a far better understanding of the character of terrorist groups. We perhaps have become too reliant on advanced electronic technologies to intercept messages and break through encryption schemes.
It may be time to pay more attention to low-tech, on-the-ground means of information gathering, such as using people to infiltrate groups that we have reason to believe are engaged in terrorist activity.
All terrorist groups use the same reprehensible tactics - killing and injuring innocent people to capture the public's attention and to spread fear and alarm. That is what makes them terrorists. But not all terrorist groups are equally likely to commit acts of mass murder on the scale we have just experienced.
For example, groups with well-defined, rational and limited political goals - goals such as political independence for their people - are likely to limit the violence they commit. If they overdo it, they will undercut any chance they have of winning enough public support to achieve their objectives.
Groups with vague ideological goals, driven by motives that aren't rational - such as ancient traditional hatreds and violence-prone doomsday religion - are much more dangerous. For them, revenge for past injury or the desire to hasten Armageddon make violence on a massive scale not only thinkable but even attractive. Such groups require very close scrutiny.
In all of this, there are two things that we always must keep in mind. Lashing out blindly with our military might, because we are angry and afraid, risks killing more innocent people and accomplishing nothing. And allowing any significant compromise of our civil liberties, because of our fear and need for security, will undermine everything this country stands for and will hand the terrorists of the world a greater victory than they ever could dream of achieving on their own.
Lloyd J Dumas is a Professor of political economy, Texas University.
Base all actions on the rule of law
Dr Scilla Elworthy writes:
The best immediate service the British government could render to the U.S would be to help extend a supportive coalition worldwide to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice, basing all actions on the rule of law. Bin Laden is reported to have made extensive efforts to obtain fissile materials, so there should be no question of granting a licence to the Mixed Oxide Plant at Sellafield. The spread of plutonium in the form of MOX fuel increases the risk of nuclear terrorism to an unacceptable extent.
As a longer term measure, the Prime Minister could persuade Mr Bush that treaties, agreements and other instruments of multilateral co-operation are a more productive way of dealing with violence than the unilateral path the Bush administration had been following. The US now desperately needs its friends and allies; undermining the Kyoto treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the International Criminal Court is not the way forward.
Breaking the Cycle of Violence diagram pixel
Dr Scilla Elworthy is the Director of the Oxford Research Group
No shelter for war criminals
Malcolm Chalmers writes:
In Serbia and Croatia, the principle has been established that state sovereignty is no protection for those responsible for mass murder of civilians. The same principle applies to bin Laden, if he is indeed the one behind this barbarity. Neither Afghanistan nor any other state can shelter behind state sovereignty when such acts are perpetrated.
Military responses should not be ruled out, but they can all too easily polarise opinion and make things worse. The priority has to be to use the enormity of this act to force any and all of the governments that may be involved in supporting bin Laden to cease sheltering him and his supporters. As in 1990, the UN should play a central role in uniting the world against a blatant violation of the international norms that protect us all. Unless the international community can tackle this problem now, we could face further, and perhaps even deadlier, massacres in future - including the use of biological or even radiological weapons.
All out against terrorism
Prem Prakash writes:
Terrorism is, in other words, proxy war against nations and people that individuals and groups carry through with or without support of their governments. Islamic militants around the world have been waging such wars in places as far off as in Indonesia, Phillipines, parts of the former Soviet Union, Balkans, the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India and now the brutal attack on USA.
United States is the undisputed world leader of nations-not just a Super Power. United States is wedded to the values of democracy and human rights. These are anathema to the terrorists and particularly of the variety that force their own people into subservience because of the totally misguided interpretation of Islam. Take the plight of women in Afghanistan. Or one look at a veiled woman any where in the world and you know that this has been imposed.
Global terrorism has been around for some time and flourished after the fall of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It was really a tragedy that the United States could not come to an understanding with the government in Afghanistan that succeeded the Soviet forces withdrawal or get the Afghan King back to Kabul. Afghanistan today, with the presence of Osama bin Laden, is the fountainhead of all Islamic terrorism around the world. His resources are limitless---generating money out of drugs produced in Afghanistan and the vast sums that are said to flow to him and other militant groups from Arab states that are under constant blackmail and threat of these groups.
It is a tragedy that the army of Pakistan, a very British professional force, has been virtually 'talibanised'. It is time to deal with this problem as well.
There is no doubt that terrorism has to be eradicated from the face of this world and it is time that the nations of the world--at least all those who believe in democracy should get together and jointly launch action against terrorist groups and such countries as continue to harbour them or support them irrespective of any political objective. These political objective be it in Palestine, be it in Philippines or any where must be pursued through civilised democratic means. Democracy can be slow and it must be respected for its values.
David Grant writes:
Why are we referring to this military action against Afghanistan as a war? It is nothing but an act of state terrorism. I am ashamed to be British, where we have always thought we were a pretty just lot, in the circumstances. The acts of 11.9.01 were atrocious and unspeakable and not even the manifold injustices heaped upon the Palestinian people, the Iraqi people or on anyone else even begin to justify it. However, we (UK/USA)are so far out of line in attacking Afghanistan that it beggars belief. I intensely dislike the Taliban but it is an outrageous policy to follow, to attack a state just because you don't like its internal behaviour. I await with bated breath the production of any evidence whatsoever that either bin Laden and his group or the Taliban carried out the acts of 11th September. If there IS evidence we MUST be given it. So far, none has been produced.
Assume for the moment that there is, then does any general or air marshal seriously believe that - other than by a fluke - they are going to catch anyone by bombing them OR by sending in troops? The idea is a joke. The only way that an individual or group, such as bin Laden and Al Quaida, can ever be caught (unless the Taliban, or someone else, were to hand him over of course) is by stealth. This means by trained infiltrators, operating completely under cover and possibly taking years to do so.
It is of course understandable that the USA - never noticably slow on the trigger at any time - should want to hit out. However it is a pity they used brawn again, and not brains. Had they sent in wave after wave of aircraft, carrying tons of food, there was a chance of winning hearts, minds and just possibly getting there man (if he is). Quite why the UK is trailing along I have yet to work out - it is not as though we had a majority among the many foreign nationals so horrendously killed in the towers. As it is, the West has not a hope of ever achieving their stated goal. Worse, there is a risk of bringing down the Pakistan government, possibly the Saudi government and setting the whole Middle East aflame, if this immoral nonsense goes on much longer.
It is not relevant that this is NOT a 'war' against Islam - because it is being perceived that it IS. The fact that the perpetrators of the twin Towers and Pentagon attacks need to - indeed MUST, if at all possible - be brought to justice is being overshadowed by this perception of the USA and UK mounting an attack on Islam, on the one hand and the deaths of innocent people on the other. The intransigence of Ariel Sharon, now Israeli premier but - let us not forget - carrying the can for the horrific massacres in Shatila and Sabra, does not help either. Nor should it be forgotten that Israeli state terrorism against Palestinians over the past 50 years underlies much, perhaps most, of the present mess.
There has been talk about the whole business being related to American oil interests in a proposed pipeline through Afghanistan, but if this should be so then it places such a hugely different emphasis on this attack on the country that I do not even wish to contemplate it here.
It may yet not be too late for the 'Christian' West to turn its other cheek - but we'd better hurry.
David Grant is a freelance writer
The Problem is Dictatorship
Tomer Schwartz writes:
Since the day of its establishment, Israel has been suffering from terror more than any other nation. Innocent people being blown-up in shopping centres or gunned-down on the roads have been part of life in our country for many years, and I believe that the Israeli people can understand better than many others what the Americans are now going through.
During the last year, Israel has been made subject to an onslaught. This was a well-organised series of over 8,000 terror attacks, which were launched against Israel by Palestinian terrorists. For some reason this unnecessary and unjustified onslaught was presented in Western media as a 'struggle for independence of a deprived nation.' When Israel, as a due and reasonable counter-terror measure, sought to intercept terrorists on their way to carry out their heinous plans, she had been harshly criticised by Western states. I believe that this could serve as another indication of the hypocrisy and double standard, which are so common in our world.
I am afraid that American military retaliation, aiming at Osama Bin-Laden, will lead, at best, to minimal and short-term damage to international terrorism. Terrorism, I believe, can only be eliminated through firm and unconditional struggle against dictatorships, wherever they are. So long as dictatorships exist on this planet, someone will always be willing to host and assist terrorists. The term 'moderate dictator' is misleading, since no person can predict how moderate would his succeeding dictator be.
As a citizen of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, which has been subject to so much aggression and so many assaults from her neighbouring dictatorships, I find the behaviour of some Western Governments very odd. France, for example, is supporting the Syrian leader, whose regime is responsible for 'disappearance' of hundreds of persons, whose only sin was daring to express different political views, and for the brutal ongoing occupation of Lebanon. So long as such hypocrisy persists, never will the free world be free of the threat of terror.
I hope to see all freedom-loving nations taking all possible political and financial steps to urge dictatorships to become democratic and, at the very same time, to support democracies, especially those of which the bare existence is at stake. Yes, I expect the free world to support the Israeli democracy.
Tomer Schwartz is President of Cambridge University Israel Society
The Moderate Islamic States Must Lead
Carl Whyte writes:
The events of September have undoubtedly changed the face of the Western and Islamic worlds. It is important that subsequent events in Afghanistan do not erase from our memories the dreadful events that occurred in New York, Washington DC and Pittsburgh.
The death of five thousand people sent a shadow of sadness over the US and, with a few exceptions, the rest of the world. The death of so many innocents, some dying while following the call of duty, was a shocking development in a world often accused of ‘disaster immunity.’
It appeared that the US was determined to follow a considered course of action along with its allies. The efforts to form a diplomatic ‘coalition against terrorism’ under the direction of Colin Powell (and to a lesser extent Tony Blair) were admirably calm in what was certainly a vengeful atmosphere. The hawks of the US administration were quickly over-ruled and restrained action seemed to be the order of the day.
Events since then, however, have changed. The Taliban offer to hand over Bin-Laden for trial in a third country was ignored. We were suddenly supposed to believe the word of intelligence agencies who could not prevent the events of 11th September, yet claimed to have proof that Bin-Laden himself was responsible.
Bombing missions have not been a clear success. Plans to install a new post-Taliban government headed by the former King of Afghanistan would be laughable if the careerist goals of his grandson were not so obvious and dangerous. The Allies also seem to ignore the fact that most of the indigenous population of Afghanistan are not supporters of the Taliban regime. The Taliban consists of men from as far away as Chechyna, Algeria and even the U.K – all in Afghanistan to fight for the cause of Islamic revolution. The population suffer more and with the approach of heavy snow the allies have ignored calls for a halt in the attacks so that food supplies can be brought in to help those in need. Food packs dropped by the US have proved ineffectual and indeed often end up in the wrong hands. The sight of B-52 bombers launching massive raids does not inspire confidence in the ‘selective’ methods espoused by the allied governments.
What the allies seem to ignore is the general feeling of victimisation among the Arab world. The sight of Israelis attacking Palestinians, Russians attacking Chechens and the bizarre sanctions imposed on Iraq do little to inspire confidence in the ‘coalition against terrorism’. The efforts of Blair to shore up support in the Middle East showed that it is the moderate Islamic states that are best placed to lead the fight against extremism and not Western powers far removed from the day to day realities of life in Afganistan.
Carl Whyte is Editor of 'Trinity News' - Trinity College Dublin
Reply to Mr Whyte and Mr Schwartz
Reader of Americana writes:
Regarding Mr. Whyte's article:
Simply because intelligence agencies failed to prevent an attack doesn't mean that the results of their investigation are not credible. Were we to espouse that philosophy, we would find our police departments useless since they solve crimes after they have occurred and are not always able to prevent them. It is much easier to piece something together after it has occurred than to predict that something will occur. I guess it's really no longer an issue, though, since Bin Laden has finally claimed responsibility.
Secondly, what is Mr. Whyte's basis for stating that 'The Allies also seem to ignore the fact that most of the indigenous population of Afghanistan are not supporters of the Taliban regime'? It seems readily apparent that this fact is a main focus behind the campaign. Leaders of the coalition have repeatedly stated that the Taliban are an oppressive regime largely unsupported within their country. I'd like to see Mr. White back up this seemingly uninformed claim.
Regarding Mr. Schwartz' article:
A lot of what the author says makes sense, but his views on democracy are rather naive. History has borne out that our Western version of democracy is perhaps not appropriate everywhere in the world. While I do think we need to ensure that basic human rights are observed and also attempt to deal with any abusers, I also recognize that trying to force democracy on some countries is not necessarily a good policy and could potentially do more harm than good.
Reader of Americana is a student, North Carolina State University
What does the future hold for Afghanistan?
Sarah Robinson writes:
The UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan recently emphasised the need to find a “home grown solution” to the country’s problems. The words were surely chosen carefully, and underline the need for the international community to consider its involvement in the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan with care.
The calculated support of foreign governments for Afghanistan’s warring factions in recent years has exacerbated the internecine warfare that has ground the country into political ruin. Whilst the American bombing campaign has undoubtedly accelerated the demise of the much hated Taliban regime, sustained attacks on Afghanistan’s most populated regions fail to set a constructive precedent for involvement of foreign governments in shaping Afghanistan’s future. Arab volunteers within the defeated Taliban forces have been treated with disproportionate brutality by the Northern Alliance, underlining the desire amongst the Afghans themselves that the future state of Afghanistan should be as free from outside involvement as possible.
We in the international community have a responsibility to see that the abuse of basic human freedoms under past regimes is halted for good. Yet the desire to lapse into the language of Western imperialism is dangerous. The temptation to talk of “reforming” Afghanistan from a collection of petty fiefdoms into an exemplar of liberal democracy conveniently overlooks the fact that external governments have no mandate to impose their own concepts of governance on a sovereign state. The future stability of Afghanistan depends on the long-term commitment of its ethnic factions to create a truly representative, broad-based system of governance. Whilst the international community should contribute everything it can in development aid and logistical support, the political initiative must come from the Afghan people.
The talks proposed by the UN in Berlin next Monday are a step in the right direction. Francesco Vendrell has made a clear commitment to ensure all ethnic groups are represented. However, the crucial question will be how the various tribal leaders respond to the UN’s invitation. The biggest challenge will be reconciling the demands of the Northern Alliance, who have effectively fought the US’s campaign on the ground, with those of the other ethnic based groups such as the Pashtun.
Will the tribal leaders, who now hold Afghanistan’s political future in their hands, be prepared to think of Afghanistan as a nation as opposed to a collection of tribal territories?
Sarah Robinson is a recent Cambridge graduate
Nation-building in Afghanistan
Ariannie Beukema writes:
Throughout its recent history the US has shown a propensity for foreign intervention, coupled with a high rate of failure. This was particularly prevalent during ideological warfare of the Cold War era during which time the United States fought the international expansion of Soviet dogma. The American Government funded authoritarian regimes to alter the balance of power in its favour in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Afghanistan, Korea, Vietnam, Congo and Angola.
This current ‘war’ in Afghanistan fits this paradigm of past American intervention failures, where the US would install a puppet regime, largely through military funding, and later lose interest, leaving the country in a state of near collapse. I would argue however that the current war is much more deadly than any previous military involvement. The danger lies in the difference of motives. Currently, the US has little interest in nation-building, as Bush stated clearly in his campaign. The US was attacked on its own soil. Simply put, it wants justice, not humanitarian participation. I would argue that the Cold War period produced a strategic US interest in cultivating countries (at least governing elites) that supported or were sympathetic to US ideology and hegemony. Currently, the US has little interest in such cultivation. September 11th has produced an America that is wrapped in its own patriotism and hegemony. The US reaction is natural for any nation, especially for one so powerful. That reaction is not being contested here. However, the key motive for justice will obstruct an international effort to build a new Afghan nation. The present formula, without even considering other factors, such as internal disaffection in Afghanistan and the loose global alliance, will only spell disaster for a country that has already seen too much.
Ariannie Beukema is a student at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies)
Reply to Tomer Schwartz
Sarah Robinson writes:
In response to Mr Schwartz's article, I would agree that the people of Israel are in a better position than many in the West to understand how it feels to be exposed to the threat of terrorism.
However, the fact that there seems to be no impending reprieve to the suffering of innocent Israeli civilians at the mercy of terrorist attacks gives other democractic states like Britain and America a lesson in how not to deal with the threat of terrorism.
The criticisms directed at Mr Sharon demonstrate how a policy of war-like counter-terrorism runs the risk of self-implosion. Respoding to violence with military aggression produces a circle of reciprocity in which aggressor and victim become gradually indistinguishable. This reciprocal trap is particularly dangerous as it gradually undermines the democratic principles which provide the moral justification for any democracy's campaign against terror.
The struggle against terrorism is right and just, but it cannot be unconditional as Mr Schwartz suggests.
Sarah Robinson is a recent Graduate
We should think about is what the people in Afghanistan really want.
Katz Tanabe writes:
Hello, my name is Katz Tanabe, a Japanese student studying racial discrimination in South Africa.
First, I have a say on the issue of War in Afghanistan. I think the most important factor which we should think about is what the people in Afghanistan really want. If they say, or majority of them say, they want Taliban, let them have it. And if they say they don't want it, we should try to help them. But still it can be imperialism if some powerful governments try to help them without thinking that the way how to help them is not only one. The help can be imperialism if those powerful governments put their rightousness (in their interpretation) on the shoulder of the Afghan people.
Second, I have a problem with the opinion of Tomer Schwarts, an Israeli student. He says terrorism can be eliminated through firm and unconditional struggle against dictatorships, wherever they are. I don't agree with this opinion, because in Japan, one terror act occured in Tokyo in the 1990s by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult, which killed 12 people and injured 5000 people. And I believe that although there are a lot of problems in terms of democracy in Japan, for me still Japan is a democratic country. I can critisise the government without fear of assasination. I am free to move and organise a meeting in which we argue about political and social issues.
Also he says Israel is only democracy in the Middle East. That's correct, but it doesn't mean there is no human rights violation or deficiency of democracy at all in Israel. In reality, the Palestinians are the second class citizens, and they are put under the pressure and harassment of the Israeli police and soldiers, even if they are not terrorists.
About 4 years ago, I got scholarship from the Israeli government and was studying the question of Palestine in Hebrew University in Jerusalem. When I was in a bus, two Israeli soldiers came and asked who we were and searched what we had only to 'non white' people, which includes me. Another example, when I was walking with my German friend in the street in Jerusalem, two policeman came and asked about the passport only to me.
I think there is something wrong with the democracy in Israel, especially for those people who's skin colour is not so called 'white'.
West Campus Village G-9
University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,
Katz Tanabe is a Japanese student studying racial discrimination in SA