Post the Paris attacks, one has watched with trepidation western states continue down the path that began post-9/11 – of bombing ostensibly the enemy on an unprecedented scale.
The massive bombing of Afghanistan post-9/11, including with depleted uranium bombs, and the invasion of Iraq neither resulted in ending global terrorism nor even in reducing it. All that the US-declared ‘war on terror’ (WoT) did was to unleash a complete destruction of the very notion of human dignity and human rights – in the face of the terrorist acts perpetrated against the US on 9/11. It was as if terrorism and suicide bombers were invented on that day – despite the horrors of Sabra and Shatilla and despite the daily suicide bombings undertaken by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka much before 9/11.
The WoT saw the worst kind of violence brutalising populations – especially in Iraq and Afghanistan – and exacerbating the polarisation between the West and the Muslim world, and within European societies between their Muslim and non-Muslim citizens. In a number of papers and conferences on terrorism post-9/11, I had emphasised that the threat to Europe would come from their marginalised populations which were increasingly suffering a human dignity deficit as laws began emerging seeking to deny them their religio-cultural identity.
Nor was this enough for the US and its allies post-9/11. A grandiose plan began to unfurl which had a dialectic that was bound to cause chaos and confusion. While Europe sought to impose a politico-cultural hegemony in the Arab Middle East under the Greater/Broader Middle East Initiative, which was to bring western-style democracy to the autocratic Arab world – but not the compliant monarchies – the US linked a confused ‘democracy’ agenda with a more definitive agenda of weakening the militarily strong autocratic nationalist Arab states seen as hostile to itself from Iraq to Libya to Syria. Nor was Pakistan excluded from this latter agenda which also envisaged redrawing many borders and was clearly spelt out in Ralph Peters Blood Borders article published in the US Armed Forces Journal. However, no one paid much heed to it at the time.
In any event, once democratic forces are allowed a free run, it is difficult to mould them to one’s liking let alone one’s image. Hence the Arab Spring turned into a ‘winter of discontent’ as the results of the free elections in Egypt sent Muslim Brotherhood shockwaves reverberating all the way to Washington DC. So the democracy agenda gave way to a confused military adventure that sunk the whole region from Iraq to Libya to Syria into chaos and violence – a fertile breeding ground for extremists who coalesced under the IS banner as the older Al-Qaeda found itself floundering in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Unfortunately for the US, Assad stuck it out and befuddled the American mind, which became obsessed with removing him and abetting all who opposed him, including the IS initially. With ample funding and support the IS thrived till the US and its European allies realised the monster they had helped nourish.
If Al-Qaeda recruited primarily from the Muslim world, the IS ironically found its young recruits from the marginalised European Muslim youth. Sadly, the fact is that, if we are honest, global terrorism has not only increased but morphed into a more deadly form as seen by the rise of the IS or Daesh and its unimaginable brutality, as a result of the WoT. So anger and frustration aside, what makes us think that this new spate of bombings over Syria by a number of external powers – from the US to France to Russia – will put an end to Daesh and global terrorism?
One of the major impediments towards this goal has always been the US lack of clarity about who is the immediate threat: IS or Assad. At least the Russians and Iranians have one thing right: if you want to defeat the IS, you need a strong local partner, regardless of how distasteful it may appear to be. So some political accommodation with Assad at least for a limited time period is a necessary prerequisite. Simply destroying state structures in Syria will only create a dangerous vacuum as has happened in Libya. Unless the goal is simply to annihilate all these once-strong Arab states – with Israel the only beneficiary in the region in the short term. After all, in so many ways these Arab states were buffers for the Zionist entity against radical non-state actors like Daesh.
But a more serious error is to assume that a uni-dimensional aerial war will end the Daesh problem. Yes military action through an international UN-sponsored coalition can be one part of a viable strategy but there has to be a politico-social dimension also if future recruits are to be stopped. That means ending the marginalisation of Europe’s Muslim populations and mainstreaming them through restoring their human dignity – difficult though it is to even think of right now. Simply resorting to military action and a policy of collective punishment for a whole community is never the answer.
We are all going through these processes. In Pakistan we have the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb but we also realise that we need to reform our judicial system, our education system (including madressah reform), deny space to hate preachers and hate material and provide a strong counter-narrative to the extremist creed that lures people who feel isolated and marginalised – as well as ensuring that the marginalised are actually brought into the economic and political mainstream (hence the urgency of Fata reforms).
Nor is shunning refugees and asylum-seekers on the basis of religion a solution to the IS/Daesh problem. Yes, Europe is being overwhelmed with refugees from war zones but states like Lebanon have taken in more refugees, as have Turkey and Jordan. Lebanon has been the target of terrorist attacks for decades but it has not denied shelter to refugees. Germany’s Merkel is right when she questions why the Arab kingdoms with their proximity to some of the war zones and their resources are unwilling to take in Syrian refugees. These states need to play their part and it is not simply enough to give funds for refugee resettlement in other countries.
Let us also remind ourselves that while the Paris attacks shocked the western world, Lebanon, Pakistan, Mali and many other non-western countries have been victims of even larger-scale terrorism from the same source as the people of France. Unless we treat each terror attack as an attack against all of us, we will never develop the will and strength to effectively fight this global evil with a global commitment.
Postscript: Just as this was being written, news came of a Russian fighter plane being downed by Turkey – a most unfortunate incident, which will further hinder international cooperation to combat the IS effectively. There has to be an UN-backed multidimensional strategy to combat the IS. Let us not continue on a path that only served to increase global terrorism post-9/11.
The writer is DG of SSII, a private think tank, and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own.