It has now been more than a month since George W declared war on Afghanistan, but he is no nearer "smoking out" Osama bin Laden than he was on the day he swore to the world he'd do so. The fugitive from American justice continues to mock his pursuers with cameo performances on Al Jazeera in Doha and Dawn in Karachi. Meanwhile, Americans continue to pound the Hindukush with their deadly daisy cutters, cluster bombs and cruise missiles. Besides pulverising the rubble what exactly is it they are hitting?
All the Americans have done is transform the persona of Osama bin Laden into an even more heroic figure in the Muslim world. Until a few months ago, he was a fanatic pariah propagating such fundamentalism that even the arch-conservative Wahabi rulers of Saudi Arabia could not tolerate him. But once the West turned him into the bulls-eye of their dartboard, he became an icon for much of the rest of the world. If it were not for the association of his name with the excesses of military-industrial complex of the United States, Osama could have never become the poster-boy of Naxalites in Bihar and the ulemas of Bahrain alike.
The bombing and propaganda barrage have made Osama look much larger than life. He was an American creation during the war against the Soviets, this time Washington has magnified him into an even more powerful figure. For the Americans it is a case of tails they win, heads we lose. If they manage to kill Osama, he becomes a martyr and death will confer upon him an even greater aura. If he lives, it will prove his invincibility. Poor Bush, he tries hard but he just cannot win this propaganda war. And even while he was delivering the tirade against terrorism at the UN General Assembly last Saturday, his words had a hollow ring. His argument that one man's terrorist is another man's terrorist sounded hypocritical because the question in everyone's mind was: what of the USA's covert \'wars'?
The Pentagon too seems unable to make much headway in a hugely unequal contest with Mullah Omar and his Taliban. Whatever the talking head defence analysts on the payroll of the Big Four (CNBC, CNN, CBS and that appropriately named Murdoch mouthpiece, FOX) may say, the fact is that a war against the Taliban is unwinnable simply because these are people who have nothing left to lose. The CIA pushed Afghanistan down the precipice of civil war twenty years ago after the Soviet invasion, now the Americans cannot stomach a Vietnam-type quagmire in Afghanistan to fight a ghost of an enemy. That is why they are looking down at that godforsaken country from space and bombing it from 35,000 ft, and letting proxy Afghans battle it out on the ground.
Al Qaeda is a concept, howsoever abhorrent, it is not a country. Just as the Taliban is a bunch of fanatics, not a nation. They can't be obliterated with daisy cutters. The big bombs will just create more refugees, more misery and incubate more terrorists. It all looks so elementary, how could the fellows at Langley miss it? Perhaps that explains everything, terrorism is not even a peripheral concern of America's war in Afghanistan.
Could it be that the sole goal of the "war on terrorism" is to terrorise the world into submission? Is it being waged to defend what Noam Chomsky calls the "Fifth Freedom": "The freedom to rob, to exploit and dominate, to undertake any course of action to ensure that existing privilege is protected and advanced." And in that aim, Americans have been astoundingly successful. So successful, in fact, that 11 September was a terroristic backlash against that dominance. And America is reacting the only way it knows how: by using brute force.
The world has been forced to bow in front of the most powerful man in the planet: George W Bush. He may have become president by the peculiarities of a system that debated the difference between a dimpled chad and hanging chad, but he calls the shots. Poor Tony Blair is a State Department consultant, and doing a pretty good job. But for the first time there are signs that the Anglo-American alliance is fraying over strategy. Revenge is not going to bring America security against terrorism, it is going to make it more insecure.
Michael Parenti, an independent media analyst, laments, "The US Congress granted Bush the power to initiate military action against any nation, organisation, or individual of his choosing, without ever having to proffer evidence to justify the attack. Such an unlimited grant of arbitrary power-in violation of international law, the UN charter, and the US Constitution-transforms the almost-elected president into an absolute monarch who can exercise life-and-death power over any quarter of the world."
And as one nation tries to turn grief into revenge, the air is thick with hypocrisy and double standards. It has exposed the historical wrongs unleashed by America around the world in its strategic and business interest: for oil, for sea lanes, for minerals, even for banana and pineapple plantations. All this was done in the name of freedom and democracy, but by backing tin pot dictators, military juntas and tyrants who suppressed their own peoples at home in that cynical implementation of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine. Bush told the UN this week that terrorism can never be justified, even to avenge past injustices. Oh, really? Who is really responsible for making the Taliban and the al-Qaeda the monsters they are? Answer: the CIA, the Saudi royals, and the ISI's Peshawar post. And if bin Laden and Mullah Omar are now terrorists, then what does that make the CIA, the Saudis and the ISI?
Here at home, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's hasty backing of a war-even though Nepal's is an entirely symbolic support-is legally untenable, morally questionable, and fundamentally flawed. The best that Deuba could have done is done nothing and kept quiet. The summit of SAARC Heads of States and Heads of Governments belatedly scheduled for January could be an opportunity to make amends. Member countries of SAARC have as much interest in a post-Taliban Afghanistan as US oil multinationals on whose behalf the Pentagon is waging this war.
The people of Afghanistan have been victims of the fundamentalist fascism of Osama and Omar because those two hyenas have been let loose upon the Afghans by the United States. Afghanistan needs to be rescued and rehabilitated, not bombed to smithereens. Our hope is that saner elements in United States will prevail, just as they did during Vietnam. Bill Clinton's introspective address to his alma mater last week is an indication of such a soul-searching going on among at least a section of responsible Americans. The fear is that if the cowboys in the Pentagon have their way, it may be too late.
This Tihar, let us pray that the human misery unleashed in our neighbourhood will be replaced by peace, so millions of homeless Afghans can return to their homes.