South Asia after US exit from Afghanistan

Noam Chomsky at the webinar 20 Years After 9/11: Impact on South Asia and South Asians organised by Sapan this week.

Prominent American author and activist Noam Chomsky has urged the United States and India to engage with the Taliban, work towards overcoming differences with other regional powers, and help the Afghan people.

Rather than blocking “the best of the options that are available”, Chomsky said Washington and Delhi should play a role in getting the Afghan Taliban to mitigate and overcome human rights violations, especially in rural areas.

Chomsky advocated pressuring Afghans to shift the economy from opium cultivation to mineral resources, encouraging trade, development, and their integration into the region. “These moves can’t be made through sanctions,” he told a webinar 20 Years After 9/11: Impact on South Asia and South Asians, organised by the South Asia Peace Action Network, Sapan.

Chomsky was among the thought leaders and activists from across South Asia and the diaspora who gathered virtually to discuss the impact of 9/11 on the region and its people.

Journalist Raza Rumi moderated the panel discussion including human rights advocate Radhika Coomaraswamy, Chair of South Asia for Human Rights, Afghanistan’s Former Minister of Women’s Affairs Sima Samar, peace activist Rais Bhuiyan, Khushi Kabir of the rights organisation Nijeri Kori in Dhaka, Arsalan Iftikhar, human rights lawyer and author of the recently published book Fear of a Muslim Planet: Global Islamophobia in the New World Order. and others.

“It is not about being optimistic. It is about finding the best of the options available,: Chomsky told the webinar. “Uppermost should be the fate of the Afghan people. Engagement “does not mean overlooking the abuses.”

Participants at the weibnar.

Earlier, journalist Beena Sarwar played a clip from her documentary Chomsky in Pakistan, broadcast on VPRO Dutch television, documenting Chomsky’s November 2001 visit to the country for the third Eqbal Ahmad Memorial Lecture series in honour of his old friend.

Rumi is himself survivor of an assassination attempt that killed his driver, one of many events in the spiral of violence unleashed in the aftermath of 9/11.

The 9/11 attacks led to a “seismic and epistemic shift” in global consciousness, said Radhika Coomaraswamy. She added: “The first impact of 9/11 was fear – fear that would be manipulated, assuaged by appealing to national security, and the most draconian laws would be passed. We need to de-programme the system of criminal justice.”

She said 9/11 spawned endless wars, endless hate, and a military-industrial complex of armies, defence contractors, private contractors, and mercenaries for whom war has become a way of life.

Former Minister of Women’s Affairs of Afghanistan Sima Samar also paid tribute to victims of the 9/11 attacks and subsequent war in her country which has received the brunt of the pressure.

The ongoing repercussions are visible not only in other South Asian countries but around the world, with a visible change being harassment and extra screening for travellers. But more dangerous are the laws and regulations made in the name of the counter-terrorism activities which are violating fundamental human rights, she noted.

A former Air Force pilot in Bangladesh Rais Bhuiyan moved to the United States shortly before 9/11. He shared how his race and ethnicity made him a target after 2001. The man who shot him in the face ten days later had already killed an Indian and a Pakistani.

Former Bangladesh Air Force pilot Rais Bhuiyan who was shot in a reprisal attack 10 days after 9/11 in the United States, where he had settled.

Bhuiyan made a promise to himself that if he survived, he would spend his life to support peace and humanity. It has been a struggle. He lost sight in one eye, his home, job, fiancé, and sense of security. With no medical insurance, he paid $60,000 in medical bills. “I felt discarded and dehumanised,” he added.

But from this pain emerged his non-profit World Without Hate, with the hope that together we can build a world without fear, without violence, without victims. He not only forgave Mark Stroman, his attacker but also campaigned to overturn his death sentence.

The effort moved Stroman, who was executed in 2011, to call for hate to stop, saying that “hate causes a lifetime of pain”.

The power of forgiveness also came across strongly in remarks by Mejindarpal Kaur, who remembered Balbir Singh Sodhi, one of the first victims of the post-9/11 hate crimes.

For Sikhs, the world changed forever, with their articles of faith being equated with “terror” as they were mistaken for Muslims. The Sikh community has taken a stand with Muslims instead of disassociating themselves.

It is an ongoing struggle, said Kaur, and we can’t give up. Those perpetuating evil are not going to look for answers about how to stop the hate.

Khushi Kabir from Dhaka said 9/11 led to South Asian states using ‘anti-terror’ laws to curb democracy and free speech. Highlighting the rise in bigotry and othering of minorities.

People’s Union of Civil Liberties activist Kavita Srivastava in Jaipur noted that India is reeling from hate crimes and criminalisation of Muslims. Given India’s massive population, she said its actions reverberated in the region.

Facebook Live is at this link.

The section with Chomsky is at this link.

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