Yet another 9/11 anniversary — and its consequent war of attrition continues as the people of Afghanistan and Iraq suffer. It is doubtful whether they will have a taste of peace before the next 9/11 anniversary.
The war, now dubbed Obama’s war, shows no early end with each side vowing to teach the other a lesson.
In a message to mark the 9/11 anniversary, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden described President Barack Obama as being “powerless” to stop the war in Afghanistan and threatened to step up his guerrilla war.
Not to be outdone in the war of words, President Obama urged the Americans to renew their resolve against the terrorists who perpetrated the “barbaric act” eight years ago.
“We remember with reverence the lives we lost,” Obama said during a memorial ceremony at the Pentagon. Their sacrifice “still shines brightly in the darkness — it calls on all of us to be firm, strong, and united.”
He made these remarks at a time when observers feel that the Taliban who are fighting the NATO-led foreign forces in Afghanistan are riding a wave of military successes. These observers say that neutralizing the Taliban will be no easy task and suggest that the United States should work out an exit strategy.
But there is little interest in an exit strategy though talking to the Taliban and splitting the group right down the middle are some of the options the Americans mull over. To some extent, such strategies have worked in Iraq, with the Sunni Awakening Council being bought over. The Americans have paid millions of dollars to Sunni sheiks, bought their loyalty and made them betray the Sunni resistance groups which they had earlier been supporting.
But the Taliban appear to be a committed lot. They are no drug lords who will sell their loyalty to the highest bidder. They have their own sources of income, with which they arm themselves and feed their rank and file.
The Taliban see their battle is a jihad or holy war against an invader. In this battle, the Taliban militant believes, he does not die even if he is killed. The Shaheed or the martyr has no death, he quotes the Quran as saying.
The Taliban may be a bunch of illiterate medieval-minded people, and a majority of the Afghans may not support their tough interpretation of Islam. But the people seem to support the Taliban’s campaign to oust the foreign forces. This is why the Taliban seem to be stronger than President Hamid Karzai who allegedly had to resort to corrupt practices to steal victory at this month’s presidential election.
Besides, regular NATO bombings on civilian targets also help the Taliban to shore up popular support.
The 9/11 attacks killed some 3,000 people. But the US retaliation in the form of a continued war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants has killed tens of thousands of Afghans. In the first few days of the US bombing of Afghanistan in October 2001 alone, some 4,000 Afghan civilians were killed — more than the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. But the United States did not stop the war. President George W. Bush, the commander-in-chief of the US forces, vowed to “smoke ’em out” and continued the war in a policy that shows little regard for civilian suffering. From January to September this year, some 1,000 civilians were killed. On September 4, a week before this year’s 9/11 anniversary, some 50 Afghan civilians were killed in NATO bombings on people collecting fuel from a oil browser hijacked by the Taliban. No one keeps a proper tab on Afghan civilian casualties. Perhaps those who sanction these bombing raids on civilians believe that only a dead Afghan is a good Afghan, for if he is kept alive, he would become a holy warrior fighting a jihad against the United States. Like bin Laden, he will slam the US as the supporter of Zionist Israel and an enemy of Islam.
“The Americans have failed to understand that al-Qaeda carried out the attacks in retaliation for US support for Israel,” bin Laden said last week in a purported message broadcast via an Islamic website.
The authenticity of the message is as questionable as bin Laden’s claim that al-Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks. Either bin Laden is being used by the Americans with his full knowledge or bin Laden does not know that he is being used. I subscribe to the latter view.
After the collapse of the Cold War, the West, especially the Americans, needed a bogey to sustain their global military dominance that would help them plunder the world’s resources, especially oil and gas. They decided to create an enemy out of Islam, even though they had regarded the Muslims as a naturally ally in their fight against the communist foe. But the Islamic militant — he was no terrorists then — was no match for the communist who had the support of the Soviet Union, a nuclear power and superpower.
The 9/11 attacks provided the answer with the Islamic militant being instantaneously turned into a formidable force and a dreaded enemy worth America’s full fire power.
This bloated enemy, they say, carried out a daring attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. If the so-called terrorists had been so skillful, they could have liberated the whole of Palestine long ago.
They did not act and could not have acted alone. The George W. Bush administration ignored warnings given by its own intelligence units and friendly foreign intelligence groups of a pending attack on the United States. They even suggested that the enemy might hijack civilian aircraft and use them as missiles. Yet little action was taken to prevent the attacks. In hindsight, it now appears that some high officials in the Bush administration allowed the attacks to happen so that the United States could invade Iraq, occupy it and take control of its oil. It was like the Pearl Harbour attack. The United States had intelligence reports that the Japanese were planning to attack Pearl Harbour. It let the attack to take place so that it could officially enter World War II. Years later, the Americans resorted to a similar deception when htey wanted to officially enter the Vietnam War. They created a bogus attack on the US navy in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush wanted to attack Iraq, because an attack on Iraq had been on the agenda since he moved into the White House. But his officials told him that it was unwise to attack Iraq first when al-Qaeda had been operating from Afghanistan. So the war on Afghanistan was largely a platform for the United States to launch a war on Iraq. Months after the war on Afghanistan began, the Bush administration surreptitiously made Iraq also a partner in the crime. The gullible American people really believed him. Some 60 percent of the Americans believed that Iraq had a role in the 9/11 attacks.
But Obama does not appear to believe that Bush went to Iraq through Afghanistan, even when the public support in the US for the Afghan war has greatly diminished. He has failed to realise that he is fighting the neocons’ war — a war that has brought death and destruction to the people of Afghanistan, a war that is threatening to destabilize neighbouring Pakistan, a war that has helped swell the rank and file of Islamic militancy, and a war that has strained the relationship between the Muslim world and the United States.
The Obama administration also does not realise that the United States stands to benefit if it leaves Afghanistan and strengthens the hand of Pakistan. This was the strategy Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton adopted. They allowed Pakistan to maintain cordial relations with the Taliban and got what they wanted.
A withdrawal will also be strategically useful, though it may bring chaos to Afghanistan with the Taliban coming back to power or controlling at least 70 percent of the country. This is where a deal with the Taliban becomes important with Pakistan also acting as a guarantor of peace — a kind of status quo ante bellum or the return to the pre-US war situation.
A question arises: What if the Taliban misbehave and allow al-Qaeda militants to continue to hit US targets elsewhere — like the 9/11 attacks or the attacks on the USS Cole or the US embassies in Nairobi and Darussalam? Obama can resort to the Clinton administration’s policy — attacking suspected al-Qaeda bases. It will be easy to attack al-Qaeda bases because bin Laden and his men would be operating not from caves in hostile terrain but in open spaces. With a little more effort in peacetime intelligence gathering, the Americans will know from where bin Laden and his men are operating.
Who knows, given the shenanigans of superpower politics, the Americans may already be aware of where bin Laden is or whether he is dead or alive. But the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, is in no mood to end the war in Afghanistan, before it achieves its objectives. Checking China and Russia, denuclearizing Pakistan, and establishing a trade route to Central Asia are some of the issues that are linked to Afghanistan.