The world after 9/11
THE world marks today the first anniversary of the suicide attacks on New York and Washington. The sight of the Twin Towers collapsing in a cloud of dust and smoke will remain etched in memory for a long time to come. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks, mostly Americans but also including citizens from many lands. Families and friends of the victims will today re-live the sorrow and shock of the loss. A year since the traumatic event, it is still difficult to fully comprehend the level of precision and planning needed to carry out such an audacious operation. The body of evidence implicating Al Qaeda in the assault grows by the day, although much is still unclear. The attackers were apparently driven by a desire to hit America where it would hurt most in retribution for what they saw as its anti-Muslim policies. If they believed that their action would persuade America to change its policies, they grossly miscalculated. Rather than change American and western attitudes towards Muslims and Muslim countries, the desperate act of the suicide hijackers has strengthened anti-Muslim prejudice. America has changed, but in the opposite direction from the one that it was possibly meant to tread. In fact, 9/11 has provided an opportunity to the United States to extend the scope of its foreign engagements to an unprecedented level and facilitated the task of America’s war-and-oil lobby. The US now has a foothold not merely in countries that have always been sympathetic to American interests, but for the first time in states such as Uzbekistan and Kyrghystan. Washington has been given a free hand to throw away its pretence of objectivity in the Palestine-Israel conflict and openly back Israel, which has thus been emboldened to increase its repression of the people of the occupied territories in the name of fighting what it calls the Palestinian brand of terrorism. The Bush administration is now eyeing Iraq as its next target. State terrorism is as abhorrent as terrorism by individuals or groups.
Within the US, the September attacks have meant that the Republican right has been able to press ahead with its agenda without any opposition from the Democrats. To question the administration’s moves to increase security at the cost of civil liberties is to be un-American and unpatriotic. The Guantanamo Bay internment camp mocks America’s desire for other countries to respect human rights and due process of law. The innocent belief of millions of immigrants in America that they had been accepted by the host society has been shaken; Muslims have suffered particularly from new laws that provide for racial profiling. The Clinton years had led to a marked decrease in racial discrimination; not only has this come back to the surface, it has been made worse by religious discrimination. Signs of a fight back against the administration’s encroachments are beginning to emerge, as they are bound to in an open society, but they are still overshadowed by jingoism and exclusivist patriotism.
Overall, instead of leading to introspection and an honest look at the causes that lead to feelings of frustration and anger against US policies, the administration has adopted an aggressive posture that runs the risk of aggravating those very trends that it wishes to control. The war on terror is worth fighting, provided it is fought objectively and without adding a religious dimension to it. Israeli terror against Palestinians or right-wing terrorist activities against Cuba and in Latin America generally should be resisted and condemned with as much vigour as the activities of Al Qaeda. If this does not happen, the consequences could be frightful and far-reaching. If Iraq is attacked to overthrow President Saddam Hussein, that will only make more extremists out of Arab and Muslim liberals. The world needs peace, not more conflict. What the world needs is a coalition for peace that addresses the problems of poverty, disease, deprivation and political disenfranchisement, and not a coalition to wage war.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have been tossing in the eye of the storm created by 9/11. Afghanistan has been relieved of the Taliban, although whether bombing them out of existence was the right course to take remains doubtful, and a prolonged and an overbearing US and western military presence might even now quickly neutralize the gains made in repairing the damage of the past two decades. For Pakistan, there has been some positive fallout in that religious extremism and militancy have been recognized as de-stabilizing factors by some of those who once encouraged these tendencies. One can only wish that this recognition had come earlier and without American goading, and that the lesson learnt will be remembered. America’s experience of using fundamentalism to further its strategic objectives has been as counter-productive as our own experience in doing the same. Perhaps the one conclusion to be drawn from 9/11 is that governments and states must follow a certain minimum standard of political morality, democratic tolerance and pluralism and social justice if the scourge of terrorism is to be exorcised.
Disquiet over Mangla
THE government’s decision to raise the height of the Mangla Dam is creating widespread anxiety in Azad Kashmir. Concern is being voiced that the plan, which will increase the storage capacity of the dam and could help ease the severe water shortage in the country, will displace thousands of people and lead to strife in this sensitive area. The Azad Kashmir legislative assembly has formed a seven-member committee to develop a consensus on the issue. Opponents of the move claim that some 40,000 people will be displaced and dozens of villages submerged if the multi-billion rupee plan goes ahead. Many of the villages that will be submerged have close links with people who migrated to the UK when the Mangla Dam was originally constructed. There are fears that there could also be international protests against the dam’s raising, which would create problems for the government. Some legislators believe that work on the project should not start until there is a consensus in the area and cast-iron guarantees are given about compensation and rehabilitation. They argue that the ground-breaking ceremony for the project should not take place before the forthcoming elections in Indian-held Kashmir, as any protests over the dam would distract public attention from the Kashmir issue.
The government and Wapda, however, insist that the project is of vital national importance and must go ahead. The authorities have pledged that they will act swiftly to compensate those affected and listen sympathetically to the grievances of the displaced. Despite these assurances, there remains a considerable scepticism among people whose lands will be lost. They point out that even three decades after the construction of the Tarbela Dam, many of those evicted to make way for the project have still not been adequately compensated. If the Mangla expansion is to go ahead, the authorities must ensure that they deliver on their promises on compensation and rehabilitation. It would also be wise to wait for the area’s elected representatives to evolve a consensus on this contentious issue before moving ahead.