It was in Bali, probably in the summer of 1992, where the Ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement had assembled in preparation for the forthcoming Jakarta Summit. A group of interested delegations, tasked with the drafting of the section on terrorism, after prolonged and difficult negotiations, were able to agree on the entire text except for two words. The principal protagonists, so often the case in those days, were India and Pakistan. Our insistence on their inclusion was resisted by India. Finally, close to midnight and following strong interventions by the Arabs notably Palestine, the words were retained. Those words were “root causes”
In the interregnum between the destruction of the twin towers in New York and the launching of the attack on Afghanistan, European leaders pleaded that counter measures against terrorism must include treatment of its root causes. This view, predicated on the logical assumption that unless the causes of terrorism were identified and addressed the scourge will not go away, was widely shared. It constituted the bedrock of the OIC position on the issue. India and Israel, for obvious reasons, were the main dissenters.
It is instructive that the issue of “root causes” is rarely mentioned in the contemporary discourse on terrorism. The expulsion of this term can be attributed to the neo-cons of that era seizing the opportunity, created by the tragedy of September 11, to define the terms of the debate on terrorism. With very little resistance, the international community acquiesced.
The authors of A New American Century were quick to realise that consideration of ‘root causes’ would inevitably draw attention to Israeli depredations in Palestine, particularly since all the September 11 hijackers were of Middle Eastern origin. Accordingly, a brilliant strategy was devised containing a piercingly simple message; the terrorists were plain evil who resented America’s freedoms and enterprise and were bent upon destroying the American way of life. There was only one feasible answer to this threat; complete annihilation of the terrorists and their infrastructure. What other possible motives could have led the attackers to such inhuman and seemingly insane pattern of behavior were declared irrelevant, hence unworthy of consideration.
A nation bewildered and traumatised by an unprecedented horror, bought this line unquestioningly. The few voices advising moderation were quickly subdued by the marauding media. Entreaties, like the one by an African-American parishioner urging restraint “lest we become the evil we deplore” were drowned in the deafening sound bites of Fox News Network.
On July 14, the Indian TV channel CNN-IBN convened a panel discussion on the terrorist bombings that had rocked Mumbai a day earlier. The panelists included writer and lyricist Javed Akhtar, a retired general, a former bureaucrat, columnist Shoba De and Julio Robeiro, former Police Commissioner of Mumbai. The first three, led by Javed Ahktar, quickly latched on to the anchor’s not so subtle insinuations of Pakistani connection to the attacks. Shoba De dismissed these allegations as self serving intended to mask the shortcomings of an antiquated system of intelligence collection, policing and investigation.
Julio Robeiro was most prescient. The likely cause, he suggested, was the fact that since the bloodbath of 1992, Mumbai had been silently divided from within. With each terrorist attack, the division had widened because the eye of suspicion had invariably fallen on the Muslim community which felt marginalised and alienated. This feeling of rejection needed to be mitigated and the minorities amalgamated into the city mainstream as an essential first step to counter terrorism. Communal segregation, he asserted, must end. Robeiro could well have recommended this approach for the whole of India. The findings of the Sachar Committee on the status of Indian Muslims reads like a David Copperfield sequel.
In Pakistan, given our peculiar circumstances, the situation is more complex. The liberals contend that the sole source of the evil is religious extremism, fostered in the madrassah and the mosque. True, but why does this destructive message fall on receptive ears, is not discussed. Also ignored is the possibility that local grievances are amenable to exploitation by stronger outside forces, particularly in a soft and vulnerable state like Pakistan. The tools of terrorism might be homegrown for which undoubtedly we ourselves are to blame, but could these not be manipulated by interested quarters for pursuing their vested agendas? Historically, fault lines within states have been viewed as opportunities by external forces, the situation in Libya being the latest example. Consequences of severe national shortsightedness interlocking with long term foreign interests has made the terrorism phenomenon in Pakistan so pervasive and intractable.
While we must speedily address our internal weaknesses through socio- economic and enforcement measures we should not be oblivious to the probability that when a suicide bomber, his convoluted mind poisoned by misguided religious belief, detonates himself in our crowded streets or military installations, little does he know that the string attached to his jacket is being pulled by a grandmaster from far, far away.
The writer is Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the United Nations and European Union. He can be contacted at [email protected]