A New Meaning of Conflicts: Some Lessons for Pakistan

Increasingly, the perceptions and rules governing post Second World War conflicts, border wars and even total wars have changed. In various situations the era of standing armies and the might of armament have become less relevant. The theorists and futurists of conflict can no longer rely on a raw data of the armed forces as well the destructive capacity of an armament. There are many more factors that must be scrutinized before we can come to an objective prediction. The tactics have changed and so has the focus of a war theater. Urban guerilla combat, hit and run, suicide bombing and more so the battles being fought in front of cameras, with night vision technology are the hard realities that is and will be considered in the future. Furthermore, it has been observed that low intensity conflicts take a heavy toll on the developed economies. Apart from the tactics, the ideological nature of global conflicts, particularly in the Middle East has received a new meaning. The Muslims see the support for westernization of their societies as a reminder of the European colonial onslaught through their “civilizing mission”. They perceive the agenda of “Enlightened Moderation” nothing but a foreign instrument of dominance, especially when the political institutions are made exception to this rule. The West, in turn sees the Muslim agitation as a threat to their “civilization” and “way of living”, as repeatedly presented by the Western politicians and media. In short, the rules of the game have changed.

The United States in Vietnam and again in Iraq, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and Israel in Lebanon wrestled against much smaller and weak opponents but were unable to pacify their adversaries. This was in spite of the fact that there was no match between the belligerents, in terms of military equipment and usage of defence technology. In such endeavors these otherwise powerful nations also loose their credibility of being invincible. Who could image that Israel would be subdued, when in the past they were able to rout the combined armies of the Arab countries, in just six days. Surely, these setbacks have reduced the capacity of global and regional powers to take or influence any similar endeavors, in the future. The United Sates found itself completely incapacitated in the Lebanon crises and the lingering Palestinian issue, mainly because of its being bogged down in Iraq. In all these situations it is the stronger power that suffered ultimate defeat in a sense that it failed to achieve its goals for which aggression was launched. On the other hand, though weak entities suffered tremendous human loss and misery, but it is the ultimate that counts.

In three out of the four mentioned conflicts the tactics of widespread suicide bombing was and is being used only in Iraq. There is some exception in another war theater in Afghanistan where the conflict still goes on and therefore a final assessment has still to come. The suicide tactics, though deplorable is erroneously being seen by the West as a part of a Muslim ideology and religion. The reality is that basically suicide bombings are a European invention by an anarchist, Joseph Conrad, who introduced it in his novel “Secret Agent” (1907). The concept was used as a battle tactic, by Japanese Kamikaze, during the Second World War and there were some instances from the Germans, as well. Later on, the Tamil Tigers used this method against the government of Sri Lanka. As we understand today, it is primarily a tool of stateless groups, who are otherwise out numbered and outgunned by their adversaries.

The United States under President Bush sees global conflicts in a changed perspective. Well-known Bush doctrine points out towards a notion of a “preemptive strike”, meaning that a country can be attacked and even destroyed, if there is a suspicion that in the future it can pose a threat to the American interests. Using the pretext of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction Iraq was attacked in March-April, 2003. Even when it came to be known that there were no weapons of such kind, nor Saddam had any links with al-Qaeda, the justification to continue the conflict got another names like “regime change” and “establishing a democratic system”. The conventional wisdom as established by the U.N. charter is that a country cannot resort to war unless attacked, in actual terms and its national sovereignty threatened.

In another war theater, the Israelis knew no limits when under the pretext of freeing two of its solders devastated Lebanon and killed more than 500 children and an equal number of innocent women. Both these conflicts took a heavy toll on human lives, as thousands were displaced and their homes destroyed. It is estimated that in Iraq more than half a million Iraqi civilians have lost their lives with many more injured, while in Lebanon more than 1000 died in just 30 days of relentless aerial bombing. In spite of all the killings and destruction, both the United States and Israel remained far from victory. The stubbornness and reliance of the small groups send a message that future conflicts and wars will be of different nature –” where huge armies, armament and advanced military technology will take a back seat.

MIT professor Noam Chomsky and co-author Professor Gilbert Achcar points towards the new implications of inter-state conflicts in their recent book, “Perilous Power:” The authors observe that first; religion is being used in the recent conflicts, as a vehicle for political and economic interests. Secondly, fundamentalism is not confined to the Muslim combatant groups, alone. It is also very much “a powerful Christian strain as it exists in the US that has enormous influence over right wing Republican-led governments.” The authors acknowledge that fundamentalism has become a global affair, spread over nearly all societies around the globe –” a phenomenon that came into focus just over the last two decades. This view is supplemented by Reza Aslan in his book “There is no god but God”. He cites one of many examples where the global conflicts are seen by the fundamentalists, in the West, as between good and evil. He writes, “When the Republican senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe, stands before the U.S. Congress and insists that the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East are not political or territorial battles but ‘a contest over whether or not the word of God is true,’ he speaks, knowingly or not, the language of the Crusades.”

The changed perspective of conflicts requires that nations like Pakistan with huge defence budget and top-heavy army should reconsider their security options. As the examples of Iraq and Lebanon shows the new wars can be fought successfully, without the shining insignias of the elite class. Genuine requisites to protect a nation include the strength of people through their well-built civil institutions as well as the requirement of the involvement by the people in the decision making process.