Labeling Enemies as Terrorist

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At face value the brutal murder of Abdur Rahman, Afghanistan Interim Government (AIG) Minister for Aviation and Tourism, looked like a spontaneous mob reaction by Hajj-bound Afghans irate at not being provided aircraft for their pilgrimage. Actually it was a carefully planned execution deliberately carried out publicly with multiple intentions, viz (1) to eliminate a person within the regime viewed as a turncoat (2) to put the fear of God into the other leaders in the AIG for not complying with the dictates of the Punjsheeri Tajiks and (3) escape retribution by camouflaging the assassination as mob violence because of an emotional issue. Abdur Rahman belonged to Jamaat-e-Islami before a disagreement with late Ahmed Shah Masood forced him to flee to New Delhi. He later joined the Monarchists loyal to King Zahir Shah. To the Punjsheeri Tajiks Abdur Rahman was a traitor twice-over, a dead-man walking, waiting to be symbolically eliminated, a very public warning to someone who had the temerity to question the Punjsheeri Tajik-cult hero, late Ahmed Shah Masood.

For the sake of Afghanistan’s future, the west must carefully investigate the circumstances of Rahman’s murder at Kabul airport. According to the Head of the AIG, Hamid Karzai, for whom a special detachment of 90 US Special Forces troopers have been flown in as Praetorian Guard, the murder was the work of a conspiracy, a personal vendetta planned by Gen Abdullah Jan Tawhidi, Head of Afghan Intelligence, a senior official of the Defence Ministry, Gen Qalander Beg and unnamed others, all Punjsheeri Tajiks, at least three fled to Saudi Arabia on the same aircraft. This is not the acid test of the AIG but of western intentions, the culprits must be brought to book, otherwise there will be a bleak future for Afghanistan. While Qanooni’s hand must be somewhere, in all fairness one should still wait for a detailed enquiry by experts and not take evidence at face value.

During the campaign, US Armed Forces had to partly depend upon the Northern Alliance and local warlords for intelligence on the Talibaan. Any information found credible became the subject of intense high-tech bombing. This was the only way to secure targets against an unconventional enemy like the Talibaan. The bombing was both focussed and area-wise ie both targetted missiles and bombs were used against targets pin-pointed by laser, etc and carpet-bombing was used against occupied defensive positions. This not only had an effect on the Talibaan, it gave food for thought to the Afghans, always ingenious when dealing with their enemies. After general hostilities ceased, the local warlords saw “Talibaan” all over the countryside, the result was that the US air and ground forces were manipulated into engaging the local enemies of the warlords. Knowing that the US was particularly sensitive to Al-Qaeda leadership, names started popping up and were followed by US strikes. The result was that in a number of places bombing and physical commando raids were carried out, the local warlords settling their local feuds by use of US firepower. The relative US inexperience of local machinations has been used by the Afghans to sort out their own local enemies. At several places this went grievously wrong, even non-combatants were targetted. As US Forces on the ground in Afghanistan have become more familiar with the rather dubious credibility of their local partners, they have become more choosy in their targets.

It is now become universally fashionable to label one’s enemies as Al-Qaeda to sort out personal rivalries. Over the years the Palestinians were into “Intifada”, a barrage of stones by the youth, the Israelis responded with rubber bullets. Once the Afghan War was nearing its end, Israel reacted to the violence perpetrated by Palestinians suicide bombers by calling them terrorists and upping the ante. This put them into the Coalition in the war against terrorism. A year ago the Palestinians and Israelis were close to an agreement, then a fatal miscalculation by Arafat as to how much he could extract on the negotiating table saw it all fall through. The kid gloves are now off! Israeli PM Ariel Sharon reacted to present Palestinian violence with F-16s and helicopter gunships, while literally imprisoning Yassar Arafat in his Ramallah HQ. Obviously the suicide bombings are a terror campaign and while the Israelis focussed on known Hamas leaders by targetted missile attacks, they have also now engaged Palestinian law enforcement agencies and Yassar Arafat’s personal bodyguard by F-16s and tanks, fighting terror with terror. As usual Arafat miscalculated brinkmanship and the US went from public neutrality to firmly being on the Israeli side. In effect Israel took good advantage of the US war against terrorism, Palestinians have been left out in the cold. India has been trying desperately for many years to put the “terrorist” label on Pakistan, a case of blind man’s bluff. Taking full advantage of Sep 11 India started a massive anti-Pakistan campaign. For India the Dec 13 attack on Indian Parliament was God-sent, thereafter India has desperately tried to lump Pakistan as being associated with terrorism and as such an enemy of the US. Even the attack on the US Consulate General compound in Kalkota was blamed on Pakistan, there was some embarrassment as other likely suspects began to turn up.

Churchill said that truth is so important it should be protected by a bodyguard of lies. On that premise there is even a suggestion in the US Establishment that false and fabricated stories should be planted in the media so as to achieve goals in US national interest. This has caused a firestorm of protest by media watchdog groups who question this policy as it will hurt the credibility and reputation of genuine journalists. However the hawks in the US Establishment have had their say uptil now in the war against terrorism and one would expect their will will prevail in undercutting another great prop of the American Dream, freedom of the Press. After 911, the rapid erosion of cherished US ideals has been very scary, it seems George Orwell made his prediction about “1984” twenty years too early, the book should have been named “2004”. One cannot blame the US in turning inwards for “homeland security”, after the horror of Sep 11 the danger is of lurching from total freedom to the other extreme and becoming a police state.

And now the muck-raking has infiltrated into the media. Al-Jazeera trod a fine line when reporting on Osama Bin Laden, they were using this access to increase viewership among a primarily Arab audience. When one stays in the vicinity of a burning fire one takes the risk of being burnt, western networks had some success in labelling them as closet sympathizers of the Talibaan. The use of Al-Qaeda as a stigma has now reached the Pakistani media, motivated stories planted in the international press by one media entity against the sponsors of another, and than carried locally, the purpose being to undercut the competition. The possibility is of a battle royal in print and the electronic media, murder may have already become an accidental part of it, the father of the owner of a franchise in Pakistan of a famous international TV channel was assassinated in broad daylight, law enforcement agencies said this “corporate murder” was meant to put the fear of God into local cable operators into cooperating with the perceived “Godfather” in the business, a major press tycoon whose name cropped up as the man who had the motive to order the hit. Whether true or not, the mud being thrown about is not dignified and could get out of control. Both sides need to tone down their rhetoric. After the atrocious attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the name of the game seems to be to tar and feather one’s enemies as terrorists, contriving to bring the full lethal force of the one remaining Superpower in the world on that “enemy”, both literally and forcefully. This is a dangerous trend and unless measures are taken immediately to give maximum punishment to those who use the Sep 11 tragedy to defame the opponents wrongly as terrorists and thus undercut their reputation and credibility, the callous will continue to use the opportunity for their own crass selfish purposes.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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