As the war on terror stands struck in the ruins of Afghanistan, more attention will be given hopefully to repairing the fault lines which caused the debacle. Ominously , however, many factors which led to terrible mistakes in the war on terror continue to retain a scary presence.
US authorities must realize that their discourse on this and related issues increasingly lacks credibility among large sections of world’s people, including those who are sympathetic to USA and opposed to authoritarian regimes. To retain its already depleted soft power, the USA discourse should be much more willing to face difficult facts and unpalatable realities. This is so obvious to many friends of USA but somehow US official discourse still does not appear to realize this.
While several details of 9/11 origin are still not completely clear despite all the effort, once it is accepted that Afghanistan under Taliban rule of 1996-2001 was being used as a sanctuary of dangerous terrorist groups, an attack to disempower such terrorist groups was not unjustified, particularly if in the process a regime known for violating basic human rights was also likely to be replaced by a better alternative. Initially ,many people welcomed the intervention, sincerely so.
However instead of committing adequate resources to a broad-based program to work towards a terror-free society, the USA and its close allies foolishly diverted main attention and resources to invading Iraq, a terrible mistake which proved very costly in terms of entirely avoidable loss of a large number of human lives. As President Bush’s senior counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke recalled later, he was asked to prepare a file on Saddam’s links to 9/11. When he responded by preparing a detailed note that there were none, even got it signed by other leading intelligence officials before submitting, he got back a curt reply—update and file again. Such glaring mistakes should be officially admitted and responsibility for them should be fixed.
The war against terror has failed because it was not conducted in a democratic and transparent way, the best advice available within the establishment was ignored, facts were pushed aside and falsehoods were deliberately promoted to suit arbitrarily taken decisions. An important question here is—was anyone punished for very costly mistakes? Were serious mistakes admitted officially in ways such that responsibility for these could be fixed? Were real efforts ever made to find out the causes of serious failures, or honestly detail the circumstances in which very costly mistakes were made?
Apart from the costly mistake of diverting the main war effort to Iraq without reason, there was the failure to commit adequate ground forces to apprehend bin Laden and his close colleagues in the Tora Bora caves during December 1-16 2001. As explained with supporting views of field level army officers and senior intelligence officials in a report titled ‘Tora Bora Revisited’, submitted to the foreign relations committee of the Senate headed by John.F.Kerry in 2009, repeated requests for reinforcements were refused or ignored allowing bin Laden and hundreds of his warriors to escape to Pakistan. Basically this report stated—about 2500 troops were needed to prevent escape, only 100 were provided, more were available easily but were not called in.
As long as the system does not fix responsibility for such glaring mistakes, these will continue to be made, as these were made subsequently with reference also to Syria, Libya and elsewhere. An even more basic question is—what are the grievances and arguments that attract significant numbers to the path of Islamic terrorism? Is enough being done to reduce the appeal of these grievances and arguments? If this is not being done, or if the grievances and arguments are seen to be becoming stronger for significant sections of people, then threat of this brand of terrorism—which has been the focus of attention to such an extent that others have often been forgotten—is likely to increase.
Are conditions increasingly becoming more oppressive and authoritarian under several Middle-East and neighboring regimes that are seen widely as US allies? Do people here have decreasing democratic, peaceful channels for protesting? Do they hold the USA responsible for their frustrated aspirations? If the answer is yes, then threat of terrorism is increasing.
It is well-known that in course of driving out the Soviet Army the CIA used Islamic militants from many countries using mediation of the ISI of Pakistan , and later many of these militants turned against the USA. Has the USA continued to opportunistically support such forces in other places, even if not to the same extent as before, to achieve short-term objectives? Is the ISI continuing to maintain and enhance support for such groups to achieve not just short-term strikes and objectives but even to realize longer-term strategic objectives? If the answer is yes, again threat of terrorism for the USA and other countries like India is increasing.
A narrow-minded approach to counter terrorism based mainly on military force has failed. When will a broader approach based on longer term genuine commitment to peace, democracy, justice and development evolve? Only such a sustainable approach will lead to increasing non-relevance and loss of support for the ideologies of terrorism. If the USA is serious about correcting its record of very frequent and costly mistakes, its authorities should come out of their narrow and outdated thinking and approach these and related important issuues with fresh, credible, transparent attitudes.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. He has written with a perspective of peace, justice and environment protection for 49 years. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril’ and ‘Protecting Earth for Children.’