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5 Years On: Scarred and scared

By Ramananda Sengupta
September 11, 2006 13:55 IST
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Five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden remains at large. So does Mullah Omar, the chief of the Taliban.

Five years 9/11, Afghanistan is returning to the bad old days that prevailed before it was attacked by the US. The Taliban is regrouping rapidly, and President Hamid Karzai's writ remains restricted to the capital Kabul, if that.

Five years after 9/11, despite the mounting evidence pointing to its involvement in the 9/11 attacks, despite brazenly projecting terrorism as its main export, Pakistan remains America's prime ally in the war against terror.

Five years after 9/11, India is struggling to sustain the peace process it initiated with an intransigent Pakistan.

Five years after 9/11, Islam is struggling to protect its image as a peace loving, tolerant religion, even as the world equates almost every act of terrorism with it.

'Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim' goes an absurd statement, but one which resonates well with those innocents who live in constant fear of yet another attack, yet another atrocity, and don't know who to blame.

America's 'war on terror' is anything but. It was used to justify the second attack on Iraq, and it is constantly used to justify racial or religious profiling of a rather insidious nature. Which is in turn is cleverly used by the mad mullahs to convert more people to their cause.

America's war on terror is used for blatant political mileage by Pakistan, by the UK, by the Chinese, by the Sri Lankans to crack down on anti-government forces on their soil.

America's War on Terror seems to focus solely on terrorists who have harmed, or plan to harm, Western interests. Those who attack India's Parliament, hijack Indian aircraft, bomb trains in Mumbai and regularly slaughter innocents in Kashmir are routinely described as militants at best, and sometimes even as freedom fighters.

9/11 turned a hitherto unknown zealot into a cult figure whose Al Qaeda taunts, teases and sneers at the West. Exploiting the centuries old Afghan code of conduct which prevents them from dishonouring their guest -- the code which barred the Taliban from giving him up to America after 9/11 -- bin Laden reportedly continues to roam the badlands of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and issue statements warning of another wave of spectacular attacks.

How a man -- who reportedly requires dialysis on a regular basis -- does that for five years without help from Pakistan's all powerful Inter-Services Intelligence is a rhetorical question.

Of course, some of Osama's colleagues are being regularly pulled out of General Pervez Musharraf's cap, in order to justify continuing American support for his illegal regime. At the same time, his government has apparently struck a 'peace deal' with the Taliban in Waziristan, which involves releasing members of the radical outfit and returning their weapons.

The Pakistani strongman has very successfully sold Washington the rather ingenuous theory that after him comes chaos. That only he can prevent the mad mullahs from taking over his country. Mullahs who might fish out a nuclear-tipped missile from the Pakistani arsenal and say: 'let's see how loud a bang this baby makes.'

And therein lies the catch. Because in order to buttress that theory, he has to ensure that terrorism, conventional and perhaps nuclear, continues to loom large on the world's radar. If Pakistan were to show signs of normalcy, if his country was to somehow rid itself of the terrorist/radical/jihadi/mad mullah imagery, he would become dispensable. So the assembly line at the jihad factories continue to work overtime, churning out people willing to kill and die for the cause.

Afghanistan is part of this grand plan.

A stable, democratic Afghanistan is not in Pakistan's interest. Islamabad still harbours illusions about the 'strategic depth' which its Western neighbour can provide. So what if its rabid creation, the Taliban, is no longer officially in power? An unstable Afghanistan allows the ISI to run a large chunk of its drug, money laundering and terrorist operations out of foreign soil. It allows it credible denial.

Which is why, as Washington watches helplessly, terrorists cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan to attack American and Afghan national forces, and return to their safe havens in Pakistan. Musharraf cites sovereignty and rough terrain respectively to explain why American troops cannot pursue them into his territory and his inability to prevent them from crossing over.

As far as India is concerned, its war against terror began long before 9/11.

But sadly, we continue to look to the West to deliver us from this evil.

But sadly, our government's obsession with secularism ensures that terrorists can always hide behind the pretext of discrimination.

To quote just one instance, in his book Fulcrum of Evil, former Intelligence Bureau senior officer Maloy Krishna Dhar laments that 'despite overwhelming proof of sabotage carried out by a (Pakistani) mission-based diplomat in collusion with a rabid maulana in Assam, no tangible action could be pursued as the cleric enjoyed support of a particular political party.' No marks for guessing which party he is referring to.

But sadly, we are yet to realise that one cannot negotiate with terrorists, since it only strengthens their cause and encourages further acts of terror and kidnapping. It also strengthens the image of India as a soft State which can be brought to its knees by force.

In December 1989, Prime Minister V P Singh agreed to the release of five terrorists in return for Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of his newly appointed home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

In March 1991, Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar agreed to release three terrorists for the return of Nahida, the daughter of Kashmiri politician Saifuddin Soz.

In August 1991, Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao agreed to release nine terrorists for the release of Indian Oil manager Doraiswamy.

And in December 1999, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to trade three dreaded terrorists and god alone knows what else for the release of the passengers and crew of an Indian Airlines aircraft which was hijacked and taken to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Sadly, India, despite its long experience in counter-terrorist operations, is yet to formulate a counter-terrorist policy or strategy, preferring instead to react on a case by case, knee-jerk basis.

Sadly, the experience gathered by the officers involved in such operations are not a part of institutional history, and retire or die when the officer does.

Sadly, not one of the election manifestos of the political parties in India has a word about terrorism.

Which is why, five years after 9/11, we continue to look over our shoulders fearfully every day, wondering when and where the next strike will come from.

Which is why, five years after 9/11, we still remain scarred and scared.

More reports from: Pakistan | Afghanistan

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Ramananda Sengupta