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Malegaon and the fifth anniversary of 9/11

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Sept 11: The dastardly terrorist attack at Malegaon on September 8 occurring on the eve of the 5th anniversary of 9/11 is a grim reminder-if one were needed, of the manner in which seemingly random acts of terrorism have induced a deep sense of insecurity across the international consciousness.

Malegaon which is local to Maharashtra and domestic to India now becomes part of the global litany that links it to Mumbai, Varanasi, Delhi, London, Madrid and more, the blood of its unfortunate victims further darkening the already bloodied global canvas.

Did Malegaon have any link, direct or otherwise, with the fall out of 9/11? At the time of writing there are no definitive leads or indicators that would help identify the perpetrators or their objectives.

However, what is reasonable to infer is that a certain form of virulent terrorism which seeks distorted religious or social sanction to seek retribution is at play and has been catalysed in the last five years since the Twin Towers came crashing down on September 11, 2001.

It is almost as if the destruction of the imposing edifice in New York gave birth to a militant zealotry which has intensified with the passage of every year. If US President George W Bush represented one aspect, the leader of the militarily most powerful nation in the world, then Osama bin Laden became the face of the other, the elusive non-state entity with a loose yet potent network that has been concretised in the collective consciousness as the al-Quaida and its many clones.

Against this backdrop, it would be fair to state that the global strategic system that was in a state of some flux about its security orientation after the end of the Cold War in December 1991 suddenly acquired a definitive directivity. The US which was the principal target of 9/11 declared the Global War On Terror-the GWOT-and for a brief period, the whole world became New York. But ironically, over the last five years, there is little doubt that this war has taken a tragic and counter-productive trajectory and has created more problems and complexities than it had intended to resolve.

In the first few months, there was a sense of direction and solidarity at the global level but soon after the Taliban was ousted from Afghanistan in December 2001, (which incidentally served an abiding Indian security interest at the time, given the ignominy of Kandahar in December 1999) the focus of the US objectives shifted-with disastrous consequences. Iraq was brought dead centre into the cross-hairs of the Bush administration and a WMD-cum-terrorism linkage was purported to exist-of a magnitude that threatened the US and global security.

This was the rationale unveiled in the UN by the US and by March 2003, the US military action in Iraq was commenced-ostensibly to liberate Iraq and rid the world of this lurking WMD-terrorist threat.

Five years later, a series of developments point to the many contradictions and ironies that are now part of the post 9/11 narrative. The principal irony is embedded in two reports that were released Friday September 8, by the US Senate Intelligence Committee which have concluded that there was no evidence of any linkage between President Saddam Hussain and Osama bin Laden and that on the contrary, the Iraqi supremo saw the al Quaida as a threat to the secular Iraqi ethos.

Furthermore, the exhaustive reports opined that the CIA intelligence assessments that painted an alarming picture of Iraqi WMD intentions was based on far from credible sources-and that this may have been done deliberately to mislead the US! This report was released, not coincidentally on the eve of the fifth anniversary and will add to the already bitter domestic debate within the US.

Closer home, the U turn by Pakistan as regards the Taliban merits notice as part of the ironies and contradictions associated with 9/11. The principal supporters of the Taliban-Pakistan and Saudi Arabia-were compelled by the US to break their links with the Taliban and join the US led GWOT.

Subsequently, the Hamid Karzai government was sworn in and Afghanistan has also had its first real elections. But the country remains fragile. In the last year, the Taliban and their supporters have re-grouped and are now a force to reckon with.

Now in a supreme irony, five years after the Musharraf regime in Pakistan joined the GWOT, on September 5, 2007, the Pak military signed a deal with the Taliban by which the militants and terrorist groups have agreed to stop their attacks in Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. In return, the Pak military has agreed to suspend its operations in the North Waziristan and this has deal already caused considerable disquiet in the US.

But this is a reflection of the bitter reality of the last five years-that despite all the military capability that the US has brought to bear and now the NATO forces who are in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Force, post 9/11 it has to be accepted that a determined, militant non-state guerrilla-cum-insurgency group cannot be effectively defeated by mere conventional military superiority.

The UK has since put out feelers that it would not be averse to a political dialogue with the Taliban-so the wheel has come full circle in more ways than one. This is a lesson that the US and Pakistan are coming to terms with in different ways-and the actions and policies of both these nations are of critical relevance to India.

Pakistan has been using its troops in the disturbed Waziristan area for about a year and has sustained many casualties-running into hundreds-without being able to effectively neutralise the Taliban-al Quaida cadres. The September 5 agreement is a tacit admission that the objectives of the GWOT have to be modified to accept current reality-and that reality is that the Musharraf regime cannot afford to any longer engage militarily with the conservative tribal groups along the Pak-Afghan border.

After the Bugti killing (August 26), the Pak military has its hands full with growing internal armed Balochi resistance and hence a two-front internal deployment in Waziristan and in Balochistan will not be possible.

The political element is that with Gen. Musharraf seeking re-election in 2007 as the President and continuing as Army Chief, he cannot afford to alienate the right wing Islamic parties in the NWFP and their support base in other parts of Pakistan. Hence a ceasefire with the Taliban makes eminent tactical sense for the Pak military.

Within the US, the war in Iraq is being compared to Vietnam. The US has now lost 3,000 troops since 9/11 in Iraq alone and this is greater than the total number of people killed in 9/11. The Iraqi casualties are much greater due to near civil war conditions and the tally is estimated to be closer to 46,000 people killed and thousands more injured or lost.

Ironically, the US action to oust President Saddam Hussain that was projected as the great liberation of Iraq has now resulted in a state that is divided along religious and sectarian lines- Shia vs Sunni, Arab vs Kurd and radical Islamic fervour is increasing.

The US now is trying to stabilise both Iraq and Afghanistan - the latter through NATO and the balance sheet is bleak. After losing 3,000 plus lives and pouring in billions of dollars, the US objectives in the GWOT have become blurred.

Pakistan, which is the hub of radical Islamic terrorism, remains a much required ally and hence the many transgressions of the Musharraf regime from supporting terrorism against India to AQ Khan to lack of true participative democracy will be condoned by the Bush administration.

This in turn will strain the India-US relationship and deft diplomacy will be called for on both sides. And as regards Pakistan, the composite dialogue framework of January 2004 remains the benchmark and will come up for discussion in Havana later this week when Dr. Manmohan Singh meets General Musharraf.

Terrorism and its support structures have become more animated and wide-spread since 9/11 five years ago. The response of the US and its principal ally-UK has been more reactive than reflective.

What began as a war against terror has to be transformed astutely into a long term campaign that will remove the motivation and eliminate the support structures among small pockets within the Islamic fold that have chosen to adopt the path of radical terror by distorting religious tenets. This has special relevance for India where communal discord and the challenge of terrorism precede 9/11 by more than a decade and whose most recent manifestation was in Mumbai and now Malegaon.

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