Friday is 9/11, the day the world saw something it had never witnessed before. On September 11, 2001 four hijacked planes slammed into the symbols of American power – the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
A hurt United States lashed out declaring a war on terror. The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, then Iraq in 2003. The then US president George Bush declared to the world “either with us or against us”. The war on terror had begun and the world soon turned into a more dangerous place than ever before.
And that brings us to the question that was asked on CNN-IBN show Face the Nation: Has 9/11 created a permanent clash of civilisations?
The panel of experts to discuss the issue included Acting Director, South Asia Studies- Johns Hopkins University, Walter Anderson; foreign affairs expert, Amitabh Mattoo and former diplomat KC Singh.
At the start of the show, 78 per cent of those who voted in agreed that 9/11 created a permanent clash of civilizations while 22 per cent disagreed.
World after 9/11
US President Barack Obama is supposed to be providing the healing touch, creating a new America, a new attitude towards the Islamic world but may say that the world has become a much more unstable place since 9/11. Al-Qaeda is growing despite the largest manhunt in history and cyber terrorists are still active. The threat of terrorism remains as large as before.
Walter Andersen agreed with the argument and said that it may be somewhat more significant than before because there were more groups now who are following the tactics of al-Qaeda.
On the other hand Amitabh Mattoo felt that the whole issue was like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
He said, “After the Cold War ended, you had people like Francis Fukuyama (American philosopher) declaring the end of history, liberalism and American democracy and its style of functioning was the last stage in history and that’s when Samuel Huntington (American political scientist) wrote his thesis about impending cultural battle or clash of civilisations. I think it would have happened even if 9/11 hadn’t happened. 9/11 exaggerated it, brought it even more intensely to our doorsteps but it would have happened in any case. Ultimately in some ways the greatest success of American policy has been that there hasn’t been another 9/11 on its soil. But the greatest tragedy is what the American foreign policy succeeded in doing is empowering the radical and weakening the moderates within the Muslim society.”
The fact is that the moderate in the Muslim world is now seen as an American stooge. In Pakistan, the moderates are telling their own people: Listen why are you fighting a war on America’s behest and killing your own people?
KC Singh had a different view on this. He said that 9/11 was not the watershed for India.
He said, “We have been suffering here ever since the Americans left after the Cold War. They abandoned Afghanistan where Taliban and al-Qaeda had been. They (Taliban and al-Qaeda) diverted all their attention to Kashmir and we have had militancy there from 1988-89 onwards.”
“But when we were suffering, there was no one willing to share it with us. They said it was our problem, and told us to talk to Pakistan. We were saying that it was a larger problem of radical Islam which has been transplanted, left behind. The Kandahar hijacking was an ideal example of this. Who came to our rescue then?” questioned Singh.
The experts believed that the radicalisation of Pakistan is galloping forward because of the war on terror.
Singh said, “Al-Qaeda’s battle is not for Afghanistan, it is for the soul of Pakistan. Coincidentally, 9/11 is also the death anniversary of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”
Bush vs Obama
Has the ‘us versus them’ policy of former US president George Bush on the clash of civilisation changed with Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo?
Anderson responded to the question saying, “The Bush comment was in reference not to all Muslims but to radical Islamic groups. In the case of Obama, he has tried to enhance the campaign in many ways that America seeks to connect with Muslims, what Americans are opposed to is radicalism. He (Obama) has tried to take off the Islamic Muslim aspect of it and simply talk about political radicalism.”
“The question of whether US under Obama is still engaged in an effort against that kind of radicalism – is yes, it is. There is a debate in US that is now taking place about the level of US commitment,” he added.
Anti-Western radicalisation growing
What is the effect of war on terror having on societies like Pakistan? If the US continues to prosecute this war on the Islamic radical does it not actually mean that even moderates become radical because they see their own brethren in the line of fire. Doesn’t that create some kind of nationalistic fervour?
Mattoo thought the argument was absolutely correct. He mentioned about surveys conducted which showed that Osama bin Laden was more popular among the Muslims than any American president. He said, “In Pakistan today, bin Laden is more popular than Barack Obama. It suggests that the American policy is not working.”
Mattoo felt that the greatest strength of American foreign policy, the soft power – the land of opportunities, the American dream had paled into insignificance before the crude hard power of incidences such as the Guantanamo Bay.
He went on further to say that despite Obama having Hussain as a middle name the American cultural seductiveness is no more present within the Muslim societies.
He also said, “The obsession over Pakistan over every issue was important for tactical reasons. We need to see Pakistan as a troublesome and a troubled state but in this case, we need to look at a larger picture which is that we have 170 million Muslims in India, most of whom are an embodiment of Sufi, tolerant, multicultural traditions, that is what we need to use more than being recognised as victims. It’s the larger picture that we shouldn’t lose sight of.”
In India there is a tradition of Islam which is not getting radicalised by the war on terror. Does that mean that there is hope?
Singh responded by saying, “That is the dilemma for Indian policy makers. There are moderated voices coming out of Pakistan. It is the moderate opinion in Pakistan that has to assert itself after the terrorist incidences that have taken place in Pakistan.”
Singh vehemently discouraged the generalisation of all Muslims and said that there was no need to take the Indian Muslims as a litmus test for every issue. He said, “Indian Muslims are well adjusted, it’s not a monolithic single entity.
Should the US stop war on terror?
9/11 created the clash of civilisations, the terror and rendition programme, the human rights abuse, cyber terrorism and anti-radical Westernisation, is it therefore urgently important that the United States finishes this war.
Singh responded to this by saying, “I don’t think it is just the US’ war. It’s a war for all right-thinking people of the world, including moderate Islamic world. It is in everybody’s interest that the hybrid-radicalist Islam which is emanating from southern Afghanistan, the federally administered areas of Pakistan is hemmed and eliminated.”
He also added that it was important to understand what the end-game plan that the US has. He wondered whether the US or their allies in NATO were reaching a fatigue level.
“India’s eternal fear is that the US cut a deal with some kind of Taliban which is supported by certain elements in Pakistan and back to 1999 with a Talibanised government in Kabul,” Singh said.
The nightmare in India is that the US will cut a deal with Taliban regime and leave us in south Asia to deal with it.
Anderson said that that was a nightmare scenario for them in the US as well. He said, “The US has a record in the past of leaving Afghanistan too soon. One of the most telling argument that insists that we have to stay there until the situation stabilises is that if you withdraw too quickly what will happen is all the neighbours of Afghanistan will begin to interfere in the politics of the state with the consequential violence that is going to happen in that situation. That in many ways has very negative consequences for India. However, the Taliban success in Afghanistan is restricted to the Pashtun areas of the south and the east. They have had very limited success among the Taziks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and other groups. The danger of civil war is likely if the US troops are withdrawn.”
“In Pakistan the support for radicalism tends to be limited. Here again, the Taliban gets support from Pashtun area of the northwest and in southern Punjab, there is a unique situation of a disproportionately Shia landlord class and a large Sunni population with a growing Sunni population which is seeking political power in that area and turning to radical Islam. What has happened in Pakistan is that radical Islam, as in Afghanistan, is being used by groups as a tactic to enhance their own support. There is much deeper than religion and radicalism going on. There is social change and groups are using religion to advance their own cause,” Anderson added.
How will the US accomplish its mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Mattoo reasoned by saying, “It seems clear that within the couple of years, America and rest of the West including Britain, which is particularly keen, will declare victory. How they will package it is not clear whether it is after the recovery of Osama bin Laden or after saying that democracy has been stabilised. That is a nightmare scenario because what we will have is essentially an Afghanistan toned by the Taliban and various other civil wars. They may not be able to attack the US and the West but certainly there will be a source of tremendous instability in the region.”
“India needs to continuously work with all the Afghan actors and all the neighbours to try and ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t descend into the kind of state that the Americans would leave it,” Mattoo said concluding the debate.
Final results of SMS/Web poll: Has 9/11 created a permanent clash of civilisations?