by Alejandro Bustos
I canít believe it has come to this.
Following last weekís horrific attack against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, my mind has been filled with nightmare scenarios.
Here is one: Washington concludes that Saudi-exile Osama bin Laden masterminded the attack. The Taliban government of Afghanistan, which is harbouring bin Laden, refuses to hand him over. Washington replies by putting intolerable pressure on Pakistan, the Talibanís main ally, to co-operate with the U.S. An impoverished Islamabad succumbs, and allows western troops to use its airspace and territory to launch attacks against Afghanistan.
In response, the Pakistani population, which contains many adherents to militant Islam, revolts. The result is in internal chaos or outright civil war. Taking advantage of the instability, India launches a series of attacks against Pakistani interests in Kashmir.
As fierce fighting erupts in Pakistan, northern India and Afghanistan, Islamic militants in other troubled countries Ė we can point to Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria, Indonesia and the Philippines Ė step up their own guerrilla activities. Radicals in Malaysia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, begin to exert pressure on their own governments. Suddenly, the West is caught in the middle of a global uprising marked by numerous insurgencies.
The mind boggles at the potential horror.
I am also disturbed by this disturbing conclusion: The U.S. and its allies have no choice but to respond militarily; any military response will only make the situation worse.
The western public understandably wants blood. But who exactly is supposed to bleed? And more importantly, what lessons does history teach us about the approaching dark cloud?
If the failed war on drugs is any indication, the newly announced campaign against terrorism could prove to be disastrous.
First, like the war on drugs, there is no clearly defined enemy. On an abstract level itís easy to understand terms like international drug dealers or religious militants. But in practice, itís difficult to sort out the intended enemy. Is a Colombian farmer who grows cocoa worthy of being attacked by counter-narcotics battalions? Likewise, are innocent civilians in Afghanistan going to be killed in any potential strike against their rulers?
Two, when do we declare victory or accept defeat when fighting an invisible enemy? A criminal organization destroyed in the drug war can be easily replaced. Terrorist organizations can also regroup and spring up. Killing Osama Bin Laden wonít stop guerrillas in Indonesia or Malaysia from engaging in a bombing campaign.
Three, like the war on drugs, a fight against terrorism could get the West involved in conflicts they have no interest in fighting. For instance, how would Islamic fighters in Chechnya or Kosovo react to a campaign against Afghanistan? Would the U.S. be drawn into those struggles in ways they never imagined?
Finally, on the domestic front, the war against terrorism threatens our own civil liberties. The drug war has resulted in a burgeoning prison population, limitations on our freedom of choice and a large investment in policing. The fight against terrorism could prove to be worse. The media is already full of voices calling for more surveillance, increase funding for intelligence organizations and anti-terrorism laws, i.e. increased government control over the population.
Yet, as I said before, western governments have to respond to this attack. Unfortunately, I canít think of any answer that doesnít result in blood, tears and increased retribution.
Oh what have we done? Or even more troubling, what will we do?
Alejandro Bustos is up with eyes wide open.