Our country’s military assault on Afghanistan raises many questions about the efficacy of our current “solution” to the problem of terrorism. The goals of this war have been spelled out in vague terms, with strident calls for the “eradication of evil.” One wonders, then, whether these attacks are just a symbolic attempt to appease a shaken populace in the guise of a war against terrorism.
What exactly is this war trying to accomplish? We are targeting what we consider to be the source of terrorism while simultaneously speaking of a sprawling network of terrorists operating through “cells” around the world.
After ostensibly destroying all terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, do we then launch military strikes against and violate the sovereignty of the more than 50 other countries accused of supporting terrorism? Will that also include our long-time friend and ally Saudi Arabia, who no doubt has links to terrorist networks?
And what definition of terrorism do we apply? Do state-sponsored target assassinations count as terrorism? What is the response in such a situation?
Every war must be undertaken with a vision of what the post-war peace will look like, and in this case, the picture is bleak indeed. Rather than the terror-free utopia that is being dangled before us, we will see an upsurge in animosity towards the United States and its freewheeling foreign policy in the region.
Why? First, accident or not, the strikes on Afghanistan have killed civilians and hit non-military targets and will continue to do so. The death of civilians will no doubt turn the tide of public opinion in many countries, Muslim and non-Muslim, against the United States.
Secondly, the attacks have great potential to destabilize not only Afghanistan but area countries such as Pakistan, India, Iran, and several Central Asian states, some of which are nuclear powers. The military defeat of the Taliban will no doubt lead to a dangerous political void in the region, a situation Afghanistan has seen before.
With so many armed militias vying for control in the country, there is bound to be widespread slaughter and chaos in their postwar scramble for power. Without a serious assessment of what kind of Afghanistan will likely emerge after these strikes, we are tumbling headlong into a situation which, according to Kofi Annan, will make the Balkans and the Congo look like child’s play.
Thirdly, the war’s impact on humanitarian aid to the dispossessed of Afghanistan is staggering. United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson and many humanitarian aid agencies have repeatedly called for an end to the attacks.
She rightly recognizes that, despite the “noble” gesture of accompanying our bombs with food, medicine and supplies for the starving Afghans, this aid is but half the amount Afghanistan was receiving before the attacks began and humanitarian agencies fled the country.
“The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and its allies,” President Bush said. Between battling starvation and ducking bombs, the Afghan people may not agree.
Another thing we must remember is that war is not free. In 1991, we dumped the cost of the Gulf War on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But who do we think will fund this war? Various news agencies have reported that the first night of bombing cost at least $2 million.
This is taxpayers’ money, and there have been many nights of bombing since then. Rest assured that this war will make a great dent in our budget without a clear assurance of future security.
And finally, it is clear that extremist elements in otherwise moderate Muslim states have lost no time in using the attack on Afghanistan to rally people to their cause. This is troubling when anti-American sentiments are part and parcel of their rhetoric.
Rather than clamping down on terrorism, we are creating more terrorist sympathizers who resent our shameless display of raw power and unilateralism in the region. Are these the solutions we’re looking for?
Let’s also keep in mind that the congressional resolution authorizing the President to use force against the perpetrators of the attacks of Sept. 11 is a violation of international law. Article 2(4) and Article 51 of the United Nations Charter forbid the use of force except in matters of self-defense, and certainly not for purposes of retaliation and punishment.
If the United States claims these attacks as self-defense, it must provide solid proof to the U.N. Security Council as to the perpetrators of the act. It has not done so. What message, then, are we sending to the world — a global community we ourselves are trying to unite in a war against terrorism — if our country does not abide by the dictates of international law?
Any action taken in response to the horrendous events of Sept. 11 must involve the United Nations and must transcend the vigilante tactics we are now pursuing. The United States must call for a meeting of the Security Council and request the establishment of an international tribunal to extradite and arrest those responsible, as was done with Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
If extradition fails, an international military or police force under the direct control of the United Nations should be established to seek out the offenders and expedite their arrests. What’s the harm in soliciting a third party to try Osama bin Laden, as the Taliban have repeatedly suggested? Why should we not exhaust all diplomatic and lawful channels before resorting to violent means? These actions will ensure sincere support by all nations.
They will make battling terrorism a worldwide responsibility and will not engender the resentment that unilateral U.S. action often creates in the rest of the world.
Homayra Ziad is a third-year graduate student in the Religious Studies Department.