Thursday, July 03, 2008


America has been invoked in recent times after every terror attack on Indian soil.

Experts and ordinary Indians react in anger, naturally, to the violence, and urge the Indian government to look at the American example of counter terror.

After all, as we’ve been reminded many times before, there has not been a single attack on American soil since 9/11. In India on the other hand, there have been at least 15 major terror strikes after the Parliament attack on 13th December 2001.

But this analysis is over simplistic because during this time when American citizens have been safe in their malls and subways, their country’s “war on terror” has actually destabilized large parts of the world - the Middle East and India’s own neighbourhood of South Asia.

So, if we just for a moment apply more stringent conditions in examining the US record in protecting its citizens it becomes clear that it has come at the cost of someone else’s safety. US policies have hurt the security of the region and in fact India as well. The result of the American effort in protecting Americans – no further attacks – is good; but the approach is heavily hypocritical and morally unjustifiable. It sends out the wrong message that the means in this “war” don’t matter. So those who invoke the US should be reminded that there is little to emulate and for various reasons.

Some simple numbers first. The 9/11 attacks killed a little less than 3000 people. Within a month of launching strikes in Afghanistan the US surpassed that number in Afghan civilian casualties. You can imagine what the figure must be like seven years on. The US military, however, does not document civilian deaths or “collateral damage” so the exact number is unknown but according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, in the last
two years alone nearly 8000 people have been killed.

In Iraq the numbers are much higher. According to the Iraq Body Count Project more than 85,000 people have died.

So, collateral damage is a euphemism which means that some people are killable under some circumstances (like Afghans and Iraqis) while American citizens are not under any circumstance.

There are more double standards. For instance, democracy is good in some places but not good in others. It is not good in Pakistan because it slows everything down. Oh bother! So as long as Musharraf - the Undemocrat can get things done then he gets Washington DC’s support.

Admittedly, Pakistan has been a very difficult question for the Bush administration but it beggars belief that they continue to studiously support Pervez Musharraf even after voters rejected his party. On the other hand, Pakistani lawyers who have surprised the world with their tenacious movement to have the judiciary restored have not received any support from Bush and Co.

So even while propagating the virtues of democracy as the antidote to terrorism and war the US stoutly supported a military autocrat. While Indian admirers were looking at America’s secure shores they didn’t notice the damage being done just across the border even if Pakistan’s own leaders should get a fair share of the blame.

Beyond the double standards the major problem with the war on terror in South Asia has been that it was relegated to second place. Iraq’s witless war had to be won and so Afghanistan was ignored. The best troops and equipment were pulled out and diverted to Iraq. During that time the Taliban and Al Qaeda regrouped in Pakistan and today they are launching vicious attacks inside Afghanistan. NATO says they need at least 10,000 more troops to be effective in the country.

These policies negatively impact India as well albeit in a less direct fashion. Today Indian reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are running up against a nasty old foe in the Taliban. Pakistan’s reckless military has allowed these fundamentalists to regroup even as the US was too busy in the battle in Iraq. In the past the mujahideen have turned their attention to Kashmir so this Talibanisation of Pakistan is just bad news for everyone.

America’s actions abroad belie the lofty language it has used in the war on terror. I smile ruefully when the US is invoked after terror strikes because the world is possibly more unsafe because of America. South Asia doesn’t look rosier for sure.

So, for those who still think the “tough” measures of the US are admirable, here is a beautiful question from the late Catalonian cellist Pablo Casals. He asks, “The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”

It does and that is the problem.

Published in the Indian Express on July 3rd 2008.


Sathej said...

Quite right. The American double standards pervade a lot of issues. Pakistan is a classic example. Advocate democracy when a dictator doesn't support you and tolerate a non-democrat when he appeases you. What better illustration! Its pathetic. The last line is beautiful. Love stops at the borders indeed. One's right to freedom ends when he/she intends to disrupt other's liberties. Aren't we taught this in Civics classes right in Class 8? Relegated to the text books, I suppose. Simple enough, yet conveniently put on the back burner. True, double standards are sickening.

Som said...

I do agree. Meanwhile, once you have power than 'common-good' goes on backfoot and 'own-good' comes in front.

In USA's case, they have power and using it for their benefits. I see, nothing wrong in it. It's on the target state to work for ownselve.

Alaphia Zoyab said...

Hi Som,
Yes its the realist theory in International Affairs but it doesn't work very well in solving global problems like terrorism, climate change etc. So we perhaps need more global solutions and less state-oriented ones.

'Tis a beautiful life! said...

great piece!