16th September 2001

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War on terrorism?

Though the simplest definition of ter rorism ought to be "one who uses ter ror against another,'' that basic definition doesn't come anywhere near capturing the essential meaning of terrorism in the world today.

Terrorist acts leave not just physical debris, but also in their wake, they leave more questions than can be answered. Can terror be used against terrorists? Are there governments that sponsor terrorists? If so, are they terrorist states?

Osama bin Laden, whose name seems to have become household worldwide, was first trained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, to fight the Soviet Union. So were Mujahideen freedom fighters who were marginalised by the more radical Taleban which has now trained its guns anything and anyone anti fundamental Islamic.

The parallels are striking and are eerie in this part of the world too. India, one of our closest and oldest friendly nations, trained and funded a separatist movement in Sri Lanka which has now became a hydra-headed monster that is intractable even to India itself. The effects of India's creation of a separatist movement here still prevail.

In the magazine section of this newspaper ( the Plus) our Features staff interviewed a cross section of persons on the subject of the attacks on America, and the emerging consensus of those interviewed was that "the Americans will now know the pain this nation and her people have gone through all these years.''

The quite bald fact that is writ very large, and which emerges from the events of last week, is that the United States, the European Union and the Commonwealth did not consider global terrorism an international priority on the UN agenda. (See our Diplomatic Editor's Story on page 1)

As the United States refers back to the primeval instinct of revenge, and its cowboys are all rearing to go, the refrain of European leaders is that "those who harbour terrorists are also guilty of murder themselves.'' The question that is most pertinent in this atmosphere of radical aggression, is whether these countries ought not to examine their own past record in combating international terror.

There will undoubtedly be the condolences and the commiseration at the deaths, and the acts of destruction resulting from the attacks on New York and Washington last week. But, it is almost as if we have been here before. The US jumped the "global terrorism'' bandwagon after the Oklahoma bombing, and there was the Lyon declaration, which went into the limbo of forgotten things until now, and this attack.

The sheer scale and magnitude of the World Trade Centre attack is so mind-boggling that the US is no doubt reeling from it. But yet, all this talk of a collective war on terrorism may just be to punish the real or imagined perpetrators of terrorism against western nations. We in the drought ridden power cut facing Third World facing insurance surcharges and travel advisories will have to tend for ourselves.

In other words, it is not likely that the US will empathize with countries such as ours which have to face terrorism on a regular and much more violent basis, anymore than it did before the World Trade Centre attack.

That's at least the conclusion that can be drawn from the country's past record. A global effort against terrorism all over the world, requires that the US President and the Houses of Congress shift focus from retaliation only, to deterrence and prevention of future attacks. The only way of doing so, is by spearheading a war against terrorism wherever it occurs in the world, whether it is directed at the US, or any other country in the world.

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