International acts of terrorism – issues of security and human rights – II

Mohammad Akram Sheikh
Monday, November 22, 2010

PART – 2

A distinction has to be drawn between aggression and legitimate resistance. The two cannot be clubbed under the generic rubric of terror. To quote Mr Noam Chomsky, the United States has adopted double standards and has rejected “the principle of universality”. According to him, decent people apply to themselves the same standard that they apply to others.

Justice Robert Jackson, Chief Counsel for the United States invoked the same high standard of civilized conduct on the part of victors including the US, when he spoke at the Nuremberg Trial in the following words: –

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others, which we would not be willing to have invoked against us”.

The Tribunal defined war crimes and crime against humanity. It adopted a definition carefully so that crimes are crimes only if the allies do not commit them. Mr Jackson’s Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Telford Taylor explained that “to punish the foe ñ especially the vanquished foe ñ for conduct in which the enforcing nation has engaged, would be so grossly inequitable as to discredit the laws themselves. Self-exemption of the powerful from international law makes a mockery of the latter.”

The question is, are we winning the war? Perhaps not. According to US magazine Foreign Policy and a Washington based think tank, the US is losing the war on terror and that a major new attack is likely within the next decade. The relative peace the world had seen during the few decades of cold war has been shattered.

What should be done? Democracy is the only answer particularly for the problems in the Muslim world. There is a widening disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. The rulers the US supports are oppressive and corrupt. Dictators and psychopaths are its allies.

People want to be in control of their destinies. Jacques Chirac, former French President held the view that Terrorism will take us back to ages we thought were long gone, if we allow it a free hand to corrupt democratic societies and destroy the basic rules of international life. War on terror is as much in the interest of Pakistan’s survival as it is of the West. From the number of terror attacks and the number of victims of such attacks which far exceed the total aggregating attacks of victims in the west, Pakistan is the centre point of the war on terror.

The foregoing discussion leads one to conclude that enactments and criminal laws are no remedy for curbing the malady or menace of terrorism. We need to adopt an out of the box approach. Whereas, legal regime is an essential part of responding to the threat of terrorism, yet this alone cannot achieve the objective. We require setting in motion a system incorporating a multi-pronged strategy which includes dialogue with all the stake-holders, granting concessions, declaring amnesty where necessary and retreating from rigid positions that have been taken on certain issues. Concept of victory in war against terrorism should be replaced by addressing the root causes of terrorism, namely, poverty, illiteracy, social inequity and injustice, political oppression. We should, therefore, continue to ameliorate the lot of people who are attracted towards terrorism because of these factors.

There are no easy fixes to the problem of terrorism. The problem has become international and no country is immune to the virus. Blaming it on neighbours or traditional enemies wonít work because the problem has acquired dimensions of home grown variety. Dealing with the subject holistically in all its facets, we, first of all, have to understand the entire complexity of the menace and then only can we come to rational conclusions on how to address it. There is a tendency to link terrorism and extremism. However, the two are very different from each other and addressing them need totally different strategies. It is here that we have to build on hard and soft approaches to tackle terrorism on one side and extremism on the other side.

While terrorism is to be confronted with force, with all the military force at every level globally, regionally and domestically by all countries involved or concerned; extremism, which is a state of mind has to be handled with care. It is a battle for the hearts and minds. There is nothing like imposition here. It needs a totally different strategy. We have to certainly address both, terrorism for obvious reasons, to confront it with force. But extremism spawns terrorism. Terrorism flows from extremism.

It means that the challenge of terrorism has to be met at different levels. These tiers can be identified: First, at the global level. From Pakistan perspective terrorism at this level can be dealt with through a strategy of enlightened moderation. This is a two pronged strategy. One to be delivered by the Muslim world, rejecting terrorism and extremism, going for socio-economic development because the Muslim world is the most backward. Socio-economic development will lead to the eradication of poverty, and ultimately eliminate extremism which grows into terrorism.

The other prong of the strategy of enlightened moderation is to be delivered by the West by assisting the Muslim countries in the process of socio-economic development and by helping in the resolution of political disputes.

Terrorism is a complex, multi-dimensional and growing threat at global level. Therefore, a comprehensive strategy that combines law enforcement, political, social, cultural, financial and diplomatic measures should be adopted to combat it.

Since terrorism is not confined to a single country or one region, there is a need for evolving consensus at global level on a countering strategy incorporating both short and long term measures that work in tandem.

No counter-terrorism strategy can be effective unless causes and conditions that breed, encourage, and contribute to terrorism are objectively identified and addressed.

Since terrorism is a global phenomenon, it can be countered only through international cooperation. Cooperation at global level can be facilitated through sustained efforts for building national capabilities and capacities across the spectrum.

While taking counter-terrorism measures, cooperative rather than coercive national and international strategies should be pursued so that reaction to counter-terrorism measures does not confound the problem.

Carrying out counter-terrorism strategies should not entail violation of human rights and disregard for civil liberties. Rather civil liberties and principles of good governance must be upheld in the fight against terror, because real security can only be achieved through respect for human rights.

Terrorism thrives on hatred, mistrust, and lack of communication between different civilizational and cultural groups. It reminds me of Martin Luther King, when he said and I quote:

“People do not get along well with each other, because they fear each other. They fear each other because they do not know each other. They do not know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

Therefore, inter-faith dialogue and understanding among different civilizational and cultural groups, including struggle for winning hearts and minds must become an integral part of global consensus building to evolve a joint strategy. Such a dialogue must be pursued on the understanding that the root cause of friction between civilizations are not primarily religious differences but mainly issues of power, competing political and economic interests, policies, and misunderstandings.

As a result of concerted national efforts, the terrorist support base has shrunk but the danger still looms large. What we need is a multi-prong counter-terrorism strategy to neutralise the ideological appeal of extremism to address the root causes that breed extremist tendencies: and to strive in surmounting socio-economic challenges.

This Conference could contemplate proposing the following measures:

  1. To abide by the universally accepted principles of international law and human rights in the war against terrorism.
  2. That terrorism must not be equated with any faith or religion.
  3. That this war cannot be won by military means alone.
  4. That we must address root causes or breeding grounds. Without a war on political injustice and poverty we can never defeat terror.
  5. Finally that this war ought not to become a pretext to suppress legitimate freedom movements or compromise on civil liberties.
  6. Intelligentsia, civil society and media should play their role to create public awareness about the dangers that terrorism poses to society.

Efforts have to be geared to evolve a consensus among nations on what must be done. Decisions having international and moral legitimacy stand better chance being respected as opposed to unilateral decisions for international peace and stability.