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Unveiling the Ties between US Imperialism and Al Qaida

This article defines notions of imperialism and terrorism and proceeds to offer an account of US-led imperialism in many parts of the developing world. It contends that in the process of combating Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, the US landed up giving support to radical Islamic groupings and eventually caused the emergence of Al Qaida. It brings out how the US is increasingly getting involved in the politics of west and central Asia by redefining its relationship with the Muslim world.

NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW december 20, 200867Unveiling the Ties between US Imperialism and Al QaidaRajen HarsheThis article defines notions of imperialism and terrorism and proceeds to offer an account ofUS-led imperialism in many parts of the developing world. It contends that in the process of combating Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, the US landed up giving support to radical Islamic groupings and eventually caused the emergence of Al Qaida. It brings out how the US is increasingly getting involved in the politics of west and central Asia by redefining its relationship with the Muslim world. Unveiling the intricacies of the association between theUS-led imperialism and the outgrowth of terrorism in contemporary international relations continues to be a daunting task owing to its paradoxical nature. There have been instances where several terror-ist organisations were nurtured and sus-tained by theUS imperialism. And at the same time, the terrorist outfits that flouri-shed due to theUS have proved capable of engaging themselves in adversarial en-counters with theUS, almost in a diale-ctical mode. This article would reflect on the changing dimensions of ties between the US-led imperialism and Al Qaida, a multinational terrorist outfit.US-led imperialism continues to be at the centre stage of international relations in the post-cold war world. In its essence, any variety of imperialism signifies asym-metrical forms of interdependence be-tween materially advanced and backward societies. Practically all the powerful states such as theUS, the post-Soviet Russia, France or the middle ranging rising pow-ers such as China, India and South Africa are not free from imperial/hegemonic tendencies, while handling relatively weaker states. Evidently, a superpower like the US has far greater capacity to project its power across the continents. But the middle rang-ing powers like India and South Africa are also capable of dominating their immediate neighbourhood. That is why the relatively weaker countries that surround India and South Africa appear to be apprehensive of the hegemonic tendencies of the former. In the process of operating in different milieus, all such imperial/hegemonic states have had to encounter various forms of terror sponsored by a wide spectrum of terrorist organisations ranging from the Maoists on the left to religious extremist groups on the extreme right. Such terrorist groups, in their turn, conveniently assail the so-called state-sponsored terrorism unleashed by the states with imperialistic tendencies. In the process, the terrorists groups define themselves at times as free-dom fighters, as in the case of Kashmir, and at times as holy warriors as exempli-fied by the Al Qaida and its spreadout net-work of outfits. The terrorist outfits by now have given sufficient evidence of their abilities to mobilise international support. Conversely, the community of states under the leadership of theUS has also formed international coalitions to counter the spectre of terrorism. Forms of TerrorBroadly speaking, there is one distinct form and the other slightly hazy form of terror that appears discernible. The first one which is easily discernable involves the non-state actors/organisations. Such organisations, by building networks among the terrorists within and across the national boundaries, indulge in dastardly assaults on non-combatants, especially innocent civilians with the aim of achiev-ing political objectives through fear psy-chosis. In their incessant bid to destabilise any social order, such terrorist outfits also have attempted to attack financial nerve centres, strategic routes, railway lines, ports and marketplaces by sporadically disturbing normal civic life. The second form of terrorism is percep-tible when the state itself becomes an agency to sponsor terrorism. The entire notion of state terrorism is not merely difficult to prove but a shadow of doubt lingers over it, due to the very nature of the modern state. Since organised, legitimate or even illegitimate force is embedded in the very being of any state, any form of state-sponsored terrorism, more often, is not easy to grasp and hence overlooked. In essence, every state gathers its resources as well as power to act with the goal of maintaining law and order and protecting itself from internal subversion and external aggression. While maintaining internal order, the coercive arms of the state such as the police and the army violate human rights of certain sections or social groups with reference to its defined frame of Rajen Harshe ( is vice-chancellor of Allahabad University.
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW december 20, 200869It also needs to be underscored that in the process of looking after its far-flung influence and interests, theUS struck opportunistic alliances, time and again, with military dictatorships in Spain, Portugal, Chile, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, Nigeria, Zaire, Pakistan and the Philippines, irrespective of its ostensible regard for democratic processes and human rights. What is more, the apartheid regimes in South Africa and the Zionist regime in Israel did constitute significant parts of the configuration of the US imperial state. Keeping this tendency of an imperial state to strike short-term, tactical and oppor-tunistic alliances to preserve imperial interests in view, we shall proceed to explorethe links between the US and the rise of terrorism.Link with TerrorismThe rise of contemporary terrorism has its roots in the new cold war between the US and the former Soviet Union. Under president Reagan, in the early 1980s, the US began to flex its muscles as a global gendarme to contain the rising Soviet power by declaring the former Soviet Union as an “evil empire”. Certain signi-ficant developments in the 1970s such as the breakdown of the Bretton Woods sys-tem, the US reverses in Vietnam, Angola and Iran were demanding a more aggres-sive stance towards the Soviet Union from theUS standpoint. Eventually, the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 had set the pace for the new cold war. The Soviets in their quest to get access to warm waters had moved into Afghanistan by stationing almost 1,00,000 troops. To wipe out the Soviet influence in Afghanistan, theUS opted to rally all such forces that were ideologically averse to communism. Thus, Pakistan under president Zia-ul Haq became the frontline state to combat the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan, in its turn, became a hub to recruit diffe-rent Mujahideen groups as holy warriors and Saudi Arabia financed these religious extremist or radical Islamist groupings.1 Ironically, if the US construed the Soviet Union as a state fanatically associated with communism, the Reagan administra-tion chose to fight one kind of fanaticism with another as represented by the Islamic radicals. The US moral and material support for thousands of Mujahideen who gathered under the flag of jihad to oust the communist presence in Afghanistan began to render legitimacy to religious extre-mism. In fact, the international coalition built round Pakistan’s territory, Saudi Arabian finances and volunteers and the US arms began to exacerbate the fight between the communist and the jihad in south-west Asia (Cooley, John 2000). Eventually, the Arab-Afghan Mujahideen played a crucial role in defeating the Soviet forces that withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988. After the end of the Afghan war, Pakistan continued to face the problem of Afghan refugees. Its economy began to clandestinely draw substantial revenues from the sale of drugs. The drugs sale, in its turn, was linked up with the sale of arms. In fact, the rise of narco-terrorism, proliferation of madrasa schools and the overt support of Pakistan to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1994-2001) had virtually transformed politics and society in Pakistan (Harshe 2003). Pakistan had emerged as a hub of terrorism. If the origins of the rise of Osama bin Laden could be attributed to the war in Afghanistan, the eventual ascendancy of the multinational terrorist outfits such as the Al Qaida became possible because both Pakistan and Afghanistan provided sanctuary to the terrorist activities. Global Terrorist NetworkOsama bin Laden, the hero of Afghan war and a wealthy Saudi Arabian, is an engi-neer by training. He was associated with a construction company.2 With his charismatic personality, organisational skills and adherence to radical Islam, bin Laden has been able to cultivate thousands of fear-less, bright and dedicated set of fighters across the world under the banner of Al Qaida. After his return from the Afghan war, bin Laden openly opposed the Saudi Arabian royal family for allowingUS troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia, while the former was handling the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s. Taking exception to this behaviour, the Saudi regime ousted bin Laden from Saudi Arabia and he fled to Khartoum, Sudan. During the days of exile in Sudan, he came in con-tact with Islamic radicals and virtually ran an important training school for them in Khartoum in the early 1990s. Subsequently, under pressures from the US military operations, he had to flee Sudan and take refuge in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. By now, bin Laden and all the radical Islamic organisations that have rallied under the Islamic International Front for Jihad against the Jews and cru-saders since 1998 have become a potent force in world politics. The front abhors the existence of Israel on the west Asian map and the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. In fact, Israel’s aggres-sive policy towards Arab countries has invariably invoked anti-Israel sentiments in west Asian countries and bin Laden aims at exploiting the general discontent against Israel to gather more support. Moreover, the unconditional support of theUS to Israel and the ability of theUS to cultivate allies among the Arab states, es-pecially Saudi Arabia and even Egypt, have only strengthened Israel. Evidently, bin Laden, apart from fighting Israel and its irredentism in west Asia, is at war with Israel’s powerful allies like theUS. Apart from this, bin Laden has also been aiming at uniting all Muslims, even by force if required, to establish an Islamic nation wedded to the rule of first caliphs.Al Qaida has several distinct features. Unlike the Palestine Liberation Organi-sation (PLO) or the Irish Republican Army (IRA), it does not depend on the sponsor-ship of any political state because its exist-ence is not defined by a specific conflict. Being a global network, it has no territorial jurisdiction (Hayes and Brunner 2008). Instead it operates as a franchise and provides name, financial as well as logis-tical support to a wide variety of organi-sations functioning in places as diverse as Philippines, Eritrea, Chechnya, Algeria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc. The local groups, in turn, also draw their strength with the support from AlQaida.Suchvast scale operations have already involved Al Qaida in regional conflicts primarily in Kashmir and Chechnya, but also in Mindanao, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Somalia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Yemen and Nagorno-Karabakh.In view of the vast scope and efficacy of its operations, Rohan Gunaratna’s findings on the nature and modus operandi of Al Qaida merit consideration (Gunaratna 2002). To
NOTESdecember 20, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly70begin with, Al Qaida has the proven capacity to regenerate new cells. Its net-works are intertwined in the socio- economic, political and religious fabric of Muslims living in at least 80 countries. Second, ideologically, the Al Qaida differs intrinsically from the erstwhile Muslim groupings because it did initially take concrete steps to bridge the Shia-Sunni divide. Third, Al Qaida’s major strength is its wealth. Apart from getting continued benefits from Osama bin Laden’s largesse, its business and financial committee gene-rates significant revenues from its compa-nies, charities and worldwide investments. It has also penetrated into a large number of IslamicNGOs and obtained funding. In addition, voluntary contributions colle-cted from the mosques through Islamic groups and funds drawn from share markets have placed the organisation in a fairly comfortable financial position. Besides, these private sources of funding Al Qaida has been a beneficiary of financial support from the states like Afghanistan, Sudan, Algeria and Iran. The Taliban-led Afghan regime raised revenue through trade in narcotics. Al Qaida continues to operate through ‘hawala’ or an unregulated banking system, based on promissory notes of exchange of cash and gold. Finally, it is essentially a modern organisation capable of exploiting up to date technology for its own ends. It relies on satellite phones, laptop, computers and encrypted commu-nication web sites for hiding messages. The organisation can rely on several de-structive techniques such as low-tech as-sassinations, bombings and ambushes, to explosive laden gliders and helicopters and crop spraying aircraft adapted to disperse highly potent agents (ibid: 11-15). Al Qaida will never fight shy of deploying chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons against population centres. Terrorist OperationsAl Qaida suspected or inspired attacks came into prominence when the World TradeCenter was bombed in 1993 and six individuals were killed. Subsequently, the operations of Al Qaida grew in magnitude in terms of damage and countries includ-ing Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and embassies in east Africa, Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan, Kenya, Indonesia, Morocco and Spain were affectedby the Al Qaida terrorist attacks. However, the destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 (9/11) was a major landmark in the history of terrorist operations in the world. Al Qaida’s meticulously planned and executed attack of 9/11 not merely led to the loss of thou-sands of lives, but brought the US straight into the war against Al Qaida. It gave sym-bolic but a mighty psychological blow to theUS and its people. Perhaps, ever since the attack theUS has been grappling to control the strategic areas under its con-trol and getting increasingly insecure in the bargain. It has also begun to build and consolidate a coalition of countries in its war against terrorism. Once again, having secured Pakistan’s support, it plunged into war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that was providing sanctuary to bin Laden and the Al Qaida terrorist in 2001.Emergence of Islam as ‘the Other’The successful US military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq and the subsequent ouster of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes have qualitatively transformed international relations. Ever since, the US involvement in the region is deepening as well as widening. TheUS is attempting to install democratic and pro-western regimes in the region and meeting resistance from its opponents in the Muslim world. As a result, the west Asian region as a whole has acquired importance in world politics. So long as there was the Soviet Union, the US empire was busy in fighting the so-called “evil empire” of the former. After the demise of the Soviet Union, as it were, SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKS1857Essays from Economic and Political WeeklyA compilation of essays that were first published in the EPW in a special issue in May 2007. Held together with an introduction by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, the essays – that range in theme and subject from historiography and military engagements, to the dalit viranganas idealised in traditional songs and the “unconventional protagonists” in mutiny novels – converge on one common goal: to enrich the existing national debates on the 1857 Uprising.The volume has 18 essays by well known historians who include Biswamoy Pati, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Peter Robb and Michael Fisher.The articles are grouped under five sections:‘Then and Now’,‘Sepoys and Soldiers’,‘The Margins’,‘Fictional Representations’ and ‘The Arts and 1857’.Pp viii + 364 2008 Rs 295Available fromOrient Blackswan LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact:
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW december 20, 200871theUS was looking for a suitable enemy or the “other”. Plausibly, the radical Islamic outfits such as the Al Qaida as also the Muslim world in general provided appro-priate opportunities to construct a new enemy or “the other”. In the US psyche, the Islamic world began to replace as the “other” after the demise of the Soviet Union. The war on terrorism prompted Bush to construct the world in binary opposites. He also opted to distinguish between “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims” and the latter were clearly responsible for ter-ror. The good Muslims were to join the US in its war on terror. Unless proved to be “good” every Muslim was presumed to be “bad”. Thus all the Muslims were under obligation to prove their credentials by joining in war against “bad Muslims” (Mamdani 2007: 15). Moreover, in the post-cold war world some of the prominent western intelle-ctuals such as Samuel Huntington, Regis Debray and Bernard Lewis had already begun to foresee the danger of Islam. Samuel Huntington talked about the clashes of civilisations and anticipated the clash between the Islam and the western civilisation (Huntington 1996). Debray talked about the “green peril” (Islam) after the red (Soviet Union) peril (Mamdani, ibid: 21). Lewis, having examined several complex trajectories of the interrelation-ship between the Christian and the Mus-lim world as also the industrial civilisation of the west and the Islamic world demon-strated how the attitude of hatred evolved among the Muslims towards the west (Lewis 1990). Thus, international rela-tions began to be interpreted with refe-rence to cultural theories and dimensions as well. Out of all these studies, Huntington’s oversimplified notion of the likely clash between Islam and the west had the popu-list potential to captivate the imagination of the western world. In an undue anxiety to project his thesis, Huntington almost overlooked the fact that people with Islamic faith reside in practically all the continents, belong to diverse human civi-lisations, nationalities, linguistic groups, races, tribes and even different sects within Islam. Coalescing their multiple histories and memories into a monolith, as it were, could satiate immediate US needs, plausibly of its military industrial complex, to identify the “other” after the cold war. But in the long run, compressing such diversities, representing cosmopoli-tanism within the universe of Islamic world, can only stimulate war like situa-tions between the peoples of different faith. In the west Asian context, after the creation of Israel, the western powers as also the former Soviet Union have hardly endeavoured to initiate any durable peace building projects. For, over the years, all the major powers in the world have enhanced their power by linking their economies with the oil rich countries of west Asia. Since the west and central Asiancountries are well endowed with strategic resources like oil and gas, it may then be worth-while to assess the significance of such resources in the context of the ongoing war between imperialism andterror. Oil and World PoliticsThe significance of oil as a strategic re-source for oil-dependent countries increased after the Arab-Israel war of 1973 and the consequent formation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Ever since oil rich countries, in general, from parts of west Asia to Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela have become important actors in international relations. With the growing significance of oil, the activities of giant oil firms also came under public scrutiny of different oil producing coun-tries including the human and environ-mental rights organisations all over the world. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in Nigeria for controlling their sources to livelihood against ruthless oil drilling projects of giant oil firms such as Shell is a case in point (Harshe 2003). The human and environ-mental rights organisations that emanated from civil societies opposed oil firms, in particular, and imperialism, in general, more often with peaceful protests. In con-trast to the conventional rights activists from the civil societies, the terrorist organisations such as Al Qaida virtually have transformed the discourse and the nature of the contest over resources like oil between the western world and west Asian countries.Bin Laden asserted that “You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of your international influence and military threats. The theft is indeed the biggest theft ever witnessed by mankind in the history of the world.”3 In view of this, Al Qaida plans to weaken the petroleum industry. This could possibly be achieved by conducting sea-based attacks against large oil tankers which could eventually involve wider operations against port facilities and energy-related targets including oil facilities and nuclear power plants. No modern or growing economy in contempo-rarytimes can afford to ignore theenergy sector. Even though possibilities of enhanc-ing energy security through alternative sources of energy such as nuclear, solar, wind, etc, are being explored, the access to oil resources continue to determine the level of energy security of any economy. TheUS was once self-sufficient in its oil requirements. Over the years, the depend-ence of theUS economy on oil producing countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Mexico, Canada, Norway and Nigeria has increased. In order to run its economy and maintain its superpower status theUS has to depend on oil imports. Contrary to the popular notions, the US primarily depends on Venezuela, Mexico, Canada and the North Sea on oil imports and the remain-der comes from west Asia and Nigeria. In contrast, the US allies in Europe and Japan primarily import oil from west Asia (ibid).The strategic significance of oil need not be overemphasised. One of the reasons that stimulated the world wars was the struggle for supremacy over oil resources among great powers. For instance, in the first world war Germany was denied ac-cess to Romanian oil fields, Turkey contin-ued to dominate Persian and Arabian oil-fields. During the second world war, Hitler tried to control oilfields from Poland and North Africa. Iraq attacked Iran in 1980, and later Kuwait in 1990, to get access to west Iran’s and Kuwait’s oil fields. Due to its significance 800 miles pipelines of Alyseka in theUS is important fromUS point of view. Further, the access to straits such as Bosporus, Malacca, Hormuz, Bab-Al Mandab, Suez Canal and Cape of Good Hope that carry a substantial range of oil traffic continues to be strategically signifi-cant. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia the giant Ghawar oilfield with Ras Tanura complex as its main export oil terminal continues

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