“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

The Challenge in South Asia

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

5 April 2002

Speech made at the annual meeting of the National Advisory Council on South Asian Affairs (NACSAA) in Washington, DC

I believe the world is a more dangerous place than most people realize. There are many reasons why people are more optimistic than they should be. One is that recent efforts to move towards globalization have given public a rising sense of security as commercial trade between various nations has gone into a high gear. The other is that with emergence of the lone super-power, and with no clear doomsday threat looming, people tend to drop their guard a bit.

The events of 9/11 were a rude awakening for America. Many countries, however, saw it as an unfortunate progression of circumstances that were inevitable given the cursory treatment that the United States gave to problems of similar nature that had erupted elsewhere in the past. Even in our own country, the diabolical nature of the World Trade Center bombing on 26 February 1993, and the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi (Kenya) and Dar-a-salaam (Tanzania) on 7 August 1998, all resulting in death and destruction of Americans and others, were treated as hazards of living in today’s violent society rather than symptomatic of a medieval fervor that has infected nearly 60 nations.

Following the September 11 attacks, our President has demonstrated leadership and courage in an exceptional manner. I am somewhat satisfied that the progress made in the war against terrorism so far. But I am concerned that direction that we are now headed is dissipative, runs counter to promises made earlier, and is fraught with risks not clearly explained. I am afraid that our country is modifying the war against terrorism to take on “rogue leaders” when in fact there is a dire need to focus and enlarge the war against “rogue societies”.

If there is one clear lesson from the 9/11 tragedy, it is that terrorists who wish to harm the United States live in eccentric societies which reject contemporary human values and thrive with overt and covert support of governing institutions. There was a time when friendly nations were decided by the U.S. on the basis of how much Coca-Cola was consumed in that nation or how many F-15 Eagles that country was interested in purchasing. We thought that the psyche of friendliness and tolerance shown by some foreign leaders ran through their society, except we forgot that such leaders are no more representative of their society than a feudal master is of his subjugates. In fact, the reverse has been proven by the events. The more we coddle up to a dictator, the more likely it is that the society under him will see the U.S. as its enemy. The concept of “friendly nations” cannot be extended to countries that have “friendly leaders” but an unrepresentative form of governance or a dysfunctional civil society. Neither can we consider those nations friendly where the society is openly encouraged to be contemptuous of other religions and accept the notion of killing non-believers to attain political or other objectives.

We need to remind ourselves of the pledge that our leaders made on September 11. In the war against terrorism, we must not seek expediency by going after catchy targets unconnected to the initial phase of the campaign so long as criminals and murderers who committed sacrilegious acts against America go unpunished. It is not simply a case of following an orderly progression as it is of understanding that a rouge leader or a nation did not commit the grave acts of 9/11, but these were manifestations of a rogue society stretching over 5 continents. Indeed this rouge society, feeding on doctrine of hatred against our value system, could easily misunderstand our resolve if we shift the principal focus of global terrorism to eliminating a rouge leader or two. It will only precipitate the next tragedy and we all know what that unimaginable act is going to be. So the war against terrorism must be pursued with greater vigor against rouge societies. We must be vigilant to select our friends on the basis of compatibility or incompatibility with our human values, rather than basing it on the lip service of pliant dictators with self-serving interests.

If this approach is as obvious as it looks, then I ask myself why are we as a nation burdening such an important challenge with other weighty issues? For example, during Vice-President Cheney’s visit to the Middle East, one interesting issue (Saddam Hussein) was countered by another (Palestine), and the war against terrorism lost its focus. What Mr. Cheney was supposed to do was to put the visiting countries on notice that either they will eradicate the rouge elements within their society or we will. He was supposed to put the February Gallop Poll results in front of the leaders and tell them that we cannot accept their duplicity where they promise one thing and do the opposite. The same message has to be conveyed in South Asia. Unfortunately, none of that has happened.

In summary, after straight talk and starting with a clear mission, the war on terrorism is losing its edge by trying to make it an omnifarious campaign to settle legacy issues. We are in a desperate race against time to prevent that next wave of attacks that will bring unimaginable horrors. I see very little has changed in societies outside of Afghanistan that patronized Taliban warriors, al-Qaeda despots and September 11 hijackers. As I relate the brutal murder of Danny Pearl, the classical musician, this January in Karachi with a similar decapitation of Hans Ostro, the classical dancer, in Kashmir in July 1995, I keep wondering, when are we going to learn and get it right? As things are going, I am very concerned about the future.


About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.


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