Mathur: US President George Bush began his offensive against Bin
Laden, the Taliban and the Al-Qa’eda movement with a strong show of
American firepower and ultimatums. Nothing adds up. What’s going on?
Joffe: Arab and Muslim regimes are understandably worried about the
reaction in “the street”. Perhaps this explains why fissures in the
coalition have already started appearing. Most notably, there is Saudi
Arabia’s reluctance to have its bases used by the US Air Force to attack
a brother Arab or Muslim nation.
border nations with Afghanistan - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan,
have governments that fear their own Islamic rebels are linked to the
Taliban, and Bin Laden. They cannot assure America of unequivocal support.
If Russia or its Central Asian allies appear to weaken, this may
conceivably give the Gulf-funded Taliban and Al-Qaeda new heart.
are numerous other scenarios, involving internal Central Asian politics.
None of those states wish to succumb to militant Islamists, whose allies
are the Taliban. They fear a domino effect, with themselves as the main
sufferers. Even China worries about secessionist violence in the Xinchiang
province, where some militant groups amongst ethnic Uighurs, who are
Muslim, have allied themselves with Osama’s outfit.
has refused to allow an attack on neighbouring Afghanistan, certainly by
the USA, which certain powerful factions still characterise as “The
there is no love lost between Tehran and the Taliban. Grand Ayatollah
Khamenei once characterized the neighbouring regime as primitive and a
“travesty of Islam”. Iran’s allies amongst the Shi’ite Hazara
people around Herat and Bamian were brutalised by the Taliban, and many in
Iran want revenge.
short, it might not be the Americans’ war to win or lose. Afghans,
Iranians, Uzbeks, Chinese and Arabs might win or lose the war for the USA,
all by themselves. There is the suggestion that “locals” will do the
West’s “dirty work” for them.
Mathur: Given the number of countries involved in retaliatory action,
how do you think this war will unfold?
Joffe: UK forces have been massing in Oman; UK and US forces bombed
Basra in Iraq on Wednesday. The Northern Alliance have stepped up their
campaign, so the Taliban may be bracing for the big attack from the North.
Blair visits Pakistan with proof that Bin Laden is culpable. The attack
may come from the South. A false move by the Taliban may prompt a massive
counter-punch by Iran whose army is stronger, and whose population
outnumbers the Afghans by a factor of five. And if joining (even tacitly)
in a US assault on Kabul means restored economic and political ties with
Washington, that might be a price worth paying (albeit in secret) by
moderates represented by President Khatam. The attack may come from the
world is jittery and terror is the first thing that occurs to people’s
minds if a plane blows up or a man goes on a rampage killing passengers on
a bus. Thousands have been laid off in the airline and other industries, a
world recession is imminent. Fear abounds everywhere. In that sense, Bin
Laden may be winning the war so far.
Mathur: What about the
wildcard in this equation - Russia? Vladimir Putin has been wooing NATO
boss, Lord Robertson.
Joffe: Oddly, the
Russians seem to be backing the Northern Alliance - the same people (known
then as Mujaheddin) who they fought for nine years. The Taliban know that
Russia has better intelligence of the layout of Afghanistan. Perhaps, they
fear Russia is out to win their second Afghan war, as they had so
ignominiously lost the first!
the threat of the attack drags on, and the West/Russia/local despots seem
to be stalling, thousands of Muslims from Indonesia, Malaysia,
Philippines, etc, could “sign up” as volunteers and flock to fight
against Moscow’s minions. The West foolishly has not judged the depth of
fury, as yet largely unexpressed, by Muslims against Russia for its
near-genocide in Muslim Chechnya over the last decade.
Mathur: What does it mean to “fight and beat terrorism”? This
seems like an impossible goal.
Joffe: War galvanises nations to be prepared to face losses. However,
in the charged atmosphere now prevailing, Bush’s campaign has been
interpreted internationally, not as a war between nations, but a war
between civilisations. That is a particularly dangerous development,
redolent in many minds of a global war between Christendom and Islam, like
the Crusades of 900 years ago. That is notwithstanding the frantic efforts
by US and UK governments to assuage their own Muslim citizens that Islam
is not to blame, and that the Islamic religion is essentially
Joffe is author of Keesings Guide to the Middle East Peace Process on
America’s war against the Taliban terrorists.