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Friday, September 12, 2014

Terror and counter-terror: It is more than meets the eyes

By Nauman Sadiq

On terrorism, it is more than it meets the eyes. But being bombarded day in and day out by the 'Responsibility to protect' and 'Humanitarian intervention' jargon, the real narrative of the terrorist activities and so called counter-terrorism measures is just missing from public discourse.

So, why is The West ready to pick new fight with a bunch of terrorists calling themselves the 'Caliphate'? Are the motives really altruistic as is often depicted in MSM?

Definitely not, says Sadiq, known for his insinuations to the psychological aspects of the contemporary developments in the world. Here he delves into how the economic and other factors force the hands of the western powers into the different parts of the world not necessarily rich in fossil fuels. 

Terrorism as pretext for intervention

Nauman Sadiq

The fear of terrorism is partly a fact and partly a hype to militarily intervene in the oil-rich Middle East. Obviously, any incident of terrorism is a big human tragedy in which many innocent human lives are lost and governments all over the world try to avert such an incident from happening. But the actions of the governments, and their proportionality, needs to be carefully examined to judge their real intentions. Can it be said about General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime that it felt a genuine love and affection towards its brothers-in-faith; and that’s why the Pakistani military establishment chose to give refuge to the Afghans and then equipped and trained them to ‘liberate’ their homeland from the clutches of an ‘evil empire?’ Even the naivest amongst us won’t believe a word of what I just said, but some Pakistani tea partyers might.

So why did Pakistani military oligarchy decided to intervene in Afghanistan? Was it to strengthen its defenses against India, the oft-quoted strategic depth theory; or, the fear that the erstwhile Soviet Union might make further advance into Balochistan to reach the warm waters of the Arabian sea? These factors may have played a part; but to understand the real reason why Pakistan decided to intervene in the Afghan conflict; we need to understand the nature of power. Power ought to be means to attain higher goals; but in the real life we often face the is-ought dilemma; where, rather than being means to an end, the power becomes an end in itself; and it is the nature of power to expand further and to grow even more powerful. Thus, the Pakistani Establishment didn’t collaborate with the Western powers’ ‘bear-trap project’ for any ulterior strategic goals; the goal was only to ‘exercise’ power by taking advantage of the opportunity provided to them, goal or no goal.

To elaborate this abstract concept; I would like to draw a parallel between power and sex. In the grand scheme of things, sex is not an end in itself; it is means to an end, the end being the procreation of the offspring. But most modern hedonic couples use contraceptives and don’t consider it worthwhile to procreate and nurture offspring, due to the material constraints or the unnecessary effort which it entails. We, the social scientists, have no business to offer advice or moral lessons; to each his own. But if the ultimate end for which the grand schemers invented the agency, comes to a naught; that does not per se render the agency any less significant; instead the agency itself becomes an ultimate end, and quite a potent one for that matter. Thus power is like sex; its exercise is pleasurable and its goal is further expansion and more arrogation of power to satisfy the needs of insatiable power-maniacs.

Many Leftists and anti-imperialists these days, commit the fallacy of trying to establish an essentialist and linear narrative to the global events. One cannot question their bona fide intentions; but their overzealous efforts sometimes prove counter-productive to their own credibility and the cause that they strive for. All the conflicts of the 21st century were not energy-wars. Iraq and Libya were obviously energy-wars because Iraq has proven oil reserves of 140 billion barrels and it produces 3 million barrels per day (and has a capacity to reach 5 mbpd in a few years comparable only to Saudi Arabia’s 10 million bpd or 15% of global supply) and Libya produces 1.6 mbpd. The Syrian conflict has a different dimension to it; it does not produce much oil except some 400,000 barrels per day from the north-east Syria which is territorially contiguous with Iraq. NATO’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is for the sake of Israel’s regional security because the Shia axis: Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have a known anti-Zionist stance. A likely scenario for any future government in Syria would be an Islamist-dominated government; but a weak Islamist government in Syria riddled with internal conflicts is a lesser evil compared to a strong Assad regime which has a backing of powerful global and regional actors like Russia and Iran and which also has an active proxy force in Lebanon in the form of Hezbollah.

But the Afghan conflict was different from all other wars; it was a war of imperial hubris and a war of liability rather than a war of choice. That’s why we didn’t see much commitment of troops and resources by the Bush Administration in the initial years of the Afghan war. It was the Obama Administration, 2009 onwards, that made it a bedrock of its foreign policy. By going dovish on Iraq, Obama wanted to offset his public perception of being a weak president by offering an alternative of a just war: the Afghan war. But a morally courageous person would admit that even the Afghan war wasn’t a just war. Here we must draw a distinction between political or regional militants and the transnational nihilistic terrorists; most of the Taliban are the political militants with defined political and territorial goals; while the Al Qaeda affiliates are the nihilistic terrorists; but the latter number only in a few hundreds according to CIA’s own estimates; and it is the job of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take them out; not the job of the armed forces to shoot flies with cannons.

Thus if most of the militants in Afghanistan are political militants then why did the US lump them together with the transnational terrorists and invaded Afghanistan? Obviously, the Taliban government fell well short of the ideal liberal-democratic model but at least they were able to restore a semblance of stability in the war-ravaged Afghanistan. A boorish and theocratic Taliban government may sound like an anathema to the urbane-neoliberals but it was a lesser evil for the rural-tribal Pashtuns of Afghanistan, compared to the fiefdoms of savage warlords and thugs. If the Western powers complacently accept the monarcho-theocratic states of the Persian Gulf countries which also employ harsh Sharia laws and commit terrible human rights violations, then by which yardstick do they try to demonize the ‘unfriendly’ regimes in Iran or the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan? The realpolitik is never about nation-building projects or interventions for ‘humanitarian’ reasons; it is always about building alliances and looking at the world from the prism of the friend vs. the foe.

To understand the hype surrounding the petro-terrorism, we need to understand the prevailing global economic order and its prognosis. What the pragmatic economists forecast about the free market capitalism has turned out to be true; whether we like it or not. A kind of global economic entropy has set into motion. The money is flowing from the area of high monetary density to the area of low monetary density. The rise of the BRICS countries is a proof of this tendency. BRICS are growing economically because the labor is cheap; labor laws and rights nonexistent; expenses on creating a safe and healthy work environment minimal; regulatory framework is lax; expenses on environmental protection negligible; taxes are low; and in the nutshell windfalls for the multinational corporations are huge.

Thus, BRICS are threatening the global economic monopoly of the Western bloc: North America and Western Europe. Here we need to understand the difference between the manufacturing sector and the services sector. The manufacturing sector is the backbone of the economy; one cannot create a manufacturing base overnight. It is based on hard assets: we need raw materials; production equipment; transport and power infrastructure; and last but not the least, a technically-educated labor force. It takes decades to build and sustain a manufacturing base. But the services sector, like the Western financial institutions, can be built and dismantled in a relatively short period of time.

If we take a cursory look at the economy of the Western bloc; it has still retained some of its high-tech manufacturing base but it is losing fast to the cheaper and equally robust manufacturing base of the BRICS nations. Everything is made in China these days, except: microprocessors, softwares, a few internet giants, some pharmaceutical products, the Big Oil and the all-important military hardware and the defense production industry. Aside from these the entire economy of the Western bloc is based on its financial institutions, the investment banks like: JP Morgan chase, total assets $ 2359 billion (market capitalization: 187 billion); Citigroup, total assets 1865 billion (market capitalization: 141 billion); Bank of America, total assets 2210 billion (market capitalization: 133 billion); Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, BNP Paribas (France), Deutsche Bank (Germany), Barclays and HSBC (UK). Pay attention to the “Total assets” figures because it is in trillions of US dollars, far bigger than the total GDP of many nation-states.

After establishing the fact that the Western economy is mostly based on its financial-services sector; we need to understand its implications. Like I said earlier, it takes time to build a manufacturing base, but it is relatively easy to build and dismantle an economy based on financial services. What if Tamim bin Hammad Al Thani (ruler of Qatar) decides tomorrow to withdraw his shares from Barclays and put them in some OIC-sponsored bank, in accordance with Sharia? What if all the Sheikhs of the Persian Gulf countries withdraw their petro-dollars from the Western financial institutions; can the fragile financial-services based Western economies sustain such a blow? They are unable to recover from the 2008-9 recession; it will seem like a slap on the wrist if the aforementioned nightmare came to fruition.

We need to look for comparative advantages and disadvantages here. If the vulnerable Western economy is its biggest weakness, what are its biggest strengths? The biggest strength of the Western bloc is its military might. Got to give credit to the Western hawks; they did which nobody else in the world had the courage to do; they privatized their defense production industry. And as we know, privately-owned enterprises are more competitive, inventive and in this particular case, lethal. But having power is one thing; and exercising that power to achieve certain desirable goals is another.

The Western liberal-democracies are not autocracies; they are answerable to their electorates for their deeds and misdeeds. And much to the dismay of the pragmatic Machiavellian rulers; the ordinary citizens just can’t get over their antediluvian moral prejudices. To overcome these outdated moral scruples, they wanted a moral pretext to do what they wanted to do on pragmatic economic grounds. That’s when 9/11 took place: a blessing in disguise for the Big Oil and the military-industrial complex.

Here, I would like to clarify that I am not a conspiracy theorist and Bin Laden was not a CIA agent; he merely provided an opportunity to the neocons to invade the energy-rich and morally and militarily weak Middle East. By “morally weak” I mean that the Arab autocrats do not rule with the consent of the people and they are just as afraid of their own people as they are of the foreign actors; who sometimes act as their financial advisors. In the end, I would also like to concede that terrorism is a very serious crime; a big human tragedy and a mass murder; but there is more to it than meets the eye. As Shakespeare eloquently puts it: “As flies to wanton boys; are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”  

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, blogger and imperial politics aficionado with a particular interest in the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions. Read more of his articles in this blog here. 

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