by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 16, Rajab, 1422)
The beginning of US assaults on Afghanistan on October 7, killing scores of people, may have little to do directly with the attacks on September 11 in New York and Washington, despite claims to the contrary. There is evidence— much more credible than the ‘evidence’ marshalled against Usama bin Ladin so far — that the US had decided as early as last June to attack Afghanistan. This was mentioned even by Tony Blair, prime minister of Britain, in his address to the House of Commons (the lower house of Britain’s parliament) on October 4, when he admitted that the US had told the Taliban in June to hand Usama over or face the consequences. Well-informed sources in Peshawar say that Taliban officials mentioned the possibility of an American attack by October on numerous occasions.
As the anti-Taliban/anti-Usama propaganda campaign went into overdrive, especially in the US, information emerged that as early as 1999 the US had plotted to kill Usama bin Ladin. CNN, the American cable news network, has confirmed that former president Bill Clinton made a secret deal with Nawaz Sharif, the former Pakistani prime minister, to send special forces into Afghanistan to capture or kill Usama. On October 5 Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security advisor, admitted in an interview with Wolf Blitzer that such a plan had indeed been made, although he refused to give details. Instead Berger said that the “assets” — meaning co-operation and logistical support, especially from Pakistan — that are available now had not been available then. The plan was shelved when Nawaz Sharif was deposed by a military coup in October 1999.
That the US has been working since August 1998 on a covert plan to kill Usama and overthrow the Taliban is not in doubt. What specific shape the plan would take, and its timing, depended on a number of factors, the most important being the proper political climate. Whipping up mass hysteria after demonising an alleged villain (country or person) are essential pre-requisites for such a campaign: “manufacturing consent,” in the words of Noam Chomsky, a well-known analyst and critic of American foreign policy. The attacks on September 11 thus provide the perfect backdrop against which an enraged and gullible public could be persuaded to support such action. With the US media (led by CNN) and their instant “experts” giving fact-free opinions about the events of September 11, the American public was soon baying for revenge and blood from Usama bin Ladin and the Taliban. One cannot help but doubt whether, had the Israeli secret service, Mossad, been suspected of being behind the outrage, the US would bomb Israel.
Further credence to the US’s long-term intention of attacking Afghanistan was given by a report in India Today, an Indian newsmagazine, as early as 26 June, 2001. That article quotes Chokila Iyer, the Indian foreign secretary, saying that India would “facilitate” US and Russian plans for military action against the Taliban. Ms Iyer made her remarks after attending the second Indo-Russian joint working group on Afghanistan. India Today also revealed that the attack would be carried out from Tajikistan, where American advisors were already operating. It has now become clear that the Central Asian republics were part of the American plan to attack Afghanistan long before September 11.
When Condoleesa Rice, US national security advisor, stated on CNN on September 23 that America would use whatever means it had at its disposal to overthrow the Taliban regime, she was merely confirming what had already been discussed several months earlier in Berlin among the UN Contact Group of countries on Afghanistan. Officials from Afghanistan’s six neighbours — Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Khazakhstan — and from the US and Russia, meeting in mid-July, had heard American officials talk about such a possibility. The US wanted to launch an attack on Afghanistan to capture or kill Usama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar, overthrow the Taliban government and install a “moderate” government under the former king, Zahir Shah. At that time Pakistan was not prepared to ditch the Taliban because it viewed Afghanistan as a “strategic depth”; the events of September 11 changed all that.
Of all the players in the drama, Pakistan’s dilemma is the most acute. Until September 11, Pakistan was the Taliban’s principal ally. This had more to do with geostrategic considerations than a congruence of views, but it must have been difficult for the Pakistani establishment to abandon their protege in such haste. If its earlier policy was frowned upon by the US, its current policy is no less fraught with dangers. As well as earning the wrath of a people who never forgive or forget, Pakistan faces the additional problem of 2 million Afghan refugees and an influx of millions more soon. America’s promises of help have never been credible and, once it achieves its purposes, it is most likely to abandon Pakistan as hurriedly as it did the last time. It is Pakistan, not America, that shares a 2,400-kilometre boundary with Afghanistan, and faces correspondingly greater risks and perils.
Current American policies have done nothing to assuage Muslim anger at American injustices worldwide. Without offering clear proof (or even reasonable evidence) of Usama’s wrongdoing, the US demanded that he be handed over. Despite its “evidence” against the alleged hijackers unravelling, it still demanded compliance. At least five of the 19 persons named by the FBI as being involved in the hijacks on September 11 have turned out to be still alive. They are: Adnan Zakaria Bukhari (Saudi citizen living in Vero Beach, Florida); Captain Saeed al-Ghamdi (in Tunisia); Captain Abdalrahman al-Omari (Saudia pilot, in Jeddah); Amer Kamfar (Saudi flight engineer, in Makkah) and Marwan al-Shehhi (in Morocco). A sixth, Amer Abbas Bukhari, died a year ago when the small plane he was flying crashed in Florida. This information has not only been carried by the Saudi Gazette (September 18) and the Khaleej Times (September 20) but also by Robert Fisk in the Independent, a British national daily, on September 17. CNN was also forced to issue a correction on September 13, after showing Adnan Bukhari’s picture the day before and accusing him of being one of the hijackers. Bukhari’s lawyer contacted the FBI to say that his client was not involved in the attacks and was willing to be interviewed.
Similarly the BBC reported the transcript of the conversation from the cell-phone of stewardess Madeline Amy Sweeney on United Airlines flight 93 to Boston air-traffic control. She gave the hijackers’ seat-numbers; these were not the seats of the alleged Arab hijackers. In none of the several phone-calls made from the hijacked planes to passengers’ relatives on the ground were any “Arab hijackers” mentioned. American Airlines flight 11, the second plane to crash into the World Trade Centre, was supposedly piloted by captain Abdalrahman al-Omari but he, too, is alive. Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, has twice been forced to admit on CNN that there is “no legal proof to prove the identities of the suicidal hijackers” (CNN, September 20 and 27). So why are Muslims being blamed? The US has alleged that the hijackers were followers of Usama bin Ladin; yet most of them were reportedly drinking at a Florida strip bar the night before the attacks. A more plausible explanation is that someone wanted to make sure that Muslim names stuck in the minds of the public in order to nail the crime on them. Captain Abdalrahman al-Omari has also stated that while he was studying in Denver, Colorado, his house was broken into in 1995; together with other belongings, his passport was stolen. He reported this to the police. It is perfectly possible that someone assumed his identity and used his passport.
Even more fantastic stories are being spun. For instance, the passport of one of the alleged hijackers is supposed to have been found at the WTC, even though – according to American structural engineers – so much heat was generated by the fuel-fed fire that it melted the steel core of the towers, causing their collapse. Similarly, Mohamed Atta, the alleged mastermind of the hijacking, reportedly carried a suitcase which held a letter giving instructions in Arabic to his fellow hijackers – conveniently, this suitcase missed the flight. Even many western legal commentators have accused the US authorities of inventing ‘evidence’ to support their case, and said that the US’s case against bin Ladin does not meet legal standards for extradition.
Despite the US’s claims to be concerned with minimising civilian casualties in its war on Afghanistan, all Muslims are aware from its policies in Iraq and elsewhere that it is willing to kill as many people as necessary to achieve its ends.
There are now fears of biological and chemical weapons being used. Cases of the Ebola virus have been reported among refugees in Quetta, Pakistan; at least eight people have died already. Quetta is the Pakistani border city closest to Qandahar, the power-base of the Taliban. An Israeli internet news-service reported on October 8 that American forces based in Uzbekistan are equipped with depleted uranium-tipped weapons. Such weapons were used in Iraq in 1991 as well, with terrible consequences since.