A Sampling of Asian Comment on the 9/11 Attacks and Their Aftermath: South Asia

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Ministry of External Affairs

The ministry website features recent speeches, including comments made by the External Affairs Minister Shri Yashwant Sinha and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell after their Sept. 9 meeting. The site also carries press clippings from international and national sources. These include an interview in The Asian Age with Hamid Mir, "the man who knows Bin Laden." There is also a collection of editorials and op-ed pieces. Among these is an Indian Express piece on "Indo-Afghan ties, post 9/11." Salman Haidar writes in The Statesman (Sept. 3) that the new external affairs minister (Sinha) is properly focusing on relations with India's immediate neighbors more than with distant powers:

"It is an old truism that foreign policy begins at the frontiers; that is where prime interest has to be directed. Recently, there has been a feeling among our close neighbours that they have been remote from our concerns. Indian policy has been aimed at global more than regional goals, hinging on our new-found relationship with America. A grand aspiration is all to the good. But neighbours can never be ignored, so the present corrective action towards them is welcome.

"Yashwant Sinha has kicked off his stint in the MEA with a series of workmanlike visits within the region. In rapid succession, he has been in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh. This is an area where our security and other interests are closely involved."

The Indian Express

The Indian Express is a leading national daily newspaper. In an essay entitled "US in search of war," Indian Express columnist Jasjit Singh writes (Sept. 13) that the U.S. now seeks war with Iraq, a regime it supplied intelligence to during its 1980s war with Iran. He says Saddam Hussein's regime is oppressive, used chemical weapons in fighting Iran and against its own people, and invaded Kuwait. But there is little evidence, Singh believes, that Iraq aided the Sept. 11 attacks. Singh notes that during the previous inspection regime chemical weapons, missiles, and modified warheads were destroyed under international supervision. The International Atomic Energy Agency does not believe Iraq has a nuclear weapons program. Thus, he argues, war against Iraq cannot be justified.

"The war against terrorism is really a war of ideas; and we must ensure that we don't lose it because of loss of this focus. Possibly, due to the stagnation of the physical war against terrorism, a war against Iraq under the counter-terrorism has acquired new popularity in the US. Public support has been high although some senior leaders like Dr Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft have publicly raised concerns. The case for this war, as made out in public, is weak at its best."

On September 12, the paper featured an essay by American scholar Francis Fukuyama which argues that the U.S. is not, in fact, always unilateralist but that Americans doubt the democratic legitimacy of international bodies.

The Times of India

Beginning as the Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce, The Times has been published since 1838. On September 11, 2002, its lead story was from the U.S.-based Associated Press and was entitled "From New Zealand to Oslo, the world marks 9/11." Another story (reported by Chidandan Rajghatta from Washington) detailed what is known about the plot to use U.S. planes to attack U.S. targets. It includes a comparison to the murder of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi during his campaign to regain office.

"Bin Laden evidently gave his blessings and promised support for the mission. But he may not have known the finer details. In some ways, plot resembles the story of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, an operation handed down to a Tamil extremist cell that may have been subsequently and deliberately disassociated from the parent body months and even years before act."

Links between the plotters and individuals in Pakistan, India's longtime rival, were highlighted by Rajghatta:

"However, the one thing that has become abundantly clear over the past year is that epicentre of the terrorism was the badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the gateway to this bog was Karachi.

"Every single major terrorist who has been identified, from Ramzi Yousef to shoebomber Richard Reid, invariably wended his way to this port city before disappearing to the badlands in search of training and inspiration."

Rajghatta noted Bush administration efforts to transfer American attention from the hunt for Bin Laden to the alleged threat posed by Iraq, but concludes:

"... 9/11 has now certifiably become a milestone in modern history, like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

"For some, it is the beginning of World War Three, an undeclared war against the axis of terrorism that, regardless of what is officially claimed, goes beyond the countries named by President Bush as the axis of evil."

On September 11, The Times editorialized:

"Commemoration exercises are rarely proportionate; quite the opposite, in fact, as tributes by nature border on the hyperbolic. Nonetheless, one year after September 11, the worst overstatement would seem inadequate to capture the full meaning and impact of what happened to the US, and by implication the world, on that day."

The editorial asserted that Americans now know the fear experienced by much of the world's population. It noted that many Americans began to wonder "Why are we so unpopular?" The editors contend, however, that in vital areas, America has not changed or has insufficiently changed. Or that the government seems willing to jettison important aspects of what is good about America.

"... Yet, has the American establishment truly changed?

"Not really, judging by the imperious manner of George W Bush. For a man who obsessively portrayed 9/11 as an attack on democratic values, the American president seems strangely unconcerned about trampling upon the same values elsewhere in the world. From the sledgehammer war on Afghanistan to contemplating an attack on Iraq to staying out of the Kyoto Protocol to jettisoning the Johannesburg conference on sustainable development, everything president Bush has done since 9/11 last year bears the stamp of American unilateralism. Ironically, only last week, the two Houses of the US Congress held a special session in the New York Federal building to express their solidarity with the city. Ironic because it was in this building that the Bill of Rights, unarguably the first ever formal affirmation of the universality of human rights, was adopted. Two centuries on, the American establishment continues to pursue a policy that defends democracy as an exclusive American privilege. This is not just violative of the spirit of the Bill of Rights, it amounts to insulting the intelligence of the American people, not to mention the rest of 'us'."


Islamic Republic of Pakistan

The Pakistan government homepage offers news updates, including information about President Pervez Musharraf's September visit to the U.S. The president joined a memorial service at New York's Battery Park and on Sept. 13 addressed the United Nations. In his speech he called on the body to adopt "a Declaration on Religious and Cultural Understanding, Harmony and Cooperation. The report continues:

"In the globalizing world, he said religious and cultural diversity should be a vehicle for complementary creativity and dynamism, not the rationale for a new ideological or political confrontation. The President said this while delivering his keynote address before the 57th session of the UN General Assembly. Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf said is deeply disturbed that some quarters are utilizing the war against terrorism as a vehicle to spread hatred against Islam and Muslims and asserted 'terrorism has no creed or religion.' He said a sustained dialogue between the Islamic and western nations is essential to remove the veil of ignorance and prejudice and to promote harmony and cooperation. President Mushararf said Pakistan is in the forefront of the fight against terrorism. 'We have made major sacrifices in this war. We have interdicted infiltration by Al-Qaeda into Pakistan. We have arrested and deported foreign suspects found on our territory. We are determined not to allow anyone to use our soil for terrorist acts inside or outside Pakistan.' He urged the international fraternity to address the root causes of terrorism. 'It is not religion which impels a terrorist act; it is often a sense of frustration and powerlessness to redress persistent injustice. When a people's right to self-determination and freedom are brutally suppressed by foreign occupation, they can be expected to resist this by all means at their disposal. Terrorist attacks must be condemned. But acts of terrorism by individuals or groups cannot be the justification to outlaw the just struggle of a people for self-determination and liberation from colonial or foreign occupation. Nor can it justify state terrorism.' He said Pakistan supports 'the full and faithful implementation of all Security Council Resolutions.' Despite current differences among governments, he said people both from rich and poor nations, are beginning to embrace universal values and common goals: avoiding war; ending poverty, hunger, disease, discrimination and human rights violations; promoting democracy; sharing the technology; creating decent work for all; and protecting the environment. 'We must capture this growing spirit of global humanism to advance the quest for global prosperity and Universal peace. This can be accomplished only at and by the United Nations. This is the central purpose, the reason for the existence, of this Organization,” he added. ”Our decisions and actions today will shape events of the future. We must rid ourselves of forces of intolerance and radicalism. We have to create a safer world for our future generations - a world of peace and conciliation, not one of conflict and tension,' he added."

The Friday Times

Published weekly in Lahore. The paper's front page on Sept. 13 featured Najam Sethi's editorial on "9/11 and after."

"9/11 is a defining time in American history much like Pearl Harbour. But because America is the sole superpower, its vulnerability and rage at the historical pinnacle of its power has had a blowback effect on the rest of the world. Afghanistan has been pulverized by “daisycutters” and occupied by American forces. But despite the “regime change”, a stable, pro-West, Afghan state is still nowhere in sight. The Al-Qaeda has been uprooted from Afghanistan but the enigma of Osama bin Laden continues to haunt America.

"The world was one with America on that fateful day last September. But a year later, anti-Americanism is rife everywhere, from the “deep”, enraged passions in the Muslim world to the “shallow”, cynical mutterings among traditional western allies of the US.... Meanwhile, a brash new American doctrine of “unilateralism” or “pre-emption” is causing concern everywhere, leading to suspicions that America may seek to exploit 9/11 by embarking upon a longer term strategy to “redefine” the world by carving out new states and political systems in the Middle-East and beyond.

"9/11 has also falsely pitted the West against the Muslims of the world by disfiguring the image of Islam, a religion of peace. In places like Kashmir and Palestine, especially Palestine, their “cause” has visibly suffered... Pakistan, too, has changed in significant ways as a result of 9/11. At first there was shock at the scale of the terrorist attacks in the US, then sympathy for the American people. But the sentiment seemed to change when Pakistan was forced to wean itself away from the Taliban and cooperate in the American attack on stone-age Afghanistan. Perceptions worsened when India sought to exploit the situation by making aggressive military deployments on the border. The renewed Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, the mounting civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the Gujarat killings, the mistreatment of Muslim prisoners of war by the Americans, all helped create the impression that America was bent upon making war against Islam.

"Worse, amid the cacophony orchestrated by the religious parties, terrorism turned around and attacked Pakistan itself....

"Of course, there is no small irony in the fact that 9/11 probably “saved” Pakistan from failing as a working state. General Pervez Musharraf's support to America's war against terrorism has generated an American-sponsored economic reprieve for Islamabad....

"...Abroad, the pre-emptive passions unleashed by 9/11 in America, in Israel, in India, have made the world more unstable by sanctioning double standards in pursuit of unilateralist national security obsessions. In particular, the imminent American attempt for a “regime change” in Iraq could be fraught with far-reaching geo-strategic changes in the Middle-East and beyond which might presage a new era of war, boundary change and ethnic, religious or cultural cleansing..."

The International News

Published by the Jang Group. Among the opinion pieces published by the paper is one by a former Pakistani colonel Masud Akhtar Shaikh. He writes, in "Ultimate US target: Iran:"

"The people of the United States suffered large-scale human, material, and psychological losses as a result of the 11 September suicide attacks on some selected targets considered to be the symbols of US prestige. The whole civilised world expressed its sympathies with the victims of those attacks. However, while the unfortunate American public was still busy licking its wounds, the US government under the leadership of George Bush launched a cleverly planned campaign aimed at converting that heart-rending tragedy into a glorious political victory. To make that campaign successful, the Bush administration exploited the universally accepted status of the United States as the most powerful country of the world. Apart from the use (or misuse) of her own military might, it relied on moral and material support of her traditional allies. It also used pressure tactics to win over the support of countries whose very survival could be seriously threatened if they refused to fall in line with the Bush plans. Even the UN Security Council was pressurised to put its stamp of approval on those plans so as to give a semblance of legitimacy to even the most illegitimate actions that the US authorities took during the execution of their planned campaign....

"The grand American strategy revolves around the oil rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia on the one hand, and China and South Asia on the other. As far as the containment of China is concerned, an understanding between the Indian government and the US policy makers seems to have been reached already. No wonder the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable ICBMs by India gets the tacit US approval. The US government also conveniently sleeps over every Indian action involving the amassing of an assortment of the most modern and deadly instruments of war, thereby seriously disturbing the balance of power in the region. India's only detractor in the region was China's staunch ally, Pakistan, whom the Bush administration has successfully neutralised through the use of the notorious 11 September card. With the sole super power of the world at its back and the Pakistani thorn out of its way, India can now afford to pay its wholehearted attention to the containment of China as desired by America."

Another columnist, Masooda Bano, in "Vision for the future," writes:

"Amid the horror and the shock of the events of September 11 the faint hope that rose that these events might lead the world superpower to rethink its approach toward the rest of the world has been completely sidelined. US foreign policy has become even more ruthless as is visible from the complete support US is giving to Israel in the latest spate of violence against Palestinians. Also, while attacking one nation in the name of establishing democracy in that nation, it continues to support dictators in nations where they serve its interest. General Musharraf's current regime being the ideal example of that.

"By all means the post September 11 world is a much more dangerous place to live in. Any time now the world can witnesses US military attacks on Iraq. No one can be sure of the outcome. But, even if US has complete success in Iraq like Afghanistan, it is not going to subside the talk of war against terrorism. US has a list of countries which it wants to target in the name of war against terrorism. Taliban were the first victim, Palestinian and Kashmiri freedom struggles have been the second targets, and now it is Iraq's turn. After Iraq it will be some other nation. How long can the world's sole superpower live with the policies of blinding anger and use of absolute force before the world faces some thing akin to a world war is something that the world leaders need to ponder when they meet in United Nations this week."

The Nation

The Nation is among Pakistan's leading newspapers. On Sept. 13, it editorialized:

"...The attacks had aroused worldwide sympathy for the innocent victims and were widely condemned, but the way the anti-terrorist war was subsequently pursued made many doubt if President Bush had drawn the right lessons from it. In the debate which followed, a number of outstanding intellectuals, both inside and outside the US, emphasized the need to determine the real causes behind the surge of anti-US sentiment all over the world. Arrogantly dismissing this advice President Bush decided to launch the world's most mighty military machine against Afghanistan, a small country poverty-stricken even by Third World standards. What followed was a tragedy graver than the one in the US. More innocent civilians died in Afghanistan as a result of the US military action than those killed in terrorist attacks inside the US. A government dominated by warlords has now been enforced on the Afghan people and its US-imposed President needs foreign guards to protect his life. Washington has meanwhile failed to lay hands on Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, or destroy the Al-Qaeda and Taliban networks. Worse still, the military action has led to the dispersal of terrorists all over the world, particularly to neighbouring Pakistan where they have added a new dimension to the law and order situation.

"It has been rightly noted that terrorism is the product of gross injustice to oppressed people like the Palestinians and Kashmiris. The US becomes the target of terrorism because it is seen to back the persecutors. The way the Bush administration has encouraged Israel to crush the Palestinians furnishes the most glaring example. This has led to a widespread perception, strengthened by President Bush's ill-considered 'crusade' remark, that the US is prejudiced against the Muslim world. The talk about war against Iraq, where thousands of innocent people have died due to a decade of sanctions, has strengthened this view.

"Another major cause for anti-US sentiment is the support Washington provides to oppressive and unrepresentative regimes in the Third World when it suits its interests, to the extent of retarding democratic progress, such as in Pakistan and Indonesia. People in these countries hunger for democracy. When they find the US arrayed on the side of their kings, generals and dictators, claiming legitimacy on the basis of rigged elections, they naturally turn against Washington. President Bush must distance himself from States like Israel and India that practise state terrorism. He must not be seen to promote undemocratic regimes in the Muslim countries. If the US wants to improve its image in the world, its leadership must not confine itself to paying lip service to democracy, justice and human rights. It has to side with the forces struggling for the ideals to win the friendship of the peoples of the world. Also, it must not inflict unjust wars on nations if it is to ensure the security of its own people."

And in an article entitled "Is Osama a scapegoat of the US?" the paper's New York correspondent begins by noting that Americans don't understand why many Muslims are not convinced that Osama Bin Laden was behind the September 11 attacks.

"The mind-set [American assumptions] can best be described with a joke making the rounds among Muslims: A young man, after jumping out of a crowd in New York City to rescue a child being mauled by a dog, is told by a reporter that he will be described as a hero in the next day's paper.

“'The headline will read, ‘New York Man Saves Boy,' 'the reporter says, only to be informed that the man is not from New York. 'Then it will read, ‘American Hero Saves Boy,' 'the journalist goes on, but he is again corrected. The hero, he is told, is from Pakistan. That results in a different kind of headline: 'Islamic Fundamentalist Strangles Puppy.'"

The divide in what is "known" by Americans and people in the Muslim world is enormous and, the author speculates that the terrorists may have wanted to sharpen it as a way of mobilizing Muslim support.

"Much as the O.J. Simpson trial exposed the divide that separated white and black Americans in the mid-1990s, the accusations against Bin Laden bring sharply divergent views of the world into focus. For most Americans, and many of their allies, there is little doubt of Bin Laden's guilt. But from much of the Muslim world, the U.S. campaign against him often seems vengeful and anti-Islamic.

"The differences reflect an enormous gulf of suspicion between the United States and Muslim societies, even at the upper echelons. Those who have followed his actions say that's exactly what Bin Laden had in mind."

Published: Friday, October 04, 2002