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Monday, 22 October, 2001, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
War View: 'It's like bombing Sicily to try to beat the Mafia'
Ghada Karmi, an academic and leader of the UK's Palestinian Community Association, says she thinks the US and UK should have thought longer before taking their military action.

Just as the perpetrators of the New York bombings in September perhaps intended, the Americans have fallen into the worst of traps.

They have walked into the quagmire of Afghanistan's notoriously treacherous geographic and political terrain. Like the proverbial bull in the china shop, the US army is crashing over delicately balanced ethnic, tribal and cross-border relationships which, though unsustainable in the long term, have maintained a sort of modus vivendi.


Dead Bin Laden would become an instant martyr to his followers

It is of course understandable that the world's major superpower, having been so viciously attacked, could not have stood by and done nothing. But the question was then as it is now, 12 days into the bombing: do what and to whom? And how much thought went into the consequences of whatever US retaliation was finally decided on?

What of Bin Laden?

It is becoming disturbingly clear that no exit strategy for this enterprise exists beyond a recently advocated post-Taleban plan to place Afghanistan under UN trusteeship with an Islamic peacekeeping force.

If this happens, it may be good for the country but leaves the US with the same problem, namely, what of Bin Laden and his terror network?

And if he were caught, what to do with him? Dead, he would become an instant martyr to his followers; captured alive, many Muslims would see him as a "prisoner of conscience", deprived of a fair hearing in the West.

The disproportionate military punishment visited on a poor Islamic country with the support of an unstable and ill-assorted coalition of states is no way to fight a war on "terrorism".

Exodus

The war on Afghanistan is indeed having an effect, not on terrorism - its total irrelevance in this context is exemplified in the mysterious anthrax attack which is currently afflicting America - but in other areas.

The hapless Afghan people are the worst affected. The refugee exodus from the country began even before US bombing began. Food supplies to the population have had to be halted because of the military action.

British aid agencies have asked for the attacks to stop, to enable food supplies to reach the population. If not, they warn that seven million Afghans may die of starvation and cold in the next few months.


US should have waited longer and planned differently

As these attacks continue, Muslims worldwide are increasingly disaffected, weakening the US-built coalition and threatening the stability of regimes in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Even European states are less than happy about the current campaign. If the anti-terrorism coalition falters, will the US go it alone? And who will foot the ultimate bill for this war, the US having lost an estimated £120 billion and Britain £6 billion since the terrorist bombings?

Security services

Before opening this Pandora's box, the US should have waited longer and planned differently.

Countering terrorism is a job for civilian security services, intelligence gathering, tackling money-laundering, freezing assets and policing borders. Throwing bombs at it is like trying to defeat the Mafia by attacking Sicily.

This is an unprecedented situation and it requires an unconventional response. The US needs to show imagination and mature statesmanship in handling it. That means an immediate end to the bombing, and a close working liaison with the UN.

A world convention on terrorism would be a good start to discuss its definition and causes. Those states which harbour terrorists should explain why they do so in an atmosphere of dialogue and constructiveness.


'Islamic' terrorism did not arise in a vacuum

The conflicts which perpetuate anti-Western resentment - for example, the Arab-Israeli dispute - should be seriously dealt with. Finally, Western states need to set up dynamic economic strategies for relieving poverty and disadvantage in the developing world unlike the restrictive and punitive policies currently on offer.

Such an approach takes as its basis the fact that "Islamic" terrorism did not arise in a vacuum but sprang from a soil of discontent and deprivation and flourished in a climate of post-colonialist humiliation, which the US and its Western partners did much to create.

Changing the soil and the climate and thus depriving terrorism of its raison d'être is surely a far more rational solution than trying to bomb it out of existence.


You can add your comments to this or other personal opinions we are publishing during the current situation. Add them using the form below.

Your comments:

Whatever the political decisions that were arrived at to take the current course of action, they weren't rushed, hasty or wrong. When somebody destroys your country's number one economic monument and creates 5000 dead, 10,000 grieving parents, 5000 orphans etc a response of this magnatude is not only to be expected but required. The UN (and yes I've worked for them) is an organisation that simply does not have the organisational or political will to create a suitable response. The allies against terrorism are correct in their actions and I only hope that it is a lesson taught to pro-terrorist nation states and potential terrorists. While I fear for the future reprisals particularly against America, I don't believe that a softly softly approach would make the world a safer place.
GD, Germany

Garda Kharmi is one of many denouncing US strategy in its war on terrorism. And Iżm nearly persuaded by their arguments. But not quite. What all the critics lack is a workable alternative strategy. Anybody can point fingers and criticize ż give me a better solution and Iżll listen. Instead, 90% of critics have no counter proposal at all. And those like Ms. Kharmi advocate what in practice would never work. Send in "civilian" security forces? Ah yes, that would make a wonderful episode of COPS in Afghanistan. A police car pulls up to Mr. Bin Ladenżs cave; an officer gets out holding a piece of paper and says in a loud voice, "Mr Bin Laden, we have a warrant for your arrest. Come out with your hands up." Brilliant!
Shane Watts, USA

The Americans created the Taleban entity to defeat communism. Millions of people died as a result from both sides and took a moderate country like Afghanistan back to the medieval ages. In fact the break-up of the Soviet Union opened Pandora's box. The Balkan war, the Chechen war took the toll of millions of innocent souls. Prevention of terrorism by adressing the root is better than cure.
Mohammed Abdulla, Saudi Arabia

At last, someone with a reflective, mature and well considered opinion has emerged. Garda Kharmi has spoken out with measured criticism against this so-called war on terrorism. A title which suggests that victory is virtually impossible, and the methods used by the west to achieve their aim are testament to this.
David Ansa, UK

Garda Kharmi's comments are absolutely fair. A long-term solution to the situation of Afghanistan can't be sought through military means. But what about the immediate term? What about next week? The US can't be expected to stand by for months or years while its cities are attacked. Is there a single country or people, Palestinians included,that has behaved with such restraint?
JD, UK

I don't agree with the premise that the campaign is akin to bombing Sicily to get at the Mafia. The Mafia do not have training camps in Sicily with many foreign mercenaries whose explicit aim is to kill and maim Americans
Martin Stocks, UK

I agree with Garda Kharmi more or less 100%. The lack of thought by the US and its allies is exemplified further in my opinion by the way that the aims of the campaign seem so fluid. Initially it was about addressing terrorism, and Bin Laden specifically. Now it seems to be about destabilising the Taleban government of Afghanistan and replacing them with an alternative (UN and therefore probably more pro-western) government. However unpalatable the Taleban government may be, Afghanistan did not attack the US yet the US continues to destroy the country for ever changing reasons.
Quentin North, England

These comments sound eminently reasonable. The American answer to any problem is "don't solve it, overwhelm it"
Geoff Butcher, UK

If the mafia had bunkers and tanks, then bombing them would be legitimate.
Martin Page, UK

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