By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
The two men who recently met on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in South Korea represent two extremes: one was the president of the most powerful country on earth in terms of military hardware and weapons of mass destruction, the other the prime minister of a smaller country whose own survival depended on the support of the other man in more ways than are made public. Yet both had to talk, even though one of them could treat the entire agenda of the meeting as a footnote to his other engagements at the summit. The prime minister’s country has remained the target of an undeclared war by the United States for years. It is regularly bombarded by drones and its territorial sovereignty is violated at will; the most recent incidents include a US air strike which killed 24 soldiers in November.
Their meeting was short and so was the message from the more powerful of the two men: “I welcome the fact that the parliament in Pakistan is reviewing, after some extensive study, the nature of this relationship, and I think that it’s important for us to get it right. There have been times — I think we should be frank — in the last several months where those relations have experienced strains. But I hope the parliamentary review would take a balanced approach that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, but also respects our concerns with respect to our national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past”.
Translated into plain language, the President of the United States of America once again conveyed his government’s unwillingness to come to terms with basic realities of a world which cannot be colonized anymore as the British and the French did it in the nineteenth century. United States’ security needs cannot stretch thousands of miles away from its borders because if that “illogic” is accepted, then every country in the world will have a pretext to attack any other country in the world.
While it is true that on September 11, 2001 the United States of America was attacked, and even though the world has not seen any shred of evidence nor has any independent court conclusively ruled that it was the work of some men trained in the caves of Afghanistan, one cannot stretch that one incidence to obtain an unlimited license to kill citizens of another country; it has been over a decade that some three thousand Americans died in a terrible attack, but since then, America has killed a thousand times more men, women, and children in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and its soldiers continue to kill innocent babies in distant villages.
This unjust, and seemingly interminable, war against other people is actually a genocide, because the target here is more often than not innocent human beings whose lives are extinguished by remote control. Even if one accepts that there are some “radicals” hiding in some caves in distant lands, the real defense of a country is fortification of its own borders, not indiscriminate killing of other people in distant lands. Thus, to ask Pakistan to “have a balanced approach that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, but also respects our concerns with respect to our national security” is to already formulate American security concerns in a manner that is fraught with imbalance and amounts to an unjust extension of its borders to a land thousands of miles away.
If American security is dependent on what happens in the remote Waziristan region of Pakistan, then Pakistan cannot have any sovereignty at all; for there will always be a pretext for attacking it. And if one were to reverse the argument, one can say with more justification that Pakistan has a right to attack America because America has a history of violating the sovereignty of other countries, including a number of South American countries, and therefore all these countries must protect themselves by sending drones to America and stopping the aggression at its origin. Yet, one must have recourse to certain norms of international law: there is no legal system which recognizes a crime merely on the basis of presumed intent.
But we are no more living in normal times. The fire of hatred ignited by George W. Bush, his vice president, and his British chum is still burning; its flames are consuming lives around the world. At times, it shows up in the form of a Staff Sgt. Robert Bales who walks into a sleepy Afghan village in the pre-dawn hours and kills nine children and seven men and women in cold blood. At others, it shows up in the form of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who detain Muslims randomly at border crossings and interrogate them. Even students studying Islamic studies are suspicious as the most recent story of Pascal Abidor, a McGill University student, proves.
Similarly heart-wrenching is the story of the family of Iraqi-American Shaima Alwadi, who was beaten to death in San Diego last week. “My wife was a victim of xenophobia,” Alwadi’s widower Qassem al-Hamidi said after the killing. His wife was killed by a man who was charged with hatred against Muslims in general; who is responsible for this murder?
Given this level of anti-Muslim hatred in the United States, can every Muslim country start sending drones and soldiers to attack possible Muslim killers in California and other states? If one were to accept US reasoning, then an affirmative answer would be the most logical conclusion. Where would that leave the world?
It is unfortunate that Mr. Obama has done little to extinguish the fire of hatred kindled by his predecessor. He came to power in the name of change but he has continued, even intensified the vengeful policies which have brought so much suffering to people around the world. If he were to balance US foreign policy, that might be a first step toward a peaceful world.