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Tuesday, September 18, 2001

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Retribution not the answer

By Sitaram Yechury

The September 11 terrorist strikes in the U.S. bring to mind the words of Rabindranath Tagore, penned in the aftermath of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre - ``give me a voice of thunder/that I may hurl imprecation upon this cannibal...'' Make no mistake, the images of destruction will remain etched as a savage nightmare.

As Noam Chomsky says on these terrorist strikes, ``as to how to react, we have a choice. We can express justified horror; we can seek to understand what may have led to the crimes, which means making an effort to enter the minds of the likely perpetrators.''

If we choose the latter course, we can do no better, I think, than to listen to the words of Robert Fisk, whose direct knowledge and insight into the affairs of the region is unmatched after many years of distinguished reporting.

Describing ``the wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people,'' he writes ``this is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and U.S. helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a Lebanese militia - paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally - hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.''

And much more - the death of two lakh innocent Iraqis during and in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, the subsequent death of at least a million civilians, half of them children, as a result of the sanctions. Specifically from Vietnam to Cuba to Korea to Chile and more recently to Yugoslavia, Palestine, Sudan - the list of U.S. interventions and the consequent death of millions of innocent civilians is there for all to see.

While stray organisations have claimed responsibility for these attacks, including one called the Japanese Red Army which claims retribution for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is no confirmation on who is the actual perpetrator of such a horrific assault.

The United States is, of course, zeroing in on Osama bin Laden and the Taliban which protects him. Ironically, the Taliban was itself the creation of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, ably assisted by Pakistan, against the then Soviet presence.

Ironically again, it is the same Pakistan which is being summoned today by the U.S. to launch its operations to eliminate this once ally-turned-America's ``most wanted man.'' Which is more dangerous - Frankenstein or its creator?

Today, theology is pitted against technology and kamikaze against nuclear weapons. For the moment, the latter offers no protection against the former. The futility of the Nuclear Missile Defence shield that the U.S. seeks to erect is there for all to see. Carrying missiles to outer space and sparking a fresh round of global nuclear arms race cannot protect the U.S. from such attacks.

Such acts of terrorism and State terrorism, preached and practised by the U.S., are two sides of the same coin. They feed on each other. In this context, mere reprisals and military retribution are not the answer.

The Indian response smacked of the Dickensian character's famous words ``Barkis is willin.'' Even when the U.S. had expressed no desire or need for India's help, the Vajpayee Government went about tomtoming its offer of complete military and logistic support to U.S. military operations in the region. In its eagerness to appear more willing than Pakistan to toe the U.S. line, this Government virtually prostrated.

We in India have been victims of terrorism for many a decade. Thousands of innocent lives have been lost. However, cross-border terrorism would not have been possible both in its scale and intensity but for the U.S. support to Pakistan during the entire second half of the 20th Century. Given this, seeking to create an international coalition against terrorism under the leadership of the U.S., is tantamount to an exercise in self- defeat. Moreover, permitting U.S. military action from the Indian soil entails the dangers of a permanent U.S. military presence in the region. This will influence a future U.S. role in Kashmir with all its consequences and ramifications.

India should have its own geo-political strategy in the region. After all, developments in Afghanistan and the neighbourhood directly affect India's vital interests. And these interests cannot be protected by acting as a U.S. surrogate. For, the U.S. has its own geo-political interests and strategy, which, in the past, it has advanced at gun point whenever necessary.

India should have called for the immediate implementation of the U.N. initiative to combat international terrorism, the draft for which is believed to be ready. This would have ensured a unified global approach towards combating terrorism and tackling is ramifications. A U.S.-led coalition, seeking military intervention, which this Government is ever- willing to be part of, has dangerous implications and potential for exacerbating the situation, rather than resolving it.

Terrorism, in the final analysis, will have to be tackled and destroyed through political initiatives. It can only be hoped that these horrendous strikes will bring on to the agenda of the world the need for complying with international law, respecting the sovereignty of nations and upholding the right of every people to choose their social order. Swift military intervention may provide illusory solace to some for the moment but it engenders the seeds of future retribution and reprisals.

(The writer is a member of the politburo of the CPI-M)

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