The world has become consumed with the scourge of terrorism. It is a curse that is on virtually everyone’s lips. This almost unseen threat has led to governments creating special “homeland security” departments to protect themselves and their citizens. However, indiscriminate bombings of innocent civilians, armed attacks on hotels and restaurants and the like are occurrences that many South Africans were very familiar with in the 1970s and especially in the 1980s.
South Africa’s cross-border pre-emptive strikes against terrorist bases were loudly and vociferously condemned at all levels of the international arena. It was claimed by the international community that the majority of the casualties from these strikes were “innocent civilians”, despite the fact that the contrary could be proved. The UN formulated special resolutions to sanction us. The fact is that thousands of truly innocent civilians have been killed, maimed and wounded in the strikes by the so-called coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike the case with South Africa, these causalities are either down-played or simply not even mentioned. They are considered to be “acceptable losses”. Hypocrisy?
Whereas the West cannot be blamed for the birth of terrorism, it was most certainly instrumental in aiding and abetting terrorism, especially in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. At that time, it was dressed up as foreign policy encouraging “democracy”, “freedom of speech” and “human rights”. This was supported by massive covert action campaigns through the written word. To many, the West’s foreign policy became synonymous with destabilisation.
What those strategists and policy advisors appear never to have considered was that the terrorism they were encouraging might one day return to their shores – with a new loyalty to their anti-West paymasters and/or ideological leaders.
Any citizen in the countries targeted by the West and who chose to disagree with his/her government was rewarded with “political refugee status” in especially the United Kingdom, Holland, France and Sweden and so on. Assisted by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, these antagonists were given safe passage to countries where they could plot and scheme their future actions. They were given financial aid and in many cases they were even secretly trained in those countries. They were taught that the only law they had to abide by was the law they could distribute through the barrel of the gun.
Whereas one cannot condone the political systems in many of the countries where the West was instrumental in encouraging and supporting terrorism – South Africa being no exception – one can only wonder what the long-term strategic plan was, if there was ever one. What they surely did know was that by encouraging terrorism, governments would fall and countless civilians, both black and white, would be killed or maimed. Were these casualties simply accepted as unavoidable yet necessary collateral damage?
These special refugees were given all the media attention they wanted. Comments such as “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” were trumpeted. The terrorists-in-training were heralded as heroes wherever they went. Media comments such as “fighting for democracy” and “fighting for freedom and human rights” and the like were often published in the media.
“Humanitarian assistance” became a buzz-word for aiding and abetting terrorism. Special committees were formed to assist with the future plans these “refugees” were making for when they finally seized power through the barrel of a gun. Quasi-governments in exile were formed and the refugees were urged to unleash their fury on the countries they came from. Many Western governments covertly approved and supported this notion fully.
Other refugees chose to divert to the old USSR and its satellite states for training. Those who chose that path were often under surveillance and closely monitored. But, many countries did not realise how their “allies” in the West were plotting their demise by means of terrorism. In South Africa, soldiers were sent to fight the “Red Threat” when all along the real threat came from our so-called allies. I recall Indonesian Special Forces General Subianto telling to me in 1996 that the West would one day realise that terrorists they had been supporting would come back to haunt them in the future – and that they would not be able to negotiate with them over a cup of tea.
If a government was unwilling to bow to the West’s demands, anyone willing to enter into a violent conflict against such an “arrogant” government was armed and sent to indiscriminately bomb and shoot. To prevent that government from defending itself and its citizens, sanctions were imposed. These actions were then claimed to be part of “promoting democracy”. If it would have helped at all, many of us would have shouted “Guys, wake up. This will come back to trouble you”.
The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) role in fuelling, training, arming, propagating and promoting the violent overthrow of pro-West governments in Africa unwilling to be dictated to is, additionally, well documented. That was, in many instances, why so many African countries turned to the East for help. Once-prosperous African countries were undermined, blackmailed, threatened and even sanctioned for not immediately accepting the demands of the West. Ironically, in doing this they were working with their enemies in the East.
The US’s initial covert role and later not-so-covert role in training and arming the Taliban is also well documented. I know this because EO was approached by a US official based in Cairo and asked to assist with the training of the Taliban. That offer was declined. But the irony is that Osama Bin Laden, now on the US’s most wanted list, was one of those the US advised, encouraged, financed and trained.
Terrorism is partly a result of the West’s encouragement - and ignorance - of these groups that are now deemed to be the enemy. Adding fuel to the fire is the lack of intelligence planning and foresight to infiltrate and penetrate these criminal organisations masquerading as “freedom fighters”. Current containment strategies are poorly thought-out and difficult to implement. Over-reliance on technology has also proven its short-comings. The advantage no longer lies with the governments as they have lost much of the initiative.
Most of us view terrorism as an armed crime aimed at causing deaths and destruction. I, like many others, believe it must be eradicated. It is an extension of organised crime, aimed at instilling fear and terror and encouraging the belief that a government can no longer protect itself or its citizens. Its ultimate aim is to violently overthrow a government so that an alternative form of government can be established – or that the national will is sufficiently weakened to be exploited to the advantage of the terrorists. We have seen the results of these types of governments…
The West is now facing a predicament it helped bring upon itself; it has its own home-grown terrorists – people it once opened its doors to as “political refugees” but who have now become the danger from within. Did they not teach these refugees to ignore the rule of law, discard the Geneva Convention and reject all rules of engagement and war? Given the massive support that the West gave to terrorism, isn’t it now simply reaping what it has sown?
To defeat terrorism, a new strategy needs to be devised. This strategy cannot be based on technology and “troop surges” alone. It requires far deeper thought and planning than that. This type of techno-surge strategy and the subsequent doctrine and tactics that follow are both reckless and counter-productive and can only lead to even more precarious, costly and long-term conflicts.
Added on 8 January 2008: Please see http://www.africancrisis.co.za/Article.php?ID=41012& as a point that was discussed under the comments.