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War Disturbs the Most Dangerous Political Tectonic Plate in the World
8 October 2001
The most powerful military force on earth has now begun its bombardment of the world's poorest, most ravaged Muslim nation. And no matter how many loaves of bread are dropped with our bombs, will there be a Muslim who will approve?
Is it possible, is it conceivable even with our most sophisticated missiles that we are not killing the innocent as well as the guilty in Afghanistan? We may say we are punishing Osama bin Laden. We may believe it. But will the Muslim world believe it? There has been much talk of a coalition these past four weeks but it's not a coalition that includes any Muslim nation, albeit that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and the little dictatorship up in Uzbekistan are being dragged along behind it.
There are no Saudi Arabian or Kuwaiti pilots in the night skies over Afghanistan. This is not a Western-Muslim coalition. This is the West on its own, bombing a Muslim country that has a standard of living close to the Middle Ages.
The bombing, I suppose, came in time for prime-time television. But do we seriously think that Mr bin Laden and his cronies are going to be caught out by this? President George Bush talks about "sustained, comprehensive and relentless" operations. But where does it go from here?
Those of us who remember the start of the Kosovo war or, indeed, the beginning of the air bombardment of Iraq remember how we were assured that our opponents would sue for peace in a few days. But that did not happen and the Taliban, a monster created by our two "Alliance" friends Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, are unlikely to throw down their arms.
Of course, we will be firing missiles and dropping bombs on at least 12 of Mr bin Laden's training camps. That won't be difficult. After all we or rather the CIA built them for Mr bin Laden and his comrades just under 20 years ago.
With more time and more work, perhaps we could have cobbled together a bigger alliance but what we are doing now is plunging into the very center of jihadi culture. The issue is not how many bombs we dropped last night or dropped today but where the cracks begin to appear in the next 24 hours. Because Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan lay on the most dangerous political tectonic plate in the world.
On Wednesday, if not before, we may find out the answer when the Islamic conference opens in Qatar. It will be intriguing perhaps even frightening to listen to what Muslim leaders say when they meet.
True, Mr Bush has done his best to find a sop, pushing humanitarian aid into the package of bombs and manhunts.
As usual, we've been told that the Afghans are not our enemies. That's what we said before we bombed Iraq in 1991. And it's what we said before we bombed Libya in 1985. And it's what the Americans said before they shelled Lebanon in 1982. And, as a matter of fact, it's what we told the Egyptians before we bombed them on the Suez canal in 1956. But will the Muslim world believe it?
And just as a footnote to this bleak moment of 21st-century history, are we setting up any judicial process, any courts, any legislation to ensure that bad men are punished with the law? That is one answer we are unlikely to get from our leaders in the next few days.