Tuesday, December 06, 2011
# posted by FGFM : 10:18 AM
Via our Scandinavian correspondent, Lubna Qureshi:
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Stephen Fry’s tribute to Christopher Hitchens. When I came across George Eaton’s own review afterward, I realized that he had caught an important moment missed by me:
“’More Bosnia, less Iraq,’ he [Hitchens] wrote in a text message to Fry. It felt as if he was trying to edit his own obituary. As he told the New Statesman, though he is unrepentant about his support for the invasion of Iraq and believes that history will vindicate him, he does not want to be ‘defined by it’. His reference to Bosnia was an attempt to place his support for the war in the context of a wider commitment to anti-totalitarianism. It was also a war that saved Muslim lives, rather than ended them.”
If Hitchens feels guilty about his endorsement of the Iraq War, then he should extend that guilt to his support for our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Recently, I read an intriguing article that suggested President George W. Bush might have incited genocide against Muslims in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. The author is Professor Liaquat Ali Khan, a scholar of international law and human rights at the Washburn University School of Law. Khan is also a native of Pakistan. I decided to interview him for Hitchens Watch.
Hitchens Watch: Two months ago, Hitchens wrote the following: “On September 12, 2001, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1368, condemning the attacks on American soil and asserting the universal right of defense. The terms of the resolution explicitly state that those found to be ‘supporting or harboring the perpetrators, organizers and sponsors of these acts will be held accountable’.” Does the universal claim of self-defense justify the American military campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Khan: The classical concept of self-defense, which is enacted in the UN Charter, which gives the right of self-defense to a nation-state. Now, under Article 51 of the UN Charter, the right of self-defense has several constraints. For example, it says that the right of self-defense can be exercised only if an armed attack occurs. So, there is the question of sequence. The second is that the temporal proximity between the attack and the exercise of self-defense should be very close. For example, if somebody attacks me, I cannot go home and think about it and then three hours later, come back to exercise the right of self-defense. So, there is a temporal proximity. There is spatial proximity. And then, the duration of the right of self-defense, is also under Article 51, is limited. That you should inform the Security Council that the armed attack has occurred, and then the Security Council takes over from the nation-state that is trying to defend itself. Now, this is the classical notion of the right of self-defense. What I have argued in my book, called The Extinction of Nation-States, that this classical right of self-defense is undergoing a tremendous transformation. And we are in the midst of making a new rule of the right of self-defense. And I think the US is trying to construct that rule. I don’t know if the US would allow this construction to every nation-state, but definitely it is using a new concept, and it is exercising on that new concept. And under the new concept that the US is using, I think the temporal proximity and spatial proximity both have been dispensed with. So, that is a big change that the United States says: “We can exercise our right of self-defense without any temporal constraint.” For example, the 9/11 attack occurred, and we can still exercise the right of self-defense because these are the same so-called terrorists who are planning another attack. And of course, the spatial proximity is that the right of exercise can be done anywhere in the world, that we are not confined to the United States if somebody comes over here, attacks, and then, we exercise this right of self-defense. We can exercise the right of self-defense in any country on this planet, and maybe even in space, if the technology allows. So, this is the fundamental change in the classical concept of self-defense, no temporal constraint, no special constraint, and number three, no reporting to the Security Council, that to continue to exercise this right of self-defense without seeking approval from the Security Council. Now, I don’t know if the US would allow this right of self-defense to other states. I doubt it.
Hitchens Watch: Was Osama bin Laden just sheltered by fundamentalists within Pakistani intelligence? Were Presidents Pervez Musharraf and Asif Zardari also aware of his presence in Pakistan?
Khan: In my opinion, I am not sure if Zardari knew that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad. This is my opinion. I mean I don’t have any facts to support it or to contradict it. I think my best intuition is that probably some people in the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence], knew and protected Osama bin Laden. But I am not sure if the high command actually was aware of it. And even if they were aware of it, I think maybe there was some sort of plausible deniability. You know plausible deniability. I mean that’s the doctrine that the CIA has used while giving information to the president, where the president can deny that they had information, but nevertheless, they do. So, I think that plausible deniability has become probably universal spy doctrine, that the spy agencies, they tell their superiors, but in a convoluted way, so that the high command can say “we don’t know” or can express surprise. So, I think unless that was being practiced, and I won’t rule it out, I think somebody has to know.
Hitchens Watch: In the July 2011 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Hitchens denied that the raid of bin Laden’s home violated Pakistani sovereignty: “Well what f-ing sovereignty? What f-ing sovereignty were these people ‘protecting’? It’s bad enough that the Pakistani army lacks sovereignty over the tribal area and can’t control it when the country’s own life depends upon it. But that bin Laden was living in the Pakistani equivalent of Annapolis, MD.” If the Pakistani government knew of the raid of bin Laden’s home in advance, was Pakistani sovereignty really violated?
Khan: Well, I think logically these are two separate questions because sovereignty means that a nation-state has control over the events within its national territory, therefore territorial sovereignty. I mean I think the word territorial sovereignty is a better descriptive, which means that the nation’s territory is sovereign in a sense that other countries are excluded from entering into the territory, not only entering but attacking the targets within the territory. And so I think the question of sovereignty is a more abstract legal question. It’s a doctrine of exclusion, that every other nation-state is excluded from entering the territory of Pakistan, for example, including its air space, without the permission of the government. Now, whether you can effectively control your territory is a separate question because I think no nation-state, we have close to 200 nation-states, I think most of them would be vulnerable to US invasion because they don’t have the sufficient resources to stop the United States from entering and attacking the targets within their countries, except maybe twenty countries, even let’s say fifty countries, who can put up some resistance. But I think 150 countries are open to invasion from stronger countries. So, could we say that 150 countries do not have sovereignty? No, we wouldn’t say that. We would say that legally they are sovereign, but they don’t have the resources to protect their territory against stronger states. It’s just like human beings. I have a right to physical security, but can I protect myself against every one in the United States? No. I think there would be millions of people who are much stronger than me, and if they want to attack me, I would really be harmed. So, I think the concept of sovereignty, and the resources to protect it, are two different questions, and I think Hitchens is confusing the concept with the resources needed to protect sovereignty. I think the international legal system works because the concept is strong, not because nation-states can actually protect themselves. And social structure is maintainable not because every person can protect herself or himself, but because all people agree that we should not attack each other.
Hitchens Watch: In the same article, Hitchens went on to write: “If the Pakistani authorities had admitted what they were doing, and claimed the right to offer safe haven to al-Qaeda and the Taliban on their own soil, then the boast of ‘sovereignty’ might at least have had some grotesque validity to it. But they were too cowardly and duplicitous for that. And they also wanted to be paid, lavishly and regularly, for pretending to fight against those very forces.” Does the Pakistan government really have any interest in opposing the Taliban?
Khan: Well, I think if Pakistan is sovereign, which it is, that also means positional sovereignty, and that means that the nation-state can make its decisions without foreign influence. Now, of course, the United States wants Pakistan to eliminate the Taliban, particularly those who are fighting the US. Now, the question is: does Pakistan have a similar national interest in eliminating the enemies of the United States? You cannot presume, as Hitchens does, that any person who’s the enemy of the United States is also the enemy of Pakistan. That doesn’t fit logically because there will be a lot of groups who will oppose the United States, and Pakistan will either be neutral or even more friendly to that group. Take Iran. Iran and the United States don’t get along. The United States wants to harm Iran, but that doesn’t mean that Pakistan should also try to harm Iran. In fact, Pakistan could be very friendly to Iran, just like the United States is very friendly to Israel, even though a lot of Muslim countries are not friends with Israel. I think the United States should allow Pakistan to make its own decisions, and determine that whether Pakistan wants to engage in a civil war with its people. Remember the Taliban is only one name of a very large group called Pashtuns. Even though the Taliban do not represent all Pashtuns, nevertheless, Pashtuns have a lot of sympathy for the people who are fighting against the US occupation in Afghanistan. So, to say that the Pakistanis don’t fight the Taliban and they are playing a double game, I think all these arguments are rooted in false logic. I don’t think it is in the interests of Pakistan to engage in a fight with the Taliban in Pakistan. I think Pakistan has chosen to negotiate with them, and that is the right course.
Hitchens Watch: Why did Pakistan support the Taliban in the very beginning? I have read that the Pakistanis thought that winning influence in Afghanistan would give them “strategic depth”, but I not understand what that concept means.
Khan: Strategic depth is a doctrine used to explain the India/Pakistan conflict, and strategic depth could either mean geographical depth or the depth of bringing one more country into the equation. Now, we all now that 40 million Pashtuns across the border both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they are one people. And they have been divided into two countries. The border is fluid. The border is artificial. The border is a construct, which physically cannot be controlled, is not controlled. And people flow back and forth because family lives across borders. So, then we say strategic depth simply means that the 40 million Pashtuns living in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are one people, and even though we have divided them into two countries, actually they should be recognized as one people in two countries. That’s one. The second is that Afghanistan’s majority is Pashtuns. You cannot make a government without the majority of the people. That’s not going to be a democratic government. So, it’s natural that the Pashtuns rule Afghanistan, and when Pashtuns rule Afghanistan, they have a natural alliance with Pashtuns in Pakistan. In some sense, the union between Pakistan and Afghanistan is natural, and that unity, despite the border, is irrefutable. And India wants to create a very rigid border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and maybe move Afghanistan to its own alliance. That’s not going to happen.
Hitchens Watch: In the September 7, 2009 issue of Slate, Hitchens wrote: “American drone strokes have pinpointed and killed at least one especially ghastly Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who, among other crimes, was the probable organizer of the murder of Benazir Bhutto.” Was Mehsud really a terrorist? If so, what would have been the best way to apprehend him?
Khan: Well, again, Mehsud was a part of the resistance movement, and he was a Pakistani Taliban, trying to help the Pashtuns across the border. Now, this whole business of terrorism, I think that’s another linguistic game that Hitchens and people like him, and even the West generally..I mean I’ve written about it repeatedly, that we use the word “nigger” in order to delegitimize the grievances of the black people. We have reinvented the word “savage” to delegitimize the aspirations of the Native Americans. So, I think we do the same linguistic game, that you give a very bad name to your enemy, and you create so many connotations, and so many implications for that word, that anybody who listens to that word is naturally inclined to hate that group. So, I think the United States and the West have successfully launched the word “terrorist” to describe all the people who are fighting the US imperialism. That’s my view of the word “terrorism.” Now, what on the earth could it be that the people who are fighting an occupation will be called terrorists? I mean if we apply this logic to the US, then all the people who were fighting the British were terrorists, but we remember them very fondly, and Hitchens being a Britisher, isn’t he a Britisher?
Hitchens Watch: Yeah, he just became an American citizen recently.
Khan: I think I would ask him if the people who fought the British imperialism, were they terrorists or were they freedom fighters? So, I think in one sense, the people who are fighting the US occupation in Iraq or in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, I think you can call them terrorists because you want to delegitimize them, but there could be other labels as well. So, I think Mehsud, yes, he is a terrorist from a US viewpoint because he was trying to help the people in Afghanistan who wanted to resist occupation…I think it depends what perspective you have on a given war…I think this whole notion makes me not take it very seriously, that labels can describe reality. I think labels are tools of propaganda. Labels are part of the warfare, and you just cannot invent labels and then make them arguments. So to say Mehsud, or for that matter, Mullah Omar, they are terrorists, I can understand that you are engaging in warfare, but if you’re saying you are engaging in analysis, I refuse to accept that.
Hitchens Watch: Do you think Mehsud had anything to do with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto?
Khan: He denied it, and I think these people, when they deny it, they mostly mean it. So, I take him on his word.
Hitchens Watch: If you were an advisor to Washington, would you recommend cutting off all military aid to Islamabad?
Khan: If I’m advising Pakistan, I would say get rid of the aid, and try to become self-sufficient. If I’m advising the United States, I would do the opposite, and I would say do not cut the assistance to Pakistan, because you will lose Pakistan 100%, completely. Already, the United States has lost the people of Pakistan. The United States is losing Pakistan to China. I think there is a new regional alliance that is going to emerge, and that will be China, Pakistan, Iran, and the Central Asian states, and Russia maybe. But definitely, it seems like the United States, foolishly in my view, and against its own interests, and partly driven by people like Hitchens and company… the United States fails to understand that it simply does not have the resources to make so many countries mad. I mean look at what it’s doing. It has made Iran mad. It is making Pakistan mad. It is not getting along with Russia, with all its defense missiles over there. The Congress doesn’t understand that it cannot bully China, but it regularly does. So, it seems like this US leadership is still in a mode of denial. They still think they are the only superpower in the world, and it can dictate its terms to every country in the world. I don’t think that is the case, anymore. The US is still powerful, but it’s losing its power. It is still a rich country; it is losing its richness. It’s in the process of going down, whereas India and China and many other countries are on the upswing. Pakistan would have been the same way had it not been dragged down in the last ten years. Pakistan was doing very well economically until it was dragged down to be in the War on Terror. So, I think, if I am advising Washington, I would say do not lose Pakistan, because if you lose Pakistan, you are losing a key country that would have helped you in that part of the world. But if you lose Pakistan, then you are creating a continuity of “enemyship,” if I can make that word, continuity from China to Pakistan to Iran to Afghanistan to the Central Asian states. This is a very contiguous region that is going to turn against you.
Hitchens Watch: Just after the US intervention in Afghanistan began in the fall of 2001, Hitchens rejoiced “we are rid of one of the foulest regimes on earth, while one of the most vicious crime families has been crippled and scattered.” He insisted that the US military force “remains to help the Afghan exiles to return, to save the starving and to consolidate the tentative emancipation of Afghan women.” What do you think of Hitchens’s view?
Khan: I think the United States does have things to teach to the world. I think it has many good values that it can teach to the world. For example, personally I’m a great admirer of American pragmatism. I think American culture is very pragmatic. American people are very pragmatic, and pragmatism means that you focus on the price rather than the ideology. I think a lot of countries become so ideological that they lose sight of the price, or they lose sight of the end. They become so means-focused that they forget the end. Number two, I think Americans are very practical people, which fits with the pragmatism. They are problem-solvers. They take a problem, and then they ask themselves: “How can we solve this problem?” And then they actually end up solving the problem. And I think they also believe that economic prosperity is essential for all other human values. That if you don’t have economic prosperity, the greatest human values cannot be achieved. And I think I would love Muslim countries and Pakistan and Afghanistan to borrow these ideas. They become more pragmatic. They become more practical, and they focus on economic prosperity. Now, having said that, I don’t think Muslims anywhere want American social values, unfortunately or fortunately. Nudity, not taking care of your parents, child care, problems in the United States, overindulgence in individualism, these are not social values that Muslim countries are going to accept. And I think that’s where the US people and the US policymakers fail. That American social values will not be accepted in the Muslim world. And Afghanistani women are not going to walk around with miniskirts, and throw away their families, and throw away their children, and throw away their parents, and just pursue self-development. That is not going to happen. If it happens, then I think the Muslim culture will come to an end, and it would have been completely replaced by Western culture, or American culture. And I think Hitchens should understand that Muslim countries will not import the dysfunctional American values that have actually destroyed the whole concept of family.
Hitchens Watch: The term “emancipation” can be interpreted in many ways. I do not expect to see the typical Afghani woman dancing in discos with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Emancipation can also mean essential human rights: the right to an education, the right to work, the right to choose one’s husband, the right to birth control.
Khan: Yes, I agree with you that Afghan woman have the right to education, the right to work, and the right to choose a husband, and many other rights, including the right to physical security, and equal respect. The recognition of rights comes slowly and rights have cultural variants.
Hitchens Watch: In the fall of 2001, Hitchens wrote that the Americans “had just succeeded in bombing a country back out of the Stone Age.” He also claimed “that the feat was accomplished with no serious loss of civilian life, and with an almost pedantic policy of avoiding ‘collateral damage’.” Has there been serious loss of civilian life in Afghanistan since 2011? Has the United States avoided collateral damage?
Khan: No, I think this whole idea that collateral damage does not occur, nobody believes in that. There is huge collateral damage. Now, I think I would concede that the modern warfare, in some sense, is restrained both in terms of ideas as well as in terms of values. To engage in massive, widespread destruction, I think there’s less of it. We don’t do the bombing of Dresden and we don’t see the bombing of England, as we did in the Second World War. But that doesn’t mean that the collateral damage has been eliminated, or even minimized. I think collateral damage, you can define very narrowly, and say we are talking only about lives lost. That if you can minimize these deaths of civilians, then you have minimized collateral damage. Okay, that’s a very narrow definition of collateral damage. But there’s another definition of collateral damage, and that is: How many houses have been destroyed? How many families have been broken? How many families have been displaced? How many people have become refugees? How many people have lost their income, or the source of their income? How many lands cannot be plowed? How many factories have closed? How many factories have not been built? I think if you define collateral damage in terms its social, economic, and shared cost, then you will find that collateral damage of the Afghanistan War has been huge, just like the collateral damage of the Soviet invasion was huge. Afghanistan has been economically crippled because, for the obvious reasons, that there is resistance. Even Karzai is saying I will not allow you to stay here unless you promise that you won’t raid homes at night. This is one of his conditions. Imagine you are living in a village, and you don’t know when foreign troops are going to barge into your house, and just destroy everything that you have. I mean this terror of foreign troops coming to your village, coming to your house, breaking your door, and coming into your house, not caring about the privacy of your home, this terror is collateral damage. And I hear people like Hitchens, who have not experienced in their own lives this kind of terror…he should know better because the Second World War exposed Great Britain to this kind of terror. So, to say that modern warfare and US warfare and US military, they’re very benign and they’re very careful and they’re very benevolent and humanitarian, yes, in some sense, yes. But, in the deeper sense, no. I think the US invasion of Afghanistan may be less brutal than the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the collateral damage in terms of economic loss, in terms of loss of opportunity, in terms of loss of families and villages, is no less.
Hitchens Watch: Do you have any statistics for the civilian casualties from the US drone strikes in Pakistan?
Khan: Well, I think Pakistan has a figure…they say 35,000 people have been killed. I don’t know what the figures are. I have no idea. That’s another thing that the whole drone killings, they’re shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows who’s being killed. Nobody knows how many are being killed. Everything is under the dark. Pakistan does not want to disclose it because disclosure would deepen discontent, and the United States does not want to disclose it because the US wants to give the impression that they are only killing the so-called terrorists, as if no other person is being killed. So, I think both the United States and Pakistan have their own interests in hiding the true damage by drones, and therefore, we don’t know. But, again, the terror. Don’t forget the terror of drones, and the uncertainty that it causes, and the terror in the hearts of the children. You are destroying the psychology of children in Waziristan. Because remember, if you are under this fear that a drone is going to attack your village, and people are going to be killed, this will influence very negatively hundreds of children who live there. And I think Mr. Hitchens should know that this is a very brutal collateral damage of drones. You don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Hitchens Watch: In your 2006 Counterpunch article, you wrote that President George W. Bush might have incited genocide. More recently, you argued that President Barrack Obama had “morally degenerated.” Would you accuse Obama of potential genocide as well?
Khan: Well, I think if you go by the definition of genocide, then genocide can occur in time of war. Everything can occur in time of peace. So, war is not an excuse to commit genocide. And I think I would argue that Obama has committed genocide in Waziristan, because this is one policy that he actually started, and took credit for it. Even under the Bush regime, some drone attacks were happening, but Obama made it an explicit policy within three days of taking the White House. He met with the generals, and because he came in with this platform that the real enemy is Pakistan, or in Pakistan, and therefore, I would argue that if you strictly go by the definition of genocide, that is the killing of a protected group, or an attempt to kill a protected group, either in part or as a whole, then you are committing genocide. Now, what is the group? The group is an ethnic group called Pashtun, or a religious group called Taliban. And you don’t have to wipe out the whole group in order to commit genocide, only a part of the group. It’s not one person, but I think if you begin to kill 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 of a protected group, and you have the intention to kill them, it’s not an accident or it’s not through negligence, I think Obama has not only continued the Bush genocide policy in Afghanistan, but he has also started a new genocide in Waziristan, if you go by the definition. But unfortunately, I think very few people would conclude that because people still think that war is an excuse, and war is exempt from genocide.
Hitchens Watch: When the war in Afghanistan was nearly one year old, Hitchens had this to say: “I was highly impressed by the evolution of military strategy and tactics since the bombs-away inglorious days of the Vietnam era. Many of the points made by the antiwar movement have been consciously assimilated by the Pentagon and its lawyers and advisers. Precision weaponry is good in itself, but its ability to discriminate is improving and will continue to improve. Cluster bombs are perhaps not good in themselves, but when they are dropped on identifiable concentrations of Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect.” What is your reaction?
Khan: Well, I think this paragraph that you just read to me, it’s written from a certain perspective. I think there is dehumanization in this paragraph. There is celebration of destruction in this paragraph, and there is moral triumphalism in this paragraph. And I think the argument is making it very simple. That when you kill your enemy, you have a moral right to be pleased. And I don’t know if this principle is also available to the groups that are fighting the US. If they kill US soldiers, or the US enemy, would Hitchens give them the same moral excuse, moral basis to celebrate, and to be happy? And for where precision bombs are concerned, I think precision is good. I mean as a logistical matter. I think if you can make precision bombs, obviously they are better than crude bombs, on the theory that crude bombs will be inefficient in killing the enemy, number one, and number two, crude bombs will kill more, and will kill people that you don’t want to kill. So, I think to that extent, precision weapons are definitely an improvement over crude weapons, but the use of those precision weapons, and the effect of those precision weapons, and who is the victim of those precision weapons, that’s very difficult to gauge. You could have precision bombs when you are taking the land from the Native Americans, and you could kill only the people that you wanted to kill in order to grab their land, but the question really was grabbing the land rather than whether you could have the precision bombs or crude bombs. So, what I think Hitchens misses in his analysis, and does not show, at least to people who are neutral, that what legitimacy does the US have to occupy Afghanistan for almost ten years now, a little more, and wage a war on a very extensive level that has directly affected millions of people in that country, and now in Pakistan. Only in retaliation to an attack on the US, where 3,000 people were killed, yes, that was not right, but where is the proportionality, and what error and what was the fault of the people of Afghanistan that they had to be punished so heavily for so many years? I think Hitchens and his company, I don’t think they have answered that question adequately.