Human beings can get used to anything: pain or pleasure. And in this day and age of globalized media culture fed by saturation coverage and repetitive drudgery our attention span has become even shorter. It is not just interest that dwindles but even our understanding of the ‘big’ events may not be wiser. It is like the magicians’ abracadabra: the more you see the less you understand.
And so it is with ‘the war against terrorism’ that began , if my memory is still serving me well, as a search for the perpetrators of the attacks on Washington and New York on September 11. To the best of my knowledge, the actual culprits died in the attacks along with their victims. Since they had died attention shifted to those suspected (individuals and countries) of instigating, facilitating or inspiring such ‘terrorist’ attacks. Osama bin Laden became the main ‘suspect’ being sought for the atrocities. As a ‘guest’ of the Taliban in Afghanistan it was to be expected that pressures would be brought to bear on them to hand over their guest. Like them or loathe them, the Taliban did have initial ‘reasonable’ demands. Like many they demanded for ‘proof’ especially when those accusing him were also those judging him and most likely be the executors of their own verdict. They had another point, which because of their pariah status, most people did not take continence of. They said bin Laden was their guest and both culturally and spiritually they could not, without incontrovertible evidence, hand over their guest, to his accusers. Who cares for fine details of cultural restraint and sensitivity in the face of the atrocities?
The search for bin Laden slowly became a deadline for the Taliban to hand him over or be crushed and pushed out of power. Now they have been pushed out of power but the Americans and their allies are nowhere near catching the Caveman.
The UN is now desperately trying to install a government of National Unity among the disparate Afghani groups after weeks of dog fights in Germany. The language of nation-building reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s has regained a new currency that would make the dying specie of former colonial officials wallow in nostalgia.
Has the Al-Qaeda network been destroyed or at least cowed? Would the Northern Alliance and their new allies put in charge by external forces be able to do better than before and bring the suffering of their peoples to an end?
Somehow I cannot help drawing parallels with the exit of Mobutu in former Zaire by an essentially regional military alliance in which the Zaireois played second fiddle or were onlookers, in their own liberation. We are living with the tragic consequences of that with no immediate respite in sight. As they rode to power on US military might, the Northern Alliance forces in their fresh-from-factory army uniforms reminded me of Kabila’s so-called troops and their crisp uniforms soon after the capture of Kinshasa became a distinct possibility as one major city or the other began to fall under the onslaught of Rwandese and Ugandan armies in 1997.
As with Kabila the new groupings in Kabul will have to show and be seen to be Afghani government rather than a government beholden to its foreign sponsors. On the other hand the US and her allies will only tolerate a government that does not ask why when it wants it to jump. If it asks any question at all they are prepared for only: how high?
The alliance of convenience that has made Russia, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and all the other ‘stans’ in the region to collude with the US in Afghanistan may soon unravel as their individual regional, economic and other strategic interests are brought to bear on the unwieldy alliance. Like the Congo, Afghanistan has many neighbours and all of them would like to have a say in how the country is governed. A government based disproportionately on regional strategic considerations may not be able to hold the country together. It could be very weak and successively weakened by these interests as is the case with DRC today.
Then there is the added problem of US’s overbearing presence. Can you imagine the US allowing a new ‘broad based’ government in Kabul to have jurisdiction (let alone Sovereign powers) over the course of the continuing war against Osama? For how long would this war continue with US veto especially now that the Hawks in the US establishment seem to be winning the push for escalation of the war beyond Afghanistan? The new Kabul leaders may have the benefit of President Bush remembering their names. In this alone, they will be luckier than his new ‘great ally’ in the region, General Musharaf of Pakistan whose name he could not even recall on life television during his presidential campaign last year. Somehow one cannot shake off the foreboding that it is not yet Uhuru for the ordinary Afghanis in spite of all appearances and promises to the contrary.