The United States, under President Trump, signed a peace deal with the Taliban, bringing an end to America’s as well as Afghanistan’s longest war. The essence of the deal is that the US would end the occupation of Afghanistan in return for the Taliban to provide the guarantee that they wouldn’t allow their land to be used by any foreign terrorist group. What does that accomplish?
If this was a face-saving deal to get out of Afghanistan so as to appear to be squeezing a sweet deal out of the Taliban then I get it. If this was a serious American demand, however, then it defies logic because for terrorist attacks to happen successfully some kind of land anywhere is not necessary. When 9/11 happened, ‘why do they hate us?’ was disingenuous, yet the key question asked. Why the terrorists had access to land in Afghanistan would have been ludicrous to ask. And still is.
Nine-eleven became possible due to ideological and logistical reasons, none of which were facilitated by the land in Afghanistan. Speaking of ideological reasons, Jihad was supported and nurtured by the West to counter the communist strongmen worldwide. The Takfiri Jihadists after emerging triumphant by defeating the Soviet Union became disillusioned with their stinger and cash provider. Lawrence Wright says rightly in his book The Looming Tower that there was a time after the end of Jihad in Afghanistan when Bin Laden had considered living a peaceful life devoid of violent Jihad. He had settled in Sudan where he was presiding over a conglomerate of various businesses.
Enter Saddam Hussein. He invaded Kuwait. The Saudis feared being next. Bin Laden offered his country’s rulers a plan to repel Saddam should he dare bring his military hardware near Saudi Arabia’s borders. Bin Laden sold the idea of using his battle-hardened Mujahideen. The Saudi throne dismissed his idea and invited the Americans instead. Bin Laden was fiercely against bringing the infidel forces to the Holy land of Islam.
After defeating Saddam, the American forces remained in Saudi Arabia, confirming the suspicions of many. Bin Laden and his Jihadist followers felt humiliated. The urge for Jihad against America became strong. Al Qaeda as a terrorist organisation was born during those days, writes Wright.
Furthermore, the support for Israel and the Middle Eastern dictators angered many young Arabs. A society where joblessness and lack of entertainment were the omnipresent realities of life, these young men looked for a cause to adhere to. The American foreign policy presented itself as an attractive target for that anger.
Logistically, 9/11 became possible not because Al Qaeda had made a flawless plan. It was almost amateurish. The CIA actually knew about the terrorist plot long before Sept 11, 2001. Two of the terrorists — Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar — had arrived in Los Angeles in January 2000. The CIA had been tracking them and their co-members from before their arrival into the US, but it kept quiet so as to gather more intelligence. The Alec Station at the CIA jealously guarded the intelligence it had collected and blocked the FBI from accessing it. It kept a firewall preventing the FBI and one John O’ Neil from getting an air of the intelligence they had. Well, the CIA didn’t get to the big fish, but the big wedding did happen.
Realistically speaking, having access to land doesn’t matter. Terrorist attacks against America in future wouldn’t mean the terrorists having access to some land. It would mean a continuation of the aggressive and hegemonic foreign policy. No terrorist attacks wouldn’t mean no access to land for the terrorists but rather a non-aggressive and wise foreign policy. It would also mean a mature intelligence agency behaviour.
Just like terrorists don’t have a nationality, they don’t have to have the land either.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2021.