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Revisiting Westphalia

Since 9/11, terrorism has become a policy lynchpin of a majority of states. The amorphous, non-structure of terrorism has coagulated into a consolidated anthem of the ‘war against terror’ by global states. So far, after the passage of about a decade and a half, the war on terror perpetuates.

The world has witnessed many violent movements, overt and covert or through proxies, with the objective to either topple a sitting regime or leverage policy by drawing support from certain states using different political planks and ideological rhetoric.

The Afghan war of the 1980s proved a watershed wherein almost half of the world hemisphere, comprising a specific ideological bloc, used religious ideology as a proxy to offset a specific political and economic system.

The proxy war was   launched in a limited geographical theatre with a broader ideological underpinning supported materially and diplomatically by the non-believer Western world.

The victory of the proxy war was so complacent that its architect either intentionally or inadvertently did not think it necessary to dismantle its formidable infrastructures, global ideological networks and potent narrative which would later proselytise into a Frankenstein’s monster within a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The element of clandestine was the main characteristic of that war which would exonerate the states of their conduct, but at the same time produce many claimants to the final victory.

For some, the victory was the endgame while for other players it was a beginning to employ the most effective policy tool wrapped in religious ideology for settling regional scores while neglecting its international ramifications. Similarly, the proxies were local but the ideology was global. Before 9/11, terrorism was not considered a threat that could challenge international peace and the orchestrated world order. The aftermath of 9/11 changed the international political environment diametrically. Hitherto used as a policy instrument, no nation-state was arrayed to publicly show support for religiously motivated ideological movements.

The state conveniently retreated into the shadows, allowing the arc light to fall on ‘non-state actors’. An important question emanating from this premise is the position and power of modern states. How could the phenomenon of ‘non-state actors’ assume a grave threat challenging international peace in the face of international commitments by modern states superlatively more powerful than them?

Therefore, something is amiss with the state itself. Currently, every state of the world is using terrorism as a politically motivated constituency tool – either in the name of fighting it or of being its victim.

States change their tactical strategies; but neither did the pre-9/11 policies wavered nor was there a shift in the structure and paradigm that breeds and sustains the monster. Rather than defeating extremism and terrorism, the powerful also used it as an excuse for military intervention.

Direct war between modern states equipped with state-of-the-art war technologies and arsenal could bring enormous destruction to states’ infrastructures and economy. International condemnation, diplomatic isolation, incriminating war conduct and human rights violations, particularly in the case of weaker states, were other deterring elements of conventional war.

It seems a cost-effective international war is being fought at the cost of people with less military and material loss as compared to all-out combat engagement. Its psychological impact is not limited to a specific state or region as citizens of every state increasingly feel insecure due to the unpredictability of the terrorist actions of the so-called ‘non-state actors’.

So far, the citizens of every state are at the receiving end. They constantly surrender their civil rights and liberties to their respective state in the name of fighting terrorism and bear the physical and psychological brunt of the ‘war on terror’.

This war has restricted the international mobility of people as states grow more suspicious not only of citizens of other states but also their own. Increased inter and intra-state scrutiny and surveillance has also undermined the concept of globalisation. The ‘social contract’ theory is crumbling as the state is increasingly manifesting itself through unaccountable force.

However, people of some regions are the worst victims of this undercover war between states using religious ideology        for vested interests in the name of defence or encountering a threat.

Mostly, these so-called non-state terrorists opt for soft targets like places of worship, markets, cultural events, education and health facilities etc to stir unprecedented fear. If the same movement captures a political position in a state, it would not dare to alienate or antagonise public opinion. How many will approve of the Taliban in Afghanistan or Isis in Iraq, Syria and Libya if given a free choice?

It seems the technique of terrorism through non-state actors covers the state from Nuremberg-like consequences as no state has yet been held responsible for the wreckage, destruction and misery it has caused to people inside or beyond its borders. Such acts are usually wrapped in the abstract of collateral damage.

A glaring example is that of the Middle East where the people of Iraq, Syria and Libya are facing the worst form of suffering and misery. In our part of the world, the people of Afghanistan have been suffering for the past four decades.

A look at this side of the Durand Line will reveal how the Pakhtuns have been going through a very tough time for the last decade and a half. They are not only suffering as the main theatre of the war on terror but also face a huge image issue for being portrayed as terrorists and extremists not only outside the country but ironically within their own state as well.      The Pakhtuns are subjected to stereotyping worse than that spun by the colonialists.

It is no longer a secret that non-state actors’ ability to manufacture extremism to produce terrorism is impossible to sustain without state support. Perhaps, the world needs a new Westphalia-like treaty to pacify covertly warring states that are overtly at peace with each other.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

He tweets @MirSwat

Talimand Khan, "Revisiting Westphalia," The News. 2017-03-22.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Soviet union , Political environment , Military intervention , Terrorism , Extremism , Economy , Taliban , Iraq , Syria