What to do about Osama bin Laden

By John Bacher

The top suspect as the mastermind of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks is a tall, languid 44-year-old Saudi exile, Osama bin Laden. He is believed to be shuffling between terrorist training bases in the mountains of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan - secure underground caves and bunkers, surrounded by mines and entrapments.

Bin Laden and his hosts, the Taliban, have been implicated in past acts of spectacular terrorism. The most persuasive evidence of this is the courtroom testimony of their accomplices in the 1997 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Various states associated with terrorism in the past, especially in the oil-financed dictatorships of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Sudan, have cooperated with bin Laden. They assisted bin Laden's successful resistance in 1993 against the United Nations' encouragement of democracy in Somalia.

Dictatorship: The Glue in the Osama bin Laden Network

Since beginning his conflict with America over its strategy in the Gulf War, Osama bin Laden has aided armed insurgencies. His one consistent pattern has been to consolidate dictatorships around the world, extend their influence, and frustrate the emergence of democracy.

Bin Laden won folk hero status in Afghanistan and his native Saudi Arabia for being the most prominent member of his country's ruling elite to forsake luxury for hardship in remote mountains, struggling against the Soviet invasion. A family background in the construction industry nurtured the skills he needed to move money around the world and build strategic roads for such tyrannies as Sudan. What proved critical to his powerful status as an Emir, or coordinator of the varied petro-tyrannies, was his astonishing victory in Somalia against the United States and the United Nations.

The UN's defeat in Somalia hit the American public with gory images of battle but said nothing about who was funding their opponents. The press wrongly assumed the money came from the meager resources of domestic Somali warlords. Actually, the UN's defeat in Somalia was funded by bin Laden, with assistance from Sudan, Iraq, and Iran. Also involved were soldiers from the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Yemeni Islamic Jihad.

After the UN quit Somalia, bin Laden and his jubilant supporters pursued an ambitious strategy to frustrate democratization in Africa. Besides aiding Sudan in its civil war, the network also abetted full-scale armed insurgencies in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda. Much of southern part of the failed state of Somalia came under the control of bin Laden's allies. Bin Laden's supporters have been a disturbing presence in such obscure locations as Fiji, Zanzibar, Chechnya, the new Central Asian states, and the Balkans. The greatest impact of his activities has been in India.

The world's largest democracies, India and the United States, are now firm allies, since they share the same Public Enemy Number One: Osama bin Laden. No party in India supports its former policy of non-alignment. President Bill Clinton received a thunderous ovation in his remarks to the Indian parliament when he expressed his sympathy for the security considerations of a democratic country surrounded by dictatorships.

Apart from spectacular but failed attacks against the American diplomatic posts in India, bin Laden's main actions involve assistance to that country's separatist groups. In Northeast India, these include the United Liberation Front of Assam, a wing of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, and the Tripura insurgency. Here these groups have used land mines to disrupt elections. In 1999, this resulted in 150 deaths.

Osama bin Laden's most tragic impacts have been in Kashmir. That Indian province has been partitioned between India and Pakistan since 1949. However, the conflicts have intensified since bin Laden got involved in 1997. His Kashmir allies, the Ansar, imposed a strict Taliban style dress code, which suddenly banned jeans and jackets. Ansar militants in 1997 shot and wounded three Kashmiri cable television operators for relaying satellite broadcasts.

The Ansar's imposition of puritanical codes on Kashmiri Muslims pales beside the violence they carried out against the state's Sikhs and Hindus. Their emergence greatly intensified the violence in Kashmir, causing, as Human Rights Watch/Asia notes, a "tactical shift" in the separatists' strategy. In 1998, Ansar militants massacred more than 90 Hindu civilians, prompting 300,000 Hindus to flee to refugee camps in Delhi.

Osama bin Laden has exacerbated the severity of the Taliban dictatorship and helped extend its rule in Afghanistan. Based largely on the Pashtun ethnic group in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban faced serious obstacles in the north. Here other ethnic groups such as the Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras, have more liberal interpretations of Islam, and reject such characteristic Taliban abuses as denying women education and hospital care.

The Taliban still wars with a government, headed by President Burhanuddun Rabbani, that has been recognized by the UN and all but three states - Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Its political coalition now calls itself the Northern Alliance. This Afghan government's military commander was killed by a suicide bomber two days before the attack on America.

Osama bin Laden has helped the Taliban in their war with the Northern Alliance and in some of their worst human rights abuses. His brigades took part in the massacre following the last major Taliban victory in the Afghan civil war, the capture of the city of Mazari-i-Sharif, on August 8, 1998, one day before the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Witnesses described a "killing frenzy" where advancing forces shot at "anything that moved."

Funding for Osama bin Laden

Since Osama bin Laden's support has gone mostly to dictatorships that are hostile to the United States, his funding sources from Iraq, Sudan, and Iran, should come as no surprise. However, these funds - although important in his Somalia crusade - are now only small change for bin Laden's operations. American "allies" in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Mafia smugglers in the former Soviet Union provide most of his operational funds.

Although many view Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as American puppets, they are powerful forces in today's world. These dictatorships control most of the world's oil supplies that can be extracted at a low price. They have business investments in NATO countries (giving them influence over the mass media) and in the very oil companies such as Texaco and Exxon that are seen as icons of capitalism.

The 1991 collapse of the Bank and Commerce Credit International (BCCI) reveals the corrupting nature of oil money in the NATO countries. This bank, based in London, was run by Pakistanis and funded by the United Arab Emirates. Some of the fronts it originally established were later used by bin Laden for his terrorist actions.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have their own foreign policy agendas that are hostile to goals of their democratic "allies" in NATO. One goal is the export of a religious creed named after an eighteenth century Sunni Islamic cleric, Wahhabi, who outraged most of the Islamic world by a brief bloody conquest of Mecca, until it was reversed by the Ottoman Empire.

Wahhabinism, which under the Ottomans was a minor Islamic sect, confined to nomads of Arabia, became a major global political force after Saudi Arabia became a major oil exporter in the 1930s. This Islamic sect enforces restrictive dress codes by religious police, as suggested to the Taliban by Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden exports Wahhabinism through the Ansar into Kashmir, in keeping with Saudi foreign policy.

The sinister ties between Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden emerged a month before the capture of Mazari-i-Sharif. At the same time as bin Laden was plotting the destruction of American embassies in Kenya, in July 1998, an arrangement was hammered out between Prince Turki, head of Saudi intelligence, Taliban officials, and representatives of Osama bin Laden.

Under the Turki accords bin Laden agreed to stop his attacks on Saudi Arabian territory. He appears to have kept his word, since there have been no incidents there comparable to the November 1995 bombing of an American military installation in Riyadh, which killed six and wounded 60. American officials were not permitted to interview those whom Saudi Arabia arrested for this crime. The terrorists were beheaded without divulging their secrets.

Turki also kept his promises to the Taliban and bin Laden, providing oil and money to both Pakistan and the Taliban. Large sums were transferred from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to the Ukraine to pay for weapons crucial to the Taliban's victory.

The diplomatic recognition of the Taliban by Pakistan, the United Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, show the four dictatorships acting as a cohesive bloc, hostile not only to the NATO countries, but also to Russia and China, which are attacked by terrorists trained in bin Laden's camps. This alliance of dictatorships controls most of the world's cheap oil and has operational nuclear weapons. When Pakistan went forward with its nuclear tests, it was rescued from financial collapse by the United Arab Emirates.

Much of the funding of Osama bin Laden comes from this Taliban-recognition bloc. Yossef Bodansky, director of the US Congress's Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, authored a remarkable book, Bin Laden, The Man Who Made War On America. He estimates that $400 million a year comes to bin Laden from Wahabbi organizations in the Persian Gulf. This rest comes from a 15 per cent cut on opium smuggled into former Soviet states. This would give Osama bin Laden a working budget of $1.4 billion a year.

Bodanksy also points out bin Laden's backing in the capitalist institutions that his rhetoric attacks. "The entire financial system organized by bin Laden seems to be functioning quite effectively and efficiently. The most important proof is that virtually no terrorist money has been seized throughout the west."

To Stop Osama bin Laden Cut Off His Funds

Now most of Osama bin Laden's funds are vulnerable to American pressure. Unlike Iran, Syria, and Iraq, which cannot deal with the Taliban without outraging their Russian and Chinese allies, which supply weapons to these anti-US governments, his important funders are vulnerable to US economic influence. It is not necessary, as conservative Republican Party strategists in the US are suggesting, to invade and occupy Syria, Iraq, and Iran to end bin Laden's terrorism.

At first the aid to bin Laden from the successor states to the Soviet Union may seem as inexplicable. It is understandable, however, in terms of corruption. Despite the policies publicly articulated by those states, including Russsia, billions of dollars in bribes are spent to facilitate opium smuggling, which has a terrible impact on public health.

Any assistance to bin Laden from such sources would be repugnant to Russian citizens - who do have some influence in this emerging semidemocracy. Smuggling that benefits extremists makes matters worse for both the Russian government and their moderate Chechen opposition, with which it is expected to make peace before the next presidential elections.

Russia's lax attitude towards drug smuggling can be countered by a variety of complementary policies. Assistance can be offered to establish effective border controls. The problem can be exposed by the broadcasting services of Radio Free Europe and the liberal critics of corruption such as the Yabloko Party.

Information and economic pressure can be applied to all American allies who facilitate terrorism. It should be made clear that if the money tap is not shut down, eventually trade and other economic sanctions will follow, such as bans on investments in the region's oil industry.

Military guarantees can be stopped, and a new policy can show that the democratic world would prefer gas rationing over a continuing threat of terrorism that is paid by the purchase of Persian Gulf oil.

The dictatorships that fund terror must no longer be able to curry favor with one democracy against the rest. At the very least, Canada and the NATO countries should impose the same restrictions on their oil industries in Libya, Iran, Syria and Sudan as those now displayed by the United States. This would mean requiring Talisman Energy to divest itself from Sudan, ending the disgraceful situation where the United States, now the world's leading victim of mass terrorism, expelled its own energy corporations from Sudan, only to have them replaced by those of Canada.

How War Can Exacerbate the Threat of bin Laden

There are many ways in which war against bin Laden could prove counterproductive. One unfortunate backfire certainly already occurred when the Clinton Administration used limited cruise missile attacks in response to the 1997 African embassy bombings. Various authoritarians hostile to the United States and democracy, including non-Islamic, atheistic Communist movements such as the deposed former rulers of Ethiopia, exploited this blunder to mobilize and unify bin Laden's allies.

Military attacks on bin Laden's bases could cause him to move to other areas of the world where his armed forces already have established a presence, such as Somalia, Fiji, and among the Moro people of the Philippines. He could also move to a dictatorship overtly hostile to the United States, such as Iraq, where he could be dislodged only by the removal of the regime itself. In the case of Iraq this might trigger the use of weapons of mass destruction by tyrants expecting to be executed by a successor government.

How Osama bin Laden Can Be Defeated Through Democratic Peace, Not War

Besides cutting off bin Laden's funds, it is necessary to promote the principles of a democratic peace to reduce the appeal of his movement. Although he and his repressive allies care little about the people who frequently are the true victims of his enemies, their legitimate grievances should be addressed in every region of the world where Osama bin Laden seeks to exploit popular grievances. The solutions must be based on democratic principles.

For example, the Islamic minorities in Macedonia have legitimate grievances that already are being addressed through the democratic process. The mediation efforts of the European Union, NATO, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are working to protect the rights of the predominately Islamic, Albanian minority by establishing cultural pluralism through constitutional reform.

The democratic protection of Islamic rights is more difficult in India and Palestine. Here however, the democratic principles are clear and workable. In India, Kashmir has been at peace when its state government has been able to apply the rule of law equitably and provide basic health and social service. Likewise in Israel-Palestine, the basic framework of the Oslo accords - now jeopardized by violence on both sides - provide principles by which Israelis and Palestinians could live peacefully together as two democratic states with open borders.

In Afghanistan, the principles of democracy are also crucial to a resolution of the country's chronic civil war. The end to aid to the Taliban would encourage it to seek a compromise peace. The respected Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid points out in his excellent book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, that peace could begin with a truce and the creation of a federal, democratic system of government.

The Need to Assist Victims of bin Laden's Terror as Part of A Peace Offensive

The American victims of bin Laden's terror join a growing list of those who have suffered from his scheme to build up a federation of oil financed dictatorships. Such victims can be found not just in Washington and New York but also in such diverse groups as Somali refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia; those displaced by Sudan's Talisman-linked civil war; the 1.2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan; and the internal Kashmiri Sikh and Hindu refugees of India. Among these people can be found the most determined foes of the bin Laden terror network.

The need to help bin Laden's victims is not understood by many American allies. A few weeks before the September 11 events, ignorance was displayed by the conservative government of Australia, which had to be pressured by other nations just to process for emigration to other countries some refugees of the Taliban.

One tactic of the Taliban to extend its repressive rule has been famine and starvation. An elemental way to have Osama bin Laden expelled from the country is to make sure that his foes can eat. This can include such high profile efforts as air drops of food to zones resisting the Taliban.

A concerted effort could enable refugees to flee Taliban-occupied Afghanistan and help them once they escape. The indifference to those suffering from their rule echoes the plight of the Jewish victims of Nazis, who were ignored on the eve of World War II.

After the catastrophes in Washington and New York, much attention is focused on the need for better human intelligence to gather information on terrorism. The best source of such data can be found in the victims of this blight around the world, who frequently live in bleak conditions of poverty and despair.

John Bacher is a Toronto activist and the author of Petrotyranny.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2001

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2001, page 8. Some rights reserved.

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