The veil of diplomacy used by the US and its allies in recent weeks
aside, the emotive first anniversary of September 11 has had the effect of
acting as a crescendo to a waltz to war with Iraq. The prelude having come
from George W. Bush’s "axis of evil" comments, which saw Iraq
and September 11 uttered in the same breath.
But is there indeed cause to link the two, as the non-Government
parties in Australia have been asking?
As recently as six months ago, CIA director George Tenet announced that
Iraq had links with Al-Qa'ida. "Contacts and linkages," had been
established, he said. But then Tenet went into particulars, which turned
out to be nothing more substantive than the mutual antipathy of Al-Qa'ida
and Iraq towards America, which to him suggested that tactical cooperation
between them was possible.
Occasionally too there is mention of a possible meeting between hijaker,
Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi operative in Prague. Another version has Atta
meeting in person with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. But to date there has
been little hard evidence forthcoming. And given the reality of the
political and historical landscape of the Middle East it is doubtful
whether there will be any.
Because whatever else the secular Iraqi state is guilty of, positive
engagement with the Wahabism of the Taliban and Al-Qa'ida is unlikely.
Particularly given the latter two’s connections to Saudi Arabia, for a
along time an enemy of Iraq’s and a quasi-theocratic one to boot. It is
also important to note that Iraq refused to recognise the Taliban regime.
Significant also is the fact that Iraq under the Ba'athist Party has
always seen itself as the Arab world’s champion of secularism and
modernity. Among other things, the war with Iran in the 1980s was fought
to check the spread of Islamic fundamentalism and Shi’ite militancy.
Far from Iraq supporting the Taliban and Al-Qa'ida, as Bush continues to
imply, it was regional bulwark US allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who
more than any others, can be held responsible for giving the world the
Taliban, and by the protection they afforded, Al-Qa'ida.
From Pakistan came the political will, the intelligence and military
logistics, as well as the schooling so vital in providing the Taliban with
recruits as these were churned out from the madrassahs. From Saudi Arabia
flowed much of Al-Qa'ida’s financial support, a good deal of its
leadership, and the moral ammunition of the Wahabi ideology, so much a
part of the fundamentalism championed by both Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban; a
brand it should be noted, actively rejected by Iraq’s fellow "axis
of evil" partner, Iran.
It was Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, almost alone among the nations of the
world, who gave diplomatic recognition to the Taliban regime in Kabul.
Both Iraq, and particularly Iran, had backed the Taliban’s rivals, the
Northern Alliance, at a time when many in the West, partially in deference
to Pakistan, viewed the Northern Alliance with indifference, suspicion or
Testament to this very real former alignment, is that today the Western
media still refer to those elements that made up the forces aligned
against the Taliban - the United Front - by the misnomer of Northern
Alliance. The term Northern Alliance was coined by Pakistani intelligence
to refer to the then-legitimate, UN recognised, former government of
Afghanistan and its disparate elements. It was a subtle but effective way
of presenting the United Front as geographically cantonised. In effect, it
was part of Pakistan’s public relations campaign to marginalise the
legitimate government of Afghanistan while championing the Taliban. And so
to this day our terminology in the West, by the very usage and ascendancy
of the term, Northern Alliance, reflects this ugly past.
The diametrically opposed ideologies of Wahabi fundamentalism and those
underpinning Hussein’s Baathist Party make for a huge lacunae which
might be more than Bush’s "axis of evil" smokescreen can
obscure, however much he would like, and may well need it to.
Using an arbitrary and ephemeral term like "evil" to describe
the complexity of international relations and history may well serve a
number of domestic imperatives for the American president. It is always
possible that he genuinely believes his own rhetoric. But if he is serious
about settling down to root out the supporting cast responsible for
September 11, he may want to recall that the only axis on which the
Taliban were ever able to rest, the one that gave life and sustenance to
their regime and in turn cover to Al-Qa'ida, ran
not from Baghdad or Tehran, but from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.