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The Politics And Semiotics Of The New World War (Revised Version-II)
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Friday Times
Dated: october 12-18, 2001

The terrorist attacks on the symbols of U.S. financial and military power, and the consequent tragic destruction of human life, may well signify a new kind of world war in the twenty first century. It is different from the earlier two world wars in two ways: (a) it is a conflict not between opposed nation states but between nation states on the one hand and loose groups of individuals driven by rage, on the other. (b) The diplomatic, economic and military dimensions in this war are perhaps more deeply interwoven than in the two world wars of the 20th century. Hence the peculiar phenomenon of directing satellite guided bombs on military targets in Afghanistan at night and dropping precision targeted food supplies on the populace by day. In this article we will briefly examine the emerging geo-strategic situation for Pakistan on the one hand and the semiotics of terrorism on the other.

Four defining features of the new geo-strategic situation can be specified:

1. The government and the people of the United States of America are at war against terrorism worldwide.

2. A global alliance to conduct war against terrorism is likely to emerge under the leadership of the U.S., consisting of not only members of NATO but also a number of key developing countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. the Palestinian Authority and possibly even China.

3. As President Bush has announced, the U.S. government will make no distinction between terrorists and the countries that harbour them and give them support. Therefore the intensity of military, and economic action against such countries is likely to be the same as against the terrorists themselves.

4. The historic U.N. Security Council Resolution of 29th September 2001 obliges all member states to deny financing, support and safe haven to terrorists.

In the context of this strategic environment, Pakistan may be particularly vulnerable since it has a nuclear weapons capability and at the same time the existence of armed militant groups that function within the geographic domain of the state while remaining outside its law. There was a clear danger of devastating economic and military action against us including an attack on our nuclear installations, if Pakistan had not joined the emerging global alliance against terrorism. That is why the decision of the government of Pakistan on 15th September to give "unstinted" and concrete support to the U.S. in the war against terrorism, was both courageous and wise. Courageous because it was taken at the risk of an extremist reaction from the Taliban and their sympathizers within Pakistan. Wise because it was in the highest national interests, and in accordance with Pakistan's obligations under UN Security Council resolutions to support international efforts against terrorism.

U.S. military action against Afghanistan has now begun. It may be useful therefore to examine this action in the broader perspective of the psyche and semiotics of terrorism. The successful conduct of this war will require knowing the enemy. Specifically this will involve an understanding of the psychological nature of rage in order to combat its undoubtedly horrendous forms of political expression.

The psyche of the terrorist is bred by the peculiar politics of nation states in the 20th century, where state policy in international relations was aimed at dealing with the actions of other states rather than with other societies. Social groups that are marginalized from the global system of state power and face violence and economic deprivation in their daily life, breed individuals with a consuming sense of injustice and a hatred against such a system: A hate which they seek to express in an apocalyptic spectacle of violence.

The global system expresses itself through the discourse of welfare, stability and rationality. By contrast, enraged individuals mount their challenge through the discourse of deprivation, chaos and irrationality. Since both discourses confront each other on globalized TV, both are expressed as spectacle. Affluence and power was signified by the spectacular architecture of the World Trading Centre and the Pentagon respectively. It is a tragedy of our time, that the discourse of irrationality was expressed equally spectacularly through the destruction of that architecture: Transmuting the images of order and well-being into images of disorder and desperation.

Terrorism unfortunately will continue to raise its ugly head so long as there are large numbers of people condemned to economic and political oblivion in the interstices of a globalized world of affluence and political power. Therefore destroying a given set of terrorist individuals and organizations cannot eliminate terrorism per se, since a new set of individuals and organizations could emerge from the cauldron of hate and sense of injustice. In the long term terrorism can credibly only be overcome by addressing the root causes in its breeding grounds whether in Palestine, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Kashmir.

Winning the war against terrorism means: (1) Quickly achieving a just solution to the Palestinian and Kashmir disputes. (2) Helping establish a representative, broad based government in Afghanistan. (3) Restructuring the global financial system to overcome poverty and accelerate economic growth in countries that having been marginalized by globalization, are suffering from crippling debt burdens, acute poverty and stagnating economies.

We have discussed the structural changes in the sphere of governance that are necessary for effective use of official foreign assistance. Let us now indicate the economic and political action by the international community that may be required to achieve stability in Pakistan:

While in the short and medium terms the war against terrorism is waged by establishing new military and intelligence structures. In the long term terrorism can be quelled by initiating now, the establishment of financial and diplomatic structures that will ensure economic welfare and social justice for the nations that are currently dispossessed of both.

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