US Information Operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan

REUTERS/ Mian Khursheed

By Arshad Sharif

April, 2021: Just three weeks before 9/11 attacks on twin towers in the US, Taliban government held a military parade in Kabul on August 19, 2001 to commemorate anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence from Britain.

As Taliban soldiers marched and helicopters flew over the parade ground, a rare photograph of the event showed a banner in the parade venue with words, “Afghanistan is the graveyard of invaders and colonialists.”

The region which now comprises Afghanistan and Pakistan has been at the crossroads of history since times immemorial as invaders and colonialists tried to make the area part of their empire. 

REUTERS/ Mian Khursheed

The recorded history shows that Aryans came into the area which now comprises Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1750 BC to settle in Indus Valley. From the times of Alexander the Great in 324 BC to the most recent US expedition in the region since 2001, every invader of the region tried to establish a new master-slave relationship through various instruments of power. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan are still slaves of the new masters of the global powers. Can the slaves overthrow the masters?

Looking through the prism of history at the power relations between nation states and civilizations and especially after US intervention in Afghanistan post 9/11, it can be argued that 9/11 changed little as far as the traditional relationships between what are ironically called as the “East” and the “West”. Before analyzing the relationship between the “East” and the “West”, it is essential to analyze what the terms representing the geographical axis of reference mean. Do the terms derive from similar antonym of divisions like Civilized World vs Uncivilized World? Developed World vs Undeveloped World? Modern World vs Traditional World? Christian World vs Islamic World? Capitalistic World vs Communist World? North vs South? Perhaps all these divisions and even more. The ‘war of the worlds’ as portrayed in the various narratives of nations and civilizations breaks down to such simplifications to defy the commonalities of people across the borders. 

After 9/11, the power dynamics of information operations played on the divisions of ‘Us versus Them’ by highlighting the distinctions of ‘each world,’ divided by borders and identified by beliefs and ideologies which attempt to defend their particular brand of values as ‘our way of life.’ This despite the fact that the ‘ways of life’ are similar in relation to sublime human feelings, emotions, thoughts and ideologies with only the differential power equations of the states driving a gulf of differences between ‘we the people.’ This is achieved through subtle and not so subtle play of propaganda, a value neutral term, which is good if in ‘our hands[1]’ and bad if used by the ‘others.’ Yet, as Professor Taylor describes in his book, ‘War and The Media’[2] ‘notions that propaganda is somehow a sinister or evil activity designed to subvert human reason and exploit irrational motion unfortunately remain firmly entrenched in popular consciousness and greatly hinder our understanding of it as a particular form of the processes of persuasion.’[3]

Explaining the replacement of Islam as the new threat after Communism, an interview carried in the Financial Times said, ‘The view is gaining ground here that the world of the radical Muslims, their vision of a way of life, is as much a threat to the west as was Soviet communism. Islamo-fascism or Islamo-communism is a threat most of all to the people who live under it: We (the US) can lift that oppression.’ The article summarized the interviews with influential person shaping policy in the US administration with the conclusion that the ideas and assumptions behind anti-communism are being revived to fight another ideology. ‘Just as many believe communism was the biggest threat to western democracy in the late half of the 20th century, so many see radical Islam as the gravest threat today. The concept of an existential struggle between good and evil has been revived, in many cases by people who were near the front line of the anti-communist battle of the cold war.’[4]   

In terms of news coverage, McLaughlin’s analysis that War on Terror was no more than the resurrection of Cold War rhetoric fits the case: ‘If you are not for us you are against us…The concept of bipolarity has come to haunt us: East versus West, Them and Us, the clash of civilizations, War of the worlds.’[5]

And in the context of analysis of McLaughlin, if one looks at the sample of statements emanating from White House and 10 Downing Street, rhetoric used officially had the predominant themes with more and more emphasis that ‘this is not a war against Islam’ nor ‘a clash of civilizations’; US encouragement of a peaceful solution to the Palestine ‘problem’ More and more emphasis on the US as ‘a force for good in the world.’ The United States remains mired in history, exercising power in an anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.’[6]

No matter by what name the system of governance is called in a particular state, whether democracy or dictatorship, the meeting point of the statecraft is the dominance of the multitude by a few powerful ones. This is even more easily discernable in inter-state struggles for dominance based on various combinations of military and economic strength. Much similar to the animal kingdom where the deadly skills determine the hierarchy and rank. The story of war and domination between nations, in contemporary times, as throughout history, breaks down to such simplifications. We may call it Neo-Imperialism or Neo-Fascism today. Or in terms of inter-state struggles for dominance and control, plainly as killing of human beings either through economic blockades, sanctions or bombs – the prowess of the powerful states to protect the interests of the pack. In this analogy, the pack being the nation and its citizens in the powerful state whose interests are protected at the cost of the weaker states and the interests of its inhabitants. However, since man is a social animal, such crass descriptions do not make sense in the ‘civilised’ world where thoughts and its expressions have to follow certain pre-qualified criteria to be accepted. This is especially so in academic work and media, as Edward Said points out while discussing the inter-play of power and knowledge and its propagation through established institutions of control.[7]  

The conquered people, ‘those liberated by the US,’ are condemned to live silently in the nostalgia of systems portrayed as bad but which somehow seemed more idealised in retrospect of the ‘wars of liberation.’ Commenting on this theme and ‘Goodbye Lenin,’ an article in The Times observed recently: 

‘The point of the film and the surrounding Ostalgic fuss (my italics) is that communism produced an imperfect world, full of defeat, yet it was not evil or run by monsters. It was intimately bound up with the biographies of people who believed in something better.’[8]  

It is not surprising that Chomsky, citing the example of robbing of the February 1990 elections in Nicaragua by US power plays, notes that it provides ‘quite dramatic evidence that in the dominant political culture, the concept of democracy is disappearing even as an abstract ideal.’[9] Chomsky’s views on robbing of democratic ideals and silencing of opposing views would not hold force unless examined critically. In a lecture delivered on ‘The New World Order’ during 1991, Chomsky observed that the U.S and its lieutenant, the UK, want to show that ‘force is the way you rule the world.’[10]The use of force to rule the world as part of the US policy is not a development that suddenly took place after the end of the Cold War. The number of unprovoked military strikes, which the U.S has made against other countries from Panama to Iran since 1947-48, is more than 250. This, according to Gore Vidal, does not take into account covert CIA activities in places like Chile.[11]  All these interventions, far away from the US land, were to protect the interests of the US state. Yet, Chomsky notes ironically that the US interventionist policies go unchallenged in media discourse and even journalists, who privately feel revulsion, do not say so because the idea ‘would be unintelligible, on par with “the U.S is a leading terrorist state,” or “Washington is blocking the peace process,” or “maybe we should tell the truth about Cambodia and Timor,” or other departures from dogma… We see here the ultimate achievement of thought control, well beyond what Orwell imagined. Large parts of the language are simply determined to be devoid of meaning. It all makes good sense: In a Free Society, all must goose-step on command, or keep silent. Anything else is too dangerous.’[12]

Examining the paradox about submission to authority and the hoax perpetrated by the media and the intellectual community, Chomsky examines how the state capitalist democracy has a certain tension with regard to the locus of power. ‘In principle, the people rule, but effective power resides largely in private hands, with large-scale effects throughout the social order. One way to reduce the tension is to remove the public from the scene, except in form.’[13] What form of government it gives rise to?

As one starts examining the nature of US imperialism as expounded by Chomsky, one is stuck by surprise that all the common characteristics of the fascist state as identified by Dr Brit, fit the US government. Dr Britt found the common characteristics of the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile). He found the regimes all had 14 things in common, and he calls these the identifying characteristics of fascism. These are: 1) Powerful and Continuing Nationalism. 2). Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights. 3). Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause. 4). Supremacy of the Military. 5). Rampant Sexism. 6). Controlled Mass Media. 7). Obsession with National Security. 8). Religion and Government are Intertwined. 9). Corporate Power is Protected. 10). Labour Power is Suppressed. 11). Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts. 12). Obsession with Crime and Punishment. 13). Rampant Cronyism and Corruption.14). Fraudulent Elections.[14]

Like fascist regimes, the post September 11 US state convinced its citizens that human rights could be ignored to meet the ends of the ‘War Against Terrorism.’ Bagram, Abu Gharaib, Guantanamo Bay and disregard for international human rights conventions stand out as typical examples in which the US ‘fascist’ state ignored the long incarceration of prisoners. Al-Qaeda was identified as a unifying cause to whip up the public frenzy over the need to eliminate the threat and to build alliances for the ‘War against Terror.’ This fits in perfectly with Dr Brits’ identifying characteristics of fascist states in which the ‘people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.’[15] As one examines the list of the characteristics in relation to the US, all 14 characteristics of fascist states are found to a certain degree in the contemporary US. The US satellite states like Pakistan and Afghanistan in addition to other allies followed similar practices. However, it must be said that even while reading Chomsky, one invariably finds all these characteristics of fascism, in relation to the functioning of the US state, appearing at different places in his texts. The use of interchangeable ‘isms’ like totalitarianism, imperialism, fascism, Leninism leads one to question what kind of a state the US actually is? Maybe it is all of these and something else? Chomsky attempts to provide an answer to this when he says, ‘This is not surprising, since the doctrines are similar at their root. The critical difference lies in the assessment of the prospects for power: through exploitation of mass popular struggle or service to the current masters.’[16] Yet, I still do not know what to call the US. A Fascist State? An Imperial State? A Theocratic Fascist American State?

Perhaps, Negri and Hardt (2000) provide an explanation as to why the various ‘isms’ are becoming interchangeable in the context of the US at a time when a new phenomenon is taking place, the birth of an Empire, an empire without limitations of territorial boundaries.[17] ‘This evolving empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating networks of command. The distinct national colours of the imperialist map of the world have merged and blended in the imperial global rainbow.’[18]  The journey of the ‘human civilisation’ from various ‘isms’ to an ‘empire’ conforms to the laws of nature. In writing about the New Barbarians, Negri and Hardt (2000) opine that ‘there are no fixed boundaries between the human and the animal, the human and the machine, the male and the female, and so forth: it is the recognition that nature itself is an artificial terrain open to ever new mutations, mixtures, and hybridizations.’[19] In this context, the US policies may appear to be pragmatic, practical, common sense, based on the principles of exercising power effectively. To mediate these practicalities however, the system of thought control to shape the public opinion is employed with its sophistications. The basis of it is another recognized fact that the media are in fact not very independent from the capital and the states.[20]

Providing an account of how the debate is shaped by the ‘Lobbygate’ Greg Palast (2003) says the statement of principles of Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn (LLM), a lobbying firm, is a chilling mix of Peter Mendelson and Nietzsche. ‘A chart on page three of their booklet displays two columns labelled in bold face, “The Passing World” and “The Emerging World.” To the Passing World belong “ideology,” “conviction” and “politicians who lead.” These will be replaced in the “Emerging World” by “pragmatism,” “consumption” and “politicians who listen.”[21] The parameters and ideas of debate are thus set for the new world. But how these ideas are mediated in the ‘emerging world?’ Are they different in the Empire from the colonial practices of the 20th century or the same?

Much on the same lines as the propaganda in the War Against Terrorism is being waged, World War I was made to appear as one of defence against a menacing aggressor. ‘The Kaiser was painted as a beast in human form. (In a single report on September 22, 1914, the Daily Mail succeeded in referring to him as a “lunatic,” a “barbarian,” a madman,” a “monster,” a modern Judas,” and a (“criminal monarch”). The Germans were portrayed as only slightly better than the hordes of Genghis Khan, rapers of nuns, mutilators of children, and destroyers of civilisation. Once the commitment to war had been made, an overwhelming majority of the nation’s political and intellectual leaders joined this propaganda campaign.’[22] The portrayal of Taliban in Afghanistan, Osama bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein followed the same pattern in the War Against Terror. The media, on cue from the official ‘persuasion’ agencies, painted Saddam Hussein as Hitler, a deranged psychopath and Osama bin Laden as maniac and ‘Monsters Inc.’  

The achievements of propaganda in the War Against Terror and its similarities with earlier wars continue. Much similar to the British model for propaganda, the Germans devised their own agency to report any army operations for consumption abroad. The German propaganda activities ‘came under the Kriegpresseamt, the war press office, which in turn was under the direct control of the general staff. This office prepared and distributed periodicals, sponsored the production of pamphlets and books, co-ordinated censorship, and expanded the network of OKBs, the officer correspondents, who provided flesh for the basic military communiqués.’[23] The French had a similar system. ‘Each army had attached to it an officer informateur, whose job was to collect all the dramatic episodes after a battle and then write a suitable discreet story for the government to send all over the world.’[24] The concept of embedded reporter and the methodology of pool reporting had much similar controls and effects during the Gulf War II. During the Gulf War II, the British defence secretary went on record to claim that the government was successful in selling the war to the people. According to a report, the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, claimed a PR victory over the war in Iraq, saying the practice of “embedding” journalists with troops has helped turn around public opinion. ‘Mr Hoon said TV images from journalists accompanying the British troops were “at least partially responsible” for the swing in public opinion in favour of the war.’[25]  

In the US, during World War I, a new home-grown propaganda campaign was devised to inspire the nation to fight. ‘To this end, President Wilson set-up, on April 14, a Committee on Public Information, under the chairmanship of a journalist, George Creel, which was financed to the extent of $5million from a $100million fund granted to the President for the general defence of the country. Its aims were helped by Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times and the Daily Mail and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Department of Information, who headed a mission to America and established the British Bureau of Information in New York. This mission, at its strongest, had 500 officials with 10,000 assistants working in the United States.’[26] By the mid 1990s, the United States Information Agency’s budget had multiplied to one billion dollars.[27] According to Nancy Snow, as of 1995, The United States had more public relations professionals (150,000) than reporters (130,000). Academics like Mark Dowie estimated that about 40 per cent of what we consider “news” was generated directly by public relations offices.[28]

Initially, during World War I, the British headquarters of the propaganda bureau were financed from secret service funds and had an American section, headed by the popular novelist, Sir Gilbert Parker. ‘Parker spent the early months of the war analysing the American press and deciding on ways of influencing it. He then compiled a mailing list of Americans likely to be able to sway public opinion, and he used this as a basis for propaganda campaign.’[29] This legacy continues even today as the press offices of the US government send emails to journalists and people who can influence foreign policy agenda in different countries.

During World War I, through his secret American Press Review, Sir Gilbert Parker was regularly able to report to the cabinet on his success, as witness the issue of October 11, 1916: ‘This week supplies satisfactory evidence of the permeation of the American press by British influence.’[30] To this day, press clippings are compiled and electronic news media analysed in all the countries primarily by the information ministry or press offices of the various government departments to judge the effectiveness of the dissemination of government message. 

Professor Taylor’s observation that ‘when the Office of Strategic Influence was announced, the dangers of conducting overt propaganda with black propaganda and deception from under the same roof once again revealed how much had been forgotten,’ point to the public discomfort over the association of ‘propaganda’ as a negative term whereas the OSI continued to exist under different names to carry out the policy objectives of selling America’s point of view to the world. The extent of ‘persuasion’ through overt and covert propaganda as practiced through various arms of the state in the US reached a point whereby ‘several officers from the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group at Ft. Bragg worked in the news division at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters during 2000.’[31]

Professor Taylor’s suggestion that ‘a modern equivalent of the World War Two Office of War Information will be required at some time in the future’[32] for meeting the perception management challenge overseas was already well under way during the War Against Terror. Apart from the Coalition Information Centres for regular overt briefings in Islamabad and Baghdad, the US aims and objectives were projected through electronic means in the form of Radio broadcasts on special frequencies in Afghanistan using the local language, and in the form of radio and TV broadcasts for Iraqi people through outlets run by the coalition forces. With the aid of the new media technologies, the persuasion element of propaganda has gained a new element as the governments increasingly use the World Wide Web to disseminate their version of truth to ‘persuade’ the people to their point of view. This is in addition to planting of disinformation, or what Professor Taylor calls ‘black propaganda’ through dummy websites in the cyber warfare waged in the public domain without the knowledge of those accessing such web-pages. Merger of the USIA, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and some aspects of the Agency for International Development with the US State Department in 1999[33] as diverse ‘public information’ offices and ‘public diplomacy’ tools thus seemed to be in line with the need for one central World War II style Office of War Information. Professor Taylor’s article, while analyzing the problem of perception management in the ‘War’ Against Terrorism, also summarizes its problems. War against terror is against a faceless enemy without borders. ‘The terrorist network utilizes propaganda as one of its key weapons in its asymmetric struggle against western liberal capitalism in general and the United States and its allies in particular.’[34]

One may question as to who is the enemy using terrorism against western liberal capitalistic democracies? Is it the forces of communism believing in the ‘defeated’ ideology yet adopting a new style of war? Is it Al-Qaeda, now considered synonymous with War against Islam in some Muslim minds? Or are these state actors waging a proxy war against the US and its allies, too afraid of military retribution that cannot be combated in a direct military confrontation? Is it possible that the US government was wrong and jumped quickly to give face to a faceless enemy to satisfy the revengeful public blood lust? After all, for years the CIA had thought Syria was responsible for the bombing of Pan AM Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. It had taken close to a decade to establish that it was Libya.[35] Or was it the Bush administration itself faking the attack to launch ‘propaganda offensive by deed’ to justify an unlimited war without borders and territories to meet the aims of the Empire? Some theories go on to suggest that ‘only a missile of the United States armed forces transmitting a friendly code could enter the Pentagon’s airspace without provoking a counter-missile barrage. This attack could only be committed by US military personnel against other US military personnel.’[36] Was it in the category of propaganda by deed whereby the world had to be convinced that a real terrorist threat exists to make an effective public case despite non-availability of convincing incriminating evidence that bin-Laden indeed was the guilty party? It is interesting to note that President Bush sanctioned the use of ‘disinformation’ in the ‘War on Terror.’[37] The US government at the highest level took the decision that ‘a public case’ had to be made that bin Ladin was the guilty one.[38] This was done in the initial hours, when the evidence was still being compiled.

Professor Taylor’s observation that ‘at the street level from Palestine to Pakistan, the heady mixture of rumor, gossip, selected facts, religious interpretation and disinformation reinforces perceptions of the west through hostile filters generated from an early age in schools, most notably the Maddrassahs’[39] is challengeable on one account. In a study carried out by the International Crisis Group and supported by investigative stories in the Wall Street Journal, it emerged that the curriculum taught in the Madressahs (religious schools) had the label of Made in USA. To understand the dynamics of ‘Jihad’ in the context of Afghanistan where the first phase of the War Against terror took place, it is worth quoting from the study at length:  

 ‘The message of jihad was originally targeted against communism. The purpose was to ensure a continued supply of recruits for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union. Madrasas and makeshift schools in refugee camps were a prime target of this propaganda war. Teams of preachers would turn up at madrasas soliciting support. The message was simple: all Muslims must perform the duty of holy war in whatever capacity they could. International patrons supplied arms and religious literature that flooded Pakistani madrasas. Special textbooks were published in Dari and Pashtu, designed by the Centre for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha under a USAID grant in the early 1980s. Written by American Afghanistan experts and anti-Soviet Afghan educators, they aimed at promoting jihadi values and militant training among Afghans. USAID paid the University of Nebraska U.S.$51 million from 1984 to 1994 to develop and design these textbooks, which were mostly printed in Pakistan. Over 13 million were distributed at Afghan refugee camps and Pakistani madrasas “where students learnt basic math by counting dead Russians and Kalashnikov rifles.’[40]

When people were not ready to believe the ‘veracity of the bin Ladin tape found in Kandahar in which the terrorist discussed details of the attacks’ it was based on the knowledge that the Osama was once an ally of the US and a CIA stooge. The reversal of propaganda from Osama as a friend and a holy warrior to a terrorist by the US ‘omitted the background facts which help to explain how early and close were his connections in the United States – making it easier for the Reagan-Casey jihad team to enlist his talents and his fortunes for the jihad.’[41] The propaganda against bin Ladin as the face for the first phase of war against terrorism failed to answer the questions for the sceptical quarters in the Muslim countries and rest of the world with credibility. 

Moreover, propaganda has its limits and reality, at some point, always intrudes. ‘People in many Southeast Asian countries are discovering that the bitter truths about the much touted capitalism and its far flung network of control, cannot indefinitely be made acceptable by propaganda. Despite the powerful transmitters at the disposal of capital, the harsh features of a market organized society and its inherent connection to inequality sooner or later will be recognized and resisted.’[42]

By erecting the bogey of incompatible terms like ‘war’ and terrorism’, the US and its allies marched into a explosive minefield whereby their actions seem to have become hostage to the whims of ‘terrorists’ who decide where to bleed the ‘enemy’ and when. Since it is virtually impossible to stage economic or military war with the world’s sole super-power, terrorism as a weapon of war is being employed by a faceless enemy, which could very well be state actors waging a proxy war following the earlier US military doctrine as practiced in Afghanistan to fight the Russians.

Since it is virtually impossible to fight a conventional war with the world’s big powers, asymmetric warfare is being employed by a faceless enemy, which could very well be state actors waging a proxy war following the earlier US military doctrine as practiced in Afghanistan to fight the Russians. What is defined as terrorism by some and a fight for freedom by others, is just one weapon of the slaves in the war against the masters. 

As French sociologist Jean Baudrillard suggested while re-animating the ‘Master-Slave’ dialect of Hegel, ‘terrorism was now victorious.’ The Master, he said, was always that which ‘gave life’ to the Slave, ‘he who has no right to his own death’. The suicide bomber, however, reclaims their own death, and thus unseats or deposes the ‘Master’. 

Baudrillard’s assertion of master-slave relationship in terms of use of terrorism as a strategy of war assumes significance in the military doctrines of some countries. The use of asymmetric warfare, involving the use of terrorism against the US was advocated in ‘Unrestricted War,’ the book by two senior colonels of China’s People’s Liberation Army/Air Force (PLAAF), Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. The book mentions the use of terrorism as a strategy of war. ‘Following Unrestricted War, Chinese strategic thinkers are establishing a new framework. Claiming that future wars will be without limits is another way of saying that a militarily weak and economically underdeveloped nation (China) should go to any extreme, violate any rules and break any traditional precepts of war to be victorious over a technologically superior and militarily powerful country (the USA).’[43] The all-encompassing aspects of unrestricted war underscore the fact that a militarily stronger side will not win simply because it enjoys technological superiority over its weaker opponent.[44] The Chinese military strategic planning in the era of globalization emphasizes “asymmetric warfare”—for instance, guerrilla war (mostly urban), terrorist actions, and cyber-attacks against data networks. The idea is to strike in unexpected ways against vulnerable targets.[45] The ideas of information warfare, information operations, cyber operations were found to be part of the Chinese authors of military writings. Analysis of some 600 internal Chinese writings of 200 military authors reveals how the PRC plans to defeat a superior foe [the US] by using both military and non-military means, such aspropaganda, deception, electronic and cyber-warfare and covert actions.[46] When Professor Taylor writes that the ‘military advisors to President George Bush share many of the concerns about who the real enemies of the new international system are,’[47] he is in a way pointing out the play of international power politics and conflicts among nations, besides the non-state actors trying to combat the hyper power reality of the US.

In this context, it is worthwhile to examine if the ideas of the cold war information warfare, information operations, psychological warfare etc would work in the war against terrorism which many in the Muslim world feel is a war against Islam and their value systems? Are the ‘value systems’ of the ‘western democracies’ acceptable and the only viable solution to a successful life in those parts of the world with a different ideological belief system? Does not the framing of the issue in terms of promoting one set of value systems over another in itself sow the seeds of a perpetual state of conflict? Can the ‘value systems’ of the ‘western societies’ then be promoted in such a situation that is erroneously said to be analogous to the ‘Cold War’ situation? No doubt, the media adopted the rhetoric of the Cold War and if one were closely following the debate emerging from the other side of the spectrum, one would know that a similar construction of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ and protection and promotion of Islamic ideology was simultaneously taking place in debates in the Muslim world. In fact, a letter supposedly written by bin Ladin to American people, precisely talks about the ‘protection of values’, albeit in the Islamic context and their promotion as understood by Al-Qaeda. The supposed letter from Al-Qaeda attacks all aspects of American society and values showing the real extent of the gap between the West and the Islamic world.[48] The resultant conflict to protect ‘our way of life on both sides of the divide is resulting in pulls and pressures which is fostering the use of power and its resultant aftermaths in the form of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

It is argued that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, US plans and strategies for the expansion and consolidation of the American empire required a new threat and a new pretext, to provide humanitarian legitimacy to those plans and strategies.[49] The clash of civilizations thesis provided a stunningly convenient ideological framework in which to situate the new threat of Osama bin ladin and Al-Qaeda.[50] Critics of the US administration believe the international terrorist threat, following on from the 11 September terrorist attacks, was being used to justify the US drive to rule the world, implementing plans and strategies that were formulated quite independently( i.e long before those attacks). Under the guise of fighting international terrorism on a crusade for justice, the US led ‘War on Terror’ in reality continues a far more familiar tradition of Western crusading for the expansion of power and profit. International terrorism thus plays a functional role in world order under US hegemony. President Bush needed terrorist Osama. Without bin Ladin, Bush would have no permanent worldwide target, and thus no legitimacy for the ‘Pax Americana.’ Other bogeymen such as Saddam Hussein – who were alleged (without evidence) to be linked to Al-Qaeda – played a similar role in the strategic and highly lucrative Persian Gulf region, which appeared to be one of the first stepping stones by which the US administration intended to consolidate its empire building strategy in the Middle-East and beyond.[51] It is not surprising then that immediately after September 11 terrorist attacks the Bush administration exploited the resultant climate of fear and hostility to pave the way for the long planned war on Iraq. The Project for The New American Century, which in January 1998 had written to President Clinton as follows: ‘We urge you to …enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the US and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.’[52]       

Mossadeq believes the US interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other countries after 9/11 were nothing less than a brazen colonial enterprise, fundamentally opposed to elementary humanitarian principles, and motivated by longstanding imperial values. ‘Neither the flagrant lies of American and British political leaders nor the web of distortions, woven by a largely subservient media, can ultimately gloss over the horrifying reality of what has been wrought in a country that was once the cradle of civilisation.’[53]

CONCLUSION:  The saga of ‘liberation’ has been followed in the so called “East” or the “Orient” by the British Empire in the 20th century and by the US Empire in the 21st century. One of Britain’s most senior military intelligence chiefs, Air Marshal Sir John Walker, who served as deputy chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee – the body that drew up the September 2002 dossier on Iraq – shed light on the virtual reasons for war when he suggested that the UK government’s claims about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction were ‘not the reason to go to war, but the excuse.’[54]When Demitris Perridcos, the Chief UN Weapons Inspector who replaced Hans Blix in Iraq, said that the government’s (UK) Iraq ‘dossier did not correspond to reality,’[55] one is bound to question if anyone knew what the reality actually was? To the US and its coalition partners, the characteristics of the virtual war, as defined by Michael Ignatieff were a reality. This virtual war is a war fought under the expectation of zero casualty, minimum collateral damage, massive infliction of punishment, as well as with moral impunity and drastically reduced risks and exposure for combatants.[56] In this background, War Against Terror since 9/11 was no different than other wars of the nineteenth century. ‘Most significantly, we discover that little has really changed since the British and Europeans began to carve-up the Arab world in the early 1990s. An in-depth and impartial analysis of the documentary record demonstrates that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair faithfully followed in the footsteps of their governmental predecessors both in their methods, however brutal those may be.’[57]

If Bush and Blair had been following in the footsteps of their followers, then it brings us to the question of march of history in which men are led by the events shaped by the power structures. But what is power? Is it Totalitarianism? Imperialism? Neo-Imperialism? Fascism? A system which gives the leaders the right to represent the will of the people and protect the interest of the herd? Maybe all these systems have power as the common denominator. And power – economic, military, political, diplomatic, and so many of its other variations – is what drives affairs of the state. It does not matter who gets killed as long as the larger interests of the herd are protected. There is to be no civilisation. The word civilisation is itself an illusion to differentiate ‘us’, the superior human beings, from ‘them’ the lower classes of animals. This power differential is the final agency of truth, obscured by perceptions of truth and illusions of reality created through power play of information operations in the evolutionary process of civilizational project of the uncivilized.

(This Paper was presented by Arshad Sharif at National Defence University Islamabad in an International Conference on “Afghanistan Peace Process:Liberal Peace Building and Critical Perspective” on 9th November, 2020. Arshad Sharif is a Pakistani journalist and recipient of Pride of Performance.)

Arshad Sharif presenting paper at NDU
Arshad Sharif answering questions by participants at NDU

[1] “The Bush administration seems to favour “our” efforts as informational and educational, if anything, counterpropaganda, given the negative association that the word “propaganda” evokes in American circles.”    Snow, Nancy (2002) Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture To The World  (New York: Seven Stories Press) p. 21

[2] Philip, Taylor (1992) War And The Media (Manchester: Manchester University press) 

[3] Philip, Taylor (1992) War And The Media (Manchester: Manchester University press) p.18

[4] Lloyd, John ‘Radical Islam sees itself just as communism did – in a battle with a hostile world’ Financial Times Weekend, 11-12 January 2003. p.I

[5] McLaughlin, G. (2002) The War Correspondent (London: Pluto) p.206

[6] Kagan, Robert ‘Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus’ The Sunday Times, 2 February 2003. News Review p.1 

[7] Said, Edward (1981) Covering Islam: How The Media And The Experts Determine How We See The Rest Of The World (London: Routledge) p.127-164.

[8] Boyes, Roger ‘Hello Lenin: Ostalgia for the old East Germany’ The Times, 23 July 23 2003. p.18 

[9] Chomsky Noam, (1991) Deterring Democracy (London: Vintage) p.303

[10] Chomsky, Noam (1991) The New World Order (New Jersey: Open Media) Pamphlet No: 6, p.20 

[11] Vidal, Gore (2003) Dreaming War: Blood For Oil And The Cheney –Bush Junta (New York: Clairview) p.185 

[12] Chomsky Noam, (1991) Deterring Democracy (London: Vintage) p.317 

[13] Ibid p.375

[14] Britt, Lawrence (Spring 2003) Fascism Anyone? The 14 characteristics of Fascism, Free Inquiry Magazine.

[15] Ibid

[16] Chomsky Noam, (1991) Deterring Democracy (London: Vintage) p.368

[17] Hardt, Michael & Negri, Antonio (2000) Empire (London: Harvard University Press) p.xiv

[18] Ibid p.xii 

[19] Ibid p.215

[20] Ibid p.312

[21] Palast, Greg (2003) The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (London: Robinson) p.279 

[22] Ibid p.86

[23] Ibid p.90

[24] Ibid p.91

[25] Cozens, Claire ‘Hoon claims PR victory’  The Guardian, Friday, 28 March 2003.,12823,924643,00.html

[26] Ibid p.131

[27] Snow, Nancy (2002) Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture To The World  (New York: Seven Stories Press) p.31

[28] Ibid pp.37-38

[29] Ibid p.129

[30] Ibid p.130

[31] Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting Action alert: ‘Why Were Government Propaganda Experts Working On News At CNN?’ 27 March 2000. Email to Author as subscriber. 

[32] Taylor, Philip (2002) Perception Management and the ‘War’ Against Terror, p.17

[33] Snow, Nancy (2002) Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture To The World  (New York: Seven Stories Press) p.16

[34] Taylor, Philip (2002) Perception Management and the ‘War’ Against Terror, p.17

[35] Woodward, Bob (2002) Bush At War  (USA: Simon & Schuster) Ibid pp-317, 318.

[36] Meyssan, Theirry (2002) 9/11 The Big Lie (London: Carnot) p.20. The questioning view of the official version is also carried in David Icke (2002) ‘Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Centre Disaster: Why the official story of 9/11 is a monumental lie” (USA: Bridge of Love Publications) pp210-236 

[37] Woodward, Bob (2002) Bush At War  (USA: Simon & Schuster)  p.204

[38] Ibid p.88

[39] Taylor, Philip (2002) Perception Management and the ‘War’ Against Terror, p.19

[40] International Crisis Group Asia Report No.36, Islamabad/Brussels, titled: ‘PAKISTAN:MADRASAS, EXTREMISM AND THE MILITARY,’ 29 July 2002.

[41]  Cooley John, (2001) Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (London: Pluto) p.119

[42] Snow, Nancy (2002) Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture To The World  (New York: Seven Stories Press) p.26

[43]Unrestricted War: the leveller-China

[44] Ibid

[45] Zhang, Ming ‘War Without Rules’ Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, November/December 1999     Vol. 55, No. 6, pp. 16-18 

[46] Pentagon Study ‘PRC Preparing for War vs US’ China Reform Monitor No. 275, February 9, 2000   American Foreign Policy Council, Washington, D.C. 

[47] Taylor, Philip (2002) Perception Management and the ‘War’ Against Terror, p.27

[48]  Fouda, Yousri and Fielding, Nick (2003) ‘Masterminds Of Terror’ (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing) p.189. Osama bin Laden’s “letter to the American people” Observer Sunday November 24, 2002:,11581,845725,00.html

[49] Mossadeq, Nafeez (2003) Behind The War On Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (Sussex: Clairview Books) p.11

[50] Ibid p.13

[51] Ibid p.17

[52] Ibid p199

[53] Ibid pp.291-292

[54] Waugh, Paul ‘Claims about WMD “may have been excuse” rather than reason for war’ The Independent, Monday, 25 August 2003. p.7

[55] Demetrou, Danielle ‘Dossier did not correspond with reality’ The Independent, Monday, 1 September 2003. p.4 

[56] Ignatieff, Michael (2000) Virtual War (London: Chatto & Windus) pp 161- 215

[57] Mossaddeq, Nafeez (2003) Behind The War On terror: Western Secret Strategy And The Struggle For Iraq (East Sussex: Clairview) p.vii  


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