[TODAY]Time Could Prove to Be a Terrorist AllyI recently met two students attending Tajikistan National University law school when I was in Dusanbe, Tajikistan. They said that if the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan are protracted and result in the deaths of many Muslims not involved in terrorism, the "righteous war" against terrorism may evolve into a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam.
James B. Steinberg, the deputy national security adviser to President Clinton, said in an interview with CNN that President George W. Bush launched the attacks on Afghanistan without having a clear strategy for entry and exit. He meant that U.S. bombing on Afghanistan went against the so-called Powell Doctrine, which dictates that there be clearly defined objectives when going to war and that warfare should be conducted using overwhelming force over a short period of time when the United States commits its military forces.
If Mr. Steinberg's remark is correct, the Tajikistan University students' concerns could prove to be correct. The U.S. war against terrorism cannot end with short-term retaliation against the Taliban. The war will drag on until the United States can eradicate the entire terrorist organization of Osama bin Laden. Even though the United States and its allies will do their best to minimize civilian casualties, a certain number of innocents will die in the attacks.
President George Bush is trying to isolate Osama bin Laden and his Taliban hosts from all other Muslims to frustrate what seems to be Mr. bin Laden's plan to make this war just what the students fear, a clash between civilizations. Mr. Bush has reiterated that the United States is a friend of Afghanistan's people and the more than 1 billion Muslims in the world today. U.S. planes are dropping bombs on the Taliban and food for starving Afghans.
The overall U.S. strategy is aimed at eradicating Mr. bin Laden's appeal to Muslims. President Bush gathered international support by delaying retaliatory attacks for a month after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington. As a result, Mr. Bush secured support and aid from more than 40 countries. But he has not gotten firm, unwavering support from Islamic countries except for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, a problem which may prove to be important as time passes.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, both of which border Afghanistan, are suffering from political unrest caused by Islamic fundamentalists in their territories. Tajikistan endured a full-blown civil war from 1992 until 1997. Only with active aid from President Karimov of Uzbekistan, the pro-communist regime of Tajikistan was able to repress the revolt by Islamic fundamentalists supported by the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan.
The Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan is a mecca and cradle of the radical Islamic movements in Central Asia. If the political problems of Uzbekistan could be settled, the whole of Central Asia would be calm. Uzbekistan is providing the United States with military bases not just for the economic benefits the United States has promised, but also because Mr. Karimov has the ambition to be the dominant figure in five politically stable countries of Central Asia － if Mr. bin Laden's terrorist organization is demolished and the Taliban regime is replaced by a coalition government in which the Pashtun tribes in the south and the elements of the Northern Alliance participate.
Tajikistan will be satisfied with the political stability and economic benefits that could come from the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. Kazakhstan and Kyrghizstan have been slow to react publicly because they do not share a common border with Afghanistan. Though Turkmeni-stan is a northern neighbor of Afghanistan, it has no interest in regional problems except for minimizing the number of refugees crossing its borders.
Things could go wrong, of course. The war could be prolonged and there could be a drumbeat of Iranian and Iraqi denunciations of the United States for the retaliatory attacks. If Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, hesitate to voice support for and provide aid to the United States, the optimistic views of President Karimov of Uzbekistan and President Imamoli Rakhmanov of Tajikistan will prove to have been false hopes.
If Mr. bin Laden continues to call for jihad while he is on the run, ordinary Muslims as well as radical activists may be hypnotized. Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists like Mr. bin Laden will try to take advantage of that vulnerability. It is ironic that Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations," which has been criticized as espousing white supremacy, is serving the interest of terrorists. But the first war of the 21st century might just turn into such a battle if the war is a protracted one.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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