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Chomsky Discusses Impact of 9/11 on Pakistan-India Relations

hydrarchist writes: ".....check out this interview with Chomsky by Greg Ruggiero of Seven Stories Press .


Q: In order to shape an international alliance, the U.S. has suddenly shifted positions
with a number of countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, offering a variety of
political, military and monetary packages in exchange for forms of support. How
might these sudden moves be affecting the political dynamics in those regions?

CHOMSKY: Washington is stepping very delicately. We have to remember what is
at stake: the world’s major energy reserves, primarily in Saudi Arabia but
throughout the Gulf region, along with not-inconsiderable resources in Central Asia.
Though a minor factor, Afghanistan has been discussed for years as a possible site
for pipelines that will aid the U.S. in the complex maneuvering over control of
Central Asian resources. North of Afghanistan, the states are fragile and violent.
Uzbekistan is the most important. It has been condemned by Human Rights Watch
for serious atrocities, and is fighting its own internal Islamic insurgency. Tajikistan is
similar, and is also a major drug trafficking outlet to Europe, primarily in connection
with the Northern Alliance, which controls most of the Afghan-Tajikistan border and
has apparently been the major source of drugs since the Taliban virtually eliminated
poppy production. Flight of Afghans to the north could lead to all sorts of internal
problems. Pakistan, which has been the main supporter of the Taliban, has a strong
internal radical Islamic movement. Its reaction is unpredictable, and potentially
dangerous, if Pakistan is visibly used as a base for U.S. operations in Afghanistan;
and there is much well-advised concern over the fact that Pakistan has nuclear
weapons. The Pakistani military, while eager to obtain military aid from the U.S.
(already promised), is wary, because of stormy past relations, and is also concerned
over a potentially hostile Afghanistan allied with its enemy to the East, India. They
are not pleased that the Northern Alliance is led by Tajiks, Uzbeks, and other
Afghan minorities hostile to Pakistan and supported by India, Iran and Russia, now
the U.S. as well.

In the Gulf region, even wealthy and secular elements are bitter about U.S. policies
and quietly often express support for bin Laden, whom they detest, as “the
conscience of Islam” (New York Times, October 5, quoting an international lawyer
for multinationals, trained in the U.S.). Quietly, because these are highly repressive
states; one factor in the general bitterness towards the U.S. is its support for these
regimes. Internal conflict could easily spread, with consequences that could be
enormous, especially if U.S. control over the huge resources of the region is
threatened. Similar problems extend to North Africa and Southeast Asia,
particularly Indonesia. Even apart from internal conflict, an increased flow of
armaments to the countries of the region increases the likelihood of armed conflict
and the flow of weapons to terrorist organizations and narcotraffickers. The
governments are eager to join the U.S. “war against terrorism” to gain support for
their own state terrorism, often on a shocking scale (Russia and Turkey, to mention
only the most obvious examples, though Turkey has always benefited from crucial
U.S. involvement).

Q: Pakistan and India, border countries armed with nuclear weapons, have been
eye to eye in serious conflict for years. How might the sudden and intense pressure
that the U.S. is exerting in the region impact their already volatile relationship?

CHOMSKY: The main source of conflict is Kashmir, where India claims to be
fighting Islamic terrorism, and Pakistan claims that India is refusing self-determination
and has carried out large-scale terrorism itself. All the claims, unfortunately, are
basically correct. There have been several wars over Kashmir, the latest one in
1999, when both states had nuclear weapons available; fortunately they were kept
under control, but that can hardly be guaranteed. The threat of nuclear war is likely
to increase if the U.S. persists in its militarization of space programs (euphemistically
described as “missile defense”). These already include support for expansion of
China’s nuclear forces, in order to gain Chinese acquiescence to the programs. India
will presumably try to match China’s expansion, then Pakistan, then beyond,
including Israel. Its nuclear capacities were described by the former head of the
U.S. Strategic Command as “dangerous in the extreme,” and one of the prime
threats in the region.

“Volatile” is right, maybe worse.

Q: Prior to 9-11, the Bush administration was being fiercely critiqued, ally nations
included, for its political “unilateralism”—refusal to sign on to the Kyoto protocol for
greenhouse emissions, intention to violate the ABM treaty in order to militarize
space with a “missile defense” program, walkout of the racism conference in
Durban, South Africa, to name only a few recent examples. Might the sudden U.S.
alliance-building effort spawn a new “multilateralism” in which unexpected positive
developments—like progress for Palestinians—might advance?

CHOMSKY: It’s worth recalling that Bush’s “unilateralism” was an extension of
standard practice. In 1993, Clinton informed the UN that the U.S. will—as
before—act “multilaterally when possible but unilaterally when necessary,” and
proceeded to do so. The position was reiterated by UN Ambassador Madeleine
Albright and in 1999 by Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who declared that the
U.S. is committed to “unilateral use of military power” to defend vital interests,
which include “ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and
strategic resources,” and indeed anything that Washington might determine to be
within its own jurisdiction. But it is true that Bush went beyond, causing considerable
anxiety among allies. The current need to form a coalition may attenuate the rhetoric,
but is unlikely to change the policies. Members of the coalition are expected to be
silent and obedient supporters, not participants. The U.S. explicitly reserves to itself
the right to act as it chooses, and is carefully avoiding any meaningful recourse to
international institutions, as required by law. There are gestures to the contrary, but
they lack any credibility, though governments will presumably accept them, bending
to power, as they regularly do for their own reasons.The Palestinians are unlikely to
gain anything. On the contrary, the terrorist attack of September 11 was a crushing
blow to them, as they and Israel recognized immediately.

Q: Since 9-11, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been signalling that the U.S.
may adopt a new stance toward the plight of Palestinians. What is your reading?

CHOMSKY: My reading is exactly that of the officials and other sources quoted
towards the end of the front-page story of the New York Times. As they made
clear, Bush-Powell do not even go as far as Clinton’s Camp David proposals,
lauded in the mainstream here but completely unacceptable, for reasons discussed
accurately in Israel and elsewhere, and as anyone could see by looking at a
map—one reason, I suppose, why maps were so hard to find here, though not
elsewhere, including Israel. One can find more detail about this in articles at the time
of Camp David, including my
own, and essays in the collection edited by Roane Carey, The New Intifada.

Q: The free flow of information is one of the first casualties of any war. Is the
present situation in any way an exception? Examples?

CHOMSKY: Impediments to free flow of information in countries like the U.S. are
rarely traceable to government; rather, to self-censorship of the familiar kind. The
current situation is not exceptional—considerably better than the norm, in my

There are, however, some startling examples of U.S. government efforts to restrict
free flow of information abroad. The Arab world has had one free and open news
source, the satellite TV news channel Al-Jazeera in Qatar, modelled on BBC, with
an enormous audience throughout the Arab-speaking world. It is the sole
uncensored source, carrying a great deal of important news and also live debates
and a wide range of opinion—broad enough to include Colin Powell a few days
before 9-11 and Israeli Prime Minister Barak (me too, just to declare an interest).
Al-Jazeera is also “the only international news organization to maintain reporters in
the Taliban-controlled part of Afghanistan” (Wall Street Journal). Among other
examples, it was responsible for the exclusive filming of the destruction of Buddhist
statues that rightly infuriated the world. It has also provided lengthy interviews with
bin Laden that I’m sure are perused closely by Western intelligence agencies and
are invaluable to others who wants to understand what he is thinking. These are
translated and rebroadcast by BBC, several of them since 9-11.

Al-Jazeera is, naturally, despised and feared by the dictatorships of the region,
particularly because of its frank exposures of their human rights records. The U.S.
has joined their ranks. BBC reports that “The U.S. is not the first to feel aggrieved
by al-Jazeera coverage, which has in the past provoked anger from Algeria,
Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt for giving airtime to political dissidents.”

The Emir of Qatar confirmed that “Washington has asked Qatar to rein in the
influential and editorially independent Arabic al-Jazeera television station,” BBC
reported. The Emir, who also chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference that
includes 56 countries, informed the press in Washington that Secretary of State
Powell had pressured him to rein in Al-Jazeera: to “persuade Al-Jazeera to tone
down its coverage,” Al-Jazeera reports. Asked about the reports of censorship, the
Emir said: “This is true. We heard from the U.S. administration, and also from the
previous U.S. administration” (BBC, October 4, 2001, citing Reuters).

The only serious report I noticed of this highly important news is in the Wall Street
Journal (October 5), which also describes the reaction of intellectuals and scholars
throughout the Arab world (“truly appalling,” etc.). The report adds, as the Journal
has done before, that “many Arab analysts argued that it is, after all, Washington’s
perceived disregard for human rights in officially pro-American countries such as
Saudi Arabia that fuels the rampant anti-Americanism.” There has also been
remarkably little use of the bin Laden interviews and other material from Afghanistan
available from Al-Jazeera.

After Al-Jazeera broadcast a tape of bin Laden that was highly useful to Western
propaganda, and instantly received front-page coverage, the channel quickly
became famous. The New York Times ran a story headlined “An Arab Station
Offers Ground-Breaking Coverage” (Elaine Sciolino, October 9). The report lauded
the channel as “the Arab world’s CNN, with round-the-clock, all news and public
affairs programs that reach millions of viewers.” “The network has built a reputation
for independent ground-breaking reporting that contrasts sharply with other
Arab-language television stations,” and “has focused on subjects considered
subversive in most parts of the Arab world: the absence of democratic institutions,
the persecution of political dissidents and the inequality of women.” The story notes
that “American policy makers have been troubled by Al Jazeera’s” broadcasts of
bin Laden interviews and the “anti-American oratory” of analysts, guests, and
“callers on freewheeling phone-in shows.” The rest is unmentioned, though there
was a mild editorial admonition the next day.

So yes, there are barriers to free flow of information, but they cannot be blamed on
government censorship or pressure, a very marginal factor in the United States.

(This interview and several others will appear in an Open Media Pamphlet Series
special edition entitled "9-11" by Noam Chomsky, to be published later this month
by Seven Stories Press. For more info: or write: greg@