By Zhang Zhixin
September 11 this year is the 20th anniversary of the “9?11” terrorist attack in New York, and also the first anniversary after America withdrew its troops and ended the war in Afghanistan. But the suicidal terrorist attack at Kabul Airport on August 26 was a new reminder for the international community that the end of the Afghanistan War may indicate the failure of America’s anti-terror strategy, but not the end of global counter-terrorism operations. The world still needs to tackle humanity’s common challenge together.
America’s anti-terror war went astray after the country invaded Iraq. It hoped to use force to promote the American-style democracy in the Middle East to enlarge the so-called “free world”, but history has proven without dispute that counter-terrorism operations based on military means alone will only backfire with greater intensity.
According to data from American website Defenseone.com, after the country launched the anti-terror war in 2001, it has engaged in the internal warfare of at least 24 countries; in the 2018-2020 period alone, it carried out or participated in counter-terrorism operations in 85 countries worldwide (44% of all countries). The website released the statistics that the US-initiated anti-terror war has caused nearly 800,000 deaths, including 335,000 civilians, and more than USD 6.4 trillion losses for American taxpayers.
Despite the immense casualties and financial losses, America’s anti-terror strategy hasn’t achieved its goals – it neither annihilates nor restricts or diminishes terrorist threats.
No new large-scale terrorist attacks have taken place on American soil again after 2001, but the number of terrorist attacks happening around the world every year and the list of terrorist organizations released by the US State Department have kept growing. According to analysis, with the exposure of America’s torture of prisoners at Guantanamo, the “black prisons” set up by CIA all over the world, and the so-called “enhanced interrogation” measures adopted by US intelligence agencies, the number of anti-America extremists has actually increased.
As Ambassador Dai Bing, Deputy Permanent Representative of China to the UN said recently, the international counter-terrorism situation remains complex and severe with terrorism and violent extremism closely intertwined .
According to the UN, IS has rallied itself up again in Iraq and Syria in the first half of this year and spread to Africa and provided capital for terrorist organizations in other places, leading to terrorist attacks from time to time. This means the international community still has a long way to go in fighting terrorism, and all countries should join hands in fighting this common enemy of all humanity.
International community should draw lessons from America’s failed anti-terror war and adopt a new approach to counter-terrorism
First of all, anti-terror efforts should not be divided on an ideological basis or practice “double standards”. In particular, no individual country should be allowed to designate terrorists or non-terrorists based on its own political agenda.
Second, anti-terror efforts should focus on dealing with the root causes rather than tackling the symptoms. The key is eradicating the soil that breeds terrorism, freeing the people from the delusion of terrorist and extremist ideas by developing the economy and improving their lives, and building inclusive and diversified societies.
Third, counter-terrorism operations should not be an excuse for pursuing selfish calculations or interests or the pretext for seeking or maintaining hegemony. No country shall pursue its own gains by transferring conflicts in the name of counterterrorism.
Lastly, anti-terror efforts should have clear priorities in different periods rather than being aimless, ill-planned and ill-organized.
As the Taliban has recently come back to power in Afghanistan, the outside world is questioning whether it will shelter international terrorist organizations again and whether it is able to bring peace and security to the Afghan people who have been afflicted by the war for 20 years. The international community should help Afghanistan in its reconstruction, urge it to honor its international commitments and sever ties with terrorist forces, and help it fight terrorist organizations and groups at home through intelligence sharing. That’s the only way to protect Afghanistan, the Eurasian continent and the whole world from the threat of terrorism and make them truly enjoy peace, security and prosperity.
(The author is an associate researcher and doctor at the Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations)