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VIEW: Individual crime and collective responsibility -Ralph Shaw.

Pakistan, June 1 -- Here we go again. A ticking time bomb in Times Square, New York, that, to the good fortune of all concerned, did not go off. The US Secretary of State issued an apoplectic warning to Pakistan of dire consequences, and the Pakistani leaders, staying true to form, remained cringing and pusillanimous. Our respected foreign minister, whose gaffe for declaring Pakistan as being neutral in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, was largely missed by our yokelish media. He hastily declared that the failed attempt was a response to the American drone attacks in Pakistan. The revenge motive is widely accepted and attributed to terrorist acts by Pakistani leaders but it is a facile suggestion. Revenge has little to do with terrorism.

Jean-Francois Revel, French intellectual and writer, illuminates the issue in his book How Democracies Perish (1983) with remarkable insight. He says, "Terrorism has nothing to do with the indignation and spontaneous insurrection of the masses. Its roots are elsewhere. It is based on psychological conditioning, indoctrination, and military organisation into small, secret and fanaticised groups that have no need whatsoever of support from a general population." The Predator/Reaper attacks, potentially, can radicalise some segments of the FATA population and create a class of dissidents, but the sufferers cannot become lone predators on their own. The organisation, indoctrination and psychological conditioning factors mentioned by Revel are essential ingredients in the terrorist mix. It is highly doubtful that the rubes known to the world as the Taliban are the original source for these ingredients. Our learned cabinet members must reflect on these matters a little more before issuing shallow statements that perpetuate myths.

By way of an example, Revel cites the irrational violence that engulfed Peru in 1980 in the aftermath of electing Fernando Belaunde Terry as their first centrist president after a dozen years of socialist domination. Out of the blue and instantaneously, the country was engulfed by a terrorist campaign "that, given its scale, organisation, equipment and leadership, makes any theory that it was a spontaneous uprising by angry peasant masses implausible, to put it mildly."

As the world descends into the medieval madness of devastating entire communities for the crimes and indiscretions of a few, the question must be raised regarding its legitimacy. This insanity was very much part of the European feudal culture. The Norman lords, who conquered England in 1066 AD and ruled it for over two centuries, meted out severe collective punishments to the Anglos for individual crimes as a method of keeping the locals in line. Normally, the intensity and size of their response defied all sense of justice and fairness. This atavistic European insanity can be avoided if all parties agree to abide by the principle that nations will not be punished for the aggressive acts of individuals, which, in fact, is the modern international law. Soviet leader Khrushchev had it right when it came to individual crime and collective responsibility. In criticising Stalin for his mass deportation of Muslim populations of the Caucasus further east within the Soviet Union in 1943, Khrushchev wisely observed, "Not only no Marxist-Leninist but also no man of common sense can grasp how one can make whole nations responsible, including, women, children, old people, Communists and Komsomols, and expose them to misery and suffering for the hostile acts of individual persons or groups of persons." Caucasian Muslims were deported because their leaders had fraternised and possibly collaborated with the Germans during World War II.

Khrushchev's indictment of Stalin is based on sound moral reasoning and is equally applicable in inter-state relations. The argument that we are going to destroy you because some rogue members of your nation attacked us is nothing but pure sophistry. Collective punishment cannot be advocated for an individual's crimes if the perpetrator is disowned by his or her own community.

The concern arises, of course, that strict compliance to the international (and moral) law could give terrorists a free hand to hatch their murderous plots in one country, carry them out in another and then hide in their home countries where the native governments may not pursue them enthusiastically because the crime was committed outside of the native government's territory.

The solution to this dilemma could be an international police force created and mandated to tackle international crime. While the details of forming such a body are daunting and complex, the effort must be made because, in the absence of avenues that seek justice for the aggrieved nations, international terrorism could become the cause of international madness.

Even though there is little doubt that had the evil plot at Times Square succeeded, there would have been some kind of retribution against Pakistan, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's bluster could be little more than self-interested political posturing. The fact that some other top officials have been on a more conciliatory tack towards Pakistan suggests that the secretary is working on her own political agenda. It seems that she still has her eye on the US presidency and her tough stance on the event is most likely calculated to counter the negative stereotype of women being soft on defence and crime.

Regardless of American office-holder's motivations, Pakistani leaders need to make the case that unless a connection between a criminal and the state is established, Pakistan cannot be held accountable for the crimes of Pakistani individuals. International law and basic moral precepts necessitate that a distinction between state crime and individual crime be maintained. In the absence of such distinction, a state's foreign policy, instead of being a constant mistress in the service of a state, is little more than a fickle jade.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Daily Times. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at

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Publication:Daily Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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