U.S counter terrorism policy cloaked in double standard

The United States, who likes to see itself as a global guardian, often disregards international norms while pursuing its interests and seeking revenge, a behavior not commonly seen in other countries. The most prominent and significant figures that exemplify this is Osama Bin Laden, the chief of Al-Qaeda, followed by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the […]

The United States, who likes to see itself as a global guardian, often disregards international norms while pursuing its interests and seeking revenge, a behavior not commonly seen in other countries.

The most prominent and significant figures that exemplify this is Osama Bin Laden, the chief of Al-Qaeda, followed by Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the chief of the Islamic State or Daesh. These are just two names in the long list of ‘freedom fighters’, ‘religious preachers’, or terrorists, depending on whom you are asking, who have been killed on the orders of the White House.

None of them were U.S citizens, nor were they inside the jurisdiction of the United States when they were killed by the Special Forces, the announcement of which was made by no less than the office of the US President.

The other significant names who met a similar fate, of being killed without being tried in a court of law, are Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who was killed in Afghanistan, Maher al-Agal, an Islamic State member killed in Northwest Syria, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, another IS operative who was killed in Syria along with 13 people, including six children and four women, Hamza bin Laden, one of the son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden who was killed in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s leader who was killed north of Baghdad.

Significantly, Hamza was killed despite not being named in any terror attack, but as a ‘pre-emptive’ measure as the US agencies believed he was going to emerge as the leader of Al-Qaeda.

This method of disregarding the borders of other nations is not something that can be attributed just to Bush (Senior and Junior), Obama, Trump, or the Biden administration, who have occupied the White House since the horrific September 11, 2001, attack on US soil. Washington’s policy, for a long time, has come under scrutiny for its propensity and habit to easily transcend borders and carry out overt and covert actions in other countries to secure its interests.

However, what the 9/11 attack did was it gave legitimacy to the policymakers at the Hill to make a public announcement that now Washington will kill anyone who it believes is a threat to its interest, irrespective of where the person is residing.

Of course, it was understood and accepted that since Washington has labelled the guy a terrorist, based on ‘inputs’ that are not open to public review, he is a terrorist and hence does not need to go through the system of the rule of law in place to pay for his actions and meet his makers, as Laden, Zawahiri, Hamza, and many others found out.

This legitimacy was codified by an 18 September 2001 resolution, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a joint resolution by the United States Congress which gave the US president the power to use military power to eliminate terrorists. The short law, that only has two sections, has been used for more than two decades to take out ‘terrorists’ who are deemed dangerous to US interests irrespective of their nationality or location.

This law has superseded, at least in practice, all other laws, treaties including the domestic law of the country where the target is hiding. This law has been used to take actions in more than ten countries- Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Philippines, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Niger, Tunisia, Mali, and Cameroon.

Fair enough.
If one thing 9/11 was expected to teach the world, was that there is no good terrorist or a bad terrorist, and that a group of men holding guns are not as powerful as a single man who is espousing the cause of terrorism.

However, as the recent incidents involving Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun have shown, the concept of non-differentiation on the criteria of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ when it comes to terrorists still holds, and the power to define who is a terrorist and who is not, is still the exclusive realm of the famed US State Department.

Pannun was designated as a ‘terrorist’ by India in June 2020, along with other individuals and groups who were trying to revive terrorism in Punjab. Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which was used to book Pannun, is a law that has been passed by both the houses of the Indian parliament to counter terrorism after following all the substantial requirements.
For readers who are not aware of what India means when it says Pannun is a part of setup that is trying to revive terrorism in Punjab, a state that borders Pakistan, they should go back to the late 80s and early 90s when gun-carrying Sikh terrorists would stop buses carrying helpless manual workers and kill all of them at one go. These incidents had become the norm. It also led to the death of a sitting Chief Minister of Punjab, Beant Singh, at the hands of a suicide bomber in August 1995. It was an era that the readers of The Washington Post, which recently revealed alleged Pannun assassination attempts while tying it to the top security offices of India, have perhaps never seen in their life.
The idea behind these rampant and mindless killings by the Khalistani armed groups was to spread terror in Punjab as a part of the long-held desire of Pakistan’s deep state to execute its ‘K2” project. The said project intends to separate Kashmir from India and make Punjab into ‘Khalistan’, a separate country.

Pannun, who holds the twin citizenship of Canada and America, is regarded as a vital link between the Khalistani activists residing in these two countries and the K2 project handlers who are based in Islamabad. The Washington Post, and other US-based media outlets, based on the indictment filed by the Department of Justice, had revealed a plot that was allegedly weaved by India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), to assassinate Pannun in America by using local resources. An Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, who was allegedly a part of this plot, was arrested last year in Prague on the orders of the US government and is now awaiting his extradition.

Clearly, Washington sees things through different specs when it comes to Pannun on one hand and Laden or Zawahiri on the other despite all three doing the same thing, at least publicly. Pannun calls himself an activist, someone who just speaks about his desire for a Khalistani state and encourages his followers to make efforts to have a separate Khalistan, including the much-publicized public ‘referendums’. Is this not what Washington blamed Laden and Zawahiri or Hamza for? of espousing Jihadi cause?

The allegations of any country attempting to kill an American citizen on U.S soil are as concerning as the U.S government killing hundreds in multiple countries. However, has Washington faced any legal backlash ,media scrutiny and sanctions for doing it? Taliban for long has been accused of harboring wanted terrorists and their sympathizers. The same rationale, if only Washington were not the superpower it is, would have been used against it by tens of different countries to accuse it of not just harboring Pannun and other such elements but also providing them with the support and resources they need to keep carrying out their anti-India activities.

If Washington wanted, it could have easily deported Pannun to India to face trial or simply asked him to cease the illegal activities that he was carrying out against India. But, as we all know, this did not happen and last year, top Indian security officials told their US counterparts, without mincing any words, that they are aware and they have the proof that Pannun was being protected by US intelligence officials. Is this being done deliberately by officials at the Hill and the State Department to develop fissures within India?

This theory has gained substantial traction in the North and South Block of Delhi. The ‘why’ of it, when asked, comes up with answers that can be summed up in few words, “US is a global leader in using illegal and indirect means to control both its foes and allies and India is no exception to this”.

The recent Pannun incident has also revived the debate on how trustworthy an ally Washington is to Delhi? Something that only time will reveal.