Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Al Qaeda, was killed in Kabul by a US drone that blew up his residence. Al Qaeda was the terrorist organisation that claimed responsibility for the attack on the US World Trade Center in 2001, and Zawahiri had succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of the organisation. His killing was acclaimed by US media (and I quote one) as showing ‘the US can still fight terrorism without troops.’
The US was evicted from Afghanistan by the Taliban without a shot being fired (so to speak). There reportedly was an accord between the US and the Taliban by which the Taliban had agreed not to host global terrorists. Thus, I suppose, it can be said that the Taliban had violated the accord although I do not know if the accord allowed for assassination as a resolution for accord violations.
The US also helpfully clarified that there were no civilian casualties in the operation against Zawahiri. You may recall that in an attempt to get at some terrorists in Afghanistan last year, the US killed 10 innocent members of a family including seven children.
Which brings me to a frequently used phrase, the ‘rules-based order’. This has become one of those nice but vague catchphrases to suggest that there is some agreed upon rules and order is established by following them. Recently, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken used it while meeting Chinese officials to suggest that the alternative may become a system where ‘might is right.’
If Russia sprang to your mind, you would be on the right track. Does the killing of Zawahiri allow us to evaluate the US on this measure? Remember when a US air-strike killed Iranian Gen. Soleimani when he was a visit to Iraq. The US rule seems to be it is better to kill the people you don’t like rather than give them a chance in court. Rules-based disorder? Under the rules-based order, when the US exited Afghanistan, it decided to take control of $9 billion in foreign assets of Afghanistan because it didn’t think the Taliban is a legitimate government, even though the US had negotiated with them, have an accord and handed over the reins of government to them.
The UN says that half the Afghan population is facing acute hunger and the Afghan government says it is unable to import food since it has no money. You would think the UN would have some say in a rules-based international order.
Zawahiri had certainly qualified to be called a terrorist by virtue of heading al-Qaeda. He was indicted by the US in connection with the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the FBI was offering a reward of $3 million for information leading to his capture. Perhaps, the US government decided to save the money rather than bring him to justice. Having located him in Afghanistan, I don’t think the US made efforts to extradite him. Perhaps they forgot to include extradition processes in their accord with the Taliban. That would have been a rules-based process.
Perhaps it is an unwritten rule that terrorism is exempt from a rules-based order. Israel, which learns its lessons from the US, is also very efficient at executing air-strikes to eliminate those it doesn’t like. China believes in a rules based international order, except that it doesn’t agree with US rules and wants to write its own. India has been trying the rules-based order for years to get Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar to stand trial for his role in the attack on the Indian Parliament and the bombing at Pulwama. He is believed to be in Pakistan, just a drone flight away.
Salman Rushdie was stabbed in New York, ironically when he was about to discuss the US as a refuge for exiled writers. Was someone executing an Iranian fatwa? Was Iran just following the same rule that the US follows, of killing people it does not like?
The writer is an emeritus professor at Suffolk University, Boston