DAWN - Opinion; December 4, 2001

Published December 4, 2001

War or war crime?

By Dr Iffat Malik

BETWEEN November 25 and 27 all the Taliban prisoners in a fort just outside Mazar-i-Sharif were killed. The body count is still going on but the total is expected to reach between 400 and 600. Almost all were foreigners — Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs. Several dozen Northern Alliance soldiers and one CIA operative ‘Michael’ were also killed.

The official version blames the deaths on a revolt by the Taliban prisoners. They overpowered some of their Northern Alliance guards, seized their weapons, then broke into an arms store in the fort. Then followed a pitched battle between the former prisoners inside the fort and Northern Alliance and the US-UK forces outside. The Taliban ‘fought to the death’. Newspaper versions add that two CIA operatives tried to question the Taliban, and that was what sparked the revolt. But the common dominant theme is that these prisoners did not want to be prisoners — they wanted a jihadi’s death.

The official-newspaper version raises as many questions as it answers. The Taliban held in Qila-i-Jhangi had already surrendered in Kunduz. They had agreed to stop fighting and given up their weapons (though some had hidden weapons on them). Question one: if these people wanted a jihadi death — to die fighting — why would they surrender at Kunduz? Question two: what caused them to revolt? The newspaper answer that it was the sight of an American face simply does not make sense.

If anything they would have been relieved to see an American: they certainly had more chance of getting humane treatment at the hands of the US than the Alliance. It is also hard to believe that CIA operatives could be so foolish/foolhardy as to walk alone into a cell with dozens of Taliban and start interrogating them. The third and most important question is, whatever caused the revolt, did it merit the response of 100 per cent slaughter using artillery, tank shells and some 30 aerial sorties? Has anyone ever heard of a prison revolt being put down with aerial bombardment? Something doesn’t gel here.

Before answering these questions, look at the context. The Taliban were being held by the forces of General Rashid Dostum — probably the most bloodied of the Northern Alliance’s far from unstained military leaders. As soon as the war started turning their way the Northern Alliance made it clear they would accept surrender only from Afghan Taliban — foreign fighters would be shown ‘no mercy’.

Only when Pakistan, the EU and others called for international law to be respected did they abandon that line. Dostum’s spokesman grudgingly promised that foreign Taliban would be handed to the UN. The Alliance’s American backers sent the same signal. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave the green light for Taliban and al Qaeda slaughter by saying they should face ‘local justice’. When meted out by Dostum and his sadist cronies that means only one thing.

In the case of those surrendering in a school in Mazar-i-Sharif in the first days of the Northern Alliance advance it did mean only one thing. As many as 520 mostly Pakistani Taliban were killed by Dostum’s conquering heroes. Their slaughter has been confirmed by the Red Cross and the journalists who saw the bodies being carried out. Another even more cold-blooded cull in the southern province of Kandahar has yet to be confirmed.

A Pukhtoon commander narrated how, in the battle for Takteh Pol, the Taliban had shouted abuse when asked to surrender. The rules of war, according to him, dictated that when 160 of them were captured he had ‘no choice’ but to kill them. ‘They were made to stand in a long line and five or six of our fighters used light machine guns on them.’ To their credit, a handful of American military personnel did try to stop the executions.

One also has to look at the problems posed to the Northern Alliance and the ‘international coalition’ by the presence of large numbers of Taliban — Afghan and foreign — prisoners. What do they do with them? Try them all for war crimes? Even if the Afghans are given a rap on the knuckles and sent home, that still leaves the problem of the Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis. Pakistan has said it will take its errant jihad-seekers in, but Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia, etc., from where the others originated, would never agree. There are reports that 13 al Qaeda suspects have been taken to an American island — that would hardly be feasible where hundreds of prisoners are involved.

All of which leads to some very disturbing possibilities. CIA questioning could have sparked off the revolt. But it could also have been triggered by Northern Alliance handling of the prisoners. Perhaps the Taliban realized that Dostum’s promise to hand them over to the UN was an empty one. The most chilling possibility is that there was no initial revolt: that Northern Alliance forces started a repeat performance of the Mazar-i-Sharif school massacre and were resisted. Unfortunately, all those who could have given a definitive account of how the trouble started are dead.

The cause might be unclear, but what followed is far from that. The combined Alliance-American-British assault killed everyone. International law requires the response to any military action to be proportionate. If all the Taliban inside the prison had taken up arms and were firing on opposing forces, they could be considered legitimate targets. But at least 50 of the dead Taliban had their hands tied behind their backs. Bearing in mind the points made above — the Northern Alliance’s penchant for murdering enemy prisoners in cold blood and the American dilemma of what to do with any surviving — one cannot but suspect that both welcomed the opportunity presented by the revolt to go for the easy solution: extermination.

A Red Cross spokeswoman hit the nail on the head when she asked, ‘How many of the prisoners were armed and how many had a combat role?’ The answers will determine whether what happened at Qila-i-Jhangi was war or a war crime.

And they have implications for what is left of the war in Afghanistan. Kandahar is now almost the sole remaining bastion of Taliban resistance. Those holed up in the city must have heard about what happened to their colleagues from Kunduz. The chances of their surrendering can now confidently be put at zero. Why go for an ignominious POW execution when one could go ‘in a blaze of glory’ and take at least some of the enemy down too?

The most serious implications are for the values (or lack of them) on which the ‘war against terror’ is being fought. Long-standing principles like ‘innocent until proven guilty’, trial by jury, respect for territorial integrity and not targeting civilians have already been abandoned in the Bush-Blair drive to get Osama bin Laden. Humane treatment of POWs can now be added to the list.

For in this case, America and Britain cannot plead the defence that it was Afghan excess. Their forces on the ground directed operations, their planes dropped the bombs, their hands are as bloody as Dostum’s. Nor should they be allowed to plead the defence that the Taliban were hardly innocents, or that conventional ‘civilized’ rules of war cannot be applied to ‘wild’ environments like that of Afghanistan. The Geneva Convention makes no exceptions. This was supposed to be a war about justice. Finding and punishing those responsible for the callous murder of innocents. Sadly, it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish between those seeking justice and those evading it.

Nuclear weapons: to what end?

By Yasmin Mustafa

THE proliferation of nuclear weapons has brought the entire humanity on the verge of collision. It has become a source of continuous terror for human beings whose ardent desire is to live in peace and harmony. But this desire has been shattered by the extremists and the actors of power games in international politics.

The history of human civilization is replete with hostilities among groups and nations caused by the rigid attitude of the big powers and their anxiety to dominate others. The Afghan war has accentuated the feeling of fear and complexities. The decision makers must take all possible measures to halt the war games otherwise nothing will be left barring agony and sufferings of the innocent people.

The harsh reality is that the world’s arsenals contain tens of thousands of nuclear weapons — probably the number exceeds 60,000. The total explosive power of these weapons is equivalent to about one and a quarter million Hiroshima bombs or about four tons of TNT for every man, woman and child. If only a minor portion of these devices is used, the destruction would be beyond our imagination.

The cities are most vulnerable. The people living in them would be killed by blasts and fire. The rural population would be victims of radiation and its fall-out. An unimaginable number of people could be killed by radiation. The nuclear warheads could cause long term suffering. The calamities could include a change in the global climate and cause severe genetic changes and depletion of the ozone layer. Thus it would be impossible for the humans to survive a nuclear war.

In the present world, the economic and social disparity among the haves and the have-nots, the rising energy issue, large-scale unemployment and high inflation rates are leading to political and social turmoil in the West and have worsened the stability and security of the under-developed nations. Internal tension, economic instability and ethnic and linguistic conflicts have forced the people to achieve their goals through violent methods. In order to crush local uprisings, the government resorts to military means. In acute tense situations, local conflicts turn into war-like interventions. Under certain circumstances, the government resorts to war in order to divert people’s attention from the acute worsening political and economic conditions. Hence there is the possibility of an escalation of local conflicts into a nuclear war.

Apart from local conflicts the expansionist ambitions of the West to have more and more control over the Third World resources may also be a strong factor for nuclear wars. Among other factors, the advanced and highly sensitive military technology has always proved responsible for the outbreak of a nuclear war.

Around 80 per cent of the world’s military capability is concentrated in Europe. The new inventions in military technology is far more accurate and less time-consuming. The ballistic missiles with warheads can reach their targets within a fraction of minutes. With the possession of nuclear weapons the the ability to launch the first attack is present at all times, thus completely destroying the enemy’s retaliatory capability. With more delicate and far reaching capabilities, the rigidity and arroagance of nuclear states has further accentuated as they are almost certain that they could win a war with the use of nuclear weapons.

In the expansionist designs of militarization, the arms traders’ role are very important. At the end of the Second World War, a commission was set up to look into the actural causes of the war and then it came to light that the arms traders had played a very active role in aggravating tension and hostility. They spread wrong information and ideas to increase tension and persuade the world to start a war and continue it. Just to keep their arms industries flourishing. They take pains to convince nations that it was in their interest not to pursue a policy of political settlement through dialogue and negotiations.

The bureaucratic elements of reckless governments and the military top brass have formed a military-cum-industrrialist complex which is strong enough to control, dominate and dictate the policy options of the country. They are the real culprits behind the escalation of war. They always support nuclear weaponization and are mainly interested in maintaining and increasing military budgets. A handful of corrupt elite, both in government and military institutions are responsiblefor bringing the world to a point where nuclear war is no longer an illusion.

During the 30s, the United States was the main controller of the arms trade. By mid-70s new nations, some of them belonging to the Third World like Argentine, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Libya, Egypt and Singapore on the firmament of this heinous trade. In such countries the military-cum-industrial complex is very strong. Unless this vicious circle is eliminated,the restoration of a peaceful environment will remain adream.

In the last three decades the Third World has witnessed a very speedy militarization growth.Its military budgets have increased from 6.3 per cent to 15.3 per cent in 1979 thus further deepening their dependence on the industrilized world. Because of large military expenditure the countries’ social sectors are totally ignored.

The various cvonflicts which emerge from time to time result from clash of interests and because of the perpetuation of an unjust social syastem. These conflicts develop into an acute form of destabilization eventually leading to war.

The risk of the neglected, oppressed and colonized people reacting violently has increased many times. The growing frequyency of military movements and excessive state terrorism along with regional conflicts, traditional hostility and unbridled fundamentalism are the factors which miight spark a war world-wide.

The time has come to destroy all weapons of mass destruction. The only force which can drive away the present dismal and fearful war clouds is powerful public opinion.It is the people whose ardent desire is to achieve and maintain peace. The vast population of this blessed earth has no intention of waging war of any kind. The present world does not need military solutions based on balance of terror. What it needs is resolution of crisis through peaceful means. They yearn for peaceful co-existence. The world needs a shift from military rivalry to a productive and peaceful economic, social and political competition.

During the present Afghan crisis, a nuclear war as an option has been mentioned by some irresponsible leaders. It is time for the peace loving people of the world to rise and force their rulers to chage their self-centred policies.

Car-snatching: ALL OVER THE PLACE

By Omar Kureishi

WHEN you reach a certain age, well past the sell by date, you are perceived to have acquired a certain wisdom and people come to you for advice. This is not the wisdom of the sages but a sort of street smartism, the knowledge gained from an accumulation of one’s failures.

Thus a young lady, a working woman, came to see me to seek my counsel about wanting to buy a car. She was greatly perturbed about the daily count of car-jackings which like the stock market fluctuate but like gilt-edged shares remain reasonably stable, a small rise, a little dip but in the long term, a safe bet.

Straightaway, I advised against buying a brand new car. A new car was a soft target. She should get a second-hand car and have it painted in drab colours, so as to make it look as if it is ready for the junk yard, have someone kick one of the fenders so that it is dented. The car must look as if it has no resale value. As an extra precaution, she should talk to someone in an insurance company and get a list of makes of cars that are most likely to be snatched.

Surely there must be some kind of a pattern that establishes a ‘consumer-preference’ and finally, she should hope for the best and give some money to a charity of her choice, provided the charity is not a front for some militant group. “Shouldn’t I check with some mechanic to see that the car is snag-free and roadworthy” she asked. “That’s the least of your worries,” I told her.

It was refreshing to read last week that the Sindh Governor has directed all concerned to eliminate car and motorcycle thefts. The Governor seemed to be in a fighting mood because he said that the car-stealing business had assumed critical dimension over a period of time and he called for the smashing of networks of criminals, particularly the lifters of vehicles.

By way of smashing this network, the Sindh cabinet was told that Anti-Car Lifting Cell (ACLC) had also been reorganized “to get the desired results.” Under the new plan a team of dedicated and honest (sic) officers headed by an SSP-level would be deputed at the cell, while in every district of the province mini-cells would be set up to improve recovery of stolen vehicles and keep check over the rising trend of car snatching/stealing.

This is splendid news. It, first of all, recognizes that there is a network of criminals involved in the snatching of cars and motorcycles. Because the straight line is the shortest distance between two points, I would have thought that the right step would be to go after the network of criminals.

Car-snatching is not something new. It has been going on for a very long time and by now the authorities would have got a pretty good idea of the people involved as also of their modus operandi in disposing off the stolen cars. I have found it quite intriguing that cars of important officials and politicians that were stolen were discovered in record time. Those of the others, not recovered at all.

Somewhere, at the back of my head, there is a nagging suspicion of collusion at some level. The job has now been entrusted to a “team of dedicated and honest” officers and it is reassuring to know that there are some. But what does it say about those who had been entrusted with the task of recovering stolen vehicles in the past? Should it not be assumed that all public servants are dedicated and honest? If it is known that some are not so honest or not so dedicated, should they still be in service?

In the meeting, it was also decided to crack down on anti-social elements involved in running gambling, drugs and prostitution dens. I think it would be far better if realistic goals were set. These are social crimes that cannot be eliminated altogether. Take drug addiction. The numbers have increased alarmingly but should they be treated as criminals? Unless, we address the causes why people turn to drugs, despair, a sense of hopelessness and oppression, the addict will find his ‘fix’ even if he has to commit a crime to do so.

Thus drug-addiction has a multiplying effect. Similarly, women don’t turn to prostitution voluntarily, as a means of advancing a career. They are forced to become prostitutes by circumstances that amount to a last resort. By all means, crackdown on those who run the dens, more so those why buy and sell drugs and women but we should be running rehabilitation centres and this comes in the realm of social workers and not the police.

But not car-snatching. This is a straightforward criminal activity and it has become big business and it is not always easy to crack down on big business. Technically, it would qualify as a white collar crime. To stop car-snatching we will have to look beyond the streets.

And so I say to my friends: go ahead and buy the car. Consider it as buying a lottery ticket and just hope that your number does not come up.

It is being said that after September 11, the world changed forever. No such luck. Some things will never change, Karachi’s social problems, for example.

Is Washington taking advantage of the UN?

By Jonathan Power

GUNG-HO about the fall of Kabul, but wary about the political morass that now confronts it, the U.S. has thrown the ball to the United Nations, an organisation not normally held in high regard in Washington but, as on past occasions, a useful refuge in times of grave crisis. Yet if history is any guide, a wave of amnesia about the value of the UN will fall over Washington as soon as the matter in hand has been dealt with.

It has long been so. In 1954 there was the incident of the capture of seventeen U.S. airmen over China. Just as in the later Iranian hostage taking-taking, American opinion became extremely agitated. There was even some wild talk about the use of nuclear weapons.

The UN was asked to intervene and Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold went to Beijing to talk to Premier Chou En-lai. It took six months of negotiating but the men were released. The U.S. president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, has a whole chapter in his book on the incident but the central role of the UN secretary-general is almost ignored.

It is the same in Robert Kennedy’s book of the Cuban missile crisis. There is only a passing mention of Secretary-General U Thant’s letter to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, written in the face of the strong protest of the Soviet ambassador to the UN. Yet it was this letter that elicited a crucial response from Khrushchev indicating there was room for compromise.

In Suez in 1956, in Lebanon in 1958, in the Congo in 1969, and in the 1973 Middle East war it was the United Nations that provided an escape hatch for the big powers that had put themselves on a collision course.

In the wake of the Yom Kippur war, although both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had agreed in principle to a cease-fire, there seemed no way of implementing it. The situation looked exceedingly dangerous. Egypt was calling for Soviet help; President Richard Nixon put the U.S. armed forces on a nuclear alert.

It was fast footwork at the UN, principally by a group of Third World countries that helped break the impasse. They pushed for a UN force to go in- and it was on the ground the next day (A rapidity of movement that in the modern age the UN bureaucracy says is impossible- an example of an organisation coming to believe the worst that its critics says about it.)

One wishes, however, that the UN were more than the sum of its parts, that its secretary-general, Kofi Annan, could take more initiatives and be more daring. Brian Urquhart in his biography of Dag Hammarskjold tells of how it was that a man elected as a steady bureaucrat matured into a leader with a mystical feeling of mission.

He attempted to steer the UN into Laos in 1959 to pre-empt military aid from the U.S. and the Soviet Union. He hoped that once he got the principle of a UN presence established, it could be applied in the rest of Indochina. But the superpowers resisted his efforts with ferocity.

He managed to get the UN into the Congo because both the U.S. and the Soviet Union feared the developing anarchy and worried about the political cost of preempting each other. But when the Congolese government split, with the West and the East taking different sides, the UN effort nearly disintegrated. Hammarskjold was considering resignation, when, in a final effort to resolve the secession of mineral-rich Katanga, his plane crashed and he was killed.

Despite the failures- and the Congo was in the end a hard-won success- Hammarskjold’s spirit still hovers over the East River building. When he died he had more detractors than friends. Today with the passage of time he is the icon against whom successors are measured.

It was always Hammarskjold’s ambition to widen the scope of the UN. By the time of his second term he had become convinced that the world would only find more stability if the nations of the world voluntarily denied a portion of their sovereignty and allowed the UN a more independent role as an active peace organisation. Bits and pieces of Hammarskjold’s vision still remain. It was during his tenure that the technique of peacekeeping was developed and lately in East Timor it has shown how effective it can be, if done properly and not confused with the heavy application force as it was in Somalia and Bosnia.

Afghanistan is going to be the fire that tests Kofi Annan. The U.S. has run to his doorstep and asked for help- the opposite of what happened with the genocide of Rwanda when as head of UN peacekeeping Mr Annan appeared (rightly or wrongly) to be part of a Washingtonian conspiracy to avert all eyes. Over the last two months Washington has played fast and loose with the UN- wanting its votes to condemn the works of Osama bin Laden but avoiding any legal commitment, by refusing to subject its decisions on the bombing to a UN mandate.

For sure, the UN and its secretary-general should now say yes to Washington’s request to try and establish an interim government of unity in Kabul and even to help in the policing of a peace if one arrives. But a tough secretary-general who truly measured up to Hammarskjold would demand a quid pro quo- that Washington play by all the UN rules, not just the ones that suit it for the moment.—Copyright Jonathan Power

New turn in relations with Iran

By Dr Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty

THE visit last week to Pakistan by Dr Kamal Kharrazi, the Foreign Minister of Iran, marked the coming to fruition of the efforts President Pervez Musharraf has made to restore the closeness and cordiality that traditionally characterized the relations between Pakistan and Iran.

The President, who has visited Iran more than once since coming to power in October 1999, made a special stopover in Tehran on his way to New York for the UN General Assembly last month. While in New York, President Khatami of Iran was one of the leaders with whom he met. The combined impact of these meetings has been visible in the stepping up of visits to Pakistan by Iranian ministers, both to signify the improvement of relations, and to facilitate the injection of practical content into that improvement.

President Musharraf has recognized from the beginning that given the challenge we face to our interests from a BJP led India, the consolidation of relations with other neighbours is vital for our security. With Afghanistan unstable, and now the main target of the Global Coalition against terrorism, priority has been given to reinforcing relations with China and Iran. The all-weather Pakistan — China friendship has proved to be remarkably stable, and has become the cornerstone of our foreign policy. However, the relationship of trust and confidence built up with Iran since independence suffered some erosion ever since the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.

One positive aspect of the shift on our Afghan policy has been that it has restored the convergence that existed between Pakistan and Iran until 1996. At the Joint Press Conference on 30 November, Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar stated that the departure of the Taliban had cleared the way for the return to cordiality while Dr Kharrazi declared that a “new era of relations” had started between the two countries. Once again, these two neighbours which have the greatest potential influence on the emerging scenario in Afghanistan, are marching in step, both sharing the goal of facilitating the emergence of a broadbased, multiethnic government in the war ravaged country.

The bilateral relationship, one might recall, had not been seriously affected even in the lean years between 1996 and 2001, since there is no fundamental divergence between the two Islamic neighbours. As Mr.Sattar, recalled, trade had continued to flourish. However, the rise of the Taliban, whom Tehran originally viewed as a US backed movement to keep Iran under pressure, had led to certain coolness between the two countries. The divergence became more marked after Pakistan recognized the Taliban in 1997. Iran had stepped up its support to Northern Alliance, and eleven Iranian diplomats were killed when the Taliban occupied Mazar-i-Sharif for the second time in 1998.

Now that a new political dispensation is being planned in Kabul, Iran has reverted to an objective stance, and backing to the Northern Alliance has been replaced by a desire to promote a homegrown political set-up in which all ethnic groups are represented. Once such a dispensation materializes, Pakistan and Iran envisage cooperation in the task of reconstruction that would be undertaken in Afghanistan, after two decades of conflict and devastation. For this, the ECO, which has its seat in Tehran, can play a significant role.

Dr Kharrazi’s visit, at the head of a large and high-powered delegation, signified the resumption of all-round cooperation between the two countries. It may be recalled that his visit had been preceded by the visit of the Interior Minister of Iran, Mr. Abdulvahed Mousavi-Lari. He had also identified areas of common concern, and pledged cooperation on issues arising out of the fresh influx of Afghan refugees, as well as those pertaining to security, terrorism, and drug-trafficking.

Perhaps the most positive aspect of the new era of good-neighbourly relations was the decision announced to go ahead with the construction of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, without waiting for India’s participation, that was previously considered desirable to justify the large investment involved. The Iranian side signalled that as a part of the desire to remove the trade imbalance, Iran would make purchases of wheat and rice from Pakistan. A trade delegation would be coming shortly to discuss this transaction, as well as to explore other avenues for increasing trade.

The Iranian delegation also included the Deputy Defence Minister of Iran, who met the Acting Defence Secretary, and also visited the Pakistan Ordnance Factory at Wah. It was agreed, in principle, to enhance defence cooperation between the two countries, both of which have achieved considerable progress in defence industry. Further visits at the expert level are planned.

There were many indications, during Dr Kharrazi’s visit, that the traditional closeness between the two countries had returned. Though his call on President Musharraf was to be only for twenty minutes, it lasted three times as long. The Iranian Foreign Minister expressed interest in a considerable expansion of cultural cooperation, which had gone down in recent years. Apart from the issue of the Taliban, certain differences have existed over issues of a sectarian character. These are to be addressed, in the spirit of brotherly relations. Furthermore, a remarkable fact is that incidents of a sectarian nature have virtually disappeared since 11 September, except for the attack on a Christian Church in Bahawalpur, which was probably foreign inspired.

Cooperation between Iran and Pakistan is going to be critically important, notably in the context of Afghanistan, where their having a common approach could make a vital difference to stability in the post-Taliban era. Iran has certain misgivings about long-term US plans following its military intervention in Afghanistan. While the removal of the Taliban regime is welcome to Iran, Tehran is worried about the prospect of a lasting US military presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated in a recent television interview, that the US had no plans to establish a permanent military presence in the region. However, there is widespread speculation even in the western media that the opportunity for such a presence may be too tempting in order to gain control over the rich energy resources of Central Asia.

The world has changed dramatically since 11 September 2001, and the most immediate impact of the war declared against terrorism has been the military campaign launched against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Their last redoubt in Kandahar may fall before long, though scattered guerilla fighting may go on for some time. The Bush Administration talks about an extended campaign against terrorism, and has not ruled out attacks on other countries harbouring terrorists. Among countries to which the US may turn its attention, Iraq, another neighbour of Iran is mentioned most frequently.

Iran had agreed to extend emergency facilities to US aircraft operating against Afghanistan, and had also condemned the terrorist attacks on the US. However, Iran remains on the US list of terrorist states, and Washington has been criticizing Russia for selling military equipment, and nuclear reactors to Iran. As such, despite calls by influential circles in the US for a fresh look at relations with Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran remains wary of Washington’s goals and plans in West and Central Asia. It would also like to use its influence to promote a homegrown broad-based government in Afghanistan, which would be truly independent, and non-aligned.

It makes good sense for Pakistan and Iran to resume their traditional cordiality and cooperation. Both have many shared concerns, notably concerning Afghanistan, and have a positive role to play in promoting peace, stability and economic reconstruction in that country. With other major powers, such as Russia, China, and Europe also interested in the new “Great Game”, a strong relationships between Pakistan and Iran could be as much a factor of stability in Asia as the reliable and all-weather friendship between Pakistan and China.

Hold the victory declarations

DESPITE successes on the battlefields of Afghanistan, President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have been circumspect about claiming victory and prudent in warning of more difficult times to come. So it was jarring to hear Attorney General Ashcroft, who seemingly has fewer successes to point to, declaring that “America is winning the war on terrorism.”

As Mr Bush seems to understand, Americans do not need, nor are they going to be reassured by empty declarations of victory. Nor can such declarations substitute for answers about the more disquieting aspects of Mr Ashcroft’s investigation.

The attorney general based his claim of success on a law-enforcement effort that he said has been “disrupting the terrorist network in our own country” with, among other things, “arrests and detentions that have made America grow stronger, not weaker.” The nation is being asked to take his word on the efficacy of those actions, because Mr. Ashcroft continues to refuse to disclose fully who is being held and why. —-The Washington Post



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