DAWN - Opinion; April 21, 2003

Published April 21, 2003

What next in the Middle East?

By Roedad Khan

TO no country has fate been more malignant than to Iraq. It seems to be no coincidence that Iraqi songs are so melancholic and sad. The tragedy of Iraq is that from the beginning of time, it has offered humanity some of its richest civilizations. It is the land of Mesopotamia and of the Code of Hammurabi.

In 1258 AD, when the Mongol hordes under Hulagu, the grand son of Genghis Khan, attacked Baghdad, it was the centre of Muslim culture and civilization, the seat of the caliphate — the central pillar of Muslim ascendancy. When the siege ended, 80,000 people came out of the great city. They were counted by the Mongols and then systematically killed.

For six days and nights the massacre continued — an act of terrorism so thorough and so appalling that its memory has never left the Arab world. The skulls of the dead, as legend has it, were stacked in a pyramid as a grim reminder of Mongol savagery. As for Caliph Mustassem, he was shackled, insulted, starved. When he was brought before Hulagu, the Mongol prince offered him some of his own gold to eat. “How can one eat it. No one can eat gold”. Hulagu nodded. “If you knew that, why didn’t you send it to me. If you had, you would still be in your palace, eating and drinking without a care”.

The Caliph was mocked too, for not having used his riches to defend himself and his people. Finally, he was rolled in a carpet, then trampled to death by galloping horses. The fall of Baghdad plunged the Muslim world into a state of shock and terror. For the first time a significant part of the Islamic world had been subjected to the domination of a non-Muslim power.

Centuries later, in the early hours of the morning of March 20, 2003, to be exact, President Bush unleashed a totally unjust, unprovoked and unwarranted war against Iraq in violation of the UN Charter and in the teeth of opposition from the international community. In the opening days of the war, the focus on television was almost entirely on the fireworks spectacle of the American air attack on Baghdad — which looked on the small screen like a son et lumiere show. Darkness in midday in Baghdad, strange smoke clouds veiling the sun — images that recur in the minds of those who witnessed on television the last days of free Baghdad.

Day-turned-into-night heightened the perception of doom, the anguish; for those whose minds turned to philosophy, it was a fitting symbol of the ‘fading away’ of the world’s most glorious city, the city of the Arabian Nights, its surrender to the world’s newest empire. It had all the makings of an apocalypse. Low in the sky, a thick layer of black cloud hung over the tragic city as far as one could see.

The United States seems intent on reinstating the old imperial logic of power — that “might makes right”. The so-called Melian dialogue is Thucydide’s harshest example of power politics. The Athenians land a force on Melos, a neutral island in the central Aegean and arrogantly tell the Melians: “Since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only a question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.

“Why is this chicken here?” Clemenceau said over lunch one day to Lloyd George’s mistress, Frances Stevenson. “Because it was not strong enough to resist those who wanted to kill it. And a very good thing too!” Iraq has been devoured. Syria is next on the hit list and is now in America’s gun sights.

The biggest headaches for the United States are likely to stem not from the invasion and conquest of Iraq, but from its aftermath — the old conundrum of military history: what to do with the loser? Now that the country has been conquered and Saddam’s regime driven out of power, the United States is left “owning” an ethnically divided country of 22 million people ravaged by more than two decades of wars and severe deprivations. Having destroyed the old order in Iraq and having deployed troops, tanks, and military aircraft everywhere, American policy-makers propose to impose a sham democracy and a quisling government on the people of Iraq as they did in Afghanistan and reduce Iraq to the status of a vassal state.

A fundamental problem which persists till today is that Shia majority in Iraq would not accept domination by the minority Sunni Muslims. Yet “no form of government has yet been envisaged, which does not involve Sunni domination”. The British commander who seized Baghdad from the Ottoman Turks in March 1917, General Frederick Stanley Maude, told the local citizenry, “Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators”. The British dominated Baghdad and what became Iraq for decades. Now it is America’s turn to ‘liberate’ Iraq. “To save the village, it must be destroyed”, the dreadful mantra that sums up how America “liberates” weak countries.

I think with horror of the years that the people of Iraq are going to live through. How long will the triumphs of the invaders last? It is too early to say but partly it will depend on the ugly treason and treachery of those who will rally to the new masters and do their bidding. What sinister years lie ahead? It is like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen but can’t stretch out your hand to prevent them. I see myself as one of what Walter Lippmann, the legendary dean of American columnists, called the bewildered herd, with a hole in my heart and a gnawing sense that Islamic world will not be the same again.

And yet, “everything seems”, as Goethe said, “to be following its usual course because in terrible moments in which everything is at stake, people go on living as if nothing was happening”. One trait specially developed by Muslims throughout the Islamic world is their capacity to become inured to the worst possible condition of existence without perceiving that anything is wrong.

When some tragedy occurs, you soldier on as if nothing has happened, because that is the way life is. A dog that has been hit by a car often does not lie down right away on the street and die. Dazed, it circles and circles again, trying, through its pain and wounds, to mimic normal behaviour. That is exactly what the Islamic world is doing today.

Many people find themselves in a state of despair these days, and with good reason. Disturbed and powerless, but also filled with anger, we are witnessing the demise of an independent, sovereign Muslim country and the moral decline of the world’s only superpower, burdened by the knowledge that one consequence of this organized madness is certain: the motivation for more terrorism. The invasion of Iraq is no more than a prelude to an attack on Syria, Iran and other Muslim countries including Pakistan. It is the opening shot of a wider campaign to “reform” Islam and bring about regime change by force of arms in the Islamic world. This is just the beginning.

General Tommy Franks has accomplished three truly remarkable successes. One, he has turned the monster of Baghdad into the hero of the entire Muslim world. Two, by invading Iraq he has lit the match that will sooner or later, perhaps sooner than later, set the entire Middle East on fire. All Middle East will then find itself in the eye of a raging storm of turmoil and strife. Three, he has demonstrated that in the Middle East there is no sense of legitimacy or permanence, no agreement on rules of the game and, more important, that successors to the Ottoman Sultans have not yet been permanently installed.

Today the burning issue in the Middles East is the same: will the 1922 settlement survive the present conflict? Will the incumbent rulers and the countries they rule endure? Will diverse peoples — Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias — regroup to create new political identities for themselves after the collapse of the old order to which they had grown accustomed. One thing is clear. When the dust settles down the political map of the Middle East will be unrecognizable. The settlement of 1922 is at the heart of the current crisis of the Middle East for the questions that Kitchener, Lloyd George, and Churchill opened up are even now being contested by force of arms along the banks of the Tigris, Euphrates, and by the waters of the Biblical Jordan. I have no doubt in my mind that if foreign aggression is not vacated, and Iraq is reduced to the level of a client state; if Iraq is not handed over to the people of Iraq, the post-Saddam political settlement is not made on the highest principle of justice consistent with the sovereignty and independence of the people of Iraq; if the Palestinian problem is not resolved in a manner that is perceived by most Palestinians as just and equitable — there will follow not mere conflict but cataclysm and the new American order in the Middle East will be swept away by the people in less than a generation. There can be no lasting international order based on the logic of power.

Hopefully, the fall of Baghdad will serve as a wake-up call for the Islamic world. It has been shaken up suddenly, like a sleeping person awakened with a start from a tranquillizing dream. Most people had been philosophical about the war, stoical, and even dilettantish. Now a cold wind has swept all that away. Pessimism is the order of the day. Everybody wants to know who had betrayed the Islamic world and how to respond to the American threat? In the minds of the ordinary folk, of course, it was the rulers who had done the betraying.

When Syria stood under the threat of Mongol invasion in the 13th century, Ibn Tamiyya, a towering figure in the history of Islamic thought, exhorted his followers to fight the Mongol foe. Having identified America as a threat to Islam as the Mongols were, Osama bin Laden, using the logic of Ibn Tamiyya, called on the Ummah to fight the Americans.

Palestine is still the issue

By Ghada Karmi

JOHN PILGER, the well-known campaigning journalist, made last year one of the best documentaries on the Middle East conflict ever shown on British TV. It was called, Palestine is still the issue. Apposite as that title was then, it is even truer now that America and Britain have gone to war — not to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but against Iraq. The destruction of Iraq is now another open wound in the body politic of the Arab world to add to that festering in Palestine for over fifty years.

And with the current chorus of threat rising against Syria, attention is focused on what that might bode for the future of that country. Given these upheavals, who now is thinking about Palestine?

That Iraq — maybe Syria next — and not Palestine, should hold front rank in the world’s attention, is a triumph above all for Israel. This state, which was imposed on the Arab world by force and coercion over 50 years ago, was always for Arabs the real problem, not Iraq. The conflict with Israel has dominated the history of the modern Middle East and is the main cause of regional instability. It has caused four major wars, chronic regional militarization, distorted Arab social development and created violent anti-western feeling, increasingly expressed as terrorism.

Since its inception, Israel has served as a facilitator of western regional interests. The structure of divide and rule introduced by the West, part of which was also to keep autocratic client rulers in place, was reinforced by Israel’s establishment. Far from unifying the Arabs to confront the challenge this event posed, it actually consolidated western hold on the region.

Arab regimes that suppress popular dissent and are dependent on the West, have been essential to Israel’s survival, and so have been supported. It is this culture of dictatorship and oppression, encouraged for decades to maintain the western regional structure, that nurtured the likes of Saddam Hussein who was no more than an especially unsavoury example of the whole genre.

The real issue in the Middle East is the conflict with Israel and the western determination to keep Israel dominant over its Arab neighbours. Though it is so central, people are weary of hearing about this conflict, simply because it has been going on for so long. And the war on Iraq will most likely only make it worse. Yet, it is the unsolved problem of Palestine that traditionally has engaged and enraged the Arab and Muslim worlds more than any other. Muslims everywhere, a majority of non-aligned states, and all Arabs feel passionately about Palestine. While on a recent visit to Pakistan, I observed first hand the passionate support for Palestine demonstrated everywhere. Even on the eve of war in Iraq, as it was then, Palestine was still the main issue.

This is not just because people share an Islamic faith that rejects the suffering of fellow Muslims. It is also due to identification with the experience of oppression and a rejection of western colonialist practices of which most Muslims nations have a living memory. The current attack and occupation of Iraq further reinforces these perceptions, and serves as yet another example of western arrogance and contempt for the rights of weaker nations.

All these aspects are uniquely encapsulated by the Palestinian story. Here was a small people, living peaceably in their land who found themselves, without apparent cause, pawns in a game of someone else’s devising. With the implementation of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 — the deal, which offered European Zionists a Jewish homeland in Palestine — Palestinians became engulfed in a nightmare of which they had little understanding or control.

I remember that the Palestine of my childhood in the 1940s was overwhelmingly affected by this nightmare. My family was pretty ordinary. We lived in Jerusalem. My father was a school inspector, my mother was a housewife. I had an older sister and brother and a much-loved mongrel dog called Rex. By rights, that’s where I would have stayed, grown up and died. But we were forced to flee in 1948 and were never allowed to return. We came to live in Britain, while at home, Israel was born on our land and against our will. In true colonialist fashion, no one consulted us or asked for permission to perpetrate this terrible act. The UN passed numerous resolutions, enjoining our return and compensation, none of which has Israel implemented.

Western powers, which have insisted on Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions and claim that as one of their reasons for going to war, never pressured Israel to comply similarly. The Palestinian refugees created in 1948 still languish with their children in camps surrounding Israel. A small part of the original Palestine — now known as the West Bank and Gaza — remained Arab after 1948. Today, even this residue is massively colonized by Israeli settlements, and the Palestinian aspiration to statehood there seems doomed.

Since September 2000, Israel’s army has perpetrated a brutal occupation of Palestinian land. The list of resulting depredations makes wretched reading. Over 2,000 Palestinians killed, 85 per cent of them civilians and one quarter under the age of 18; a ruined economy and widespread poverty; closures and virtually continuous curfews, destruction of agriculture and uprooting of tress; imprisonment and torture. And Israel perpetrates this extraordinary military assault on civilians with total impunity while enjoying unprecedented levels of US support

It is this mix of western-backed oppression, injustice and colonization that makes of Palestine a paradigm for the Third World. Many Arabs and Muslims are prepared to die for Palestine and see it as the moral cause of our time. And not just for them. On the many anti-war marches in Britain that have taken place since February, Palestine has featured as prominently as Iraq, and every speaker on every rally made mention of it. The potency of Palestine as symbol and cause is the reason why diverse actors have exploited it. Saddam Hussein, in a bid to lead the Arab world, espoused it. Osama bin Laden, seeking credibility, took it up. Tony Blair has been at extreme pains to demonstrate his concern. He convened a Palestinian conference in London in January this year and has made much of the so-called Middle East Road Map.

President Bush now speaks of resolving the Palestinian problem in the near future via the same Road Map. Anyone who studies the details of this map will see that it is likely to face the same fate as the other peace proposals which perished because their lack of generosity towards the Palestinians and the intransigent Israeli reception they received. Though much of this US/British professed concern for solving the Palestinian problem is window-dressing designed to ensure Arab support over Iraq, it nonetheless shows an awareness that Palestine has become a matter of public debate.

And more so as Israel swings towards the extreme right and deals with the Palestinians only with military force. There is a humanitarian disaster in the occupied territories that Israelis gloss over. Israel’s leaders eagerly anticipated the war on Iraq and are currently crowing with delight at Iraq’s defeat — indeed many believe they played a major role in its inception.

It has been widely reported that Israel’s leaders planned to liquidate the Palestinian problem under cover of the war and resulting focus of attention on Iraq, using even greater force and possible mass expulsions. This policy is openly debated in Israel, 44 per cent of whose people support it. Anti-Arab slogans are widespread: ‘no Arabs no attacks’, declare the billboards across the country. The nightmare that I lived through 54 years ago may be about to happen again. So far, this has not happened on a mass scale.

But what has happened is nearly as sinister. Small-scale evictions, house demolitions forcing people to leave, and killing are a daily occurrence in the Palestinian areas. In February, Israel killed 84 people, in March, ‘80. During the week of April 3-9 alone, another 18 Palestinians, five of them children, were killed. The only difference now is that these ghastly acts go largely unnoticed and unreported.

As long as the conflict remains unresolved, the potential for more regional wars and violence will remain or be aggravated, and the likelihood of terrorism, whether individual or organizational, will increase. Imposing another unequal settlement on the Palestinians will not work. And yet US/British attention is focused, not on this, but on what was a quiescent Iraq, destroyed by sanctions, and posing no threat whatever to the West. Astoundingly, it is Palestine with all its dangers, not Iraq, that is on the back burner. Israel’s increasing violence against Palestinians is also on the back burner, and Ariel Sharon, who has longed for this moment, will be hoping that no one will notice the horrors yet to come.

Can this orgy of killing be ignored? And can the world still pretend that peace in Israel/Palestine is secondary to Iraq? Will the chaos in Iraq and the trumped up charges against Syria be used yet again to obscure the real issue in the Middle East? This is manifest and wilful nonsense. But the wake-up call, when it comes, may be too late.

The writer is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, England and author of ‘In Search of Fatima: a Palestinian story’ (Verso).

Fall of Baghdad

By Ghulam Umar

THE US-led forces entered Iraq over three weeks ago and continued to pound targets with thousands of guided weapons in a blitz designed not only to force Iraq into submission, but also to warn other nations of the world that this is what they would face if they refused to submit to the will of today’s sole superpower. Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, while describing various options available to sort out international problems, said that the use of force was an important factor as shown by US action against Iraq.

The US and Britain launched their “Shock and Awe” operation, which continues even after the fall of Baghdad. One can still see the ancient city of five million people blazing with flames of fire and emitting thick clouds of smoke at places. Mosul was taken on last Friday. Baghdad and other captured cities are racked by anarchy, loot and plunder. In Baghdad, Mosul and the southern city of Basra, law and order has crumbled. Armed men roam the streets, robbing houses, banks and shops and hijacking cars.

The United States does not seem to have the will to control lawlessness and disorder in Iraq, or they are wilfully allowing these to happen aiming at creating the ground for a long stay in Iraq. The coalition forces have shown complete unwillingness to restrain looters or impose any sort of control on the mobs that now rule the streets. This inaction by the occupying powers is in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

That history repeats itself is an old maxim. One is reminded of the uncanny truth contained in it in the present context of Iraq. Mongols invaded Baghdad in 1258 AD. It was an attack, not a war in the usual sense. People were indiscriminately put to the sword. The country, an ancient cradle of civilization, culture and knowledge, that blossomed during the caliphates received a catastrophic blow, besides the colossal loss of life. Barbaric though the attack was, it was probably not as barbaric as the recent attack by the neo-Tartars.

The earlier invasion of Baghdad was limited in scope and in terms of the area affected. Now come the Americans — with their own political and economic ambitions. It is about something much more seductive, a special kind of power that every conqueror of Iraq wished to demonstrate as he smashed his way into the land of this ancient civilization.

The invasion has already marginalized the United Nations and waved aside international law and morality. The United Nations was created to establish peace and understanding between states and not interfering in what happened within a state that lofty objective now lies buried under the rubble of American bombing in Iraq.

The world is entering new conditions being created for it by an arrogant, power-driven America. The result is that we, the common human beings, are being herded into an uncertain future. The new century stretches before us, in which vast numbers of humans could be saved from the ravages of hunger, ignorance, disease and social injustice provided there are peace, sanity and cooperation at national and international levels.

We could ensure a pollution-free environment for us and a cleaner technology to serve humanity. We could create a peaceful world in which the plague of war is non-existent. But the United States has plunged the humanity into an age of hate, explosive violence and war.

We have seen anti-war struggles cannot be waged and won with speeches, prayers, protest marches and picket lines alone. Anti-War movements need action taken by all segments of society, the common people, the opinion makers and, above all, by those who formulate policies. The danger is that in a complex world some anti-war enthusiasts may come to believe that in certain circumstances resort to force and coercion is needed to avoid bigger calamities — to prevent more terrible wars.

Let us not forget that wars have a way of repeating themselves. Let us not accept war as a check on wars. In spite of the protests against war throughout the world in the present case, it was not possible to stop the Anglo-Americans from going ahead with the war plans against Iraq.

We have seen the devastation caused by war in Iraq, not only in terms of innocent people killed and maimed, but also in the form of destruction of buildings and civic facilities. The chaos resulting from the collapse of the established order in Iraq may continue for a long time to come. Is this liberation? The war may have resulted in an easy victory for the invaders but the struggle for peace and normalization is bound to prove much harder. The entire region is disturbed and worried about what lies ahead — whose turn next and so forth.

Wars have resulted from irrationality, miscalculations, xenophobia, fanaticism and just plain ambitions to dominate even when every rational indicator suggested that peace would be a better option to pursue as was the case in Iraq. It is often the ‘perception’ of interests rather than the interests themselves that determine the choice.

At one time it was thought that nations were becoming so economically interdependent as to restrain their tendency to fight one another, and that military might would decrease in significance, and that the real battlefield of tomorrow would be the global economy. As against this, blood-tinged headlines and actions of today sometimes make one feel as if the newly emerged “geo-economic” era is already fading away. The war-makers do not merely calculate economic pluses and minuses before the plunge into war; they calculate, instead, their chances of seizing, expanding or retaining power and control.

Sun-Tzu had held that the most successful general was the one who achieved his ends without battle or with minimal losses. Clausewitz, the father of modern strategy, taught a different lesson. His dictum was that war is an act of violence pushed to its utmost bounds, to the point of total war. The Nazi theorists rejected the notion of total war by denying the reality of peace and insisting that peace was merely a period of war preparation. One hopes that the present-day rulers with disproportionate political and military ambitions do not fall for the theory propounded and practised by the Nazis.

The crisis the world faces today is one of the absence of well developed and active peace processes that correspond to the new conditions, the world for system and to the realities of new form of war.

The problem is not how to promote peace in a perfect world but in a world we have and the new one we are creating. In today’s real world we have a new global system in the making and a new way of making war, and yet so far few corresponding innovations have been mad in the way we try to make and keep peace.

Making peace cannot depend on the prior solution of all the world’s moral, social, political and economic ills. Those who tell us that war is a result of poverty, injustice, corruption, overpopulation and misery may be right, though the prognosis seems simplistic. If all these problems must be eliminated before peace is possible, then war prevention becomes a utopian exercise. To oppose war in any form or for any reason is morally imperative.

We have before us the opportunity to forge a new world order, a world where the rule of law, not the law of jungle, governs the conduct of nations. If the anti-globalization movement can more effectively influence the direction of the anti-war movement, we may be seeing the beginning of a new world order based on justice, equity, peace and harmony.

The writer is a retired major-general of the Pakistan army.

E-mail, genumar@yahoo.com

Waiting for the call

By Anwer Mooraj

‘TAMING a brutal society’ evoked a rather warm response. Besides the phone calls, and the pats on the back at a reception, there were 23 e-mails, ranging from the short eulogies to the totally unreproduceable missives. But it was nice to know that Dawn was being read in such far-flung places as Montreal, Bloemfontein, Jakarta and Legaspi in the Philippines, and that Pakistani expatriates still like to keep in touch with the mother country through this newspaper.

But what was a little disconcerting, however, was that while most of the e-mails regretted the complete breakdown of law and order, there was not a single word of sympathy for the poor sweeper whose brief temporal existence was cruelly snuffed out in a Lahore police station. It does remind one of the story of Adolf Hitler who, on being reborn, said,’ We must kill six million Jews and 200 sheep.’ When somebody asked him why he wanted to kill the 200 sheep, the Fuehrer said,’ See, I told you, nobody really cares about the Jews.’

In Pakistan, nobody really cares about the poor, especially rural women who are regularly abused by tyrannical fathers, brothers and husbands. Certainly not the members of the Sindh provincial assembly. In a remarkable display of doublespeak, the Sindh chief minister, Sardar Ali Muhammad Mahar, said in Hyderabad on April 17 that because of the lack of education and the backwardness of the province, he supported the jirga system. In the same breath he stated that the government was making strenuous efforts to root out the unfortunate custom of Karo Kari. Has the chief minister forgotten that rapes and killings often take place on the orders of jirgas? And that the police have been conditioned to look the other way when some poor female is killed, say, over a property dispute?

Is the chief minister being deliberately naive, or is he displaying some of the traits that the citizens of this province have been seeing for the last 54 years? The point is, Karo Kari cannot be eradicated as long as the feudal system exists. And by the look of things, feudalism in the country should be around for at least another 100 years — unless, of course, there is a devastating war followed by a social upheaval. Social scientists are quick to point out that the Marxist dialectic about capitalism replacing feudalism cannot be applied to Pakistan, because the capitalist system, in its unfettered state, has never really been allowed to flourish in the country. If the chief minister and the governor are being sincere when they say they are willing to lend an ear to the scorching accounts of frustrations that exist in the province, they should, for starters, ensure that the policemen do their duty. There is no special category for ‘honour killing ‘in the Penal Code of Pakistan. The crime is to be treated as murder, and the criminal is to be tried under Section 302 of the Penal Code of Pakistan.

A day earlier, at the inaugural ceremony of the Human Rights Office of the Sindh Women’s wing of the Pakistan Muslim League, the chief minister had pointed out that more women would be inducted in the provincial cabinet. This was probably his way of saying that he was doing his bit for the other fifty per cent of the population and endorsing the president’s resolve to ‘empower’ the women of Pakistan.

To the astonishment of reporters who were present on the occasion, the chief minister said that he would raise a voice for women’s rights from all platforms available in the country, and that his office was ready to solve all genuine problems of the people — particularly the women. Well, it is not too late to make a start. All it takes is one phone call to the inspector-general of police to galvanize the force into taking action. The point is, will he make that call? The people have waited for 54 years for somebody to pick up the instrument. And they are still waiting.

Every time a democratically elected government is dismissed in Pakistan, and a military dictator takes over, whether it is for ninety days or ninety months, the nation holds its breath in the hope and expectation that things are at last going to change for the better. President Musharraf was no exception.

After the aircraft landing fiasco, there was the same elegant ferocity behind the clutch of microphones that one saw in the past, the same sanctimonious posturing, the same robust estimation of the ability of the new government to root out corruption, punish the guilty and eradicate poverty. But as the dust began to settle and the president had to distinguish between genuine and brittle loyalties, and had to keep a sharp ear to the crass pandering to vital market demographics, things began to gradually fall into place. And the disillusionment set in.

However, in all fairness to President Musharraf, he has been able to accomplish quite a few things during his first three years as el supremo, and might have been able to carry on in the same vein if he had been given half the chance. But these days he is not being allowed to breathe. Internationally, he is facing military threats from a belligerent and hostile neighbour on the country’s eastern flank, who is taking advantage of the fact that the attention of the world has been focused on events in Iraq. Domestically, he is fighting a rear guard action on a number of fronts. He is embroiled in an unfortunate constitutional crisis of his own making, which threatens to rock the boat of prime minister Jamali, with supporters of the PPP and the MMA determined to turf out both the controversial LFO and its author. He has to face the wrath of the forces of obscurantism which accuse him of selling out to the heathen West and for not forcefully supporting a beleaguered brother Muslim country. He has to contend with a government machinery that is both inefficient and corrupt. And he has to answer accusations of harbouring defaulters and repeatedly interfering in the activities of the assemblies.

The fact is that it might be a little too late to do anything. The public has lost all faith in authority. It makes no difference if the baton is wielded by somebody in battle fatigues, a tribal leader or an industrialist. The quality of life, not only for the working class, but also for the members of the upper middle class, is poor, and appears to be getting worse as time goes by. Then there is always the danger lurking on the eastern front. Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, Pakistan’s florid foreign minister, has said Pakistan’s missiles are better than those of India. The nation should pray that it should never have to use them. The poor people of this country, battered and without hope, can’t take very much more.

E-mail: a-mooraj@cybernet.pk

Time to lift sanctions

BOTH the United Nations Security Council and the Bush administration bear responsibility for fixing relations badly damaged by the bitter quarrel over war with Iraq. Now that Saddam Hussein is out of power, it makes sense to quickly lift the sanctions imposed on Iraq a dozen years ago.

It would be a good start in lessening the friction to have Security Council nations that opposed the war agree with the U.S. proposal to end UN sanctions. More important, it would benefit millions of Iraqis devastated by decades of war and restraints on economic activity.

Some council members are concerned that sanctions are the only legal basis for UN influence in Iraq and that removing them would legitimize the U.S.-led invasion. However, Russia and France said Thursday they supported lifting sanctions and left it up to the UN Security Council to determine the method.

Moscow and Paris should understand that if they oppose quick action they risk being viewed as hypocritical, because for years before the war Russia and France lobbied to ease and eventually remove the economic sanctions. Russian and French companies were prominent among the firms doing business with Hussein’s Iraq.

UN diplomats say that before sanctions can be lifted, weapons inspectors must certify that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. U.S. forces have hunted for chemical and biological weapons since the invasion began, so far without luck. The Bush administration should let UN inspectors back into Iraq as soon as fighting stops in cities like Mosul and the UN can supply its own armed security force for the inspectors. After all, it was the Bush administration that pointed to those weapons as a major stated reason for going to war. —Los Angeles Times



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