DAWN - Opinion; May 5, 2003

Published May 5, 2003

America’s unethical war

By Khalid Mahmud Arif

WAR against Iraq, a monumental mismatch between two unequal powers, was unjust, unethical and unnecessary. Iraq’s defeat was inevitable from day one and the overwhelming qualitative and quantitative military superiority of the coalition partners made the contest a grossly one-sided affair. Iraq did not resist and its performance was timid, sporadic and unplanned. It collapsed without fighting. The tame performance took many analysts by surprise.

Two factors caused miscalculation about Iraq’s ability to resist aggression. One, for over one decade US had wilfully projected Iraq as a military power posing threat not only to its regional neighbours but also to the US itself. This over-projection by media was a ploy to win over global support for committing aggression against it. Secondly, President Saddam Hussein’s defiant attitude created an impression that his country would firmly resist aggression and protect its sovereignty and independence. This did not happen. Saddam overplayed the game of brinkmanship and dragged his country into a war for which it was neither equipped nor ready.

President Saddam Hussein lost the war and perhaps his life as well. A tyrant fell without a fight. He ruled by the gun and may have died by it. However, he lost the war in which the victor does not deserve credit. On the other hand, President Bush won the war but lost credibility and diminished his moral stature. He had repeatedly accused Saddam’s Iraq for possessing weapons of mass destruction (MMD).

Saddam was accused for not cooperating with the UN monitoring team. President Bush personally castigated Saddam Hussein for lying to the world and cheating on WMD. In his marathon presentation in the UN Security Council Secretary of State Colin Powell took pains to prove that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons besides having some components of nuclear weapons. Iraq firmly rejected this allegation.

The IAEA Executive Director Mohammad Elbaredei did accept Powell’s viewpoint. The UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix stated that the evidence placed on the table by Colin Powell was outdated, inconclusive and unreliable. Both acknowledged Iraq’s cooperation with the UN inspectors and requested for more time to complete their mandated task. The US and Britain rejected this request.

The occupation powers — the US and Britain — have so far failed to recover any WMD from Iraq now under their control. Both face global pressure and are in a quandary. Scott Ritter, a UN face global pressure and are in a quandary. Scott Ritter, a UN weapon inspector in Iraq for seven years, states that if the American and British justification for attack on Iraq turns out to be a fabrication, which he believes to be the case, the war will turn out to be a defeat for the US and for the international rule of law.

For almost a decade the US had strongly advocated that the UN inspectors should complete their work in Iraq and disarm this country of WMD. Washington has now taken a U-turn on this issue. White House is now ‘adamantly opposed’ to the return of UN arms inspectors to Baghdad. Elbaredei and Hans Blix feel that IAEA should resume its work and the occupation forces should stop their current search. Instead, an international team of arms inspectors may verify Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

This sane argument is hard to reject. The issue has gained urgency because of the speculation that the occupation forces may plant their own weapons and then put the blame on Iraq. The recovery of any WMD from Iraq by the occupation forces will lack credibility and confirm the earlier apprehensions that the US assessments of Iraq’s threat potential were faulty, biased or both.

The global reputation and credibility of President Bush is at stake. Was he economical with truth while accusing Saddam of possessing or developing WMDs and seeking international support for attacking Iraq? Did he mislead the people of the world, the UN Security Council, the people of America and the US Congress? His image, already low, may further decline if the UN inspectors are denied an opportunity to complete the work authorized by the UN Security Council. The return of Hans Blix and his team to complete their task will benefit both, the UN and the US.

This is not the first time in history when a US president has suppressed facts for reasons of self-interest. In recent history, President Nixon lied to the people of America on Watergate break-in and lost presidency. Americans have not forgiven him so far. To quote one more example, one US weekly wrote thus about another US president, “Clinton will be remembered as a president who lied to his people, betrayed his wife, committed perjury, cheated and committed high crimes, and got away with them.” Clinton lost his integrity. How will history judge President Bush is not the central point of this piece.

For the present, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ has succeeded in colonizing Iraq and achieving coalition goals in the region — control on oil, domination of the region, protecting Israeli interests and spreading ‘awe and terror’ in the world.

The available evidence suggests that the invasion of Iraq was conceived just before and soon after the ‘Desert Storm’ of 1991. The then US defence secretary and now US Vice-President Dick Cheney says, “Given its additional sources (Kuwaiti oil), Iraq would expand its vast arsenal of conventional and non-conventional weaponry — soon to include nuclear weapons. His military strength, coupled with enhanced economic and political power, would give Saddam Hussein even greater coercive power over his neighbours on oil and other issues.”

The then US secretary of state, James Baker, defines the US standpoint even more clearly thus: “It is not just a narrow question of the flow of oil from Kuwait and Iraq. It is about a dictator who, acting alone and unchallenged, could strangle the global economic order, determining by fiat whether we all enter a recession or even the darkness of a repression.” The statements of Cheney and Baker, made years ago, explain US mindset.

In 2003, America, acting in collaboration with Britain, and unchallenged, has gobbled up a politically weak oil-rich Iraq on fabricated allegations that Washington has so far failed to prove. The coalition’s military victory in Iraq is a defeat of justice and peace; sidelining of the UN and the IAEA; disregard of a world public opinion; reviling three permanent members of the UN Security Council — Russia, France, and China — colonial occupation of Iraq on the pretext of promoting democracy; and putting the world on notice that the new era of US neo-colonialism is based on unilateralism in which might is right and the weak must surrender its freedom and sovereignty to the dictates of the strong.

This has set a dangerous precedent. Encouraged by the US action, other regional bullies are threatening regional peace and stability and started flexing their military muscles against their weak neighbours. Gone are the days when ethics and morality were the guiding norms of the US foreign policy options. The Bush administration can do without such niceties. The coming moths and years will unfold the inherent weakness of this arrogance of power.

Iraq is an eye-opener for Pakistan and other countries that cherish freedom and sovereignty. The writing on the wall is crystal clear. No country is fully secure without the military wherewithal to protect its freedom and without the economic strength to resist external pressures. Needless to say, economic vitality and military strength are derived from national unity and political cohesiveness. A politically weak country is a threat to itself. Political rhetoric is a part of statecraft. But taken beyond limits, it becomes counterproductive.

Those in power and those in opposition must put their heads and hearts together while evolving workable policies that promote national interests. The electorate may vote those in the saddle out of power tomorrow. And those in opposition may learn that the role of opposition is positive and extends far beyond negative politics.

The writer is a retired general of the Pakistan army.

Police pickets in Punjab

By Anwer Mooraj

IN Lahore the spring has come and gone, and the summer is setting in. In fact, things are hotting up in Punjab, but in more than the meteorological sense of the term. Recently, a plan was hatched, which is the brainchild of the current chief minister, to introduce 400 more pickets on the highways of the province. This would mean the recruitment of 6,000 policemen more.

The proposal has already sent shudders down the spines of itinerant motorists who don’t have a particularly high opinion of the police in general and the Punjab police in particular. Especially after the local newspapers were recently littered with gory details of police brutality in police stations, which, in this country is treated as an occupational hazard of life, and inevitably goes unpunished.

The proposal, it is understood, has been sent to the home department for approval, and after the scheme has been rubber-stamped, the file will be returned to the chief minister, who, one presumes, will then pepper the highways and byways of Pakistan’s largest province with freshly recruited, ill-trained, baton-swinging men in white and grey uniform with a brief to curtail lawlessness. Curtailing crime will probably be the last thing on their minds.

There has been considerable resistance to this plan from lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers and other white-collar professionals. Critics have been quick to point out that the creation of an enlarged network of police pickets is not necessarily the right formula for checking inter-city crime and robberies on the highways. The chief minister, and the small group of advisers that surround him, have quite obviously not taken into consideration the public perception about police pickets. Whether one is referring to cities like Gujranwalla, Gujrat, Rawalpindi, Sialkot or Multan, or the highways, these pickets, with rare exceptions, remain avenues for police extortion and harassment.

Over the years they have institutionalized corruption and oppression and despite public outcries, their activities have not only intensified, but become more barbarous. A little over three weeks ago a 14-year-old lad, with everything to live for, who was certainly not on any wanted list or involved in any anti-social activity, was beaten to death at a police picket in Lahore. His crime ? He didn’t have sufficient money to secure his release. Another 24-year-old, also with no criminal record, was shot dead by an enraged policeman because he failed to stop at a Gowalmandi police chowki in Lahore. Why does one get the impression that one has read all this before, dozens of times ?

In London, the policeman has always been projected as an upright, friendly soul, honest to a fault, helpful to the tourist and old ladies crossing the street, who goes about his daily routine with fortitude and chin-up correctness. This is not to suggest that the British police are perfect. Who can forget the case of the Birmingham Six, or the numerous accusations that are made of bias when the police are investigating crimes involving Asians?

But all said and done, the British police are still better than the police forces anywhere in the world. The London Bobby doesn’t go around bashing somebody’s skull because he has been accused of nicking a tape recorder. Nor does he fire indiscriminately into a crowd that might be protesting against something or the other. In civilized countries riot police use rubber bullets or water canons to disperse an unruly crowd. They are equally effective, and they don’t kill people.

It would take a complete overhaul of the police department in Punjab, to give them a better image. What is required is a proper re-orientation by the governor, or the corps commander of Lahore, followed by a mammoth public relations exercise, so that the police start to see themselves as a professional force performing an important public service, and not as a gang of undisciplined, corrupt carribiniere operating outside the law and perceiving itself as the handmaiden of a political elite on which it can in turn depend for illegal gratification and protection.

But before this can be done, the home department has to clean up the Augean stables. Severe punishment can be meted out to policemen guilty of various contretemps and those who believe the only way to extract a confession from a suspected felon, who might well be innocent, is to beat him and torture him until he confesses to whatever the police say he did. If they start this exercise today, they might be able to complete the process in another five years, assuming, of course, that they can overcome that debilitating disease that has ravaged the country since partition —- inertia.

The Greek philosopher Plato would have probably found Pakistan a suitable place to live in. In the Pakistani context the Idea which is permanent and immutable in the eyes of God, is inflexibility. ‘Change is evil, rest divine,’ wrote the author of ‘The Republic’. Except for the fact that there is more black money in the economy, nothing has really changed in the country: the attitude towards karo kari and honour killing, the belief that feudalism provides stability to an essentially agrarian society and that the military is an integral part of the Pakistani political system and is here to stay in one form or the other.

Coming back to the plan of the Punjab chief minister, it must be pointed out that in no way has the police checkpoint system inhibited criminal activity. On the contrary, it has probably encouraged it. It is a well known fact that not only criminals, like truckers carrying contraband goods, but also entrepreneurs indulging in illegal activity, make generous contributions at checkpoints, and pass on the cost of the bribe to the consumer. Even hardened criminals, who feature on the wanted lists in four provinces, can buy their way out of trouble. Everything has a price.

In a nutshell, the expansion of a corrupt system, dreaded by the public, which is not really going to inhibit or curtail criminal activity, should not even be considered by the chief minister, even if he is guided by the altruistic desire to provide fresh avenues of employment to the surplus labour pouring in from an increasingly impoverished rural hinterland.

One cannot ignore earlier reports that the Punjab government intends to recruit 20,000 more policemen, for whom jobs would later be created. This has also given rise to concerns that the police picket expansion plan is really nothing more than an employment programme for constituents, on the pattern undertaken by a former chief minister of Punjab.

If this is the case, the public can expect the police force to be packed with unqualified people with no other motivation except to serve the interests of their benefactors. This means that with each change of government more and more policemen will be recruited. If one is permitted the luxury of a well worn cliche, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

As a tailpiece, this writer feels compelled to reproduce paragraph 5.1.1. Law Order, from ‘Three Years At A Glance’, issued by the military government before the elections., which a cynic who lives abroad e-mailed to me. ‘The present government immediately after taking over embarked on a comprehensive plan to reform the law enforcing agencies and simultaneously supported them with modern equipment and other requirements to enhance their capacity to... tackle the problems faced by the country...’

The cynic asked me if I knew against whom some of this highly sophisticated equipment which has fallen into the lap of the police, which includes long-range repeater rifles, grenade propelled rocket launchers and fluorescent green night vision goggles, is being used, because the national crime graph is steadily rising. Could it have been used by the Islampura police station boys when they went to work on the municipal sweeper Rehmat Masih ? Now that, as the great Vincent Price would have said, ‘ is a sixty-four dollar question.’

Email: a-mooraj@cyber.net.pk

The death of an advocate

By Ahmed Sadik

A MOST incredible of thing has happened in the broad daylight — murdering of Ashraf Ali Rajput, a young advocate and of all the places within the precincts of the Sindh High Court and that too in a court room of the High Court.

After this ghastly incident occurred, the Karachi police came out with its usual pussyfooting in the form of lame explanations as to how and why the incident took place and holding out the assurance that every possible effort will be made to trace the culprits of the crime who will soon be brought to book by the police.

The police story as carried by newspapers of April 17 speaks of an oblique ‘alibi’ that the accused Behram Khan actually intended killing one Pir Mantab Ali Shah for some very personal reasons and that the young advocate, Ashraf Ali Rajput, got killed accidentally. For all one knows, this story may well be true but it is indeed of no real help to the deceased advocate’s family or to the legal profession or the general public. They have every right to expect the courts to be safe and secure places to go to.

But the more important point is: how did the culprit get into the High Court with a lethal firearm in the first place? There are of course a lot of questions that arise in respect of the sort of security that is provided for the courts in this country by the police. If nothing is done immediately to rectify things, then the precincts of the courts will indeed become the safest places for criminals to commit pre-meditated murders.

The government needs to take a serious look at the whole gamut of the law and order administration in the country. Not very long ago the federal government in great haste went headlong in the direction of giving complete monopoly to the police over all matters relating to the maintenance of law and order in the country.

Even the provinces which as administrative units are under the Constitution responsible for keeping peace and public order in the country were not effectively consulted in the matter. In fact, they were comprehensively railroaded into submitting to the devolution proposals that were handed down to them by the federal government.

If there is any doubt about what is being said here, the best option is to hold a one-point referendum on how our common people in the districts and subdivisions feel about the working of the new system as against ‘the old colonial one’ that has so summarily and hastily been discarded. Now that our election commission is relatively free, it should welcome the opportunity to conduct such an exercise of overriding public importance.

But the most preposterous of things witnessed by us in recent years is this futile attempt at mixing up of the concepts of local government with that of general administration, which in essence means maintaining law and order. Just because some vested interests felt politically left out in the provincial sphere, it was thought fit to bundle out a time-tested system of administration for an untried and untested one to accommodate them. And to facilitate a wholesale change, we were all subjected to a harangue about colonial systems and institutions as against those that are conceived by the best of minds committed to grassroot democracy.

I do not propose to stir a debate as to which, if any, of the administrative methodologies left behind by the withdrawing colonial power was truly colonial and which was otherwise. Ever since the emergence of this country there has indeed been far too much of ‘tinkering’ with our systems and institutions in the name reforms and reorientations. When ignorance is such a widely sought-after bliss, then you are bound to end up in the sort of situation that we currently find ourselves in.

If there had been personalities like Governor Akhtar Hussain in our midst or, for that matter, the redoubtable Nawab Amir Mohammad Khan of Kalabagh, one feels certain they would have urged us to be a lot more circumspect in making or even thinking of making of any changes, especially where none was called for. Change for the sake of change is certainly no seine option and is definitely no guarantee for improving things.

The fact is that in the last one year or so the law and order situation has terribly worsened. The police force unfortunately is incapable of bearing the sort of burden that has been placed on it. If this trend goes on one has to worry about the possibilities of greater anarchy overtaking our society and country.

The separation of the judiciary from the executive was never a burning issue after 1996 when the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah formally put its stamp of approval on the changes/adjustments presented before the apex court on behalf of the federal government by the attorney-general of Pakistan and the provincial advocate-generals in respect of the jurisdictions of the executive magistracy. In any case, the district magistrate and the executive magistrates (working under the district magistrate) were never immune from judicial scrutiny by the High Courts. In fact, they were always subject to correction by the High Courts.

As an officer who has served a very long career in the districts, I can vouch for the fact that every district magistrate and each and every executive magistrate, whether from the PCS cadre or the CSP/DMG cadres, invariably held the judiciary in the very highest esteem and unfailingly complied with judicial norms.

The important thing as of now is that official functionaries must keep themselves always available to the public, more so in times of the public’s outrage and their dire needs. The two outstanding governors that this country has known have already been mentioned by me. Governor Akhtar Hussain was a very able ICS/CSP officer who had been through the civil service mill and rose to the top through sheer ability, application and hard work. He never ever flinched from his public duties and was always accessible to the people. So also was the Nawab of Kalabagh.

In 1965 when Lahore was attacked by the full force of the Indian army, the Nawab refused to withdraw to a safer place outside the provincial capital. He was from the political crowd but he brought to the office of governor an enormous amount of administrative savvy and practical wisdom and a sense of commitment to his public responsibilities.

In the sort of situation that has arisen with the heinous murder of Advocate Ashraf Ali Rajput, one is prone to draw comparisons that may indeed be odious without dropping any names. And one can surely in the process take into account landmark contributions made by predecessors such as Governors Akhtar Hussain and the Nawab of Kalabagh who, beyond any doubt, were role models worth emulating.

One would have therefore presumed that a more activist sort of provincial administration would have stuck it out more patiently with the leaders of the High Court Bar and other Bar Associations at a time when the latter were so overwhelmingly upset over the killing of one of their colleagues while performing his professional duty of representing a client before the High Court of Sindh.

The forgotten war in Africa

TELEVISION pictures may appear to tell a different story, but right now, the world’s most vicious conflict is not the one that has just ended in Iraq. In fact, if the death tolls from the Iraq war, the 1991 Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan and all of the Balkan wars of the past decade are combined, they would still not exceed the number of deaths caused by the much more obscure war in Congo.

The International Rescue Committee, which works with refugees in the region, said in a report published this week 3.3 million people have died prematurely in that country since war broke out in 1998. The committee also believes that one in every eight homes has suffered a violent death; that in some regions, 75 percent of children born during the war have died or will die before their second birthday; and that the region is plagued by malnutrition and infectious diseases that in other circumstances would be curable.

Although the region is one of the poorest in the world, the source of the crisis is not the lack of humanitarian aid. The ultimate cause of the desperate poverty and high mortality is the war, between and among tribes and militia units in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. The war has ethnic origins: It began in the wake of the Rwandan massacre of 1994, when the Hutu militiamen who murdered hundreds of thousands of their ethnic Tutsi countrymen fled across the border into what was then Zaire. From there they continued to harass local Tutsis as well as those across the border.

Yet the war keeps going not for ethnic reasons but because so many covet the region’s gold, diamonds and coltan, an obscure but critical mineral used in almost all cell phones, laptops and pagers. Both Rwanda and Uganda are fueling the conflict and using the consequent chaos to exploit the region’s minerals. According to a U.N. report, the financial value of the minerals that the Rwandan government illegally extracts from eastern Congo probably exceeds the entire value of Rwanda’s exports.—The Washington Post

Choosing enemies with more care

By M.J. Akbar

THE height of George Bush’s power can be measured very easily, by the depth of Arab impotence. Bush is as potent as Arab governments are impotent. The two are directly related.

It can be argued that the major lesson that the United States learnt from Vietnam was to choose its enemies with far more care than it chose its friends. This is an important lesson. It took ten years after the Vietnam defeat in 1973 for America to mobilize again, when Ronald Reagan ordered the invasion of tiny and inconsequential Grenada in 1983. He then took on Libya in 1986, but only from the air, and for some 24 hours. Attention was also paid to the local parish: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama. But there was nothing significant until Saddam Hussein, an American ally till that moment, offered an opportunity by occupying Kuwait.

America mobilized the world against Iraq, and then sent a bill; the world paid up, because what Saddam had done was so manifestly wrong. Bill Clinton’s adventurism was totally airborne, and always pinned to a moral cushion, whether it went right, as in Yugoslavia (1999) or it went awry, as in Sudan and Afghanistan (1998).

George Bush is a soft-target war-maker. He would never have brought America from the air to the ground without carefully measuring cost and consequence. He will never go to war against North Korea, which advertises its weapons of mass destruction, since that would take him into China’s zone of influence. Critical to Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was his analysis of the Arab world in general and Saddam Hussein in particular. He understood a few facts about the Arab world that are unarguable.

First, all pretence to Arab unity is a sham. If the Arabs do nothing about the merciless pounding of Palestinians, whose cause would be obvious to the blind, delivered daily and in full view of international media, then there is no likelihood of Arab governments working together to protect established states. This situation has been brought about because virtually every Arab country is either under an archaic regime that needs western support to sustain itself, or is burdened by an oligarchy that has long outlived its utility, assuming that army regimes ever had any utility in a modern environment.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that not a single Arab country in the bonfire area, barring Egypt, can claim to have any semblance of a national defence system, and Egypt has been purchased by the annual transfer of billions of dollars in aid in reward for its compromise with Israel during the Carter-Sadat-Begin era.

Most of the Arab world has virtually handed over its defence to powers that control their oil, and never paused to consider the irony. Those Arab governments that did not mesh into this pattern, were slowly squeezed into stagnation or decay. This was made easier by the fact that Arab nations, even after their oil wealth explosion, have made barely any attempt to industrialize. A region that cannot create consumer products can hardly hope to develop an indigenous defence industry. Instead, local elites thought they had entered the modern world because they could import office stationery and fill their cities with luxury car dealerships and McDonald’s franchises.

Given such welcome conditions, all that George Bush needed was an excuse, and he picked one up from the nearest trashcan, those famous weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration once claimed that such weapons existed on some 14,000 sites. The war is over without any such weapons having been used; Saddam Hussein and his government have vanished (rather literally), and there is still no sight of any such weapon. Maybe the wags are right when they point out that the only weapon of mass destruction discovered during the war was called CNN. CNN did a very effective job in damaging the credibility of mass media.

There is said to be despair among Arabs at the sight of Marines giving orders from Saddam’s palaces (which have suddenly become useful, after being symbols of decadence for so long). Despair is another term for self-pity. Introspection might be a more appropriate response.

George Bush’s calculations have brought Iraq under the orders of a military regime headed by General Tommy Franks and a civilian administration under Lieutenant-General Jay Garner. But his miscalculations may offer a significant opportunity for change beyond his comprehension.

In search of oil, construction contracts and the security of Israel, George Bush has created vacant space in Baghdad. He does not know what will fill this vacuum. Bush may have won a war but intellectually he is not significantly different from the man who could not remember Pervez Musharraf’s name before the elections that made him president. He wants to repeat Afghanistan, and place a Hamid Karzai prototype at the head of an obedient administration. The Iraqi Karzai is Ahmad Chalabi. Chalabi had not set foot in Iraq for 45 years [until he returned there after the war], after he was involved in a bank fraud in Jordan. I do not know if Karzai has surrendered his American passport yet or not, and I suppose Chalabi will be another advocate for dual citizenship.

The anger against a Chalabi-Garner-Franks administration is already evident on the streets of Iraq. This does not equate to any sympathy for the Baath Party. Saddam’s excesses have destroyed the Baathists. Since cynicism is a natural outcome of dissent, some seemingly preposterously linkages are being made. There is certainly the extraordinary matter of a whole cabinet that disappeared into thick air — the air was thick with American satellites and roving eyes and warheads.

One television station has shown footage of Saddam alive after the heavy bombing that was meant to have killed him. How could he have vanished so neatly, and with his family, his colleagues and their relatives? The buzz originates from a banished past: the allegation, repeated by American insiders now ready to talk, that Saddam Hussein was on the CIA payroll when a law student in Cairo.

In 1963 the CIA’s Cairo bureau planned the coup that overthrew the pro-Soviet government of General Abdel Karim Kassem in Baghdad. The agency was helpful again when Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr organized the internal putsch in 1968; Saddam took over from his protege in 1979. Was there a last-minute deal between Saddam and the Americans in which four full Republican divisions disappeared instead of making a stand in Baghdad, thereby saving their own as well as American lives? No one knows, and perhaps no one will ever know for certain. But such whispers are the brushwood of new fires that seek to burn as fiercely against the despot as the invader.

The biggest miscalculation that George Bush made was to believe that the Shias of Iraq would not be loyal to their nation. In a sense both Saddam and Bush miscalculated. Saddam thought he could mobilize support inside Iraq indefinitely for himself by confronting America. And Bush thought he could mobilize support inside Iraq for America by confronting Saddam. The facts were askance of perception in both cases. Paradoxically, by removing Saddam Hussein, George Bush may have released the Shias from any ambivalence: the despot has gone, now the foreigner must leave.

A demand is already being heard in Iraq, that Shias and Sunnis must unite to confront foreign occupation. This will appear romantic to the hard-boiled, but Iraq is in ferment, and passion creates new equations. Those who dwell too strongly on the differences forget that for many centuries Persians and Arabs, Shias and Sunnis harmonized well enough to create the infrastructure of the substantial empires that were ruled from Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo.

This confrontation between a resurgent Iraqi people, energizing along the way other Arabs, and the American alliance, is not inevitable, but it is difficult to see how it can be prevented, given the initial American impulses. Bush preferred to protect the oil ministry building while permitting the loot of Iraq’s priceless cultural heritage of over 170,000 pieces from 5,000 years of civilization.

These were the memories of Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Parthian, Sassanid, Arab and Jewish cultures and religions. The Baath Party may have been despotic, but they were not Taliban. Did Bush need to remind the world of an analogy that he must resent — the destruction of Baghdad’s cultural heritage by the Mongols?

The first construction contract, as reported, has been awarded to Bechtel; and Jay Garner is in charge of the ‘civilian’ administration despite his avowed bias towards Israel. Was any of this necessary? The Bush-Blair answer is to establish a Palestinian state, and Ariel Sharon has been requested, very politely, to start delivering. But Israel has already conveyed 14 objections to the famous Bush road map towards a Palestine state. That is for starters. Don’t be surprised if the Palestinians get blamed as traffic jams clog this road map.

Wars can be won in three or thirty days. The management of its consequences is a longer process. Bush and Blair may have noticed the deafening silence with which their victory has been greeted by the rest of the world. The cheering has been restricted to Washington and Tel Aviv.

The moment may be on the side of the victors, but time could be on the side of the defeated.

The writer is editor-in-chief of Asian Age, New Delhi.



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