Truth, realism and Kashmir

By M.P. Bhandara


AT INTERVALS the rustling pine forests of Kashmir catch our fancy. We get euphoric at the thought of high-level talks with India. Fondly, we listen to our parents’ or grandparents’ recollections of Kashmir on holiday visits before partition; of houseboats drifting dreamily on Dal Lake; of fabulous forests and lakes in a picturesque fairyland; fair-complexioned Kashmiris selling their winter wares of rugs and shawls, and exquisite crafts in papier mache and oak.

The Kashmir valley today is one of the saddest places on God’s earth. The Kashmiris reputed for their gentleness and mild manners are at the receiving end of unspeakable brutalities. In that beautiful land is being waged a war of unending passions. In truth, having suffered unbearable punishment, the people of the valley yearn simply to be left alone. To be independent. To be the Switzerland of the subcontinent. A tourist haven with its independence guaranteed by the powers of the subcontinent.

I believe such a solution — the cynosure of the valley Kashmiris, irrespective of religious denomination — would today have overwhelming acceptance in Pakistan. If we can reduce the temperature of our relationship with India by reaching out to them in a spirit of sincerity, such a solution might also be acceptable to India. The Kashmir valley is a garland of thorns around the neck of India.

From an Indian point of view, a Kashmir solution acceptable to the valley Kashmiris is highly desirable. Overnight, India would be in the double-digit growth club with China. The creative energies that it would release in the subcontinent would be many times greater than the destructive energies of all the nuclear weapons held today by both countries.

No matter how fantastic such futurism may sound, it is no more far-fetched than the very idea of Pakistan was in 1940. An independent valley is a likely outcome in a post-nuclear war scenario, but that would be the worst of all options. The best: to make it peacefully happen in our lifetime.

If such optimism is an accepted goal, a heavy burden falls on Pakistan. Why? The moment of truth has arrived for us. Many of us have believed right from 1947 that force alone would gain us Kashmir. A tribal lashkar entered Kashmir in 1947, imposed itself on a vacillating Maharaja who was playing for independence. Seen in retrospect, our first Kashmir mistake was to frighten the Maharaja with the Lashkar — which got within four miles of his palace and switched off his electricity. This gave the Maharaja no choice but to join India. The Lashkar turned out to be a loose cannon, indulging in loot and rapine. The Lashkar called itself Jihadists. It was a different matter in Gilgit, a non-Kashmiri colony of the Maharaja where the Balti militia staged a revolt under the leadership of its British commander and joined Pakistan.

The second attempt at force in Kashmir occurred in 1965. Then, as today, we were victims of our own make-believe. Our rulers bought the illusion that sending armed saboteurs would ignite a freedom struggle in Kashmir. The plan was called “Operation Gibraltar”. What happened was a surprise. In many cases, the “enslaved” denounced the saboteurs to the police. The 1965 generation of had not forgotten the rape and pillage of the Lashkar of 1947-48. “Operation Gibraltar” led to the war of 1965, which then in domino effect led to the civil war of 1971 between East and West Pakistan and the break-up of United Pakistan. If we forget this nexus of events leading to tragedy, we might repeat them.

The third attempt at using force was by guile. A Jihad supported by some Pakistan-based groups, amidst widespread Kashmiri anger commenced after repeated rigging of state elections by India. This phase, which commenced in the late eighties, continued till early 2002, and, in all probability, continues till today albeit in defiance of state policy by our Jihadist parties. According to a knowledgeable informant, the level of infiltration is between 25 and 33 per cent prior to 2001.

The fourth attempt at using force was the ill-advised and ill-fated Kargil military adventure in the spring of 1999. Even if the intruders had gained access to the Kargil road, which would have cut off Ladakh from Srinagar, it is difficult to imagine how it would have gained the control of the valley for Pakistan. At best Buddhist Ladakh in which we have little or no interest might have fallen. Our actions were reckless. Would India not have opened new fronts? Would the world powers have allowed a military intervention to break the status quo?

The time has come to face the issue of our supporting or acquiescing in the so-called jihad in Kashmir squarely and honestly. When a jihad kills women and children and unarmed non-combatants, is it jihad or plain terrorism? Are we not degrading the holy concept of jihad by giving blatant terrorism a religious cover? And who has the legal authority in Islam to declare a Jihad? Should it be based on the fatwas given by a bunch of ignorant mullas or the parliament of an Islamic state based on the learned opinion of the Islamic Ideology Council?

Let us recognize the fact that there is a strong fanatical lobby both in our military and in civilian life that believes that ‘jihadist’ terrorism alone can free the valley from Indian rule. Since India has at least 120 million Muslims, why a jihad only in Kashmir and not an all-out jihad against India for the benefit of Muslims residing in India? Are Muslims not killed in Indian Gujarat and elsewhere?

The militarist argument for the Kashmir jihad is that for a relatively small investment from our side we can pin down an Indian army of over half a million. The ratio of expenditure is said to be very favourable to us: one of ours is to fifty of the enemy. However, this argument falls flat if we consider that the GDP growth rate in India at six per cent is twice ours in an economy several times larger than ours. India has the means to sustain its military terror.

Pakistan has consistently denied any aid, training or support for the so-called jihadists. In this we have been economical with the truth. Our consistent denials have seriously eroded our credibility. For so-called patriotic reasons the press too has played down our indulgence in this regard. Jihad has never been debated in parliament.

A Kashmir solution may only be possible once we truly exit out of the trap of these unexamined and unquestioned beliefs. If we wish to come out of the closet, let jihad in Kashmir be discussed openly and decided by parliament. Our secret closet is the ISI, which is the invisible maker of policy and it thrives on open-ended state funding.

If we are to make India a negotiating partner in resolving the Kashmir problem, the cross-LoC movement of jihadists must be reduced to zero. The LoC must be sealed by a combination of joint patrols, UN or international force supervision and new technology such as thermal imaging wherever possible. India makes a mistake by not assisting Pakistan in closing infiltration routes. This will of course not put an end to terrorism; the once-docile Kashmiri now have youths every bit as ferocious as the ‘Tamil tigers’ in Sri Lanka. They don’t need Pakistani support for their own jihad.

There can be no question of equating terrorism with jihad, and those who do so do a serious disservice to Islam. There is also no question but that terrorism is morally repulsive and cowardly in intent and execution, ill-disciplined as much of its force is mercenary and counterproductive in the long run. It stands little chance of success when pitted against an organized army.

We now come to the heart of the problem — the outlines of a Kashmir solution. We need a roadmap no matter how long the road. The recent declaration of Pakistan to front trade and travel should be extended to trade and travel across the LoC by Kashmiris. Our two countries do not have the right to prevent this. The LoC is the outcome of a subcontinental war not intra-Kashmiri strife. A soft LoC will also help end terrorism, just as it did in 1965.

India-Pakistan negotiations on substance should take place in a neutral country such as Finland, Norway or Sweden and away from the glare of publicity, with the hosts preferably sitting as silent observers. A settlement should be reached on the basis of ground realities. The inhabitants of Ladakh and the majority in Jammu are well integrated into the Indian Union, as are those of Baltistan, Gilgit and Azad Kashmir into Pakistan. These areas should form part of India and Pakistan respectively by mutual agreement. The dispute is narrowed down to the valley for which we have advocated independence as an ultimate goal in course of time. The first step in this regard is the true implementation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which concedes a special status to Kashmir. If territories can be apportioned as suggested above to the two countries, the application of Article 370 will be confined to the valley only.

If, however, the Indians are not prepared to show any flexibility on their stand, Pakistan will have to reconsider the Shimla Pact of which the Indian interpretation is a strict bilateral resolution of all disputes.

The key to a saner subcontinent is trade, tourism, an end of press poison and, above all, an end to terrorism.

Let us remember that an unarmed man baring his chest to the bullets of an oppressor is a hero. A sniper gunning down women, children and non-combatants, a coward.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly.

E-mail: murbr@isb.paknet.com.pk

Prospects of trade with India

By Sultan Ahmed


PRIME Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of India has responded promptly and quite emotionally to the peace offer of Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali. Announcing his first measures for restoration of normal relations between the estranged neighbours he said it would be his last throw of the dice to solve one of the most intractable and dangerous disputes.

Mr Vajpayee, who is 78, was evidently thinking of his place in history. He does not hope to be in office after two years when general elections are due in India. So he wants to succeed in bringing peace to a region where he had failed in his earlier two attempts, in 1999 at Lahore and in 2001 at Agra. So he wants to move cautiously, with a firm agenda in hand and move from one disputed area to another and finally come to Kashmir.

This has been a familiar exercise in India-Pakistan relations where the train stopped at the outskirts of Kashmir and all the earlier good work was undone or put in cold storage for long. Will Mr Vajpayee go the whole way, or stop short of Kashmir because of intractable difficulties as India perceives them in regard to that issue which Pakistan regards as the core issue.

The priorities for India in any effort to normalise relations with Pakistan have been people-to people contacts, cultural exchanges, economic relations and trade, and after success in these areas more or less, Kashmir. But when the last wheel failed, all other wheels collapsed. That has been our 50 year history. Recently even the lone enduring treaty between the two countries, the Indus Water Treaty, came under severe threat.

Mrs Indira Gandhi who signed the Simla Pact with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, asked me in 1972: “Have you read the Simla Pact. Carefully? Pakistanis have the habit of ignoring all the articles of the Simla pact and coming down to Kashmir and insist the last thing should be implemented first”. The reality is we have to implement all other clauses first and then come to Kashmir. That has been the Indian position ever since.

One of the areas in which India is really interested is trade with Pakistan. Following the setting up of SAARC in 1985 there had been great many meetings of trade officials of the two countries and businessmen. A SAARC chamber has also been in existence for long — remarkable for its meetings and resolutions than its positive achievements. So real trade is too small.

When India found large scale trade in the region was not possible or was too vexatious, it sought free trade areas with Sri Lanka and Nepal and is now negotiating a deal with Bangladesh. We followed India and are negotiating free trade agreements with Sri Lanka and Nepal in a slow dance movement.

The SAARC trade officials initially agreed on the need and wisdom of having South Asia preferential Trade Areas and later opted for the South Asia free Trade Area. Surprisingly there was little opposition or resistance at all such meetings, but except for increasing the number of items permissible for import by member countries from other members and lowering of the tariff nothing else took place practically.

Recently the Indian leaders have been saying that if the relations between India and Pakistan should normalise SAFTA should be made a reality. If that happens the people of the region will be very happy as they can get cheaper goods from the regional states and travel will become easy and cheap. If SAARC is to be made a success now and economic relations given real muscles, it is more important to give practical shape to the scores of old agreements rather than have new meetings to reach new agreements.

The governor of the State Bank of Pakistan Dr Ishrat Husain has identified the areas of regional cooperation if that really comes to pass. He has identified agriculture, manufacturing, science and technology infrastructure where joint ventures could be set up. He says half of the poorest people of the world are living in the region. He laments the regional states have a little share in the region’s six trillion dollar trade.

Businessmen from both sides used to attend conferences on trade and investment and feel a great deal of bon homie and comeback with large hopes of economic exchanges. But after they return home they find the bureaucratic hurdles, red tape hassle and visa difficulties standing in the way. When they are chased by intelligence men after they visit the Indian High Commission or the Pakistan mission in New Delhi they lose all the excitement in seeking trade with the other country. “Too much hassle for too little trade,” said one of them.

But now the business leaders of Pakistan and India are hopeful of better relations between the two countries. The Indian businessmen have already contacted their Pakistani friends to revive the India-Pakistan Joint chambers of Commerce with its headquarters in Lahore, set up in 1999. Since then there have been only two meetings of its executive and the third was aborted by the tension between the two countries following the massing of Indian troops on our borders.

Pakistani industrialists were earlier afraid of free trade with India. They feared the cheap Indian goods would drive their own products out of our markets. And smuggling in such goods would increase wherever there was high import duties. India would produce their goods cheap, they argued, because of low cost energy, low interest rates and flexible taxes, low wages, and the economy of size.

On the other hand cost of production in Pakistan was regarded as high because of high power prices, high interest rates, high wages and varied hidden production costs. But the situation has improved a good deal now, though not altogether. Interest rates have now come low, export refinance is available at 3.5 per cent, the rupee has become stable, and wages are low again.

When foreign secretary Riaz Kokhar was High Commissioner to India he used to say the volume of smuggling between the two countries was a billion dollars. That meant a loss of half a billion dollars in import duties then. There is no stopping of the smugglers on either side regardless of what the top officials in New Delhi and Islamabad may forbid.

The volume of trade between the two countries has been small despite the scope for larger trade. It rises when we import sugar from each other or India imports cotton from Pakistan. The last bulk cargo we got from India was of vegetables.

Now with the World Trade Organization in full swing new factors have emerged to shape our trade relations with India. We cannot refuse or have low trade relations for long. What we stop, the smugglers will bring in and cheaper. They are already supposed to be doing that on a large scale via Dubai now. Earlier they used to change the manifests of ships and bring in Indian goods as made elsewhere.

We are also facing dumping charges and anti-dumping duties from time to time as we do in the European Union today.

Now Pakistani manufacturers who feared Indian goods for being cheap are poised to face the far cheaper Chinese goods. If earlier the engineering goods, like water equipment, electrical goods, and varied toys came, now we have Chinese bicycles coming in large numbers. Cautious of their impact on the Pakistani market the government issues a small number of import licences. But a large number of them have been smuggled in, making the cycle manufacturers protest sharply. They say they have lost 25 per cent of the market to China. The motor cycle-makers fear the same may happen to their industry.

There will be revolutionary changes in the world textile trade after 2004 when the quota system ends and a free for all in textile trade begins. Textile exporters of the world are getting ready for the new challenges to come. Some millowners are doing that in Pakistan, not others, and not adequately.

We have to make our industry efficient and our production cheap. We have to improve the quality of our products and our brands have to enjoy ready acceptance abroad. We have to take to cost-cutting without credibility-cutting and our business practices have to improve vastly.

It is no use arguing we are a small country compared to India, and so can’t compete with India. How are small countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark living in the neighbourhood of France and Germany, and thriving with Industries known for their excellence? They are focusing on their core areas of competence and competitiveness, and improving their capabilities all the time through research and market surveys. Our industries and exporters have to learn to accept lower profits and spend more money on research and market surveys.

Where are the WMDs?

By Rahim Panjwani


PERHAPS no other catchphrase bandied about by Washington powerbrokers and their well-connected network of supporters is as abused, misunderstood, and just plain lied about as the infamous verbal sleight of hand “weapons of mass destruction.”

Ostensibly, the term refers to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, but symbolically, as framed by the White House and Pentagon rhetoric, it has come to represent something far more sinister and apocalyptic. The barbarity of chemical attacks and the horrors of biological ones are a constant media theme, the latter inspiring mythical notions of plagues loosed upon mankind.

Thus, the concept of WMD — weapons, apparently, which are infinitely destructive and evil — has come to serve many purposes and was one of the Bush administration’s key marketing successes during their war drive. It was one reason from among an arsenal of other justifications for a preemptive invasion of Iraq. Many Americans also feel that the war was fought so that “Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction couldn’t harm us in the future.”

Inherent in such a portrayal by the Bush administration and the corporate media is a complete lack of perspective regarding WMDs: that the US possesses enough nuclear warheads to destroy the world several times over as well as a collection of “conventional” weapons capable of killing millions with ease is not worth anyone’s time and is essentially a moot point.

In fact, the appellation is really a misnomer. “Weapons of mass destruction” refers to those weapons that have been deemed inappropriate or unethical by the world’s nations, insofar as the phrase refers to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons whose use is governable by an international body. This says nothing of their inherent destructive power, however, though the name explicitly seems to say otherwise. The fact that one needs large quantities of WMD to actually achieve “mass destruction” is a point rarely, if ever, articulated in the mainstream media. Contingencies, such as the delivery systems for nuclear weapons, the brief shelf life of many chemicals weapons, and the extreme difficulty of effectively “weaponizing” biological agents, are typically not given due consideration by those responsible for presenting information to the public.

The result is a misleading term that has served to exaggerate and demonize certain kinds of weapons while others, the so-called “conventional” ones, are further legitimized even when those of, say, the United States, are capable of far more “mass destruction” than most other countries’ WMDs. So in the end, a small quantity of mustard gas capable of only killing a dozen people is classified as a WMD, but an air force capable of launching thousands of cluster bombs in minutes is not, simply because it is considered “conventional.”

Iraq’s history of WMDs has also been consistently lied about by various members of the pro-war camp. Repeated incessantly, probably tens of thousands of times, is the idea that Iraq was noncompliant with weapons inspections throughout the 1990s. The picture of an Iraq that evaded, misled, and duped inspectors while retaining its destructive potential is the standard one painted. One often hears, “Iraq’s had 12 years to disarm, and they haven’t yet complied.”

Or perhaps, “Iraq has consistently evaded inspections, and we’re sick of playing this game.” Yet Iraq was extremely compliant on many occasions and was, overall, far from uncooperative. This is usually pointed out by former UN officials who worked in Iraq. But the American media has been largely uninterested in what these experts have to say.

The amounts of weapons destroyed by the inspectors during the 1990s and corroborated by the United Nations would seem to constitute a large percentage of Iraq’s WMDs or, at least, significant disarmament. Yet over the past year, Iraq’s noncompliance was one of the Bush administration’s key arguments in support of its invasion plans.

In fact, President Bush has referred to WMDs at least 200 times in public appearances in the last 16 months alone, invariably mentioning Iraq’s unwillingness to cooperate with the United Nations and the United States. But such words seem to contradict the fact that Iraq had significantly disarmed since the first Gulf war, even if it was not “completely” disarmed in Washington’s eyes.

Now, as the memory of the US invasion of Iraq is fading and the supposed process of rebuilding that country has begun, many in the media are asking whether or not it is important if the US (or someone) finds WMD in Iraq. It seems the obvious, almost reflexive, response to this is: “Wasn’t this one of the major pretexts for the fighting of this war, if not the most significant one. How, under any circumstances, could this issue become unimportant?” It is like asking the relevance of whether or not someone has actually committed the crime for which he has already been found guilty and punished. Yet the conclusion the pundits seem to be reaching is that WMDs are now indeed irrelevant.

Washington’s expert use of the term “weapons of mass destruction,” then, has, through exaggeration and manipulation, created a distorted picture of Iraq’s military capability, which then created a much-needed pretext for war — a pre-emptive war at that - and has now proven to be disposable as, suddenly, the phrase that used to be on everyone’s lips has become the hottest non-topic.

Choice for Argentina

Argentina stands with one foot on the edge of salvation. The other is stuck on the muddy path that leads deeper into a political and economic Hades.

The South American nation plunged down that trail 16 months ago. Enraged by the government’s continued belt-tightening and its decision to limit the amount that people could take from their bank accounts, tens of thousands of poor and middle-class Argentines ransacked stores, broke bank windows and attacked government buildings. Five people were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands were arrested while five presidents took turns at the helm of government. All this occurred in a matter of two weeks.

Last week, Argentines went to the polls and sorted out a ballot of five candidates. Next month, two men from the same Peronist party, Patagonian Gov. Nestor Kirchner and former President Carlos Menem, will face each other in a runoff. Menem simply can’t offer the accountability, transparency and credibility that Argentina needs and foreign banking concerns will demand.

Menem’s supporters note that during his first term, the economy grew an average of 4.4 per cent annually. True. But debt rose more than 12 percentage points. Menem, one Argentine historian says, “is the man who invited everyone to the party, lived it up and then left without picking the tab.”

During his two terms (1989-99), corruption ran rampant. US telephone companies complained that they had to pay $100 million in bribes to take control of a company they bought. In 2001, Menem was arrested for alleged involvement in illegal arms sales to Ecuador and Croatia. A court packed with his appointees released him, but within the year Swiss and Argentine authorities were investigating an allegation that Menem had received a $10 million bribe to cover up a 1994 anti-Semitic terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires.—Los Angeles Times

Middle East: a road to nowhere

By Dr Iffat Idris Malik


ONE would like to feel optimism and hope on reading of the new ‘roadmap to peace’ in the Middle East. If any global hotspot is long overdue for resolution and peace it is the Holy Land. But sadly, when one looks at the motivations of the various parties involved, and at the many points left unmarked along the roadmap, the predominant feeling is not optimism but deep pessimism. This is a roadmap to nowhere.

Two parties — Israel and Palestine — are to journey along the road marked out in the map, guided by the United States. Three travellers in all, of whom two are insincere: they do not wish to end up at the destination in the map. The Israelis have quite different destination in mind, while the Americans have about as much enthusiasm for their job of guide as conscripts forced to join an army.

No great imagination is required to guess what the ideal Israeli destination would be. For moderate Israelis it would be a series of sealed Palestinian Bantustans, connected to each other by Israeli-controlled highways but cut off from the land around them. With the Palestinians tucked away out of sight in these Bantustans, Israelis would be free to expand their settlements throughout the West Bank and Gaza. For hardline Israelis, the ideal would be an Israel purged of Palestinians altogether — sent into permanent exile in Jordan or some other Arab country.

The common denominator in Israeli thinking (especially Israeli government thinking) is the impossibility of a viable, independent Palestinian state — the destination marked in the roadmap. For such a state would require compromises and sacrifices that the Israelis — long used to taking what they want by force — are simply unable to make. A viable Palestinian state would, for example, require at least East Jerusalem as its capital. How many Israelis would agree to give it up?

Since the Israelis have no intention of ending up at the marked destination, they will do everything possible to slow down the journey and put obstacles in the path.

The first of these is already apparent: rejection of the ‘simultaneity’ principle for the journey. According to the roadmap guidelines, Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to walk along it side by side. Concessions and implementation by the Palestinians — ending violence — are to be matched by simultaneous Israeli implementation — rollback of post-2000 settlements. But Ariel Sharon is insisting that ‘the terror’ must end before Israel takes a step — meaning Israel will follow behind the Palestinians. The inherent risk for the Palestinians in this — that they will take an implementation step and the Israelis will not follow suit — is obvious.

This is where the duty of the guide comes in: it is up to America to insist that both its charges walk side by side. Will George Bush do this? Unlikely. The American president’s extreme reluctance to embark on the journey towards Middle East peace was apparent to all from the moment he assumed office. The only reason he has finally come up with a roadmap is to appease his coalition allies (notably Tony Blair) in the war against Iraq (as well as to perpetuate the farce that American military action in Iraq will have beneficial consequences for the whole region.)

This very modest desire on the part of George Bush to woo international opinion is vastly outweighed by domestic opposition to the roadmap. Ignorance and bias are what formulate American thinking on the Middle East: ignorance on the part of the public, and bias (towards Israel) on the part of politicians, businessmen, academia and the media. As a president running for re-election next year, George Bush will not go against the wishes of his electorate (especially in Florida, which has a powerful Jewish lobby). As a son, he will be painfully aware of the damage that applying post-Gulf war pressure on Israel did to his father’s re-election hopes. When the time comes for America to keep Israel on the ‘roadmap to peace’, George Bush will give way.

And what of the Palestinians? Some elements in the Palestinian leadership have welcomed the roadmap (albeit with reservations about Israel’s willingness to follow it). But many others have rejected it. There are two major problems from the Palestinian rejectionist perspective. One, as seen, that Palestinian compliance might not be matched or followed by Israeli compliance. Two, and more serious, that Palestinian compliance in phase one will effectively strip them of all their bargaining chips and leave them at the mercy of US and Israeli negotiators. Put simply, there is no guarantee of what the Palestinians will get at the end.

‘Viable independent state’ can be defined in many ways. For the Palestinians a viable, independent state is one with (at minimum) pre-1967 borders, East Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. For the Israelis, returning Israel to its pre-1967 borders is ruled out by the establishment of hundreds of settlements in the occupied territories. Their definition of a viable Palestinian state is therefore considerably narrower than the Palestinian one. They also have no wish to see either state (Israel or Palestine) swamped by returning Palestinian refugees, or to concede any part of Jerusalem.

These issues of refugees, borders, Jewish settlements, Jerusalem, etc are the most sensitive and difficult of the whole peace process. On the roadmap they are represented by vast stretches where no trail is marked. Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to find their way through with only American guidance. It is not difficult to foresee that if and when they get to those unmarked stretches, they will lose their way. The Oslo Accords (of which this roadmap is a continuation) made the same fatal mistake, assuming that when the time came, Israelis and Palestinians would be able to reconcile deeply held and vastly polarised positions. They could not do so then, and (after two years of intifada) they are even less likely or able to do so now.

Settlements, refugees, etc — the unmarked stretches — form phases two and three of the roadmap. Phase one is an end to Palestinian violence. What this might entail in practice is a Palestinian civil war. For the task of reining in Hamas and Islamic Jihad has been shifted from the Israelis to the Palestinian leadership of Arafat and Abu Mazen. Hamas’ fight-back will therefore be directed against the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, as much as against the Israelis. If Hamas win, the Palestinian journey will be over. If they lose, that journey will continue but the Palestinians as a whole will have been weakened by in-fighting. It is this weakened Palestinian party that will then have to negotiate tough concessions out of the Israelis and Americans. Their chances of success are bleak at best. Little wonder that Hamas and other Islamists have no wish to follow the roadmap.

Three parties journeying along a road: one trying to veer off somewhere else, the other fighting amongst themselves, and a guide all too ready to shirk his duties. Will they reach the destination marked on their map? Fat chance.

Sharing oil wealth in Iraq

WHAT do Alaska and Iraq have in common? No, not climate. And no, not wildlife — though it is conceivably possible to mistake a camel for a moose. The answer is oil. Which is why the Bush administration is thinking, quite cleverly, of using Alaska’s Permanent Fund as a model for distributing wealth in Iraq.

The Alaska programme sets aside 25 per cent of the state’s tax revenue from oil production. By implementing a revenue-sharing programme like the Alaska fund — which last year paid $1,540 to every man, woman and child who met residency requirements — the administration could dispel one of the harshest charges against the war: that it was motivated by a desire to let the U.S. petroleum industry and international financiers plunder the desert nation’s most important product.

More important, it would quickly pump money into the hands of cash-starved Iraqi citizens. That in turn would help create small businesses and other financial ventures, diffusing the often anti-democratic rage spawned by economic helplessness. What more could the U.S. and Britain hope for?

The idea was originally floated by Steven Clemons, vice president of the centrist New America Foundation. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are behind it, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell indicated to lawmakers Wednesday that he was interested.

The payoff could be big. Oil sales in Iraq are expected to create about $15 billion to $20 billion a year in revenue once the nation, with U.S. and British help, restores production to prewar levels. This could triple if Iraq’s lush fields are fully exploited during the next decade.

Whatever Iraqi government comes to power will probably not be thrilled at the prospect of people getting money the state could have claimed for itself. But Iraqis need look no further than Saddam Hussein’s palaces to be skeptical of that attitude. By encouraging Iraq to give its citizens a stake in that to which they’re entitled, the United States would be enhancing the chances of democracy. —Los Angeles Times

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