DAWN - Opinion; May 14, 2003

Published May 14, 2003

A simmering cauldron

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

DURING the recently concluded visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to South Asia, attention focused largely on his discussions in Islamabad and New Delhi with regard to the role the US could play in promoting the prospects for the resumption of an Indo-Pak dialogue.

This was perhaps as it should have been, given the danger confrontation between these two countries poses to regional and global peace and given the role such confrontation and rivalry play in exacerbating tensions in other trouble spots in the region. It would be unfortunate, however, if this prevented us from giving Afghanistan the attention it needs or acknowledging the degree to which developments in Afghanistan or on the Pak- Afghan border impinge upon US-Pakistan relations.

In fact, we should bear in mind that, given the involvement of American troops in active combat in Afghanistan, the Afghan facet of the US-Pakistan relationship has, in many ways, a higher salience in Washington than the Indian facet. Admittedly, Armitage spent only a few hours in Kabul but what he had to say was important. His mission was to reassure the Afghans that the US’s involvement in Iraq did not mean it would set aside its responsibilities in Afghanistan and that no immediate withdrawal of American forces was envisaged.

“The United States”, he said, “will withdraw forces once we are sure that the government of Afghanistan feels perfectly secure and the people of Afghanistan have found the necessary stability,”. This statement was important since some 10 days earlier Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld had announced in Kabul that major combat operations had ended in Afghanistan and that the focus would now shift to reconstruction activities for which military teams would be assigned to various provinces in Afghanistan.

The outgoing commander of the US and coalition forces had also spoken of the withdrawal of American forces commencing in 2004 by which time it was optimistically assumed that there would be a sufficiently large and trained Afghan army to take over security duties.

He made clear American opposition to the proposal by the UN’s Lakhdar Brahimi that the International Security Assistance Force should expand its mandate to provide security outside Kabul. He referred instead to the American military’s plans for military-civilian teams to spread out across the country to undertake reconstruction activity. Such teams which have some $12 million at their disposal are currently working in the provinces of Gardez, Bamian, and Kunduz and, if American plans work out, five more teams will be established in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Parwan.

Whether such teams can provide the security cover aid workers from international organizations or local Afghans need remains questionable. In fairness, however, it must be said that at an earlier stage when the United States did swallow its misgivings and signalled its willingness to go along with an expanded International Security Assistance Force, no country came forward with an offer of additional troops for duty in Afghanistan.

He did not, as far as one can judge from the information made public so far, offer any new assistance beyond what has already been promised. In short it seemed that beyond a reassurance about continued American interest in Afghanistan there was little that Armitage brought with him for the Karzai government or for the reconstruction effort.

Afghanistan of course is in an unholy mess. The writ of the central government does not run beyond Kabul. Warlords, even those appointed governors by the central government, collect the customs duties and other taxes on behalf of the government but keep the money for themselves. The government’s poor financial plight was highlighted by the demonstration held in Kabul a few days ago by government employees to protest against the non-payment of their salaries for the last three months.

Warlords have successfully frustrated the UN and Japan-financed project to disarm regional armies. Many of these warlords are on the payroll of the American-led coalition forces and are required to maintain their forces to fight the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Others claim that until they see a greater ethnic balance in the currently Tajik-dominated government they will not submit to its writ or give up their arms.

Foreign aid provided for reconstruction in Afghanistan runs at about $40-50 per capita as against the $200-300 per capita provided in Kosovo and East Timor. To make matters worse in the last year, more than 50 per cent of the assistance provided went to humanitarian aid making the provision for reconstruction about $20-25 per capita in a country that was far more devastated than either Kosovo or East Timor. Afghans, in Kabul, watch bitterly as UN workers whiz by in expensive Land cruisers and push up rents in Kabul to meteoric heights.

For the ordinary Afghan there is nothing to show for the so-called development effort. This is particularly so in the Pushtun heartland, where, according to one correspondent, “some people’s only contact with the international community comes when American soldiers kick down doors in a seemingly indiscriminate search for weapons”.

Perhaps reflecting this newly heightened resentment, aid workers in their traditional white vehicles are being targeted. The demining operations undertaken by the UN agency concerned and by private NGOs have been suspended following three attacks on vehicles and personnel engaged in de-mining. Without the successful completion of mine clearance the only large project undertaken in Afghanistan — the reconstruction of the Kabul-Kandahar road — a project already plagued by financial and other difficulties, will be further delayed. President Bush has apparently instructed whatever the bureaucratic hurdles, this road should be completed by the end of this year. Given the current insecurity, it seems unlikely that this target will be met.

On another plane the international financed campaign to destroy the poppy crop in Northern Afghanistan and in the rest of the country has ground to a halt because local governors have refused to allow the officials to proceed until adequate compensation is paid to the farmers. As a result it seems an estimated 4,500 tons of opium and other drugs will be harvested and make its way to markets in the West but more importantly to the 2.5 million opium and heroin users that we now have in our country. Our success in eliminating opium production in our own country is not therefore going to make much of a difference to easy availability of the drug to our youth.

A fundamental factor promoting instability and political uncertainty is the dominance exercised by the Tajik faction — or, more accurately, the Panjsheri section of the Tajik faction — over the government and the security apparatus in Kabul. Karzai’s position as president gives him little real authority. This rests in the hands of the vice-president and defence minister, Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, whose Tajik nominees fill the ranks of the bureaucracy and the new army. Most observers are agreed that Fahim’s stranglehold over the defence ministry and intelligence agencies has to be loosened if the pacification process is to advance. They argue that other factions and commanders are unlikely to take part in a UN-organized disarmament process this year unless power is shared more evenly at the centre.

Similarly, the Afghan national army, being put together at a painfully slow pace, is unlikely to be accepted around the country unless its command structures, as much as its foot soldier reflect a more equitable ethnic balance. These are facts that the Americans are aware of. Gen McNeill, the outgoing US commander, said that he was optimistic about the success of the disarmament plan but only if an on-going effort to reform and reconstitute the leadership of the Afghan ministry of defence is successful and if the Pushtuns are given greater representation before they are asked to give up their arms.

So far however there are no reports to indicate that any substantial moves towards reform have been made. Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope if, as Gen. McNeill has claimed, more Pushtuns have now been recruited in the new army, but then again the question arises whether this increased recruitment is also replicated in the officer corps.

While this ethnic imbalance may be, in our eyes and the eyes of discerning observers, what lies at the root of Afghanistan’s continuing strife, the general perception unfortunately is that a large part of Afghanistan’s problems are caused by the Taliban operating from hideouts in Pakistan. Pakistan, it is said, is aggrieved by the ill-treatment meted out to the Pushtun in Afghanistan, incensed by the Northern Alliance’s entente with the Indians, frustrated by its loss of influence in a country which was to provide it “strategic depth” and coerced by provincial governments that are pro-Taliban, and has, therefore, at the very least, turned a blind eye to the disruptive activities undertaken by the Taliban and their ally Hekmatyar.

How valid is this perception? What impact does it have on our relations with the current government in Afghanistan? What effect does it have on our relations with the US? How far does it drive the international community, desirous of peace and stability, to look towards India as the regional power that can help bring such peace and stability to Afghanistan? This will be the subject of my next article.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

What next in Kashmir?

By Zubeida Mustafa

AS India-Pakistan relations, which move in a cyclic pattern, enter one of their friendlier phases, it is heartening to hear voices of sanity in support of peace and normalization between the two countries. It seems that war fatigue has set in and the “voices of sanity” are getting louder.

The futility of attempting a military solution is now dawning on an increasing number of Pakistanis. This is important to sustain the momentum which began when the Indian prime minister extended the olive branch to Islamabad last month, and the peace overtures followed in quick succession from both sides.

It is too early to expect relations between India and Pakistan to be normalized in the immediate future, all the hype notwithstanding. Neither will the disputes, especially the “core issue” of Kashmir — Pakistan’s pet term in dialogue parlance — be resolved right away. The buzz words today are “the long haul”. There are too many hawks on both sides who have been expressing their reservations — if not hostility — about the peace process.

Needless to say, the vested interests, which have benefited from an impasse between the two subcontinental neighbours, will not welcome peace so easily. They have been raising their concern on issues, which for the time being can be set aside. That is because in recent months some powerful compulsions for an India-Pakistan detente have emerged. Islamabad should understand their significance and not attempt to swim against the tide of history.

A sea change has taken place in this part of the world brought on by what has been happening elsewhere. This has made it no longer possible for India and Pakistan to stick to their guns on the issues, which have divided them since 1947. The US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s visit to the region last week came as a significant reminder of the transformation that has taken place in inter-state relations in South Asia.

Why should America now find a renewed vigour to nudge India towards opening its lines of communication with Pakistan in a bid to normalize its ties with it? Why should Mr Vajpayee change the BJP’s tack to project his party’s image as one of peace (if Shekhar Gupta, the editor of the Indian Express is to be believed)? The fact is that there has been a noticeable shift in policy. India which has suddenly dropped its condition of “cross-border terrorism” being stopped before a dialogue with Pakistan can be opened. Mr Vajpayee has also indicated a willingness to discuss the Kashmir issue.

This will undoubtedly be better than having their armies locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, as they were a few months ago. If they cannot enter into a relationship of cooperation and detente, let them talk. Thus they will not have their fingers on the trigger — a nuclear one in this case.

It is plain that America’s geopolitical goal in South Asia today is more clearly defined and the Bush administration is ready to act to translate this goal into reality. America feels threatened by the violence that is becoming endemic in the South Asian region. As it wages its war against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban remnants hiding in Pakistan, there is nothing to stop the US from extending its reach to the militants in Kashmir. Why should it want to tolerate Kashmir as another hotspot in the region?

Arguably, the insurgency in the valley is directed against India. But can the violence unleashed by non-state actors be contained in one area alone? The Afghan crisis since 1979 has amply demonstrated that terrorism assumes a ubiquitous form in the globalized world of today. Hence America obviously feels that it can only root out the Al Qaeda network if the militants fighting in Kashmir are also eliminated. Pakistan can no longer hope to get away by running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

The Pakistan government must be very clear on this count. It should also understand that its protestations and denials do not change the perception of other parties that continue to link the insurgency in the valley with Pakistan. Hence Islamabad will have to not only denounce terrorism in the valley. It will also have to adopt measures to curb the militants who have found sanctuary on our soil. That the US also means business this time is palpable. This signal was sent across to Islamabad when recently Washington declared the Hizbul Mujahideen a ‘foreign terrorist organization’, which carries grave implications — the most significant being that the US now considers the HM to be a threat to American national security.

By adopting this approach vis-a-vis the militants, Washington is killing two birds with one stone. It is furthering its war aims in the context of the global fight against terror. It is also enlisting India’s support in the wider game of international politics, which it badly needs to counter the growing power of China. Since there is no love lost between China and the Islamist militants, Pakistan will find itself isolated if it does not distance itself from a pro-jihad policy.

Closely linked to this thrust towards the isolation of the Islamists is the emerging political situation in occupied Kashmir. This is working against Pakistan and is bound to leave it without any political leverage in Kashmir. Quite unnoticed in this country, some key developments have been taking place on the Indian side of Kashmir.

The elections held in the state in September-October last year are deemed to have been the first reasonably fair and free elections in the territory since 1947. If there were any constraints, they came from the militants who threatened violence against the voters who would come out to cast their ballot or the candidates who would contest. The party, which came into office in coalition with the Congress Party, is again an independent one, namely the People’s Democratic Party of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. Although Mufti Sayeed was at one time the Union Home Minister, he can hardly be termed a stooge of the BJP. There is new blood in the seat of power in Srinagar and the chief minister has been playing his cards very deftly.

Since August, a dialogue has been in progress in the Indian held Kashmir between an unofficial seven-member committee headed by Ram Jethmalani, a former Union Law Minister, and the All Party Hurriyat Conference. Although the process is being conducted very discreetly, it has made some headway. Encouraged by its success, in February New Delhi appointed an official interlocutor on Kashmir, N.N. Vohra. In a radical move, the Indian government has even offered to talk to the resistance groups in Kashmir.

With war fatigue making its impact on the Kashmiris, the negotiations stand quite a good chance of reaching some understanding on the political future of the valley. If the militants abandon their politics of violence, the chances of an arrangement being tentatively arrived at are better than they have ever been in the past.

The internal dialogue in India gives the APHC a role in the political process, which it has been demanding all along. It is not assured of a part in the India-Pakistan dialogue. It is most unlikely that the Kashmiris would want to fade out of the picture and let their future be decided by the two governments.

Understandably they want to have a say even in the talks about the talks. They would want to be consulted on the question of modalities to be adopted to settle the future of the Kashmiri people. One knows very well that procedural issues can make a vital difference to the substantive part of negotiations.

In this changing scenario, Pakistan will only put itself at a terrible disadvantage if it persists with its present Kashmir policy. By continuing to support the use of force, Islamabad will alienate the Americans. Insisting on the “core dispute” being resolved before any other issue can be taken up will place it on a weak wicket since the political forces in the valley are now inclined to talk to India directly.

The pragmatic and sensible approach would be to discreetly put Kashmir on the backburner. Let Islamabad concentrate on normalizing its ties with New Delhi. Kashmir can wait. A solution will emerge in due course, though it may not be exactly as we visualize it at the moment.

Wedding feasts

WITHOUT being caustic I would like to ask Amira Mohammed, who recently wrote a letter to the editor from Washington on the subject of lavish wedding meals, whether she has ever succeeded in convincing her own relatives in Pakistan about the futility of this custom. I have tried with mine and failed.

It seems that there are two impelling reasons behind this act of ostentation: avoiding so-called, and usually non-existent criticism from friends and relations, and flaunting the boast “Have money, will spend.” There is also that silliest and most illogical justification given by many hostesses for extended and expensive feasts at weddings. “We have eaten at so many weddings,” they say, “Shouldn’t we be acknowledging them with a truly festive meal from our side?”

Just have a deeper look into this remark and you come across a few questions. Were you invited to those weddings as a favour and because you were short of food at home? Was it stipulated that if you attend this wedding reception you will have to pay back in the form of a similar reception? Suppose you don’t have a son or daughter to marry off, how do you pay back? Is it permissible to reciprocate that lordly favour by sending your erstwhile hosts a lunch box from a posh restaurant? And so on. The inanity of the justification is beyond measure.

Despite living abroad, Amira Mohammed seems to be pretty up-to-date with wasteful practices at weddings and the like in Pakistan. She has spoken of the evil of dowry, which is a complex subject in itself and requires not one but many articles to do justice with it. But I don’t know if she is acquainted with the other aspects and peripheral practices connected with weddings that are a blot on decent living, on good manners and on aesthetics.

Here I must tell you what I do. If I must attend a wedding, I go there, pay my respects to the host and hostess and quietly slip away. I am convinced that I have done my social duty by being present. This is done around nine p.m. when there are a few guests present although everyone was requested to come punctually at seven-thirty. I come away because I eat my dinner at nine and refuse to torture my stomach by making my juices do overtime till 11 p.m. or even later. Imagine spoiling your evening meal with indifferently cooked meat and rice swimming in oil.

The hosts have no consideration for their guests. The pleasure of their company is the last to weigh with them. The important thing nowadays is that some mindless VIP whom they have begged to “grace the occasion” with his graceless presence is fawned upon and made much of. (I can never forget the wedding from which some poor relations of the host, a federal minister, walked out because he had not greeted them properly. You see, the President was to come).

If the hosts are the bride’s parents they will blame the baraat for being late. But the baraat is composed of social idiots like themselves, and most probably their own son’s baraat had been equally laggard in its time, or will be when the time comes. The delayed baraat is not a stray instance; it is a characteristic with no exceptions and is now a curse of our society. The groom and his family think they are calling the shots and can behave as boorishly as they like. Another curse.

There is one aspect of this delayed dinner that has always excited my pity and contempt for the sufferers. Imagine a couple, close friends or relations, with two or three children, who think there is no escape. At about ten, the kids start bawling with sleep and hunger, but their parents must wait for the arrival of the baraat and the dinner.

Why couldn’t they hand in the gift and just move off? They think they are so important they’ll be missed. My wife, God bless her understanding soul, was one with me, and the dinners that we have most enjoyed were taken tete-a-tete in some restaurant after fleeing from the hurly burly of a wedding. I liked what a friend once said, “At these weddings the crush is terrible, and on top of that they are a crushing bore.”

This was just one feature of our weddings. There are many more, and flagrant ostentation in bad taste is one of them. A wedding to be remembered, absolutely unforgettable, took place in Lahore some years ago. The two families, closely related, lived on picturesque Canal Bank. For half a mile on either side the trees along the canal were full of lights. I was not invited but I happened to see one mehndi from the opposite road. The procession was led by singing-dancing girls from Lahore’s Bazaar-e-husn, followed by family girls carrying the mehndi, and they being followed by caparisoned camels (I don’t know what purpose they served) and Dreesh folk dancers from the ancestral lands in Bahawalpur. The long procession of guests terminated in a military band while the police keeping the street crowd away.

All this was nothing compared to other aspects of the wedding, lavish and vulgar in their exhibitionism, that one only came to learn from guests who had been there and who were, I’m sure, suitably impressed. I’m also sure that the women guests must be praying to the Almighty to grant them the means to out-do the tamasha. Before I close my description of this mother of all weddings let me tell you that the marriage lasted exactly three days. There was talk of mal-adjustment, but that is none of our business. We are only concerned with the public image. That is why I say, and I see a lot of sense in it, though I can’t find anyone to agree with me, that since marriage is a solemn occasion (which we are inclined to forget) it should take place very simply with only near relations and close friends present at the nikah. If the match turns out to be a happy affair the first anniversary should be made an occasion for whatever huge celebration the parties have in mind, with a mass prayer of thanksgiving to God for blessing the union. They can paint the town red if they like and invite thousands to share in the happiness. At wedding’s eve, the celebrations are somewhat premature. Even if the match is not broken off there are many shades of dissatisfaction and unhappiness and family quarrels and heartbreak that may ensue and which certainly go ill with the festivity that preceded them. Even the valima should be held after a year.

I know my readers will differ with me in respect of the valima. My study tells me it is not a religious compulsion, only a social obligation. That is why I dispensed with mine, and my wife agreed with me. Someone who held serious views on the matter said to me, “What! No valima? This is a sin.” To which my answer was, “There’s nothing like living in sin with your lawfully wedded wife.” I don’t know what Amira Mohammed will say to this.

Absence of discernment

PRESIDENT Bush has often complained about the rough treatment given his judicial nominees, sometimes with good reason: Qualified nominees have waited too long for consideration and have been attacked unfairly while they waited.

Friday, in fact, was the second anniversary of Bush’s first crop of circuit court nominees, some of whom are still pending. Yet even as he complains, Bush continues to stoke the fire. The nomination of James Leon Holmes to a district court judgeship in Arkansas is a case in point.

Holmes, a former president of Arkansas Right to Life, is a well-regarded lawyer back home, and he has the support of his home-state senators, both of whom are Democrats. His writings, however, are hardly those of a consensus figure whose nomination is above political objection — the sort of person, that is, whom Bush should be seeking at a time when the judicial nominations system is so terribly broken.

What exactly are Americans to make of a nominee who has seemed to argue in principle against gender equality? Holmes has written that in a marriage, “as the Church subordinates herself to Christ, in that manner the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband.”

In the same article, Holmes — writing with his wife — argued that the “project of eliminating the distinction between the sexes is inimical to the transmission of life” and leads willy-nilly to abortion, contraception and homosexuality: “To the extent we adopt the feminist principle that the distinction between the sexes is of no consequence and should be disregarded in the organization of society ... we are contributing to the culture of death.” —The Washington Post

Can the roadmap deliver?

THE toll continues to rise. A couple of weeks ago, gunfire from an Israeli tank cut short the life of award-winning British journalist James Miller. He and reporter Saira Shah — the two of them had collaborated on ‘Beneath the Veil’, a ground-breaking documentary on the plight of Afghan women under the Taliban — were filming the demolition by Israeli forces of a house in Rafah, on the Gaza Strip, when he was shot in the back of the neck.

“Local kids who loved him have built a shrine on the spot where he fell,” writes Shah, “and the Palestinian Children’s Parliament held a march in his memory.” Last month Tom Hurndall, a 21-year-old English peace activist, was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper while he tried to protect a five-year-old girl at the same refugee camp. He went into a coma from which doctors don’t expect him to emerge. Last week Hurndall’s parents were on their way to visit him at Rafah when the British embassy convoy they were travelling in was briefly detained at gunpoint at a Gaza crossing.

About six months ago, Iain Hook, a former British military officer in charge of an UNRWA project to rebuild the Jenin refugee camp, died when an Israeli sniper shot him in the back. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw promised a thorough investigation into the shooting, but the Foreign Office has since resiled from that position. An inquiry by the UN was assigned to a former US naval intelligence officer whose blatantly pro-Israeli report proved unacceptable to Hook’s colleagues and other UN staff. A second report is being treated as classified. Israel assured Straw it would provide a full account of the killing, but has now changed its mind.

And then there is the harrowing case of Rachel Corrie, a young American activist, crushed to death by an American-supplied bulldozer operated by an Israeli soldier. On March 15, she was trying to prevent the demolition of a house at Rafah. Richard Purssell, a fellow activist who was standing just a few feet away from her, recalls: “She was standing on top of a pile of earth. The driver cannot have failed to see her. As the blade pushed the pile, the earth rose up. Rachel slid down the pile. It looks as if she got her foot caught. The driver didn’t slow down; he just ran over her. Then he reversed the bulldozer back over her again.”

These murders — eyewitness accounts suggest that in each case the Israelis were well aware of what they were doing — may be a drop in the ocean in the broader Palestinian conflict, but they are exceptionally significant as an illustration of the Sharon regime’s impunity. Israel’s security forces appear no longer to have too many qualms about killing foreigners even when they happen to be the citizens of Israel’s closest allies. And on the basis of the available evidence, this does not appear to be a miscalculation. It is not hard to imagine the furore in both official circles and the mainstream press in Britain and the United States had it been possible to hold the Palestinian side accountable for any of these deaths. But because the responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the Israeli regime, it is considered advisable to collaborate in a cover-up.

An Israeli army investigation into Corrie’s death last month absolved Israeli forces of any misconduct. In a classic application of the blame-the-victim strategy, Corrie and other members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) were accused of “illegal, irresponsible and dangerous” behaviour. Last week, shortly before Colin Powell arrived in Jerusalem for talks with Ariel Sharon and his putative Palestinian counterpart, Abu Mazen, Israeli forces raided the ISM offices near Bethlehem and took two American activists into custody. A day earlier, two British ISM activists were arrested by Shin Bet for trying to enter the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s rulers abhor the likes of Rachel Corrie because they are driven purely by humanitarian concerns. Rachel couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be portrayed as a terrorist sympathizer, nor could her faith be held accountable for her solidarity with Palestinians. As her e-mails to her parents — made available to the press after her murder — testify, she was simply an average American responding to a profound injustice. Sharon and his gang have no time for such Americans; they’d rather see them dead. George W. Bush and many of his closest aides appear to empathize with that Israeli point of view.

Rachel, aged 23, was the youngest daughter of an insurance executive and a school volunteer. She attended Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington; she played soccer, enjoyed gardening and the poetry of Pablo Neruda. Reports suggest her political consciousness was a post-September 11 phenomenon (“There are eight-year-olds here,” says one of her e-mails, “much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago”). In Gaza, her tasks, like those of other ISM activists, included accompanying Palestinian children to school in order to protect them from Israeli bullets.

When her mother suggested that a cessation of violence on the Arab side would be beneficial to the Palestinian cause, Rachel responded: “If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew, because of previous experience, that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment and destroy all the greenhouses that we had been cultivating for however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours — do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect whatever fragments remained?”

She also reported feeling “sick to my stomach a lot from being doted on all the time, very sweetly, by people who are facing doom”.

“When I come back from Palestine,” she wrote, “I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here .... Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.”

If a lot more Americans were able to conceptualize the situation in the occupied territories in such clear-cut terms, it would become considerably more difficult for successive US governments to go on supporting and subsidizing Israeli repression. But that is not going to happen — at least not in a hurry.

It isn’t exceptionally difficult in these circumstances to portray, at least for purposes of domestic consumption, the so-called roadmap unveiled late last month — after much ado about the composition of the Palestinian cabinet — as a bold new initiative that will deliver a lasting settlement, provided the new-look Palestinian Authority can put an end to “terrorism”.

The roadmap can, in other words, be interpreted as an endorsement of the Israeli prejudice that Palestinian resistance to occupation is the main problem, rather than the occupation itself. As far as violence is concerned, the spotlight is on the suicide bombings rather than the assassinations, the murder of civilians, the demolition of dwellings and the targeting of international activists and journalists. On the day that Rachel Corrie was killed, nine Palestinians suffered the same fate on the Gaza Strip; they included a four-year-old girl and a man aged 90 — dangerous terrorists, presumably.

So, Abu Mazen is now being asked to deliver what the sidelined Yasser Arafat was unable to provide: a guarantee against attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad — organizations that Israel initially encouraged, incidentally, as a counterweight to Arafat. The new Palestinian prime minister, more or less handpicked by the US-Israeli axis, is expected to prove himself more ruthlessly efficient than Shin Bet and Mossad — despite his uncertain credibility among Palestinians as a consequence of being perceived as a puppet.

There are, of course, some reciprocal demands made on the Israelis. But not too many. Sharon is only required to exercise rhetorical restraint — hence his recent “concessions” on Jewish settlements and talks with Syria. It has been reported that he’ll be in for a shock when he visits the US later this month, because the Bush administration is determined to push through a settlement. That sits uneasily, however, with Condoleezza Rice’s recent assurances to Sharon’s representatives, who were told to have no fears: although the roadmap is officially the product of a quartet that includes the UN, the European Union and Russia, it is the US that is in the driving seat.

With an election year looming in the US, pressure on Israel — at least pressure of the sort that would produce tangible results — is almost inconceivable. With an electrified fence cordoning off all “autonomous” areas, the “independent” Palestine that the roadmap is supposed to lead to by 2005 couldn’t possibly be anything other than a glorified concentration camp. Perhaps not even glorified. And most likely a series of concentration camps.

No matter how “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas turns out to be, it is extremely unlikely that he could live with such a scenario any more than Arafat could.

And when the final solution dreamt up by Sharon’s hawks in collusion with the neo-cons in Washington turns out to be unimposable, one can only hope that increasing numbers of Americans will feel compelled to ask themselves: Did Rachel Corrie — and so many of the people she learned to love — die in vain?

E-mail: mahirali@journalist.com



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