DAWN - Editorial; May 24, 2003

May 24, 2003

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Legitimizing occupation

THE UN Security Council has finally given the United States legal cover to occupy Iraq and to control the country’s resources, thereby legitimizing the controversial attack on Iraq. After a number of amendments, Resolution 1483 was passed on Thursday by 14 out of 15 votes, with Syria abstaining. The passage of the resolution represents a major victory for Washington and marks a significant climbdown for opponents of the Iraq war, especially France, Russia, China and Germany. It is clear that these countries voted for the resolution so as to avoid a repetition of the heat and fury generated by the debate over the earlier aborted resolution sanctioning war on Iraq. The climbdown is a tacit admission of the futility of maintaining a confrontationist posture against the US-led war coalition. It also represents an attempt to salvage the battered authority of the UN and save it from total irrelevance. Unable to win approval for the attack on Iraq, the US simply bypassed the world body and went to war regardless. Having occupied the country, the US triumphantly returned to the UN and won the legitimacy it needed.

The passage of the resolution means that the crippling UN sanctions on Iraq are to be lifted after 13 years. The sanctions brought untold sufferings to the people of Iraq and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women and children. As a result of the lifting of sanctions, the UN food-for-oil programme will also be phased out. More important, the US will be able to take control of Iraq’s oil revenues, so that the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country can now be funded by Iraqi oil export revenues rather than American taxpayers. The opponents of the war had been critical of the first draft of the resolution but backed down after a number of amendments were incorporated, giving the UN a greater say in the future of Iraq. However, even after the amendments, its role is hardly going to be significant. The most important change is that the UN special representative for Iraq will now have a greater say in helping Washington form a new government in Baghdad. Another new point is that UN inspectors will be called in to help US teams investigate Iraq’s nuclear programme.

What is astonishing is that the question of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction has been played down by the resolution, despite a vague indication about the possible return of the inspectors. It must be remembered that the weapons inspectors were to certify Iraq’s WMD innocence before sanctions could be lifted. The weapons issue was repeatedly cited by the US as the main reason for an attack on Iraq. In the post-occupation period, it has found it expedient to downplay this crucial issue and to oppose calls for a return of weapons inspectors. It would have been far better to have the weapons inspectors come up with a certification allowing the lifting of the sanctions, if only for form’s sake. While this may seem like a procedural formality, it was important that this procedure was strictly adhered to. Not doing so amounts to giving a wide berth to America’s unilateralist policies in pursuit of its ambitions of global domination

Algerian quake tragedy

WEDNESDAY’S earthquake striking parts of northern Algeria has taken a heavy toll. The number of dead and injured is increasing steadily as rescue workers remove mounds of rubble to uncover the victims. The strong earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale struck at 7:44pm, a time when many families gather round for dinner. The cities of Thenia, the epicentre of the quake, Boumerdes and the capital Algiers were the worst hit areas. The aftershocks continued on Thursday causing cracks to appear in more buildings and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to spend the night outdoors. The convulsion was so strong that it damaged many boats anchored at the Spanish harbours across the Mediterranean Sea. France, Germany and the UK have joined the rescue efforts, which may take several days to uncover the dead and any survivors from under the rubble. Terming the quake the worst national disaster in 23 years, the Algerian government has announced a three-day mourning.

Algeria is located in an earthquake-prone zone that stretches south-westward from Turkey across the Mediterranean, and has known several major convulsions in the recent past — the most deadly one occurring in 1980 that left 3,000 people dead. As then, the underlying reason for the high fatality rate this time too was the use of substandard building materials. Dozens of buildings reduced to rubble after Wednesday’s shake-up were not built to construction specifications in an earthquake-prone zone. Granted that it is not possible to predict or stop the fury of nature, but with proper building regulations in place the havocs wrought by natural disasters like earthquakes can be significantly reduced. If the buildings in question had been built to withstand jolts, the tragic loss of human life and material damage could have been considerably less. As rescue workers dig through the rubble and hopes of finding more survivors diminish, the people of Pakistan join their Algerian brethren in this hour of grief in praying for the departed souls, and for an early recovery of the survivors of this terrible calamity.

Whither park projects?

THE report that no progress has been made on three major parks in Karachi makes depressing reading. Of the three mentioned in the report, the Sabzi Mandi project is the biggest. Spread over 16 acres, the site became available for a park after the sprawling fruit and vegetable market was moved away from Gulshan-i-Iqbal to its present location on the Superhighway. The other two parks are the Gutter Baghicha and the green belt along the Malir river. About a year ago, the market was shifted and assurances were given by President Musharraf himself that the site would be turned into a park and that the army would do the job out of its own resources. The public had felt immensely relieved and happy because the real-estate sharks had their eyes on this prized piece of land in the heart of the city.

Already, this city of ten million is woefully short of parks, recreation grounds and green spaces. Worse still, many sites reserved for parks were not developed or, in some case, made use of for commercial purposes by greedy developers in league with corrupt officials. The lack of progress on the three parks is, thus, causing justifiable concerns among the people, who wonder what is causing all this delay. One hopes that the delay will not turn out to be an opportunity for interested parties to have the projects shelved so that they could use the sites for more lucrative purposes like building apartments and commercial centres and adding to Karachi’s concrete jungle. It is time the federal and provincial governments and the Karachi Nazim woke up to the danger that the delay poses to these three vital projects, at least two of which are located right in the heart of the city. The least the people expect of the authorities is to let them know what is causing the delay. Is money the problem, or have the vested interests prevailed?