DAWN - Opinion; August 28, 2003

Published August 28, 2003

Less taxes, more payers

By Sultan Ahmed

CAN lower taxes lead to higher revenues in Pakistan? And will this popular theory of taxation lead to solving the fiscal problem or prolonged large budget deficit of the country ? The governor of the State Bank Dr. Ishrat Hussain who is a strong believer in effective reforms in the fiscal and monetary sectors believes that reduction in taxation can bring about radical changes in the tax structure and help the people get rid of many of their tax burdens.

He advocated this approach very strongly when he addressed the large taxpayers unit in Karachi, which has performed pretty well. Not that this approach to tax reduction had not been tried in the past. Dr Mahboob-ul-Haq, as finance minister in the 1980s, tried it and prescribed a single page for declaration of the income by many taxpayers. The result was too many big taxpayers declared themselves as small taxpayers and disillusioned Dr Haq who had to revise his approach to the issue.

Now Dr Ishrat Hussain says the country needs three million taxpayers instead of 1.7 million to boost the revenues and solve many of the country’s fiscal problems. He believes that can be achieved only by increasing the number of the taxpayers to three million and not by the addition of a small number of tax payers which would create complications for the economy as the country is witnessing now.

He said the country needs three million taxpayers to get rid of all kinds of surcharges which the government is compelled to impose to meet its budgetary requirements. The surcharges recovered on POL products, electricity and many other things dealt a body blow to the common man. The revenue from all the surcharges totals 75 to 80 billion rupees and the increase in the number of taxpayers who add a substantial revenue enabling the country to generate new investment and create thousands of jobs. The views of Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz in this regard are not known, although in principle he is for reduced taxation and increasing the number of taxpayers.

The finance minister has also committed himself to raise the threshold for income tax from the current Rs 80,000 next year. If he does that the number of taxpayers is likely to go down instead of going up, as it often happens whenever the threshold of income tax is raised.

The finance minister also wants to make the universal self- assessment more popular, by raising the cross-checking of the declaration by the taxation officers from the old 3 to 5 per cent to a pretty stiff 20 per cent. So he is offering an opportunity to the taxpayers to reduce their contact with the taxation officers, but if they misdeclare they will be grilled.

Dr. Ishrat Husain has spoken of surcharges altogether of Rs 75 billion to 80 billion but the surcharge from oil and gas alone came last year to 67 billion against the targeted Rs 60 billion and the target for this year is Rs 61 billion. So the total surcharges and alike levies are far more than Rs 80 million, and when the tax on a litre of petrol alone is Rs 15, the surcharges in the country are indeed heavy.

Earlier the official contention was that the sales tax is the tax of the future as it related to the actual spending of the people. So while the income tax was not reduced, the sales tax went on spreading to new areas, and larger revenues came from that source. Last year while the revenues from income tax was Rs 138.8 billion, the revenue from sales tax was Rs 197.8 billion.

However as the sales tax was being spread over-eagerly the actual collection was 8 billion rupees less than the targeted last year. The sales tax target this year is Rs 223 billion, while the income tax target is Rs 154 billion, which means that the revenue from sales tax will be about 50 per cent more than the revenue from income tax.

The fact is that 1.7 million people may be paying income tax while all the others pay the total indirect tax of 349 billion rupees.

Dr. Ishrat Husain says that 94 per cent of government servants are honest and they should be paid well to reward them for their honesty and enable them to live reasonably well. How he came to this figure, he did not explain. The policemen, taxation officers and other functionaries the people have to deal with are corrupt and rapacious, it is no use for the people at the top saying that people at their level are honest.

The people have to deal with police officials, taxation officials and other functionaries including judicial staff who can be very vicious if they are not paid what they demand. Good governance in the form of honest and efficient administration should be available at all levels and not only at the top level of the government.

The problem is not that of mere increasing the number of direct taxpayers. It is also of raising the overall amount of revenues. That amount has to rise by about Rs 200 billion which is now the actual deficit of the government. And if the greatly loss making public sector units are gotten rid of, the deficit may come to Rs 150 billion. The fact is while the large industrial units like those owned by the public sector and the multinational companies pay full taxes and so does the salaried class in the organized sector, the businessmen pay little taxes, that is notoriously true of those in the Liberty Market of Lahore, the Islamabad market and the Bohri Bazaar in Karachi.

In the sales tax sector too while the people are made to pay full 15 per cent tax, much of that does not flow in to the government coffers. A major question now is how to make the businessmen pay full taxes even after they have made very small investment of their own.

Now the provinces are also increasing their taxes. The property tax has been doubled and tripled in Karachi while the people get very little in return for such payments. Immediately after the new financial year, apart from preparing to pay their income tax declarations by September 30, they have to pay full property tax and conservancy tax to the KDA and water charges even when one does not get any water through the pipelines, fire tax, motor vehicle tax, etc. It is proper that everyone should pay taxes but it is also necessary that the people should get good governance in return and essential services for the taxpayers. It cannot be a one-way traffic all the time with the government getting the taxes and the people getting nothing in return, while the senior government officials have the full benefit of enjoying everything free.

It is equally improper that 95 per cent of the property tax is collected in Karachi while the Sindh government spends so little on it. And there is heavy stamp duty on transfer of property which stands in the way of such transfers which Dr. Ishrat Husain strongly deplored.

The central issue is how to reduce the taxes and increase the number of taxpayers to almost three million from present 1.7 million. It is an uphill task but the government has to try. But while the number of taxpayers is being virtually doubled the sales tax should be reduced from 15 per cent to a reasonable rate. If not, the economic revival will be slow, as it has been.

King’s dream not yet realized

By Dr Iffat Idris

‘I HAVE a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their characters.’

The eloquence and sheer power of Martin Luther King’s address on August 28, 1963, as evident from the excerpts mentioned above, moves hearts even today, forty years after he made it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That address, before a gathering of 250,000 in the nation’s capital, was one of the turning points in the civil rights movement to free black Americans from discrimination, and give them the ‘inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

Forty years on, has Martin Luther King’s dream been realized? Do black people in America today sit as equals with whites? Is racial discrimination well and truly a thing of the past?

There is no definitive answer to these questions. On one level, black Americans do enjoy the same rights and opportunities as whites. They have the right to vote, to eat in any restaurant and travel on any bus, to go to any college or university, to get whatever job they want. There are no legal barriers to their progress. Indeed, thanks to positive discrimination, they actually enjoy some legal advantages over their white counterparts.

The list of African-Americans who have benefited from this freedom and have made their mark in society is long: innumerable black singers and performers, writers, politicians, sportsmen and women, academics, entrepreneurs. Recall Halle Berry and Denzel Washington — both black — winning Oscars in the same year for best actress and best actor respectively.

Look at the massive popularity of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Note the unprecedented number of black faces in senior positions in the Bush administration — Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice. Marvel at the accomplishments of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. ‘The Negro’ has indeed come far since Martin Luther King lamented his plight on August 28, 1963.

But this is not true for all Negroes. For every Will Smith and Alice Walker success story, there are hundreds of black Americans who have fallen by the wayside. Poverty, ignorance and crime: these are the daily realities for a large part of today’s blacks. According to a report by the US Justice department one-third of black Americans born in 2001 will go to prison at some point in their lives. 25 per cent of American blacks are below the poverty line. These statistics are far higher than for the whites, or even other ethnic communities. Clearly, legal equality has failed to deliver social equality.

The explanation for this situation lies partly within the black community itself, and partly in American society. Opportunities will only yield benefits when they are seized and used. Many American blacks have not seized and used the opportunities created for them by legal equalization: opportunities to study, to get jobs, to prosper.

Many are their own worst enemies, pulling themselves back through truancy, crime and drugs. If the black community is ever to progress from the bottom-most rung of the ladder, it will have to take a long, hard look at its own failings and weaknesses.

The other problem is that changes in law do not automatically equate to changes in the psyche. Racial discrimination has been wiped off the statute books but it still exists in the minds of many white Americans.

It finds its manifestation in hidden, covert racism — the glass ceiling that stops blacks getting to the top of the corporate, political or academic ladder; the policy that prescribes prison as the solution to black social problems; the stereotyping that regards all blacks with suspicion.

But it can also be manifested overtly — as seen in the brutal beating of Rodney King and the acquittal of his police attackers. Eliminating racism from inside the heads of American whites is a struggle still to be won.

So no, Martin Luther King’s dream has not been totally realized and hence, yes, his address still has relevance today. But its relevance forty years on extends far beyond America and far beyond the struggle to end racial discrimination. King’s message applies as much, if not more, to the new Muslim ‘Negroes’ in American society and the discrimination they face.

In today’s America you can get beaten up because you are wearing a headscarf, or because you have a beard. You can be fired from your job because your name is Muhammed. You can be arrested and held for long periods because you speak with an Arabic accent. You can be forced off a plane because you have a Middle Eastern or South Asian appearance.

Is there any difference between the discrimination that the Muslims in the United States face today and the anti-Negro discrimination that Martin Luther king campaigned to end forty years ago? The difference, if any, is that anti-Muslim discrimination is worse than racial discrimination. For a start, it is a phenomenon that is gaining momentum not just in America but throughout the western world. The rise of the European right — in Italy, the Netherlands, France — and the tightening of asylum laws across the continent are clear indicators of Europe’s Islamophobia.

The other difference is in context. Racial discrimination took place against a historical legacy of slavery. By contrast, today’s religious discrimination is taking place against a backdrop of universally acknowledged and accepted human rights, including freedom of religious worship.

Put simply, discrimination against blacks occurred as the world was moving away from ignorance towards tolerance. Discrimination against muslims represents a move in the opposite direction: civilization regression rather than progress.

Muslims became the new ‘Negroes’ in the aftermath of 9/11 and as a consequence of the was against terror. Their battle against prejudice and discrimination is only beginning — unlike that against racial discrimination, which is half won. Thus, forty years on, Martin Luther King’s vision of a nation in which people will ‘be judged by the content of their character’ is more a Muslim’s dream than a black man’s.

Protecting drug dealers

By Eric S. Margolis

TWO years ago, the idea that NATO troops would end up in Afghanistan seemed as far-fetched as the Swiss army invading Balochistan. Yet this is exactly what happened, thanks to the 9/11 attacks and President George Bush’s ham-handed war on terrorism.

NATO is now running the International Security Assistance Force (more Orwellian Pentagon-speak) in Afghanistan, the alliance’s first deployment outside Europe, and a mission recalling the relief of besieged Beijing by European and Japanese troops during China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion.

These ISAF soldiers are called ‘peacekeepers’ by uninformed media; their mission is hailed as a humanitarian operation to bring ‘stability’ to war-ravaged Afghanistan.

We should understand these soldiers are not true peacekeepers, like the Canadians in Cyprus for example, but rather auxiliaries of the US occupation forces in Afghanistan who strategic mission is to ensure assure control of the Central Asian oil.

The Canadians, Germans, and other NATO troops garrisoning Kabul are duplicating the role of the US marines sent to Beirut in 1982. Washington billed the marines as ‘peacekeepers’ in Lebanon’s bloody civil war. In reality, the marines were sent to prop up the Israeli-run, neo-fascist Christian Phalangist regime in its war with Syrian-backed Muslim groups. When 240 Marines were killed by a truck bomb, the Americans were outraged that their ‘peacekeepers’ had become a target. Americans — and the marines — simply did not understand that they had been dropped in the middle of a civil war as full-fledged combatants.

The NATO troops are in Kabul not because the alliance wanted to get involved in Afghanistan’s 24-year old conflict, but because Washington browbeat Canada and its European allies into helping share the burden of garrisoning a conquered nation. Better, figured NATO governments, to placate Washington by sending troops to lower threat Afghanistan than to dangerous Iraq. Just as the Soviet Union compelled its Warsaw Pact alliance during the 1980s to send troops to Angola, so the US has forced its reluctant allies into Afghanistan.

The NATO garrison in Kabul will find its sole mission is propping up the US-installed ‘Vichy’ Afghan regime of Mohammed Karzai, an amiable but powerless figurehead and old CIA asset. Real power in Kabul is held by the Northern Alliance, which is armed, financed and largely directed by the Russian security services.

The Alliance’s three main components: Panjshiris of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, hailed in the west as a hero, but, in reality, a covert Soviet ally during the 1980s war; the old Afghan Communist Party, now led by former secret police general Mohammed Fahim;, and the Uzbek militia of serial war criminal, Gen. Rashid Dostam.

South of Kabul, the nation is a patchwork of local tribal warlords, whom the US heavily bribes to combat Taliban, Al Qaeda and other nationalist forces. Some 9,000 US troops are stuck in the low-grade guerilla war in Afghanistan costing US $500 million monthly. The security situation in Afghanistan now ironically resembles late 1982: a Soviet-installed puppet regime in Kabul, propped up by the Red Army and listless Afghan government troops, with scattered but growing armed resistance to the foreign occupation. A conflict that Afghanistan’s own king, Zahir Shah, calls a ‘stupid and useless war.’

Not only are the US and its allies mired in an intensifying guerilla war in a chaotic nation, they now find themselves in league with world-class drug dealers. Afghanistan was the world’s leading grower and exporter of opium, the base for morphine and heroin. When the Taliban regime drove the Afghan Communists from power in 1996, they vowed to eradicate opium, though it was the dirt-poor nation’s only cash crop. By 2001, according to UN drug agencies, Taliban had virtually stopped opium production in areas it controlled. The Bush administration was giving millions in anti-drug aid to Taliban until four months before the 9/11 attacks.

After 9/11, Taliban was demonized by the Bush administration and the US media for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden without seeing evidence of his guilt, then abandoned by Pakistan. The US invasion followed, Taliban were overthrown and retreated into the mountains. The sole production of opium during the Taliban regime was done in the far northeast by its bitter foe, the Northern Alliance. When the Alliance seized power in Kabul with the help from Russia and the US, it not only revived opium growing but began producing morphine base and refined heroin, processes formerly performed in Pakistan.

Today, Afghanistan — half of which is an America’s colony — is again the leading producer of heroin, accounting for 4,000 tons annually, 75 per cent of total world production. The head of Russia’s anti-drug agency calls the situation in Afghanistan ‘catastrophic.’ Yet it is the Northern Alliance-run regime, and its US, Russian and NATO supporters, who are responsible for this drug epidemic.

After Indochina and Central America, the US once again finds itself in bed with major drug dealers. The Bush administration has reportedly ordered its own drug enforcement agency agents in Pakistan to turn a blind eye to the narcotics dealing of its Northern Alliance allies.

European and Canadian troops now join the endless Afghan war as part of the imperial garrison in Kabul. By helping protect Karzai and the Northern Alliance, NATO, like the US, has become a very real accessory in the international heroin trade, and the partner of the deeply criminal regime in Kabul.—Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2003

Iraqi resistance on the rise

By Gwynne Dyer

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is outraged. US President George W. Bush makes his usual clumsy attempt to paint the Iraqi resistance as just another bunch of ‘terrorists’, and to link them with some worldwide conspiracy of terrorists who attack the United States because “they hate freedom”.

All the usual suspects express their shock that the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad has been bombed. And you wonder: can they really be surprised? To adapt Bill Clinton’s famous phrase: it’s a war, stupid. In the first phase of the war, cluster bombs were the weapon of choice, and so the United States won. Now we have moved into the phase where the dominant weapon is the truck bomb, and that levels the playing field. A classic guerilla war is taking shape in Iraq, and such wars are a contest not of technology but of will.

In this sort of struggle guerillas have several inbuilt advantages. They are at home, among friends and relatives, with all the local knowledge (starting with language) that the foreign troops lack. They can wrap themselves in the local flag (or increasingly, in the case of the non-Baathist resistance in Iraq, in the green banner of Islam), options that are simply unavailable to the occupying forces. And there is something more: the occupiers have to build; the resistance only has to destroy.

There is a key concept of revolutionary guerilla warfare which has, oddly, no standard translation in English: ‘la politique du pire’. Literally, it is the strategy of (making things) worse. The idea is that the guerillas, who lack the military strength to beat their opponents in open battle, should concentrate instead on destroying the structures and services on which the population depends.

If their attacks and sabotage make the lives of ordinary people awful, the people will not blame the guerillas. They will blame the authorities whose duty it is to provide those structures and services — the occupation authorities, in this case.

This is already happening in Iraq, where the failure of the US forces to restore power and water four months after the fall of Baghdad contrasts sharply with Saddam Hussein’s rapid restoration of essential services after the heavy bombing of the 1991 Gulf War.

In this context, attacks on infrastructure like the recent bombings of oil and water pipelines make perfect sense. The wholesale looting of copper cable that is the largest single reason for the US failure to restore electricity supplies in Iraq is mostly a freelance activity undertaken for profit, but certainly the resistance forces have no objection. And the bombing of the UN headquarters will not be unpopular in Iraq either.

Iraqis who watched their once-comfortable living standards collapse over the past twelve years under the impact of UN sanctions have a rather different perspective on that organisation than the rest of the world. Saddam Hussein’s regime brought those sanctions upon itself by its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but since Iraqis never chose Saddam in any meaningful sense they feel no blame for that crime — and they certainly bore the punishment. The Iraqi resistance does not discredit itself at home by attacking the UN.

On the contrary, it furthers its principal strategic goal, which is to demonstrate that the US cannot bring even security and prosperity to Iraq, let alone democracy. The US is already having immense difficulty in persuading other countries to send troops to Iraq to share the burden of the occupation, because in addition to their original misgivings about the wisdom and legality of the invasion they now have to worry about a significant toll of casualties. All the more is this true of international organisations.— Copyright

Blind mole hunters

THERE’S more frustration than shame when an intelligence agency, on occasion, gets outwitted by a master spy. But to be deceived for decades by an ill-supervised mediocrity in your own ranks is something else. And that’s exactly what happened to the FBI in the case of turncoat agent Robert Philip Hanssen, concludes Glenn A. Fine, the Justice Department inspector-general.

Hanssen, who pleaded guilty to espionage charges and was sentenced in May 2002 to life in prison, spied with mind-boggling ease for the Russians for decades.

The inspector-general’s report provides excruciating detail about the agency’s slackness: Hanssen used an FBI telephone line and answering machine to communicate with his Russian handlers; he searched the FBI’s computer system for references to himself and his drop and signal sites; he deposited KGB cash in a passbook savings account at a bank one block from FBI headquarters.

As the FBI searched for the mole, it focused on the CIA. In his only background reinvestigation in 1996, Hanssen didn’t have to file a detailed financial disclosure form. The main investigators didn’t even get access to his personnel file or credit reports.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has responded to the report, emphasizing steps the bureau has taken to avoid another Hanssen, including instituting new audits and a financial disclosure programme that will cover all FBI employees and contractors with access to sensitive information. But the inspector general rightly says the FBI’s most serious security weaknesses have not been fully rectified and leave it open to treachery.

The report, with its 21 recommendations, calls for a “wholesale change in mind-set and approach to internal security.” That means the FBI must rid itself of its lingering bunker mentality regarding reform and do more than shuffle paper.—Los Angeles Times

Why send troops to Iraq?

By Roedad Khan

AMERICANS don’t like to be reminded of Commodore Mathew Perry because he conjures up an Imperial image that makes them uncomfortable. Perry appeared in Tokyo Bay on July 8, 1853 with four ships mounting more than sixty guns and nearly 1000 men, carrying a list of demands and an ultimatum from President Fillmore.

The Japanese were overwhelmed by Perry’s firepower and yielded. Historians agree that President Fillmore sent Perry to Japan largely because America needed oil — though back then it was the oil from whales found off the Japanese coast.

Today the United States is once again in an expansionist mood, moved by the lure of oil in the Middle East and the notion of Manifest Destiny to export democracy and western civilization to the Islamic world. In pursuance of this objective, Bush is prepared to plunge the world into a holocaust, dragging a traumatized and terrified nation behind him.

He trumped up evidence against the Saddam regime to justify the invasion in the eyes of the American people and went to war against Iraq — the first pre-emptive war in the history of the United States — on the “wings of a lie”. He decided to go it alone, reckoning that the operation would not last long and American soldiers would be welcomed as liberators by jubilant crowds and garlanded. All their plans, all their hopes, and all their fantasies now seem lost in the dust.

A warning against use of force to oust Saddam came from none other than General Anthony Zinni, Commander of the US Central Command whose writ covered the Gulf region. “I know of no viable opposition to Saddam in Iraq”, General Zinni said. “Under such conditions, any attempt to remove the Iraqi leader by force could dangerously fragment Iraq and destabilize the entire region... a weakened, fragmented, chaotic Iraq, which could happen, is more dangerous in the long run than a contained Saddam now”. General Zinni’s advice went unheeded.

Saddam is gone. Iraq is “liberated” but the Iraqis have lost everything — security of person, property, honour and jobs. Isn’t it ironical that the Iraqis whose country is literally floating on oil, have no fuel to drive their vehicles or run their power plants? Like Afghanistan, Iraq too has ceased to be a sovereign, independent country and is now under American military occupation. “It is a tragedy what is happening, what Bush is doing in Iraq”, Mandela told his audience. “What I am condemning it that one power, with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, who is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust”.

There is a Chinese proverb: “It is easy to seize power. Difficult to maintain it”. After months of chaos and loss of life, there is increasing worry in Washington that the US is carrying too much of the financial and military burden in Iraq. There is also mounting public concern about the number of US soldiers who are being killed and injured everyday. This misbegotten war has now entered its guerrilla phase.

A top US general recently admitted that American troops were facing a classical guerrilla-type campaign — a phrase Bush administration officials so far had avoided and added that American troops should be prepared to stay in Iraq for years. There are currently about 12 attacks a day on US convoys. As many as 140,000 American soldiers are surrounded by 23 million Iraqis who want to throw them out of their country. Fed up with being in Iraq, told several times that they would soon be going home only to have their hopes dashed to the ground, demoralized by their role as policemen in a risky place, the US soldiers are angry. Morale is low, in fact non-existent.

The vulnerability of American troops in Iraq and the determination by Bush to internationalize the troops presence on the ground has changed the political and diplomatic landscape. International support for the US campaign in Iraq is tepid.

The legal position is laid down in the Geneva Convention and the Hague Regulations and is quite clear. They provide that America as an occupying power has a duty to keep order, keep civil administration functioning and provide for immediate humanitarian need. It has no power to engage in major political, economic, or constitutional reform. It also has no power to bring into being a sovereign government since they hold no sovereignty. Only the UN can do that. It is for the Security Council, not the US, to establish an interim government and a route to elections under its own supervision. The Bush administration, however, has scant regard for the legal position and has no intention to give the UN a pivotal role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

We have a stake in a stable and prosperous, sovereign, independent Iraq but sending our troops to do the dirty job on behalf of the American occupying power is inconceivable. Our participation could only be envisaged as part of a UN peacekeeping force, based on a precise mandate from the Security Council and benefiting from the support of the entire international community. And before our troops could participate in peacekeeping, the political transition in Iraq must be placed under the control of the UN. How can our troops keep peace in Iraq when there is no peace to keep?

Our participation in the “peacekeeping” operation in Iraq would undoubtedly enable thousands of American troops to return home. But our troops would then have to face guerrilla attacks and organized resistance put up by Iraqi freedom fighters.

How can our troops keep peace in Iraq if American soldiers remain on its soil and aggression continues unabated and unabashed? Why become accomplices after the crime? How can our troops operate and keep peace under the overall command of the occupying power? How can policing be done by our troops who, like combat troops the world over, are trained to kill, not police? What happens if there is a nationalist uprising against American occupation? Will our troops shoot into the crowds and kill their Muslim brethren? What happens if our troops get involved in a sectarian conflict in Iraq, considering the fact that the majority of the people is Shia but the country has always been ruled by Sunnis? How can our troops go to Iraq as scavengers of the American campaign? Why humiliate our army by placing it in the same category as the Poles or the Uruguayans, not as part of a UN peacekeeping force, but as part of the US clean-up team? Why step into the turbulent waters of Mesopotamia at the behest of the Americans who have their own agenda? If you do, be prepared to get wet. How can Pakistan keep supporting the US government as it tramples the sovereignty of other nations? First Afghanistan and now Iraq. Have we become the doormat on which the US government can wipe its bloodstained boots whenever it likes? Why meddle in the affairs of a Muslim country in the throes of a revolution, struggling to rid itself of foreign invaders?

Let the Bush administration, as one senior French official put it, “Mijoter dans son Jus” — “Stew in its own juices” — by leaving it alone to handle the situation. Why does our government believe it has a God-given duty to fight someone else’s war or defend someone else’s empire? We are, after all, what the French call ‘quantite neglible’ in international affairs. We have enough problems of our own. Why ride the American train to an unknown destination? We don’t really know who the driver is, nor where he is taking us, or at which station he is planning to stop or whether he plans to return at all. If there is a confrontation between our troops and Iraqi civilians and there are causalities, the blood of Iraqis and Pakistani soldiers will then be on our hands. In their occupation of Iraq, the US and British armies have entered the gates of hell. They have sown the wind. Let them reap the whirlwind.

During the First World War more than 12000 Punjabi and Pathan soldiers were hired by the British to fight the Turks in Mesopotamia. Many refused to shoot and kill their Muslim brethren. Some of them defected to the Turkish side. The bulk of the Punjabi and Pathan soldiers surrendered to Turkish forces in Kut in May 1916 after a siege which lasted 147 days. Of the soldiers who left Kut in captivity more than 4000 died. Is history about to repeat itself? A century later, our role as a source of auxiliary cohorts for the American Empire in Iraq is being reprised by Musharraf. Where is his mandate for so enormous and fateful a decision?

When the history of the American invasion of Iraq comes to be written, let it not be said that our troops intervened in Iraq not to help the Iraqis regain their sovereignty but as mercenaries hired by the Americans to do their dirty job and perpetuate their illegal occupation.

In a world where “trust me. I am the president”, no longer works, it seems obvious that a highly sensitive issue like sending our troops to Iraq for ‘peacekeeping’ must be debated in the parliament and covered more extensively in the media and better presented to the people before we make such a fateful operational commitment in a highly volatile situation.

I believe that history will pronounce that on the whole — and it is on the whole that these matters must be judged — the decision not to intervene militarily in Iraq was right and in the best interest of Pakistan.



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