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DAWN - Opinion; September 1, 2003

September 01, 2003


Crafting intelligence to win the Iraq war

By Kurt Jacobsen & Sayeed Hasan Khan

BRITISH Prime Minister Tony Blair, and to a lesser extent, President George W. Bush, are under fire for crafting intelligence data to buttress their dubious case for a preventive attack on Iraq. On a Washington visit recently, Blair pleaded that, WMD or no WMD, history will forgive the Anglo-American assault because Iraqis were liberated from a truly vile regime. The ousting of Saddam Hussein should not be scoffed at. What is the war?

Whether this crowd-pleasing assertion is disingenuous or not (it‘s hard to tell which it is with Blair) it is unwise to mistake the incidental byproduct of a military action for its serious underlying purposes, which plainly were (1) control of Iraqi energy, (2) tilting the Middle East power equation more favourably toward Israel and other western clients, and (3) giving fretful Americans a spectacular distraction from the many woes that Bush’s plutocratic policies are imposing on them.

While the enchanting idea that the US and UK forces were simply doing Iraqis a big favour was found hard to swallow abroad, this self-image of soft-hearted nobility worked quite well in Britain until the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly got under way. Kelly, Britain’s premier expert on WMD, dared to leak his discontent with Downing Street manipulativeness, was severely pressured, and committed suicide. A sneering Blair henchman dismissed Kelly as a ‘Walter Mitty type’.

Walter Mitty, invented by humourist James Thurber and played on screen by comedian Danny Kaye, was a well-meaning weakling who fantasized endlessly about performing gallant deeds.

This certainly is not an activity you will catch the Bush or Blair cabinets indulging in. The sneer could not have been more sincere.

The flattering image of an invader as selfless rescuer played even better in the US, where the corporate media behaves like a branch of the Pentagon, but even President Bush is beginning to squirm a bit as impudent questions arise over the White House’s cavalier misuse of intelligence to justify bloodshed. In America too the convenient plea that the invasion freed an oppressed people became a predictable, even hypnotic, refrain. It is, of course, a venerable one. Even Adolf Hitler, primly disavowing any aggressive intent, resorted to soothing claims that he only fought to protect endangered German minorities mired in nearby states, like Greece or Tunisia.

You don’t need a Machiavelli to tell you that the elites in the major powers (and most minor ones) tell whatever lies suit their cold-blooded geopolitical designs. A sentimental moral gloss helps to obscure meaner motives, and those motives are the reason, for example, why the US cannot seem to spare so much as the cost of a day’s bombing of ravaged Afghanistan in order to rebuild it.

As for Iraq, Washington’s neoconservatives find the perils of reconstruction there more to their taste because of the oil and because, in the wake of tax cuts and subsides and contracts for the rich, they can palm the huge bill off on average American taxpayers in the guise of costs of the permanent war on terrorism.

The public, meanwhile, finds idealistic pleas appealing because we want to believe that neither we nor our governments would ignore (or abet) planetary crimes and catastrophes, and would do the right thing. But even successful intervention can be a complex, confusing and costly affair, as the US has discovered in a guerrilla-ridden Iraq today.

The injunction ‘stop the killing’ ironically often requires more killing. One can be suckered by a clever foreign group, as easily as by ones own government, who exploit the genuine ethics which most citizens hold dear.

The problem is that the states have interests and powerful lobbyists, but not consciences.

Even so, humanitarian groups strive to connect opposition to state-sponsored crimes to the enlightened self-interest of major powers. As a left wing American activist also told one of us about the NATO campaign in Kosovo in 1999, which he supported.

The US is wrong so often that it is bound to do the right thing once in a while, even if only by chance. Still, mass murder must intersect with vital material interests in order for leaders to grab their white hats and gallop to the rescue.

No one need labour under the impression, as Henry Kissinger infamously disavowed, that foreign policy is social work. Virtuous acts in this hard-nosed realm depend on political advantage.

In 1995-96, for example, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole championed Bosnia (because of an idiosyncratic personal interest and a chance to score points against Clinton) but opposed messing with Rwanda.

Victimhood is a selective thing. Kurds in Iraq suffered terribly, but armed Kurdish groups were allied with Iran at a time when US ally Turkey was killing Kurds in its territory just as freely as Saddam Hussein did in Iraq.

Little is said about these Turkish atrocities, but Bush senior, eager to contain Iran, doubled Iraqi trade credits after the Halabja gas attack. The British, illegally, followed suit. Thats realpolitik.

The Kosovo Liberation Army, terrorists in 1998, transformed in official American eyes into bold freedom fighters the following year. So the KLAs cleansing of Kosovar Serbs after NATOs air war was ignored just as was the Croatian expulsion of long-time Serb residents from Krajina.

The Serbs were no angels but neither, by any stretch of the imagination, were the Croats or Bosnians, who reaped a great deal of covert military aid from the US all along.

The first thing any aggrieved minority from a far away land that we know little of, as Chamberlain said of Czechoslovakia in 1938, does is hire a high-priced Western public relations firm to plead the infinite justice of their cause. The tale about Iraqi soldiers dumping incubator babies was fabricated by an American PR firm, which dispatched a Kuwaiti dignitary’s daughter to pose as a nurse at hearings.

Forget the oil for a moment — were average Americans otherwise keen to restore a bunch of feudal despots to their sumptuous lairs? The people you are saving may be playing you for fools. The Bosnian government was provoking retaliatory attacks in order to rouse western aid.

Onlookers regret the tactics that slippery politicians often employ to avoid humanitarian interventions. Yet perhaps one need not be entirely scornful of a US doctrine that approves intervention only where there is a demonstrable national interest, clear objectives, and public support.

The intention, selfish though it may be, is to avoid another Vietnamese bloodbath. First do no harm, as the ancient medical code exhorts, is not a bad principle. The problem is that often the western powers are involved malignantly in the plights the western press deplores.

The examples are embarrassingly abundant. US carpet bombing of Cambodia contributed to Khmer Rouge butchery in killing fields afterward but few Americans know about it. The US and UK may delicately look away from Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, but western arms flowed steadily enabling murder sprees taking two hundred thousand lives. If governments cant stop these state-sponsored killings, cant they stop reloading the killers weapons? In 1965 the US not only approved the Indonesian coup, which killed half a million, but supplied long lists of subversives.

As John Pilger documents in his book Hidden Agendas, it made no difference whether Labour or Tory, or Democrat or Republican, held office: profitable arms streamed into tyrants arsenals. As the movie Black Hawk Down attests (though the book was more critical), Americans believe that the US forces entered Somalia in 1993 as food caterers in cammies, and did nothing to provoke the locals.

It was all the fault of a warlord, not the Americans who unwillingly killed between 7 and 10 thousand Somalis.

The Bush administration abhors wimpy “nation-building,” unless it promises dizzyingly high returns for the likes of Halliburton. ‘Do no good and no harm can from it,’ is the warm way that kind soul defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld peremptorily puts it. The bill, in blood and treasure, for occupying Iraq is escalating.

Construction and oil contracts are doled out purely as American spoils, exactly as the most shrill critics predicted. The US and UK officials dutifully insist they invaded for the sake of saving the wretched Iraqi people from Saddam’s tender mercies.

But it only becomes ever more clear that the real Walter Mittys in this grim drama are Tony Blair and George W. Bush who relish the pretense they are doing good when all they and their cronies are really up to is doing well.

What US democracy lacks

By Khalid B. Sayeed

EVER since the Declaration of Independence of the United States in 1776, the system of power that emerged has been changing in certain clear directions. The declaration strongly emphasized that “liberty was the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.” The rights of the people were life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, referred to the “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

However, Lincoln himself, in September 1858, was concerned that the pendulum of power was gravitating more and more towards the hands of the government, with emphasis on defence being far greater than concern regarding liberties and peoples’ rights.

In his speech on September 11, 1858, he said “What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, a bristling sea coast, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land... Our reliance is on the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defence is the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.”

Since the days of Lincoln, we find that the United States has moved more and more in the direction of strengthening the government in such a manner that it emerges as a global power. Particularly in the Middle East, its reliance on oil has made it realize that it needs friendly tyrants in the region to ensure the uninterrupted supply of oil to the US and the western world. As President Richard Nixon pointed out, “Now its oil is the life blood of modern industry, the Persian Gulf region is the heart that pumps it, and the sea routes around the Gulf are the jugular through which that life blood passes. (Richard Nixon, “The Real War” 1980, pg. 74)

A great majority of the Americans seem to think that it is the Muslim and Arab terrorists in the Middle East who pose a great threat to the security of the United States. Therefore, the great majority of people, after September 11, have agreed to support the federal government, and particularly the president as the commander and chief, in such a way that the government has been allowed to set up a department of homeland security.

In addition, the government has been able to set up a system of justice to try the terrorists by military commissions. The British weekly, the Economist, supported President Bush’s battles against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. However, it opposes the setting up of military commissions to try Al Qaeda suspects. As “illiberal, unjust and likely to be counterproductive for the war against terrorism.” (The Economist, July 12 - 18, 2003).

If the United States were a lively democracy with its elaborate federal system of separation of powers and checks and balances, why is it that the political system is being transformed into one where the people don’t seem to be aware of how the president and his supporters in Congress and the senate are bringing about a major social and political transformation of the country? One can cite, perhaps, a few reasons as to why this is taking place and not clearly discerned by the people. Senator Fulbright, in his book The Arrogance of Power, states, “There are two Americas. One is the America of Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson; the other is the America of Teddy Roosevelt and the modern super patriots.”

In this age of super patriotism, the great majority of Americans seem to think that terrorism, completely external in origin, has threatened the security of the country. The American people do not seem to be aware that the causes of this terrorism were not just external, but lay fully and squarely in the policies that the American federal government, in its quest to dominate the world, pursued and which created the terrorist opposition.

Some of our conversations with the American citizens at different levels have produced certain surprising results. Many of them say that most American politicians are crooks. When asked to explain how the Americans can expect to live under a good political system, under these circumstances, they, in some anguish and anger, ask “How can such a question be raised when the American system is the best in the world?” Similarly, when we discussed as to why an economic corporation like Enron has been found to be grossly corrupt, after a brief discussion, my discussant, who is a well-informed, Ivy League lawyer, asserted that the Americans still are the best in the world.

One wonders, how can so many people in the American electorate can display such lack of sensitivity and awareness of their political problems? We found possible answer in a book written by Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution, published in 1872. “I have tried to describe one of the mental conditions of parliamentary Government, which I call ‘rationality’, by which I do not mean reasoning power, but rather the power of hearing the reasons of others, of comparing them quietly with one’s own reasons, and then being guided by the result.”

It may be pointed out by some of our readers that how can we jump to certain conclusions when the evidence that we have produced consists of small numbers of people who asserted that most American politicians are crooks, but that their system of government with all its deficiencies is still the best. we have not based our argument just on the evidence of certain conversations that we have had with a few Americans.

The problem is that the number of Americans who participate in the elections or in other forms of political process seem to be disturbingly small. It is well known that the United States ranks 139th in the world in terms of average voter turnout in national elections since 1945. Similarly, it is well known that there has taken place so much gerrymandering of legislative districts that only four House of Representative incumbents were defeated by challengers in 2002. (“The Fewest in History”) In addition, more than 40 per cent of state legislative races “since 1996 have been uncontested by one of the two major parties.” (Steven Hill and Rob Richie, “Action Potential”, American Prospect).

Based on this evidence, Hill and Richie concluded that “most legislative districts have become one-party fiefdoms where the outcome is preordained, undermining accountability and the relationship between legislators and their constituents.”

The writer is Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada.

Israel’s security wall

By Ghayoor Ahmed

ISRAEL’s 350-kilometer long ‘security wall’ to seal off the West Bank, ostensibly to prevent suicide attacks on the Israelis, seems well under way.

In April last year, Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, had announced that he will isolate the Palestinians from Israel by erecting ‘walls’ and ‘buffer zones’. Any hopes of the reversal of this decision that had been raised with the visit of Sharon to Washington last week, have been dashed after his announcement that he would proceed with settlement activities as well as with the construction of the wall.

The construction of the wall by Israel has emerged as a major issue and the Palestinians are rightly filled with rage. They consider the wall as a means to expropriate, as much of their land as possible, by Israel to consecrate its territorial expansion. Israel’s refusal to return to its borders of June 1967 is also correctly perceived by them as an impediment to the attainment of their statehood.

On July 14 this year the Israeli Parliament has dealt yet another blow to the proposed Palestinian state by adopting a legislation that the ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’ (the biblical names of West Bank and Gaza) are not occupied territories, implying thereby that they are part of the ‘Greater Israel’.

In a rare criticism of Israel, President George W Bush, while expressing his concern over the construction of the wall, has observed that if it is constructed in a way that takes additional Palestinian land, nothing would be left for the proposed Palestinian state. The US secretary of state, Collen Powell, has also voiced his resentment over the erection of the wall in the same vein.

After its 1967 aggression, Israel created settlements of different kinds and sizes in the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories. This settlement policy, called as ‘the creeping annexation’ of the occupied territories, implemented slowly but consistently, was aimed at fulfilling Israel’s expansionist designs.

Israel’s so-called security wall is not being built inside the Israeli borders but in the occupied Palestinian territory in such a way that it would lead to de facto seizure of thousands of acres of the Palestinian lands, isolate the Palestinian communities from each other and prevent to have an access to their adjoining farmlands and water resources, thus permanently crippling their economic potential.

The international law, and more precisely the Fourth Geneva Convention, which has also been signed by Israel, forbid an occupying power from infringing upon the interests of the inhabitants of the occupied territories. The construction of the wall on the Palestinian lands, which would affect West Bank’s demographic composition, impinge upon the human rights of its population and violate its territorial integrity constituted a flagrant violation of the international law, the UN resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as the Oslo agreements.

Contrary to Israel’s claim that it entertained no territorial ambitions on the territories it occupied in 1967, it annexed the old city of Jerusalem and also created Jewish settlements there with a view to ultimately integrating them into its national system. Israeli forces frequently demolished the homes of the Palestinians and occupied their lands, ostensibly for military purposes, which were given to the Jews for their permanent settlement.

As a result of the Israeli policies and practices in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories, occupied in 1967, the UN Security Council declared them as illegal and also an impediment to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

However, Israel persistently followed its policy of systematic colonization of the Palestinian territories because of its patronage by the western powers, particularly the United States. The proposed roadmap for the Palestinian statehood, inter alia, involves a freeze on the Israeli settlements. At present Israel controls almost 42 per cent of the West Bank and bypass roads have virtually encircled the occupied East Jerusalem.

The Israeli leadership claims that the Jews have an unquestionable ‘historic right’ to the ‘Land of Israel’, bequest of their forefathers. Their case for the creation of a Jewish state is based on the claim that most of the last 1,200 years of the pre-Christian era the Jews constituted the main settled population of what in Roman times became Palestine. This claim, however, does not stand up to scrutiny and cannot, therefore, confer on the Jews a ‘historic right’ to Palestine.

The Jews who migrated to Palestine from Europe and elsewhere in the twentieth century and established the state of Israel, in complicity with the European powers and the United States, are mostly the descendants of Khazaes who inhabited the Volga region and were converted to Judaism in the sixteenth century.

They have no racial links with the Israelis or the Hebrews who lived in Palestine in biblical times. On the other hand, today’s Palestinians are the real descendants of the native Palestinian Jews who were converted to Christianity and then to Islam and are the rightful owners of their land. Evidently, Israel is deliberately violating the intent of the roadmap and is shying away from its commitments to peace in the Middle East. Its prolonged occupation of the Palestinian territories and the latest legislation enacted by its parliament which seeks to perpetuate it, may lead to more violence and bloodshed in the region.

The responsibility to advance the peace process rests particularly on the members of the Quartet who initiated it. They should not allow Israel to blow it up and must step up their efforts to ensure its logical outcome, within the stipulated period.

The members of the Quartet should also warn Israel that any attempt by it to create a Bantustan system will backfire. Its policies of segregation and separation, at the expense of the Palestinians, cannot ensure peace and security for it.

To end the conflict and the violence associated with it, Israel must terminate its occupation of the Palestinian territories and allow the creation of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, as envisioned by the Quartet. Israel’s illegal settlement policy must also be halted and reversed forthwith. These are the real imperatives to peace. No wall or fence, however, impregnable can prevent the spilling of more blood on either side.

The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan.

The futility of inquiries

By Gwynne Dyer

“THE government lied every time it skewed, misrepresented, used selectively and fabricated the Iraq story,” said Andrew Wilkie, a senior intelligence officer in Australia’s Office of National Assessment until he resigned last March in protest at the way the Australian government was distorting intelligence to justify its attack on Iraq.

“Key intelligence assessment qualifications like ‘probably’, ‘could’ and ‘uncorroborated evidence suggests’ were frequently dropped,” he told a parliamentary inquiry in Canberra last week. “Much more useful words like ‘massive’ and ‘mammoth’ were included.”

The same process is underway in Britain, where two weeks ago the Hutton inquiry began taking public evidence about whether the British government deliberately ‘sexed up’ intelligence reports about the threat posed by Iraq in order to bamboozle the British public into backing an attack on Iraq. It’s a much bigger deal in London, because the trigger for the British inquiry was the suicide of a senior government expert on Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’, Dr. David Kelly, who had been linked to leaks to the BBC.

Prime Minister Tony Blair denied any government meddling in the intelligence process in his testimony to the Hutton inquiry on Thursday, saying that it would have “merited my resignation” if he had lied to the British public about the threat posed by Saddam’s alleged WMD, but insisting that the available intelligence backed it up. A torrent of testimony and an avalanche of official e-mails submitted to the inquiry show that it did not back it up, really, but Blair still walked away from the witness box seemingly unscathed.

Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard won’t even have to appear in person before his country’s parliamentary inquiry, and it won’t be able to pin anything specific on him either. In response to Andrew Wilkie’s accusations, he simply said: “If he has got evidence of that, let him produce it. Otherwise, stop slandering decent people.” As if there might be a document somewhere in which Howard instructed his minions to ‘sex up’ the intelligence in order to trick the Australian public into going along with his war. Things don’t really work like that.

Of the three countries that sent actual combat troops to invade Iraq last March (not counting the marching band from Ruritania and the typing pool from Lower Slobbovia), both Australia and Britain are conducting public inquiries into the government’s alleged subversion of the intelligence process to justify that deed, whereas the United States is not. Many Americans lament this fact, imagining that a proper Congressional inquiry would make the Bush administration come clean about the imaginary WMD and the supposed links between Iraq and al-Qaeda that were used to sell the war to the American public. They are dreaming.

Lots of interesting details are coming out at the Hutton inquiry, of course. We learn that Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, commenting on the ‘Iraq dossier’ being prepared by the government last September, wrote that “the document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam....We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he is an imminent threat.”

That was just what Mr Blair did claim in his famous September dossier, referring to Iraqi WMD that could “be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.” This was a key factor in persuading many Labour MPs to back Blair in going to war, but it came out in the inquiry that these alleged WMD were just short-range shells and rockets that couldn’t even reach Iraq’s neighbours. No risk of the great British public realising that, however: Blair’s comment in the draft version of the foreword saying “The case I make is not that Saddam could launch a nuclear attack on London or another part of the UK (he could not)” was removed from the published version.

Even the short-range shells and rockets were a fiction, and many in the British intelligence world suspected it at the time — like Dr. Kelly, who thought that there was only a 30 percent chance that Iraq had resumed production of WMD after 1991, and Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former chief of Defence Intelligence, who said in a confidential note to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last month that the claims about Iraqi WMD were “not the reason to go to war, but the excuse to go to war.”

All fascinating stuff, but will it make any difference to outcomes? Not likely: around half of the British public now believes it was lied to in the run-up to the war, but around the same proportion believed it at the time and the war happened anyway.

About a third of Australians think their government lied to them, which is also largely unchanged over the past ten months. And in America, despite all the recent revelations in the media about how the administration massaged the evidence, around half the population still goes on believing Mr Bush’s brazen assertion — or rather innuendo, for he never quite says it straight — that Saddam Hussein was an ally of al-Qaeda.

Inquiries and revelations about the past will not change these beliefs much. A large part of the public simply doesn’t care if their country launched an illegal war of aggression on faked evidence, so long as the price for doing so stays low.—Copyright

Towards public negotiations

By John Connolly

THE world watches India and Pakistan from afar. We applaud steps towards reconciliation and we fear the times of crisis. In the 21st century, war between these two great countries should be unimaginable yet responsible leaders cannot ignore the unresolved issues, especially Kashmir.

Given the well-known history between India and Pakistan, would it be beneficial to augment the negotiating process with a formal plan that will encourage compromise? There follows a proposal that both Indian and Pakistani leaders are asked to weigh. Either side could call on the UN to adopt the following policy: If private negotiations remain stalled between India and Pakistan, the UN will encourage public negotiations. This plan, requiring full approval by the Security Council, would result in the development of a new international communication process by the UN.

The central instrument of this process would be a short series of perhaps twelve to sixteen-page magazine-size “challenge documents” widely distributed within India and Pakistan and also to many world capitals via a handful of national and international newspapers and/or magazines. Simultaneous publication of these documents would take place on an authorized web site.

Terms for such public negotiations might call for each side’s initial challenge document to include its interpretation of history, moral arguments, core interests and negotiating positions. If both agree in advance, each side’s initial challenge document would be distributed simultaneously. Then, alternating every two weeks, each side would proceed with its own challenge document, responding in the prescribed format. Essentially, the UN would design the form of this new media, while both India and Pakistan would present the substance of their case before the world public within their own challenge document.

Should a foreign idea, especially one coming from America, be considered by the people of India and Pakistan? This proposal is solely that of the author who has no involvement with the US government. Proposing that the UN play a role in the creation of this communication structure runs against the current US policy, which seeks to ignore or marginalize all international institutions that are not directly controlled by the US. Moreover, technological advances has made the resolution of the dispute between India and Pakistan a world issue. With these public talks, the majority of the citizens on each side will see more clearly than ever the stark and difficult compromises necessary for an agreement. This will provide political cover for leaders, who can then show their constituencies the complex and detailed tradeoffs necessary to reach a settlement. In contrast, leaders emerging from secret negotiations are vulnerable to extremists who can portray one or two simple issues as a towering betrayal by the leaders who negotiated that deal.

What of India’s insistence on only direct bilateral negotiations with Pakistan and no involvement of a third party? This is a direct bilateral process. Moreover, it is not proposed nor anticipated that the UN would be an arbiter or mediator for these public negotiations. To the contrary, the UN’s proposed role would simply be to create a neutral communication structure. As a practical matter, if President Musharraf called on the UN to create this large-scale conflict resolution strategy, would it not be difficult for anyone to object to another form of dialogue and engagement between India and Pakistan?

What if one side initially refuses to participate? The other side could proceed with its challenge documents. A key motive to engage in this process would be to favourably influence regional and world opinion. The motive for an adversary to respond in kind would not be some vague notion of goodwill, but rather, to head off erosion of public support. Refusal to take part in this public peace process would also risk worldwide acceptance of an adversary’s interpretation of history.

Will the people in the subcontinent and beyond be interested in these documents? This direct and unfiltered source of news will constitute a new media that will stand in sharp contrast to the many reports on conflicts we have experienced for years. This process will generate a wide range of media coverage. People everywhere, recognizing the life and death nature of these dramatic communiques, may find this multifaceted perspective of enormous interest.

Encouraging both sides to make their cases in this defined format may tempt some to manipulate their version of events. Nevertheless, this direct and equal clash of opinions, in sharp contrast to propaganda, has the potential to yield a greater public recognition of truth than is otherwise possible in today’s media environment. If this public negotiating process culminates in a single document signed by leaders in both India and Pakistan and then distributed worldwide, confidence would increase that agreed-upon terms would be adhered to. Similarly, confidence would increase that terms of an agreement would not be reinterpreted in sharply divergent ways after the fact. Personal trust between individual leaders would also become less important because commitments would be spelled out for all sides to witness. Indeed, a peace process that is less dependent on personal trust between leaders would contrast sharply with all forms of traditional negotiations including the peace conferences.

Knowing that the eyes of the world will be focused directly on the central details of this conflict will weigh heavily on all sides. This precise phenomenon may exert much more pressure for the two sides to compromise when compared with conventional secret talks. Therein lies the central objection to this entire strategy — outside pressure. Yet isn’t the alternative stalemate and the continuation of a dangerous confrontation between two nuclear-armed powers?

Envision the world reaction to a new series of narratives unlike any we have ever seen. Every couple of weeks, prior to each new challenge document, leaders from within India and Pakistan and also around the world would be urging that side to take incremental steps towards the position of the other. Once a momentum for peace is created by this deliberate, step-by-step process, it could become unstoppable. Thus, will Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf call on the UN to encourage public negotiations if private negotiations stall?

The writer is executive director, Institute for Public Dialogue, California, US.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005