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DAWN - Opinion; October 22, 2003

October 22, 2003

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The winds of change

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh


THE summit meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference, in the opulent setting of Malaysia’s new administrative capital, Putrajaya, was the first to be held after the cataclysmic events of 9/11 and the launching of the “war against terrorism”. It was held in an Islamic country which had successfully transformed itself from an agricultural backwater into a relatively well developed industrial state. This, in a sense, was the only bright spot for the Muslim Ummah in what was otherwise a picture of unrequited gloom that had grown gloomier over the past two years.

Since 9/11, a “regime change” has been brought about in two Muslim countries — Afghanistan and Iraq — by the use of military force. In both countries the immediate consequence has been internal strife and an intensifying struggle against occupation forces. Despite recent measures taken to rectify past errors the restoration of peace and stability appears to be a distant dream.

In two other areas — Palestine and Kashmir — the focus of western attention has shifted, perhaps irrevocably, from satisfying, in small or large measure, the yearning of the people for liberation from occupation, to abetting or at least tacitly endorsing the crushing by brute force of freedom fighters and their civilian sympathizers in retaliation for what are termed terrorist attacks on military and civilian personnel of the occupying powers and their collaborators.

Dialogue has been rejected. Arguments have been turned on their head. “The problem is not Kashmiri alienation but Pakistani occupation of Azad Kashmir”.

In the European sector, there has been a muting of concern about Chechnya and little progress on advancing the independence sought by the Muslims of Kosovo.

In Central Asia the acquisition of military bases for pursuing the war against terror in Afghanistan, interest in the energy resources of the region, a desire to minimize the influence of the regional powers — China and Russia — has led to the turning of a blind eye towards the brutal suppression of dissidence by the Soviet trained dictators who currently hold the reins of power. The labelling of such opposition as coming from Muslim extremists, funded from abroad, has been more or less accepted by the West and endorsed by China and Russia both troubled by what they perceive as externally assisted Islamic movements in Xinjiang and Chechnya respectively. In Afghanistan’s neighbourhood Pakistan is termed a valued ally in the war against terror but at the same time questions are raised about the continued incursions by Taliban from Pakistan soil into Afghanistan, about the open presence of Taliban leaders and foot soldiers in Quetta, Chaman and other Pakistani cities, about the cross-LOC infiltration and above all about the growth of extremism as exemplified by the intensifying sectarian strife.

Doubts are expressed about the extent to which individuals, if not institutions, are prepared to endorse and implement Gen Musharraf’s commitment to the American war against terrorism. Since the need for assistance in the anti-terrorism battle is urgent and since there is faith albeit limited, in President Musharraf’s ability to tackle internal extremism misgivings about Pakistan’s progress towards democracy are partially swallowed. The hook is however maintained.

Under American law, assistance to Pakistan was forbidden after the military coup of Oct.’99 and could be offered only after the president certified that democracy had been restored. Aid to Pakistan has been offered not by certifying that democracy has been restored but by waiving for a period of two years this requirement of the American law.

The five-year package of assistance promised to Pakistan is of course subject to congressional approval but it will also be subject — ‘06 onwards — to a certification that democracy has been restored or to a renewal of the presidential waiver for the granting of which he will have to secure congressional approval.

Pakistan’s membership of the Commonwealth also remains suspended. It is not entirely clear whether the West could have prevailed upon India to withdraw its opposition but perhaps the West is not entirely unhappy that this lever too continues to exist.

On the really important issues in Afghanistan not much seems to be happening. There is only slow progress towards reducing the disproportionate share of power enjoyed in Kabul by the Panjsheris. The principal grievance of the Pushtuns, who comprise the plurality if not the majority of the population, thus remains unaddressed.

The mandate of the ISAF has now been extended to cover all of Afghanistan but apart from the Germans sending a contingent to the relatively safe city of Kunduz there seems to be no additional troops available and therefore no immediate plans to send ISAF forces elsewhere. It is unlikely that elections will be held as scheduled in June since without some measure of ISAF-provided security even the electoral rolls cannot be prepared.

There is even slower progress towards reducing the power of the warlords — many of them recipients of American largesse for their role in the battle against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The disarmament programme may be started as scheduled but it is unlikely that Marshal Fahim will allow the disarming of his 50,000-strong Panjsheri militia or even that of his ally Atta Mohammad in the traditionally Uzbek dominated area around Mazar-i-Sharif and Farah.

Opium cultivation has blossomed and it seems that the estimate of a record crop of 4500 tons will be borne out when the crop is harvested. The principal consumers of this crop will be the addicts in Pakistan and Iran. The revenues generated will fatten the purses and heighten the ambitions of the warlords.

Little or at least insufficient attention is paid to the impact this parlous situation has on Pakistan’s internal polity and on the government ability to rally public support for the fight against extremism.

In Iraq’s neighbourhood, Syria stands accused of permitting Islamic extremists to cross into Iraq to attack American forces; of developing weapons of mass destruction; of harbouring Hamas and other Palestinian militants. The American Congress has all but formalized the law imposing sanctions on Syria.

An unprovoked Israeli air attack on an abandoned camp in Syria could not be condemned by the UN Security Council because the resolution was termed “unbalanced” and vetoed by the US. Syria has thus become the second Muslim country to be subjected to the “doctrine of pre-emptive attack” enunciated by the United States as part of its national strategy and now put into practice by Israel.

The Syrian proposal for an agreement to rid the Middle East as a whole i.e. including Israel, of weapons of mass destruction, has been ardently supported by the Arabs, by the Third World countries and by thoughtful western arms experts but is stymied by open or covert opposition from Israel and its western supporters. On the other hand reports about the arming of Israeli submarines with nuclear missiles are deliberately given currency with American officials acknowledging that this was being done to warn Israel’s enemies of Israel’s ability to retaliate with devastating force even if its land and air forces were crippled.

An obvious case of overkill given the overwhelming superiority that Israel already enjoys in the conventional field over all its potential adversaries but related to what the West apprehends is an Iranian effort to acquire the wherewithal to build nuclear weapons.

This brings us to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq’s other neighbour, which also figures in the President Bush’s “axis of evil”. Initial American misgivings about the “spoiler’s role” that Iran could play in Iraq have been allayed somewhat. The situation on the ground does not suggest that Iran has sought to use its influence with the Iraqi Shias to American disadvantage but questions still remain about the support and possibly asylum that the units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, which Khatami’s government does not control, have given to prominent members of the Al Qaeda.

Currently the hot issue for Iran is the IAEA’s demand that Iran sign an additional protocol permitting far more stringent and surprise inspections of all Iranian nuclear facilities. The real problem however is that beyond the additional protocol there is also the demand that Iran cease forthwith its production of enriched uranium. This demand is not legally untenable but is key to ensuring that Iran does not obtain material for manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

Iran may accept even this demand provided the Europeans then extend full cooperation to Iran for its peaceful nuclear programme including the supply of enriched uranium needed for its Bushehr nuclear power plant currently under construction by the Russians and placing no obstacles in the way of the acquisition of more nuclear power plants.

The settlement of this issue will not, however, suffice to reduce American efforts to foment discontent against the conservative hardliners who advocate a harsh Iranian policy towards Israel and support the Hezbollah in Lebanon and other hardline Palestinian factions in the occupied territories. Nor will it reduce the pressure to get Iran to surrender the Al Qaeda adherents that are believed to be sheltering in Iran.

Lastly, Iraq’s other neighbour Turkey offered to send troops to Iraq, only to find that the American appointed Iraqi governing council expressed its strong opposition to the deployment in Iraq of troops from Turkey or indeed from any of Iraq’s neighbours. King Abdullah of Jordan echoed this position stating that he too felt that no neighbour of Iraq should send troops there since each of them had an “agenda” of its own. So much for Islamic unity and solidarity!

New visa restrictions have been imposed on Muslims travelling to the West and naturalized Muslims in America and Europe are feeling the sharp sting of discrimination and suspicion. Tourist traffic from the West to the Muslim countries has dropped sharply affecting further already slumping economies.

Given this backdrop the mood of the summit meeting in Malaysia was grim but was it also resolute and purpose oriented? In the next part of this article I will try and analyse the proceedings and what the future holds for the Organization and the Muslims.

(To be concluded)

The writer is a former foreign secretary of Pakistan.

Supporting Israel costs US dearly

By Hussain Khan


AMONG all the countries which are receiving US foreign aid, Israel is the largest recipient. For the last several years, It has been getting three billion dollars a year. Adjusting the official aid to 2001 dollars in purchasing power, Israel has received a direct foreign aid of $240 billion since 1973.

But there are a lot of hidden costs, which have been estimated by Thomas Stauffer, a consulting economist in Washington. He has been doing such analyses of the Middle East scene for decades. This has made him quite unpopular with the Israel lobby in the US.

According to his assessment until last year, since 1973, Israel has cost the United States about $1.6 trillion. It is more than $5,700 per person, if divided by the current six million population of Israel. The direct aid of $240 billion dollar balloons to 1.6 trillion dollar owing to some hidden and other costs that have ensued as a result of the constant US support to Israel.

Among these hidden costs, Stauffer includes, for instance, is the amount of aid given to Egypt and Jordan in return for signing peace treaties with Israel to the tune of $117 billion and $22 billion respectively. “Consequently, politically, if not administratively, those outlays are part of the total package of support for Israel,” argues Stauffer.

Mr Stauffer has estimated the total cost to the US adds up to more than twice the cost of the Vietnam war. But the demands are always on the increase. Last year, Israeli officials made a request for $4 billion in additional military aid to defray the rising costs of dealing with the intifada and suicide bombings. They also asked for more than $10 billion in loan guarantees to help the country’s recession-bound economy.

Stauffer is of the opinion that Israel would not be able to repay these loans covered by the US guarantees. He has formed this opinion in view of Israel’s current deep economic troubles. He thinks that the US would end up paying both principal and interest at the end of 10 years.

Moreover, the full bill for supporting Israel is not clearly known to many, as some costs, if not hidden, are little known. One huge cost is that of the higher price of oil, which the US had to pay after Israel-Arab wars, in addition to other economic damage the US had to suffer because of them. Arab nations, in 1973, tried to take back the territories Israel had occupied after the 1967 war.

At that time, the US came to the rescue of Israel. President Nixon gave it more US arms. That led to the Arab oil embargo against the US. That shortfall in oil deliveries resulted in a deep recession in the US. According to Stauffer’s calculations, the US lost $420 billion (in 2001 dollars) of the output as a result, and a boost in oil prices cost another $450 billion. The US had to set up a Strategic Petroleum Reserve after that. For this purpose an additional $134 billion had to be spent by the US.

Moreover, the US Jewish charities and organizations have remitted grants or bought Israeli bonds worth $50 billion to $60 billion. Though private in origin, the money is “a net drain” on the United States economy, says Stauffer. Israel buys discounted, serviceable “excess” US military equipment. Stauffer says these discounts amount to “several billion dollars” over recent years. Israel uses roughly 40 per cent of its $1.8 billion per year in military aid, ostensibly earmarked for purchase of US weapons, to buy Israeli-made hardware.

It also has won the right to require the defence department or the US defence contractors to buy Israeli-made equipment or sub-systems, paying 50 to 60 cents on every defence dollar the US gives to Israel. US defence contractors often resent the Israel’s requirements and the extra competition subsidized by US taxpayers.

US help, financial and technical, has enabled Israel to become a major weapons supplier. Weapons make up almost half of Israel’s manufactured exports. Recently Israel has made billions of dollars of contracts with India to export sophisticated military hardware. Israel has developed such a capacity with the US help over the years.

Stauffer has further estimated that the US policy and trade sanctions reduce US exports to the Middle East by about $5 billion a year, costing 70,000 or so American jobs. The US has been so benevolent to Israel that it has been exempted from the requirement to use its US aid to buy American goods, as is usual in foreign aid. This exemption costs additional 125,000 jobs. Moreover, Israel has also blocked F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s. That has cost $40 billion over 10 years.

Stauffer is not alone in this research. He has got the assistance of a number of mostly retired military or diplomatic officials. These officials do not want their names to be disclosed. They fear that they will be labelled anti-Semitic, if they criticize America’s policies toward Israel.

Despite all this massive aid from the US over the years, Israel is still suffering from recession. The business activity remained sluggish and the long awaited recovery remained elusive. Haim Israel, head of research at Nessuah Zannex, predicted that government budget discussions will continue throughout this month.

To make up for the shortfall in the revenue, the government will have to take a few unpopular measures. Pensioners who opt for early retirement will be taxed, water prices, and bus and train tariffs will all be raised. There will be an across-the-board cut of 15 per cent in all ministry activities. The number of civil servants will be reduced. Government subsidies to all sectors will be cut by 15 per cent and from 2003 to 2010, each ministry will be cut by an additional 2 per cent annually.

The Treasury also intends to privatize banks and government-owned companies, to incorporate government ports and promote free competition. It also plans to split the oil refineries into two competing companies. The postal authority will be incorporated and opened up to competition. Additionally, the government plans to deport 10,000 foreign workers, as well as unifying hospitals and health divisions.

The Bank of Israel recently warned that although the government has taken significant steps to curb its expenditures, uncertainty remains regarding tax revenues and therefore, the deficit could reach 5.5 per cent of GDP, far exceeding the 4 per cent government-declared deficit ceiling.

Shlomo Maoz, chief economist at Nessuah Zannex, noted that the budget is being cut for the third year in a row, with heavy cuts in unilateral transfers, mainly child allowances. “Against a backdrop of relatively high interest rates, declining oil prices and decreasing money supply, competition remains fierce and there will be no major depreciation in upcoming months.”

Moreover, he argued, the Israeli economy is working below capacity and at a 10.6 per cent unemployment rate. This is quite a high level of unemployment for a country like Israel receiving $3 billion yearly foreign aid from the US in addition to loan guarantees of $10 billion.

The deficit continues to grow and the government continues to pump money into the economy to cover the deficit, using foreign funds raised overseas. In response, the Bank of Israel is being forced to pump out the extra amount of money by utilizing money market tools, such as its short-term facility known as Makam. Maoz also amended his economic forecasts.

Growth this year, he predicted, will reach 0.9 per cent and 1.4 per cent next year. However, since this year’s population growth is 1.9 per cent and expected to grow by another 1.8 per cent next year, per capita GDP, he said, is still declining.

The concern that labour unrest will intensify after the holidays, along with call-up of IDF reservists and anxiety about the security situation when closure of the territories is lifted, cannot be expected to encourage investors.

Railways ministers

By Hafizur Rahman


MANY thoughts, old and new, crossed my mind on reading Prof P. Nasir’s letter in this newspaper about a week ago. Captioned “Moral responsibility” dealt mainly with the refusal of the railways minister to resign because there has been a very bad accident at an unmanned railway crossing near Malikwal with loss of many lives. The professor was indignant at the minister’s reaction, although he himself quoted Omar Kureishi’s query as to what good his resignation would have served in this country.

I may be accused of levity on “a serious national issue,” but I can’t help laughing at such incidents. Let us be realistic. The notion of a minister resigning on principle by accepting moral responsibility for a catastrophe that has taken place in his domain is absolutely foreign to us. It does not go with our psyche. Even otherwise, how do you expect a legislator to resign as minister on moral grounds when he may have trampled on a host of moral principles to acquire a berth in the cabinet?

There have been individual resignations in Pakistan because of disagreement “on principle” with one political party or another. Although, in most cases, the reasons cited were flimsy and mostly of the kind in which politicians have a grouse and leave Party A to join Party B on some purely personal grounds. They were called principles.

There is another question too. Why is it always the railways minister who is singled out to fulfil a moral responsibility? Should we presume that all other ministries of the government are functioning with the utmost efficiency and with praiseworthy regard for the public good? I need not name any ministry or any department or any service, for they are all the same, and you only have to read any newspaper of any day to find that out. Their activities and their disregard for morality are positively nauseating.

Before I become really serious, let me recall a couple of railway resignation stories. They deserve to be repeated and enjoyed because, in the meantime, new generations have joined the crowd as grown-up citizens and these stories will be new for them. One of them at least was so gloriously memorable that it should be talked about more frequently in order to dispel the gloom created in our national politics by the LFO, the army uniform controversy and the clowning of the political opposition in the National Assembly.

Before he became prime minister of India and went to war with Pakistan in September 1965, Mr Lal Bahadur Shastri was railways minister when a bad train accident took place. He accepted moral responsibility and immediately resigned. Only a few days later, there was an equally bad train accident in Pakistan. A clamour arose among the opposition for Mian Jafar Shah, the concerned minister, to do likewise. Mian Sahib’s comment on this should go down into parliamentary history as an unmatched gem. Speaking in the National Assembly, he said, “Some ill-advised people want me to emulate Mr Shastri’s example. Let me tell them that I am a Muslim and will never follow in the footsteps of a kafir.”

He also questioned, very logically I must say, “Where does my personal responsibility come in? Was I the engine driver and drove the engine wrongly or something? Was I the pointsman because of whose negligence the accident occurred?” No one in the House was piqued by Mian Jafar Shah’s remarks and there was prolonged applause and laughter. (I hope Prof P. Nasir does not miss this column).

This was in the time of President Ayub. Coming nearer to the present, there was a serious rail collision when Ms Benazir Bhutto was prime minister for the first time. As related by an eye-witness, the then railways minister, one Mr Zafar Leghari from Sindh, took his courage in both hands, and during a cabinet meeting accepted responsibility and offered to resign. Since at that very moment Ms Bhutto was giving some instructions to an aide, she didn’t hear what Mr Leghari had said, and the offer passed into history. Maybe this heroic act is recorded in the minutes of that particular cabinet meeting.

Then came railways minister Hazar Khan Bijarani and another terrible train accident. Probably it never occurred to Mr Bijarani that this could be an occasion for him to hand in his papers, so he promptly took “strong disciplinary action” against the officials involved and the matter rested at that. Later, mishaps in the railway became almost a daily feature, even “strong disciplinary action” of Mr Bijarani was dispensed with, what to say of the railways minister resigning on principle.

It is not that there are no men of principle in Pakistan willing to leave a prestigious and lucrative berth when faced with a crisis of conscience. Happily there is no shortage of such courageous persons, but unhappily they are not to be found among the politicians who have never thought of modelling themselves on Cahudhry Mohammad Ali who voluntarily gave up the prime ministership on a matter of principle, and rarely among bureaucrats. In fact I can say never among bureaucrats, and if there are cases I would like to know of them and correct myself.

For instance, if Mr Stephen Walker had been a member of Pakistan’s foreign service, do you think he would have resigned because, say, he didn’t agree with the ruling regime’s support for the Taliban two years ago? For the information of my readers, Stephen Walker used to work in the US department of state. He quit a prestigious job in the foreign service some years ago because he did not agree with the state department’s policy in Bosnia.

In Pakistan’s foreign service, Walker would not have given up his post for anything and would have continued his hectic efforts (with the help of influential politicians) to secure a posting in western Europe in order to “get away from all this dirty business.” But then, this would have been a different Stephen Walker — one made in Pakistan.

Tough mortgage rules

THE Bush administration recently took on one of the more difficult — and ferociously lobbied — tasks in Washington: trying to impose tougher regulation on mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The House Financial Services Committee was supposed to consider the matter last week, but its plans blew up when the administration complained that the committee’s proposed legislation, which would create a new regulator within the Treasury Department, wasn’t muscular enough.

Meanwhile, in a reversal of customary roles, committee Democrats objected to the proposal on grounds that it would give Treasury too much regulatory power. On this one, the administration, though its proposal falls short in some areas, has the better argument.

Congress ought to make sure the new regulator has the tools to do the job right, and to resist any amendments that would undermine its powers. And while Congress is at it, it should include another group of government-sponsored enterprises, the Federal Home Loan Banks, which increasingly play an overlapping role with Fannie and Freddie and are also sorely in need of stricter supervision.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are private companies but with a government charter that lets them borrow money at lower rates than purely private enterprises and thereby fulfil their mission of helping lower- and middle-income home buyers obtain mortgages. They’ve done a good job in that important role.

But because they’ve grown so large — they now own or guarantee more than 40% of all mortgages — and so politically powerful, subjecting them to stringent oversight to ensure their solvency is more critical than ever. — The Washington Post

The Emperor comes calling

By Mahir Ali


THE Emperor of the Free World is gracing outposts in Asia with a visit this week. As befits a ruler of his calibre and pedigree, George W. Bush is travelling with an entourage of over 600 flunkeys and freeloaders. A significant proportion of them have, no doubt, come along for the ride with the express purpose of keeping their employer informed at all times of where he is and what he is doing there.

For, as you will recall, before he was crowned at the behest of a Supreme Court dominated by judges beholden to his semi-illustrious father (Poppy Bush, the spy chief who succeeded Maximus Notorious, a.k.a. Raving Ronnie, as emperor, but lost the throne to a lascivious upstart from Arkansas despite a blistering blitzkrieg against Babylon), Emperor Dubya hadn’t seen much of the outside world. This had nothing whatsoever to do with a want of resources — for, although his business ventures were spectacularly unsuccessful, the princeling had been born with the proverbial silver spoon — so it must be put down to a lack of interest.

Nor had he paid much attention at geography lessons in school, which necessitated a steep learning curve. Because, as emperor, he inherited a large number of courtiers from Poppy, and quite a few of them were determined to conquer the world. So Dubya underwent a crash course in matters such as distinguishing Iran from Iraq and Austria from Australia.

He is still prone to falter, which makes it essential for him to be accompanied on overseas jaunts by a planeload of tutors, including headmistress Condoleezza Rice. Over the past two years, the emperor’s map-reading skills have improved considerably, largely because on his personal globe most political entities are shaded in primary colours: blue for Those That Are With Us and yellow for Those That Are Against Us.

But Dubya still gets confused at times. He hates it when those hues overlap, because the emperor is allergic to all shades of green. He gets even more alarmed when red spots appear before his eyes. Luckily for him, that doesn’t happen very often these days. But the emperor never tires of listening to the tale of how, in Poppy’s days, a large part of Europe was crimson — and then the erosion of the veneer revealed a pristine blue. Although Ronnie and Poppy, along with Maggie the Magnificent — a small-island satrap who imagined herself to be the empress alongside Maximus — claimed credit to varying degrees for this development, Dubya sees it as nothing short of a miracle.

And he longs for a miracle of his own. He may need one to retain the throne next year, because the Supreme Court can’t be counted on to go out on a limb once more. It is perfectly possible, of course, that the Democrats won’t throw up much of a challenge. And, speaking of throwing up, Dubya has presumably been warned against repeating Poppy’s indiscretion during his visit to Japan. During a state visit to the island a decade or so ago, the elder Bush evidently consumed something that didn’t agree with his constitution, so he promptly divested himself of the undigested substance — in his Japanese host’s lap. So his son may well have been advised to politely refuse the raw fish.

However, Dubya had a lot else on his plate to worry about as he graced this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit with his presence. For one, there’s that little red dot (which seems a lot larger once you’re in the region) called North Korea. Although negotiations with Pyongyang haven’t been going too well, at the weekend Bush emphasized that the nuclear threat posed (and frequently articulated) by the recalcitrant regime of Kim Jong Il would be tackled through peaceful means. He managed to say this without choking on his words. And, apparently, he wasn’t joking.

To the uninitiated, this may seem like an instance of imperial hypocrisy. But in reality it’s a perfectly logical approach. Iraq could be engaged in combat precisely because it was utterly defenceless; the would-be aggressors knew that already, but in order to remove all doubt, they sent in United Nations inspectors before initiating the fireworks. In North Korea’s case, on the other hand, there is a reasonable chance that nuclear warheads do indeed exist, alongside means of despatching them to distant destinations. Hence the relatively softly-softly approach.

Washington cannot, of course, be expected to explain itself in these terms. Doing so would not only expose the innumerable lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction but would also involve acknowledging the awkward fact that when confronted with genuine WMDs, the empire doesn’t strike back — rather, it holds back. That, in turn, offers a fairly lucid lesson to potential victims of US-sanctioned regime change: go forth and proliferate, because possession of a crude nuclear device or two promises prophylaxis against imperial aggression.

Meanwhile, shortly before the fleet centred around Air Force One descended on Asia, Malaysia’s outspoken (and outgoing) prime minister Mahathir Mohamad queered the pitch for the imperial tour by declaring, at last week’s Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, that increasingly the world is controlled by Jews, whose expertise in getting other people to fight on their behalf is being put to the service of a nefarious cause: that of subjugating the Muslim world. The barb was clearly directed against the imperial heartland — and, inevitably, was greeted with accusations of anti-Semitism. Mahathir could, of course, have phrased his sentiment more carefully: pointing the finger at Jews in general is more or less equivalent to tarring all Muslims with the terrorist brush. The revised version of his diatribe, in which Israel was more specifically cited as the source of mounting global distress, is considerably less unpalatable.

Israel has at least since the mid-1960s exercized considerable influence over US foreign policy, but the ascendancy of the neo-conservatives (key members of this clique happen to be Jews, but many of those who profess Christianity are also Likudites in all but name) has considerably tightened this nexus. As a consequence, all pretence of fairness in tackling the deteriorating Palestinian situation has been discarded, and beyond that, in the broader Middle Eastern context, it isn’t difficult to see that American moves are being guided by an Israeli agenda.

In certain quarters, what caused most alarm was not the veteran Malaysian leader’s words but the fact that he received a standing ovation. However, the opportunity for a Washington-led anti-Mahathir tirade was undermined somewhat by reports that a leading US general, William G. Boykin, who is the deputy under-secretary of defence for intelligence (not a particularly prestigious post, but it does involve direct dealings with security services in Muslim states), has in his utterances been alluding to a Christian crusade against Islam and referring to the latter as a form of idolatory.

Donald Rumsfeld rose to the occasion by defending the general’s right to his personal views (even though Boykin has been known to express them while attired in military uniform), while Condee Rice cleverly parried questions on the topic by describing Islam as a peaceful religion and pointing out: “The president has been absolutely clear that this is not a war of religions.” To which one could respond, literally: Go tell that to the marines! The Pentagon has also wrung an apology out of Boykin, but his job apparently is safe. Were every Christian fundamentalist in the present administration to be sidelined, the regime’s ranks would be seriously depleted.

Back in Asia, the Emperor’s visit has been marked by a fresh audio-visual fusillade from his elusive adversary Osama bin Laden, serving as an inconvenient reminder that, two years on, the chief purported purpose of the assault against Afghanistan remains unfulfilled. Osama bin Laden’s atrociously inflammatory broadsides are more than a match for Boykin’s utterances, but what should be causing greater alarm among the Empire’s top echelons is warning such as the one sounded by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, whose annual report declares: “The counter-terrorism effort has ... perversely impelled an already highly decentralized and evasive transnational terrorist network to become more protean and, therefore, harder to identify and neutralize. If Al Qaeda has been compromised since the Afghanistan intervention from an offensive point of view, from a defensive perspective it is better off.”

And Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago who has studied the phenomenon of suicide terrorism in depth, notes in a recent article: “The close association between foreign military occupations and the growth of suicide terrorist movements shows the folly of any strategy centring on conquering countries that sponsor terrorism or in trying to transform their political systems. At most, occupying countries will disrupt terrorist operations in the short term. But over time it will simply increase the number of terrorists coming at us.”

Dubya will be disinclined to allow such worries to furrow his brow tomorrow when he addresses the Australian parliament during a 24-hour stopover in Canberra.

Bush has never been to Australia before. Many Australians are hoping he won’t come their way again — at least not in his imperial capacity. But that (to a certain extent, at least) is up to the American public.

mahirali2@netscape.net