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DAWN - Opinion; 14 February, 2004

February 14, 2004


A superpower's limitations

By Afzaal Mahmood

"At some point we may be the only one left. That is okay with me. We are America." -President George W. Bush, 2002

The Roman Empire (27 BC-180 AD), established by Augustus, brought about comparative peace and security over the Mediterranean region, and that period of Roman peace is known in history as Pax Romana.

In the 21st century the sole superpower, through its national security strategy, called the Bush doctrine, seeks to acquire a universal presence and accomplish on a global scale what the Romans could achieve on a regional basis only.

Pax Americana envisions a world in which the United States will enjoy permanent military dominance over all countries, allies and potential foes alike.

It espouses, in a way, the Monroe Doctrine on a global scale as it asserts the right of the United States to intervene wherever and whenever it perceives that a threat of terrorism or mass destruction exists.

With imperialist overtones, it gives the United States the right to not only decide who is a terrorist and which state is supporting terrorist activities, but also the right to launch unilateral preventive strikes without even waiting for the go-ahead from the UN Security Council.

In a recent interview in the NBC's "Meet the Press" programme, President Bush conceded that weapons of mass destruction had not been found in Iraq. He, however, justified his invasion of Iraq as a "war of necessity". Defending his decision, the US president said Saddam Hussein had the capacity to develop unconventional arms, if not the actual weapons.

It may be recalled that, before going to war against Iraq last March, President Bush told the American people and the rest of the world that he was certain that the Iraqi dictator was not only in possession of chemical and biological weapons but also long-range missiles to deliver them and was actively seeking an atomic bomb. That was said to be the justification for the invasion of Iraq.

But ten months after the invasion and despite interrogation of hundreds of captured Iraqi officials, none of these weapons has been recovered. The non-recovery of these weapons raises the question whether there was any justification for the invasion of Iraq and whether the war was fought on a false premise.

Before the invasion Saddam Hussein was virtually told: show us the weapons of mass destruction we think you have, or prove definitively you do not have them (and it is up to us to tell you what constitutes definitive proof)) or you will be destroyed.

Pax Americana seeks to legitimize the right of the stronger, who also claims to be morally superior, to intimidate the weaker, who is deemed morally inferior. This in fact is the Law of the Jungle rationalized.

Even if there has been a massive failure of intelligence, as is now admitted by the Bush administration, the all-important question is whether Mr Bush allowed his conviction to distort the evidence he put before his people.

He conjured up a link between Iraq, Al-Qaeda and September 11 that does not seem to have existed. The fact is that an impression of a threat to the United States was created that the available intelligence does not seem to justify. The seemingly unwarranted Iraq war has caused the deaths of 55,000 Iraqis, including 9,600 civilians and over 500 Americans.

After the former chief US weapons hunter, David Kay, has reported that the weapons of mass destruction at the core of Bush's case for Iraq war did not exist on the eve of US-led March 2003 invasion, Mr Bush's credibility, under increasing attacks from his likely Democratic rival Senator John Kerry, has become an election issue.

Whether Kerry succeeds in beating Bush or not, his most valuable contribution is that he has already stimulated a much needed debate on America's role in the world.

The Bush administration seems to be obsessed with the idea of "rogue states" as the primary source of threats to the US and firmly believes that if America has the military power to contain them, it should use it.

It was obviously this frame of mind that produced President Bush's famous phrase about the "axis of evil", describing Iraq, Iran and North Korea in one breath.

At the moment the American focus is on Iran and North Korea supposedly seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. What about those who have already got them by the back door - India, Israel and Pakistan.

As they are identified as friends of the United States, they have so far suffered no consequences for acquiring nuclear weapons. But the problem is that the countries that are friends today may become foes in the future and vice versa.

There is no excuse at all for the unpatriotic conduct and gross delinquency of those Pakistanis who have committed nuclear proliferation. But the world-wide media campaign against Pakistan is ominous.

Was such a hue and cry raised against Israel when it was discovered to have cooperated closely with the apartheid regime of South Africa in the latter's secret nuclear programme in the late 1970s and early 1980s?

Mr Rafi Raza, in a recent perceptive piece in this newspaper, has rightly drawn attention to the dangers that Pakistan's nuclear programme now faces. It will be naivete of the highest degree if our policy makers act on the assumption that American approval of or unconcern with our nuclear capability will continue even after our utility diminishes or ceases for Washington.

Even a cursory look at recent history should make us more cautious and watchful. Who first sold nuclear plants to Iran? America, of course. But those were the days when Iran was seen as a close ally.

Who sold chemical reagents to Saddam Hussein in Iraq for use in chemical weapons to be used against Iran because by that time Iran had become an enemy? And who backed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan? Both Republicans as well as Democrats supported him because he was anti-Soviet.

Coming back to Pax Americana, the problems of post-war Iraq clearly demonstrate the severe limitations of the sole superpower in enforcing its new order.

Going it alone without the support of the UN Security Council has undermined the entire re-building effort. Iraq has clearly shown that solo action by one country can make reconstruction a lot more difficult and complex.

Speaking at Royal Institute for International Affairs in London some time back, Strobe Talbott, US deputy secretary of state in Clinton administration warned of a world where American power was seen by others as a problem "to be managed and contained".

According to him, the key was "whether the US recommits itself to the utility of collaborative institutions and consensual arrangements." Or will America continue to act on Machiavelli's advice (in The Prince): "It is better to be feared than loved".

The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan.

Pakistan's nuclear mess

By Eric S. Margolis

The timing of the scandal over Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan is either an incredible coincidence, or it is part of a brilliantly orchestrated campaign to eliminate Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

This writer noted some months ago that Israel and its American supporters have been pressing the Bush administration to make dismantling Pakistan's nuclear forces a top priority. If that is not immediately possible, pro-Israel neo-conservatives in the Bush administration are agitating for a high degree of US control over Pakistan's nuclear weapons and nuclear industries.

Dr Khan's bizarre admission on national TV that he headed a massive, international smuggling operation supplying Iran, North Korea and Libya with assorted nuclear technology was not just an unprecedented political and public relations disaster for Pakistan. It also handed Washington a club with which to beat Pakistan over the nuclear issue.

It's hard to believe Pakistan's claims that it was all the fault of the miscreant Dr Khan. His TV confession next to a stern-looking President Musharraf looked more like a naughty school boy being reprimanded by the school director.

The prevailing view abroad is that the military and ISI could not have been unaware of Dr. Khan's activities and, indeed, may have been collaborators. Suspicions are even being voiced about how much President Musharraf knew in recent years, though he is being largely shielded by his continuing usefulness to the US strategic policy in South Asia.

The view among Pakistan-watchers is that Dr Khan has been made the fall guy for a much larger and more sinister conspiracy that may yet explode into view and consume the current regime in Islamabad.

What can a long-time observer and friend of Pakistan say about this ghastly mess? First, one can only hope that the diversion of nuclear technology to other nations was motivated by some sort of Islamic zeal to help defend small, vulnerable countries threatened by the United States. This argument certainly applies to Iran, which has as much right to nuclear weapons for self-defence as, say, France or India.

But selling even proto-type nuclear plans to Libya's erratic, mercurial leader, Col. Muammar Qadhafi, was unwise and dangerous in the extreme, no matter how much Libya was threatened from without.

Libya has admitted blowing up a French airliner and was almost certainly responsible for the downing of an American Pan Am transport. No Pakistani had any business supplying nuclear technology to a regime that would commit such crimes.

Selling or bartering nuclear technology to North Korea, a nightmarish, Stalinist dictatorship that has repeatedly threatened nuclear and chemical attack on North Korea and US Pacific bases, cannot under any circumstances be excused.

North Korea may have provided Pakistan with missile technology to counter India's extensive and very threatening missile programmes, but covert dealings with the Pyongyang regime - if true - badly besmirch Pakistan's name and leave it open to charges of reckless irresponsibility.

Pakistan's credibility in the West, and particularly Washington, is around zero. In fact, after Dr. Khan's bombshell revelations, it is highly likely Pakistan would have been hit with an oil embargo and crushing financial sanctions - or even declared a pariah state - were not General Musharraf so valuable to Washington's campaign against Islamic resistance forces.

India, which has long tried to brand Pakistan a 'terrorist state,' is crowing with delight. No one in the West cares a whit that important parts of Delhi's nuclear arms development was based on US technology stolen by Israel and then sold to India.

The US will now sharply intensify pressure on Islamabad to accept some form of 'joint control' over its nuclear arsenal. The first steps have already been accomplished by pressuring Pakistan to accept United States nuclear command and control technology and security codes.

Washington will now use the Khan scandal to demand integration of the CIA and US military personnel in Pakistan's nuclear forces structure. The next step: joint guarding of weapons and reactors and, finally, their total control by US forces.

Washington's long-standing contention that Muslim nations are too irresponsible, corrupt and unstable to be allowed nuclear weapons has now been vindicated in spades by the Khan disaster. It will be very hard for Islamabad to resist onrushing US demands - backed by financial and political threats - for nuclear joint control. - Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2004

The gun that misfired

By Kuldip Nayar

There was practically no discussion on Bofors gun kickbacks in the 13th Lok Sabha which has been dissolved for early elections. Once Rajiv Gandhi died - the main target - the non-Congress parties lost interest in the scam.

Whether he was involved or not had continued to be at the back of the people's mind, even after his name was dropped from the charge-sheet. By pronouncing that there was no evidence against him for having accepted money, the Delhi High Court has ended the debate in one way. But it has taken 16 long years.

Rajiv Gandhi's widow and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, is justified in her complaint that her family, including the one in Italy, faced a campaign of vilification for years. But she is ill-advised to make it a poll issue. The first set of advertisements the Congress has released suggests that Rajiv Gandhi's exoneration may be the party's plank at the polls.

The advertisement displaying Rajiv Gandhi's picture is captioned: Let those who inflicted intolerable mental agony on his family hang their heads in shame. Who are they? Sonia Gandhi does not have to look far.

Most of them are the Congress allies in the coming elections. How does the party serve its interest by telling Rashtriya Janata Dal president Laloo Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh, Lok Janshakti leader Ram Vilas Paswan or DMK chief M Karunanidhi to hang their heads in shame?

V. P. Singh, Sonia Gandhi's strong supporter, won around 90 seats in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls by making Bofors synonymous with corruption. I recall travelling through Rajasthan during the polls. The Congress lost all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

V.P Singh has said in a TV interview that he felt relieved after Rajiv Gandhi's exoneration. This is the least he could have said because he was the first to drag Rajiv Gandhi through the mud.

The BJP and its partners in the NDA have been no less savage on Rajiv Gandhi's involvement. Their decision to join the issue with the Congress, as the statement by party president Venkaiah Naidu indicates, may be counter-productive.

They have no argument left to drive home after the exoneration. Yet, the Congress itself should realize that once it resurrects Rajiv Gandhi, many skeletons may tumble out from nowhere.

Some officials who have disclosed the details about the scandal have not given a clean chit to Rajiv Gandhi. The feel-good factor in the party should stay at that level, not beyond.

That there was no evidence against Rajiv Gandhi was known for a long time. For different reasons, the successive governments prolonged the case: the non-Congress ones because they were keen to get at Rajiv Gandhi and the Narasimha Rao government because it wanted to make sure that nothing untoward came out against Rajiv Gandhi.

Soon after I joined the parliament in 1997, I wrote to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee over the inordinate delay in knowing the name of the recipients when the fact of kickbacks had been established. His reply was that the matter is receiving due attention and all necessary steps will be taken to take the matter to its logical end.

It was a typically bureaucratic reply. What I wanted to know was whether the NDA's promise to take action in the Bofors case within one month held good. He denied that.

He said: "While the importance of the matter cannot be over emphasized, I may point out that the national agenda for governance which guided the principles and policies of the government does not include any such specific time frame."

Subsequently, in an interview, he told me that the inquiry was going on but Rajiv Gandhi's name was not there. The evidence collected was weak for a court case. Vajpayee has proved to be correct. However, the reply at that time surprised me because the general impression was that the centre had dragged its feet purposely.

The BJP was particularly suspect because its leaders were close to a foreign-based business house, said to be one of the recipients of the kickbacks.

Even though all the noise about the case has more or less ended in a whimper, political parties have hurt themselves in the process. The much-vaunted Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), however, comes out the worst. True, the CBI goes in appeal before the Supreme Court. Still its sterile effort over such a long period is a black mark against it.

Understandably, the Delhi High Court has been savage in its remark: Sixteen long years of investigation by the premier agency of the country could not unearth a scintilla of evidence against them (Rajiv Gandhi and late Defence Secretary S K Bhatnagar) for having accepted bribe/illegal gratification in awarding the contract in favour of Bofors.

How many officials visited how many countries and for how long - if all that were translated into money, it would run into crores of rupees. Why the agency failed to locate the recipients is a matter for some high-powered inquiry. Was the failure due to political reasons? Why was Quattrochi, an Italian who supposedly received part of the kickbacks, allowed to leave India?

One should, however, admit that there was a lot of political interference in what the CBI was doing. The inquiry was diluted in 1992, two years after the case was registered, when K Madhavan and M.D. Sharma, the two officers pursuing the case doggedly were transferred without any explanation.

One CBI top brass said at that time that he had his doubts about the outcome in the face of the transfers of the two officers and repeated the message from political bosses to hush up everything.

The lack of evidence - the point underlined in the judgement - was also the reason why the 'hawala' case against Home Minister L.K. Advani and a few others collapsed in a Delhi court. The names entered in the diary seized required some corroboration.

The CBI failed to provide one. In fact, the Supreme Court took the agency to task for not having moved against the recipients of hawala bounty on the basis of disproportionate wealth if the other evidence was not forthcoming.

The failure of the CBI, as is apparent from the Bofors scandal and the 'hawala' case, does not mean that it is the end of the matter. The government has to meet the demand for justice.

Had the working of the agency been transparent, things wouldn't have come to such a pass. The Shah Commission, which went into the misdeeds of the emergency (1975-77), had suggested openness in the working of the CBI. But no government has even considered the proposal.

Unfortunately, corruption has ceased to be news in India. It is one of those things which India cannot live with but knows no way to live without. These past few years of the Vajpayee government have been periods of scams and scandals: political chicanery, diary entries and defence deal kickbacks. Leaving aside two or three state chief ministers, the rest had their fingers in the till.

Yet, if the nation has to retrieve the values, a clean society is a must. There have to be exposures and loud public protests. The attitude of resignation does not help. A people's protest needs to be built, not by political parties because of their own involvement, but by those who are outside the system and still enjoy credibility.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in New Delhi.