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DAWN - Editorial; 18 September, 2004

September 18, 2004

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Annan on war's legality

Even though he is late by more than a year, the UN secretary-general has finally termed the war on Iraq "illegal." So far, Mr Kofi Annan had confined his reservations about the Iraq war to a milder denunciation - a violation of the UN Charter.

For the first time, however, in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, the UN secretary-general went beyond the violation bit and said the Iraq war was illegal and that those who attacked that country should have waited for a second Security Council resolution.

The UN chief was referring to the council's resolution 1441, passed on Nov 8, 2002, which warned Baghdad of "consequences" if it did not come clean on the question of weapons of mass destruction.

It is now a matter of record that Iraq had complied with the UN council resolution in more ways than one. It not only let the UN inspectors in, Baghdad also sent within the 30-day deadline a 12,000-page document to the UN, giving details with regard to the sites purported to be engaged in the research, development and production of WMDs.

These documents categorically stated that Iraq had no WMDs, nor had any plans for producing these lethal weapons. While America and Britain did not believe the Iraqi claim, the moment of truth came when Mr Hans Blix, chief of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, told the Security Council that he had found no "smoking gun" in Iraq. Yet, in spite of the Iraqi declaration and the findings of Unmovic, Washington and London seemed determined to attack Iraq.

The methods the Bush-Blair duo adopted for justifying the war are a matter of history. No one exposed them more than their own media and conscientious objectors.

The methods the American and British governments adopted to justify the war included the doctoring of intelligence data, the falsehood about the uranium trail to Niger, the "sexed-up" British dossier, and the 45-minute myth for an attack on the West. This unfortunately led to the death of an innocent man, though that seems to have hardly ruffled the feathers of those who were behind this monstrous fraud.

What are the implications of the Annan verdict for President Bush now in the midst of a bitter election campaign? One result is obvious - his credibility will hit a new low at a time when the Iraq war is already very unpopular with the American people.

With the casualty toll for US troops having crossed the 1,000 figure, the UN's pronouncement about the illegality of the war should further erode Mr Bush's image as an honest and responsible leader who can be trusted with America's destiny for another four years.

For the Bush administration, the Iraq war seemed to serve some other purpose - a demonstration of its belief in unilateralism for regime change anywhere in the world. Saddam Hussein has, no doubt, been ousted, but his country is in anarchy, and the Iraqi people have not known a moment's peace under occupation.

There are also indications that Syria and Iran could be the next target of the doctrines of preemption and unilateralism. Since Mr Bush wants to win the November election he may believe that attacks on Syria and Iran will strengthen his chances. Whether this will also strengthen peace in the Middle East and contribute to the war on terror is another matter, however.

Lessons to learn

With the return last Sunday of 364 Pakistani prisoners of war held in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001, a sordid chapter in our recent history has come to a close.

The prisoners were accused of having fought in the Afghan civil war alongside the Taliban and Arab fighters, supposedly led by Osama bin Laden, against the Northern Alliance forces.

They were held in prison in Pul-i-Charkhi in north-western Afghanistan after the Taliban had fled, abandoning them to be killed or captured by the Northern Alliance forces as the northern cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz fell. Many more died in battle at the hands of their adversaries or succumbed to torture while in enemy custody.

A number of such prisoners were handed over to the US officials in Afghanistan who transported them to the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. The prisoners' travail finally came to an end last week when the Afghan authorities gave them a clean chit, following months of efforts by Pakistan.

There are a few lessons to be learnt from the sorry episode, as Pakistani officials debrief the released prisoners before allowing them to go home. Most of the returning young men were recruited to wage jihad in Afghanistan by madressahs run by Taliban sympathizers here, while government agencies either encouraged their activities or turned a blind eye to the indoctrinating process.

At the end of the day, these innocent citizens have had to endure immense pain and suffering for no worthy cause or fault of theirs. All this, while the masterminds behind the saga - the military trainers and the religious seminary recruiters - have managed to keep themselves out of harm's way.

It is partly for this reason that the battle for extremist supremacy has now shifted to Pakistan, with yet more young men being used as cannon fodder. The jihad-loyalists' operations in South Waziristan and acts of terrorism elsewhere in the country are the obvious fallout of this ruinous strategy. Unless these elements are unmasked and brought to book, our war on terror will remain a long and a half-hearted one.

Monitoring blood banks

Blood banks in Karachi that have few qualms about storing expired and unscreened blood products will be alarmed by the move of local health authorities to seal six errant units found guilty of indulging in unsafe practices prohibited by the law.

The Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority (SBTA) has done well to make it clear that it will not allow these units to play with the lives of patients in need of transfusion. It has sent a strong message to other blood banks, registered or otherwise, that it will not condone any violation of safe blood laws.

However, given the grave implications that the transfusion of contaminated blood has for health - as the rising number of patients with blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C indicate - one hopes that instead of conducting surprise raids, SBTA will keep a more regular check on the practices of these units.

For, it is the absence of a strict and constant vigil by health authorities that has provided many of Karachi's more than 100 blood banks with a licence to carry on business solely on the basis of profit - with little care about the quality of the products.

Greater efforts at encouraging a culture of voluntary blood donations and raising public awareness on the subject are also required. Few patients are informed about the identity of the donor.

They have no way of knowing the state of health of the blood-giver, who may well be a drug addict with a history of sharing needles, thus making him a potential carrier of lethal germs.

Unless patients or their doctors demand proof of the safety of the blood to be transfused, blood banks may tend to be careless, even if the SBTA keeps an eye on their operations. Periodic public campaigns must, therefore, go hand in hand with the regular monitoring of blood banks.