No alternative to talks
WAZIRISTAN has become a festering wound for Pakistan. Operations in the tribal area are now more than two years old, but going by the results it seems the end is nowhere in sight, and the militants hiding there continue to create trouble. On Thursday, 13 people, including eight soldiers, were killed when militants fired upon a Frontier Corps convoy near Miramshah. A day earlier, five security personnel were wounded when terrorists triggered a bomb by remote control and blew up a truck. This is in addition to the beheading of “American spies” every other day. So far, they have killed nearly 150 tribal maliks suspected to be “pro-government” — their term for anyone who disapproves of the presence of foreign militants in their midst. That the deployment of troops, estimated at 80,000, has made no improvement in the situation is evident from Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao’s statement that the sphere of the Taliban’s influence and control was spreading outside Fata to areas like D. I. Khan, Tank and the Khyber Agency. He also disclosed that during his visit to Washington, the US had agreed to provide technical aid to upgrade the capacities of the troops engaged in anti-guerrilla operations and that new levies were to be raised for North and South Waziristan.
The government is obviously on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, it cannot look away from the fact that the militants hiding in Fata pose a serious threat to the country’s security. On the other, it would be unrealistic to believe that the battle against terror can be won by military means alone. The point to note is that those operating from their hideouts in the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, have not confined their attacks to soldiers in Fata; they also kill and maim innocent people by bomb blasts and attacks elsewhere. The acts of terrorism that immediately come to mind are the murder of French naval engineers in Karachi, the attack on the convoy of the Karachi corps commander, the two suicide bomb attacks on the US consulate in Karachi, the assassination attempts on the president and the prime minister, and the murder of Chinese engineers working on the Gomal Zam dam project. If to all this one adds “secular” terrorism of the kind seen in Balochistan, the problem appears truly formidable.
The question, therefore, is not one of upgrading military strength ranged against terror. In its wider aspects, the issue is a political one and calls for a political approach for its solution. The government has so far been going it alone and has not tried to develop a consensus on the issue. Many people see the operations in Waziristan as unnecessary and as being carried out at America’s bidding. While this view is simplistic and does not regard terrorism as Pakistan’s own problem, the government must be mindful of the criticism. The opposition attacks these operations in strong terms and must, therefore, be taken into confidence. The MMA, for instance, could be used as a back-door channel for talking to the maliks, but unfortunately some of its components appear to be in sympathy with the militants and have thus become part of the problem. Nevertheless, the government must continue to explore the possibilities of pacification through negotiations. Development work, especially of the kind whose benefits can be felt by the tribespeople immediately —- electricity, schools, hospitals and roads — need to be given priority so that public opinion in Fata realises the futility of supporting those who kill in the name of religion.
More of Guantanamo excesses
THE statement by a senior Pakistani security official that the number of Pakistani nationals being held at the US military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay is higher than previously believed should be a cause for concern. It shows that the US is not so trustful of its allies in the so-called war against terror. The official is quoted as saying that as recently as March, the Pakistan government thought that seven of its nationals were being held at Guantanamo. However, that changed after the US Department of Defence, in response to a lawsuit filed against it under the US Freedom of Information Act, released a detailed list of detainees. According to it, 22 Pakistanis are being held. They have been in detention for a long time now and hence it seems quite surprising that the Americans should not have shared information with the Pakistani authorities that would have allowed the latter to at least have a complete picture of the Pakistanis among the Guantanamo inmates.
The fact is that these are technicalities that the Pakistani and American authorities can sort out at an appropriate level. The more important issue is of legality. Given the way the US government has maintained a hands-off approach on Guantanamo Bay and on illegal detentions following the 9/11 attacks, it would be fair to say that but the lawsuit, seeking details of all detainees and of their military tribunal hearings, the Pentagon would not have released all this information. The US government has itself violated international law repeatedly by refusing to provide the detainees any rights admissible to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. They were not provided legal or consular access and were — after much hue and cry was raised in the US — produced before military tribunals in closed-door hearings. Again, it was only through the lawsuit that the world came to know that at least one detainee was in his early teens. It is ironic that the whole idea of keeping citizens of another country incommunicado for such a long time without giving them access to due process of law is the kind of aberration that the US often accuses other nations of practising.
NEWS that a PPP MPA from Punjab has submitted a bill seeking to restrict the discretion of game wardens to issue hunting permits is welcome and one hopes that the bill will be adopted. As it is, there are 72 birds and animals recognised as endangered species under the existing law but the government has done little to ensure that they are not hunted. If anything, laws have been ignored and hunting permits given to the rich and the influential, notably from the Gulf states. The houbara bustard, for instance, is one bird that was ruthlessly hunted, with its status as an endangered species utterly disregarded by wildlife officials. Some conservation efforts were made last year to protect marine turtles in Sindh but they were not enough and poachers continue to find new ways to kill. If the proposed bill is passed by the Punjab assembly, it will enable the setting up of a board, comprising three MPAs, who will supervise the granting of hunting licences.
The bill also proposes that punishment be increased to five years’ imprisonment and Rs20,000 fine which, if properly implemented, will send a powerful message to potential violators. In neighbouring India, the high profile case of a popular actor, who was recently sentenced to five years in prison for hunting an endangered species years ago, is an example of how much priority is given to protecting wildlife. A similar approach needs to be followed in Pakistan. This bill should encourage other provinces to take matching action as each province has its own wildlife to protect. For a start, hunting licences should not be given as easily or freely as they are today, irrespective of the money they bring in. Those who violate the laws must be taken to task for their actions. It remains to be seen how the MPAs who will form he supervisory board will use the discretionary powers they will now get.
Israeli lobby and US interests
IN the mid-1980s an air-headed action film entitled ‘Delta Force’ popped up on American movie screens. The gaudy Golan-Globus production was a wish-fulfilment fantasy depicting how the bungled 1979 US effort to rescue hostages in Iran somehow might have succeeded. (The braggart advertisement: “They don’t negotiate with terrorists... They blow them away.”) This movie strutted in the same tradition as a popular series of flicks portraying rescues of mythical Yank soldiers held prisoner in Vietnam for no imaginable reason long after the war ended.
Delta Force, boasted Lee Marvin as the cunning US commander and Chuck Norris as his trusty sidekick. Can’t do better than that for a macho cast. But the Yanks needed one more key piece if they were going to redeem themselves. The missing ingredient turned out to be a suave Israeli commando who obligingly showed eager Americans how rescues are really performed, as in the 1976 Entebbe raid.
This silver screen Israeli was so saintly, and so condescending, that we ridiculed him in a review as the candy-coated propaganda figure he plainly was. Here, we observed, was a stock character who many, and probably most, Israelis themselves would scorn as silly.
All too predictably the US newspaper where the review appeared got letters accusing the reviewer of anti-Semitism. To criticise Israel, these letters implied, was to befoul the memory of six million Jews in the Holocaust. The Nazi extermination camps were an unspeakable methodical horror that should not happen to anyone ever again, but what does the Holocaust have to do with movie criticism or Israeli foreign policy?
Would holocaust victims have deemed it a proud legacy to provide a harsh realpolitik government with a licence to abuse Palestinians? One wondered if any adverse comment was too trivial for Israel boosters not to regard as a threat. For the ultras among American Zionists, no criticism, no matter how tiny or tangential, escapes notice and retaliation. One result is that debate about the Middle East is much less inhibited inside Israel than in the US.
So there was nothing startling about the statement by a pair of high-profile American professors who, in the course of a robust, if rehashed, critique of Israeli influence over US policy, remarked: “Anyone who criticises Israel’s actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle Eastern policy... stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-Semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israel lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism, even though the Israeli media refer to America’s ‘Jewish lobby.’
Although nothing John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Steve Walt of Harvard University say is new (nor do they claim otherwise), they have indeed made a daring move in order to spark a desperately needed debate.
The London Review of Books, on whose website their article appeared, is not exactly a fixture in the waiting rooms at your local dentists office. Yet this seemingly obscure outlet drew a barrage of counter-attacks amounting to a media firestorm. Mearsheimer and Walt — one of the writers is long acquainted with both gentlemen — are not remotely anti-Semitic, are staunch supporters of Israel’s right to a secure existence, and are scrupulously fair-minded fellows.
They also happen to be eminent realist scholars who followed their painstakingly logical analysis of international politics into some pretty hazardous territory.
For realists, states in an anarchic world have no reliable friends, only interests which change from time to time, and so, therefore, states must always be opportunists. Power is everything. Selfishness is, if not a virtue, an inevitable feature of state behaviour.
So Mearsheimer and Walt simply cannot figure out why the US seems to depart regularly from what they view as the shrewd pursuit of self-interest in order to indulge little Israel in many costly ways — dishing out billions in subsidies to Israel every year, winking at hundreds of Israeli nuclear weapons while threatening to nuke Iran for aspiring to make a few, and enabling ardent Israeli expansionism so as to antagonise the whole Arab world, which is certainly not in Americas long-term interest.
How can one explain this peculiar behaviour? Their answer is — after, astonishingly, dismissing the motive of oil (and America’s related financial need to denominate oil in dollars) — the excessive influence of an Israel lobby, which comprises a loose coalition of all uncritical supporters of Israeli policy. There is no central command post. Has US opinion been ‘captured’ by pro-Israeli groups who suppress critical debate?
Examples abound. Norman Finkelstein is targeted because of his debunking books such as The Holocaust Industry, and more recently Beyond Chutzpah, which demolished Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel on grounds not only of plagiary, but plagiary of false ‘facts’ at that. Holocaust denial has its lesser but significant counterpart in denial of the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs from Israel in 1948 (and in 1967 from the West Bank and the Golan Heights).
Dershowitz, a lawyer who advocates torture of terrorist suspects, waged a furious but failed campaign to dissuade the University of California Press from publishing Finkelstein. So the “lobby” is not all-powerful. Still, in the US intimidating ‘watch lists’ of Israel?s critics are spread by ardent right-wingers Daniel Pipes and also David Horowitz.
Even theatre producers in New York could not sidestep opposition to staging a play about peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in the West Bank. In Britain, too, journalist Robert Fisk of The Independent garners hate mail galore. The British situation is only somewhat better than in the US. The Guardian last year reported a survey finding that a large minority of British citizens believe that Palestinians are occupying Israeli land.
It is probably true that in the US Congress, and much of the media, Israel is virtually immune from criticism. Even so, this annoying fact is not the same thing as proving that pro-Israel interests shape US policy to the point even of causing the invasion of Iraq or threatening Iran and Syria. It is also quite true that neocons in high places in the Bush administration exhibit intimate links to the Israeli right.
Nonetheless, US political and economic elites have ruthless interests of their own in the energy-rich Middle East, and Israel is often only incidental in this big geopolitical picture. Ask yourself why would the US government, boasting a mighty propaganda apparatus of its own, and populated by policymakers who are a match for the most devious leaders anywhere, be gulled to go along with a small state’s wishes?
Yet Mearsheimer and Walt soundly argue that US complicity with Israel (for whatever reasons) militates not only against its own best interests but those of Israel too. Realists pride themselves on seeing through ruses and rhetoric to underlying interest. Yet realism always struck us as oddly innocent in its insistence that state policy must be hatched independently of low commercial motives. Big oil, always influential, seized the White House in 2000. Even Noam Chomsky, while praising the courage of Walt and Mearsheimer, saw their paper as missing the larger underlying process of US elites doing what they please in the dubious name of national interest.
Israel would indeed be better off if the US applied its full leverage to compel a fair settlement with the Palestinians. About half of Israelis already support full disengagement from the West Bank. Many US groups, including a large segment of the American Jewish population, seek a fair and just solution to the Middle East crisis.
The Israel lobby, as Walt and Mearsheimer readily concede, have a perfect right to make their case, like any other organisation, but they have no right to escape scrutiny, skew the truth with impunity, or to bully critics.
The timing is right for a thorough reapraisal. Given growing scepticism about US interventionism, Mearsheimer and Walt stirred up a frenzy because Israel boosters fear losing their grip on public opinion. The flap about a new survey, conducted by pro-Israel interests, depicting about 40 per cent of Swedes as anti-semitic turns out to be nonsense, counting as anti-Semitic anyone critical of Israeli policy.
On close inspection the anti-Semitic component is in the low single digits — exceeded by anti-Muslim feelings, though thankfully also in single digits.
States, like people, don’t always recognise and appreciate who their real friends are. Witness the certifiably crazy and unstable alliance between the Israeli right and the American Christian right on alleged biblical grounds that are beyond parody. By contrast, scorned enemies like Mearsheimer and Walt may well turn out in the long run to be among Israel’s best friends.