DAWN - Opinion; August 23, 2006

August 23, 2006


The Hezbollah victory

By Najmuddin A. Shaikh

THERE is euphoria in the Arab world — more accurately, on the Arab street. In what the Arabs perceive as their sixth war against Israel, the Israelis have for the first time been held off for 33 days and fought to a standstill. Whatever the damage they have wrought in Lebanon (over $3.5 billion worth of infrastructure and more than 1,100 people, mostly civilians, killed) they have been prevented from achieving any of their principal war aims.

The Israeli soldiers have not been released. Hezbollah has not been disarmed and, after having launched more than 240 rockets on the last day before the cessation of hostilities, its capacity to retaliate remains unimpaired; the Israeli advance towards the Litani river was stopped short and the Israelis found the sustained occupation of villages close to its borders beyond its capacity because of fierce Hezbollah resistance.

A famous Kuwaiti actor appearing on Al-Jazeera echoed the general view of the Arab man on the street when he said, “If there was just one Nasrallah in every Arab country — one person with his dedication, intelligence, courage, strength and commitment — Arabs would not have had to suffer stolen land and defeat at the hands of Israel for 50 years.”

In the words of The New York Times, “the lesson learned by many Arabs from the war in Lebanon is that an Islamic movement, in this case Hezbollah, restored dignity and honour to a bruised and battered identity,” and that “Hezbollah’s perceived victory has highlighted, and to many people here validated, the rise of another unifying ideology, a kind of Arab-Islamic nationalism. On the street it has even seemed to erase divisions between Islamic sects, like Sunni and Shia. At the moment, the Hezbollah leader, Sheik Nasrallah, is widely viewed as a pan-Arab Islamic hero.”

The Americans after showing unstinting support for Israel during the 33 day period eventually accepted a resolution which called for a cessation of hostilities and which, while it called for the disarming of all groups in Lebanon, did not, in its operative paragraphs, demand the release of the Israeli soldiers. Nor did it spell out how Hezbollah was supposed to be disarmed.

The resolution could be called a victory for commonsense and a yielding to the international demand for an end to the carnage in Lebanon. But it certainly fell short of what the Israelis and their American backers would have liked. It became apparent shortly after the resolution’s adoption that while the Lebanese troops would move south of the Litani river for the first time in decades, they would not be attempting to disarm Hezbollah whose leader had in any case said that it was too early to talk of disarming.

To add to the discomfiture of the Israelis, a commando raid they mounted on the Bekaa Valley, ostensibly to block arms shipments to Hezbollah but in reality to attempt the capture of a Hezbollah leader, turned into a fiasco. Not only did they capture no one but they ran into an ambush by Hezbollah fighters. One officer died and two soldiers were injured. The abortive raid invited an expression of deep concern by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who deemed it a violation of the ceasefire agreement and prompted a threat from Lebanon that it would halt the deployment of its forces in the south.

In the meanwhile, the deployment of the expanded UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) is hanging fire because the countries contributing to the force have not been decided upon. Moreover, there is still no agreement over the mandate and rules of engagement.

Israel has expressed reservations about forces from Muslim countries that do not recognise Israel — Malaysia and Indonesia have pledged a battalion each. Malaysia has said that Israel should have no say in determining the composition of UNIFIL and that in any case the troops would be deployed on Lebanese and not Israeli territory. More importantly, the French, who are expected to lead the contingent, have deployed only 200 engineers and will probably not send any more until there is greater clarity about the mandate and the rules of engagement.

In my last article on the subject, I had said that there was no reason to hope that the force would come into being with any greater speed than the Nato force in Afghanistan. The current situation seems to bear out my pessimism.

The general expectation is that even when the force is deployed it will not take on the foolhardy task, fraught with the risk of prompting another civil war in Lebanon, of trying to disarm Hezbollah. The most optimistic assessment, supported by the restraint shown so far by Hezbollah in the face of such provocations as the Israeli raid on the Bekaa valley, is that Hezbollah will conceal rather than surrender its weapons and will allow the Lebanese army and UNIFIL to be the only bearer of arms south of the Litani.

From Hezbollah’s perspective, this is the time for them to focus once again on their political agenda, strengthening their base of support in the south by helping the civilians rebuild their homes and their lives. Contrary to popular belief, Hezbollah is not the only political party in the south. In Tyre and its surrounding villages, for example, it is Nabih Berri’s Amal that enjoys majority support.

Hezbollah has promised money to the displaced Lebanese to rent houses for a year and to rebuild their houses in that period. Where it will get the money for this mammoth task has not been explained but the presumption is that the Iranians will fund much of the effort with the rest coming from the Lebanese diaspora.

Whether the ceasefire holds may then become largely dependent on how the Israeli domestic political situation plays out. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz have been severely criticised for mishandling the war and achieving precious little after allowing 159 Israelis to die, and more importantly, for shattering the aura of invincibility that the Israeli military had built over the years in the Middle East. Stung by this criticism, the defence minister has already issued statements that Israel must prepare for the resumption of the war. It seems that even if there is no stomach for the immediate resumption of hostilities the Israelis will seize upon any pretext to try and damage Hezbollah further.

President George Bush has portrayed the cessation of hostilities under the UN resolution as an affirmation of US foreign policy because it calls for the disarming of Hezbollah and the removal of the threat of an attack on Israel from south Lebanon. Some American officials are, however, conceding in private conversations that Hezbollah will emerge stronger from this conflict and that American policy has suffered a setback since Israel was not able to secure the expected quick victory. Will the Americans now back a further Israeli adventure perhaps on the grounds that the resolution was not being implemented?

There have been suggestions that a solution could perhaps be found if the Americans could pressure the Israelis to enter into negotiations with the Lebanese for the return of the Sheba Farms area to Lebanon and for the exchange of Lebanese held in Israeli prisoners for the two Israeli soldiers. This would remove the justification that Hezbollah offers for its armed struggle and help the beleaguered Siniora government to persuade Hezbollah to disarm. This appears unlikely given the mood in Tel Aviv and among the neo-conservatives in Washington.

But having said all this, one must also examine whether the Hezbollah victory is all that it has been touted to be. Has a new pan-Islamism really come into being? I doubt it. The severe criticism of Hezbollah by Saad Hariri, the leader of the majority party in the Lebanese parliament, and by countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt have not been repeated after the heroic performance of Hezbollah fighters. But that does not mean that these concerns have disappeared or that they will not reappear after the dust has settled.

Lebanon has been destroyed yet again and after the initial euphoria about the restoration of Arab dignity, questions will arise about Hezbollah’s role in inflicting this cost on Lebanon. The concerns of the Sunni regimes, despite the mood of the Arab street, about the creation of the Shia crescent and Iran’s growing influence will reemerge and will not be held in check by what is seen as the emergence of pan-Islamic sentiments on the Arab street.

On the other front, Israel has continued its brutal attacks in Gaza and the West Bank with the latest outrage being the arrest of the Hamas deputy prime minister, Nasser al-Shaer. This comes at a time when Hamas has reached an agreement with President Mahmoud Abbas to form a joint Hamas-Fatah government on the common platform of the manifesto which provides implicitly for the recognition of Israel and for a two-state solution to the Palestine problem.

The question is whether the Americans will recognise the significant concession that Hamas has made in arriving at this agreement and urge Israel to resume negotiations with President Abbas and the new Hamas-Fatah government for the implementation of the road map. If they do then securing the release of the deputy prime minister and a host of cabinet colleagues whom Israel has arrested would be a good starting point.

The Americans must realise that their damaged standing in the Islamic world has been further eroded by Israel’s actions in Lebanon. It has not been helped by Bush choosing to talk of “Islamic fascists”. Lebanon has given fresh impetus to extremism. It has helped convince even moderate Muslims that no American assistance can be expected in addressing the problems that lie at the root of Muslim disaffection and this may well help to make them “Islamic fascists”. The concession by Hamas offers an opportunity that the Americans should seize upon if they are genuinely interested in advancing peace and the two-state solution that they themselves have advocated.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

The roots of the Afghan tragedy

By Zubeida Mustafa

PTV informed its viewers on August 17 that the death anniversary of Pakistan’s late military strongman, General Ziaul Haq, was observed in Islamabad at his grave where many people had gathered to pay homage to him.

PTV also reported that in the gathering Ziaul Haq’s role in Afghanistan was specifically lauded. It seems there are many in Pakistan who have not learnt from history and still approve of the country’s involvement in the Afghan imbroglio which has brought us so much misery.

In December 1979, when the Russians intervened in Afghanistan it was difficult to find many Pakistanis who did not condemn the Soviets for their military action. If the same mindset still persists, the advantage of hindsight notwithstanding, all one can say is that we have not learnt from history.

More is known today about the notorious US-Pakistan military adventure in Afghanistan in the eighties, thanks to secret documents being opened to public scrutiny, numerous memoirs and candid interviews by people who masterminded the policy. We also know that the impression that was created at the time that the Russians had invaded Afghanistan to bring it under their occupation was a myth. It provided the Americans the justification to retaliate by arming the Mujahideen to drive out the invaders. In the early eighties when Pakistan vehemently denied officially training the Mujahideen and supplying them arms — as it does today for the militants in Kashmir — it was an open secret that the CIA and ISI were collaborating in arming and training the Mujahideen.

Afghanistan proved to be a festering wound for the Russians and is now hailed in American circles as a master stroke of its military/foreign policy that made Afghanistan the “Soviet Union’s Vietnam”. The resistance by the Mujahideen sapped the Russian strength and led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from this woebegone country. This strategy ultimately resulted in the collapse of the USSR. It also spelt the end of the Cold War and the emergence of America as the sole superpower. In 1989-90 there was boastful talk of pax Americana and the end of history and so on. Naturally, this was a victory for America. But now we know it was a Pyrrhic victory.

But what about Pakistan? Did General Zia do a good turn to Pakistan by leading it into a covert war with a superpower which also happened to be its neighbour? A narrow strip of the Wakhan corridor divided the two countries which also had a history of adversarial relations. Was America’s victory also a victory for Pakistan? At that time, the western media and thinktanks were flooded with reports and analyses of the Russian expansionist strategy in its quest for a warm water port on the Indian Ocean. Pakistan provided the shortest route and so it was expected to be the next to fall before the Soviet war machine. Although the army was in power in Islamabad, and it has always boasted of many military strategists on its rolls, none of the wise heads stopped to ponder that 19th century concepts were outdated in the late 20th century when technology and sophisticated weapons had transformed war methodologies.

The fact is that Ziaul Haq’s motives in Afghanistan were quite different from what they were made out to be then and even now. We were told that he was fighting a jihad against godless communism. The Mujahideen, as the champions of the faith, were the first line of defence for Islam which was in danger. But a closer look at the happenings of those days tells us a different story.

The war in Afghanistan did not begin on December 24, 1979 when Babrak Karmal, rode into Kabul on a Russian tank. In his memoirs, From the Shadow, the former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, wrote that American intelligence agencies started their subversive operation in Afghanistan six months before the first Soviet soldier stepped on Afghan soil. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, confirmed this in an interview he gave to Le Nouvel Observateur (January 21, 1998).

He said, “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise. Indeed, it was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.” He goes on to say that the Americans knowingly increased the probability of a Russian intervention.

Obviously, the great game in Afghanistan was being played out once again and the American strategy was to provoke the Russians into entering Afghanistan and thus be trapped there. Brzezinski called the secret American operation an “excellent idea” in the wider world view of global politics.

What benefit did Pakistan draw from the American strategy? None whatsoever. In fact it brought devastation and ruin to the country. Had Pakistan refused to join hands in this war of proxy between the two superpowers in Afghanistan, Washington could not have used it as a conduit to funnel millions of dollars worth of arms — said to be 65,000 tons per annum in 1987 — to the Mujahideen.

The American CIA agents could not have used Pakistani territory to set up training camps and induct ISI officials to train the Mujahideen, plan the operations and accompany them across the border to supervise the attacks. It is reported that as many as 11 ISI teams would be in the field at one time. Muslim extremists from around the world were recruited According to journalist and writer Ahmed Rashid, in 1982-1992 some 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Muslim countries in the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central Asia and the Far East joined the jihad. Many more came to study in the madressahs that mushroomed in Pakistan.

The situation we have on hand today is a legacy bequeathed by General Ziaul Haq. The chickens are coming home to roost. Afghanistan is a fragmented society. The composition of its population is multi-ethnic and it was inevitable that any meddling in its affairs would suck Pakistan into the internecine infighting in that country. The emergence of the Islamist militants, the influx of foreigners in the area and the Kalashnikov and heroin culture that are the bane of Pakistan today are a direct result of Zia’s ill-conceived Afghan policy.

Not only have these factors destroyed the fabric of Pakistani society, they have also led to the present international crisis and the confrontation between Islamic extremists and the West. Most important, by being a party to the destruction of the Soviet Union, Pakistan helped undermined the bipolar/multipolar system of international politics.

Although the division of the world into two camps in the Cold War years had created a state of tension between the two sides, that had worked to the advantage of the smaller Third World countries. It prevented any one superpower from dominating over any part of the world without evoking a reaction from its rival. The other superpower always acted as a countervailing force and could not be ignored. The need to maintain a power equilibrium had worked in the Cold War years to the advantage of the smaller countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The American hegemony we witness today can destroy the world especially if America is led by a leader who is short-sighted and is driven by cupidity, self interest and selfishness. Only an in-depth analysis can lay bare the factors that drove Ziaul Haq to toe the American line in Afghanistan. But this is certain: it was not in the national interest of the country. It was perhaps his own narrow personal need for political survival which became possible with American support. Without the role Pakistan played in Afghanistan, this support would not have been forthcoming.

A bizarre manifesto

By Hafizur Rahman

A FRIEND in Chandigarh sometimes sends me clippings from Indian newspapers which he thinks I shall find informative or enjoyable. I am sure you will find the contents of his latest despatch not only delightful but simply out of this world.

There are certain things that are unimaginable in our society, in fact, in most societies. For instance in the last polls held in Pakistan you could not have got up and said, like Ram Swarup in a small town in UP, that you’ll be fighting the election on the liquor plank. You just could not, even if your name was Ram Swarup too and you had the backing of Mr George Bush.

Elections in one or the other Indian state one always finds taking place. But despite the uninhibited atmosphere in that country, I don’t think Ram Swarup was able to carry the day, otherwise his success would have got headlines all over the world, including our country. Even Indians draw the line at crackpots. For whatever your views on the consumption of liquor, you have to admit that Ram Swarup was a crackpot in respect of his manifesto. Though, for all we know, he may otherwise be a respectable and law-abiding citizen.

Ram Swarup was the sole candidate of his party, the Sharab Congress, and the sole item on his manifesto was that there should be no tax or restriction on the sale of alcoholic drinks to the public. It’s a pity that the newspaper clipping did not tell why he made this demand. There was also no explanation whether, in his opinion, liquor was good for the health or it improved one’s morals or boosted one’s fighting spirit, or because it made one forget the problems of life. One can’t say how he developed these views about drinking; and now we’ll never know.

In Pakistan, whatever our views on the subject, we never talk about drinking in any gathering which can even remotely be described as public. It’s like the unmentionable VD, or AIDS. That is why when the late Z.A. Bhutto referred in a public speech to his habit of taking a drink or two when he felt out of sorts, the admission was condemned by the opposition in strong terms and the drubbing he received was long and intense. He made the political mistake of speaking the truth about what he considered to be a peccadillo and a personal matter.

This was just before the March 1977 elections. Later Mr Bhutto imposed a total ban on drinking in order to gain a point at the polls. That ban, it is said, cost him the votes of many Muslims who were addicted to alcohol at that time. That may or may not be true, but I still remember that the mammoth gathering in Lahore’s Nasser Bagh appeared to appreciate his truthfulness. His remark “I drink a little whisky but I don’t drink the blood of the poor as the exploiters do” was greeted with a great roar I have ever heard.

It is surprising that no national newspaper has ever made a study of the drinking habit among Muslims of Pakistan. I do not say the habit is widespread but it is not insignificant either. Very frequently, if not every day, there is an item in the press announcing “ a huge liquor haul” and telling how hundreds of bottles of foreign whiskey have been captured. However we are never told where all the seized contraband stuff goes, because we never read about its destruction. I suppose if a close watch was kept, some officials of the customs and excise and the policemen responsible for this haul might be seen tottering on their feet the next day.

Jokes aside, one of the national dailies should do an in-depth story on the whole business. Where does all the liquor come from apart from that manufactured locally by the Bhandaras and the Markers and the Avaris? Who are the main consumers? What is the economics of this social phenomenon? Also, how does it affect the relations between Muslims and Christians, whether the phenomenon has any impact on society at the lower middle class level? And what is the relevance of a certain faith to the drinking habit, and, of course, in the case of Islamabad-Rawalpindi twin city, what is the contribution of the foreign embassies in meeting the market demand? Or do the newspaper think the subject is a taboo?

We, Pakistanis, have an ambivalent attitude towards the consumption of alcohol. For example, I won’t hazard a guess as to how many members of the National Assembly are addicted to drinking, but some years ago a newspaper did report that 60 per cent of the last dismissed assembly could be said to have been regular consumers. But if someone were to move a resolution today that anyone found drinking should be hung upside down for 24 hours (or something of the sort) it is certain that the resolution would be passed unanimously. In English they call this hypocrisy.

As for Ram Swarup of that small UP town it should have been interesting to find out what finally happened to him. How many votes did he get? Did he try to drown his defeat in a bottle of home-made liquor? Were the voters paid “in kind” for supporting him? Since he had claimed that 80 per cent of the inhabitants of his home town were given to drinking, he should at least have got their votes.

Maybe it was not a prohibitionist who defeated him in the polls but someone who was more addicted to it than he was and advocated that the state should provide free liquor to its citizens. It’s a pity that one can’t get one’s hands on the Indian newspapers of that time to know Ram Swarup’s exact electoral fate. Anyway there is no shortage of cranks and nuts in our two countries. Only ours take rather different forms, though you can’t write about them with impunity.

Enforcing the ceasefire

CEASEFIRES have more than one purpose but the primary one must always be to stop people fighting, which is why the UN secretary-general was right to condemn Israel’s unjustifiable incursion into Lebanon over the weekend.

By speaking out firmly and quickly, to Israel’s evident discomfort, Mr Annan laid out some much-needed boundaries as to what is and what is not acceptable in the current, dangerous interregnum between war and peace. Israel has tried to justify Saturday’s raid on the village of Bodai, in the Bekaa valley, as a defensive move, permitted under the terms of UN resolution 1701.

But by attempting to sustain hostilities Israel violated the resolution in the most elemental manner. It was an act properly condemned by the secretary-general’s office for endangering “the fragile calm” which has allowed reconstruction to begin.

There is no doubt that Hezbollah sees itself as the victor in the conflict and this in itself is a provocation to an Israeli government which is under pressure at home to show it can still protect its territory. As such, the Bekaa raid may have been a symbolic exception to a policy of compliance with the UN resolution, rather than a disturbing indication of flagrant breaches to come.

Hezbollah, too, may well be testing the ceasefire, which calls for an arms embargo, by trying to re-equip. But if Israel has evidence of this, it should not take the law into its own hands. The proper course would have been to request action from the UN and the Lebanese government. Sunday’s clear statement from the Lebanese defence minister, Elias Murr, warning militias in southern Lebanon not to attack Israel, was a sign of continued Lebanese support for the UN process.

The problem is that no one —apart from the UN secretary general — is holding the ring yet. Talk of a 15,000-strong UN force remains just talk. France has so far only managed to send 49 engineers to the country.

—The Guardian, London