The forces behind Saddam

By Tahir Mirza


SO much has been written about the death sentence awarded to Saddam Hussein. People have tended to discuss it in rational terms. But it’s the hypocrisy and humbug behind the whole trial and its outcome that is the most revolting part of this particular episode in the bloody and tragic saga that Iraq has become.

The sentencing has been greeted by western governments as if they were not sure what the verdict would be. After the way the Americans and its pliant Iraqi government had manipulated the trial and the court — three defence lawyers were assassinated during the trial — this is hypocrisy at its worst. No other outcome was possible or was expected, and all those who are acting as if they were in suspense over the outcome of the trial are lying to themselves. It is galling to see countries that campaign against the death sentence where their own nationals are concerned welcoming the Iraqi verdict.

It is immaterial whether Saddam Hussein deserves to be hanged or not. He was a brutal ruler, and the world knows about it. But why did the West connive at him in his brutality for so long? Why did it instigate him to attack Iran following the anti-monarchy revolution in that country? It feared the export of the Islamic revolution from Tehran and wanted to nip it in the bud. Those who worked for the BBC’s external services in those days will recall how news and commentaries were slanted against Iran. Tallies were put out about the weapons each side had, and it was shown that Iraqi armour would soon demolish Iran. We had articles even about the sufferings of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq at the hands of the Saddam regime although no one before this had talked about them for decades, perhaps not since Wilfred Thesiger wrote his book on them.

Iraq and Iran suffered a million casualties in the Gulf war that lasted from 1980 to 1988. Iran is right in saying that if Saddam Hussein had to be tried and sentenced to death, it should have been for his crime in instigating that conflict. Successive US governments provided both political and financial support to Saddam Hussein and his Baathists in their vicious campaign against the Communist Party and leftist workers in 1963 and later. The Dujail killings for which the former Iraqi leader has been sentenced to death took place in 1982 within the context of Iraq’s US-backed war on Iran.

It has been stated that even the chemical weapons used in the operation were supplied by the West. The regime was also being given agricultural subsidies by the US government during this period. The parting of ways came in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, but even in this episode — that inflicted so much damage on the Palestinian cause and provided an excuse for the US to gain a firm foothold in the Gulf — the American role is, to say the least, shrouded in mystery.

An open trial based on accepted legal procedures would have uncovered the American and western involvement with Saddam Hussein’s actions and therefore had to be avoided. Hence this show case trial in Baghdad whose legitimacy has been questioned by Amnesty International and human rights organisations. Saddam Hussein’s trial for the 1988 Anfal genocide has now been marred by the flawed course of the Dujail killings’ trial.

The hypocrisy becomes even more glaring when one looks at the atrocities inflicted on the Iraqi people because of the campaign to oust ex-ally Saddam Hussein, bring about a regime change, establish democracy and subdue the Iraqi people. The World Socialist Website quotes from a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins University to say that the US government is responsible for the deaths of 655,000 Iraqis since its occupation of Iraq. The US-UK invasion has destabilised the whole region, including Pakistan, created Al Qaeda terrorists where none existed before, led to the birth of suicide bombers who perpetrate atrocities on their own fellow citizens and flattened large parts of Iraq.

Saddam deserved to be punished — but by his own people or by an international tribunal, not by a kangaroo court set up by the American occupation authorities under the tutelage of their stooges. The Islamic fascists that Mr George Bush talks about are his own creation and have been produced by the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the consistent and totally one-sided support of Israel.

Actually, there’s hardly a time one can remember in, say, the last 50 years, when the US has not been involved in overt or covert destabilising operations in one part of the world or the other. Daniel Ortega’s comeback in Nicaragua after 27 years should jolt our collective memory into remembering the US role in Latin America, which was most graphically illustrated by the events in Salvador Allende’s Chile. There was Vietnam and Cambodia and Korea and the machinations of the Cold War when Soviet oppression of Muslim minorities was regularly detailed in press releases by the United States Information Service.

How times have changed. Can the Vietnam War, including the carpet bombing of North Vietnamese villages, be justified in a court of law? Is the “domino effect” a recognised principle in international law that can be unilaterally invoked by one country to attack another country thousands of miles away for the greater good of humanity and for the sake of a “democratic” world? Even today how many Iraqi children have been affected by the use of depleted uranium by the Americans in their weapons?

Crimes against humanity need to be better defined. There will be little sympathy for tyrants like Saddam Hussein, but those who connived at them and those who have inflicted similar atrocities on unarmed civilians also deserve to be in the dock. It is unfortunate that the real motivation for America’s quest for imperialist hegemony tends to get pushed into the background by the din of war and conflict.

Why has the economic reason for the war on Iraq been confused with building a ‘new’ Iraq? Why has the bogey of discovering weapons of mass destruction been already conveniently pushed into the background? Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, has been quoted in an article (by Arundhati Roy) as saying in a book that the hidden fist is needed to make the hidden market work, that McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas.

It is unfortunate that countries like ours, because of their own compulsions, have been placed in a position where we cannot officially criticise and discuss US policies. This now holds good even for India that at one time was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. Both India and Pakistan occupy leading positions in the list of the world’s most prolific arms buyers. The more they militarise their societies, the more they increase their dependence on the US and western powers — and the less room they have to point out to the Americans where they are going wrong.

It is not a question of individual leaders or particular governments: the whole international system has become disoriented and appears geared to serve America’s economic and strategic interests. The Bush administration’s pressure on Iran on the nuclear question contrasts with its silence on Israel’s nuclear arsenal and its bestial treatment of Palestinians.

Yet, how many of the countries in our region can stand up to protest against this duplicity? In the context of Muslim states, instead of seeking to resist the spreading tentacles of western domination, we have taken to talking of revitalising that ephemeral entity we call the Ummah. It cannot be energised simply through economic cooperation: the only way it can really assert its presence is if it seeks some kind of political independence and decides on an independent line of political action. Without this, the OIC will continue to provide comfortable sinecures for diplomats and officials from Muslim countries and a platform for Muslim politicians to trot out their tired old cliches.

The World Islamic Economic Forum concluded in Islamabad on Tuesday with a call for the formation of an Islamic free trade area — this at a time when we haven’t been able to get our small regional South Asia Free Trade Agreement going.

P.S.: American voters may have proved more effective in making the US change course in Iraq than all the rest of us by voting as they have in mid-term Congressional elections. They have also reaffirmed the principle that only we in some Muslim countries refuse to recognise and accept — that freely conducted and regular elections provide the best means of holding rulers and governments accountable for their actions.

Positive side of Kargil

By Ghayoor Ahmed


PRESIDENT Pervez Musharraf in his book In the line of fire has repudiated the allegation that the army had launched the military operation in Kargil without taking the political leadership into confidence.

He has also asserted that there was no deliberate offensive planned and moving to the unoccupied gaps along the Line of Control was only a tactical operation to pre-empt India from creeping further across the LoC in violation of the Shimla agreement. It was well within the purview of the local commander to do so but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was kept in the picture on this issue.

Against the backdrop of an animated public discussion on the Kargil issue in India, the Union government had constituted a high-level committee to look into the matter. The committee in its report submitted in February 2000, inter alia, stated that intrusions across the LoC were not uncommon. An attempt to capture a post or two was anticipated. There had, however, been no intrusions since 1990. In 1999, according to the report, “the Pakistani intruders operated on the assumption that the intrusion would be under counter-attack for only a few days and thereafter some sort of ceasefire would enable them to stay on the heights.”

The report also asserted that “such an assumption would be totally unsustainable in purely military terms. It would only be logical on the expectation, based on political consideration, that Pakistan would be able to engineer international intervention to impose an early ceasefire that would allow its troops to stay in possession of the territory captured by them. Such an assumption could not have been made without close consultation with the political leadership at the highest level.”

The report in question said that “some Pakistani columnists claimed that Nawaz Sharif thought that if he succeeded in seizing a slice of the Indian territory in Kashmir, he would be hailed as a ‘liberator’ and thereby enabled to gain absolute power through amendment of the Shariat law. There is no clear evidence on the basis of which to assess the nature and extent of Nawaz Sharif’s involvement in the Kargil adventure. The balance of probability suggests that he was fully in the picture. Those who know Nawaz Sharif personally believe that he has a limited attention span and is impatient with detail. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that Nawaz Sharif was at least aware of the broad thrust of the Kargil plan when he so warmly welcomed the Indian prime minister in Lahore.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sudden dash to Washington in July 1999 baffled even his cabinet colleagues who were not taken into confidence by him in this regard. The move also caught US officials by surprise. It is generally believed that although Nawaz Sharif’s declared purpose to visit Washington was to seek President Clinton’s intervention to defuse the Kargil conflict, it was actually aimed at garning his support to stay in power.

In his recently released report ‘American Diplomacy and the 1999 Kargil Summit’, Bruce Riedel, who was President Clinton’s special assistant for South Asian Affairs, has revealed that Nawaz Sharif sent his brother Shahbaz Sharif to Washington in September 1999 to hold discussions on how to follow up on President Clinton’s personal commitment to the Lahore process. However, when Bruce Riedel and Rick Inderfurth met him and tried to get a feel for how Nawaz Sharif wanted to pursue the matter, Shahbaz Sharif said that he only wanted to discuss what the US could do to help his brother stay in power.

In his discussion with the two American officials, Shahbaz Sharif had hinted at the possibility of a military coup in Pakistan. Bruce Riedel in his report has observed that “ironically it was Nawaz who provided the coup’s timing by trying to exile Musharraf when he was on an official visit to Sri Lanka. His plane was denied permission to return to Karachi or anywhere in Pakistan. The military rebelled and forced open the airport. Within hours, Nawaz was in jail and the army was in control.”

Bruce Riedel in his report has also revealed that the joint statement that Nawaz Sharif signed on July 4, 1999, was drafted by the American officials without involving the Pakistani officials who accompanied him. The key sentence of the joint statement read “the prime minister has agreed to take concrete and immediate steps for the restoration of the Line of Control”.

The statement also called for a ceasefire, once the withdrawal was completed, and the restoration of the Lahore process. Nawaz Sharif accepted the joint statement with one addition that the “President would take personal interest to encourage an expeditious resumption and intensification of bilateral efforts (i.e. Lahore process) once the sanctity of the LoC had been fully restored.”

In other words, Nawaz Sharif conceded that Pakistan was responsible for the violation of the LoC and, as such, the restoration of its sanctity also rested on it. It is also worth mentioning that the US president had urged the cessation of hostilities when the necessary steps had been taken by Pakistan to restore the sanctity of the LoC. This implied that India could keep up its offensive until the achievement of this objective. This belied Nawaz Sharif’s claim that the purpose of his visit to Washington was to seek the defusion of the situation arising from the Kargil conflict.

The joint statement signed by Nawaz Sharif reflected the lack of decisiveness and sense of political direction on his part on the Kargil issue. He failed to elicit a positive response from President Clinton who showed a strong bias in favour of India, evidently, out of expediency. Regrettably, despite the military situation being in favour of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif agreed to withdraw the forces from Kargil without any quid pro quo. Unfortunately, while withdrawing from Kargil the Mujahideen and the personnel of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) suffered heavy casualties as a result of the excessive and indiscriminate use of force by the Indians against them.

On his return to Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif addressed the nation on TV and radio on July 12. In this address he said that he agreed to the withdrawal of the Mujahideen and the NLI personnel from Kargil to avert the possibility of a nuclear war with India — a purely hypothetical idea indeed! He also implied that he did so because of President Clinton’s assurance that he would take a “personal interest” in resolving the Kashmir dispute. Either Nawaz Sharif suffered from self-delusion or deliberately played to the gallery.

A careful reading of the joint statement will show that, as suggested by Nawaz Sharif himself, the US president had only agreed to take a personal interest in encouraging an expeditious resumption and intensification of bilateral talks between Pakistan and India. He had not held out any assurance that he would take interest in resolving the Kashmir problem.

India, for obvious reasons, was jubilant over the outcome of Nawaz Sharif’s ill-advised visit to Washington where he lost at the negotiation table what the Mujahideen and the NLI forces had gained at the battlefield. The voluntary withdrawal of these forces from Kargil took pressure off the Indian army. Nawaz Sharif’s action, to say the least, was irrational and irreconcilable with the national interest.

It is, however, a matter of satisfaction that the Kargil episode not only internationalised the Kashmir issue but also made Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was its most outspoken critic, to initiate a peace process with Pakistan to settle all the outstanding issues between the two countries, including Kashmir.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Road to Damascus

LIKE it or not, Britain is linked indissolubly to the United States through its participation in the war in Iraq. Any assessment of British foreign policy has to begin with that large and grimly unavoidable fact.

But it does not necessarily have to end with it and it does not mean that Tony Blair need always follow blindly where George Bush leads, even elsewhere in the Middle East. The news that the prime minister’s senior foreign policy adviser has just been on a not-so-secret visit to Syria is a good illustration of the point. Mr Bush does not talk to President Bashar al-Assad. Tony Blair does — or at least seems to be trying to.

Syria matters because it has the capacity to influence events not only in its immediate vicinity, but also more widely in a highly volatile region. It stands accused of allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders to join the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. It has considerable clout in Lebanon next door, despite having been forced to withdraw its troops and intelligence agents in the wake of the “Cedar Revolution” and the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri last year.

It is closely allied with Iran and, with it, backs Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shia militia. Syria’s support for the Palestinians is important too, especially since key Hamas leaders are based in Damascus. If peace is ever to break out between Syria and Israel, the Golan Heights will have to be resolved. Those are six very significant issues for the prime minister to be thinking about.

Experience suggests any change will be very gradual.

—The Guardian, London



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