DAWN - Opinion; November 29, 2006

November 29, 2006


US policy shift on Iraq

By Maqbool Ahmed Bhatty

THE staggering defeat suffered by President George W. Bush and the Republican Party in the mid-term elections on November 7 has produced a fundamental change in US foreign policy. The defeat arose mainly from the growing dissatisfaction over the war in Iraq.

It is the first time since 1994 that the Democrats have gained control of both the Houses of Congress. President Bush is still in control of the executive branch of the government but the purse strings are controlled by Congress. The fact that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned immediately after the results became known, points to the dwindling influence of the neo-cons who shaped the Bush agenda. The president himself stressed the need for a bipartisan approach to prosecute the war against terror unleashed by the 9/11 events. He also recognised the necessity of greater use of diplomacy, instead of seeking a military victory.

One has to recall that prior to the loss of control of Congress on November 7, 2006, the Bush style of leadership had been based on the conviction that the US was the most powerful country in the world, and also enjoyed the means to dominate the world politically and economically. Though the US had enjoyed this pre-eminence since 1945, it relied on soft power, and on its traditions of democracy and moral values to prevail, resorting to the use of military force only occasionally, such as in Korea and Vietnam, and then not always with total success.

Bush had begun his presidential tenure in January 2001 by adopting a unilateralist stance, and even repudiated commitments made by his predecessor, Bill Clinton, on such major issues as protecting the global environment along the lines laid down in the Kyoto Protocol, and of punishing war crimes through the International Criminal Court.

He had launched the concept of Ballistic Missile Defence in May 2001, and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 provided him with the justification to propound the Bush Doctrine whereby the US proclaimed its right to launch pre-emptive attacks on any state or individual suspected of posing a terrorist threat.

The US with the backing of the UN attacked Afghanistan in October 2001 after the Taliban regime failed to hand over the Al Qaeda leaders to whom it had provided sanctuary. Pakistan joined the US in its war against terror after it was informed that if it failed to do so, it would be treated as an ally of terrorism and face the full force of US power. Two years later, President Bush began making preparations to apply the doctrine of pre-emptive attack on the basis of intelligence (flawed as it turned out) that Saddam Hussain, once an ally, was developing nuclear capability and other weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to the US and its allies. When the UN sought solid proof, the US, supported by a “coalition of the willing” went ahead with its plans anyway in March 2003. The massive operation launched jointly with some 30 countries was named ‘Shock and Awe’, reflecting the grand scale and awesome results expected from it.

President Bush had claimed victory in Iraq on May 1, 2003, by which time only about 1,000 US combatants had died as against tens of thousands of Iraqis. Today, three and a half years later, US casualties have crossed 3,000 dead with over 20,000 wounded, and the latest election result reflects the military failure and loss of international prestige, while US citizens are faced with threats to their security in most parts of the world.

The situation of the coalition forces in Iraq has gone from bad to worse during the current year despite the fact that the US augmented its forces and launched a special operation to pacify Baghdad. Though a democratically elected government has assumed power in Baghdad, that is headed by a Shia, with Kurds and Sunnis also represented, it is virtually seen as a puppet of the US, and the Iraqi military and police have been unable (and often unwilling) to fight the insurgency that has spread from Saddam loyalists to nationalists from the Shia and Sunni communities.

Sectarian killing has added to the turmoil with some suspicion that western intelligence may be supportive, as US security and economic interests may be served by a break-up of Iraq into Kurd, Sunni and Shia states. Any such plan would be anathema to the Arab and Islamic states, and would be unpopular with the international community.

Before turning to diplomacy, the US and close allies like the UK would want to seek an exit strategy, enabling them to withdraw their forces with some semblance of dignity, and without compromising their strategic and economic interests. Some headway has been made in involving states bordering Iraq that have been regarded as hostile by Washington. The Syrian foreign minister visited Baghdad to signal the restoration of diplomatic relations that were broken off by Saddam Hussein in 1981 for alleged sympathy for Iran which he had attacked with western encouragement in a bid to bring down its revolutionary Islamic regime. The Iraqi president is visiting Tehran.

The transition from a war-like approach to one that uses the tools of diplomacy is not going to be smooth or without hiccups. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is urging that primacy be given to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in a manner acceptable to the Palestinians, and their Arab and Islamic friends. President Bush stressed the need to revive WTO negotiations, in order to placate the developing countries at the recent APEC summit in Vietnam.

The mounting of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan has also caused concern in the western coalition and Mr Blair visited Pakistan and Afghanistan recently. The message he received from President Musharraf was that Pakistan was committed to fighting terrorism, but that the long-term solution was to address the causes of terrorism, which lay in political inequality like that which exists in Palestine and Kashmir, and economic injustice, inherent in the existing western dominated economic order.

If the US and other aggressive powers that violate the principles of inter-state behaviour through overwhelming military strength turn to peaceful ways, this century could still witness a revival of the ideals that emerged from the experience of two World Wars. However, the transition is not going to be a smooth or simple affair. People everywhere, and leaders and thinkers of vision must focus on challenges facing our planet rather than keep competing for more wealth and power through exploitation, force or injustice.

President Hu Jintao of China visited Pakistan and India recently. China is the only great power that identifies itself with the developing countries. His visit will serve to highlight the need for regional and global cooperation for peace and development. However, President Bush’s stand over the recent crisis in Lebanon suggests his intention not to compromise too much on his strategic plans for the region.

The latest steps, such as the dispatch of Vice President Dick Cheney to the region and the resumption of the Arab-Israeli dialogue on Palestine, indicate that the switch to diplomacy has started. Though there will not be a precipitate departure from Iraq, there will be greater reliance on peaceful means to end the carnage.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Ideas-2006: what did it achieve?

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE government has billed the much hyped up Ideas-2006, the fourth exhibition of defence equipment to be held in Karachi last week, as a big success. The grand display of various weapon systems with indigenised names was said to be good for the countrys image. If nothing else, it was claimed that the exhibition proved beyond doubt that Pakistan had advanced technologically and could manufacture tanks and aircraft.

In the absence of technical evaluation from independent sources we cannot be sure how much of the defence manufacturing is local and how much it involves merely the skill of assembling various parts manufactured abroad as our car industry is doing. But Ideas-2006 had a negative impact in one important respect, apart from the traffic woes it created for the citizens of Karachi. It has focused attention sharply on the imbalance in the governments financial and policy priorities. Concern was voiced frequently in the talk shows held by television channels that the government is spending heavily on defence while the social sectors are being neglected.

This is not a baseless concern. Let us first take the argument that is directly related to Ideas-2006. An air vice marshal boasted in one programme that Pakistans arms exports will receive a fillip thanks to the exhibition. He said that we are exporting 200 million dollars worth of arms and that will offset somewhat our defence spending. One may well point out that the quantum of our exports is no more than a drop in the ocean being Rs 1.2 billion, even if we do not adjust the amount we spend on the import of parts and raw material for the manufacture of the exported weapons. And what is our defence budget? It was Rs 241 billion in 2005-06 and will rise to Rs 250 billion in the current fiscal year in fact it will be more when the revised figures are announced in June 2007.

That was the least worrying argument presented in defence of Ideas-2006. What is a cause for greater concern is the failure of our defence managers to understand that Pakistans policies are too defence-centric for our good. They always start with the premise that India is our enemy and if we do not build a feasible deterrence in the shape of a credible war machine and a nuclear capability we will make ourselves vulnerable to foreign aggression implying an Indian attack and destruction. One retired lieutenant general even said that this kind of security calls for a sacrifice from the people when they are denied facilities like health care, education and housing. The icing on the cake was his claim that the people are giving this sacrifice very willingly.

Leaving aside the argument whether people are happily renouncing their birthright to education and health care to build up a war machine to fight India, one can analyse the level of security a country enjoys when it has massive armaments but a population that is ill, under-nourished, illiterate and without a social welfare safety net. At present, Pakistan spends 0.7 per cent of its GDP on health (Indias spending is 1.2 per cent) and 2.0 per cent on education (India spends 3.3 per cent). On defence Pakistan spends 3.4 per cent of GDP as against 3.0 per cent that India does. India has been taken as the benchmark here for the simple reason that it is identified in our strategic planning as the enemy number one.

What is the impact of these misplaced priorities? Pakistans literacy rate is 49.9 per cent and school enrolment ratio stands at 38 per cent. Indias literacy rate is 61 per cent and its school enrolment is 62 per cent. Experience of the latter decades of the 20th century has conclusively proved that a strong, educated, healthy, confident and contented population living in harmony with itself is an asset that can never be equalled by the most sophisticated and state-of-the-art fighter bombers, tanks and machine guns whether locally manufactured or purchased abroad.

The classic example of how an oversized arsenal can become the cause of insecurity and destruction is that of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 it was not on account of a military defeat at the hands of its arch enemy, the United States. The Soviet Union proved to be its own worst enemy and imploded from within because its burgeoning defence budget had sapped it of all energy and destroyed its economy. It could no longer hold together its sixteen constituent republics which were in a state of unrest on account of a faltering economy. The Soviet economy had been affected, among other factors, by its humungous defence budget and the arms race it was involved in with the US.

Another factor that Pakistan must keep in view is the changed nature of security in the modern age and the strategy it will have to develop to keep itself safe from elements that could harm its integrity. Pakistan has not had to fight a full-fledged war with India since 1971. Even that war could have been avoided if Islamabad had handled the East Pakistan crisis with political acumen and statesmanship. It was our political failure that created a situation which India exploited as the opportunity of the century, to use Indira Gandhis words. Kargil was entirely Pakistans brainwave and a full fledged war was avoided by Islamabad withdrawing its troops before the crisis heated up any further.

It is inconceivable, given the political environment in South Asia and the global strategic balance, that India would plan to go to war with Pakistan to achieve territorial ambitions. The race is now in the political and economic spheres and it is here that we must concentrate rather than military adventures even by proxy. In such competitions foreign policy assumes foremost priority and Islamabad should focus primarily on its diplomacy and external relations.

A countrys foreign policy depends on the intellect of its policymakers and the skills of its diplomats. It may be added that an added advantage for a state is an underpinning of a strong economy, political balance and a stable, tolerant and adjusted society that comes with education, economic well-being and a sense of security. An overkill of a defence armoury actually detracts from the above and adds to national insecurity.

Plight of the minorities

By Hafizur Rahman

EVERY country, every nation, has its minorities — racial, ethnic or religious. In a truly Islamic state, which Pakistan is not, (nor is it likely to be with so much hypocrisy around) the majority is supposed to be the protector of non-Muslims. But one is heartened by the spirit shown by the Christians to safeguard their rights in the context of the Shariat.

Now another element has crept into the minorities question. Smug in our false satisfaction that we are being good, and even generous, towards the Christians (and particularly towards the Ahmedis) we have started calling the kettle black. You have to read the statements issued by our political leaders in the recent past condemning Indian Hindus for committing violence against Christians, to understand what double-faced means.

Christians in Pakistan do not properly appreciate how much better we treat them as compared to the Ahmedis. For example, if a Christian chooses to wear the Muslim kalima on his breast we’ll make much of him and exhibit him as an “honorary Muslim.” But if an Ahmedi has the temerity to do so, we trot him off to jail for a year or two.

Similarly, all Christians in Pakistan use the salutation as- salaam-o-alaikum even among themselves, but if an Ahmedi does that it is a crime, duly punishable with imprisonment. He can say ‘namaste’ or ‘sat siri akal’ if he likes, but not wish salaam to anyone which even Jews do when they say shalom. That is why I say that our Christians don’t count their blessings, something they are exhorted to do all the time by their faith.

A study of statements by government leaders reveals that Pakistan and its Muslim population have given unprecedented concessions and allowances to the minorities. Though if you ask the votaries of this claim to enumerate a few they are at a loss to do so. As for our maulvis, they think it is more than generous to let the minorities live in peace in the Muslim homeland. So what more do they want!

The whole atmosphere in the country as regards the attitude towards non-Muslims, as also the attitude of the adherents of one sect towards the followers of other sects, is so vitiated with intolerance that one now really marvels at what the Quaid-i-Azam did on Sunday, 17th of August 1947. (If I have the date correct).

On that day the Quaid and Miss Fatima Jinnah attended a special service in Karachi’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. After the religious service, which was dedicated to the strength and welfare of the new state, Mr Jinnah reiterated his resolve before the Christians of the city that there would be absolutely no discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims in Pakistan.

Elderly Christians and Parsis of Karachi recall his words fondly and remember how he assured them that Pakistan was as much their country as a new homeland for Muslims. Today they must be wondering which Pakistan the Quaid was talking about.

Can you imagine Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz attending a church service today? Of course it is unthinkable for President Pervez Musharraf to do so; he would never dare. With all their sincerity they wouldn’t venture anywhere near a church.

You can bet that on the birthday of the Father of the Nation next month, both the president and the PM will inform us that the best way to pay tribute to the Quaid-i-Azam is to follow in his footsteps. Are there different footsteps for the leaders and for the masses? Why don’t the two emulate his example, and as a symbolic gesture, attend a church service devoted to tolerance and mutual goodwill among various religions and various Muslim sects? The local Bishop would be happy to hold one. This would be far more effective than empty rhetoric and hollow slogans.

In the present state of affairs which, without doubt has been brought about over the years by our own leaders, the most important requirement is that the religious minorities and as well as the Muslim minority sects should feel safe and protected, and even privileged.

Of course there is no defence against individual acts of fanatics, but the government and the nation as a whole should

never allow themselves to fall below a certain level of civilized behaviour. Unfortunately the steps taken to reinforce society through Islamic principles

have only resulted in making fanatics of the whole Muslim population.

Some nine years ago there was Shantinagar, the Christian village in Southern Punjab, which was raided by Muslim zealots fed on false rumours set afloat without justification. They behaved like the Huns and laid the village waste. Nothing substantial was done by the PML government to either restore the confidence of the sufferers or bring the culprits to book. The then PM, Mian Nawaz Sharif, was in the habit of flying to the scene of a rape, but he didn’t consider it necessary to visit Shantinagar.

Then, probably in 1999, there was the abduction of a hundred haris — apparently Hindu men, women and children — in a part of Sindh. The purpose behind this brutal exercise was not clear, but if minority leaders had not raised the alarm, and a few good Muslims hadn’t shouted themselves hoarse, nothing would have been done to rectify the wrong.

A majority of the abducted were got freed, but who was behind their trauma and who compensated them for their mental torture? Votaries of the Shariat? It seems that Mr Liaquat Jatoi, Sindh’s chief minister at that time, was too busy doing the most important thing in the world, i.e. saving his government, so you can’t blame the poor fellow.

On a related piece on the subject last year, I had quoted from a long letter from a Christian woman to the columnist of a national Urdu daily. I shall not recount her complaints against Muslim bias and the insidious propaganda about non-Muslims, but I do want to repeat one sentence from it. She had said, “Let me share a private thought with you.

I honestly believe that it is the prayers of us Christians that are sustaining Pakistan, otherwise you people would have finished it long ago by killing one another and anyone who disagrees with you.” Ominous words, I must say.

This shift is irreversible

By Richard Gott

THE red tide sweeping through Latin America, checked in Peru and Mexico, has achieved another memorable record this week in Ecuador. The substantial electoral victory of Rafael Correa, a clever, young, US-educated economist and former finance minister, marks a further triumph for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his Bolivarian revolution, which has long sought to ignite Latin America’s “second independence”.

Correa joins Chavez, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro in what some have termed “an axis of hope” for the continent. He promises to call a halt to Ecuador’s participation in the US-backed free trade area for the Americas, to close the US military base at Manta, and to join Opec.

Unlike most US-trained academics in Latin America, Correa is an economist of a radical persuasion. He has been an outspoken critic of the neo-liberal economics of the globalised world, and an opponent of the so-called Washington Consensus that has imposed this ideology on Latin America in the past 20 years. He cannot be easily dismissed as a caudillo or a populist, but was the intelligent choice against his absurdly rightwing millionaire opponent, Alvaro Noboa, whose electoral bribes were too outrageous to be effective.

Yet significantly, both candidates stood outside the existing party system. The Correa victory marks a seismic explosion in Ecuador’s traditional politics. During the past decade, a series of popular demonstrations, military coups, and temporary governments have given clear warning of changes to come. Similar shifts occurred in Venezuela and Bolivia, where the termites of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption hastened the collapse of the old order. Nothing was left but an ineffective opposition that has proved leaderless and demoralised. Correa, like Chavez and Morales, will move swiftly towards establishing a constituent assembly to give a more representative voice to the country’s indigenous majority.

The eruption into politics of Latin America’s indigenous peoples has been one of the most significant developments of recent years. To mobilise peoples from many distinct nations — those of the Amazonian region being very different from those of the Andean plateau — and to decide with which white groups to combine, has been a hugely difficult task. Ecuador’s powerful indigenous movement made a considerable investment in a previous president, Lucio Gutiirrez, who had once echoed the vocabulary of Chavez.

Failing to live up to his promises, he was thrown out after street protests in 2002, but still has substantial support. He was not allowed to stand in the recent election, but his votes appear to have gone to Correa. Whatever the psephological details, the wave of popular feeling aroused in Ecuador, as in Bolivia earlier this year, clearly indicates the irreversible shift in power. The peoples subdued by Cortis and Pizarro 500 years ago are beginning to rebel against white settler rule.

Nothing much has changed in the past two centuries, but the Bolivarian revolution espoused by Chavez, in which Morales and now Correa are embarked, seeks a second independence.

— Dawn/Guardian Service

Lebanon on the brink

THE assassination of Pierre Gemayel, an anti-Syrian member of Lebanon’s Cabinet and the scion of one of that country’s leading Christian clans, could lead to other casualties: the collapse of a pro-West government in Beirut, a resurgence of noxious Syrian influence and the deflation of a trial balloon — only recently floated in Washington — for holding discussions with Syria and Iran about the future of Iraq. The worst-case scenario is another civil war.

It’s easier to lament that potential chain reaction than avert it. But the White House should try to rally other nations — including Syria, which denies any complicity in Gemayel’s death — around the fragile government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The Bush administration has stopped just short of explicitly accusing Syria of ordering Gemayel’s assassination. A State Department official called the killing “an act of intimidation,” and President Bush said it demonstrated “the viciousness of those who are trying to destabilise that country.” United Nations investigators were already looking into allegations that Syria was behind the 2005 murder of another anti-Syrian leader, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. On Wednesday, Siniora asked that the UN probe be expanded to cover the latest crime.

Supporters of democracy worldwide took heart when public outrage over Hariri’s assassination produced the so-called Cedar Revolution, a peaceful rejection of outside meddling that led Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. Allowing an assassin to reverse what remains from that revolution is unacceptable. The UN has insisted that Lebanon’s neighbours respect its territorial integrity, and the ceasefire resolution that ended this summer’s Israeli-Hezbollah conflict assumed that the government in Beirut would exercise a national monopoly on military force.

Compared to other nations in the region, Lebanon has democratic credentials that predate the Bush administration’s campaign to transform the politics of the Middle East. The country operates under a constitutional tradition that balances political power precariously among the Christian, Muslim and Druze communities. But it has been obvious for at least 30 years that the political status quo gave disproportionate influence to the Christian minority, especially Maronite Catholics like the Gemayel family.

— Los Angeles Times