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WHY THIS WAR FRENZY'
- The US must get its priorities right and heed signs of returning terrorism

The paranoid streak in American politics is once again on full display. It is no use wondering how far the psychosis is self-induced. A superpower has to get into a state of rage before it wants to embark on a war. And though the United States of America has not been very successful in infecting the rest of the world with hysteria over the supposed threat a downbeat Iraq presents to it, it has not been for lack of a tearing campaign to make Saddam Hussein loom much larger than even Osama bin Laden in the revised edition of the US book of demonology.

What is the main charge against him' He is said to hold large but hidden stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. The story has lost much of its credibility after the failure of United Nations inspection teams to locate any of these despite their access to all the sites in Iraq they wished to survey and Baghdad’s claim that all such dangerous stuff as it once possessed had been destroyed.

Yet, the inspectors did hit upon something where the Iraqi leader had cheated on his promise. He held some missiles whose range exceeded by some kilometres the limits imposed on him. Naturally, he was asked to dismantle these, and his government announced last week that it had started taking these weapons apart. The US administration routinely rejects all such claims as deceptions. In any case, how could it be sure that the inspection teams had uncovered all the missiles in Iraq’s possession' So the US decision to go to war to disarm that country and send Saddam packing still stands.

There is in this grisly business at least one point on which the US establishment has maintained what Luis Buñuel calls the “discreet silence of the bourgeoisie”. There has been enough talk in the Western media, however, about this delicate matter. The noise about the weapons of mass destruction, it is suggested, is not the real provocation for the new paranoia in Washington. What causes real concern to the Bush administration is that someone as hostile to the US as Saddam Hussein should be controlling the second largest oil reserves in the world. Having a big stake in these, it is desperately keen to add Iraq to the list of its client states in west Asia.

Whatever the truth, the US administration is hell-bent on having its way. Two of its major North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, Germany and France, have advised it to pipe down and abandon a policy which can only inflame public opinion in an already explosive area, give an impetus to militant Islamic fundamentalism and induce thousands of youngsters to join terrorist jihadi outfits. Washington has no use for such counsel. Even Britain’s outright support to the US policy has provoked a revolt against Tony Blair in the ruling Labour Party. The US reaction is that the British prime minister is not the sort of man to let loss of face turn into loss of nerve and can be depended upon to make the peaceniks come around to his view.

The Turkish parliament’s rejection of the agreement its prime minister had negotiated with the US government on letting 60,000 American troops be based in his country to fight in the war against Iraq, in exchange for a whopping compensation of 26 billion dollars, has given Washington a far bigger jolt. But an administration, which has told its allies that it will go it alone if need be, and warned the UN that it would render itself “irrelevant” if it rejected the new US resolution, which amounts to issuing an ultimatum, is not going to be deterred from going to war to rid Iraq of the Saddam regime.

What has puzzled America’s friends even more than the lack of method in its priorities is the cynical way in which it continues to manage dissemination of news bearing on the war against global terrorism, playing down developments which cast doubt on its policies by revealing the degree of collusion between sections of the Pakistan army and the taliban, and exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq which, ironically enough, has never sponsored a jihadi terrorist organization.

Again, though there is not a shred of evidence so far to show that Saddam Hussein has any nuclear warheads, the American policy-makers continue to raise a hue and cry about the threat coming from him while their reaction to the North Korean leader’s open boast that his country does not only have missiles with nuclear warheads but will have no compunction in using them when necessary, is deliberately muted. Neither George W. Bush nor Colin Powell has ordered this part of the axis of evil to disarm or its leader to go into exile. Is it because a war on North Korea involves far greater risks' Such cynicism can only make many weak states wonder whether acquisition of nuclear arms is not the best insurance against bullying by the Big Brother.

Since there are attempts to fit the proposed plan to disarm Iraq and displace Saddam Hussein into the framework of the US-led war on global terrorism, it is equally pertinent to have a closer look at the mesh of contradictions in which the larger operation has been caught. Like all despots, Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who ruthlessly eliminates any political opponent. Even so, among all the militants taken into custody by the US, there is no Iraqi national. How then explain the top priority given to disarming this particular Islamic state and effecting a change of regime there'

The US policy with regard to Pakistan is equally inexplicable. This country has become the main base for both al Qaida and the taliban after the fall of the Mullah Omar regime in Afghanistan. The top men of these two fanatical organizations could not have sought refuge there without the connivance of a powerful section of the Inter-Services Intelligence. Pervez Musharraf cannot get away with the excuse of the heavy odds against which he is working in a society which has been a breeding ground for jihadis for two decades because he himself has been an enthusiastic patron of terrorist groups waging a proxy war in Kashmir on Islamabad’s behalf. Though last year he formally banned some of them under US pressure and detained their leaders, they, according to reports in both American and Pakistani media, are active once again, addressing public meetings, whipping up anti-Indian and anti-American feelings to a feverish pitch and motivating young persons to join suicide squads. It is inconceivable that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the operational head of al Qaida, the biggest catch from that dreaded organization by the US so far, could have lived in a garrison town like Rawalpindi for long without the help of some top armymen.

That the Pakistani army has not yet altogether given up hope of restoring the taliban regime in Afghanistan is no wild conjecture. Musharraf’s foreign minister on his last visit to the US had no qualms in asking the US to withdraw its troops from the rural areas in the south-western parts of that country which, as a Washington Post columnist explains, “would have meant allowing Al Qaida and Taliban forces to move in there without opposition”. Dilating on this issue, he indeed suspects that “some intelligence men in Musharraf’s army have returned to their previous strategy of using the Taliban to extend Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan at the expense of the pro-Western government” in Kabul.

With Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and most of their aides still at large, some of the terrorist groups on America’s banned list active again, pro-al Qaida governments in power in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province, both bordering Afghanistan, fundamentalists with enormous popular backing in Algeria and Egypt restrained from capturing power only by the armed forces in these countries, and most regimes in the Gulf area unwilling to have any truck with democracy and secretly funding jihadi groups to secure their own protection, the odds against a successful war on global terrorism are as daunting as ever. And the topsy-turvy priorities of the Bush administration make them even more awesome.

Let the US administration question the motives of such allies and friends as want it to pipe down and get its priorities right. But how can it fail to take notice of the dire warnings coming from the establishment media at home about “the possibility that US troops in Afghanistan will face an offensive this spring from revived forces of the Taliban and Al Qaida based in Pakistan,” the fact that “Pakistan has become the base for terrorists who seek to undo everything that has happened since September 11” and the need to send Musharraf “clear messages that such staging grounds cannot be tolerated”'

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