Kofi Annan has to get going to finish the troublesome Iraq business. The chief executive of the new global order has told him that the job has to be completed in a matter of “days and weeks, not months.” There is no need for him to call a session of the security council. His task is to implement the old resolution and to tell Saddam Hussein that the United Nations has had enough of his tantrums and that he has not only to accept the return of the international team of inspectors to his country but also agree to leaving its members free to scour any place which they suspect of being used for storing or producing weapons of mass destruction.
So far as the Bush administration is concerned, it is not the United States of America which has to reconcile itself to the UN policy of endlessly waiting for the Iraqi leader to make up his mind but for the UN to fall in line with the US strategy which has made Iraq the main target in the second phase of the war against international terrorism. If the security council fails the test, the US will go it alone and will administer to Saddam Hussein a dose of the same bitter medicine it made the taliban swallow. It will oust the Iraqi dictator and replace him with someone more pliable.
It is the prospect of another Kuwait war which frightens France, Germany, China and Russia, together with much of the rest of the world. They know it can cause a new convulsion in the Arab world and make the pent-up resentment over the humiliation of the Palestinians explode in the face of the West. It will hurt badly the economy of every south Asian country by making drastic cuts in the remittances from their nationals working in the Gulf states. It is apt to jack up the already high oil prices. And ironically, it is likely to defeat the very objective of the current war by mobilizing more recruits for terrorist outfits.
All these fears may persuade even those who are puzzled over the intensity of US antagonism to Saddam Hussein to prevail upon the Iraqi dictator to avoid an armed confrontation with the only superpower since this is bound to inflict new wounds on his country already impoverished by 12 years of economic sanctions which have meant an annual loss of billions of dollars in revenues and caused the death of thousands of people because of widespread malnutrition and lack of adequate medicare facilities.
Saddam Hussein is not so dumb as not to see that what is at stake now is his own survival and that it is safer to lose face than risk a new defeat and suffer the fate of Osama bin Laden. The Americans may not have got hold of the man, “dead or alive”, who masterminded the September 11 attacks which threw the US into panic, but have forced him to go into hiding. Surely, Saddam cannot hope to live down the shame of another crushing defeat nor relish the prospect of being holed up in some obscure place, with both snoopers and commandos at his heels. This does not mean that he can be sure of escaping America’s wrath even if he succumbs to international pressure. But he can at least buy some more time for himself and his country.
What is indeed most intriguing about the US strategy of making Iraq the main target of attack in the second phase of the war on international terrorism is that, for all his past sins, there is little credible evidence to establish any close links between Saddam Hussein and jihadi terrorist outfits. Yet, he looms almost as large as Osama bin Laden in the US dictionary of demonology. Perhaps the very idea of the remote possibility of his trying to grab the larger part of the oil wealth of the Gulf region one day makes the US administration go paranoid.
On the other hand, the US deliberately plays down the Saudi funding of terrorist outfits though it knows that the Wahabi regime, in a bid to keep the Saudi terrorists away from its territory which plays host to an American base, hands over large sums to them regularly as protection money. Perhaps the same logic applies to its cosying up to the Musharraf government. The Bush administration is not so daft as not to be concerned at the way Pakistan has become the main refuge for outlawed international terrorist groups like al Qaida, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and at the brazen manner in which the general has rigged the new constitution to make democracy a mere cover for a military dictatorship, giving a council packed with his cronies the right to sack any elected government which incurs its displeasure. But their reaction to all this chicanery is a studied silence.
How do US policy-makers justify all this cynicism to themselves, if not to the victims of terrorism outside America' Probably they say here is a society brainwashed for years by religious bigots who motivate young people by convincing them that becoming martyrs in a holy war means buying a ticket to paradise. A young Palestinian suicide bomber, captured and interviewed by the Israeli police the other day, said he was pining to become a shaheed, despite the opposition of his family, because he was sure of winning eternal happiness after death as a reward for his act of self-sacrifice.
Pakistan had been responsible for putting the taliban in power. And the Inter-Services Intelligence worked for long in cahoots with the al Qaida. Ditching these old protégés and friends, who served as instruments of its Kashmir policy, was not easy for Musharraf. Yet, he turned against them at the US’s behest under duress. And though his country was seething with anti-American sentiments, he took the risk of ceding military bases in his territory to the US. What can the US administration do if the man has still some sneaking sympathy for those he not long ago hailed as “freedom fighters” or if the taliban and al Qaida have many fellow travellers in the army and its intelligence setup'
In these circumstances, there is bound to be frequent resort to double standards and doublespeak in explaining away the contradictions in US policy. It is quixotic to expect the Bush administration to resolve them to please India. The messy situation rules out both neat solutions and more cogent policies. It is no surprise therefore if, whenever the Americans’ attention is drawn to Pervez Musharraf’s failure to deliver on his promise to put an end to cross-border terrorism, the stock alibi is that, even after making due allowance for everything, he is still their best bet in Pakistan.
In any case, America itself is no angel of peace or rectitude. There has been only one marked change in recent years in its policy with regard to military intervention in conflicts where its strategic interests, real or imaginary, are involved. The trauma of the Vietnam war has made it increasingly reluctant to commit its ground forces in fighting because of the fear that heavy casualties are likely to be extremely unpopular at home. This has made it depend primarily on its hi-tech air force to achieve its war goals, with minimal loss of life.
This change has paid off to a large extent as shown by its experiences, first in the Kuwait war, then in Slovenia and more recently in Afghanistan. But this strategy has its limitations. In Afghanistan, for example, though the taliban regime has been ousted from power, the war-ravaged country has neither been rid of taliban elements, nor of local warlords whose writ still runs in the provinces under their control. Inter-ethnic conflicts continue to threaten both the unity of the country and the stability of the new government in Kabul. Nothing shows more clearly the fragile character of the Hamid Karzai regime than that its head should depend for his security not on local troops but on foreign soldiers. The measly investment in relief and rehabilitation work indeed makes the future look both bleak and uncertain.
As for the two hostile neighbours in south Asia, it is pathetic to see the heads of government of both India and Pakistan make vituperative speeches, with each appealing, at private meetings, to the US president to put pressure on the other in its favour. Indeed the way both hang on each word said by George W. Bush to find out if there is a tilt in the desired direction has by now become an embarrassing ritual. The ironical outcome, in so far as New Delhi is concerned, is to make the US willy-nilly a party to what the Indian government insists is a strictly bilateral issue.
Though officials here often talk about a further strengthening of the developing “strategic relationship” between the two big democracies, New Delhi ought to know by now that such a claim would carry much greater weight if India left it to the US to explain in public more precisely the character of the new relationship. The proposed removal of the ban on US exports of hi-tech equipment for nuclear power plants, space research, and other vital fields is most welcome. But it does not make “strategic” what is in fact a most unequal relationship.