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War and/or peace?

January 15, 1991 has become an important watershed in the lives of millions of people, if by then Iraq has not relinquished the occupation of Kuwait, the United Nations will be at liberty to use force to vacate the aggression, technically it will mean that war will be at hand. Hostilities may not commence immediately on the stroke of midnight, but a Rubicon (Caesar’s “die is cast”) will have been crossed. We are living presently at the edge of a precipice in an unreal world that does not seem to take into account the far-reaching consequences for the population of the world, in particular the residual after effects that will sweep this region. If by chance, US and Allied Forces bog down and casualties mount, the temptation to utilise tactical nuclear weapons may well force-multiply the consequences.

The western media (orchestrated by Israeli influence) has been running an anti-Iraq campaign for some months even before Iraq’s unjustifiable and indiscreet invasion of its neighbour (and monetary mentor in its war against Iran). Less than a week before Iraq’s move on Kuwait, US Ambassador Alice Gillespie naively articulated in a meeting with Saddam Hussain, that “the border dispute (of Iraq with Kuwait) was of no concern to the US”. Bullies do not need a clearer green signal than that and a major continuing crisis is now at hand. The most modern combination of military power in the history of the world (Operation Desert Shield) is poised to take on a battle-hardened and highly motivated nation ruled by a despot who believes that his own destiny and that of his nation are irrevocably inter-linked. To quote Dryden, “For those whom God to ruin has designed, he fits for fate, and first destroys their mind”.

Officially, the occupation of Kuwait is the casus belli for the assembly of this vast awe-inspiring military might, on the allied side most of the forces are American. However, the testimony of General David Jones, formerly Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff before the US Senate Armed Forces Committee was most revealing wherein he questioned risking the lives of US youth in restoring Kuwait’s freedom from the clutches of Iraq, only to give it away to Kuwaiti royal family rule which he termed (in a diplomatic understatement) as less than democratic. Among the monarchies Kuwait has been the most benevolent, democratic it has been not. By that same token, Saddam Hussain has also been benevolent to his own people and is still revered by the Iraqi people, though it must be said some of the eulogy is duly orchestrated by the State’s security apparatus. In all honesty, was the Kuwaiti monarchy any less intolerant?

One must be candid and state the obvious, the US is be-devilled by two real demons, viz. (1) the possibility of the oil reservoir of the Middle East passing into less than friendly hands and (2) the threat of the Iraqi military machine to (a) its immediate neighbours and (b) to the State of Israel. When you add the Chemical and Biological weapons in the Iraqi armoury and the real likelihood of a nuclear weapon capability threshhold, western fears force-multiply leading to a willing propensity for precipitous action, very much like Henry II’s plaintive cry about Becket, “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” The Alliance are a modern version of the Crusades to eradicate the Saddam threat from the world.

Almost everyone condemned Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in no uncertain terms at the outset, that it was a despicable act needs no elucidation. The preponderance of US and western forces in the Order of Battle of the anti-Saddam front in the Saudi Arabian desert has affronted feelings among the masses in the streets of Muslim nations, Saddam’s clever gambit in the linking of Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait with Israel’s evacuation of Occupied Arab territories has served to gradually evoke grudging admiration among the Arab and Muslim masses for him. This has coincided with the basic frustration of the have-nots against the more fortunate that the monarchy represents. On the chequer board of international diplomacy, this ill-educated former scion of a middle class peasant family has displayed amazing adroitness. Saddam has been calling the shots, the world has simply been responding to his moves. Despite the total economic blockade, Iraq has not fallen apart, and given the age old greed of blockade runners, will probably survive, living a depleted quality of life perhaps, but as General Aslam Beg, Pakistan’s COAS recently elucidated, in the absolute glory of “Strategic Defiance” of a Superpower.

War, if it comes, will be horrific. The Allied Air Power is so preponderant, the domination so decisive over Iraq that all the efforts of the European construction companies in Iraq of constructing underground aircraft pens, etc will probably come to naught. Whereas the US optimistically expects the air war to be over in several hours, it should take between 3-6 days to totally subdue the Iraqi Airforce and not before they strike some extremely telling blows, any Iraqi aircraft getting through with chemical or biological dispensation should have a devastating effect. Military forces and civilian cities should expect large scale destruction and loss of human lives, on the Iraqi side casualties will be much more, probably running into hundreds of thousands.

With total air superiority the Allied air power will probably proceed to pound the Iraqi military and civilian targets into rubble and dust, seeking to break the military logistics support, the communications network and the morale of the civilian population, they will spread widespread death and destruction. The terrible effect of Allied air-power over Germany and Japan during World War II remains fresh, the industrial and residential areas were bombed literally into oblivion, culminating in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first uses of the horrific atomic weapon, many decades later the scars still haunt the Japanese people. One contemplates the future of the Iraqi people, many old men, women and children among them with great trepidation. Bombs and rockets are seldom discriminating, as North Vietnam is witness, the total devastation cannot compare to the poignancy of human lives lost. Air Forces running wild and free are not a pleasant sight if you happen to be at the receiving end. There will be a great temptation to use the Neutron Bomb against Iraqi military concentrations, especially armoured forces to avoid heavy casualties by ground resistance.

CNN exposes us to instant information, it also exposes the inadequacies of leadership and military strategy in contrast to what we have read about in earlier times, tempered by war, nurtured by steel. Knowledgeable and confident leadership uses the military weapon only as a means of last resort, increasingly we get the impression that the western game plan is that Iraq would not be allowed a face saving retreat from Kuwait, that war is to be thrust upon the region to achieve the real aim, the complete destruction and dismantling of the Iraqi war machine. Increasingly this seems to be at the behest of the influential Israeli lobby, to which the Western governments seem to be captive.

The ground war will be bitter and bloody. Despite encouragement by Western propaganda that for tactical reasons Iraq should withdraw from Kuwait city as otherwise a large body of them would be cut off, substantial Iraqi forces in Kuwait are well-dug in within the city’s perimeters. Fighting in any Built-up areas always causes heavy casualties, it is heavy work for the attacking forces, they literally have to extricate the defenders from where they are burrowed in, paying for every inch of territory with precious blood. The Allied Forces will no doubt seek to level obstructions by the sheer might of their firepower, what will be left of Kuwait city (and its remaining inhabitants) will not be pleasant to contemplate. Given that most Kuwaitis have left for safer pastures, the residual population mainly expatriates from poor Asian/African countries or Palestinians will be on the receiving end, with large scale suffering among them, exceeding by many times the body bags that will be US-bound and which will multiply when fighting under such close quarter combat conditions. Iraqis fixed defences in the open desert may not be imaginative being prepared in the Soviet style, a decade fighting the Iranians could have taught them to adapt to their own conditions. In numbers of tanks and other armoured vehicles, the Allies have a decided advantage, devastatingly force-multiplied by air power, in the open desert air superiority will have a crippling effect on numerically more Iraqi infantry, thereby limiting their capacity to manoeuvre. The major objective of the defending Iraqis will be to inflict maximum casualties on the attacking forces, a scenario that bodes ill for the US Government on the domestic scene.

There are jokers in the pack, one of them is Israel, the others are the terrorist groups presently using Baghdad as a roost. Given Saddam Hussain’s threat that Iraq’s first response on being attacked will be on Israel, one should not doubt that this will come to pass. Given also that Israel has a track record of responding with interest. Israel’s entry into the conflict will make the situation murky. The Syrians who are still in a state of war with Israel will be hard put not to change sides, their hatred of Saddam Hussain and Iraq notwithstanding. The Syrian contingent in the Saudi desert may not be of much consequence, the Syrian Air Force’s entry into battle may give Iraq protection from one flank, Jordan’s Armed Forces are definitely going to be embroiled straightaway. Given the feedback from the streets of Cairo, Hosni Mubarak will not be able to survive as Egypt’s leader, if the Egyptian Armed Forces turn their guns, who knows what will happen? Saddam will adopt the mantle of a holy warrior for Islam, the Salahuddin role that he has been assiduously cultivating despite being increasingly isolated. The masses of the entire Muslim world, where passions are already running high, and even now tilted slightly in Saddam’s favour, will turn overwhelmingly in his support. The Muslim world may then well be divided into pro- and anti-monarchy segments though one confesses that a modern version of the Crusades may rather be a simplistic exposition, the Jehad (or holy war) will both unify and split the Muslims. Whatever happens, the monarchies will have been given the kiss of death in the long run. The calumny is already being bandied about that they will only survive thereafter as show-piece puppets of the western world. Iran, despite its long and bitter decade of war forced on it by Iraq’s ambitions, is presently neutral but has clearly stated its opposition to foreign forces in the region, whatever its reservations about Saddam and his regime. The overall prognosis is a kaleidoscopic effect of utter and total confusion if Israel enters the war, Saddam is insistent that he will ensure it. As regards the terrorist groups, they must have been tasked to spread general mayhem and anarchy, specially targeting Western targets in areas out of the immediate combat zone. Normally the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) are sensitive to their movements, in today’s circumstances they could well-be able to operate under greater secrecy.

If military objectives were targeted by terrorists, one could at least have some excuse to commiserate with their demands but people like Abu Nidal (whose people languish in Pakistani jails in the aftermath of the Pan Am hijack/tragedy) generally target women and children. Sporadic attacks at pre-designated times/targets may well be-devil all the countries on the periphery wherever the terrorists feel secure logistically to mount such an operation. Countries like Pakistan, where RAW and WAD operate with great impunity, helped by misguided elements, may well be advised to launch pre-emptive action to neutralize possible terrorist activity.

After spending a decade being the cornerstone of US policy in Asia, Pakistan finds itself reduced to an albatross unceremoniously cast aside. In 1971, PM Chou En Lai of China eulogised Pakistan’s role to Henry Kissinger, then National Security Advisor to the US President Richard Nixon, in arranging the secret visit which led to the historic opening of relations between US and China, “do not forget the bridges that you have used”, Chou En Lai said, “you may have to use it again”. Two decades later, Pakistan finds itself in danger of being discarded again as a friend, the nuclear bogey suddenly again raising its head. Having contributed as a front line State to the ultimate dismantling of the Soviet Empire after the crushing setback given to the Soviet Armed Forces in Afghanistan and having to pay a heavy price in return by domestic social disorder (refugees, drugs and Kalashnikovs), Pakistanis may be forgiven for being perplexed at this sudden turnaround. Given the economic vagaries of the Gulf crisis, the cut-off of US economic aid has been a double whammy on us at the worst possible time. Pakistan may have ceased to have strategic requirement for the US, the sudden comedown hurts in many ways more than one. Mr. Henry Rowen’s discussions with Indian Armed Forces Chiefs in Poona in mid-December has made Pakistan apprehensive, more so because he was believed to have been joined by the US Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPAC) and retired General Sunderji, former Indian Chief of Army Staff and architect of Exercise “Brass Tacks”, a cover for total war to destroy the Pakistan Armed Forces in 1986. Though the stratagem fortunately failed to get off the ground at the last minute, General Sunderji is a known exponent of Indian hegemony in the region, only the Pakistan Armed Forces stand in the way. To protect their vulnerable flank in the Middle East and to ensure that the vacuum is satisfactorily made up over the long-term, the US could well be tempted to develop an understanding with the Indians, changing totally the geo-political circumstances to our lasting detriment. Given that US and India share perceptions about Pakistan’s suspected nuclear capabilities in the weapons field, an Indian raid on our known nuclear facilities coinciding with the Gulf war is not beyond the realm of possibilities, many analysts here believe that the world may look the other way. The growing equation between Iran and Pakistan also points to a new possible bogey for the West once Iraq has been conveniently disposed of. With Pakistan having its hands full dealing with India, Iran can then be neutralized in the same manner as Iraq. Under the pretext of containing the Kashmiri and Sikh separatist movements, Indians have concentrated considerable forces close to the international border.

As individuals there are no better people on this Earth than Americans. They are generous, generally sincere and their friendship is genuine. Their penchant for democratic values and the democratic traditions is admirable. Relatively speaking, in comparison to the peoples of other nations, they maintain the highest standard of human qualities and inter-relationships. The US has been a more than generous donor to the poor countries of the world, people do not appreciate how much till the AID is cut off. Despite all these admirable character traits the US world view as a nation is not only simplistic but sometimes extremely myopic or guided by Special Interest Groups (SIG). No heed is paid to President George Washington’s advice to the fledgling US nation on leaving the Presidency, “do not make inveterate friends or foes among nations”. While no one in his right mind can countenance what Saddam Hussain has done or is doing in Kuwait, it is a fact that all the western countries of the world tacitly propped up Saddam against Iran (along with Kuwait and the other Arab monarchies). The creation of this monster situation can be attributed to this build-up. Once the Iran-Iraq war had drawn down, Saddam stopped looking so hot and everyone started backtracking, Saddam’s move against Kuwait was the most convenient pretext, a veritable smoking gun. The suspicion exists among knowledgeable analysts that Israel manipulated an anti-Saddam front because they calculated that they could not withstand a potential onslaught in the future. This was contained to a propaganda offensive in the lobbies of western governments and in the media till Saddam fell over himself providing the perfect excuse to physically involve the western powers. “Dirty Tricks” or “authorisation” based on a Presidential findings may not be the US way anymore but when Guilt is pro-rated against the possible deaths and injuries to many hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, clearly, there are some ends that justifies the means. The concept of “Clear and Present Danger” could have been addressed on this occasion. Israel has ensured that if and when hostilities commence, Iraq’s war potential will be destroyed while limiting damage to themselves, but at what cost to the rest of the world?

The flash-point stage has been reached with no real solutions on the horizon. If the Israelis feel that their “Final Solution” for Iraq is waylaid by motions of peace they are quite capable of taking the initiative in staging an incident that will embroil the whole region into conflict. One cannot see them backing away, to that effect the Countdown has begun as surely as night becomes day. No one seems to have given due thought to the aftermath of war. Even if Iraq is defeated, its surviving troops will form the nucleus of another vast terrorist group, adding to the complexities of the area. The whole Middle East will become an unstable region, fraught with grave uncertainties and consequences therein.

At the same time, the world order is likely to change for the worse for the people of this region. After Iraq, who is to stop the Israelis (and Indians) in making it the turn of Iran and Pakistan? If the raison d’etre is to stop Saddam Hussain before he gets a nuclear weapon, Pakistan qualifies as the prime candidate for cutting down to size, followed by Iran. In this the world view may even coincide with Indian long-term intentions and interests. Let’s face it, we are in trouble, the present bleak economic situation is just the harbinger of things to come. Before this century is over, the intent may well be to make us, in late Z.A. Bhutto’s words, “eat grass”.

While we must not forsake our friendship with the US simply over bruised egos, we must set a really independent, thoroughly pragmatic diplomatic course. The Arab monarchies must be advised of the dangers of war, our effort should be to portray the realities of war so that some of the rhetoric is calmed down. We must bring reason to bear on the individual Americans that some of us are privileged to know, collectively they retain their capacity to reason and we are not bereft of all their goodwill. The salvation of this region lies in peace, a peace ensured by an Islamic Force in the Saudi Arabian desert comprised of troops from Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Syria with contingents from smaller countries like Bangladesh, Sudan, etc. At the same time, to assuage western interests in having a continued stable source of supply of oil for the world, the western Allies can contribute by earmarking air-power to back up this Force, preferably locate them off-shore. The effect should be to wear Iraq down till economic sanctions take effect. War is no solution, it will only create newer problems.

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