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Conducting war and peace

Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait evoked worldwide protests, while the streets were almost unanimous in their condemnation, some Muslim governments, nominally allied to Iraq and/or dependant upon the largesse they receive from Saddam, were sheepish in Iraq’s defence. The Arab monarchies which had bankrolled Iraq in its war against Iran were aghast at Iraq’s brutal and surprising takeover of a friendly and (in the face of Iraq’s preponderant military might) helpless neighbour. Reports of brutalities committed on the Kuwaiti population, the overwhelming majority of whom were expatriate Palestinian, Pakistan, Indian, Bangladeshi, etc, had wide currency and evoked widespread outrage in Pakistan. Our nouveau-Saddam supporters should feel a sense of shame instead of trying to gloss over Saddam Hussain’s actions which effected the lives of hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis, not counting the millions of innocent Iraqis (for whom one genuinely feels sorry). Let Saddam Hussain speak out one word, just one word, on the plight of Kashmiris being crushed under Indian brutality, we can wait till hell freezes over (or India actually fights against Iraq).

US and Allied Air Forces have targeted for incessant bombing command and communication centres, radar stations, airfields, ammunition dumps, bridges, troop concentrations, etc in Iraq and Kuwait. When over 40,000 aerial sorties have been recorded, widespread death and damage has to result, civilian casualties must be running into thousands, the bombing not exactly discriminate in hunting out the Iraqi uniform. We have seen the surprising erosion of universal revulsion for Saddam Hussain’s actions and a wholesale change over to pro-Iraq feelings in almost all the people in the Muslim world, intelligentsia and masses included. Sympathy for a fellow Muslim and an underdog is understandable, the depth of emotions is shocking. Even a political animal like Ms Benazir Bhutto finds herself (temporarily till she did a smart about-turn) out of touch with reality when she was perceived (in a US TV interview) to be going against the mass will. The All Parties Conference (APC) in Lahore on February 3, 1991 took the Government to task for not pursuing a more pro-Iraqi policy in keeping with “the will of the people”. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, the behaviour of our ruling politicians, peace-mission notwithstanding, has been rather “wimpish”.

Saddam Hussain’s started with the brutal suppression of dissent among his own people, symbolized by chemical and gas attacks on Iraq’s Kurdish population. About a million people died in his next adventure, the attempted seizure of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan Province, the war dragged on while secular Saddam was glorified (1) in the west as the great bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism and (2) among the Arabs as the great champion of the Arabs against perceived Persian expansionism. Hundreds of thousands of military and civilian deaths later, it was only the chemical attacks on the Iranians in the Fao Peninsula that finally broke the Iranian spirit and forced them to accept peace, in Imam Khomeini’s words, “to swallow a bitter poison”. The use of chemical and gas as an instrument of war got only rudimentary attention in the western media, the Arabs exulted and the leaders joined Saddam in belated “victory” celebrations in Baghdad despite the great excess against humanity. This Arab version of “Hail to the Chief” solidified Saddam Hussain in the use of force as an instrument of policy, posters of Saddam Hussain on a white horse duly appeared.

Iraq began the 80s decade with the invasion of Iran and ended it by the creation of the Second Gulf crisis. Common was the fact both Iran and Kuwait were Iraq’s neighbours, both oil-rich and both Muslim. Having Balkanized Jordan’s King Hussain over the past few years, Iraq’s three other neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey had thus reason to fear Saddam’s “Grand Design”, US Senators journeying to Baghdad to pay homage reinforced the perceived ineptitude of western powers to stand in the way of his ambitions. This evaluation of western intentions caused Iraq to blunder into Kuwait, into an elaborate trap that became the casus belli for the total war being presently waged to destroy Iraq militarily and industrially. Some questions arise, viz. (1) what should have been the world’s response to the occupation of Kuwait? (2) what should have been Pakistan’s response? (3) was war necessary as a last resort and at this time? (4) what is the conduct of war? (5) what will make for a durable peace? and (6) what is Pakistan’s perceived role in a post-war situation?

Once Iraq had annexed Kuwait on Aug 2, 1990, no one in his right mind could have given any assurance that Saddam Hussain would not have moved into Saudi Arabia’s vulnerable north-eastern oil-rich region, as well as the other smaller states in the Gulf, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, covering more than 40% of the free world’s oil supply. Diplomatic efforts to make Iraq see reason failed, for a few crucial days the Arab countries remained divided. The Saudis asked their good Muslim friends for troop commitments, in that crucial time period, almost none was forthcoming. The US interest to (1) secure its oil requirements and (2) ensure Israel’s continued safe existence coincided with the Saudi interest to preserve their independence, undeniable legitimate interest of any nation. The decision to send US troops to Saudi Arabia was made to (1) shore up Saudi vulnerability (2) discourage further Iraqi adventure in the region (3) build the nucleus of opposition to Iraq, resulting in (4) Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.

There is no question that Pakistan’s initial decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia was totally correct. Problems started when airlift was delayed till we seemed to be part of an American “Grand Design”. Domestic and regional problems notwithstanding, when a good friend which has given us generous moral and material support asked us for help in their time of need, have we become a nation of ingrates that we should refuse it, not counting our duty as Muslims to protect the holiest of our holy places? By not supporting Iran in its war with Iraq, we made a grievous moral and strategic mistake and could not afford another such an oversight. Beset by such an implacable foe as India, we cannot be morally or politically adjudged to be fair-weather entities. Once Saudi sovereignty had been safeguarded (and the US-led coalition was committed to serving the long-term western interests only), we could have explained our moral dilemma to the Saudis and worked out a naturally satisfactory solution from any number of options. Once the war had started, withdrawal of our forces from Saudi Arabia would tantamount to a slap on Saudi faces, this we can (or should) hardly do. Belated decisions, bad timing, changing situations have all contributed to our problems.

War is never necessary, as Thomas Mann said, “War is only a cowardly escape from the problems of peace” or in the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime”. Peace could have been given a chance beyond January 15, 1991, we have been thrust pell-mell into the present situation because of special interests that seem to bedevil western policy. One month into the war one believes that the US and Allies naively did hope (with reason it now seems) that Saddam Hussain would succumb to aerial attacks, discriminating and lately, indiscriminate. Saddam Hussain has only recently given tantalizing signs of doing so, the war goes on to sort out the fine print.

The conduct of war is seriously flawed in some crucial respects, causing emotional reaction in almost all Muslim countries. While the initial Allied air attacks against Iraq’s military and industrial targets were legitimate war objectives necessary for gaining air supremacy and strategic dominance (as must be in any total war) the continued, seemingly vengeful air attacks against mainland Iraq has evoked a broad consensus of resentment. The recent civilian air-raid shelter attack was a grievous mistake, one may be ready to believe that Allied intelligence was genuinely misled into believing that it was a main Iraqi command and communication centre, the source of that intelligence should be examined to see its motivations in providing the false information. Every war has a moral turning point, sadly the US and Allies have just lost their moral high ground. Civilians do get caught inadvertently in war’s crossfire, to be deliberately targeted cannot be morally justifiable, the outrage that people all over the world feel is thus justified. The US should have gone in for land assault earlier, minimising casualties by superior generalship rather than using force as a sledgehammer to fix a nail. It is in the Allied interest to now bring the war to a swift close by either an elaborate and decisive war strategy or seek a ceasefire to stop further civilian bloodshed.

A durable peace cannot come about without addressing all the problems that bedevil the Middle East. Just because Saddam Hussain has linked the issues of Palestine and Kuwait is no reason to ignore the fact that the Palestinian problem exists and is the root of all causes that have made the Middle East into an unstable region. This has to be addressed by the US without being blackmailed by Israeli intransigence in vacating Arab lands. One cannot deny millions of human beings their birth-right in order to spite one human being, let history (and the Iraqi people) be the judge of Saddam Hussain’s actions. All parties must work to broker a lasting peace, one that also ensures Israel’s secure existence within its own frontiers pre-1967 war, Israel has a right to co-exist with the Palestinian nation under the same sun.

Pakistan has a role in regional peace, inclusive of extremely close relations with Iran and a continued friendship with Saudi Arabia. Our politicians owe it to our people to provide steady leadership, one that is not swayed by mob role but by the reason of supreme national interest. Many (unelected) people would love to see this elected Government fall on any pretext, one is good as any other. Their narrow ambitions may see Pakistan becoming diplomatically isolated. Nawaz Sharif’s intentions for pursuing peace can well be more for domestic consumption, his actions towards obtaining that peace are certainly laudable! To be of consequence within the region post-war, we have to act as a nation of substance.

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