Vile West wars

The war in Iraq continues and the number of daily casualties increase as suicide bombers target almost anyone assisting the US Army or the government of the day. The recent attack on an Iraqi Army recruitment centre in Baghdad killed about 58 people and wounded 123. I hope some human rights activist is calculating the body count of

Iraqi civilians — men, women and children — since former US President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched an illegal war based on “fake” intelligence reports indicating the presence of WMDs in Iraq.
Sadly, everyone who spoke the truth was sidelined, maligned or simply put away by those determined to wage the war. We often talk of justice and morality and issue sermons in favour of democratic values, but I wonder who will be held responsible for the deaths of close to a million Iraqis.
US President Barack Obama too has not been able to achieve much in Afghanistan or Iraq in the past one year. The West Asia talks are in tatters and the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is deteriorating. According to some media reports, Mr Blair is in a terrible controversy over his decision to donate all his profits from his memoirs, A Journey, to a charity for injured soldiers. This is being called “blood money” by anti-war protesters campaigning for Mr Blair to be prosecuted for “war crimes”.
All those responsible for the illegal war and the huge loss of life have suffered electoral defeats or have faded away but nothing beyond this has happened. Clearly even today there seems to be a different law for the Caucasian-Christian West and the rest of the world.
The Iraq war was a tragedy for more than one reason. For one, it diverted attention from the “real terrorists” in Afghanistan and we are still paying a heavy price for this political blunder.
As a student of political science I am amazed how all the institutions and all the checks and balances in two great democratic states, the United States and the United Kingdom, collapsed as the “war lobby” prevailed and made a mockery of democratic values. The reality of power politics is that if you possess nuclear weapons (legal or illegal) no one will dare wage war against you. We have seen this both in North Korea and Pakistan.
I still remember the Bangladesh war and the efforts made by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to avoid a conflict. I remember the massacre in Dhaka as the Pakistani Army went on a killing spree and how the then US President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger sent the nuclear carrier Enterprise to bully India into submission with gunboat diplomacy. There was little concern for human life — thousands perished in Bangladesh till the Indian Army liberated Dhaka. Though we suffered sanctions and economic hardships, Indira Gandhi did what was necessary to bolster our defence and this gave us the freedom to take independent political decisions.

GLOBAL POLITICAL shifts have taken place and I think the solution to the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for that matter in West Asia, cannot be achieved by the US alone. While economic changes have taken place, as we see in the altered situation in the World Trade Organisation and the structure of other financial institutions, the political system is still very much in denial. The old “superpower club” syndrome persists though their political power and reach is greatly diminished. I think it is time for all international forums to undergo a dramatic change.
We have a good government in place with several “options” in our economic and political arsenals to propel us into achieving superpower status. Sometimes I wonder if all this would have been possible if we had not developed our own nuclear capability.
The entire wisdom of any country does not and cannot lie in the government of the day alone though sometimes the arrogance of power leads to ignorance and taking public interest for granted. I do not know which one is applicable in the US’ bizarre decision to impose excessive visa fee on Indian companies for expenses incurred on the Mexican border for extra security guards and the offensive language used by senior members of the ruling Democratic Party. We now have transcripts of emails between Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the US deputy National Security Adviser in the US. The Congress Party cannot afford to let the impression prevail that there was any quid pro quo involving US help in getting a loan from the World Bank and going easy on Dow Chemicals in the context of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Corrective action is necessary and we have several options. President Obama is under severe political pressure — there are important elections around the corner and much of what is happening is a result of electoral politics and a declining power base. But sometimes “political accidents” do take place and these can cause long-term damage to bilateral relations.

WE SEE some movement on the Maoist front. Though this issue cannot be discussed in the media, suffice to say that the action initiated against illegal mining in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand cuts across party loyalties and is a welcome step.
We cannot have a situation where political authority and the rights of the tribal population and others are controlled by financial vested interests. While this is not easy, it will have the support of the voting public. The development packages being prepared for the tribal population will hopefully help bring peace in the area.
The Trinamul Congress’ Mamata Banerjee had the courage to speak of Azad’s encounter at Lalgarh. I don’t understand what is wrong with this as anyone sensible is aware that political solutions are not determined by force alone.
Political leadership and public interest cannot be held hostage by vested interests based on criminality and unaccounted wealth and political dissent cannot be controlled by government agencies alone. Ms Banerjee has the right approach. She is free of all vested interests. Even if she walks alone she will be a “winner”. Do we need the services of an eminent astrologer to predict that she will sweep West Bengal in 2011?

Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister

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