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Home > News > Columnists > Ramananda Sengupta

Afghanistan, revisited

April 11, 2003

As wars go, this one was a sitter.

No one -- other than perhapsirrepressible Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, a former Iraqi ambassador to India -- ever doubted that US troops would ultimately enter and occupy Baghdad.

What people did disagree over were the motives, the expected duration, and the 'blowback' factor of this war. And, of course, whether or not Saddam Hussein would be caught, dead or alive.

Enough has been said about the motives behind the US act.

As for the duration, though pockets of resistance linger, they remain localised, and Iraq is effectively under coalition control. The battle for Baghdad did not, as feared, degenerate into deadly street fights between coalition and Iraqi forces.

And dire predictions of a radical 'Muslim' backlash against the US remain just that. Until, they say, the next 9/11 occurs.

The chances of Saddam returning to rule over the ruins are zero. But whether he is still alive and plotting or buried under rubble remains unclear.

Also unclear is how Russia, France and Germany will react to Washington's plans to farm out contracts to rebuild Iraq -- after destroying it -- to mainly British and American firms. After all, the spoils of war go to the victors, not to the nein-nyet-non brigade.

These three nations, which had vehemently opposed the war, are now bending over backwards to express their joy over Saddam's downfall. At stake are millions of dollars worth of oil and other contracts signed with Saddam, which they hope the US will now not renege on.

However, in order not to seem obsequious to their domestic constituencies, French President Jacques Chirac warned that Iraq 'must recover its full sovereignty in a region of stability with the legitimacy that the United Nations gives.'

Taking a slighter tougher line, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Germany would contribute towards Iraqi reconstruction only if it 'happens under the auspices of United Nations' and warned Washington against further military adventures.

Russia, which had probably been hoping for a longer war in the hope that it would be called in to mediate, remained silent, though President Vladimir Putin has called a meeting of the three losers in St Petersburg this weekend.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was expected to attend too, but realising that Washington might not take too kindly to his hobnobbing with the three stooges, backed out.

Indian firms like ONGC and Reliance, (which had proposed investments totaling over $600 million in Iraq last year) apart from the various firms that had contracts under the UN oil for food program, must alsowonderabout their position under the new dispensation in Baghdad.

Indian labourers, of course, are already queuing up for the work contracts that any 'rebuilding' involves. Chances are that like in Afghanistan, Indian bureaucrats, doctors, policemen and traffic experts will be asked to impart their skills to the new Iraqi dispensation. If, and after, the Americans leave, that is.

But what this war has undoubtedly done is sow the seeds of suspicion, if any needed sowing, that the US, under George Bush, Jr, was more than willing to use force to further its own interest.

The harvest of these suspicions is unpredictable.

Will it frighten the rest of world into letting America play supreme leader? Will this punitive war deter America's enemies, or will it spawn, in Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's words, a '100 Osamas'?

Will Syria, Iran and North Korea learn from Iraq?

For an answer, let us look at the newspapers in these places.

Genocide for 'democracy' and They'll be held accountable for their crimes, say editorials in Syria Times dated April 9.

No New Dictator, and US Dictator and Iraqi Dictator in Battle of Egos says the Teheran Times.

And extending its solidarity to Syria, 'estimating its principled stand and measure as positive ones for justice and peace,' the Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea said 'the US' unreasonable pressure, threat and blackmail against Syria will only invite world criticism and denunciation. The US is well advised to stop its anti-Syria campaign.'

In other words, none of these nations seem to have learnt that great lesson in humility which would endear them to Washington.

Let us assume for a moment that all the nay sayers were wrong.

That America (and Britain) was right. That military force was needed for Saddam to removed, and that the coalition of the willing was ordained to do the dirty work.

Before we start rolling on the floor with laughter, let us also assume fears that Saddam would perpetrate another ghastly 9/11 on the world and noble concern for the oppressed people of Iraq were the primary motivations for the war unleashed on them.

So what do we have? We have America officially unwilling to hoist the stars and stripes on captured Iraqi positions. We have fear and consternation that draping an American flag around Saddam's statue in Baghdad will send out the wrong messages.

'US troops briefly draped an American flag over the face of a giant statue of President Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad on Wednesday as they prepared to topple it in front of a crowd of Iraqis. The gesture, likely to be highly provocative in much of the Arab world where the US invasion of Iraq has stirred widespread anger, was quickly reversed and an Iraqi flag was tied instead to the statue's neck...' Reuters, Baghdad, April 9.

We have Americans tourists in Europe pretending to be Canadians to avoid being heckled or abused.

We have an America that will surely and definitively produce proof that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and the means to project them. And proof that he was conspiring with the likes of Osama bin Laden.

We have an oil-rich nation over-run by foreign forces, who now hope to install a man with a dubious background as their leader. A nation that has violent feuds between Shias and Sunnis and between different Arabic and Kurdish groups. And a nation whose neighbours -- Iran, Syria, and Turkey -- are not exactly happy at the possibility of the Kurds in northern Iraq stepping their demands for a separate homeland, which would include hefty chunks from their nations as well.

Sounds familiar? Yes, welcome to Afghanistan, revisited.

There too, the Americans promised, and delivered, a new government. So what if its writ doesn't run beyond Baghdad... sorry, Kabul?

And, of course, in both cases, the main targets have suddenly disappeared into thin air.

Ramananda Sengupta


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Number of User Comments: 3




Sub: Move On

Why don't you craft a well researched and supportable argument for once. People are getting tierd of your leftist dogma. Your days of brain washing ...


Posted by Venkat





Sub: Afghanistan revisited.

Immediately after September 9th incident, the entire world, barring very few, expressed indignation along with Amewricans ofcourse. All supported Mr. Bush to punish Osama bin ...


Posted by D K Kiran





Sub: afghanistan revisited

The emperor may have no clothes but will always look well-clad thanks to the mass media.Now even the chaos in Iraq will be depicted as ...


Posted by mahesh v




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