Sunday, January 23, 2005

Fried Rice

Edited & Brought to You by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar:Fried Rice

Secretary Rice’s comments about Pakistan, accepted amicably by Republicans and Democrats, underscore the new American doctrine that sovereignty must be subordinate to America’s perceptions of its self-interest. That is why she was not probed on what she meant. All rules have been eliminated in the war against "Islamic fundamentalism" because such "fundamentalism" is seen as a challenge even more serious than Communism or fascism.


Fried Rice

A funny thing happened on the way to Condoleezza Rice’s nomination as the new secretary of state of the United States of America. She privatised the Pakistan government and placed it among the pile of her achievements. She told American Senators that the Bush administration has a "contingency plan" to prevent "Islamic fundamentalists" from getting access to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if something happened to President Pervez Musharraf and they succeeded in capturing power.

How? No one pursued the most obvious question, but of course you don’t want state secrets to be disclosed when millions of "Islamic fundamentalists" across the world might be glued to their television sets. The imagination boggles at possibilities. What happens if, as Ms Rice stated so coolly, "something happens" to President Musharraf?

I suppose the first requirement is to define an "Islamic fundamentalist" in Pakistan, since they are hardly likely to take the oath of office wearing a badge on their chests. Would that rule out anyone with a thick beard and a thin moustache, the approved hairstyle of some of the Jamaat-e-Islami brethren? But General Zia-ul Haq had a thick moustache and clean-shaven chin. How would Washington deal with that? Would General Zia be considered an "Islamic fundamentalist" today? It didn’t matter back in the Eighties of course because American officials and Senators were getting themselves photographed with "Islamic fundamentalists" when they were at war with the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The CIA’s motto was simple: the longer the beard, the greater the funding. But it is a serious question. How would Washington deal with a General Zia now?

General Zia did not advertise his ideology when he sent Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to jail first and the gallows later. A future General Zia is not going to take an advertisement in the New York Times either declaring jihad on America. So when does the contingency arise? On suspicion, before General X or Civilian Y is sworn in, based on the latest curriculum vitae nestling in CIA computers? On accumulated evidence over a spell of monitoring? That might be a little late, because X or Y already has his finger on the nuclear button by then with lots of alternative fingers in queue just in case his get broken in a sudden strike. It is fair to assume that the present group of Musharraf-appointed generals are "safe" by Washington’s septic standards, but who knows what time might bring. General Zia was made Army chief by Bhutto precisely because he was considered "safe".

Can we rule out a Civilian Y from the calculations? Has America decided that it is too risky to trust a nuclear Pakistan with civilians? Many of the candidates who won the last elections in Pakistan from the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan campaigned with the picture of Osama bin Laden on their placards. The articulate Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who certainly considers himself a candidate for the top job, has, to put it mildly, views slightly different from Condoleezza Rice on Osama. What happens if he ends up on top of a coalition pile after "something happens", to return to Ms Rice’s arsenic phrase? Does Secretary of State Rice trigger her action plan without further fuss?

And what could this "plan" be? A Senate committee hearing for confirmation is no place to be airy, and certainly not the environment to be fairy. Every word is on record, and every nominee held to the record. Ms Rice could not have made an off-the-cuff remark. It was a commitment made in utter seriousness. She could not have promised a plan if there was no plan. That does not justify it, or indeed guarantee its success in a crisis, but it does mean that something will happen if "something happens".

So what could this plan be? Crack teams of paratroopers that descend on Pakistan’s nuclear installations in the dead of night, and aided by on-the-ground forces, capture them and "sanitise" nuclear warheads? Does this plan assume that Pakistan’s armed forces will succumb meekly to such an invasion? Or has Secretary Rice suggested that the United States has assets within Pakistan’s nuclear community who will do Washington’s bidding at some pre-arranged signal? Very unlikely. If oil is synonymous with nationalism in the Arab world, then its nuclear capability is synonymous with nationalism in Pakistan. Even a quisling would tremble at the idea of betrayal. What else could the plan be? Another "shock and awe" operation? But regular wars, however brief, leave enough time for someone to press a nuclear trigger. Is America ready to risk a nuclear war in order to keep such weapons away from presumed "Islamic fundamentalists", such fundamentalists to be defined by the Rice Concise Conflict Dictionary?

That dictionary has clearly no term for sovereignty. Secretary Rice’s comments about Pakistan, accepted amicably by Republicans and Democrats, underscore the new American doctrine that sovereignty must be subordinate to America’s perceptions of its self-interest. That is why she was not probed on what she meant. All rules have been eliminated in the war against "Islamic fundamentalism" because such "fundamentalism" is seen as a challenge even more serious than Communism or fascism.

It is a view that travels across the Anglo-American world, and down the social hierarchy. This is why establishments are not unduly worried when reports emerge of brutal, dehumanising torture. The British have been caught this week with their own Abu Ghraib. What shocked me was not the pictures of torture. I did not expect some British troops to be any better or any worse than some of their compatriots from America. What shook me was it needed the conscience of a British girl at a photo shop to bring these atrocities to our attention. The torture was done fairly publicly. Enough officers must have been aware of what was going on, and, in the normal course of duty, reported it upwards. The Tony Blair government opted for silence, and remained silent even after the exposure. The British people still remember the concept of conscience. The Blair government does not. Its scepticism is probably justified. The Abu Ghraib scenes did not worry enough voters in America and the British atrocities will not worry enough voters in Britain. As long as Blair is cynical, he is safe. Doonesbury, the political comic strip by Gary Trudeau, was brilliant this week. The young recruit to the CIA is getting his first lessons in torture management. The only thing absolutely impermissible now, says the instructor, is a digital camera. The recruit wonders why America needs torture now when it lived within the law during the world war against Nazis. Because, sneers the instructor, the President at the time was spineless. Let me tell you what the "Islamic fundamentalist" is going to suggest: no torture was permitted in the Second World War because the Nazis were not Muslims.

His election victory has justified the occupation of Iraq, says George Bush, as if the only opinion that matters in the world is American opinion. After the exceptional journalist Seymour Hersh reports in New Yorker that Pentagon is far ahead in its preparations for the invasion of Iran, George Bush refuses to rule out the possibility. Now Secretary Rice has added Pakistan to the list of nations suitable for American intervention if the circumstances justified it — all justification to be by White House standards.

It would be immature on the part of Islamabad to send a questionnaire to the new secretary of state. It would be equally foolish to ignore what she said. President Musharraf has excellent personal rapport with President Bush. Perhaps he could find out, very quietly, what precise plans Bush has, not only for contingencies, but for the ordinary course of real life. Will America seek to find solutions to genuine problems like terrorism through shared decision-making, or through unilateral war?

We are still in the early stages of a phase of history that began with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shift and flux, rise and fall have only begun. Would India have gone nuclear if still within the Soviet embrace? It would not have needed the United States to stop us; "friendly" Soviet Union would have done so. In that sense, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a moment of opportunity as the world began to redefine itself. Confrontation of some kind was inevitable, and it did not have to be what it has become. If the United States had co-opted Osama bin Laden into its war against Saddam Hussein for the liberation of Kuwait, as Osama offered, different equations would have emerged. Who could have visualised what the last ten years have been? Who can predict what the next ten years will be?

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