THE ROVING DIPLOMAT
WAR CLOUDS LOOMING LARGE
The US declaration that it plans to attack Iraq will impact other crises
After a somewhat crisis free period, the international arena appears to be on the verge of an upheaval due to US plans to attack Iraq. Envisaging an attack using almost 250,000 troops, the actual battle plan has not been decided but it might require around 70,000 troops to launch a lightning attack against Baghdad, probably from the air.
This could be followed by combined airborne and ground attacks, against the command centres and arsenals in Iraq, in the hope that it will result in the collapse of the Iraqi government.
The reason for the proposed attack is the fear of an unexpected strike by President Saddam Hussein, possibly using weapons of mass destruction to preempt a possible US invasion.
Following the victory in Afghanistan, it seemed as if the global war on terrorism was flagging and the threats against Iraq were intended to resuscitate it. But the disclosure of plans to invade Iraq has caused concern in the Arab world. And this was highlighted at a meeting between King Abdullah II of Jordan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street.
The monarch had impressed upon the prime minister the need to resolve the crisis between Israel and Palestine rather than consider action against Iraq. He also indicated that Arab countries are opposed to military action against Iraq.
And the second recent visit by US Secretary of State Colin Powell to South Asia is a measure of Washington’s continuing concern over tensions between India and Pakistan. The current issues causing disquiet are the activities of Pakistani militants in Kashmir.
They pose a grave provocation to India – and even Pakistan has said it intends to restrain the militants. But there haven’t been any concrete results so far. Meanwhile, an Indian spokesperson claimed that Islamabad has reneged on its pledge to halt the infiltration of militants and that terrorism remains a state policy of Pakistan.
No doubt, Powell’s visit was to impress the need for peaceful dialogue between the leaders and an amicable resolution to the problems. He especially emphasised the need for dialogue on Kashmir and said that it should be on the international agenda.
Powell was particularly concerned about the forthcoming elections in Kashmir and noted that the US would be closely watching the situation. He even suggested the appointment of foreign observers to monitor the election.
Though Pakistan has emphasised the need for dialogue on Kashmir, India has categorically rejected any discussion on the topic.
It seems that Powell had fared much better than Britain’s Foreign Minister Jack Straw who came on a similar mission a few days earlier. But both leaders snubbed him; they didn’t grant him an appointment to meet with them.
The Middle East peace process continues to be in the throes of a bitter conflict between Israel and Palestine where bloody attacks overshadow intermittent peace proposals. A recent provocation that has raised a storm was the killing of a leader of the military wing of Hamas and 14 Palestinian civilians.
This raised such an outcry that even Washington expressed concern. What was particularly reprehensible about this outrage was that the aerial bombing resulted in a large number of civilian casualties since the bomb exploded in a crowded urban locality.
It triggered an international reaction and was discussed at the UN Security Council, and received condemnation by all member states except the US. The Americans declared that they would oppose any draft resolution condemning Israel.
In the UK, Blair has announced a firm stand against IRA terrorists for violations of the Good Friday Agreement. Though terrorist activities such as the IRA’s recent involvement in sectarian disturbances in Belfast have been a threat to security, law and order in Northern Ireland, the British government had so far turned a blind eye.
However, this categorical warning by Blair seems to indicate that such terrorist acts won’t be tolerated but the precise action that he has in mind wasn’t disclosed. British officials have indicated that retaliation could mean the exclusion of Sinn Fein ministers from government due to the activities of that paramilitary organisation.
An ironic twist to this situation was the public apology by the IRA for its actions in the past.
A further important development is the decision taken by the ASEAN regional forum at its meeting in Brunei on a programme of action to combat international terrorism. The foreign ministers of 23 countries participated in the conference and signed this important declaration.