THE ROVING DIPLOMAT
NO EASY ANSWERS IN SIGHT
Peace talks are failing and global and regional conflicts are increasing
The followup to the war in Afghanistan, the ongoing confrontation between India and Pakistan, and the latest hurdle in the Middle East peace process are flashpoints awaiting resolution.
There are overhanging uncertainties and tensions in the international scene at the moment over the possible outcome of a number of crises facing the world. The massive US offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan has realised its objectives – in that the Taliban has been shattered and its strongholds destroyed.
Osama bin Laden seems to have escaped and is reportedly in Pakistan. But he remains defiant; and in a recent statement on Arab television, bin Laden urged his followers to continue the struggle against the US. The key question therefore, is what the United States’ next move will be.
As proclaimed by US President George W. Bush, the war in Afghanistan was part of a global struggle against international terrorism and this has caused speculation with regard to the next likely target.
The UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair – who has supported the US led war on terror – has affirmed his determination to continue the struggle. The question that arises is about the targets, and there’s open speculation that these could be Iraq and Somalia.
Iraq appears to be the current favoured target of the US in view of President Saddam Hussein’s longstanding defiance of the international community. And it would appear that in fact, plans are under consideration by US Joint Chiefs of Staff for the simultaneous invasion of Iraq from the north and the south by 50,000 troops on each side.
However, there are misgivings among America’s allies about such unilateral action; they favour action through the UN. Therefore, the next target remains an open question and while the US is anxious to live up to its role of leadership against international terrorism, it may not be possible to resort to unilateral action.
Current tensions between India and Pakistan are of serious concern. In the present state of military preparations and belligerent statements from both sides, an armed conflict is a possibility.
The immediate cause of the present crisis is the attack on the Indian parliament on 13 December 2001 by a group of militants. While the attack itself was easily overcome, India has taken the view that it was implemented by Pakistani authorities through a group of Kashmiri militants.
India claims that they are the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. The Indians are demanding that their assets be seized and leaders arrested.
These demands have been accompanied by drastic measures such as the denial of airspace to Pakistan over India and a reduction of diplomatic staff at its mission in Islamabad. What’s alarming is the massing of troops and military hardware on the borders. It is possible that India’s reaction to the attack on its parliament was influenced by the US invasion of Afghanistan. Since there seems to be public support for Afghanistan among the Pakistani people, this attack afforded an opportunity for India to denounce Pakistan.
This confrontation occurred on the eve of the SAARC summit in Kathmandu. Both leaders attended the sessions on the understanding that there would be no discussion of their bilateral problems.
Meanwhile, the Middle East peace process is facing a new challenge, which follows the usual paradoxical pattern of an apparent breakthrough succeeded by new obstacles. In this case, the breakthrough was the peace plan apparently agreed upon by the Foreign Minister of Israel Shimon Peres and Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Ahmed Ali Mohammed Qurei.
The plan called for the speedy creation of a State of Palestine in the areas occupied by Palestinians, which constitutes 42 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to a public opinion poll, the plan received wide support with 61 percent favouring it.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dismissed the proposal on the premise that it is imaginary and impractical, and there aren’t any guarantees that the Palestinians would cease their terrorist actions as a result of it.
The Palestinian Authority also dismissed it on the grounds that it doesn’t include any new elements and instead, is another form of the prolonged interim solution that will amount to a de facto occupation. The view is that the only solution would be to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions, which call on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territory.
In the light of these objections, prospects for the peace process are dim. Besides, the major obstacle is the continued violence by Palestinian militants and retaliation by Israeli forces.