'War will spawn terrorism'

Published : Mar 14, 2003 00:00 IST

In the past, Congress(I) Member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar called all those for whom non-alignment in an aligned world seemed an impossible task "faint hearts". With the present Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit taking place in the context of an impending United States-led war against Iraq, he hopes that "NAM Chairman Malaysia will make up for the pusillanimity of our government". Excerpts from the interview he gave Naunidhi Kaur:

Would it have been better if Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had gone to the NAM summit armed with a resolution from Parliament?

Instead of grasping the Opposition's hand of cooperation, the government looked over its shoulder. We urged that the Prime Minister would be more effective at NAM speaking on behalf of the country than speaking only on behalf of his government. Alas, our suggestion was not reciprocated. The government's lame excuse was that they did not want to be tied down at NAM by the wording of the proposed parliamentary resolution. This is a ridiculous excuse. We had said our Permanent Representative's statement in the U.N. Security Council on October 17, 2002, contained the elements we wished to see highlighted by all of us together in Parliament. The government would, in any case, have played the key role in drafting the resolution. That they were unwilling to engage in the exercise only proves that they do not know their own mind. One can only pray that NAM Chairman Malaysia will make up for the pusillanimity of our government. What a fate to overtake the founding genius of the Non-Aligned Movement!

How will India's ambiguous stand on the Iraq stand-off affect its position in NAM and vis-a-vis the "West"?

India is being cautious and reactive instead of being bold and pro-active. The West is divided. In France and Germany, NAM would have found articulate spokespersons within NATO to advocate the principled position that it ought to take. We could have, in effect, co-opted the European Union (E.U.) into NAM's resistance to the `Quest for Dominance'. That after all is the raison d'etre of non-alignment. Unfortunately, Vajpayee is no Nehru. And Yashwant Sinha is no Krishna Menon. So, I am afraid that even if the NAM-E.U. relationship is consolidated, India will be left a spectator on the sidelines.

How far have the growing defence ties with Israel affected our response to the Iraq crisis?

The NDA government, and in particular its BJP component, is ideologically wedded to Israel because they perceive Israel as an anti-Islamic ally. Communalism in the BJP's foreign policy was brought on record when Jaswant Singh said in Jerusalem that it was "vote-bank politics" which accounted for India not according diplomatic recognition to Israel much earlier. In one full sentence, our principled support to Palestine - ever since Gandhiji declared that Palestine belongs to the Palestinians as France belongs to the French and England to the English - was wiped out. Israel, for its part, panders to this prejudice by numerous sweetheart deals, particularly in the field of defence. While inching our way into the Israeli camp, we are leap-frogging into the camp of injustice.

I had hoped we would be rid of the U.S.-Tel Aviv tilt in our foreign policy after Jaswant was replaced by Yashwant in South Block. But, alas, because Yashwant was away in Moscow when Parliament debated Iraq, it fell to Jaswant to reply on behalf of the government. He compromised our position by saying that the U.N. could not wait "indefinitely" for Iraq to cooperate with the inspectors. We pointed out that [Resolution] 1441 nowhere lays down a deadline, but Jaswant muttered something about a "syndrome" without answering our basic point that the key paragraph of the Resolution is not that Iraq has to meet a deadline but that the Security Council will remain "seized" of the issue. The deadline or ultimatum is a pure - or, rather, impure - American invention designed to flex its muscles, not ensure compliance by all (including the U.S.) with the provisions of the Resolution.

Do you agree with the argument that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is a rotten edifice destined to shatter under the first mighty blow?

My preference is for democracy. Having witnessed Saddam Hussain's autocratic ways through my two-year posting in Baghdad (1976-78), I do believe the Iraqi people have the right to change their regime. But it is not for others to impose a regime change on a sovereign nation. That is the right of the Iraqi people. The proposed U.S. invasion of Iraq will do nothing to foster democracy in Iraq or anywhere in West Asia. On the contrary, it will only spawn more repression and terrorism. The U.S. foreign policy is written by Mary Shelley - the 19th century novelist who authored Frankenstein's Monster!

Is the Iraq crisis a symptom or a cause of growing anti-American feeling? How will the citizens of the U.S. fare in this?

I still hope against hope that war will be avoided. If it comes to war, I have no doubt it is going to provoke the most bitter anti-Americanism the world over - more, much more than even the Vietnam war. The obscene spectacle of the world's mightiest military force wreaking havoc on a hapless people will only provoke those who seek asymmetric ways of dealing with power. Osama bin Laden has shown the way. Thanks to George W. Bush, terrorism worldwide will acquire a new respectability. Innocent American people will suffer the most.

So you fear that the present crisis will trigger terrorism rather than control it?

Terrorism is the weapon of the militarily weak. Gandhi realised this, which is why he condemned terrorism but resorted to another form of asymmetric response - non-violence. I would much rather wish that a Gandhi arose from the ashes of Iraq than another Osama bin Laden. But it is not given to the common run of humanity to manufacture a Gandhi for the asking. The technology that gives the U.S. sophisticated weapons of destruction is also the one that enables the terrorists to refine their means of mindless massacre. Barbara Tuchman wrote of the `March of Folly' in human affairs. Iraq is Washington's `March of Folly' in the 21st century.

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