Vol. 5 Num 67 Mon. August 02, 2004  

Is Pakistan being sucked into Iraq's quicksand?

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recently appointed a Pakistani diplomat, Mr. Ishraq Jehangir Qazi, as his personal representative in Iraq to replace a redoubtable Lakhdar Brahimi, who did the Americans a great service in Afghanistan by promoting "as supine and devoted a satrap" as Hamid Karzai. His US patrons obviously expected him to replicate the same performance in Iraq. He did that only upto a point by nominating Iyad Allawi as interim Prime Minister, faltering, however, in his choice of Ghazi Yawar Al Ajeel over US surrogate Adnan Pachachi as Iraq's President. The Americans were not prepared to accept the sensitive issue as just one of those slips by an otherwise pliant UN pointman in Baghdad. Brahimi fell from Washington's grace and had to quit. He also would not have survived for long with John Negroponte, the demanding new US viceroy in Iraq.

Eyebrows have been raised in various quarters as to Qazi's plum appointment and the motive behind it, although moods in Islamabad are celebratory for the "great diplomatic coup" for Pakistan. Speculation notwithstanding, most observers want to see the appointment as a well-deserved reward for Pakistan for the "services" rendered in the War on Terror since 9/11. Pakistan's implacable bidding for the world's sole super power left few in doubt that the appointment could not have been effected without the US' explicit endorsement at a time when perhaps the US' end game in Iraq is being enacted.

Indeed, the US involvement in Iraq is as deep today as it was before the so-called transfer of sovereignty late last month -- if not deeper. None except the blind believe the Neo-cons' argument that the Iraqis are now their masters. The US' heavy presence in Iraq, including its 140,000 troops still on occupation duty, point to the myth of Iraq's liberation. Then her imperialist ambition to plunder Iraq's riches in the name of its reconstruction loom large. The paradoxical arrangement now foisted on Iraq requires a fig leaf for which the US is banking heavily on the UN to provide the cover of legitimacy. The same UN that was shunned and savaged by Anglo-American invaders is expected give them the fig leaf to hide their naked imperialist designs under a back-bending Secretary-General. The role of the Secretary-General's personal representative in Iraq acquires a special significance and dynamics of its own in this backdrop.

Some observers, however, see a kind of Pakistan-baiting inherent in the appointment. In that context Qazi's elevation has less to do with his personality trails or his unquestioned credentials, but seems linked more to his nationality. In American perception, Pakistan is a country one can do business with. It always passes its litmus test of loyalty. Even in post-9/11 crisis, it lived up to US expectation with its commendable role as a frontline state against terrorism. It waged war on its own people in the country's tribal belt at the behest of the US, had little compunction in handing over Pakistani nationals suspected of having Taliban or al-Qaeda links, allowed FBI agents to walk in or out of the country with impunity, and employed its resources to help Americans hunt down al-Qaeda fugitives hiding in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, it fought the US proxy war and helped her win the Cold War. The US seldom forgets this and maintains an excellent "give and take" relationship with Pakistan. The US cannot but consider such options also in the context of Iraq.

The US predicament in Iraq has just begun. The stiff backlash by the Iraqi resistance to US occupation has not only taken a lot of thunder out of Bush's claim of being Iraq's liberator, but has also convinced the Pentagon hawks and war-mongers to look for an exit from Iraq's quicksand. One of the ways it can be done, in their calculation, is to find someone to be assigned with the dirty work of facing the insurgency -- of course with lucrative wage and to retire to the safety of an odd one dozen bases already built as the advance guard of Pax Americana.

Pakistan is considered by the Pentagon planners an ideal alternative to American presence in Iraq's combat zone. Its armed forces enjoy an excellent reputation in UN peacekeeping work and are known for their dedication. They are Muslim and non-Arab -- a combination liked by the US-Israeli axis, which is convinced that no Arab state of any consequence would volunteer its services in Iraq at this troubled stage. Ambassador Qazi's elevation is to be viewed against this backdrop, and only then it will be crystal clear that it is a price Washington is happy to pay in order to get his country sucked into Iraq's quicksand. If it is not enough, the US is capable of dangling many more baits before a country eager to bite them.

So the honour of a Pakistani diplomat getting a high profile assignment is at best a dubious one, like its accolade of being a Major Non-Nato Ally. The crown worn by Qazi may prove thorny and the going uphill. It is obviously a dangerous undertaking to put on the mantle of the discredited Brahimi or Sergio de Mello, who paid the ultimate price with his life in Baghdad's Canal Hotel last August. This August, the security environment is even worse.

More so far the pointman of the UN, as the UN and its operatives are looked upon -- with reason -- as partner in arms with the US. The UN was unabashedly used by the US to punish Iraq with history's most stringent sanctions -- the sanctions that treated Iraqis like animals all through those long 13 painful years -- and the UN allowed itself to be so used. That's where are the Iraqis' grudge against the UN and its functionaries comes from. Whatever may be the fate of the UN's new pointman in Iraq, with the Qazi smokescreen in place, the major hindrance to Pakistan's dispatch of its troops to that country is almost removed. Both Kofi Annan and his selection of Qazi as his representative have made the enterprise look so innocuous now that only the unpatriotic forces of the country will oppose this undertaking of "enlightened moderation."

Brig ( retd) Hafiz is former DG of BIISS.