Not the economy only, stupid!-By Ikram Sehgal 1

A majority of experts believe the US recession will not end this year, world economic pain not lessening before mid-2009. The East Asia Summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Kuala Lumpur focussed on Asia’s emerging impact on the global economy. Among the luminaries taking part in the June 15-16 summit were embattled Malaysian prime minister Ahmad Badawi and our globe-trotting former prime minister in self-exile, Shaukat Aziz. The arrogant optimism that Asian countries would not only be unaffected but would hold up the world economy, or at worst be independent of the downturn, is now in tatters. From China and India to Vietnam, Asian economies are in stagflation. Let’s see how the SBP’s Ms Shamshad Akhtar stands up to real-life economic battle-inoculation!

A blue-ribbon panel on “Addressing Asia’s Emerging Security Dilemma” brought security centre-stage as a major factor in today’s world economy. Panellists included Keiichiro Asao Japan’s Defence Minister-designate, Lord Levene chairman of Lloyd’s, Professor Moon Chung-In of South Korea, former US deputy secretary of state Torkel Patterson and former Indian minister of finance (and later External Affairs) Yashwant Sinha, and myself. Because of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise of China, was a new security structure needed in Asia? They agreed with my often repeated “National Security Strategy” contention about a multilateral multi-pronged approach. Every security situation being geographically and politically different, a formal structure or a traditional military alliance is not the solution. Current institutional arrangements should be reinforced with ad hoc ones, a less rigid format being the right way to engage with either manmade or natural challenges. Torkel Patterson gave the example of informal discussions between the naval chiefs of the US, Australia, Japan and India within minutes of the Asian tsunami, leading to a formal collaboration later. He supported my observation that formal arrangements often led to bureaucratisation. Of great satisfaction is China’s positive role during the last two decades, the recent growing China-Taiwan ties will do away with one major flashpoint and could even lead to a “one-China” solution.

The panel agreed that the Iran situation could blow the world economy apart, scrambling all prevailing economic calculations. Before going into coma in late 2005, Sharon had activated Israeli Defence Forces Unit 262, the equivalent of our SSG and the US Special Forces, and 69 Squadron, the Israeli air force unit that destroyed the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor in early June 1981, mainly with F-15s. Hezbollah in south Lebanon in mid-2006 probably put Israeli plans on hold; for the first time in its history Israel was not able to defeat an enemy. About a year ago Israel raided a suspected Syrian nuclear facility. When even the IAEA doubted this capability, the mystery was why did the raid ever take place? Israel electronically paralysed all of Syria’s air defences, Iran’s air defences being of a similar Russian design. Was this a trial run of sorts, the final “dress rehearsal” being the recent exercise in the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece by more than 100 Israeli F-15 and F-16s, with helicopters rescuing downed pilots?

To quote my article of April 27, 2006, “US-Iran, Israel, India and Pakistan,” the “Holocaust” exercises strong influence over the Israeli psyche, “never again” is an article of faith. When Iranian aircraft lightly damaged the Osirak reactor in 1980 during the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqis said the proposed bomb was not meant for Iran or Muslims but for Israelis. Enough for Israel to trigger plans for the Osirak raid! Ahmedinejad’s ill-considered threat to wipe out Israel from the face of the Earth amounts to “casus belli” for Israel. In matters of its survival, Israel does not bluff! Contrary to perception the US does not exercise absolute influence over Israeli decision-making despite close consultation on many issues. John Locke’s “Second Treatise” seems to be the Israeli inspiration (and also of Bush’s “National Security Strategy”) of pre-emptive action. Locke’s tenets state: “There cannot exist a doubt that if any formidable potentate certainly entertains designs of oppression and conquest, the other States have a right to anticipate him,” or, in other words, to act before “it is too late, and the evil is past care”.

In case of an Israeli attack, the US will certainly jam Iran’s air defences and therefore be on a hair-trigger to jump into the conflict if Iran retaliates. Iran will take jamming as US-Israeli military collusion. Its capacity to retaliate is not really known but will most probably target US assets in the Gulf. The IAEA’s Baradei says the region will become a “ball of fire.” Scale of damage matters little. The Gulf economies (except for oil-rich Abu Dhabi), particularly that of Dubai, will collapse. Mortgage-lending a construction boom (shades of sub-prime collapse) is always a financial pyramid of cards, the bubble will burst with a bang, pun intended. Hopefully the Israelis may be attempting only to impress upon the West to get serious about Iran, the military initiative being a “final solution” of last resort.

To quote the same article, “Skeptics may consider it ludicrous the outside danger Pakistan may become a simultaneous target, Eric Margolis maintaining Pakistan is definitely on the US agenda after Iran. Could Israeli or (US) planners afford the risk of leaving a Muslim nuclear State with the means of missile delivery intact if there is war with Iran? Can they take this calculated risk in the face of a possible Pakistani nuclear reaction because of military action on a fellow Muslim nation and neighbour in line with the 1837 “Caroline Formula” to “necessity of self-defence is instant and overwhelming, leaves no choice of means and no moment of deliberation?”

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is on record that “India cannot afford another nuclear State in its neighbourhood.” Should one not be apprehensive that India as the “newly US appointed policeman of the region” takes the opportunity for a “final solution” (Hitlerian pun intended) putting into effect “Cold Start” (codename for launching all-out Indian military offensive from peacetime locations without mobilisation)? “Cold Start” is meant to take advantage of an unplanned favourable military opportunity. Our US ally brusquely excluded us from the nuclear club, “after all we are not as responsible as India.” Without going to panic stations one must take measures to deter the temptation to line up Pakistan in the crosshairs as a target of opportunity to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Hoping (and praying) otherwise, we need to take prudent precautions.” Compared to excellent military-to-military relations of the past, Afghanistan has not made us favourites exactly of the Pentagon nowadays. Is there more to Hamid Karzai’s recent bellicose threats than meets the eye? Is Pakistan being deliberately set up so that our reaction provides “casus belli”?

One hopes against such a “Doomsday” scenario. In planning for the worst we need all our national leaders on one grid, including the big three, Pervez Musharraf, Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif. For the sake of Pakistan, the eternal triangle must come together! During the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton effectively used the campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid!” to run senior President Bush Sr out of office. For our leadership, “It’s not the economy only, stupid!”

The writer is a defence and political
analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder

Source: The News, 26/6/2008

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