The mouse that roared —Mahmud Sipra


President Zardari it seems will be denied the proverbial honeymoon period of settling in to his new job. He is going to need all his political acumen and help that he can get to deal with the myriad problems his country is facing

Last month Russia set a dangerous precedent by sending in its troops to bring to heel the tiny sovereign state of Georgia, the only country in the oil-rich Caucasus that has an oil pipeline to the West, which is not under Moscow’s direct control.

It all started when Georgia attempted to establish its writ in South Ossetia and the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, both areas of conflict with separatist tendencies.

Georgian President Saakashvilli played straight into the hands of the Russian hierarchy when he ordered the pounding August 7 of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. The move was ordered as an attempt to stem the ethnic cleansing of Georgian citizens in the region by Ossetian armed thugs wielding Russian military hardware, shades of a stark replay of the bloody Slovenia-Croatia conflict in 1991 that triggered the Balkan wars.

Russia’s new President Medvedev, backed by Prime Minister Putin and his generals, decided that this was as good a time as any to encourage a swift “ Kosovo style” recognition of the two Georgian regions which if not checked could turn into another Ukrainian style “Orange Revolution”.

While the world watched the Beijing Olympics, Russian combat aircraft, heavy armour and Infantry units backed by helicopter gunships entered Georgian territory and with lightening speed proceeded to “annex” the two separatist regions. In their wake they left a scorched landscape and a broken and battered people.

The world suddenly watched the spectacle of the Russian Bear coming out of hibernation to take on a mouse that had the temerity to roar. The result: the forced birth of two “independent states”.

Russia needed to show that a good burning at the stake would be tonic for domestic consumption and a signal to the West that the latter’s positioning of a “Missile Shield” in the Czech Republic and Poland was not about to go unanswered and there would be consequences. The Kremlin, still rankling over last February’s hurried recognition of Kosovo, as it declared independence from Serbia, decided to do what the United States and 21 out of 27 European Union countries had already done.

The recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is being looked at as a direct result of that new “reality” and by most observers as only a prelude to some other moves they could make other than just being ostracised for their acts of genocide and aggression. If this meant another Cold War, so be it.

The “New Russian Doctrine” that seems to be emerging makes evident its scorn for NATO plans to enlarge its sphere of influence in Moscow’s own backyard. There is even talk of Moscow initiating its own “Alternative Security Arrangements” with China and India playing pivotal roles.

Here was a superpower flexing its military muscle and desecrating the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation to prove a point. Diplomatic activity went into overdrive. Washington called the Russian military adventure “unacceptable” with political analysts predicting a return to “Cold War” status. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, acidly remarked: “If it’s just ‘Cold’ — that won’t be a problem.”

Clearly Mr Kouchner was referring to the Cold War and not the prospect of a long hard winter that Europe would have to face if Russia were to cut off supplies of gas to Europe.

President Sarkozy entered the fray to negotiate and manage to put into place a tenuous ceasefire. The Russians having made the point by then stopped their advance towards Tbilisi just 45 km from the Georgian capital. The US response to the whole affair took time to gather momentum with Mr Bush declaring the Russian move unacceptable. Presidential candidate John McCain took it one step further when he called for Russia’s expulsion from the Group of Eight.

While Moscow jubilantly celebrated its “victory”, Georgians took stock of the havoc left behind by Russian tanks and troops. Washington itself was coming in for some heavy fire from one of its own frontline partners in the war on terror — Pakistan.

A loud guffaw may have been heard in the Kremlin when details of a ground attack on Pakistani soil by US-led coalition forces began to surface, coming on the heels of Pakistan’s presidential elections. Suddenly, Washington’s criticism of Moscow’s belligerence and “unacceptable” conduct on Georgia had a hollow ring.

In Islamabad, Mr Zardari then President-elect, may have still been working on his inaugural speech when another drone attack, the fifth in a week, reportedly took out “some senior leaders of the Taliban”.

The raid by US-led troops on Pakistani soil marks a disturbing departure from the Bush administration’s declared stance that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan — in the prosecution of its war on terror — would not be compromised. The incontinence of that declared stance went up in smoke as Pakistan counted the dead and dying in the smouldering aftermath of the dawn raid.

Just how many of the Taliban or Al Qaeda cadres were killed in the attack prompted a former army officer to remark: “Now they will never know…dead men tell no tales.” True to form, the Taliban reacted with a deadly suicide attack that killed 35 and injured scores on the road to the Frontier capital Peshawar.

Georgia may be a “test case for” judging Russia’s intentions and a litmus test of the West’s resolve to deal with it. The situation in Pakistan, however, is far graver. It cannot be seen as an unwilling partner in fighting the war on terror nor can it any longer sit back and allow its partners to push the war on its borders into its cities and streets.

President Zardari it seems will be denied the proverbial honeymoon period of settling into his new job. He is going to need all his political acumen and help that he can get to deal with the myriad problems his country is facing.

Not the least of them will be what he intends to do about his own country’s “Homeland Security”.

Mahmud Sipra is a best selling author and an independent columnist. He can be reached at sipraindubai@yahoo.com

Source: Daily times, 11/9/2008

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