by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 20, Ramadan, 1420)
For Muslims, 1999 arrived with mayhem and bloodshed, not very different from the previous year. First, there was the four-day slaughter in Iraq which was euphemistically described as the ‘fireworks display over Baghdad’ by Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s latest darling from the scene. As she gave viewers a sanitised version of events, assuring them that all was well in Baghdad and that the Iraqis were quite ‘happy’ being blasted with cruise missiles, president Bill Clinton had already put the Muslims at ease with his ‘great respect for Ramadan’ shpeel. There was much greater concern in Atlanta where CNN anchor, Bernie Shaw worried about tenacious Christiane’s ‘safety’ in Baghdad venturing out without a flak-jacket or helmet!
Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, meanwhile, offered his own Christmas gift to the Muslims of Kosova by perpetrating another mini-genocide as the western world busy in merrymaking, was drinking and pigging it. But the real developments were taking place elsewhere.
America’s gangsterism is gradually arousing concern in remote corners of the globe. While Muslims have not fully woken up to this reality - the Muslim world is so thoroughly dominated by corrupt, incompetent rulers that there are few immediate prospects for change barring some unforeseen developments - others are not sleep-walking.
During his December 21-22 visit to India, Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov proposed an ‘Asian Security Triangle’ comprising Russia, China and India to confront America’s aggressive policies born of a unipolar world. Although Beijing’s reaction was cool, it would be premature to dismiss the proposal out of hand. Primakov could not have spoken at the spur of the moment; he is far too seasoned for that. His comments reflect the deep unease felt in Moscow over Washington’s unilateral decisions and aggressive tactics around the world.
True, the Asian Security Triangle will remain a two-legged stool as long as India continues to present itself as China’s rival. With the exception of their nearly equal populations, India is no match for China in any field. At least 350 million people live below the poverty line in India; not one of China’s 1.2 billion fall in this category. In a military conflict, India would get a drubbing of its life even if, proverbially, the Chinese had one of their hands tied behind their back. There is no comparison between India and China. They are poles apart.
China is an emerging superpower; India a regional bully trying to be a hegemon. Washington tried to court the Indians to use them against China but the Hindus are slippery customers. Aware of the US’s propensity for abandoning allies at the crucial moment, the Indians were taking no chances. This does not mean that the US has given up on the idea.
There is, however, little understanding of the emerging new realities in Islamabad. The ruling elite want to live in blissful oblivion, comforting themselves in the thought that China will never enter into an alliance with India and that the US would not ‘abandon’ Pakistan. Why the Pakistani ruling elite refuse to face the harsh realities of life is difficult to fathom.
Primakov’s proposal needs to be considered in its wider context. It assumes significance against the backdrop of American behaviour around the world, especially in the Middle East and Central Asia. In the former, US surrogate Israel gets away literally with murder; others - Iraq, for instance - are blown to smithereens for alleged misdeeds.
Russia may be a has-been superpower but it still harbours ambitions of a wannabe. It feels especially concerned about US encroachments in Central Asia, traditionally referred to as Russia’s ‘near abroad’. While Moscow may not be able to do much about US incursions in Central Asia, there are other regions where Russia has found takers for its activist approach.
The Middle East region has a propensity for sudden realignments. Even the most subservient Arab regimes are appalled at American hypocrisy and its underwriting of every Israeli crime. Uncle Sam, too, has now adopted these tactics believing that it can get away with such behaviour. It has aroused concern in numerous capitals. Last month, Egypt pointedly kept Israel out of the Cairo Book Fair. While not much can be expected from Egypt with its dependence on Uncle Sam for US$1.7 billion in annual handouts, others are not so beholden to Washington.
There is a convergence of interests between Russia, China, Iran and Syria in the Middle East and Asia. India also fits into this loose alliance. The larger, informal arrangement would allay Chinese concerns over too close an identification with Delhi in an Asian triangle. For Syria and Iran - and indeed Egypt - the Turkish-Israeli military alliance as well as Israeli terrorism in the Middle East in general are issues of grave concern. Israeli warplanes now fly near the borders of Syria and Iran, thanks to the Kemalists’ embrace of Zionists.
A loose, even informal grouping of the above countries would act as a counter-balance to Turkish-Israeli military ambitions on the one hand, and Uncle Sam and his British sidekick’s belligerence on the other. There are countries which will not take American aggression lying down.
Washington’s belligerent policy in the Middle East and Asia has a definite focus: to contain China, the new emerging superpower and rival to the US. Now that Russia is no longer viewed as a threat in Europe, America’s focus is shifting eastward. In fact, last month’s (December 8-9) Nato foreign ministers’ conference in Brussels (see Muslimedia, January 1-15, 1999: “Nato’s enemy list made in Washington...”) served notice that the alliance had outlived its usefulness. While Washington tried to expand its mandate, the Europeans, especially the Germans and French, showed little interest. A relic of the ‘cold war,’ Nato will likely become irrelevant in due course.
Unlike Russia, China has pursued quite a shrewd policy. Chinese planners have been careful not to allow market capitalism to destroy their economy or society. China achieved an admirable 7.8 percent growth rate in 1998 even while the rest of Southeast Asia was in an economic tailspin. China has foreign exchange reserves of US$143 billion, the envy of most countries in the world. And it expects between 7 to 8 percent growth rate in 1999 as well.
In the political arena, too, the Chinese have been prudent, to the point of being over-cautious. But they have a long history. The Americans, on the other hand, neither have history nor class. They are cultural hooligans who have no time for history nor wish to learn anything from it.
The twentieth century was called the American century. It was an unmitigated disaster for humanity at large. The next one is not likely to be either an American or western century. The winds of change are already blowing. The coming months and years are likely to see major changes in the pattern of behaviour in the world, no matter how mad Uncle Sam acts or pretends to act.
Muslimedia: January 16-31, 1999