Op-ed: UN sponsorship, US command
The pressure on Pakistan can be finely tuned. Pakistan, too, should calibrate its response. Unless the UN does acquire a pivotal role in Iraq and there is a multinational force with a peacekeeping mandate Pakistan should not agree to send troops
A new draft UN resolution covering arrangements for post-war Iraq is now being circulated by the United States. France, Russia and Germany are already reported to have voiced their reservations over the draft with the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan indicating, apparently, that it was difficult to see a political role for the UN under the terms of the new text.
The new resolution was meant to incorporate a more prominent role for the UN in Iraq. Earlier even its minimum role came under threat when the UN secretary general withdrew staff from Iraq in the aftermath of the bombing of its mission in August that killed 22 people including the head of mission. However, in some important respects the new draft retains features of the earlier set up.
While a multinational UN Force is envisioned for Iraq, it would remain under US command. The justification provided by US officials is that a unified command is essential for effectiveness. Another key issue has to do with the question of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis. The resolution does state that this day should come quickly but provides no deadline, promising only that the administration of Iraq will be ‘progressively undertaken by the evolving structures of the Iraqi interim administration.’
The text also refers to the temporary nature of the US-led occupation ‘until an internationally recognized representative government is established.’ Which, of course is easier said than done. For apportioning power and authority within a fragmented Iraq today will be an uphill task. Iraq’s Governing Council deputed this task is seen as being handpicked by what is legally an occupation force. The resolution builds upon UN resolution 1483 that recognises the United States and Britain as occupying powers in Iraq. Additionally, with each passing day, the position of those offering violent resistance to the coalition forces is strengthened and gains legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people. For not only are there no weapons of mass destruction to be found, the Iraqis are increasingly subjected to rising lawlessness, unemployment and absence of basic necessities.
At the same time, the imperative for the US to get other nations to contribute troops has also become greater. At this point the US troops strength in Iraq is about 1,20,000. In addition there are another 20, 000 troops, mostly British. So far, the number of US forces killed in Iraq is estimated at over 300. Possibly, an equal number, if not more, have been injured. The fact that most of the deaths have occurred after the war had been declared officially over means that the US public was not expecting these casualties and therefore the reaction has been more adverse than might have been the case, otherwise. Further, the Bush government has to bring down the US troops strength in Iraq by early next year.
According to a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget office the US can maintain its current troops strength, in and around Iraq, of about 180,000 only until March 2004. Beyond that a US occupation force numbering 38, 000 to 64,000 could stay in Iraq, indefinitely. But, the problem with this is that if the situation remains as it is now and additional troops have not been contributed by other countries, the scaled-down US troops will come under great pressure and possibly suffer a higher casualty rate. In an election year the issue can become critical for the Bush administration which till recently seemed to indicate that everything was in the bag, having declared victory first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq in short order.
There appears to be an increasing number of critics also in the military who believe, and are willing to say so in public, that those who planned and executed the war did not spend much time in thinking about what was to follow. Among these is retired General Anthony Zinni who headed the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000. Asked on US television if heads should roll at the Department of Defence, Zinni answered ‘absolutely’.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush regime’s much vaunted communicator who once urged the Pentagon top brass to think outside the box, has dismissed such charges as ‘utter nonsense’ but he has no adequate answer for the rising cost of the war in men and materials that the US is now confronted with.
Obviously, the priority right now for US policy makers is getting other countries to contribute troops and Pakistan is certainly one of the candidates that the US is homing in on. President Musharraf, though keen to build on a positive relationship with the US is also well aware of how deeply unpopular such a move would be at home. Initially, he had proposed a UN or OIC cover as being adequate for sending troops. Now Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali has emphasised the need for a peacekeeping operation that may make it easier for countries like Pakistan to participate, as opposed to assisting in an occupation enterprise.
However, the presence of foreign troops in Iraq may be justified eventually, there is little to suggest that the US is willing to cede the pivotal role in Iraq to the UN. As such, any troops going into Iraq will be seen as bolstering an occupation force and treated with hostility. It is for this reason that the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had earlier ruled out the presence of Blue Helmets in Iraq unless the UN acquired a much greater say in the proceedings and the nature of the operation changed, genuinely, on the ground.
Pakistan is under pressure on many counts and the US is likely to push it harder in the coming days to contribute troops to Iraq. Apart from the earlier aid package the US has recently announced a facility under which Pakistan can bring its F-16s back to its original strength by buying some planes from Belgium in addition to acquiring possibly an AWACS system. Both are much sought after by Pakistan to offset what is seen as a growing imbalance in conventional arms with India.
The catch is that this requires Congressional approval. Even with respect to the earlier package the Congress is to get an annual report. In other words, the pressure on Pakistan can be finely tuned. Pakistan, too, should calibrate its response. Unless the UN does acquire a pivotal role in Iraq and there is on the ground a genuinely multinational force with a peacekeeping mandate Pakistan should not agree to send troops. It should, instead, point to the support it has already provided the US in Afghanistan.
Abbas Rashid is a freelance journalist and political analyst whose career has included editorial positions in various Pakistani newspapers