BY SAEED NAQVI
Numbing spectacle of Christchurch’s Catholic Cathedral, like the rest of the exquisite city, reduced to a heap by the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck New Zealand last month; Hamid Karzai’s Populzai tribe in mourning over the killing of his cousin in Kandahar by US soldiers; agonizing tussle over Raymond Davis, part of covert CIA team in Pakistan who shot dead two Pakistani operators. All images of varying degrees of helplessness.
Just as these stunning pictures begin to register, comes an avalanche of images ever more catastrophic. A quake of an unprecedented 8.9 magnitude hits Japan, stirring memories of World War devastation – Hiroshima, Nagasaki et al.
And, just look at the coincidental configuration of the stars! In 1986, just when Chernobyl erupted, Col. Muammar Qaddafi was finding his way through bombs and falling rubble in his Tripoli palace, trying to help his wife strapped to a bed because of a slipped disc.
This time too a coalition of the willing has been, well, almost drummed up either to scare Qaddafi or to pound him and, the frightening nuclear disaster emanates from Japan – echoes of 1986.
Another coincidence? Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat turned up in Tripoli to commiserate but Reagan rapped Rajiv Gandhi on the knuckles and Bhagat was sacked. Well, this time New Delhi has withstood pressures and abstained.
President Obama has clearly stated: “no boots on the ground” and that the resolution has the limited purpose of protecting human lives.
American reluctance to enter this North African theatre has been transparent. Trust an American cartoonist to capture the essence of the transatlantic confusion. Some Europeans are sipping Campari and Soda under a sun umbrella. Uncle Sam, standing somewhat like a butler, reports: “There is a fire raging next door.” Europeans answer: “Go, put it out. Don’t just stand there!”
Every itinerant journalist who crossed over from Egypt into Benghazi found an interviewee who demanded a no-fly-zone. Whether the two score British Special Forces and diplomats arrested by the protesters in the vicinity of Benghazi preceded the interviewees or followed them, only time will tell.
Unlike President Mitterand, who had to be coaxed into the coalition for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, President Nicolas Sarkozy has been something of a pioneer demanding the international community’s recognition for the Benghazi rebels. Clearly Sarkozy has in his possession all the East Libyan oil maps.
Even as British Prime Minister David Cameron faced an angry House of commons for his men being caught with their pants down in Benghazi, prompt moral support arrived from Sarkozy. Germany said no. Bertie Wooster would have gulped: “Axis and Allies, what!”
But no help arrived until Qaddafi had retaken the hub of Ajdabiah from where roads fork to Tripoli and to Tobruk near the Egyptian border.
Lebanon backed by Britain and France introduced the UN resolution supported by the US. What next? Not quite clear except that a huge question mark has been placed on the future of east Libyan oil reserves, rather like the one on Kirkuk in Iraq’s Kurdish north.
The US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates was quite clear. European’s cannot be packing up their bags in Afghanistan, where so much “blood and treasurer” has been spent, and expect the US to be in lock-step with them in Libya.
A senior Kremlin insider, places recent events against a larger backdrop. “In a totally interconnected world, the post imperial hierarchy is taking shape – US, China, India and Russia. US inability to shape events in West Asia boosts China’s relative image. Japan’s tragic collapse removes another countervailing force. Hence the delayed UN resolution.
Another country that has gained in stature in recent years, despite the US, is Iran. Shia power in Iraq, uprising in Bahrain and Yemen with a restless minority agitating in Dammam, adds upto a Saudi nightmare. Hence, Saudi armoured carriers driving into Bahrain, designed to check perceived Iranian influence.
There is considerable significance in Lebanon having taken the lead in sponsoring the UN resolution. Hezbullah supported by Iran, is the leading partner in the Lebanese government. Likewise, Saad Hariri has Saudi support. Does this Iranian-Saudi coordination by proxy have a larger potential?
(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)