Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Bold strokes to change the world?

From The Statesman

Cyber age: ND Batra

Probably the most touching moment during President Bush’s State of the Union address on Wednesday night occurred when the entire assembly gave a standing ovation to two women, Safia Taleb al-Suhail of Iraq and Janet Norwood of Texas. The women embraced each other like two long lost sisters. Eleven years ago, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service agents had assassinated Safia’s father but the family survived. On the day of elections, while bullets were flying, Safia along with her family went to the polling booth to cast their votes for a new Iraq. The other woman, Janet Norwood, had lost her son, Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood, during the assault on Fallujah. But before going to Iraq Byron told his mother how proud he was to be a Marine, and as she had protected him as a child, now it was his turn to protect her.

Although the showcasing of these two families for a worldwide television audience was a diplomatic act, the emotions were genuine. In that moment death had become meaningful. Some leaders are capable of doing that. “The fall of imperial communism was only a dream – until, one day, it was accomplished. Our generation has dreams of its own, and we also go forward with confidence. The road to Providence is uneven and unpredictable – yet we know it leads to freedom,” Bush said eloquently, brimming with confidence. Elections of course do not a democracy make but can you do without them? Something new has begun. The process of reaching out by the Shia majority to various sections of Iraq, especially Sunnis, is gradually taking place. Though the Sunnis would be losing their exclusive control over political power in Iraq after 80 years of domination, they hold a key to Iraq’s political stability. They have the sympathy of other Arabs in the region who are mostly Sunnis. They cannot be ignored regardless of the political set up that emerges after the 275-member transitional national assembly chooses an interim government and drafts a constitution.

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Sunni, may not be in power for long, but I am sure in the long run he would be proved right. He had said: “The terrorists now know that they cannot win.” Millions of Iraqis have already rejected terrorism by braving the danger and voting fearlessly. Though the Sunnis were not as jubilant about voting as others, hopefully “the voice of all Iraqis” is present in the future political set up. “We are entering a new era of our history, and all Iraqis – whether they voted or not – should stand side by side to build their future… let us go together towards a bright future – Sunnis and Shias, Muslims and Christians, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen,” Allawi said. That is a plea for secularism, and truly this would be the only way Iraqis could ask the USA: Quit Iraq. Prolonged differences among religious and ethnic groups and unsettled conditions would prevail upon the USA to stay on, in fact, much against its wishes. I don’t believe the Americans want to continue the occupation a day longer than necessary. Domestic pressure continues to be unbearable; nonetheless, Americans don’t want Bush to quit unless the job is done in Iraq. That’s why they voted him to power again.

Although the main mission of the transitional national assembly will be to write a constitution, its selection of the interim government could set a tone for a broad political inclusiveness. The national assembly would choose a President and two deputy presidents, who then would choose a Prime Minister and a cabinet. Even at this early stage, there would be a great scope for give-and-take and an opportunity for power sharing. For example, a key political position in the cabinet could be given to a Sunni.

There is another reason to allow Sunnis to participate fully in the government. The Sunnis might act as a strong counterweight to the dominant influence of the neighbouring Shia Iran; similarly Iraqi Shias might counterbalance the Sunni Arab influence, thus creating the possibility of making Iraq truly independent of both Iran and Arab countries. Constitutional arrangement based on federalism and local autonomy might serve Iraq well, as it has done by and large in India.

President Jacques Chirac of France, who relentlessly opposed the Iraqi invasion along with most of other Europe, expressed cautious optimism. “These elections mark an important step in the political reconstruction of Iraq. The strategy of terrorist groups has partly failed,” he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin called it a historic event for the Iraqi people, but it was German foreign minister Joschka Fischer who held an olive branch of reconciliation with the Bush administration. “The challenge of putting Iraq on a stable democratic footing is one we must all take on together,” he said. Once again Europe is calling for togetherness, for sharing responsibilities, and the Iraqi elections provide a great opportunity for a new relationship among the USA, Europe and other major powers to fight global terrorism and poverty. That’s the only way to spread freedom and democracy.

No comments:

Post a Comment