The Arab street versus the Arab elite - Ashraf Jehangir Qazi - Thursday, April 21, 2011

Two important statements were recently made. One, the joint statement of President Obama of the US, President Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Cameron of the UK rejecting calls for a cease-fire in Libya and reiterating that their operations will continue as long as Muammar Qaddafi remains in power. The other is the CIA Director Panetta’s reported statement that US operations in Pakistan will continue despite Pakistan’s protests as they are determined by US security concerns. The first statement is a flagrant violation of the UN Charter and UN Security Council Resolution 1973. The other, if true, is a flagrant violation of Pakistan’s sovereign independence and a challenge to the credibility of the government of Pakistan. Raymond Davis has become the face of the US in Pakistan.

US law and US security concerns alone cannot lawfully be the basis of US military actions in other countries. A western Triumvirate is not entitled to distort UN and regional resolutions in order to militarily implement regime change – however reprehensible the regime may be - in the name of protection of civilians. A No Fly Zone cannot be construed as a declaration of war. This would make Obama, Sarkozy, and Cameron the face of a new imperial world order in place of the UN Charter.

The Arab Spring essentially represents the potential triumph of the “Arab street” over the “Arab elite.” Despite western attempts to curry favour with the Arab street in countries where it has at last asserted itself against western supported dictators, the US and its allies are not likely to welcome their compliant Arab elites being permanently eclipsed by an independent and empowered Arab street. This policy is of long standing. In fact it goes back to during World War II and the plans that were then made for the post-war period.

The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) conducted a War and Peace Studies for the “foreign policy elite” of the US that dealt with the “requirements of the US in a world in which it proposes to hold unquestioned power.” The major task, accordingly, was to develop “an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy for the US” including plans “to secure the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by foreign nations….essential for the security and economic prosperity of the US.” These nations, essential for US security and prosperity, comprised a “Grand Area” among which the Middle East, and especially oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia, constituted, according to the State Department, “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”

The CFR documents noted that “the British Empire….will never reappear and ….the US may have to take its place.” The US was transitioning from being a major power to being a global power. This entailed the imposition of a post war Pax Americana to replace the pre war Pax Brittanica as “strategically necessary for world control.” In this regard “control of resources” was a key component of US strategy which, according to a noted US scholar, required “equal access for American companies everywhere, but no equal access for others.” This in turn required government by US dependent elites in countries where either “primary resources” such as oil and gas reserves or access routes to them were located. Accordingly, the US is not as fearful of Islamic extremism as it is of independent nationalism in Muslim countries which could privilege the use of national resources for the security and welfare of their own people over the security and prosperity of the American people. Only rule by compliant and dependent elites and institutions – whether secular or not – can be depended upon to prevent such “instability.”

The CFR war time documents have provided an enduring, if not entirely successful, framework for US strategic policy over more than six decades. All political developments or movements in the Grand Area that sought to assert national and resource-use independence from US strategic priorities were seen as challenges to its unquestioned power. This policy is likely to continue, Arab Spring or not. What is interesting is that the outlines of US postwar strategy were formulated at about the same time as the US was taking the lead in drafting the basic documents of the UN system for the post war international order. Were these exercises mutually contradictory? Or two sides of the same coin? All realpolitik requires an acceptable legal cover to be effective. After the Cold War a New World Order based on Pre-emptive and Preventive War offered unlimited possibilities. One consequence for Pakistan has been to make transitioning from a security to a development state much more difficult.

According to Professor Ziauddin Sardar, a noted Islamic scholar, the Arab Spring happened through a “leaderless and pluralist” but electronically “connected” community that broadened through global information “feedback.” It is bound and impelled by a shared vision of democratic responsibility and accountability. This is creating space for the “streets” in other “essential” countries of the “Grand Area.” No matter what the media hype about western support for the Arab Spring, in reality western power practitioners recognize the potential threat it represents to the “stability” of their Grand Area. In conjunction with the financial meltdown and economic recession in the west and the rise of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the Arab Spring has confronted the US with the prospect of a secular decline of its global hegemony in what Sardar calls a “post normal world.” It is, accordingly, reacting like “a wounded tiger.”

The reported CIA statement on drone attacks and the Triumvirate joint statement on Libya are manifestations of “wounded tiger” responses to a broader paradigm shift of international power and influence. Similarly, the current intellectual respectability accorded to Muslim baiting in the west and the lead role of military aggression in western “peace building” strategies, etc. are symptoms of the same syndrome. This wounded tiger syndrome (WTS) is likely to get more acute as the global competition for scarce resources intensifies, and as the “post normal” world increasingly threatens the hegemony of international and dependent domestic elites through increasing connectivity among the awakening streets of the Muslim world. Humanitarian norms such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and UN Security Council resolutions are likely to be used as cover for hegemony maintenance before a genuinely multi-polar world eventually displaces a declining uni-polar post Cold War order.

Meanwhile, the Arab Spring in Egypt and elsewhere will struggle to overcome inevitable impediments. According to Professor Sardar, “the degree of trust it has reposed in the Egyptian Army as an agent of change” is one of its weaknesses. Moreover, pessimists believe that organized and sustained popular support for the Arab Spring is as indispensable as it is unlikely. The elite power structure will not concede more than it has to while it plans a restoration. The battle is joined – and history, far from being at an end, as Fukuyama insisted, is being created. The failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt would, of course, endanger its dissemination throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

In view of the foregoing, the reported CIA statement justifying drone bombings of Pakistani territory over the protests of the Pakistan government – an unquestionable international crime - needs to be seen in a broader context. The governance challenge in Pakistan presents the west with a dilemma. On the one hand, it complicates their so-called war on terror. On the other, the war on terror complicates governance challenges in Pakistan. What is the way out of this vicious circle? The US must recognize that its continued active military presence in Afghanistan is destabilizing that country and the whole region without assuring it a dignified exit. Pakistan must address its governance challenges as a matter of urgent priority to increase its policy options and to be a real peace broker in Afghanistan. It needs to realize that a US military presence on its territory, and in the neighbourhood, can never be a substitute for good governance as a guarantor of its security, stability and development. The current pessimism that this is unlikely must be overcome through making difficult choices and implementing policies based on them.

The writer is Pakistan’s former envoy to the US and India. He is presently the director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. Email:

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