No Troops without National and OIC Consensus

The United Nation Secretary General Kofi Anan’s statement of July 22nd has underscored the need for the government to clarify its position on sending troops to Iraq. Speaking at a news conference in New York said that, “President Musharraf is prepared to send troops to Iraq on two conditions one, if the Iraqi interim government requests Pakistan and two, if other Islamic nations would also send their troops.

Kofi Anan in his press conference establish clear linkage between expanding the United Nation presence for the socio-economic of post Saddam Iraq with a dedicated forced to protect the United Nation staff in Baghdad.

In Pakistan the appointment of Jahangir Asharaf Qazi Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington, as the new United Nation chief in Iraq triggered speculation that the appointment was part of a ‘package deal’ between the UN, US and Pakistan under which Pakistan would deploy its troops in Iraq as quid pro quo for a Pakistani’s appointment to the highly risky yet prestigious post. While no evidence of such a deal exists, the UN’s decision taken in a consultation with Washington may have been based on this calculation that Qazi’s appointment would increase the chances of Pakistan sending its troops to Iraq. The recent visit of the US Under Secretary Richard Armitage was also viewed in the ! context of Washington’s keenness that Pakistan send it troops to Iraq.

As the question of troops resurfaces we need to revisit our earlier reasons for opposing the deployment of Pakistani troops in Iraq. Ever since the United States attacked and occupied Iraq, there has been national consensus against sending troops as an extension of the occupation force. The government, the political parties and opinion makers all agreed that unless sovereignty was genuinely transferred to the Iraqi people, there was consensus within the OIC on the deployment of troops in Iraq, the command of the troops would with the United Nations and that the security situation in Iraq considerably improve, no troops would be ! deployed.

In addition to these Iraq specific considerations Pakistan was also clear that given the challenges it faced domestically and on its western border with Afghanistan it could not afford to get entangled in a complicated and controversial situation in Iraq. Especially one that would increase pressure on the Pakistani State retracing some of its own steps.

If deployed, Pakistani troops would have inevitably become engaged in battling Iraqis resisting US occupation. Having opposed US aggression and occupation of Iraq Pakistan could not have been fighting the very Iraqis for whom it had stood up with the rest of the world and opposed US aggression and occupation.

Islamabad’s review of its earlier decision on troop deployment in Iraq can only be merited if the situation on these various factors has substantively altered. On US occupation the fact is while the symbol of occupation Paul Bremer has departed from Iraq, 130,000 US occupation troops remain in Iraq. Although there is now a government of Iraqi nationals in place yet decision making on key issues on security, infrastructure development and political future largely remains in American hands. The process of political reconciliation with i! nfluential militia-backed political groups from Iraq’s different regions has hardly moved forward. The security situation in Baghdad remains extremely difficult. Bomb blasts and human casualties are tragically almost a routine matter. The June exit of Paul Bremer has not changed this.

As for the OIC countries there is no consensus for sending troops to Iraq. Individually Bangladesh and Jordan are inclined to send their troops. It is also significant that barring Washington’s loyal ally UK there has been no other Western country willing to make a substantive troop commitment for Iraq. At the recent NATO summit held in Turkey, NATO as an organization committed itself to providing support for reco! nstruction Iraq. It made no firm troop commitment.

Pakistan’s requires answers to some key questions before making a decision to send our troops to Iraq. Will the deployment of troops help in enhancing the security situation in Iraq or even of specific United Nation premises and personnel? Given that Iraq’s entire state security-promoting apparatus, including the army and police is virtually non- existent, how can Iraq’s need for these institutions to improve its security situation,! be met ? Can Iraqi security be improved only through military means or a simultaneous political reconciliation process is also required? Is there a greater chance for Muslim forces to be successful in promoting security because those responsible for continuing sabotage and terror operation will be more sympathetic toward Muslim forces? Is there a way of combining the political and military initiative through a Bonn-like agreement with input from the various Iraqi politico-military groups ? Will United Nation-dedicated forces, following the symbolic transfer of power from the US to the Iraqis, will be less of a target for those continuing the killings in Iraq? Will the continued deployment or the exit of United States troops make the job of protecting Iraqi li! ves easier for non-Iraqi Muslim troops should they be deploye! d?

The Pakistan government political parties and opinion makers require informed answers to these many questions at two levels. At the national level through a parliamentary debate and through seeking answers within a collective OIC context.

At home a parliamentary discussion on these questions should be initiated. Simultaneously Pakistan should call for a special high level OIC summit on Iraq to discuss the wisdom of sending troops to Iraq. The OIC should invite representatives of Iraq’s present government and notable leaders from various political groupings in Iraq to participate in the special session. The OIC countries require feedback from Iraq’s major stakeholders on the OIC ro! le that they would consider acceptable. United States and United Nation authorities have earlier engage with these stakeholders.

For Iraq and the region as a whole remaining exclusively engaged with the illegality and the tragedy of US aggression and occupation in Iraq would be unwise. It is time to focus on ways and means, indeed on a Plan of Action for rehabilitating and where required reconstructing the Iraqi State and society. Such an Action Plan should be put together by the Iraqis, with input from OIC member States, the European Union, United States and the United Nation. The question of deployment of troops under the OIC umbrella is best addressed by OIC members within a broader context of security and reconstruction plan for Iraq.

After first gaining support for this special session from key OIC members, Pakistan should call for the holding of this session. Instead of going it alone or being encouraged by the decision of one or two other Muslim countries, Pakistan should lead the initiative to take a collective decision on the issue of Iraq. Meanwhile at home the parliament should initiate a debate on sending our troops to Iraq. In the media the issue is already being debated.