The Prince as a Statesman
By Saeed Naqvi
My line of business takes me frequently to West Asia where among the people I almost compulsively seek out for cool headed appraisal of events is Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan. This time too he was his cerebral, candid self, though a little more anxious than I have ever seem him before.
Intelligence agencies in the region were suggesting that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was “imminent”. This did not make sense to him for several reasons. “With ongoing operations in Afghanistan are they going to open another front in Iran?”
Moreover, US secretary of Defence Robert Gates was on record that Iran would not be able to manufacture nuclear weapons until 2013 at the earliest. The diplomatic route had not yet been exhausted. “Don’t forget this entire region has nightmares about the nuclear capabilities whether of Israel or of Iran.”
He was disappointed that “Tony Blair, European Foreign Minister and Senator Mitchell come and go without giving any evidence of being in possession of any framework or strategy for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
You can’t focus on “Iraq today Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran tomorrow and hope to arrive at a solution”. There has to be a comprehensive vision of the entire West Asian region.”
The issue of Palestinian refugees, Iraqi migration, stateless people are all problems that cannot be shut out by “walling yourself in”, as Israel has done. “Something will have to give”.
And yet he realized that the present Israeli coalition, the most right wing government in Israeli history, was the least capable of proceeding on a path for peace. Because even minimal adjustments, or compromise which entail “concessions” would cause the extremist coalition partners to bring down the government.
Meanwhile there were no signs that the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority was anywhere near resolving their differences.
On Iraq he thought the federal arrangement, “however tenuous”, must be maintained. “Even the Kurds know that any talk of more autonomy would be resisted by Turkey”.
He gave the example of Kosovo. “Remember Spain refused to recognize its independence” because Spain faced secession in the Basque region. “Likewise how can Syria accept” Kurdistan because it has Kurds living in contiguous territory.
He was disturbed by another possibility looming on the horizon: that Israel would be accommodated in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).
This detail seemed to fit in with his larger thesis that a new class system was being reinforced. The rich would wall themselves in and the poor would dream of a transnational Caliphate. This is one of the explanations for the global spread of political Islam.
Unless a holistic view is taken of the entire region, “unless you stabilize the hinterland people living next to oil from the Caucasus to the Middle East”, the region will remain destabilized.
He recommended a conference of all the countries of the region to spell out what “the Mid-East peace plan is and how it should proceed”. This could be the beginning of a quest for harmony in the entire region.
With his considerable sense of history, Prince Hassan saw the conflict in Yemen against the backdrop of traditional “Imperial interests”. He referred to the report in 1907 by Campbell-Bannerman (former Prime Minister of Britain) when the former colonial powers came together to look at the future of waterways and strategic materials. The report concluded that “the best way to safeguard colonial interests was for neighbouring peoples to remain poor and divided”. In the three way conflict going on in Yemen, “the Al Qaeda also raises its head and becomes a rallying call for the military-industrial complex and their supporters”.
It was a pity that India had not recognized the big role in West Asia “history has bestowed on it”. After all, when the British left India, they did not give up British India’s control on the Gulf States until 1961.
What did he think of the Shia arc the media was playing up?
According to him the issue had no saliency before the US occupation of Iraq. In fact when the US talked of the “Lebanonization” of Iraq at the very outset of the occupation, ears were cocked. In Lebanon, the power structure is divided between the Shias, Sunnis, Christians and Druze. It was only when these kinds of hierarchies were sought to be created in Iraq that Shia-Sunni violence broke out in the South. Before the occupation, Iraq had a tradtion of Sunni-Shia harmony.
Differences sought to be made between Ajam and Arab or between Iranian and non Iranian Shias were even more divisive. This kind of talk frightens the Gulf States. “Little wonder they invited Iranian Foreign Minister, Manoucher Mottaki to their summit at Manama, capital of Bahrain.”
He even had a comment or two on Bolly wood. “Time has come to go beyond Slumdog Millionaire opening and move onto more cerebral films, because otherwise China seems to be winning awards at international film festivals.”
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