By Owei Lakemfa
THE UnitedÂ States (US) believed over the decades that its greatest enemy was Libya. It regarded that country as a rogue state, a vineyard of terrorism, and its leader, Moamar Ghaddafi as unbalanced. But lastÂ Sunday, acting US Assistant SecretaryÂ of state for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey FeltmanÂ was in Libya discussing American desire for military co-operation with Libya!
Back in 1981, US had broken diplomatic relations with Tripoli based on claims that the latter was sponsoring terrorism across the world.
In 1986, the Americans, then under Roland Reagan had bombed Libya. Relations worsened with the 1988 blow up of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland in which 259 persons, including 189 Americans lost their lives.Â This was blamed on Libya, and a Libyan, AbdelÂ BassetÂ al MegrahiÂ was actually convicted for the bombing.
But in the last few years, Libya has become a darling of the West but not because Ghadaffi is gone or Libyan policies have changed. What has changed is the West, especially after Libya paid huge compensation to families of the bombing.
The fact is that it could not be factually established thatÂ Libya was responsible for the bombing. But in the politics of the cold war, it was so accused and it just has to be guilty.
Last week, the US was talking toÂ friends like Egypt and Israel, and traditional enemies like Syria. American Defence Secretary, Robert GatesÂ was in Damascus seeking a peaceful resolution to the Middle East crisis. Syria is, of course, aggrieved that Israel has occupied its Golan HeightsÂ for 42Â years now. But the import ofÂ the American move is that itÂ may no longer regardÂ Syrian allies like the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestine as lepers to be avoided.
The fact is that there can be no peace settlement in the Palestine today without the Hamas.
Iran is also on the agenda. Although President Barack Obama says one of the greatest threats to peace is Iranâ€™s nuclear programme,Â he does not appear to favour the use of force. The US appears to prefer talks butÂ IsraelÂ does not want theÂ force option precluded.Â In fact, from its Defence MinisterÂ Ehud Barakâ€™s insistenceÂ that â€œ… no option should be removed from the tableâ€,Â it is clear that it favoursÂ a strike against Iran.
Israel feels uncomfortable about Americaâ€™s moves in world politics, especially in the Middle East. This has promptedÂ Obamaâ€™sÂ declaration thatÂ the bond between America and Israel is unbreakable. Gates has also assured IsraelÂ of continued American financial and technical assistance, adding that US will ensure that Israel has the most advanced weapons to defend itself.
But Israel will be unwise to take these assurances on face value; it should recognise that American and Western policies are gradually shifting towards social justice in the Middle East. It has to discard its siege mentality and faith in arms.Â It needs a new policy of talking to all, including Hamas.
Britain, one of the most stridentÂ voices against the Taliban in AfghanistanÂ is now advocating talks with those it characterises as â€œ moderate members of the Talibanâ€.Â The change of mind announcedÂ by Foreign Secretary DavidÂ MillibandÂ may be in realisation of the fact thatÂ the Taliban appears to be far fromÂ defeat despite being confronted byÂ 91,000Â foreign fighters from some of the worldâ€™s best armies. Britain has already lost 191 soldiers, the US 667 and Canada 125.
HamidÂ Karzai, the American-installed President of Afghanistan,Â had long realised that the Taliban could neitherÂ be easily defeated nor would itÂ give up. First,Â they had been born as a strong fighting force in the days of Soviet occupation.
Secondly, the TalibansÂ had their army intact becauseÂ inÂ the American-led invasion,Â they melted away as the invaders approached preferringÂ a guerrillaÂ warfare. Their simple tactic is to tie the enemy down, wear them out and hope to eventually defeat them.
Thirdly, the Talibans are highly motivated; they are fierce patriots and many believe that they are engaged in a holy war. Fourthly, they have the backing of fellow Islamic fighters who believe this is a jihad and are therefore willing to lay down their lives.
Fifthly, compared to the corruption -ridden KarzaiÂ government, they seemÂ to the populace to be honest. Another pointÂ is that the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian populace by the invaders has alienated the populace.A sixth advantage is that the Talibans have a receptive base in the Pakistani borders.
Sure the Talibans have disadvantages such as theirÂ unbending adherence to religious principles and political intolerance of opposition and Western values, butÂ some of these account for the support they enjoy in the country.
Karzai had concluded that the best option is to talk to the Talibans, but until Britainâ€™s change of mind, he was opposed by his Western masters.
With the August 20 presidential elections approaching, Karzai desperately wants to be seen as a patriot who can defend the interests of his people rather than a puppet. He is taking the unprecedented step ofÂ making rules of conductÂ for foreign troops, including American.
First, he is asking them to minimise civilian casualties, secondly, toÂ limit their searches of private homes, thirdly, that they restrict the indefinite detention of Afghans withoutÂ trial.
Specifically, he has asked the Americans to release about 600Â Afghans detained at the Bagram Airbase unless there is evidence linking them to terrorism.
The Afghan president said while his countryÂ wants partnership with the Americans and their allies, they must ensure â€œthat the partners are not losing their lives, their property, their dignity as a consequence of that partnershipâ€.
In the pack of 39 presidential candidates, Karzai is the sure bet, butÂ his talks with the TalibansÂ mayÂ flunderÂ Â on a fundamental issue; the latter want a time table for the withdrawal of foreign troops. To Karzai, this is forbidden territory; he knows thatÂ without foreign troops, he would be a goner.