Tag Archives: Revolution

How to Overthrow a Brutal Dictator


While NATO grapples with the most effective road to victory in Libya and treads the fine line which borders supporting civilians and  overthrowing a dictator, let me illustrate a very successful example of such an overthrow, in history, and see if we can learn some lessons from there. I talk of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

At the time of Independence, British India was partitioned into 2 major countries. Secular India and Islamic Pakistan. Pakistan was further divided into East Pakistan and West Pakistan. These 2 sub divisions were separated by 1000s of miles of Indian territory. Being so apart geographically, the peoples of West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were culturally very distinct. But the center of power lay in West Pakistan and there was rampant discrimination against East Pakistanis.

Eventually things reached a point when East Pakistanis started calling for independence in the 1970’s under the leadership of the charismatic Sheik Mujibur Rehman and a strong pro-Bangladeshi nationalist movement broke out in East Pakistan. They wanted to secede from Pakistan and form an independent Bangladesh. Pakistan was led by a ruthless military dictator called Yahya Khan. He swung the full might of the Pakistani military juggernaut against the hapless civilians of Bangladesh and carried out genocide in East Pakistan, targeting Hindus and the intellectual elite of Dhaka. Unable to bear the brunt of this brutal assault, close to ten million Bangladeshis fled to refugee camps in India. India appealed to the international community for help but none responded. India then decided to take matters in its own hands and started arming and aiding the rebels. Pakistan then attacked India and full scale war broke out on 3rd December 1971.

The Indian troops smashed through the Pakistani military defences in East Pakistan and raced towards Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan. They knew time was not on their side. The US, the ever staunch ally of Pakistan, sent its nuclear equipped USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India into declaring a ceasefire. The Indians called the Russians and promptly there were Russian ships tailing the Enterprise. The world was dangerously close to a nuclear war involving US and USSR. The Indians raced ahead to defeat the Pakistanis before the situation got out of hand. On the morning of 14th December, 4 Indian Mig-21s, it’s pilots guided by tourist maps, tore across the skies of Dhaka and bombed the governor’s residence with uncanny accuracy. The governor was so shocked that he resigned and took refuge in the local Red Cross center. On 16th December the Indian Army blitzkrieg hit Dhaka and the Pakistani Army surrendered with India taking over 90,000 prisoners of war, the largest since World War 2. Bangladesh was free.

The above situation is not very dissimilar to what is happening in Libya now. But will NATO achieve success in the near future? From the above case analysis we can identify 3 reasons that generally make such operations successful.

1) A clear call for external help: The Bangladeshis actively supported the Indian role in the war and took economic and military aid readily. In contrast, in Libya, the rebels some times ask for more assistance and other times claim that they will overthrow Gaddaffi on their own. This approach confuses NATO and others about the extent to which the Libyans require their presence and hence are often wary to be more pro-active. In contrast, India went in confidently knowing full well that they had the support of the Bangladeshi people.

2) A strong opposition with a visible leadership: The Bangladeshis had Sheik Mujibur Rehman and his Awami League as political representatives and the Mukti Bahini which formed the military wing of the rebellion. This helped India to know who it was dealing with and let it focus on waging the war and then pulling out on victory, allowing Mujibur Rehman to focus on nation building. In contrast, in Libya there is a ragtag group of rebels and disparate tribal groups with no visible leader. This causes great discomfort in western capitals as they don’t know who exactly they are supporting. This also makes countries like the US loathe to put boots on the ground in the fear that after the war, with no clear leadership a civil war will break out and it’ll become Iraq and Afghanistan all over again.

3) A quick and decisive military operation: India acted swiftly and with full force to decapitate the Pakistani Army and had its goals clearly established. In contrast, NATO and others still seem to be fumbling over the boundaries of their operations and are hesitant to expand it to a full scale war for reasons mentioned above. This may only compound the situation further and turn the war into a messy quagmire.

Hence, NATO struggles with matching what India could achieve in a matter of 13 days against a strong adversary like Pakistan.

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The Missing Analysis


In the current reporting and debates regarding the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, I find that everyone seems to be missing on analyzing one important fact. One important country rather. Iraq. Witnessing the mass uprisings in these autocracies, it is prudent to ask one question. If the Iraq war had not taken place, would both the “goals” of the war still have been achieved? The answer is undoubtedly, yes.

The Iraq war was first fought on the premise that Saddam was manufacturing Nuclear Bombs and hence had to be stopped at any cost. When it became clear that Saddam did not have any WMDs in his possession, the US administration quickly turned around and blew its own trumpet for sowing the first seeds of democracy in the region by overthrowing a dictator. They claimed it would set an example in the Middle East. Some Bush loyalists claim victory today over the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, arguing that Bush’s mission of establishing democracy in the Middle East has now been successful. Now, that is one big joke. Mark Zuckerberg has contributed more to these revolutions than George Bush, the US Army and the CIA combined. The democracy in Iraq is in tatters while democracy in Egypt and Tunisia has made a promising start.

But coming back to the question: What if the Iraq war hadn’t taken place? I assume that the following sequence of events would have happened. Saddam would’ve continued trying to build the bomb in vain despite international sanctions. In the meantime Iran races ahead with its own nuclear facilities. Saddam, unable to build a bomb because of sanctions and unable to sit in the sidelines and watch rival Iran progress, is then forced to terminate his weapons program in exchange for aid and military equipment from the West a la Libya. Hence, Iraq would’ve become a new proxy against Iran a la during the Iran-Iraq war. However, come 2011 and inspired by the Tunisian revolts, people in Iraq revolt against Saddam’s rule and he flees. Notice how the dictators deposed have been ones who had good relations with the US. These are the ones who refrained from the use of military force against their people to a large extent. Maybe because of some amount of pressure from the US, which supplied their major military hardware. Contrast this against countries like Iran and Libya where peaceful protests have been crushed violently. Hence, with Saddam being an ally of the west, it is safe to assume he would’ve come under international pressure to quit. And thus, both the goals of the Iraq war, elimination of WMDs and establishing of a democracy would’ve been achieved without firing a bullet. Im no pacifist, but anyone can definitely realise the large number of negative consequences of that futile war.

Maybe this sounds a little far fetched. But, then again, two months back, the idea of an overthrow of Hosni Mubarak through 18 days of peaceful street protests would’ve sounded very much far-fetched.

Al Qaeda, Adam Smith and the Arabian Revolutions


What is the connection between Al Qaeda and Adam Smith? Absolutely nothing, at first glance. While the former is a ruthless terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, the latter is a highly respected and scholarly person who is widely considered to be the founding father of free market economics. But if we actually think about it, we realize that Al Qaeda has, inadvertently so, been following Adam Smith’s principles of a free market economy.

In the last few years, thanks to the relentless drone strikes and global pressure on terrorist havens like Pakistan, Al Qaeda has been significantly weakened. Being constantly on the run, without having any safe sanctuary except in the Pakistani Wild West, Al Qaeda has not been able to launch any successful terrorist attack on any nation. However, they have fostered a spirit of “entrepreneurship” among their radical followers. Like in a free market economy, there is not much “central planning” and “state/central intervention” in the “framing of policies”; rather the “center/state” has created conditions for the “blooming of private enterprise”. That is to say that, though there is no organizational level planning from the Al Qaeda central leadership with regards to terrorist strikes, their vitriolic messages of hate have encouraged and influenced a host of small time morons to take up arms for delusional causes. This is clear in the recent attacks: the Nigerian Underpants bomber, the Times Square bomber and the parcel bombs from Yemen. These were all low cost and unorganized missions put together by a bunch of wannabe terrorists. But it is precisely these kind of attacks that become hard to detect and will increase panic and unrest in an already scarred society. Eg: the TSA pat downs at US airports.

The only way to prevent such attacks is to remove the deep rooted causes that fuel such hatred. But this is easier said than done. Top on the list of grievances is the Israel-Palestine issue, which shows no signs of heading towards a peaceful resolution. Another major cause for concern in the Islamic/Arab world is the US and Western support for oppressive military dictators. These despots, hated by their own people, are staunch allies of the US. When they fall, as all despots eventually do, the people turn their resentment towards the global allies of the tyrants i.e US and Europe. This is what happened in Iran and indirectly influenced the Al Qaeda.

In 1953, a US supported coup brought back the ousted Iranian Shah to power, much to the chagrin of the Iranian people. When the Shah was ousted in 1979, the Iranians fearing another US coup attacked the US embassy and held the diplomats hostage for 444 days. An incensed US supported Iraq in the following Iran-Iraq war, funneling weapons and money to Saddam Hussein. A power hungry Saddam then attacked Kuwait in 1991. The US intervened and threw him out of Kuwait, but stationed troops in the Arab countries as a counter to Iraqi imperialist ambitions. This presence of US troops and their support for the autocratic Arab regimes gave fuel to the newly jobless Mujahideen created by another US backed dictator: Zia Ul Haq.

As we can see, this has been a vicious cycle of violence. To win this war on terror, we can’t just be content with dismantling one or two organizations. Al Qaeda is still a dangerous if somewhat diminished threat. The world needs to make a cohesive effort to address the root causes that make educated urban youth in US, UK and even India to propagate violence against innocents. The recent revolutions in the Arab world has left the US and the western world in a bind. Should it support its dictator friends for the sake of stability or support the people and risk radical fanatic political parties coming to power? I think the world needs to support democracy and the freedoms of people in the Arab world. Only this would lead to stability and peace in the coming century.