Choosing from shades of grey
by Salim Mansur
The crisis in Pakistan brings to the surface the terrible dilemma of how the West should respond in containing and defusing it before it explodes with far-reaching consequences.
The dilemma for leaders in western capitals is not choosing between alternatives that are as distinct as black and white. Instead it is being faced with choices that are indistinguishably grey.
The Pakistani situation also brings into focus the crisis in the making in Iran. The two countries could be viewed, despite the many differences between them, as inverse mirror images of each other.
Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state on the edge of anarchy, with the probability of prolonged political unrest and mounting terrorist violence if its fragile centre, held together by military force, weakens.
Iran under the Shiite clerics -- nearly three decades after its gut-wrenching revolution against the Shah's monarchical regime and tested by its long war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- has proven to be resilient, and defiantly is moving to the edge of becoming a nuclear weapon state.
It is now known that Pakistan's bomb makers led by Dr. A.Q. Khan traded in the nuclear black market underworld, sharing technology and material with countries such as Libya, Iran, and likely Saudi Arabia, seeking nuclear weapons of their own.
A nuclear Iran, it must be surmised, will be able to trade its acquired relative invulnerability to dangerously arm its surrogates in Lebanon and Palestine -- Hezbollah and Hamas -- while tilting the regional balance in the Persian Gulf area to serve its ambitions.
The fear with Pakistan is its nuclear weapons, or fissile materials, slipping from the military's protective control to unaccountable elements with links to the Islamist terrorists.
The fear with Iran is an Islamist state -- setting aside the differences between the Sunni and the Shiite versions of Islamism for academics to discuss -- acquiring nuclear weapons.
This fear is not new. It arrived with the birth of the nuclear age.
Einstein's admonishment remains a prayer: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything, but our way of thinking. We need an essentially new way of thinking if mankind is to survive."
But when a choice was inescapable as German scientists (Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann in 1938 inside Hitler's Third Reich) successfully split the nucleus of a uranium atom Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt of the impending peril, urging action.
The action required was for democracies to prevent non-democracies and tyrants from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The failure to stop Pakistan from going nuclear has now become the West's nightmare as the country has become, since 9/11, the "ground zero" of Islamist terrorism, and refuge for Taliban and al Qaida leaders and warriors.
LEARN THE LESSON
The lesson of this failure is not to allow the Pakistan scenario to be repeated, especially in a society where the ingredients of terror and tyranny are in a lethal mix with state promoted anti-Israel and anti-West bigotry, as in Iran.
The West, through trial and error, constructed a deterrent relationship with the nuclear- armed former Soviet Union and its successor, Russia.
It is an open question with terrible risks involved to ponder if the West can work out a deterrent relationship with Iran, whose leadership espouses -- like that of Nazi Germany -- an ideology promoting apocalyptic goals.
The crisis in Pakistan brings the West to the edge on Iran. It was foreseen.