Whew! We managed to get by the year 2002 without a major catastrophe. The much-anticipated terrorist attack on American soil did not come in the year 2002. But what kind of a New Year can we expect now? Does the year 2003 portend good or evil in this world? A sixty-four million dollar question, indeed!
Though a major calamity did not occur on U.S. soil last year, there were plenty of smaller terrorist activities - in Bali, the French vessel off the coast of Yemen, in Kuwait and in Afghanistan. The only positive claim last year was that it was a year when there were least number of airline related deaths. Did all the security and inconvenience pay off or did we get lucky?
We all thought that the stock market in U.S. could not get any lower after the immediate repercussions of 9/11. Yet it lost plenty of ground in year 2002 with no bright forecast for this year either. There seems to be a global recession, which may linger for yet another year. The only thing that may reverse the trend would be if by some miracle war could be avoided. Peace seems almost unattainable as long as there is the threat of fanatical terrorism, funded by governments playing on both sides of the fence ' good as well as the bad. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan come to mind immediately when one is discussing governments that straddle the fence.
War is looming in Iraq. When the inspectors file their report to the United Nations on January 27th, it will be obvious that the regime in Baghdad has been producing weapons of mass destruction, all the while obfuscating the attempts to discover them by the weapons inspectors. There would be no choice but to go to war with Iraq, unless the despot Hussein decides to save his skin by choosing exile over certain defeat. Chances of this happening are slim, as we have witnessed the 'scorched earth policy' of Saddam Hussein a decade ago. First he tried to drag Israel into the fray by dropping scud missiles on them and then, when defeat was imminent, he set fire to Kuwaiti oil wells. The prediction this time is far more ominous. He will use some of his chemical weapons and biological weapons as a last resort, in desperation.
So is this war necessary, in the face of such adversity? Should this madman be provoked to act irrationally as he surely will? The answer may lie in North Korea.
North Korea is a remnant of a dying 19th century idea called Marxist Communism. (By the end of 20th century, the Soviets and Eastern Europeans had given up on this idea, conjured up by a German economic and political philosopher Karl Marx, who had been exiled first by France and then by Belgium for his radical ideas and writing the communist manifesto. His most important work, mercifully remained unfinished as he died from ill-health before completing his two additional volumes after his 'Das Kapital'). But North Koreans, while following this totalitarian style of regime, have found the secret of remaining relevant by building a large military power and nuclear weapon capabilities. With the threat of nuclear proliferation as its trump card, North Korea has managed to blackmail the rest of the world, especially U.S. In 1994 it duped then President Clinton into an agreement for billions of dollars in return and oil supply for its nuclear reactors, all the while continuing secretly to develop its nuclear weapons program. (In this effort it was helped by China as well as Pakistan, both our allies!). The beast now is asking to be fed again. Now North Korea is trying to blackmail U.S. into coming up with more money for it to stop its weapons program. It has chosen a good time for its demands. The rest of the world is preoccupied with its war on terrorism and Iraq. What better time to make its demands now when, the world cannot focus solely on it?
Saddam Hussein and other dictators have watched how rewarding it can be, once nuclear weapons are procured. That bastion of terrorism, namely Pakistan also is treated with respect and caution because it has nuclear weapons. Naturally, Saddam Hussein is itching to join the club. Moreover, Saddam who calls America the Great Satan will not hesitate to disseminate both technology and the weapons to potential terrorists in the future. That is the case against Saddam Hussein President Bush is making. Preemptive strike now is easier than later, once he has his nuclear weapons.
North Korea and Iraq are not the only hot spots that can have dangerous consequences for the year 2003. Of course, Israel and the Palestinian problems seem to be perpetual and something that cannot be solved by boneheaded politicians. The situation in Iran appears hopeful as a large middle class population there is becoming intolerant of the archaic ideas of the ruling fundamentalist clergy.
The potential for another face off in Kashmir between India and Pakistan lingers. Though there has been a temporary truce between the two sides, incendiary statements are still made by both sides. General Musharraf recently revealed with pride that he had his finger on the nuclear button during the skirmish with India last year, and would not have hesitated to use it if the conflict resulted in full-blown war! He is intelligent enough to know that if he did that his country would be wiped out from the face of this earth, as retaliation from India would have been severe. Yet, he has the gall to make this inflammatory statement with callous disregard for human life, not only of his neighbors but also of his own people!
So what can be expected in the year 2003? How happy the New Year is going to be? With all these conflicts coming to a head and peace a distant memory, things will get a lot worse before they get better. Iraq, Iran, Kashmir, North Korea, West Bank are still places where tinder is readily available to kindle the fire. The only question is how long will the elusive peace and prosperity dodge us. It is not a sixty-four million dollar question anymore. The cost would be much more than that. Both in terms of money and the number of people paying the price! Some one please give me some good news. I am yearning for it!