Understanding the Iraq imponderable the Nehruvian way

SINCE there is a total ban on reports of the inch-by-inch decimation of all life and property in Fallujah (for the sake of democracy, of course), I have taken recourse to an in-depth appraisal of Iraq under occupation by one of the finest historians India has ever produced. (I shall conceal his identity for a reason that will become clear later). In the chapter, Iraq and the virtues of aerial bombing, this historian quotes the correspondent of the Times, London: “Devastated villages, slaughtered cattle, maimed women and children bear witness to the spread of a uniform pattern of civilisation”.

By Saeed Naqvi

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Wed 15 Dec 2004, 11:29 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:56 AM

Finding that the villagers often ran away (the historian writes) and hid themselves on the approach of an aircraft and were not sporting enough to wait for the bombs to kill them, a new type of bomb, the time-delayed bomb, was used. This did not burst on falling but later. This devilish ruse was meant to mislead the villagers into returning to their huts after the aircraft has gone and then get bombed. Those who died were the comparatively fortunate ones. Those who were maimed, whose limbs were torn away, or who had other serious injuries, were far more unfortunate, for there was no medical aid available. So, says the historian, peace and order were restored and the Iraq government (Iyad Allawi?) presented itself under Anglo-American auspices to the world body to be admitted as a member.

Future historians will say that Iraq was ‘bombed’ into the UN, as indeed, in an earlier period it was ‘bombed’ into the League of Nations. Iraq has been occupied because the “people were not advanced enough or capable of looking after their own interests, and were therefore to be helped in doing so by the great powers”. The historian then introduces his punch line: “A comparable procedure perhaps would be to appoint a tiger to look after the interests of a number of cows or deer”. The declared aim of the occupiers is “the complete and definite emancipation of the peoples, and the establishment of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the initiative and free choice of the indigenous populations”.

Well, dear reader, the historian quoted above happens to be Jawaharlal Nehru. The excerpts are from Chapter 169 of Glimpses of World History. In this chapter, Nehru is describing Iraq under the British mandate which was the fate of the country after the World War I. The only liberty I have taken is to replace ‘British’ with ‘Anglo-American’ and the League of Nations with UN, to more accurately portray events that are taking place today, which we can ignore only at our peril. I was revising Nehru’s writings for an important seminar by the Jamia Millia when I stumbled on these passages. It was as if Nehru were in Iraq today. One had heard that history repeats itself, but this frame by frame replay is stunning. Nehru continues “the novel feature of the modern type of imperialism is its attempt to hide its terrorism (note, he uses the word terrorism) and exploitation behind pious phrases about ‘trusteeship’ and the ‘good of the masses’... and the like. They shoot and kill and destroy for the good of the people shot shown. This hypocrisy may be perhaps a sign of advance, for hypocrisy is a tribute to virtue, and it shows that the truth is not liked, and is therefore wrapped up in these comforting and deluding phrases, and thus hidden away.”

As I write this, I have before me the latest copy of the Independent on Sunday. My stomach churns as I see new pictures of hooded Iraqi prisoners being physically abused. The AP photos deal with the immediate aftermath of raids on Iraqi homes. One shows a man lying on his back with a boot on his chest, another has an automatic weapon pointed at his head, while a gloved thumb is pressed into his throat. A third photo shows a family cowering in a room. Similar stories are coming out of Afghanistan. The pictures on our TV screens, however, dwell on another story — the inauguration of Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai. In the front row sits US vice-president Dick Cheney, like a supervising deity.

Meanwhile a UN report shows that the area under poppy has increased by two-thirds during Karzai’s pre-election rule. So now Pakistan and India have a Colombia-like situation in our vicinity. Since I am not sunk into the deepest layers of strategic thought, I see a simple sketch. We now have Sakaashvili in Georgia, Yuschenko or his duplicate in Ukraine, Karzai in Afghanistan, Musharraf in Pakistan, Allawi in Baghdad. The war on terror will yield a crop of similar rulers. And 50 years down the line, historians will record events which will be a replay of what is happening now. Or will some unforeseeable catastrophe impart to history another twist?

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist and political commentator

© Indian Express

More news from