With the outbreak of military conflict in the Persian Gulf, the great danger is that this crisis is coming to be seen in the Islamic world as a confrontation with the West. The more the war is prolonged, the more the real issue at stake - Iraq's occupation of Kuwait - will be lost. Already, as I feared, the war is creating an anti-Western bitterness across the entire Muslim world that could take decades to reverse.
In Pakistan, for example, I was severely criticized by fundamentalists last week for even visiting the United States. The cars of other leaders of the Pakistan People's Party were attacked. Enraged mobs surrounded their homes and threatened to burn them down.To avert just this kind of reaction, I had appealed without success to the U.N. Secretary-General and to U.S. President George Bush to avoid war by extending the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. This would have permitted more time for a political solution.
It was clear to those who know Saddam Hussein that threatening him with such a deadline was a miscalculation. Such an approach, it is now evident, only ensured his intransigence and encouraged his martyrdom.
The Pakistani people, as well as others in the Muslim nations, need to be reminded that Iraq started this conflict by breaching international law and invading Kuwait. Yet, in the minds of many Muslims, the objective of removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait has now been all but forgotten, overshadowed by the fact that Western planes are bombing Muslim masses.
To contain the disastrous slide toward a conflict between civilizations, the West should allow a pause in the bombing so that Islamic leaders themselves can seek a political solution to the gulf crisis - a solution that, above all, restores the
sovereignty of Kuwait and also addresses the need for a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Even if such an initiative fails, it will have the salutary effect of giving Islamic nations a sense of participation in trying to end the conflict, thus dampening the emotional backlash based on a perception that the West is waging war against us.
From the Pakistani standpoint, I repeat emphatically that the original issue must be kept in sight. We must resist the occupation of Kuwait and stand on the principle of international law. Otherwise, India's occupation of Kashmir will also be forgotten. We must oppose a larger state invading a smaller state. Otherwise, a large state like India could invade with impunity a smaller state like Pakistan.
We must also remember that the U.S. was invited into Saudi Arabia by the Saudi government. Had the Saudis asked Pakistan for assistance, and had I still been in government, I would have responded to their call to help protect their territorial integrity - just as the Saudis have supported us on the issue of Kashmir. If Pakistan had a conflict with India, for instance, we would need the Saudis' assistance and would expect it.
It is my hope that, once the tragic war in the gulf is resolved, the world community will shift its forces to other U.N. resolutions concerning issues that threaten peace and justice in the region.
The implementation of U.N. Resolution 678 calling for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait should be a precedent for an international conference to address resolutions 242 and 338. (These resolutions call for Israeli withdrawal from occupied areas and recognize the right of all states in the region to secure borders.)
Such a conference could resolve the most dangerous and festering problem in the Middle East - the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people - and lead to a just and comprehensive peace among all the states of the region.
And, as the world community turns its attention to U.N. resolutions on the Middle East, it is imperative that other long-standing resolutions also be implemented, especially Security Council Resolution 47 regarding Kashmir.
Kashmir stands out as a continuing symbol of oppression and injustice. For 40 years, the Muslims of Kashmir have been denied the right to choose their own government, their own homeland, their own destiny.
Resolution 47 guarantees to the Kashmirese people a plebiscite to decide their future and to determine whether they want to be a part of India or Pakistan. Yet the government of India has repeatedly ignored it.
If this and other U.N. resolutions remain unimplemented after the gulf crisis, the step forward in constructing a new world order during 1990 will take two steps back in 1991.
In Pakistan, I believe the backlash against Western involvement in the gulf war can be contained if the legitimate rights of the Kashmirese and Palestinians are addressed in accordance with the U.N. resolutions. If the West fails in its commitment to these otherresolutions, it will feed the considerable sympathy that has arisen for Saddam Hussein on both the right and left in the Muslim world since the war began.
Saddam Hussein's appeal is now very broad. He appeals to the religious fundamentalists when he argues that he is fighting infidels who have taken over from the Saudis as custodian of Islam's holiest sites at Mecca and Medina. He appeals to the left when he argues that he is fighting the privileged on behalf of the underprivileged.
For the last half of the 20th century, the social and economic priorities of the world were distorted by the Cold War conflict between capitalism and socialism. If the West can appreciate the perceptions and interests of the Muslim world, and the Muslim world can appreciate the necessity of upholding international law as the rule by which the community of nations can live side by side, there still may be a chance to avoid the terrible divisiveness of a deadly new conflict between Islam and the West in the 21st century.
1991, New Perspectives Quarterly
Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate