Week in review
Mullah Omar, the crackpot religious dictator of almost all of Afghanistan until less than a week ago, on Thursday threatened that the war in his country was nothing other than part of a bigger plan that includes the destruction of America. He said this while the part of Afghanistan where he and his honored guest and in-law, Osama bin Laden, can hide from the cold rage of the Americans and the sharp knife of his Afghan enemies is growing ever smaller. The noose that Mullah Omar placed so flippantly around the neck of the war hero Abdul Haq three weeks ago is now being tightened for his own. Omar’s declaration to the BBC displays his nihilistic bravado in the face of defeat but also reveals how self-delusional and messianic he and those like him are. Here is someone whose every whim was absolute, brutal law for 26 million people in his benighted country. For years. While he was hidden in his lair in Kandahar, speaking briefly and only through intermediaries, invisible to all, there was a certain mystique about him, a certain weight about him. Now he is seen in his true colors: a reclusive rabble-rouser with the intellectual and spiritual depth of the fanatics shouting for the cameras in Pakistani streets on Fridays. As his regime collapses around him, Omar remains invisible, but now there is a word bubble above where he would be, full of bluster and apocalyptic threats. This is perhaps the penultimate moment in one more tragic interlude in Afghanistan’s rocky history. And it is a failing of humanity in general that it took the September 11 attacks on America to prompt the international intervention in Afghanistan, just as it will be an even worse failing if Afghanistan is not helped to avoid falling back into the confusion and disaster that preceded the Taleban’s own brand of confusion and disaster. But no matter how much we may disagree with Omar we can understand why he has acted the way he has. What defies belief is that the leader of one of Greece’s neighbors, a country that is expected to play a leading role in whatever effort the international community makes to stabilize Afghanistan, should choose the same day as Omar to make his own threats of war. Bulent Ecevit, the prime minister of Turkey, in a similar outburst, declared that war would break out if the United Nations and the European Union carried on with their push to reunite Cyprus. Ecevit, the sweet-talking poet and scholar who ordered the invasion of Cyprus in the first place in 1974, adopted the age-old diplomatic tricks of the Turks, in which they act – or threaten to act – aggressively while presenting themselves as the victims. If the wishes of certain foreign circles, the EU and the UN secretary-general are agreed to and Turkish Cypriots are forced to live alongside Greek Cypriots on the island, they will be confronted with worse than the genocide that was faced before the Turkish peace operation, he said, referring to the invasion. We will not be willing, we cannot be willing, to allow Turkish Cypriots to fall under Greek-Cypriot domination, he added. If the two states are forcibly united, then the following day Greek Cypriots from the south will raid the north. They will invade the houses in the north – Turkish houses. In other words, the 200,000 Greek Cypriots who lost their homes and property when the Turks invaded will now be seen as the invaders if they want to go home. At the same time, Ecevit ignores the fact that the UN-mediated negotiations that Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash walked out of more than a year ago were aimed precisely at preventing such troubles once the island is reunited. Secondly, Ecevit presents the result of the Turkish invasion not as the violent division of Cyprus, with ethnic Greeks and Turks being kept separate by an uncompromising, militaristic and illegitimate regime in northern Cyprus, but as the creation of two states which must not be forced to live together. It is interesting that with this same argument he shoots down the Turkish threat to annex northern Cyprus if the island’s legitimate government goes ahead and joins the European Union within the next three years. Of course, when Cyprus joins the EU, on behalf of all its people (including the Turkish Cypriots) it will be fulfilling a dream that every other nation in the region has – becoming part of the richest and most democratic union of countries the world has known. Not only will Turkish Cypriots share the wealth of the European Union but also its guarantees of security, both within the borders of Cyprus and as part of the union. The EU, in other words, will guarantee a standard of living that no one in Turkey will be able to aspire to for many years. Instead of seeing the benefits of EU membership, Turkish Cypriots are being warned that they will be killed and robbed. Because surely no one in the rest of the world can believe the threats of violence that Ecevit and Denktash speak of so easily, implying that they are aimed at the Turkish Cypriots and the Turks as a way of getting them to back Ankara’s policy without questioning it. This comes at a time when Turkey is planning to play a pivotal role in the international community’s intervention in Afghanistan, with talk of Turks leading a multinational peacekeeping force in Kabul. Ankara has also just promised to bite the bullet and cut spending while raising revenues with a number of drastic measures that are likely to cause much trouble among Turkey’s already struggling working classes. This is in exchange for the International Monetary Fund’s providing billions of dollars in new loans to help end the economic crisis. Ankara has been caught in the confusion of the war in Afghanistan, which has placed new emphasis on Turkey’s strategic importance, both in terms of its geography and the fact that it is a Muslim nation strongly supportive of the West. On the other hand, the Turkish leadership has felt slighted by the fact that the EU’s nascent defense force does not want to give Ankara a veto over how it will employ the resources of members who are also members of NATO. Much of Turkey’s problem with the EU stems from its intransigent position on Cyprus, but it has many other thorns to deal with, including human rights and the opening up of its economy. In the light of the challenges Turkey faces and the opportunities arising, it seems absurd that it should shape much of its foreign policy over rumor-mongering on Cyprus. If, for once, it bent a little and allowed the people of Cyprus to come together, even for a few social occasions, it would allow the foundations of a common future to be built. The EU will be the roof of this new home, a shelter from the storms of the past. Instead, Ankara has chosen to threaten catastrophe. But in accusing the United Nations, the European Union and the Greeks, it is – unlike Omar – making threats against its friends. And unlike the Taleban, they do not have their back to the wall. Yet they still seem to have turned their back on the future.