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Nichols: Why is one dictator better than another?

POSTED: February 11, 2008 5:02 a.m.

I do not know what yardstick can distinguish between a good and a bad foreign military dictator. I do know that we have treated two Muslim military dictators very differently.

In 1968, a group of military leaders in Iraq led by General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr staged a coup d’etat that brought to power the revolutionary Ba’ath Party. Al-Bakr’s vice president was a younger military officer, Saddam Hussein.

Saddam became noted for his efforts that successfully nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1972, which had its first oil strike in 1927 and had British, French, German and American (Exxon and Mobil) owners.

Saddam rose to become president of Iraq from July 1979 to April 2003. He ruled Iraq during its war with Iran (1980-1988) and the First Persian Gulf War (1991).

During the war with Iran, Saddam dropped poison gas on some of Iraq’s Kurds who he thought were collaborating with Iran hoping to establish a state for Kurds that would be independent of Iraq.

After being captured by American forces on Dec. 13, 2003, he was put on trial for crimes against humanity and was executed as punishment for his crimes a year ago.

Two main reasons to invade Iraq were given by American and coalition forces: First, Saddam was a war criminal who threatened the security of all states. We desired a "regime change" meaning the removal of Saddam from power.

Secondly: Saddam was suspected of making weapons of mass destruction. He had used them before on the Kurds and was most likely to still be making such weapons. However, we never found a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq.

Just two countries to the east of Iraq, Pakistan is ruled by another military man, Pervez Musharraf, who grabbed power in a military coup d’etat in 1999. Subsequently, Gen. Musharraf declared himself to be chief executive, and later president of Pakistan. Musharraf was elected last October in a controversial election to a second five-year presidential term. He recently resigned from the military before taking office. But the military still is the source of his power.

Opposition to him is extremely strong. Especially critical of his power has been Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister before Musharraf came to power in that country.

Pakistan is a country twice the size of California. It was born in turmoil when the British withdrew from the Indian subcontinent. Mohammed Ali Jinnah had joined the Muslim League back in 1913. As a political leader he advocated that the British leave India, and separate it into two different countries, one for the Muslims, the other for the Hindus and non Muslim peoples.

The idea of two different countries established because of religion, was strongly, but peacefully rejected by a lawyer who had joined the Congress Party with members from many areas of British India. Mahatma Gandhi utilized moral issues to encourage the British to leave a united India when they departed.

However the British followed the path advocated by Jinnah. Thus Pakistan and India were created when the British withdrew from India in 1947. It was a violent birth. Some 17 million persons were involved as Muslims fled from India into Pakistan’s territory, and Hindus and other Indians fled from Pakistan into Indian Territory. Many were killed fleeing in different directions.

Pakistan was created with two different territories, east and west, separated by India. The eastern part broke off in a civil war that ended in the creation of Bangladesh at the mouth of the Ganges river, one of the poorest nations on earth, and victimized by nature such as the recent typhoon disaster there.

Pakistan and India have never resolved their dispute over Kashmir, a princely state with a maharajah who was Hindu, and a people who were mostly Muslim. After several wars, Pakistan and India administer a divided Kashmir, but both desire to own all of that state.

In May 1998, Pakistan tested six nuclear devices. Thus, Pakistan actually possesses dangerous nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The father of Pakistan’s nuclear program was Abdul Qadeer Khan. He later confessed he gave nuclear materials to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Musharraf pardoned Dr. Khan in February 2004.

We have requested Musharraf’s support in our struggle to reduce the spread of terrorism. Pakistan has an extremely rugged border with Afghanistan and al-Qaida training camps may exist in remote regions of the border area.

So Saddam was a bad military dictator. Musharraf appears to be more acceptable. What makes one military dictator bad and another good, is a puzzling mystery to me.


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