on this occasion, alas, i have to differ with sandhya regarding the congress party's involvement in this scandal.
it's all very well to view america with suspicion -- indeed it, and all other major powers, should be viewed with extreme suspicion -- but it is not proper to espouse knee-jerk anti-america reactions. especially because in this case it would amount to supporting natwar singh and company. the americans do have their uses, after all: unlike china, which is unremittingly hostile and evil. america is not evil, it is merely looking after its own interests.
i mean: bofors, mitrokhin, volcker report. don't they say three strikes and you're out? what more evidence does one need for congress malfeasance? remember how the congress pilloried fernandes and others over considerably smaller acts of (alleged) villainy? why not return the favor now and bring down natwar, manmohan and sonia and karat and yechuri for good measure? turnabout is generally considered fairplay especially when the opponent provides you with ammunition on a silver platter with watercress around it.
the volcker report scandal is scandalous only for one thing: that natwar singh could be bought for so little money, like three crore rupees! i mean, a foreign minister, he should set a price that is not an insult to the country! i know a lot of indians are willing to sell their mother down the river for peanuts, but this is bad. i mean, there ought to be a law against selling oneself too cheap. what happened to good, proper rent-seeking behavior?
Iraq's about oil, not food
Good old-fashioned nationalism compels me to write about the duplicitous UN Oil for Food scam at a time when I am deeply anguished over the tragedy which has effectively ended all festivities in the capital. Most of us will go through the motions of observing Hindu dharma's greatest annual event, but Saturday's bloodstains have left an indelible impact on us all. Delhi Police's sustained efforts over the past few years had revived confidence in the battle against terrorism, making the sudden catastrophe difficult to digest. The Prime Minister's studied silence on his open border policy has been noticed by all, and so long as South Block substitutes American pressure for an independent foreign policy, we can expect such incidents to be repeated ad nauseum.
The UN Oil for Food programme stinks to high heaven of the oil piracy with which America is virtually synonymous, while Secretary General Kofi Annan reinforces the public impression of himself as a White Man's stooge. It is no secret that the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq from 1990 under American pressure, causing untold misery to the Iraqi people, who literally began to die of starvation for want of food, medicines, and other urgent necessities (remember the man-made Bengal famine, ushered in by the "benevolent" British Raj?). When the deaths assumed scandalous proportions, the Oil for Food programme was created in 1996, which permitted the Saddam regime to export crude oil and deposit the funds in a special bank account (Escrow Account), which UN would run to buy food, medicines and other articles for the Iraqi people. UN officials would determine the prices at which goods would be purchased and the firms from which purchases would be made (you get the drift).
The UN was always a bloated bureaucracy of over-paid mediocrities from around the world. Still, under Mr. Boutros Boutrous-Ghali, it was not a pet poodle of the White House, which it what Mr. Annan has reduced it to. Even a nodding acquaintance with the manner in which Mr. Annan has conducted his office, from sleeping over the genocide in Rwanda to nodding over the food-for-sex horror in Sudan, would indicate the direction in which the Oil for Food would go. Not surprisingly, one of pockets into which it went is alleged to be that of Mr. Annan's son!
But there is more to the deal than mere money. Hence Mr. Annan must explain why the UN, having imposed unjustified sanctions against Iraq under American pressure, chose a member of Washington's political elite (former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker) to conduct a so-called 'independent' inquiry into the Oil for Food scam. Many aspects of the Volcker report are fishy. But the worst, from the standpoint of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, is its impact upon the on-going trial of Mr. Saddam Hussain. A US-managed court, with US-appointed and trained judges is conducting a trial, the outcome of which is foretold. Despite this, the deposed dictators' legal team is harassed, and international opinion against the continuing occupation of Iraq is sought to be silenced through the Volcker report. Somehow America can never rise above the self-righteous rapacity of its White Settler occupants.
Essentially, what does Volcker have to say? That Saddam used UN's endemic corruption to beat the sanctions by using the Oil for Food programme to earn $ 1.8 billion for his country; and that he used oil to buy influence with politicians in several countries to condemn the sanctions. In India, there is a frisson of excitement over claims that Foreign Minister Natwar Singh (incidentally an old-fashioned nationalist) received peanuts worth Rs. 3.37 crores at today's exchange rate.
Mr. Natwar Singh, then an opposition MP, played a leading role in getting the Indian Parliament to adopt a unanimous resolution condemning the US military invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since it is nobody's case that Mr. Natwar Singh shared his booty with fellow Parliamentarians, we must assume that the resolution reflected the Indian national position on war against a friendly country. By mindlessly seeking Mr. Singh's resignation, the BJP, which was then the ruling party, must explain if it now endorses American occupation of Iraq. Moreover, since the then Deputy Prime Minister actively canvassed for sending Indian troops to assist the Americans in Iraq, while on an official visit to Washington, the BJP should spell out its Iraq policy to end public confusion in the matter. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would do well to issue a detailed statement in this regard.
Even civilians like me, with no stakes in the global oil market, knew that UN officials were making money in Iraqi oil. Nations imposing sanctions bought Iraqi oil through channels that Mr. Volcker is now pretending to uncover. As a so-called expert on money laundering and an expert criminal prosecutor, he should use his talents to unearth the post-invasion oil rape by US oil firms.
A cursory look at the Volcker report suggests that US angst flows from the fact that upto August 2000, Iraq sold oil through global (read Western) oil companies. But from September 2000, Saddam began to select oil buyers with a view to buy goodwill for his country (a wholesome foreign policy objective by any standard). He particularly favoured permanent members of the Security Council, to get the sanctions eased. Thus, Russia and France benefitted, and US oil companies did business with the Russians.
But this did not go down well with America. After all, the arbitrary and irrational post-Second World War map of the Gulf was drawn up by the Allies only to serve their commercial-strategic interests (read oil needs). As the sole global superpower, America could hardly digest deployment of troops to protect the rulers of friendly Gulf regimes, while Russians ran the oil trade! Volcker gives the game away by protesting that Iraqi crude was being sold to persons who were not "regular players in the oil market." In other words, the Oil Cartel is a Closed Circle and the Free Market is for the birds. As for the business activities of the Foreign Minister's son, what is relevant is whether he settled his dues with the income tax department.
Volcker says there were "layers of individuals and companies" between the oil quotas and the ultimate buyers; hence UN could not determine who was actually benefiting from and controlling the oil purchases. Frankly, UN is so utterly complicit in financial scandals and human rights abuses all over the world that there is a strong case for it winding up altogether, especially in view of its inability to correct itself and its propensity to act as an arm of the White House. Further, it is none of America's business how a sovereign nation sells its natural resources to keep its people alive. Contempt for UN-US complicity in ravaging Iraq made the 101 oil companies and traders that did business with Baghdad shun Volcker's queries.
It is said that most of the Iraqi oil sold between 1996 and 2002 had an illegal surcharge that UN had declared illegal; but the oil companies and traders paid no heed. Volcker has mentioned politicians in Russia, France, Britain and Italy, who benefitted from Saddam's largesse. He should now identity the American oil majors and politicians swimming in Iraqi oil after the de facto colonization of that country.