Learning from the Bosnian crisis

Editor's Note: The following column was published by Creators Syndicate on July 8, 1996.

Today, investigators are slowly unearthing the remains of murdered Muslims in the mass graves surrounding Srebrenica. As the dirt is removed and the bodies are identified and laid to rest, a horrible chapter of our modern history is being documented.

Now the world has tangible proof of a level of carnage and brutal savagery that defies belief. We have proof of a viciousness seldom seen since the genocide in Cambodia and the ongoing terror in Kashmir.

No longer can we question whether or not this "ethnic cleansing" is a brutal reality. We know for certain that Western nations stood by as uninterested witnesses to events that bore an uncanny resemblance to Hitler's "Final Solution."

So now, as we expose this single great massacre, we should also throw light on the foolishness and ignorance that allowed these events to occur. How we could have let such genocide into our lives again?

The people of the Muslim world have long been bewildered at the indecisiveness of Western countries in taking punitive measures against the Serbs when it seemed obvious that force was the only language these criminals could understand.

The weakness of the United Nations came as a shock to us, as well. After all, the United Nations is perceived as the centerpiece of the new global order, focusing on the rights of women and children, protecting the environment and dealing with runaway population growth. And most importantly, the United Nations has a basic duty to prevent conflict and bring opposing parties to peaceable agreements.

Part of our surprise was due to the sharp contrast between the West's reaction to the events in Bosnia and its reaction during the Gulf War. The world, under the U.N. banner, acted with alacrity and unity in confronting the occupation of Kuwait in 1990.

What happened to the speed, decisiveness and cooperation that proved so effective against Iraq? Did innocent Bosnian Muslims not deserve the world's help? It seemed that the West was deliberately indifferent to or, worse, intolerant of different religions and beliefs.

But while other nations stood by, the Muslim world and the people of Pakistan demonstrated what could have &

should have &

been done to prevent the crises.

We treated the Bosnian crisis as the major global travesty that it has proven to be.

Pakistanis, who have long been victims of Indian aggression, immediately empathized with the Bosnian people. We knew mere U.N. resolutions would not stop the bloodshed &

decisive action was the only answer. Pakistan urged members of the Security Council to authorize the use of force against the Serbian aggressors, worked for a Special Declaration on Bosnia at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights and helped organize the efforts of other Muslim nations. Most importantly, Pakistanis risked their lives so that Bosnia could have peace, sending 3,000 troops to join the U.N. Protection Force.

During my visits to France, Germany and England in 1994, I personally stressed the importance of Bosnia to world leaders. In 1995, I urged U.S. President Bill Clinton and then Sen. Bob Dole to lead America in fulfilling its responsibilities as the world's only superpower by helping to end the Bosnian conflict.

Finally, in consultation with other Muslim leaders, I offered a Muslim force under the U.N. banner should the arms embargo be lifted and Western troops be withdrawn, as they were hinting they would do.

Although I stressed that it was a European conflict that needed a European involvement in the solution, if Western nations couldn't withstand the pressures of public opinion, Muslim countries would fill the void.

To drive home this point, then Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller and I traveled to Bosnia, where we wore flak jackets and were surrounded by gunfire. We went to show the commitment of our nations to the Bosnian people and to witness the courage and determination with which the persecuted Muslims faced their aggressors.

After all the bloodshed and anguish, what have we learned? That a quick solution to the Bosnian conflict was a necessity. That appeasement and hesitation only encourage elements of disharmony and disorder in other nations.

When provided with the right leadership, a peaceful parting of the ways is possible, such as the division that gave birth to the Czech and Slovak republics under the guidance of Vaclav Havel.

When leadership is abdicated and responsibility is renounced, we allow the likes of Radovan Kradzic to begin their massacres. That should be our enduring lesson.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was a Pakistani politician who chaired the Pakistan Peoples Party, a centre-left political party in Pakistan. Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state, having twice been Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was removed from office both times on allegations of corruption. Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in Dubai in 1998. Bhutto returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18, 2007, after reaching an understanding with President Pervez Musharraf by which she was granted amnesty and all corruption charges were withdrawn. She was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2007, two weeks before the scheduled Pakistani general election of 2008 where she was a leading opposition candidate.

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