Kosova and Bosnia: So Different Yet Alike

By Khalid Baig

The big mystery of NATO's war in Kosova is that despite its overwhelming firepower, NATO was totally unable to protect the Kosovar Muslims. The most generous view is that it is a "failure," that the planners did not properly estimate Serb ferocity and failed to plan properly. However, those holding this view should rest assured that the NATO leaders are not losing any sleep over this "failure."

In big power games, things are hardly ever the way they appear to be on the surface. To accept everything on face value takes a great leap of faith. For those who do not have this faith, here are some questions intriguing the minds of everyone concerned about the great tragedy now unfolding in Kosova, along with candid answers.

Q. Who is doing what in Kosova?

A. There are three parties there: Muslims, Serbs, and western powers under the flag of NATO. Muslims want to live peacefully in their own homes and since that is denied under Serb occupation, they want freedom. Serbs want to subjugate and repress Muslims in the same way that Israel subjugates Palestinians. NATO powers want to assert their control over this area for both economic and political reasons, but do not have any fundamental problem with the Serb's treatment of Muslims, which had been going on for more than a decade.

NATO is beating the Serbs but not in a way that would stop them from beating the Muslims.

Q. Are not NATO policies in Kosova exactly opposite of those in Bosnia?

A. On the surface, yes. But looking beneath the surface may reveal something quite different. In Bosnia, the real problem with Milosevic was not what he was doing, but only that he was taking too long to do it. After all, it was an American plan, devised by former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1992, that handed the Milosevic regime and the fascist Bosnian Serbs the entire arsenal of former Yugoslavia. To further ensure the Serbian success, NATO navies and UN troops enforced an arms embargo against the Sarajevo government. For this open aggression NATO powers paid a big political price in terms of world opinion, especially Muslim world opinion.

In Kosova, on the other hand, the big task of removing Muslims from their homes has been accomplished in a very short period. More than half a million were expelled in just two weeks. In addition, this great achievement did not come with any political costs attached to it. No one can blame NATO; it clearly seems to be working around the clock to "help" the Muslims.

The results of this brilliant strategy have been spectacular. Consider the following:

1. It has divided the Muslim world, with some countries like Iran and Iraq opposing the NATO operation while others supporting it. There is intense, even acrimonious, debate among Muslim intellectuals about what is really going on. In Bosnia everyone was together in understanding the role of all the parties involved.

2. It has preempted any role for the Muslim world. In Bosnia the OIC (Organization for the Islamic Conference) was at least talking. Malaysia, Iran, and some other countries did even provide some material support for the Bosnians. In Kosova, it is as if the Muslim world does not even exist.

3. It has preempted any support from the Mujahideen from other countries. Although the total number of Mujahideen that reached Bosnia was very small, their influence was much larger than their numbers would indicate. Their very presence helped many lost Muslims to rediscover their faith. The mosques and schools for Islamic education began to attract many Bosnian Muslims. That is why they were considered a great "danger" by the NATO forces and the Dayton accord made it a point to have them removed from Bosnia. Again, this unwelcome side effect of the prolonging of the Bosnian operation has been eliminated in Kosova.

4. The operation has not only established NATO "credibility" (read awe); it has also given it a new legitimacy. How can anyone supporting it today question a similar action tomorrow because it was taken outside the U.N. system?

5. The operation has provided a great public-relations opportunity that could be expected to weaken the support for the growing demands to free the Arabian Peninsula of the presence of foreign troops.

Q. But NATO seems to be helping the Muslims.

A. Actually NATO has avoided every option that could materially help the Muslims. It rejected the main demand of Kosova for independence. The agreement that KLA had reluctantly agreed to, was clearly in favor of Serbs. But the Serbs wanted even more and the deal did not go through. If the motive were to avert human tragedy as President Clinton claimed, that could have been done by letting the KLA do its job. They could be provided with weapons or at least allowed to get them from Muslim countries. Rather they were clearly asked to scale down their military activities and warned not to try to take any advantage of the NATO involvement. Even if for its "strategic interests" NATO wanted to do the job itself, it could still have at least used the Apache helicopter gunships that would be most effective in the battlefield against the Serbs as they attacked town after town in Kosova. "They're the perfect weapon for the NATO's ground attack operation and they're based just hundreds of miles away from embattled Kosovo," wrote L.A. Times (10 April 99).Why they have not been employed? According to the newspaper, Sen. Charles Hagel (R. Neb) asked the question of NATO authorities after visiting them in that area. "We pressed them hard on this and they just don't have a good answer."

Q. Will NATO introduce ground troops in Kosova?

A. Most likely the ground troops will be employed but only when the time is "right." That means when the Muslims have been so badly beaten that they will not have any second thoughts about a Dayton type settlement being imposed on them. Rather they will consider it a blessing.

Q. What was wrong with Dayton?

A. Thanks to Dayton agreement, Bosnia today is a colony of the big powers. A 1996 article by Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa, in zmagazine (www.zmag.org) is quiet revealing. According to him, Bosnian Parliamentary Assembly set up under the "Constitution" finalised under the Dayton Accords, largely acts as a "rubber stamp". Behind the democratic facade, actual political power rests in the hands of a "parallel government" headed by the High Representative and staffed by expatriate advisors.

Moroever, the Constitution agreed in Dayton hands over the reins of economic policy to IMF, the World Bank, and the London based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Article VII stipulates that the first Governor of the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to be appointed by the IMF and "shall not be a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina or a neighbouring State..." Moreover the Central Bank is not allowed under the Constitution to function as a Central Bank: "For the first six years (...) it many not extend credit by creating money, operating in this respect as a currency board" (Article VII).

The tasks of managing the Bosnian economy have been carefully divided among donor agencies: while the Central Bank is under IMF custody, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) heads the Commission on Public Corporations which supervises operations of all public sector enterprises including energy, water, postal services, roads, railways, etc. The President of the EBRD appoints the Chairman of the Commission, which also oversees public sector restructuring, meaning primarily the sell-off of State and socially owned assets and the procurement of long term investment funds.

"The territorial partition of Bosnia between the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Bosnian-Serb Republika Srpska under the Dayton Accords was done in accordance with Western economic interests."

Bosnia yesterday, Kosova today. Same area. Same players. Same game. Same tragedy.