Meeting Hans Blix
A one-man anti-war squad
by Farooq Sulehria

"It's about oil", says Hans Blix, talking about the Iraq war. "First I did not think so. But now I have changed my mind".

Once a foreign minister in a right wing government (a fact many young Swedes don't even know), Hans Blix served as head of UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) from 1981 to 1997. Recalled by the UNO in 2000 to become Executive Chairperson, UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), he presided over the re-introduction of weapons inspectors in Iraq in 2002. Contrary to his TV image of a strong man, in real life he comes across as a cheerful sixty-something, and is a Swedish name more famous than the country's prime minister (who happens to be Goran Persson, an anti-thesis of Olof Palme in foreign policy).

Hans Blix started becoming a familiar name across the globe as the Bush administration started preparing for the Iraq invasion. Prior to the second Iraqi invasion, Blix headed the UN inspection team.

Nobody expected a report by the inspection team that US might find annoying. But there was a big surprise in store for everybody. Blix plainly announced that he did not find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. The Bush administration exerted pressure. The media even rumoured a 'threat' passed on by Herr Colin Powell. Hans Blix denies having been threatened.

"If one holds a key position, the governments of course try to exert pressure. I wouldn't say there was any threat passed as such", he says, talking to this correspondent in Stockholm recently.

Call it 'threat' or 'exertion of pressure' whatever, Hans Blix refused to 'budge'. Thus a one-man squad defeated the empire at least on one front: legitimacy. His defiant stand despite all 'pressure' bereaved USA of the legitimacy it needed to invade Iraq.

How does Hans Blix react to US invasion of Iraq two years after Bush invaded Babylon?

"The disease was wrongly identified. Therefore the therapy went wrong. You cannot a have correct therapy when the diagnosis was wrong", he says.

"Saddam Hussein was a medieval style dictator. No doubt about that. The Iraqis hated him. Had there been a secret referendum in Iraq, a clear majority would have rejected him. But that did not mean the Iraqis wanted USA to invade", Blix says. He thinks there are 'critical lessons' to be learnt from Iraq not just by the USA but by all the governments. "We knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Evidence is critical. There was contempt for evidence. Now Iraq is resisting. The Iraqis want the USA to leave."

But Hans Blix is against an 'all of a sudden' departure, which, he fears, 'will lead to chaos and civil war'. He wants the return of normalcy to Iraq. Paradoxically, he supports resistance to occupation. However, he distances himself from violence and 'brutal acts of kidnappings, murders and targeting of civilians'.

Hans Blix is sceptical about US invasion of North Korea. And Iran, for that matter. He prefers the 'carrot and stick' method to deal with Iraq. "The USA is applying a carrot and stick method in case of North Korea", he says.

When asked why only sticks and no carrots in case of Iran, Hans Blix dismisses the notion. "There have been carrots in case of Iran. Not just sticks. Iran has been offered pretty generous economic help by the three EU countries: Germany, England and France. That is one of the reasons Iran has capped its uranium enrichment".

'Uranium enrichment' is a question Hans Blix has dealt with for many years across the globe in his capacity as IAEA head. He therefore is one of the best persons to ask questions often haunting many Pakistani minds: Why is Pakistan's bomb an 'Islamic' one but the Indian device is not 'Hindu'? Why is a nuke in Muslim hands more catastrophic than in the hands of non-Muslims? And above all, why is Iran being targeted now and not Israel?

Blix is unfazed by the flurry of questions hurled at him; they are not new to him. "On the question of Iran and Israel, there is a technical answer and a political one. Technically, Iran being a signatory to the NPT is not entitled to enrich uranium beyond a certain limit and is also bound for inspections. Israel, on the other hand is not a signatory to the NPT. But this answer, of course, will not satisfy Pakistanis or for that matter Iran and rest of the world. In my opinion, the solution is a nuclear free Middle East. Israel's nuclear programme must also be dismantled".

What about USA holding the world's largest nuclear stockpile? "USA, England, India, Pakistan as well as all other nuclear powers should give up their nukes and nuclear programmes", according to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, he says.

Hans Blix currently heads the WMD Commission, a job that consumes a lot of his time. In fact, he is hardly ever found in Stockholm, because of having to travel for the Commission.

Wherever he goes, he finds appreciation for his principled stand against Iraq's war. Even in Muslim countries? "At least all the taxi drivers in Stockholm recognise me!" comes the double-edged reply comes with some laughter.

Double-edged because most of the taxi drivers in Stockholm are immigrant workers with a Muslim background.

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