LONDON – The former head of the British armed forces, Lord Guthrie has revealed that he discussed with former Prime Minister Tony Blair the need to invade Zimbabwe at the height of the political crisis in the country which started with the March 2000 land invasions. Lord Guthrie, speaking candidly in an interview with the UK Independent newspaper, says he was so close to Blair they talked about anything resulting in them discussing the need to launch a military offensive that could end Zanu PF rule in Zimbabwe.
But, says the General who is known Blair’s favourite, he warned the Prime Minister against the invasion saying it could worsen the situation in the country. “We used to talk about things,” says Lord Guthrie. “I could say anything to him, because he knew I wasn’t going to spill the beans.” Subjects discussed included invading Zimbabwe, “which people were always trying to get me to look at. My advice was, ‘Hold hard, you’ll make it worse.’
This is the first time that a senior official within the British government has revealed how far Blair’s government went in trying to remove the Zanu PF government from power. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, blamed for the country’s economic and political crisis by the West and the opposition MDC, says Britain is responsible for the country’s crumbling economy, engineered after his government decided to take land from white commercial farmers.
Mugabe says the British hatched a plan to remove him from office by sponsoring the opposition MDC. Lord Guthrie does not give much more information about the plan to invade Zimbabwe but also says that the invasion of Iraq was probably a mistake. “I felt it was right at the time,” the former head of the armed forces says of the decision to attack Saddam to stop him attacking us. “Now I’m not so sure. In fact I think it was probably wrong.” The occupation has been a disaster, the General says.
As Chief of the Defence Staff from 1997 to 2001, Charles Guthrie struck up a close relationship with the then Prime Minister and became known as Blair’s favourite General. Even after retirement he was close to Blair, acting as his envoy to Pakistan, reports the Independent. Meanwhile the Voice of America’s Studio 7 programme reports that a paper published by one of the most prestigious foreign policy institutes in the United States says Washington and its international partners should shift its Zimbabwe policy to prepare for – and perhaps hasten – the departure of President Mugabe.
The paper from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York says U.S. policy should focus on “sound recovery and reconstruction planning” and plan to avert or minimise chaos in a political transition which, under worst-case scenarios, could include civil strife, state collapse and destabilisation of the Southern African region.
U.S. policy towards Zimbabwe has been to pressure the Mugabe government through travel and financial sanctions targeting senior officials, while providing food aid and assistance battling the HIV/AIDS pandemic that has decimated the population.
Author Michelle Gavin, an international affairs fellow at the Council, suggests Washington and the international community could galvanise key Zimbabwean players into action by making clear the benefits including major donor funding that would be released on the institution of reforms, potentially speeding Mugabe’s exit.
U.S. officials should recognise that they “probably cannot compel President Mugabe and his loyalists to step aside.” But, “engaging with other members of the international community now to map out a path for Zimbabwe’s recovery is more than an exercise in advance planning,” Gavin argues.
“By working multilaterally to build consensus around governance-related conditions for reengagement, and by marshaling significant reconstruction resources in an international trust fund for Zimbabwe, the United States can help establish clear incentives for potential successors to Mugabe to embrace vital reform.”
In doing so, “the United States can encourage and even hasten constructive forms of potential political change by affecting the calculus of those who are in a position to trigger a transition,” writes Gavin. She adds that recovery and reconstruction planning can also help avert “worst-case scenarios of civil conflict, state collapse, and regional destabilisation from taking hold during any future attempted political transition.”