Kashmir exploding again: Modi must act like statesman

Modi and Sharif
By Ameen Izzadeen
It was only weeks ago that the Kashmiris on both sides of the divide came under the onslaught of hostile weather with the Jhelum river bursting its banks. Hundreds died and tens of thousands of people were evacuated to safety while the governments on both sides of the divide came in for heavy criticism for their lack of disaster preparedness and woefully inadequate relief measures.
This week the people of Kashmir were angry again as both India and Pakistan clashed across the border with mortar fire raining on civilian areas. Some 17 civilians – ten in Pakistan and seven in India — have been killed and scores wounded while nearly 20,000 people have fled their homes in search of safe places as the two countries launched tit-for-tat attacks.
Described as the worst violence since the 1999 Kargil war, the ongoing clashes have shattered hopes of finding a solution to the seven-decade-old problem – hopes that grew out of India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy turnaround when he took oaths on May 26 this year in the presence of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other regional leaders. A day after the swearing-in ceremony, the two leaders had a constructive dialogue and agreed to resume high-level talks.
However, this euphoria-generating meeting did not lead to any lowering of guard by the two armies. Instead, tension grew with each side accusing the other of unprovoked violations of a 2003 border truce. It is not unusual for the two countries to point fingers at each other or the two armies to fire at each other; but what is unusual is that for first time in more than a decade there have been a large number of civilian casualties.
This is alarming and needless to say the confrontation between two nuclear neighbours requires the immediate attention of the world body and world powers, who are more focused these days on the dual war on Ebola and ISIS. They must realise that India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no softie. He is surrounded by advisors who are hadliners and Pakistan haters.
Though Modi appeared to be interested in promoting regional cooperation and neighbourly relations, he is now pursuing a muscular foreign policy, especially with regard to Pakistan. One wonders whether he was implementing his campaign promise.
In his election manifesto, Modi vowed to uphold India’s territorial integrity and abrogate the constitutional provision that recognised Kashmir as a special region with greater autonomy. On campaign trail, he hit out at the Congress government for being too soft on Pakistan. Since forming the government in May this year, Modi has visited the disputed region several times, giving a militaristic outlook to his Kashmir policy. The places he visited included Kargil — where a clash between the two countries in 1999, dragged the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust.
Senior BJP members and hardline alliance partners such as Shiv Sena and RSS demand that Modi implement his campaign promise on Kashmir where the cry for independence is as loud as it was when the Himalayan kingdom’s Hindu ruler, in defiance of the Muslim majority’s wish, agreed to a union with India in the face of an invasion from the newly created state of Pakistan.
Bowing to pressure from hardliners, Modi in August cancelled foreign-secretary-level talks with Pakistan in response to a meeting Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi had with Kashmiri separatist groups, whom Islamabad describes as stakeholders in peace talks. In the past, such meetings were hardly regarded as provocations that warranted such drastic action as the cancellation of high-level talks. The 2003 ceasefire between the two countries largely held, even after the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai and the beheading of an Indian soldier in 2013.
But this time around, the spotlight was on Modi. The hardliners in the party and a section of the media embedded to the Modi camp were prodding the Prime Minister for a tough response. He succumbed to the pressure instead of taking a statesman-like stance and upholding the regional cooperation spirit with which he celebrated his swearing-in.
The hardening of positions was taking place not only in India. In Pakistan, too, political events have tilted the balance in favour of the hawks. The military is apparently dictating the country’s Kashmir policy. This happened after Premier Sharif buckled under pressure when opposition groups led by Imran Khan and radical cleric Tahir al-Qadri led a massive march to Islamabad and laid siege to the parliament building and the prime minister’s residence demanding his resignation. Sharif survived the crisis only because he managed to get the military on board — but not without ceding space to the generals to decide on key defence matters, including Kashmir and the war against the Taliban.
Michael Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars says, “This unrest is a logical consequence of worsening political relations between India and Pakistan. What’s particularly worrisome is that Pakistan’s military appears to now be in the driver’s seat of India policy — and the military has much less enthusiasm for reconciliation.”
It is amidst the toughening of stances that Sharif further aroused India’s fury by mentioning the ‘K’ word in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly annual sessions and also at his meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
In his speech, Sharif said the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir should be resolved though a plebiscite as proposed by the UN Security Council in 1948. He added that the holding of such a plebiscite was the responsibility of the international community, as the people of Jammu and Kashmir were still waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a plebiscite. “We cannot draw a veil over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, adding that “many generations of Kashmiris have lived in violence” and that the people of the state had suffered, especially its women.
Sharif said Pakistan was ready for negotiations to solve the crisis. “Regional peace and security, political peace, social justice and rule of law are absolutely essential… My government’s aspiration is to build a peaceful neighbourhood,” Sharif said provoking an angry response from India but much praise from Kashmiri groups campaigning for freedom from India’s control.
The United Nations Secretary General told the media later that the world body was willing to mediate in the Kashmir issue “if so requested” by both concerned parties.
An angry Modi snubbed Sharif by not agreeing to meet him on the sidelines of the UN conference. In his speech to the UN General Assembly, Modi rebuked Pakistan for trying to internationalise the Kashmir dispute whereas, he said, it should have been solved through dialogue.
“Raising it at the UN won’t resolve bilateral issues,” Modi said, adding that it was a pointless exercise when there were so many more pressing issues facing the region and the world.
Trying to show he was not a hardliner as often described by the Western media for his alleged complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, Modi pointed out his government’s positive outreach to India’s South Asian neighbours from day one, and said its approach to Pakistan was in the same vein.
“We want to promote friendship with Pakistan too, but we can only talk without the shadow of terrorism over us,” Modi said.
In another swipe at Pakistan, he said, “Even today there were countries that were giving shelter to terrorist organisations and differentiating between good terrorists and bad terrorists which raised questions about their intentions and motives.”
Pakistan says India’s military is abusing the human rights of Muslims in Kashmir, which it describes as one of the world’s most highly militarised regions. There are about 500,000 to 700,000 Indian troops in the India-held Kashmir. Pakistan, which holds the one third of Kashmir, also dismisses India’s claims of terrorist infiltration as greatly exaggerated, saying such claims were aimed at covering up India’s human rights violations. It calls on India to allow international human rights groups to visit the disputed territory to investigate allegations of violence, torture and rape.
Yesterday India’s Defence Minister Arun Jaitley told Pakistan to stop its shelling across the Line of Control, warning that India would make such attacks “unaffordable”.
Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said his country was “fully capable of responding befittingly to India’s aggression,” but urged India to exercise caution.
As India and Pakistan accuse each other of ratcheting up tension along the Line of Control, the two countries are also well aware that neither country could afford a full-scale military confrontation which could even lead to a nuclear catastrophe. Both countries must put aside their prejudices and domestic political compulsions and solve the Kashmiri issue that has prevented not only the normalisation of ties between the two countries but also efforts to make South Asian regional cooperation meaningful and beneficial to hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken people.
India which prides itself as being the biggest democracy on earth should let the Kashmiris decide what they want – whether to join India or Pakistan or to emerge as an independent state. Or the two countries can even make the Line of Control the permanent border with Kashmiris being given special permission to visit the other side of the border without much hassle. But the bottom line is that neither India nor Pakistan has a serious interest in making a significant move towards peace. They appear to be content with the status quo and unconcerned about the plight of the Kashmiris who have seen three major wars and umpteen warlike situations since 1948.
Let there be a handshake for peace when the two leaders attend the SAARC summit in Kathmandu next month.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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US policy: Promoting or perverting democracy?

By Ameen Izzadeen
US President Barack Obama in a recent speech and in a presidential memorandum has vowed to launch a counterattack to check threats to democracy worldwide. The US president noted that oppressive governments were sharing ‘worst practices’ to weaken civil society.
His remarks last week won much praise and stirred hopes of activists campaigning to end dictatorships, so much so that the Washington Post wrote an op-ed article that carried the byline ‘the Editorial Board’.
“We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come,” Obama said in an address aimed at democratic activists around the world. He appeared to be infusing new life into the flagging spirit of democracy activists and human rights promoters when he declared that the United State would “stand with the courageous citizens and brave civil society groups who are working for equality and opportunity and justice and human dignity all over the world.”
Sadly though, the words are not part of the US foreign policy. Neither has Obama’s rhetoric reached the oppressed people the world over to give them hopes that their suffering will soon end. Words, however promising they are or how powerful a person who uttered them, will sound hollow if they are not turned into action. So will Obama’s words if he does not turn them into action or pursue them with selfless passion to establish democracy, uphold justice, ensure freedom and penalise dictators.
None would disagree that there is no altruism in politics. According to political realism, enhancing power is the main objective of a politician, a political party or a State. It is naïve not to assume that the US does not pursue a policy aimed at increasing its power. Even during the era of isolationism before World War 1 and later between the two great wars, the US aggressively followed a policy to increase its economic and military power.
A politician’s speech may appear as altruistic – like the words of President Obama during his democracy-promotion speech – but his aim may be to enhance his power. Similarly, states sometimes take a morally correct stand on pressing global issues such as climate change, the food crisis and disarmament, but their objective is to boost their image or to cover their shame when they have been accused of doing the wrong or morally incorrect thing – like invading a country or committing war crimes.
Going by the past record of the United States, it is difficult to believe that Obama’s democracy promotion stems from a selfless intention to help people who are oppressed by jackboot dictators and fascist tyrants.
In the 1940s, George Kennan, the US State Department diplomat in charge of preparing the staff, gave the following advice to the trainees before they took up postings as ambassadors:
“We have about 50 per cent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 per cent of its population… In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity…”
Amid concerns that the US share of the world’s wealth has been declining with the rise of China as an economic power, we do not know what kind of advice the present day US diplomats are given before they take up postings.
On the face of it, it may seem that the United States is working to end oppression. The US brags about getting rid of the oppressive regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. But the question is: Did the US effect the regime change for the love of the people in these countries or for the selfish motive of making economic gains?
It is now an open secret that the US invaded Iraq for its oil. Talk of bringing democracy to Iraq was an attempt by the then US President George W. Bush to give a veneer of legitimacy to the immoral act of invading a country and occupying it. Even whatever democracy the US brought about in Iraq was tampered with to suit the US agenda. When Iraq’s experiment with democracy produced results that the US did not like, President Bush used strong-arm tactics to pervert the outcome of the elections. This happened when Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari won Iraq’s parliamentary elections in 2006 and was nominated for the post of prime minister for the second time. But the Bush regime opposed him because he was seen to be close to Iran and resisting US dictates. Bush perverting democracy was not unusual. But it is shocking when Obama does the same. The Obama administration played a big role in preventing Nouri al-Maliki from becoming prime minister for another term, though the Iraqi politician’s Dawa Party won the most number of seats at the parliamentary elections.
Even in Libya, where the US militarily intervened to bring about a regime change, US attempts to manipulate democracy and install a pro-West regime have plunged that once peaceful country into a bloody hellhole.
Nowhere is the gap between what is said and what is done is wider than in the US policy towards post-Arab Spring Egypt.
In May 2011, when the Arab Spring was blooming, Obama proclaimed “a new chapter in American diplomacy…. after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be…. It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.”
But when the people’s power revolution installed democracy and produced a government that the US and its staunch allies Israel and Saudi Arabia did not like, the Obama administration intensified measures to bring down the Muslim Brotherhood government which was moving away from the US’ sphere of influence.
None who attended the Clinton Global Initiative meeting where Mr. Obama gave his democracy-promoting speech got up and asked him why the US accorded recognition to the military government of Abdel Fateh al-Sisis in Egypt instead of penalizing it — as the US law demands – for the coup that overthrew the Brotherhood government.
They should also ask him why the US refused to recognise the Hamas government although the Palestinian resistance group won the 2006 assembly elections. They can also ask Obama whether spending millions of dollars to buy opposition politicians and orchestrate a coup to overthrow the democratically elected President in Ukraine was the US way of democracy promotion.
Or take Syria. President Bashar al-Assad offered democratic reforms such as multi-party elections to end the rebellion that had the support of the US and its Gulf allies. But instead of encouraging Assad to implement the reforms, the US and its allies sought to topple his government by arming, training and financing the rebels, most of whom were allied with al-Qaeda and the dreaded Islamic State.
In Pakistan, the US has partnered with the military regimes in the past to achieve its geo-strategic goals, thus giving legitimacy to the illegal power grabs by Pakistan’s military. In yet another example that showed that democracy toppling is the US policy, the CIA staged a coup in Iran in 1952 and ousted the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadeq.
Democracy, despite its defects and deficiencies, is the best form of government, provided it has proper checks and balances. But democracy today even in the United States is under threat. President Obama should first turn the searchlight inwards and seek to strengthen democracy within before promoting democracy outside.
If President Obama is committed to promoting democracy, as he claims to be, then we would not have seen a witch-hunt against the Wikileaks chief, Julian Assange, whose crime was to uphold an essential pillar of democracy — the people’s right to know. Edward Snowden, who exposed the US administration’s undemocratic practice of extensive internet and phone surveillance, would not have to live like a fugitive in an alien country if democracy had been practised in spirit and letter in his country – the United States. Moreover, if the US was the democracy it claimed it to be, then the Americans would not have seen or heard of draconian legislation such as the Patriot Act or waterboarding, Guantanamo Bay gulag prisons, military trials, racial profiling, hundreds of lies to justify invasions and the killing innocent civilians in drone attacks.
In short, democracy as practiced even in the world’s oldest democracy – the United States – is a sham even though the US Constitution is hailed as the world’s best man-made document that seeks to uphold fundamental rights and freedom.
Even democracy promotion outside the US is a selfish exercise aimed at setting up of vassal states or puppet regimes. The US foreign policy, instead of promoting democracy, has driven nascent democracies towards dictatorship, and moderates towards extremism. Take for instance Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia veered towards democracy. But when Russian President Vladimir Putin realised that there were moves to undermine the independence of Russia and to set up a pro-West puppet government through fifth columns, he was forced to take harsh measures that erode the people’s freedom.
The same is true with regard to China. Beijing tolerates no dissent not because it hates democracy but because if fears the pro-democracy campaigners’ pro-West agenda – which is harmful to China’s national interest. This is why China opposes the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Twenty-five years ago it brutally crushed a similar protest at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In what appears to be a warning directed at the US, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during a joint news conference on Wednesday in Washington with his counterpart John Kerry, said that Hong Kong affairs were China’s internal affairs and all countries should respect China’s sovereignty.
He said non-intervention in other countries’ affairs was a basic principle governing international relations.
The bottom line is that the more a nation sees a foreign hand involved in its internal affairs on the pretext of democracy promotion, the more repressive it will become.
US policy has also driven Islamists away from democracy. In democratic elections in Algeria, Libya, occupied Palestine, Egypt and Turkey (before Recep Tayyib Erdogan formed a government), the Islamists won democratic elections handsomely, only to be denied their right to form a government by West-engineered military coups or strong-arm tactics. As a result, the Islamists have lost faith in democracy and are being attracted to extremist ideologies. Washington should bear the blame for creating the conditions for the existence of Islamic extremism.
President Obama must restructure his democracy promotion campaign and base it on moral principles rather than political agendas.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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IS monster and Middle East mayhem

By Ameen Izzadeen
President Barack Obama has taken his war on terror to another Arab country. Syria is the seventh Muslim country that has been bombed by the US since Obama became president. The other six countries where he ordered bombings are: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.
Of course, in his defence, the Nobel peace laureate says he is committed to his policy of not putting boots on the ground and is acting in self defence. In this instance, US officials say they are fighting against a terror group that has killed two American citizens and therefore such a war has legitimacy in international law, but others insist UN approval is necessary as the US action is an affront to Syria’s sovereignty.
Syria has extended a cautious welcome to US attacks on terrorist positions within its territory.
But the absence of an assurance from the Obama administration that the US war on the terror group Islamic State – also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL) – will not become a war on Syria is conspicuous and has stoked fears about a long war in the Middle East.
Even President Obama has acknowledged that the war on IS targets in Iraq and Syria is not a hit-and-run affair. It will be a long war. Well one more war won’t be too much for a region which has not seen peace since Arab leaders betrayed the Ottoman Caliph and fought on the side of the British forces in World War I.
Ever since then, the US and the West have beenn in one way or another getting involved in wars, military coups and counter-revolutions in the Middle East, not to mention many an intrigue that has plagued the region.
The US war on terror that began in October 2001 in the wake of a terrorist attack on the United States in September that year will not end with a war on IS in Iraq or Syria. It will go on and on until every country in the region is affected.
Already Yemen is in major political turmoil and it is only a matter of time before an IS-like group emerges there. Early this week, much to the chagrin of regional power Saudi Arabia, the minority Zayidi Shiites – also known as the Houthis — captured the capital, Sana, and brought the Sunni-dominated government to its knees. The success of the Houthi rebellion, believed to be backed by Iran, has sent chills down the Saudi spine.
Yemen is strategically located on major oil shipping routes and could become a new front in a region-wide tussle for influence between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, al-Qaeda in Yemen called on the Sunnis to take up arms to fight the Zayidis, who make up 30 per cent of Yemen’s 25 million population.
With the Yemeni government and its military virtually capitulating to the Houthis, in most probability, Saudi Arabia and the US may back various Sunni groups, no matter whether they carry al-Qaeda or IS franchise.
The United States, the patron saint of Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday expressed support for Yemen’s besieged President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who, under pressure, agreed to share power with the victorious Houthis.
Reports say the Houthis are not happy with what they have got. They want more – the full control of the government. This is why many fear that the crisis in Yemen may explode into a sectarian war with the Saudis likely to back Sunni armed groups.
In yet another dangerous development which shows that the IS scourge is spreading far and wide, a French tourist was beheaded on Wednesday in Algeria by a group that has pledged allegiance to the IS. It appears that IS has beaten al-Qaeda in the race for popularity among terrorists.
Like the Yemeni crisis, the crisis in Syria also has its genesis in the rivalry between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
The Syrian crisis broke out at a time when Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries, the United States and Israel had serious worries about the rise of Iran and the power of a Shiite crescent that linked Iran, a soon-to-be nuclear power, with the Shiite-sectarian regime in Iraq, the Alawaite regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
When the 2011 Arab Spring brought down regime after regime, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries seized the opportunity and whipped up a rebellion against the Syrian regime, hoping that just as they got rid of Libya’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi, they could topple the Assad regime. This they did with the aim of weakening Iran’s power and benefitting from pipelines that would take their oil and gas across Syria. The fact that such a campaign would lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people and make millions homeless apparently did not occur to the orchestrators of the Syrian war.
Puffed with hubris, they sparked a civil war in Syria. Making matters easy for the Saudis, many Islamists in Syria and other countries follow Salafism or Wahhabism, a version of Islam practised and promoted by Saudi Arabia. Some adherents of this version of Islam define Shiite Muslims as infidels. Because of this dangerous Takfiri ideology – declaring a Muslim to be a non-Muslim – the IS leadership and members see their atrocities as acts of worship and stay blind to the Qur’anic commandments with regard to love, tolerance, forgiveness, magnanimity and justice.
The Gulf rulers’ enmity for Shiite Iran and the pro-Iranian Assad regime in Syria has even made them to promote US military action against Iran’s nuclear sites. It is the same hostility that drove them to arm Sunni rebels in Syria.
When the Syrian civil war started in February 2011, there was no single command under which the opposition could unite and direct its fight against the Assad regime. The US and its Gulf allies sent in military aid and money to prop up the rebels. The rebellion grew in strength with Islamic credentials with al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels savouring battlefield successes. The US drew criticism that it was supporting al-Qaeda groups. But the Obama administration continued to arm and train the rebels on an assurance from its Gulf allies that they would be in control of the groups. However, in December 2012 the US took a bold decision and banned the Jabhat al-Nusra, which had openly declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda and which by then had become the most powerful rebel group in Syria. There was only a small IS presence in Syria then. Both al-Nusra and the IS were getting instructions from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Another significant turn of events was when, in June 2013, the United States refused to take military action against the Syrian regime even after President Assad had crossed Obama’s red line – the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. The US’ about turn helped the Syrian forces to gain major military victories. Angry at the US decision, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies took matters into their hands and decided to arm the Syrian rebels, irrespective of whether they carried the terrorist label or not. Money and weapons flowed in abundance. They did not mind which group got them as long as they fought Assad. This was where the rebellion in Syria got out of hand. Among those who benefited was the Islamic State. The group is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As his name denotes, he is from Iraq. His popularity rose among Iraq’s Sunnis after he successfully led a jail break in 2011 in Iraq and freed some 3,000 Sunnis arrested on charges of terrorism. The freed Sunnis were moved to Syria and soon the Islamic State began to make major gains in the battlefield. The success prompted al-Baghdadi to issue a call to other rebel groups to join IS.
Drawn by the IS’s success, many small rebel groups joined hands with the IS. Al-Nusra refused to heed the call and petitioned al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri, complaining about Baghdadi. Al-Zawahiri ordered Baghdadi to return to Iraq. Baghdadi told him he took orders only from God.
Among those who switched allegiance to IS were thousands of misguided Muslim youths from Western countries. On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council adopted a US-sponsored resolution compelling states to prevent their nationals from joining jihadists in Iraq and Syria. But the US and its European allies such as Britain pretended not to see when hundreds of Muslim youths left for Syria under the guise of organising refugee aid. Terrorism experts say some 3,000 western Jihadis are in the 30,000-strong IS force.
After a month of US air attacks on IS targets in Iraq and after four nights of air attacks by the US and its Gulf partners on IS targets in Syria, the group is far from being defeated. It still holds a fourth of Iraq and a third of Syria. As bombs fall on IS targets, the group captures more territory in the Kurdish region of Syria.
Reports from IS-controlled areas in Syria and Iraq say residents there have little option but to put up with the IS as they see the government forces as a bigger devil than the IS. Other reports said the US bombing has only helped rival Islamic groups to unite because the bombing is not only against the IS but also against al-Nusra and Khorashan, a little heard of al-Qaeda veteran group. The group’s name came into prominence only after the US started bombing its positions this week.
In the Arab world, there is little or no sympathy for the IS. Many in the Arab world blame the US and the Gulf regimes for the creation of the monster. As the Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar join the US military attacks on IS targets, many Arabs in the street ask where these courageous Arab leaders and their fighter jets were when the Palestinians were attacked by Israel in July and August this year.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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US war on IS: Real target is Syria

By Ameen Izzadeen
Cartoonists in the United States and Britain are giving a spit and polish to Barack Obama’s claim that there won’t be American boots on the ground. One cartoonist depicted two Iraq-bound US soldiers in conversation while they were putting a pair of new golf shoes on, with one soldier exclaiming, “Golf shoes” while the other responds, “President Obama promised there won’t be boots on the ground in Iraq.”
The cartoon highlights how forked-tongue politicians circumvent their own words that spell out highest idealistic principles to implement their sinister plans. This reminds us of the story of a king who told besieged enemy troops that if they surrender he would spare their heads. Believing his words, the enemy force surrenders. But the wicked king orders his soldiers to stab the prisoners of war in their chests. When the surrendees asked the king why he was reneging on his promise, the king said, “Well, as I promised, I am sparing your head, but I did not say I will not stab you in the chest.”
Fables apart, realpolitik reeks of double-dealings and double-standards. In May 1961, President John F Kennedy sent 400 troops as advisors to Vietnam to prop up the pro-West regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. But when the war reached its peak in the mid-1970s, there were half a million US troops in Vietnam fighting against Vietnamese freedom fighters or Ho Chi Minh’s barefoot warriors.
President Obama was emphatic in his recent speeches that US troops would not get involved in combat operations either in Iraq or Syria. They would play the role of advisors. Early this month, some 400 US military advisors were despatched to Iraq. This number has since increased fourfold and is likely to go up in the weeks and months to come.
Yet Obama is drawing criticism from neoconservative hardliners who accuse him of not heeding President George W. Bush’s advice and prematurely withdrawing US troops from Iraq in December 2011.
Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen told Fox TV last week that Iraq was in a mess today because Obama did not heed Bush’s warning.
President Bush, who apparently built on the sandcastle of ‘might is right’, had believed that withdrawing troops before US commanders gave the green light would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States.
In a 2007 warning, Bush had said a premature withdrawal “would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean we’d be increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”
Bush hardliners may strut about saying ‘didn’t we say so” but will not see that Bush himself was in a way acknowledging that it was US policies and invasions that had given rise to groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State a.k.a. Islamic State in Syria/Levant (ISIS/ISIL).
There was no al-Qaeda presence in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In fact, the Iraqi dictator Bush ousted after the 2003 invasion loathed political Islam whether it came from the Shiite community or the Sunni community to which he belonged.
It was only after the American soldiers committed excesses in Iraq’s Sunni areas such as Fallujah, Haditha and Ramadi that there emerged in Iraq an al-Qaeda presence led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
There are two theories regarding the emergence of the IS – both pointing towards the US. One is that the IS was created by the mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq, just as Ronald Reagan’s mistakes — arming Arab fighters during the Afghan war from 1979 to 1989 — created al-Qaeda. The other theory claims that the neoconservatives and their Zionist friends engineered events to create a monster so that the US and Israel could achieve their political objectives.
Whatever the truth is, the IS by acting barbarically and committing crimes such as beheading three westerners supplies the excuse the US has been waiting for to enter the Syrian war and to re-establish a military presence in the Gulf region.
The Obama administration is getting Congressional support to arm and train Syrian rebels to take on IS. For the same purpose, Washington is also building up a coalition. Already the six Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – and Iraq and Egypt are in the coalition that also includes US allies such as France, Britain and Australia. If the fight is against the IS, one may ask why not rope in Iran and even Syria itself? After all, Iran and Syria are also against the IS. Besides, Iran has said it is willing to extend support for the war against IS, though Teheran also believes that the IS would not have come to such prominence and strength, had it not been for Saudi money and US arms.
But Washington would have none of it. Because, the ultimate aim of the coalition is not the IS. It is Syria and probably Iran itself. Questions are being asked why the US airstrikes on IS so far have not been on the scale of Washington’s notorious Shock-and-Awe bombings that demolished Saddam Hussein’s military might. Is the US handling the IS with kid gloves?
The US military attacks on IS targets in Iraq appear to be a cosmetic exercise. The real action will be when the US targets IS positions in Syria. Surely there will be provocation when US fighter jets, ostensibly on a mission to attack IS positions, fly over Syrian military installations. Already unidentified surveillance planes are flying over Syria. On Monday, the Associated Press quoted senior Obama administration officials as saying that the US would attack Syrian air defences if they fired on US warplanes. If this happens, soon we will see the US and its allies implementing the same strategy that got rid of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi – providing air support to the rebels to march towards Damascus. But unlike Gaddafi’s Libya, Syria has strong friends such as Russia and Iran – friends who are willing to come to the defence of Syria. All this portends that dangerous times are ahead for the region.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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War on IS the mystery monster

By Ameen Izzadeen
Thirteen long years after the terror attacks on the United States, it appears that the war on terror will go on till kingdom come. Well, President George W. Bush said so when he started the war on terror in September 2001 – and on Wednesday President Barack Obama indicated the same.
Addressing the nation, Bush on September 20, 2001 – nine days after the 9/11 attacks – said, “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated ….
“This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.
“Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.”
Now from the Bushspeak that came in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda terror to Wednesday’s Obamaspeak:
“They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape and force women into marriage… Such barbarity can bring only one response. Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL {the Islamic State, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria/Levant} through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy…. I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq…. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
Sounds like Bush, doesn’t he? The Obama speech indicates that the US has not veered from the Bush’s war-on-terror policy. Far from being seen as a president who wanted to go down in history for ending Bush’s wars, Obama appeared on Wednesday as another agent who wanted to execute the strategy devised by the neoconservatives and pursued by Bush.
Or has Obama the Nobel peace laureate fallen prey to the neoconservatives’ trap? If this is so, it leads to another question: Is the Islamic State the creation of the neoconservatives or a secret intelligence group which Obama knows little or nothing about? A conspiracy theory, one may say. But the history of international politics is replete with secret plans and manipulations. Did not Bush, a big-time neoconservative, blurt out in his speech that covert operations were a part of the war on terror?
That apart, conflicts and commotions help the neoconservatives to achieve two main objectives: the US domination of resource-rich West Asia and ensuring that Israel’s interests are well taken care of. Those who authored the neoconservative document ‘The Project for New American Century’ are also hardline Zionist supporters. Israel dreams of annexing the whole of Palestine — and much more. The neoconservative-Zionist plan can come to fruition, only if the Arab world is in turmoil, with the Arabs killing each other, while the Arabs are not allowed to think intelligently and act independently.
Ever since the Islamic State drew the world’s attention with its astounding victories first in Iraq and then in Syria, analysts and academics even in the Arab world have begun to question what the IS agenda is and who is behind it. They ask how eagled-eyed officials in the National Security Agency (NSA) failed to notice the rise of IS. After all, the fugitive US spy technician, Edward Snowden, has revealed that leave alone a terrorist, the highly sophisticated secret surveillance system does not take its eyes off even a friend.
Adding to the mystery is the manner in which the well-trained Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts and allowed a few thousand lightly armed IS militants to acquire the Iraqi Army’s US-supplied weapons and capture one third of Iraq. Another question that remains unanswered is: How come more than 500 British Muslims left the country to join the IS without being detected by the British intelligence?
This is why some analysts suspect that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a US, British and Israeli agent. A photograph widely circulated these days on the social media shows former Republican presidential candidate and Senator John McCain posing with Jihadi militants, whom the Americans then called the “good al Qaeda”. Most of these so-called good al-Qaeda in Syria are now with the IS after receiving US military training at camps in Jordan.
Some analysts claim that the West supported the IS and allowed it to make gains to get as many jihadists to rally around the IS, so that the US can enter the war at the right time and finish off all the jihadists. According to Obama, the time has come to kill the IS monster before it becomes a problem of a Frankenstein magnitude. The beheading of two American journalists by IS has generated enough revulsion among Americans for the IS.
Knowingly or unknowingly, Arab countries act according to the neoconservative-Zionist script.
After keeping mum during the IS’ early gains, the Saudis are now condemning the group, notwithstanding the fact that the IS, like the Saudis, follows the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The Saudis now call the IS leaders the Takfiris – a derogatory term used for the self-righteous who see only themselves as good Muslims and brand all the other Muslims as ‘infidels’ who can be killed.
Prior to this change of stance, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states had tolerated the IS or supported the group on the sly. This was because their primary target was to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and they did not care how it was done or by whom.
Now suddenly, the IS is being dehumanised, projected as a monstrous and murderous group that should be done away with. Probably, the stage is being set for the US to enter the Syrian war. Obama last year backed out of the war option even though the Syrian regime had crossed the red line the US had drawn – the use of chemical weapons. He did so because US public opinion was overwhelmingly against another war. But now, the Americans are backing their president for a war on IS. They may soon see that, like Bush, Obama also misled them, when this war on IS becomes a war on Assad.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Pakistan: The politics behind Imran’s bouncers

By Ameen Izzadeen
(September 5, 2014) – Imran Khan appears to be in a mighty hurry to form a government in Pakistan, though undemocratically. The speed with which he tries to topple the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invokes memories of his heydays as a much feared and highly respected pace bowler. But as a politician Khan, who heads the Pakistan Teherik e-Insaf (Justice Movement or PTI), is bowling one too many illegal deliveries.
True, as an opposition leader, he has a role to play. But he should not do it at the cost of causing chaos, which may deal a severe blow to a process that seeks to strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
One of the fundamental features of a functioning democracy is a vibrant opposition. It is to the opposition that the people turn to when a democratically elected government shows authoritarian tendencies, misuses political power and betrays the trust that the people have placed on it. A vibrant opposition, which is seen as the alternative government, reminds the people that there is a viable alternative to the ruling party which is corrupt or indulging in nepotism and abuse of power.
But democracy demands that an opposition party should play its role within the bounds defined by democracy. It should try to come to power by means of elections – and not through the back-door by engineering a coup or organising people’s power uprisings in collusion with armed forces, as the case may be in Pakistan.
The ongoing protests aimed at toppling the Sharif government are seen by most independent analysts as being uncalled for and untimely. The government is still new. Sharif was elected to office in May 2013 following what is hailed as the first ever democratic transition in Pakistan’s history — with the outgoing government completing its full term without being ousted by the military. At a time when democratic institutions are beginning to blossom in Pakistan, an attempt to topple the democratically elected government appears undemocratic, however strong the allegations against the prime minister are.
Protest leaders — Khan and firebrand cleric and former law professor Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has launched a campaign to cleanse politics of corruption — allege that Sharif’s election was rigged and demand he should resign forthwith and the electoral process be reformed. They also call for a probe on the killing of 14 supporters of Qadri in police shooting in Lahore in June.
A democratically elected government should not be subjected to overthrow by an unruly mob if there is provision in the constitution to challenge the legality of the government in courts. It is only when the constitutional avenues are denied that there is justification for the overthrow of the government through a people’s power revolution.
Instead of seeking redress in courts, Khan and Qadri have resorted to protests which appear to be an attempt to come to power via a short cut, probably with the support of the military, and therefore lack legitimacy. Besides, they do not enjoy countrywide support. There is hardly any anti-government uprising in provincial capitals, including Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, ruled by Khan’s party. Even a generous estimate would not put the crowd strength at the Islamabad protest yesterday at more than 2,000. Their protests lose steam as Sharif stands put and wins the support of both the houses of parliament — with former president and leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party Asif Ali Zardari also backing him.
Both Khan and Qadri are said to be enjoying the blessings of Pakistan’s politically powerful military. Elements in the military probably fear that with democratic institutions gaining strength, they would gradually lose their power – the power to define Pakistan’s foreign and defence policies and run multi-billion rupee business ventures.
This was not the first time that Khan and Qadri have made headlines with their protest rallies.
It happened in October 2011 when the PPP government was midway through its term. The military, which did not like both the PPP and the Muslim League which Sharif leads, was looking for a third force — and Khan fitted in well. With a PPP defeat certain, the military, according to analysts, believed that only Khan’s PTI could prevent a Sharif landslide. So Khan had a massive rally in the Sharif stronghold of Lahore – with more than 100,000 people taking part. “Imran Khan’s ‘tsunami’ sweeps Lahore,” screamed the headline in the Express Tribune.
A year later in December 2012, Qadri, returning from a seven-year sojourn in Canada, organised what he called a million-man march to Islamabad, but only 50,000 turned up for this anti-corruption rally targeting the PPP government. Yet they failed to stop a Sharif victory, though Khan’s party emerged a third force in Pakistan’s politics.
It was expected that Sharif, once in office, would be more cautious than any other previous prime minister had been, when it comes to dealing with the military. In 1999 his move to dismiss the then military chief General Pervez Musharraf led to a military coup. Undeterred, Prime Minister Sharif took some calculated risks in confronting the military this time also. One such risk was the appointment in November 2013 of Raheel Sharif – no relative of the premier – as the military chief of staff, bypassing two other generals who were senior to him. Then he called for peace talks with the Taliban and better ties with archrival India and pursued the treason trial against military strongman Musharraf, much to the annoyance of the military.
But this act of a civilian prime minister exercising authority over the military raised alarms in the army. In moves seen as challenging the authority of the Prime Minister, the military shot down his peace bid and launched an all-out war against the Taliban. Sharif’s bid to revive the stalled talks with India also suffered a setback when Pakistani soldiers fired at Indian soldiers across the Line of Control in Kashmir.
It took a Khan-Qadri protest for Sharif to realise how weak he is as Pakistan’s prime minister. Humbled, he turned to the Army Chief for advice, as the protesters, vowing not to budge, laid siege to parliament and the prime minister’s residence.
Premier Sharif could have ordered the police to take necessary measures to disperse the protesters, but he feared that his action may give the military the pretext it was looking for to launch a coup.
The army, probably disappointed by the poor crowd at the protest rallies, has denied it is meddling in civilian affairs, and is now calling for a political resolution.
Yesterday, after three weeks of intransigence, the protest leaders, having failed to prompt a military coup, agreed to discuss their demands with the government. This may be a victory for Sharif, but it is also a wake-up call to reset his relations with the military.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Libya: Whither goest this Nowhere Land?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Libya is fast sliding down a political abyss — with world leaders not knowing whom to contact or who is in control of the country. Foreign governments are in confusion as to the status of the Libyan mission in their countries. Which of the two governments does the Libyan mission represent? Is it the one in Tripoli or the one in Tobruk?
It was only three years ago that the United States cited Libya as an example where it had achieved a regime change without American boots on the ground — at least officially. Following the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and famously flashed a V sign to the world cameras declaring a major foreign policy victory for the United States.
But what has happened in the three years since this vulgar display of US triumphalism that symbolised the use of a sledgehammer to kill a crippled fly – the Pentagon calls it “Shock and Awe and the Israelis call it Gaza – is a regime-change experiment gone awry. Barack Obama playing for the history books as a second term US president apparently wants to be known as a president who brought troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan — and not as the President who put the lives of US soldiers in harm’s way. This policy was in sharp contrast to that of his predecessor George W. Bush, who showed little respect for the United Nations or international law.
Yes, Obama wants to be different. Why shouldn’t he be? After all, the Nobel peace medal awarded to him — not for his achievements in peacemaking, but on a preposterous presumption that he would be a peace builder — adorns his White House corner stand. Unlike Bush, he believes in collective military response – let NATO fight the US war. So when the Arab Spring revolts spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya, the Obama administration seized the opportunity and rallied behind the NATO flag to oust Gaddafi even though the Libyan leader had opened up to the West following the 9/11 attacks. This was because the Libyan leader was still unpredictable and had not given up on his grand vision for Africa. Gaddafi was against US military expansionism in Africa and was promoting a common African currency and a development bank. Many transnationals saw him as an impediment to their plunder of African resources. Hence the need for his removal. And the Western governments did it, not by sending troops to Libya, but by arming anti-Gaddafi rebels and providing them air support. The strategy worked. Gaddafi was killed, perhaps in keeping with the wishes of the United States’ West Asian allies. Libya got a new government, a parliamentary democracy, and recognition as a ‘civilised nation’ as opposed to a pariah nation under Gaddafi.
The US cited Libya as a case that bears testimony to its “Smart Power” – a philosophy that, apart from unleashing relentless air attacks on an enemy which is usually a minnow by the US standards, advocated skullduggery to mislead other world powers. In the case of Libya, it was Russia and China that were deceived.
Three years after Clinton’s famous V flash in Tripoli, Libya today is a hellhole of anarchy with two governments, two parliaments and scores of armed groups with areas of control, different ideologies and tribal affiliations. Since the overthrow of Gaddafi, half a dozen governments have come and gone and one prime minister has run away from the country while militants have stormed parliament to dictate who should hold which post and demand more money for their survival.
As the country hurtled towards lawlessness, some rebel groups even tried to sell oil, bypassing the government authority. Adding to the chaos are regional power games, with reports this week claiming that the United Arab Emirates together with Egypt carried out air attacks on Islamic militants in a vain attempt to prevent them from taking control of the Tripoli Airport. More about this later.
The telltale signs of Libya’s slide into chaos were visible within a year of the death of Gaddafi on October 20, 2011. On September 12, 2012, US ambassador Chris Stevens was killed by militants of the Islamist group Ansar al-Shariah. In a futile bid to defend the Smart Power philosophy which the Obama administration touted as a success story that got rid of an evil system to bring about Utopia, Secretary Clinton made the biggest blunder of her political career – a blunder that haunts her White House bid in 2016. She linked the killing of Stevens to the angry Muslim reaction to the YouTube movie “Innocence of Muslims” – a movie that sought to defame the character of the Prophet Muhammad. But subsequent investigations revealed that Stevens died in a deliberate attack on the US consulate in Benghazi by Ansar al-Shariah militants who alleged that the consulate building was being used as a spy centre.
Following this incident, the US and its Western allies tried their best to prop up the Libyan regime and bring about stability in the country. But parliament was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists who were seen as anti-West. Every effort the West took to stabilise Libya only worsened the crisis, with armed groups running the regions making a mockery of the central government’s control of the country.
With Libya’s Islamists becoming a law unto themselves, a renegade military commander and CIA lackey took upon himself the task of bringing order to the country. Of course, General Khalifa Haftar had the blessings of the US and the US-backed government in Tripoli when he began his war against Ansar al-Shariah in Benghazi. But instead of defeating the Islamists, his all-out military campaign codenamed Operation Dignity pushed various Islamist groups with different viewpoints to strike unity under the umbrella group Fajr or Dawn. This they did to ensure that what happened to the Brotherhood in Egypt would not happen to them in Libya.
In another development prior to General Haftar’s misadventure, the Libyan crisis exploded in neighbouring Mali. With weapons freely flowing from Libya, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organisation fighting to make Azawad (Northern Mali) an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, was on the verge of capturing the capital, Bamako. It was only after French military intervention that the rebels – who were also Islamists — were pushed back.
This week, after months of heavy battles against the Zintan militia allied to Gen. Haftar, Dawn backed by the militia from the Misurata region captured Libya’s international airport in Tripoli. The group is now in control of all major airports in Libya. In the absence of a political leadership, the Libyan military is rudderless, with some officers backing General Haftar and others backing various armed groups based on their ethnic or regional affiliations.
Probably sensing the victory of the Islamists, the United States as early as last month evacuated its diplomats and their families under heavy security escort and moved them to Tunisia across the border, using land transport. Several other Western countries also did the same or kept only the essential staff at their embassies.
Following the capture of the airport and effectively the capital city, Operation Dawn restored the previous Islamic-dominated parliament, which was voted out in June this year in violence ridden elections won by secular and liberal candidates who have come under a loose alliance called the National Forces Alliance. The Islamists’ move has prompted the NFA to convene its parliament in Tobruk, an eastern city 1,000 miles away from Tripoli. Though away from the capital, the NFA still enjoys the West’s support as indicated by Wednesday’s vote in the UN Security Council. The council passed a unanimous resolution to impose sanctions on Islamists and accused them of fuelling Libya’s escalating war.
The crisis in Libya cannot be viewed in isolation. It is in effect an extension of the political chaos in neighbouring Egypt and the cold war between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt on the other. While Qatar supported Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, Saudi Arabia and the UAE financed the coup that ousted the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi Government and brought in military strongman Abdel Fateh al-Sisi as the new Egyptian president.
The Saudi-UAE-Egypt alliance wants to prevent a Brotherhood-friendly Islamist government in Libya. This was probably why UAE aircraft with Egyptian help carried out air attacks on the Islamists. Both the UAE and Egypt have denied reports that they launched the air attacks. The New York Times which broke the story quoting US officials, however, is yet to retract it. The cold war between the Gulf oil kingdoms also manifests itself in other conflicts in the region. Qatar is seen as a supporter of Hamas while the Saudi-UAE-Egypt alliance loathes the Palestinian group which this week interpreted the ceasefire deal with Israel after 51 days of relentless air attack, bombardment and suffering as a moral victory. In Iraq and Syria, too, the Gulf oil kingdoms back different rebel groups.
The crisis in Libya is not only between secularists and Islamists or feuding tribes. It involves regional and big power politics. True Gaddafi was a tyrant, but he was also loved by a section of the Libyans and a vast majority in Africa. In hindsight, Libya under Gaddafi was a much better place to live in than what it is today. This is the case with pre- and post-invasion Iraq. Many Iraqis now say they wish Saddam Hussein had been in power. Whether it is Smart Power or Shock and Awe, the US foreign policy only disturbs world peace and causes chaos wherever Washington intervenes, as the Libyan crisis shows. Don’t they say that capitalism thrives in chaos?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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