Gaza: Massacre of children by Zionist Pharaohs

By Ameen Izzadeen
For the Zionists, the Palestinians do not exist. If they exist, they are not people; they are things – things to be wiped out. Two years after Israel occupied much of Palestine, Golda Meir, Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974, told Britain’s Sunday Times in an interview published on June 15, 1969: “There was no such thing as Palestinians. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist.”
The big lie – that Israel was set up in a land without people for a people without land – continues with the help of an international Zionist network that includes the corporate media, corrupt politicians and pressure lobbies.
Prior to the setting up of Israel, Albert Einstein, the famous Jewish scientist, asked Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the World Zionist Movement: “What of the Arabs, if the Palestine was to be given to the Jews?”
Weizmann replied: “What Arabs? They are hardly of any consequence.”
Quite contrary to this Zionist lie, numerous documents and statements in addition to history and archaeology prove that the Palestinians who are Arab Muslims and Arab Christians have been living in the land in question before the Zionist state of Israel was set up in 1948 for the European Jews such as Ukrainian born Golda Meir and Ben Gurion, the Polish born first prime minister of Israel.
History and archaeology show that long before the Jews set foot on Palestine, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Ammonites, the Moabites and the Edomites had been living there. Their descendents and a large number of Jews, in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D adopted Islam as their religions and Arabic as their language while there have been a substantial number of Arab Christians for the past 20 centuries.
Even the Balfour declaration — a document through which Britain, the world’s biggest coloniser, plunderer of third world resources and land robber, gave the Zionist movement the pledge in 1917 that a Jewish state would be set up in Palestine — recognised the existence of non-Jewish people in Palestine.
“… nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” declared the document prepared by the then foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, who probably thought Palestine was his grandmother’s ancestral property.
In spite of the evidence, the Zionist propaganda has prevailed in the West: There was no “such thing” as Palestinians. If they exist, they are the bad people, the colonisers of the Jewish land and therefore Israel is justified in weeding out these “absent but present” people.
The Zionists are today doing exactly what the white Europeans – pardon me for using this racist term — did to the Native Americans and what Britain did to Australia’s Aborigines centuries ago. They are all perpetrators of history’s biggest crimes against humanity. Just as the Israelis kill the Palestinians today, the Western colonisers committed genocide on the Native Americans. So they try to cover each other’s nakedness or whitewash each other’s crimes against humanity. No wonder, barring a handful of socialist and right-thinking academics and activists, the West blindly supports Israel’s crimes against humanity. Take Wednesday’s vote at the emergency session of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva for a debate and probe on Israeli war crimes in Gaza. It was passed with 27 voting in favour, one against and 17 abstentions. As expected the United States used the only negative vote while its European allies had a streak of bleeding in their hearts to abstain from the voting.
Besides the US’ negative vote, its continuous use of the veto at the UN Security Council, its come-what-may backing of Israel’s war crimes and its lopsided statements that often blame the Palestinians, have given a fillip to the Zionist state to commit more and more war crimes, which includes the killing of children.
A 22-year-old pregnant Palestinian woman told al-Jazeera, probably the only television channel that gives a balanced coverage of the war, that she had found refuge in a Gaza Church because she feared the Israelis would kill even her child in the womb.
Stone-hearted, these Zionist Nazis refuse to learn a lesson from Jewish history. Some three millennia ago, the Pharaoh ordered the killing of the boy child the Jewish women gave birth to when they were living in slavery in Egypt. Today, the Zionists are the Pharaohs. Nay, they are worse than the Pharaoh, for he killed only the first-born boy child while they kill little boys and girls indiscriminately. They derive a perverted pleasure from killing the Palestinian child whom they regard as tomorrow’s terrorist. Far from it, he is a Palestinian Moses.
As the attack on Gaza by Israel continues for the second week, the death toll has risen to more than 750, with one third of the dead being children. In other words, every 90 minutes, a Palestinian child has been killed by Israeli fire in the past two weeks. The Western world’s silence or inaction to prevent the massacre of Palestinian children was disturbingly quite in contrast to its reaction when Malala Yousafzai was shot and injured by a Taliban gunman in Pakistan 2012.
How can Barack Obama hold on to his Nobel Peace Prize in a manner that he would not part with it when he selectively condemns Hamas for firing rockets at Israel but allows Israel to indiscriminately attack civilian targets and kill children? He knows it iss the US-supplied missiles and aircraft that are being used to kill the Palestinian children, women and the elderly. He is not unaware that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu started this war with the aim of destroying the Palestinian unity government between Hamas led by Khalid Mishal and Fatah led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama also knows that Netanyahu through this war is trying prop up his party’s electoral prospects in the face of criticism even from allies that he is not doing enough to oppress the Palestinians.
Obama is also probably aware that Netanyahu was using the death of the three Israeli teenagers to reignite the process of re-dehumanising the Palestinians ahead of unleashing Israel’s brutal force on Palestinian civilians.
By defending Israel’s war crimes at the UNHRC, Obama is only exposing his country’s hypocrisy with regard to hauling the Sri Lankan government before the same council for committing alleged war crimes during the last stages of the war.
Obama is a slave of Zionist lobbies such as the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). These lobbies fund the campaigns of US presidential candidates and prospective and existing lawmakers, who in return ensure that nearly US$ 4 billion is given annually to Israel as military and economic aid.
The Zionist-controlled corporate media in the West play no less a role in hiding Israel’s crimes. In keeping with the Zionist agenda, the Western corporate media dehumanise and demonise the Palestinians. That the Palestinians are freedom fighters in a struggle to win back their state is rarely or never mentioned in the Zionist-controlled western media. That Hamas, the Palestinian faction which controls the Gaza Strip, had no role in the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers during an excursion in the West Bank early this month finds only a rare mention in the Western media. Also finding no mention in the Western media is the subsequent fatal burning of a Palestinian teenager by Israel settlers. Instead, the Western media harp on the insecurity of Israel, the tenth most powerful military in the world and a nuclear power. They also try to smuggle into their news reporting the Zionist propaganda material that Israel is only acting in self-defence, that Israel carries out hi-tech precision bombing to avoid civilian targets, that Hamas started the war, that Israel’s is the most moral army in the world and that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.
One such pro-Israeli media group, NBC, on the pretext of security concerns, ordered its veteran correspondent Ayman Mohyeddin to leave Gaza after he witnessed and reported in chilling detail Israel’s killing of four Palestinian children playing on a Gaza beach.
The western media underreport the Palestinian suffering. They hardly mention the Palestinians’ legitimate right to fight the occupying force and win back their state. They won’t talk about or show the Palestinian freedom slogans one of which reads, “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bomb my country, starve us all, humiliate us all…. But I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”
More than 1.8 million Palestinians are living in a 350 square kilometre prison called the Gaza Strip with two gates – one in the north controlled by Israel and the other in the south by Egypt. They cannot even take a boat and escape via sea because the sea is controlled by the Israelis. Tens of thousands of Palestinian people who are displaced by and fleeing from the Israeli bombardment of residential areas, schools and hospitals tried to enter Egypt via the Rafah border crossing. But the pro-Western Egyptian regime of President Abdel Fateh al-Sisi does not see it as a humanitarian necessity to keep it open, because it sees Hamas, a friend of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi, as an enemy of the Egyptian state.
With its anti-Hamas bias, Egypt cannot play the role of honest broker to work out a ceasefire. Last week, it announced a ceasefire without consulting Hamas or the Palestinian unity government. Hamas rightly rejected it and made its conditions known to the world powers for a meaningful ceasefire. The conditions stem from the legitimate aspirations of the besieged people of the Gaza Strip. But the latest moves for a ceasefire with the active participation of the UN and the US manifest an Israeli bias as they come at a time when Israel finds its ground offensive costly in the face of Hamas’ brave resistance.
The Palestinian crisis will not end until the US ends its hypocrisy and holds the scales of justice evenly.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Caliphate: Hysteria or history in the making?

By Ameen Izzadeen
On the first day of Ramadan as Muslims worldwide began their month-long fasting period, the Islamic State (IS) which was until then known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced the formation of a khilafah or caliphate, an Islamic state in territories conquered in Iraq and Syria. The group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself Khalifah or Caliph, urged every Muslim to swear allegiance to him and invited Muslims around the world to migrate to the new state.
Although al-Baghdadi’s declaration is derided by moderates and extremists alike as a lopsided vision of an extremist, the world stopped and took notice of it as has been evident in the debates and discussions it has created in the West.
But as days passed by, the threat perception of the so-called caliphate began to fade. There are no long queues in the new Islamic State for the people and groups to take the oath of allegiance. Neither are any signs of Muslims around the world catching the next flight to migrate to al-Baghdadi’s caliphate. The announcement of a caliphate was apparently too ambitious and too early.
The caliphate was abolished in 1924 when the last Ottoman Caliph, Abdul Medjid was sent into exile after the modern secular Turkey was established on its ruins. The caliphate is a powerful institution, the protection of which is the duty of every Muslim. The Ottoman caliphate was still a formidable force even during its waning stages because Muslims from Xinjiang in China to Sarajevo in Bosnia rushed to its defence with the first call of the Caliph for a holy war. The only time it did not happen was when the Arabs betrayed the caliph at the outset of World War 1. Despite their oath of allegiance to the caliph, the Arab leaders rebelled against him in return for the British promise of an Arab kingdom.
It is no secret that most Muslims dream of the restoration of the caliphate. This is because they feel they are being battered and none of the present day leaders of Islamic countries has the charisma or the vision to unite the Muslim world and the courage to liberate Palestine, which has been under Israeli occupiers for the past six decades. The Muslims believe that the concept of nation state only serves the West to divide and weaken them. The present day Middle Eastern countries, they say, are a result of the Western conspiracy hatched at the 1916 talks between Britain and France. The two European powers shared between them the Arab provinces of the crumbling Ottoman Empire which sided with Germany in the First World War. Today’s Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and several other Arab countries owe their existence to the 1916 Syke-Picot talks – so named after the two British and French diplomats. Their borders were drawn by British foreign office spy Gertrude Bell.
Ever since, no Muslim country has emerged to emulate the glorious days of the caliphates of the Abbasids, the Fatimides and the early Ottomans – the caliphates during which the Muslim world experienced a knowledge revolution that gave the world the zero and algebra, astronomy and Avicenna, Plato and Gazzali, reason and Renaissance.
The Muslims and global movements such as the Hizbut Tahrir yearn for a caliph who will emulate the Khulafa-ur-Rashideen or the rightly-guided caliphs who governed the nascent state in the early years of Islam after the death of Prophet Muhammad. It is “a dream that lives in the depths of every Muslim,” the Islamic State said in a statement.
The first caliphate was established days after the death of the prophet. The first caliph was Abu Bakr Siddiq — the Truthful. The first man to embrace Islam, Abu Bakr was an ascetic, kind hearted, philanthropist and the closest friend of the prophet. Al-Baghdadi shares the name with Islam’s first caliph. But the comparison perhaps ends there, for the new claimant to the caliphate is not seen to be emulating the noble qualities of the first caliph, who was not a terrorist.
Upon assuming the caliphate reluctantly, Abu Bakr made a famous speech that is regarded as the Magna Carta of the Islamic state. He said:
“O people, I have been elected your leader, although I am not better than anyone from among you. If I do any good, give me your support. If I go wrong, set me right. Listen, truth is honesty and untruth is dishonesty. The weak among you are powerful in my eyes, as long as I do not get them their due, Allah willing. The powerful among you are weak in my eyes, as long as I do not take away from them what is due to others, Allah willing. …. Oh people, you must obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you are free to disobey me.”
Caliph Abu Bakr also codified the Islamic laws of warfare. He advised his soldiers to fear God under all conditions and fight the enemy only after the overtures for peace were rejected. He told them: “Do not mutilate anyone; do not kill the aged, the children and the women. Do not set fire to date palms. Do not cut down fruit trees. Do not slaughter a goat, or a cow or a camel, except for purposes of food. You will come across people who have given up the world and living in monasteries. Leave them alone.”
But al-Baghdadi, who claims to be a descendant of the Prophet’s family, has apparently chosen to ignore Islam’s humanitarianism and its laws on warfare. The ISIS is known to have executed captives and set off bombs in civilian areas in defiance of the teachings of Islam. In interviews following the declaration of the Islamic state, ISIS commanders have said they would destroy Islam’s holiest monument, the Ka’ba in Makkah as many pilgrims have turned it into an object of idol worship. They also dream of conquering Rome. “This is my advice to you. If you hold to it you will conquer Rome and own the world, if Allah wills,” al-Baghdadi who now goes by the title and name ‘Caliph Ibrahim’ said in a statement.
Some analysts believe that the declaration of the caliphate is a political stunt or gamble which could eventually lead to the downfall of the Islamic State after its significant success in as short a period as less than two years. Others call it the romanticisation of their astonishing victory, which the Islamic State tries to equate with the victory at the valley of Badr in 624 AD when the prophet and a few hundred poorly armed Muslims in Madina defeated a mighty army from Makkah — and also with the conquest of Iraq in 633 AD and the subsequent defeat of the Sassanid and Byzantine empires during the caliphates of Abu Bakr and his successors Omar, Osman and Ali.
But al-Baghdadi’s caliphate has only drawn rejection from a large majority of the Muslim ummah (nation) and even radical groups have dismissed the declaration as void of legitimacy, divisive, and damaging to their causes that include the war to oust the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria. Even in Palestine’s Gaza Strip which has come under Israel’s airstrikes following the deaths of three Israeli teenagers, there is hardly a whimper in support of al-Baghdadi’s caliphate call.
Azzam Tamimi, an academic who writes on Islamic movements, says it is unlikely anyone except “some frustrated youth” would be receptive to al-Baghdadi’s declaration.
“Such fanatic and desperate movements emerge usually in response to a profound crisis. Yet, their demise is usually rapid because of their tendency to be nihilistic,” Tamimi said. They “fail miserably when it comes to winning over the normal and decent”, he added. (
However, despite the lack of enthusiasm among the world’s Muslims for al-Baghdadi’s caliphate call, the new Islamic State is likely to remain until such time as the United States and its West Asian allies feel it no longer necessary to achieve their geo-strategic goals. As things stand today, Iraq is on the verge of being split into three. Apart from the Islamic State in Sunni areas in Iraq’s West, the Kurds in the north are likely to declare an independent state in weeks or months, leaving the south for the Shiites as the country’s political turmoil continues with the newly elected parliament unable to come to a consensus on appointments to the key posts of Speaker, president and Prime Minister.
The US and its allies probably want to see the creation of a Sunni state carved out of parts of Iraq and Syria as it could be used against the Assad regime or to deal a blow to Iran’s rising power by severing the territorial continuity of the so-called Shiite crescent comprising Iran, Iraq (a Shiite majority country), Syria (a Sunni majority country ruled by a president belonging to the minority Alawite group, a sub sect of Shiite Islam) and Lebanon’s powerful militia group Hezbollah.
The Barak Obama administration’s reluctance to put boots on the ground in Iraq even after Russia has sent pilots and fighter jets to help the beleaguered Iraqi government is seen as a move where the policy of deliberate non-intervention achieves the results of intervention. In other words, the US lets the balkanisation of Iraq happen while making perfunctory statements on a unity government as a solution to the present crisis. It may be a US scheme. It indeed is a long-term project of Israel, whose leaders in recent weeks have spoken in support of the Iraqi Kurds’ call for independence.
But ironically the Balkanisation project has given rise to a movement that seeks to create a mega Islamic state incorporating not only parts of Iraq and Syria, but also Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia, which now shares a border with al-Baghdadi’s Islamic state. But this is where the IS will dig its own grave as the US will not stay idle when Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are threatened and the global supply of oil is disrupted. The developments of the next few weeks or months will indicate whether the Islamic State or the new caliphate is an aberration in Iraq’s history or history in the making.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Is Muslim identity a liability in Sri Lanka?

Rising attacks against Muslims by Buddhist supremacist groups raise questions about community’s safety.
Please read full story on al Jazeera website

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Iraq may split into three in a sectarian bloodbath

By Ameen Izzadeen
The military success of the hardline Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq was shocking although it was in the making. The signs of a Sunni rebellion were there before Iraq exploded last week with ISIS capturing key Iraqi cities. The Nouri al-Maliki government misread the signals and took measures that only worsened the growing Sunni discontent.
Whatever the criticism levelled at Iraq’s US-made constitution, it has features that seek to give all Iraqis a say in politics. But in reality, the government structure reflects sectarianism with the president being a Kurd, vice president a Sunni, the executive prime minister a Shiite and the Parliament Speaker a Sunni while a majority of MPs are Shiites. This arrangement, some say, is aimed at national unity or inclusivity in governance and at muting the calls for federalism. But, there is little power sharing. Perhaps, only the Kurds got their pound of flesh. They welcomed the US troops with open arms and became an auxiliary force of the invading US troops in 2003. They were rewarded with autonomy. They run Iraq’s oil rich Kurdistan region like a virtual separate state. They have their own army – the Peshmerga. The Kurds defy orders from the Maliki government with regard to oil deals. Maliki decreed that it would be the central government which had the authority to negotiate deals with foreign companies. Tthe Kurds took no notice of this law and signed deals with international oil giants. Much of Kurdistan’s oil revenue remains in the region, with the Maliki government unable to exercise its power and bring the region’s oil industry under the central government’s control.
Iraq’s oil reserves are largely located in the northern Kurdish regions and in the Shiite south. The Sunni Arab areas in the country’s west and northwest have little oil. If only the Sunni areas had ample oil, just like the Kurdish areas, the Sunnis also would have staked a claim for greater political autonomy. The oil-less Sunnis therefore opposed the division of Iraq on federal lines, supported a strong central government and advocated that the country’s oil revenue should be shared equally among all the regions.
Yet, Maliki’s sectarian bias in matters of governance antagonised the Sunni minority. Even the US acknowledges this. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told a congressional hearing on Wednesday: “This current government in Iraq has never fulfilled the commitments it made to bring a unity government together with the Sunnis, the Kurds, and the Shiites.”
Maliki’s police and military forces are disproportionately Shiite. He is being accused of gaining undue control over the police and the armed forces, using them freely against Sunni Muslims and other political foes, while allowing grave abuses in prisons and detention centres. His political witch-hunt saw Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi, a Sunni, fleeing the country to evade arrest. Charged with running Sunni death squads, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to death in a move that further angered the country’s Sunni minority.
Speaking to Reuters from exile in Turkey, al-Hashemi said the violence in Iraq was part of a broader Sunni Arab revolt – and it was not just a rampage by ISIS.
“What happened in my country … is desperate people revolted. Simple as that. Arab Sunni communities over 11 years faced discrimination, injustice, corruption. We have about 11 to 12 armed groups, and they are being reactivated now. And we also have political parties involved, we have ex-army officers, we have tribes and we have independent people in fact,” he said.
Al-Hashemi warned that Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call for his Shiite followers to take up arms against the Sunni ISIS rebels would lead to an all-out holy war between the Shiites and the Sunnis.
Iraq’s Sunni leaders also allege that Shiite ministers in Maliki’s cabinet run militia groups which have their umbilical cord tied to Iranian intelligence outfits.
Maliki has said that his fight is with al-Qaeda, not with Sunni Muslims as a community. He rejects criticism that he is sectarian and insists that he is committed to end sectarianism in Iraq.
Though they are at each other’s throat and calling each other Kafir or infidels, Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis had lived peacefully for centuries. Together, they fought the British to gain independence. When the British occupied Iraq for the second time during World War II, the Iraqis fought as one and forced the Brits to flee. Sectarianism was no major issue; it was only an identity, nothing more. There was inter-marriage between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis. Iraq’s army had Shiite and Sunni soldiers and they had fought the Shiite Iran for nine years. Although Saddam Hussein was a Sunni, he was a secularist, a Baathist, an Arab communist. More than 30 of the 52 wanted Saddam era leaders in the so-called pack of cards the American had prepared were Shiites.
Sectarianism was a canker introduced to Iraq’s body politic by the United States and Britain – with the divide-and-rule strategy, the tried-and-tested tool that served the interests of the imperialists during the colonial era, being dusted and put into reuse.
The 2005 arrest of two British secret agents with explosives and detonators in Basra points to MI6’s role in setting off bombs in Shiite areas with the aim of triggering Shiite-Sunni enmity. Yet the Sunnis and Shiites in the early days of the US occupation of Iraq spoke of unity which they believed was the only way to defeat the imperialists. Only a few self-centred Shiite groups supported the Americans in the hope that the democracy the US was trying to introduce would bring in a Shiite government, for the first time in Iraq’s history.
The breaking point, however, came when bombs damaged the golden dome of the hallowed al-Askari Shiite shrine in the Sunni city of Samarra in 2006. Even after this, a majority of the Iraqis blamed the occupying forces for pitting the Shiites against the Sunnis to achieve their ulterior motives. Many Iraqis believed that once the occupiers left, sectarian clashes would end. But they did not. This is why many analysts say Iraq’s new political leadership led by religious Shiites has miserably failed.
Similarly, al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq is also a legacy of the US occupation. Just a few months before the 9/11 attacks, the US State Department’s country report had cleared Iraq of any involvement in terrorist activities. Indeed Saddam Hussein was an enemy of al-Qaeda. It was only after the US occupation troops and Blackwater mercenaries committed atrocities in Fallujah that a group calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi emerged. The Americans succeeded in defeating AQI only with the help of Iraq’s Sunni leaders. The US funded, trained and armed groups handled by these Sunni leaders to fight AQI.
After the US withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, the Sunnis were left in the lurch while Maliki’s security forces cracked down on Sunni dissent with harsh measures. There were allegations that the Iraq’s Shiite police committed rape, killings and human rights violations. It was against this backdrop that the ISIS evolved as a major force.
Its surprise military victories over US-trained Iraqi forces now threaten to split Iraq into three separate countries –for the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds. As the United States’ well-calculated delay in responding to the besieged Iraqi government’s call for military help gives ISIS more time and energy to consolidate, the crisis in Iraq is likely to explode into a major regional war involving Iran, Syria and Sunni Gulf countries. The US delay is perhaps connected to its policy not to hurt its Gulf allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. The ISIS, it is believed, receives money from rich Gulf citizens with the connivance of their governments. Maliki this week charged that Saudi Arabia was financially supporting ISIS.
These Gulf countries have said the Iraqi government’s sectarian policies were responsible for the chaos that the country has been plunged into but desisted from condemning ISIS crimes such as executing hundreds of surrendered Iraqi security forces personnel. On the contrary, the media in the Gulf countries have accused Iraq’s Shiite militia men who have rushed to the frontline to fight ISIS of carrying out mass executions and committing rape and other human rights violations. Analysts say these Gulf countries officially distance themselves from ISIS; but behind-the-scenes, they are the main sponsors of the group. They began to play this Jekyll-and-Hyde role after the US refused to intervene in the Syrian crisis even though the Bashar al-Assad regime last year crossed the US red line – a reference to the use of chemical weapons. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries had hoped that the US would intervene in Syria and tilt the war in favour of the Syrian rebels – just as it had done in Libya in 2011. But when the US refused to intervene because of the rebels’ al-Qaeda connections, the Saudis and the Qataris stopped consulting Washington over Syria and started clandestinely supporting groups such as ISIS and al-Nusra.
According to an analyst, the rapid descent of Iraq toward sectarian civil war is an indictment of the recklessness, barbarism and incoherence of Washington’s foreign policy. This has created a sectarian tinderbox throughout the Middle East that threatens to drag the region into a bloodbath.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Al-Baghdadi’s ISIL redraws Mideast map

By Ameen Izzadeen
Iraq is in the midst of mayhem and bloodshed. It has been so for the past few months though in April the Nouri al-Maliki government managed to hold general elections.
With the attention of the world’s big powers and the western media being focused largely on the wars in Syria and Libya and the elections in Egypt, Iraq escaped their radar and hardly made the news, though more than 4,000 people have been killed in violence so far this year. In May alone, more than 800 Iraqis were killed in bomb blasts that have become a regular feature. In this week’s battles, as the Sunni rebel fighters belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (meaning Syria) captured Iraq’s second largest city and key oil centre, Mosul, and Tikrit, the birthplace of former dictator Saddam Hussein, hundreds were killed and more than 500,000 fled their homes in what is seen as a never-ending humanitarian crisis, a legacy of the US war for Iraq’s oil.
As the sectarian violence — another legacy of the US invasion — continued after the withdrawal of US combat troops in December 2011, the Maliki government believed that its military could restore normalcy. But when he found Iraq’s Shiite-dominated military was unable to bring the situation under control, he pleaded with the United States in December last year to supply advanced weapons such as Hellfire missiles to fight the Sunni rebels. The missiles did arrive as in terms of a defence agreement between Iraq and the United States, Washington is required to help Iraq if its sovereignty is threatened by internal or external forces. But the violence did not end.
This week, world powers were in for a rude awakening when ISIL fighters in surprise attacks captured the two key cities and prepared to advance towards Baghdad. They have also been controlling Fallujah and parts of Ramadi for the past six months or so. Carrying black flags which proclaim in white letters that there is no god but Allah, ISIL members scored lightning military victories which now threaten to trigger a major war with regional powers such as Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and probably the US being drawn in.
The US State Department said on Wednesday that Washington was deeply concerned about the events and added that the situation posed a threat to the entire region.
The latest fighting in Iraq comes amidst political chaos with Prime Minister al-Maliki struggling to form a government after the April elections produced no clear victor. Accused of being sectarian, his Shiite-dominant government is partially responsible for the current state of affairs as it took little or no measures to effectively address the grievances of the country’s Sunni minority.
Instead of taking corrective measures, al-Maliki has invited international support to defeat the ISIL, a jihadist group which derives its strength from Iraq’s Sunnis. A New York Times report said yesterday that al-Maliki had secretly asked the Obama administration to consider carrying out airstrikes against ISIL positions. But the report also said Iraq’s appeals for a military response had so far been rebuffed by the White House because President Barack Obama did not want to open a new chapter in Iraq after declaring famously that the war in Iraq was over.
The developing crisis in Iraq should not be viewed in isolation. It is linked to the crisis in Syria where the US together with its regional allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, is seeking to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime. The US in recent weeks has indicated it may send sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons such as shoulder-held missiles to Syrian rebels. But such weapons eventually end up with ISIL which is the most dominant rebel group in Syria.
Analysts say the ISIL was able to defeat the US-trained Iraqi troops, including commandos, in Mosul this week because of the sophisticated weapons that had fallen into its hands during fights in Syria with rival rebel groups such as the US-armed Free Syrian Army. Many of the FSA members have since deserted post or joined ISIL. With the ISIL emerging as the most powerful rebel force in Syria, it is believed that the Saudis have favoured the group over the moderate secular groups which the US seeks to prop up with funds and arms.
The ISIL, which was initially an al-Qaeda franchise, is led by the much feared and elusive Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He insists that the rebels in Syria could defeat the Assad regime only if they unite under the ISIL banner. Many small jihadi groups joined the ISIL. But Jabhat al-Nusra, another al-Qaeda’s franchise, refused. This has led to a clash between the two groups. But the ISIL success in Iraq this week is likely to see many Nusra fighters switching camps.
According to a Time magazine cover story in December, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri who is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region tried to make peace between ISIL and al-Nusra, but failed. He ordered that ISIL leave Syria and return to Iraq. But al-Baghdadi refused. An angry al-Zawahiri ordered the disbanding of the ISIS. Al-Baghdadi in response told al-Zawahiri: “I have to choose between the rule of God and the rule of al-Zawahiri, and I choose the rule of God.”
Al-Baghdadi, the new face of Islamic radicalism, was born in 1971 in Samara, Iraq. He has a PhD in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. Joining the al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he fought the US troops in Iraq. After al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006, his successor Abu Ayub al-Masri died in 2010 and a subsequent leader died shortly thereafter, al-Baghdadi rose to become the leader of the AQI. Under his leadership, the AQI emerged stronger with a series of success stories, chief among them being the attack on the heavily guarded Abu Ghraib jail where the crème of the AQI fighters had been detained. Al-Baghdadi freed them all and transported them in pickup trucks from the Abu Ghraib prison to Syria. Their arrival in Syria changed the ground situation in favour of the ISIL. Al-Baghdadi claims he controls a force of 100,000 fighters — but western intelligence groups believe it is around 10,000.
Jessica D. Lewis, director of research at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War and author of the recent report on the al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq, says, “al-Baghdadi has military momentum; he has taken terrain in Syria and he has established a governance system. He is the one conducting the war that all the foreign fighters (jihadis) are seeking. He is calling the shots and will be a major player in al-Qaeda going forward.”
Yes, with this week’s capture of Mosul and Tikrit, the ISIL has redrawn the map of West Asia. It has taken control of the Iraq-Syria border where there are neither Iraqi soldiers nor Syrian soldiers. On both sides of the border are ISIL fighters. On the Syrian side, they even control the oil-rich areas.
The ISIL is trying to carve out a Sunni state from Iraq which is 60 per cent Arab Shiites. Its 40 per cent Sunnis are divided almost equally between the remaining Arabs and the Kurds. As ISIL takes control of city after city in the Sunni West, it wins more recruits including former members of the banned Baath party which Saddam Hussein led till his capture in 2003. Also joining ISIL are Sunni groups which were once armed by the US to fight the Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the predecessor of the ISIL. These groups feel let down by the Maliki government which they accuse of being sectarian. Latest reports indicate that ISIL fighters are moving towards al-Baghdadi’s hometown, Samara, which houses a famous Shiite shrine. Reports indicate thousands of Shiite fighters from the south are rushing to Samara to defend the shrine which ISIL commanders threaten to destroy if its defenders refuse to lay down their arms.
With rebels eyeing the capture of Baghdad, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies may support the creation of a new Sunni state incorporating parts of Iraq and probably the whole of Syria, a Sunni majority country with a pro-Shiite President, because the emergence of the new state will check the rise of Iran as a regional power whose influence now expands from Teheran to Beirut across Baghdad and Damascus.
The question that now arises is: As ISIL rebels consolidate their positions and advance towards Samara, which is just 120 km north of Baghdad, will the United States intervene on the side of the Maliki government?
Non-intervention by Washington may indicate that it is endorsing a Saudi script for a new Sunni-dominant state. But Washington may come under fire for not taking action to prevent the formation of a jihadist state which will be anti-American and anti-Israel. If a new Sunni state is carved out of Iraq, the Kurds in Iraq’s north may also see it as an opportunity to declare independence, even at the risk of drawing opposition from Turkey which is beset with its own Kurdish separatist question. Reports yesterday said Kurdish paramilitaries known as Peshmerga made use of the chaos in the country to capture the oil-rich northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk, which the Iraqi government has refused to cede to the Kurds. The federal army withdrew without a fight.
On the other hand, if the US helps the Iraqi military to defeat the ISIL, it will only strengthen the Assad regime in Syria and antagonise the Saudis. Meanwhile, Iran says it will not stay neutral if Iraq, a close ally, is threatened. For Iran, the stability of Iraq is imperative for economic gains. Apart from growing bilateral trade, Iran seeks to build a pipeline to the Mediterranean via Iraq and Syria to take its gas to European markets. President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday that Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation, would combat terrorism by Sunni extremists in neighbouring Iraq, while some reports said Iran has dispatched a military unit to Iraq to fight ISIL rebels advancing towards the capital.
The worsening situation in Iraq seems to prove former Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa right. Just before the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, he warned that a US war on Iraq would “open the gates of hell”. Two and a half years after the US has ended its combat operations in Iraq, the gates of hell remain wide open.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Syria: Seek a win-win solution for suffering millions

By Ameen Izzadeen

The people of Syria have suffered enough in the past three years for no fault of theirs. The civil war has killed more than 162,000 Syrians and left more than 9 million people displaced.
It is time to talk peace. An opportunity to talk peace has come in the form of a resounding victory for President Bashar al-Assad at Tuesday’s presidential election. Branded as the butcher of Syria by the West and its Middle Eastern allies, Assad showed he is in control by successfully holding the presidential election and winning it handsomely with the rebels in disarray unable to disrupt it.
True, elections in most West Asian countries are largely a sham. The incumbent wins the election with a huge majority, usually 90 per cent of the voters favouring him. But this sham is not entirely the making of West Asian dictators. The West is also part of the game. The West does not like democracy to take hold in West Asia. This is because the West thinks it is easier to control or buy over dictators than democratically elected leaders.
Just look at the events which unfolded in Egypt following the people’s power revolution in 2011. The uprising ended the 30-year tyranny of Hosni Mubarak and brought the Muslim Brotherhood into power. But the United States and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel conspired to overthrow the Brotherhood government of President Mohammed Morsi and worked to bring their point man in military chief Abdul Fatah al-Sisi as President. The Egyptian presidential election which Sisi won was not a free and fair election. The US-based Carter Centre, which observed the 2011 parliamentary and 2012 presidential elections in Egypt, refused to monitor the election because it felt that the elections were not held in “genuinely competitive campaign environment”.
The turnout, according to independent analysts, was around 25 per cent, though the Egyptian junta claimed it was around 40 per cent. And as expected around 96 per cent of those voted picked Sisi. The West has said little about the questionable manner in which the Egyptian elections were held and won by Sisi though it was quick to slam the Syrian election as an obstacle to achieving real democracy and a ‘great big zero’.
In Syria, Assad won the election with 88 per cent of the 11 million people voting for him. Officially, 15 million people were registered to vote and elections were held only in areas under government control. If the figures are assumed correct, they show that Assad is in firm control over much of Syria and its population. But the opposition charged that many of those who voted did so more out of fear than commitment to Assad, whose family has ruled Syria with an iron fist for four decades.
To give a veneer of credibility to the democratic process and make it a possible step towards ending the civil war on the Syrian government’s terms, Assad invited the opposition to contest the elections, which for the first time ever, had two other candidates. If only they had agreed to contest the election, it could have been held under UN supervision. But anti-Assad forces chickened out and did not want to follow the democratic option. They insisted that Assad should not be a candidate at any election. Their reluctance to participate in elections only confirmed Assad’s claim that he enjoyed the support of the majority of the people. Some thirty friendly countries, including Russia, sent observers to monitor the election and they have endorsed it as free and fair.
Victory at the presidential polls means that Assad will be Syria’s president for the next seven years during which Syria will see more violence and more war with the involvement of world powers and regional powers.
In recent weeks and months, the Syrian army has taken back several towns and villages that had been under the control of various rebel groups.
These battleground successes, instead of paving the way for peace talks, have infuriated the West and increased the resolve of its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to oust the Assad government. They know that Assad is winning the war because of the Syrian military’s superior air power, a vital component in conventional warfare. The Syrian rebels, who are not fighting a guerrilla war, say if they were to win the war, they should get air cover or weapons to neutralise the Syrian Air Force. It was with Nato air support that the Libyan rebels succeeded in overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi. But largely due to the use of veto by Russia and China at the United Nations Security Council, the West was unable to provide air cover to the rebel fighters.
Critics say the election victory will embolden Assad to take harsher measures against the rebels who are using civilians as a defence shield. Assad’s forces are accused of dropping crude barrel bombs that are capable of killing more people and destroying a larger area than a conventional missile of bomb is.
On the other hand, the West wants to arm the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons such as shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles. President Barack Obama in his address to the armed forces at West Point on May 28 pledged to send a new military aid package for Syria’s “freedom fighters”.
Earlier Secretary of State John Kerry said the US and its allies “would increase all aspects of support for the mainstream Syrian opposition fighting to overthrow President Assad”.
“Every possible avenue will be pursued by one country or another,… I’m not going to discuss specific weapons and what country may or may not be providing [weapons], but …. every facet of what can be done will be ramped up, and that includes a political effort, aid to the opposition… economic efforts and sanctions.”
But neither Obama nor Kerry addressed the major concern over the possibility of the arms meant for the so-called Syrian freedom fighters falling into the hands of al-Qaeda groups. The reality is that the moderate opposition groups such as the Syrian National Coalition or its military wing Free Syrian Army are fast losing ground to Jihadi groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the Jabhatul Nusra.
The Obama administration cannot pretend it does not know that on the ground it was al-Qaeda groups that call the shots. In earlier speeches and remarks, Obama and Kerry have indicated that the US would arm the moderate factions to fight both the Syrian troops and the Jihadist groups. But this is largely an attempt to mislead the Americans public. The US knows that the advanced anti-aircraft weapons it plans to send will end up with the al-Qaeda fighters – groups that the US has labeled as ‘terrorists’. All this shows that the US does not mind arming the terrorists if the end – the ousting of Assad – justifies the means.
It is too early to say that the new military aid package including anti-aircraft weapons could tilt the balance of war in rebels’ favour.
The Obama administration has been playing a key role in the Syrian crisis. It has been providing non-lethal assistance and military training to Syrian rebels since the crisis began in 2011 against the backdrop of people power uprisings toppling tyrannical regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But Syria was different. The uprising was only partly spontaneous. The other part was engineered by outside forces such as the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. They interfered in the Syrian crisis and instigated a rebellion to achieve their geopolitical and economic goals. If Assad was ousted, they thought, it would weaken the rising Shiite power symbolised by the so-called Shiite crescent comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. It is through Syria that Iran supplies arms and money to the Hezbollah which has proved its might by withstanding and frustrating a month-long Israeli attack on Southern Lebanon in 2006. So if Assad who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, is ousted, Syria will be run by pro-Saudi, pro-US Sunni majority leaders. Once this goal is achieved, the pro-West Syrian government will cede the Golan Heights to Israel and let Qatar to build a pipeline to take its gas to Europe via Syria and Turkey. US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey were livid that the Assad regime had signed an agreement with Iran and Iraq to build a pipeline that would take Iran’s gas to the Mediterranean via Syria. In addition to these geopolitical and economic aims, the West is not comfortable with a Russian naval base in Syria. Surely a pro-West government in Damascus will not entertain a Russian base.
But what is unfortunate is that the West and its allies are trying to achieve these geopolitical and economic goals at the cost of misery to millions of people. The UN has described the Syrian crisis as the worst since World War II. It is also unfortunate that there is little attempt to revive or resume the international talks aimed at finding a peaceful solution. In the wake of the Syrian elections, only Russia has called for the resumption of the talks which were suspended in February.
It is only through talks incorporating all the players, including Syria and Iran, that the Syrian crisis can be solved. But both sides should compromise for a win-win solution. But it appears the West and its allies are not interested in peace as they believe that the supply of new weapons will help the rebels to defeat the Syrian government troops. Little do they realise that they are only worsening the situation and prolonging the suffering of the millions of Syrians since Assad backed by Russia which is smarting over the West’s betrayal in Ukraine, will match weapon with weapon.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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China shaken by Muslim revolt in Xinjiang

By Ameen Izzadeen
On Thursday, May 22, China was shaken by a twin suicide bombs. At least 31 people were killed and some 100 injured when Uighur separatists threw explosives and ploughed two off-road vehicles through a crowd in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region where its policy of creating a ‘harmonious society’ is going awfully off road. Last Thursday’s attacks were China’s deadliest in memory and probably a harbinger for worse to come.
As China takes giant strides in world politics with phenomenal economic growth that has helped the once sleeping giant to stand up and be counted as a rising military power, the troubles in Xinjiang, once a Muslim majority region, threaten to retard its forward march. With China flexing its muscles to annex disputed islands in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, turning almost all its neighbours into virtual enemies, Xinjiang could become a venue to settle scores – like Iraq and Syria have become. Like flies to the honey pot, China’s enemies could perch on the troubled region, if they have not already done so. Last Thursday’s twin suicide attacks, the suicide attack a week before on Urumqi’s railway station, a series of knife attacks in public places in recent weeks and months, and a car bomb blast in Beijing in October last year indicate a possible link between Uighur separatists and al-Qaeda type groups or foreign intelligence agencies who use such terror groups to achieve political goals.
But China instead of addressing the grievances of the Uighur people who number more than 10.2 million, has adopted a military-cum-developmental approach to deal with the situation. But the policy has only backfired. According to AFP, even China’s Global Times newspaper, which is close to the ruling party and normally takes a nationalistic tone, acknowledged in an editorial last Friday that “policy errors in the course of history partly contributed to the current plight”.
The way forward for China is reconciliation and peace.
Reconciliation, unlike war, does not kill. As many wars end with calls for reconciliation, should not China think it prudent to start reconciliation and avoid war’s horrors which, apart from causing deaths, make those who survive living dead? But reconciliation should not be a strategy or the continuation of power politics by other means — as Carl Von Clausewitz would describe war — to suppress the weak, in this case the Uighur people. It should produce a win-win situation for the Uighurs, who seek more autonomy, and for the mighty Chinese government, which seeks to browbeat the Uighurs into submission, by stepping up its demographic engineering process that has drastically reduced the Uighur population strength from 60 per cent some 20 years ago in Xinjiang to 45 per cent today.
Reconciliation efforts have a better chance to succeed if confidence-building measures aimed at winning the trust of the other side precede and continue throughout the process. But often calls for reconciliation ahead of a conflict or even in the nascent stages of a conflict are scornfully dismissed by the powerful as dreams of idealist fools.
Reconciliation efforts accompanied by a threat of violence if the weak do not comply produce only the peace of the graveyard, for reconciliation is built on cooperation — not coercion.
But China sees coercion as the way to deal with the unrest in Xinjiang, which is a vital strategic link in China’s plans to strengthen its economic ties with oil-and-gas rich Central and West Asia and markets in Europe. China has built a pipeline that brings Kazakhstan’s oil from Caspian shore to Xinjiang. Pipelines are also being built to bring oil and gas from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to Xinjiang, which borders eight countries — Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. A key region even during the heydays of Silk Road trade two millennia ago, Xinjiang assumes more strategic value as it is to be the hub of China’s network of highways that are being planned or built to link up with key ports such as Gwadar in Pakistan and markets in Europe. Last week as China was rocked by the suicide bomb attacks, Beijing and Moscow signed a US$ 400 billion deal that will bring Russia’s gas to China probably via Xinjiang. Moreover, India has also shown interest in buying more Russian oil and gas and has drawn up plans for a joint project with Russia to build a pipeline via the troubled Chinese province.
With Xinjiang being such a strategically important region, China cannot afford to let it be engulfed in war flames with foreign elements likely to fuel and use the troubles in the region to check China’s growth.
Just as many militaries that are tasked to bring internal separatist struggles to an early end resort to harsh measures, China’s military, too, has opted for a disproportionate response to teach the Uighurs a lesson never to be forgotten. On Monday, Beijing announced the launch of a year-long anti-terror offensive in Xinjiang which it describes as a “major battleground”.
China believes that military repression together with economic development that promises to improve the living standards of the province’s people would end the troubles — with Uighurs agreeing to co-exist with the Han Chinese who are being settled in Xinjiang in large numbers with state patronage. Like China many nations that have faced cries for more political autonomy from regions have resorted to such tactics but have achieved only limited success. This is no reconciliation. In China’s Xinjiang, previous military crackdowns have only exacerbated the problem despite the massive economic projects.
Analysts say China’s military response and authoritarian rule without a political will towards reconciliation have radicalised the Uighur people. The Uighurs say their Islamic culture and Turkik language are under threat and complain that the Han Chinese are taking their jobs, and that their farmland has been confiscated on the pretext of development. Human rights groups say Muslim schoolgirls and women in Xinjiang have come under attack for wearing hijab. They are denied government jobs. Those who protest harassment to Muslim women are arrested on charges of anti-government activities or promoting separatism or terrorism.
Human Rights Watch China director Sophie Richardson says that apart from restrictions on hijab, there are restrictions about who can say prayers at weddings, who can fast during Ramadan and who can grow beards. But China denies such allegations and accuses exiled Uigher leaders like Rebiya Kadeer of spreading false reports about China. Kadeer in a statement condemned last week’s terror attacks. She said: “Violence against civilians is unacceptable and my heartfelt condolences reach out to the victims’ families…. In spite of the Chinese government’s policy of repressing all kinds of dissent in East Turkestan by brute force, the vast majority of Uighur people still believe in achieving their freedom, democracy and human rights by peaceful means.”
Often Uighurs arrested for even calling for more cultural freedom or political autonomy, instead of separation, are brought before public trials in stadiums where relatives of the suspects are forced to applaud when they are found guilty. Among those arrested was Ilham Tohti, an internationally known Uighur academic. Regarded as a voice of moderation, Tohti is facing treason charges for calling for more political autonomy short of independence.
The Uighurs ran an independent state during the early part of the 20th century. When China came under Communist rule in 1949, it was forcibly annexed as part of China, just as Tibet was.
Since the takeover, the Uighurs have been demanding more political autonomy and resisting the Chinese government’s policy of encouraging large scale migration by the Han Chinese. With Islamic groups in newly independent Central Asian countries launching armed campaigns to gain power after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Uighur campaign for autonomy took a turn towards militancy. Several Uighur fighters were among those arrested in Afghanistan by the invading Americans in 2001.
In 2009, some 200 people died when ethnic riots broke out in Xinjiang, which Uighur activists call East Turkestan. Since then Uighur separatists who operate from bases in mountainous regions in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have killed scores of Chinese officials. But last week’s suicide bombs sent a message to Beijing: Brace for mass scale and indiscriminate terror attacks. In March, a suspected Uighur terrorist stabbed to death 29 people and caused serious injuries to 143 at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming in what Uighur activists called a response to ‘state terrorism’ in Xinjiang.
Despite the simmering crisis in Xinjiang, China was largely seen as a peaceful country. But the recent events show that terrorism which is devastating countries like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan may visit China also and engulf the whole country in a great wall of terror. Instead of flaunting military might, China should make amends and stop its policy of demographic engineering in Xinjiang.
A year ago, China’s president Xi Jinping, still new in office, expressed his willingness to appease the Uighurs. But today he believes that stability in the resource-rich region, one of China’s key economic arteries, needs to be established at any cost. Without respecting the Uighur culture and their genuine concern over state-sponsored demographic change, no stability can be achieved. Reconciliation is the way forward – and the way to avert Iraq-like terror in China.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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