Mosul: Secret motives amid human misery

By Ameen Izzadeen
Iraqi troops, backed by the United States, the Kurdish Peshmerga militia and a host of Shiite irregular forces and Sunni tribal fighters, have launched a much-overdue and much publicised battle to free Mosul from the clutches of the terror group ISIS.
Though initial battlefield successes have encouraged the Iraqi government and the United States to declare that they were ahead of schedule, reports yesterday indicated that the battle will go on for weeks or even months while a big question looms large over the safety of some 1.5 million civilians trapped in the city or being used as human shields by the ISIS.
As the battle continues, the humanitarian crisis, thankfully, is receiving the attention of international humanitarian agencies and the media. But what is worrying is that the refugee flow has not started in a big way yet. Just a few thousand people have fled villages in the outskirts of Mosul. UN officials say they can only accommodate 60,000 refugees whereas they expect at least 700,000 people to flee the war zone. In days to come, Mosul, the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq, will face ruthless bombardment even more severe than what Fallujah experienced in May this year.
To win a city, you have to destroy it, regardless of what happens to its civilian population. This seems to be the thinking of the military strategists of many countries nowadays. This was Russia’s policy in Chechnya – and now in Aleppo. The Americans are no better. They destroyed city after city in Iraq ahead of ground troops making their way into Iraq. The Israelis are probably the worst, as the scale of atrocities they carried out in Gaza and South Lebanon shows. The arrogant conduct their wars but not before dumping the international convention on warfare into the dustbin. Many fear that the killing of civilians in unusually large numbers in wars could soon be accepted as a norm, no matter how ghastly it is. Of course, the perpetrators write off civilian deaths due to their disproportionate military response as collateral damage or even a price worth paying for, given their ‘just’ cause or the ‘noble’ objectives they pursue.
In Mosul, the Iraqi military has dropped leaflets warning the fear-stricken civilians of things to come. They advise: “Keep calm and tell your children that it [the bombardment] is only a game or thunder before the rain… Women should not scream or shout, to preserve the children’s spirit.”
Fight ISIS one must, but there should be utmost concern for the safety of innocent civilians who have been at ISIS gunpoint for two years. Mosul’s people who are Sunni Muslims, like the ISIS, also fear the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military. In Iraq, mutual suspicion on sectarian lines is a legacy of the US invasion.
Sadly, at the final US presidential debate on Wednesday, neither Republican candidate Donald Trump nor his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton showed any concern for the people of Mosul, though Mosul was a question the moderator threw at the two contenders for the White House.
The US administration, however, has been accusing Russia and the Syrian forces of carrying out an indiscriminate bombing campaign in Syria’s Aleppo with little regard for the safety of some 250,000 people trapped in the conflict zone.
With the safety of civilians being the least of the concerns of the advancing armies, the Mosul operation appears to be moving according to an American script. More than liberating Mosul or uniting the city and the rest of the Nineveh province with Iraq, the Americans appear to be in the campaign with the aim of achieving a much bigger military objective linked to Syria.
This is not what Donald Trump thinks. Trump responding to the question on Mosul during the debate on Wednesday suggested that the US-backed operation was aimed at making Clinton the President.
“The only reason they did it is because she’s running for the office of president. They want to look tough. They want to look good,” he said.
In response, Clinton said, “I’m just amazed that he seems to think that the Iraqi government and our allies and everybody else launched the attack on Mosul to help me in this election… But that’s how Donald thinks, you know, he’s always looking for some conspiracy.”
Trump may be wrong here, but he raised a valid point when he asked why there was no element of surprise in the military operation. He said this had allowed the ISIS to flee. Though Trump saw the publicity hype before the battle as a political move, the bigger picture may be strategic. It appears the US military wants to drive out the ISIS from Mosul and force the group into Syria to fight the Syrian regime.
Analysts who give a counter-narrative to mainstream media viewpoints believe the ISIS was created in 2011under the leadership of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi – by foreign secret service outfits with the connivance of the US – to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
But the group became more ambitious when it got more men, munitions and money, and turned its focus on Iraq. In January 2014, it captured Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq’s Anbar province and in June that year Mosul came under its control. Clinton emails released by whistleblower website Wikileaks confirm that the Democratic Party Presidential candidate knew all along that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding ISIS. The question dominating the media should have been: ‘Why did not Hillary let the American people know that the two US allies have been funding a terrorist group?”. The question has been sneakily displaced from public space by Trump’s sexcapades which the Clinton campaign team has been feeding the media.
Now it appears the US had enough of ISIS in Iraq. Syrian military analysts suspect the real purpose behind the US involvement in the battle for Mosul is to drive ISIS cadres into the Syrian theatre and force the Syrian troops to fight ISIS in the eastern regions bordering Iraq. This will be an added strain on the Syrian and Russian troops and could weaken their resolve to capture the strategic city of Aleppo. With the border between Iraq and Syria being controlled by ISIS, many analysts believe that a large number of ISIS members have already escaped to Raqqa, the terror outfit’s capital in Syria.
Hasan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Shiite militia group Hezbollah which is fighting alongside Syrian troops in Syria was one of those suspicious of the US motive. In a speech to mark Ashoora, Nasrallah drew the attention of the Iraqis to what he saw as the American design in the battle for Mosul. He told the Iraqis, especially the thousands of Shiite militia who have joined the battle to liberate Mosul, that if they did not defeat ISIS in Mosul, they would be obliged to move to eastern Syria to fight the terrorist group there.
Probably in anticipation of this scenario, Syrian troops and their Russian allies are trying to finish off their battle in Aleppo before the fall of Mosul.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Syria: Politicisation of human misery

By Ameen Izzadeen
Politicisation of human rights or trying to gain political mileage from human misery is undoubtedly inhuman, if not demonic.
It appears that this is what the powerful nations are doing in Syria. The suffering of the Syrian people, who have been going through hell for the past five years, has become a propaganda tool for the United States and its allies to use against the Syrian regime and its ally, Russia. In the past few weeks, the Syrian Army backed by Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah militia has been making remarkable battlefield advances in its effort to liberate the ISIS-infested eastern part of the historic city of Aleppo.
Military analysts believe that the victory for the Syrian troops in eastern Aleppo could expedite the end of the civil war in the regime’s favour. This is why the United States and its allies are using every weapon in their armoury to stop the march of the Syrian forces. First, the US failed to honour its part of the deal in the truce it reached with Russia. Then US aircraft killed some 80 Syrian troops in a bombing raid and called it a mistake. But this failed to stop the Syrian-Russian victory march.
The US President Barack Obama who will be in office for only three more months will not commit ground troops in Syria. Neither will he order Nato to carry out more airstrikes on Syrian army positions without risking the possibility of a tough retaliation from Russia which has now deployed its sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missiles in Syria in a bid to checkmate any further US military adventurism. Yet hawkish Hillary Clinton foolishly calls for the setting up of a no-fly zone over Aleppo to contain the Russians, quite in contrast to Donald Trump’s pledge to work with the Russians to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.
Unable to stop the Syrian Army’s victory march or counter Russia’s military power, the US-led alliance then unleashed its second weapon, propaganda, which is more powerful than bunker busters. US civil rights champion Malcolm X said, “The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
Footage from eastern Aleppo began to dominate the Western media coverage of the Syrian war. Front pages carried pictures of bodies of children being recovered from beneath rubble in the aftermath of Russian airstrikes.
In this propaganda avalanche, Syria’s legitimate troops are not referred to as the Syrian military or Syrian forces. Robbed of their legitimacy, they are described in the mainstream western media or Corporate Media as pro-government soldiers or forces loyal to the Syrian regime.
True, civilian massacres should draw universal condemnation, whoever does it. A war crime is a war crime whether it is done by the Syrian forces, the Russians, the Americans or non-state actors such as ISIS.
But singling out war crimes to one conflict is not only hypocritical but inhumane.
When the United States Secretary of State John Kerry last Friday accused Russia of committing war crimes in Aleppo, one wondered whether it was like pot calling the kettle black or ISIS calling al-Qaeda a killer.
“Russia and the {Syrian} regime owe the world more than an explanation about why they keep hitting hospitals, and medical facilities, and children and women… These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes, and those who commit these would and should be held accountable for these actions. This is a targeted strategy to terrorise civilians,” Kerry said.
But the US does not call Saudi Arabia a war criminal for last week’s funeral house massacre in Yemen. Nor did it call Israel by that name for killing some 750 Palestinian children during a month long Israeli bombing in 2009.
Such double standards were evident in the manner that the US protected Israel during the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982, the Qana massacre during the 1996 Lebanon war and the civilian deaths during the 2005 attack on Southern Lebanon. Instead of any tough measures, this war crime committing nation receives US$ 4 billion in taxpayers’ money annually as aid from the US. If the money had been given to various cash-strapped UN programmes — instead of Israel, a developed country with some 400 nuclear warheads — the world would have been a better place.
The United States’ own war crimes record is no better than that of Israel which it zealously serves.
Forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki, never mind Vietnam, just look at the United States’ recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. These were certainly not wars led by commanders who carried to the battle field copies of the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the UN Charter.
The United States’ bombing of Iraq in 2003 was more intense than Russian attacks in Aleppo. Tens of thousands of civilians, including children, died in US strikes codenamed “Shock and Awe”. There is overwhelming evidence to prove that the United States used depleted uranium in Iraq to quash the revolt of the people who sought the freedom of their country.
The Dutch peace group, Pax, in a 2014 report said the data it collected showed that many of the depleted uranium rounds were fired in or near populated areas of Iraq.
Even today, thousands of children in Iraq are dying of cancer or born with serious birth defects because of depleted uranium poisoning. The United States’ use of depleted uranium as a weapon in civilian areas is as appalling as the use chemical weapons by both the regime and the rebels in the Syrian war. But the Corporate Media or the presstitute made very little noise about this war crime.
Civilians also died in Nato airstrikes in Libya. The New York-based Human Rights Watch in a 2012 report said that eight Nato bombing raids killed 72 civilians, a third of them children. But Libyan sources claim that as many as 2,000 civilians were killed by Nato airstrikes on the Gaddafi stronghold of Sirte alone. With the embedded Corporate Media hyping only about atrocities of the Gaddafi regime, the victims of Nato crimes suffered alone.
Similarly in Syria, the Corporate Media won’t mention that on the other side of extremists-controlled eastern Aleppo where some 250,000 people are being used as human shields, some 2.5 million people are leading a normal life in the government-controlled Western Aleppo. They won’t talk about civilians killed in rebel attacks.
It is amid this propaganda war that Moscow and Washington yesterday pledged to resume talks aimed at finding a lasting ceasefire in Syria. But the Syrian crisis being a labyrinth of power games involving, apart from the US and Russia, countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, a solution is possible only if Syria returns to status quo ante.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Lanka’s India policy: Mind the balance

By Ameen Izzadeen
Foreign policy making is like tightrope walking. Performing a balancing act in foreign policy making is not only a science that the mandarins at a foreign ministry need to excel in, but also crucial for a country’s survival.
This week, the Indian media reported that Sri Lanka had supported New Delhi in its conflict with Pakistan. This is only an interpretation of the Indian media and can be far from the truth, because the mainstream media act like an addendum of the government in times of national crises. This is evident not only in India, but in many countries, including the United States and Britain, said to be the freest where media freedom is concerned.
Visiting India at a time when war clouds were hovering over the India-Pakistan border following the September 18 attack on a military base in Kashmir by militants, who according to India had come from Pakistan, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday said border terrorism was a core issue on the table for SAARC. He said the eight nation grouping had to discuss it and its impact before moving forward. His mentioning of border terrorism apparently implies an endorsement of India’s allegation that the attackers came from across the border, though Pakistan has rejected the allegation.
“SAARC has to decide on two issues—cross-border terrorism and areas in which we can work together. If we don’t do it, there is no future for SAARC,” he said, lamenting that little or nothing had moved in the SAARC due to friction between India and Pakistan.
But SAARC started discussing terrorism – at the behest of Sri Lanka in 1987 — even before the global war on terror began in 2001. The last summit in Kathmandu in November 2014 also took up terrorism and the summit’s final communiqué had this to say about it: “The leaders unequivocally condemned terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations and underlined the need for effective cooperation among the member states to combat them. They directed respective authorities to ensure full and effective implementation of the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and its Additional Protocol, including through enacting necessary legislations at the national level to root out terrorism. They reiterated their call for an early conclusion of a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism….”
The prime minister’s remarks in New Delhi were only a reiteration of SAARC’s stated position. However, the Indian media gave a mischievous twist to the remarks and interpreted them as Sri Lanka’s expression of support for India’s “surgical strikes” on Pakistan in response to the September 18 militant attacks on the Indian army base.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe should have exercised more caution when he made those remarks. This was because Sri Lanka’s announcement last Saturday that the prevailing environment was not conducive to hold the summit was also misinterpreted by the Indian media. Grouping Sri Lanka together with India’s allies Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan, the Indian media saw the Sri Lankan statement as an expression of support for India, though the announcement took no sides.
That government leaders or advisors have not made an attempt to correct this warped interpretations may indicate that the Indian media were right. Such silence may hurt Pakistan which has been an all-weather friend of Sri Lanka, especially during the thirty-year war. It may appear that Sri Lanka has thrown the time-tested balancing act in its India-Pakistan policy into the winds of opportunism.
Post-independence Sri Lanka’s foreign policy till the introduction of the executive presidential system in 1978 highlighted the craftsmanship with which the country performed a balancing act. The Prime Minister held the foreign policy portfolio and he or she was accountable to parliament for decisions taken in the foreign policy realm.
Foreign policy is essentially an extension of a country’s domestic policy. Unless a country’s leaders are irrational or high-handed, no foreign policy of a country is made without regard to its domestic consequences. Even when taking domestic policy decisions, rational leaders take into consideration the likely international repercussions arising out of such decisions.
Since the introduction of the executive presidential system in Sri Lanka, crucial foreign policy decisions are made by the executive president, with the foreign minister and the foreign ministry playing an auxiliary or advisory role. This was more or less the practice in the United States, but Congress plays a vital oversight role there.
But in Sri Lanka, foreign policy decision making process is not broad-based or democratised. There is little foreign policy discussion at Cabinet level. In Parliament, foreign policy decisions are debated only when adverse consequences of such decisions are evident. Foreign policy is largely divorced from parliamentary oversight and often left to the whims and fancies of the President.
Perhaps with the only exception being the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who let her foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, to devise foreign policy of her government, the presidents of Sri Lanka have been the architects of foreign policy decisions. Often they have made atrocious mistakes with devastating consequences. President J.R. Jayewardene learned a bitter lesson as a consequence of his overtly pro-West foreign policy that failed to address India’s concerns. As a result, India legitimised terrorism in this country. It funded, trained and sheltered the separatist elements that were trying to divide this country. But in 1987, Jayewardene, a chameleon in statecraft, mended fences with Sri Lanka’s giant neighbour and turned it into a partner in Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. To his advantage, Indira Gandhi, who sympathised with the separatists’ cause in Sri Lanka, had been assassinated and her son Rajiv Gandhi, who was inclined towards the free-market West, was in power in New Delhi.
The Ranasinghe Premadasa presidency’s foreign policy, reflecting the character traits of the president, put Sri Lanka on a collision course with India. However, the then Indian government strategically handled Sri Lanka to avoid open hostility. During the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, Sri Lanka’s India policy was in the hands of a troika consisting of President Rajapaksa, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and presidential secretary Lalith Weeratunge. The regime played its foreign policy cards haphazardly while openly courting stronger relations with China, much to the chagrin of India and the United States-led West.
In the present government which is a diarchy, foreign policy decisions emerge from three centres – the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister. But it is not clear who makes what decision. At times their positions appear to be contradicting one another. This is not a good sign. The process needs to be streamlined and clear so that decision makers can be held accountable at least in the court of the public.
The ideal position would be if decisions are made by a group of carefully selected people especially trained to think in terms of national interest and to balance the country’s national interest with the national interests of other countries.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Let SAARC die; Lanka must make fresh bid to join ASEAN

By Ameen Izzadeen
In July this year, the world economy was shaken to its foundations when Britain voted to leave the European Union, arguably the most effective regional grouping in the world. Britain’s exit, or Brexit as the media call it, and its impact on the world economy are still a major topic at world economic forums such as the G 20 summit in China early this month. However, the EU is strong enough to absorb the shock and remain as powerful a regional grouping as it had been over the decades.
Now we see a possibility in our own region of an Inxit, Banxit, Bhuxit and Afxit as our regional grouping SAARC – South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation — faces one of its biggest crises in its turbulent 31-year history.
Following India’s decision to boycott the November SAARC summit in Islamabad because of Pakistan’s alleged links with the terrorists who attacked an Indian military base at Uri in Indian-administered Kashmir, three India-friendly SAARC nations — Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan – have also announced a boycott of the summit.
Differences between India and Sri Lanka over the presence of Indian peace keeping troops in Sri Lanka saw the sixth summit being hit by an unofficial boycott by India in the late 1980s. As a result, the summit scheduled to be held in 1989 was finally held in 1991 after two postponements.
Let alone boycotts, even if all SAARC members leave the grouping, it is not going to have any major impact on the world economy. The disintegration of SAARC will be like the fall of a dried leaf from a dying tree. The tree does not feel it; nor do passersby take notice of it. This is because intra-regional trade among SAARC members is still an abysmal 5 percent of the global trade despite all the big talk about South Asia Free Trade Area, bilateral Free Trade Agreements and South Asia being home to more than one fifth of the world’s population.
The Narendra Modi Government has come under intense pressure from the Indian media and hardline supporters to respond militarily to the September 18 attack on the Indian military base. But at the same time India is also aware that any military response would only be an invitation to a nuclear war.
It is against this backdrop that India announced the summit boycott and threatened to annul the water-sharing treaties with Pakistan.
In a statement India said it would not attend the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad in November, because of Pakistan’s support for cross-border terrorist attacks and its growing interference in the internal affairs of member states. It is no secret that cross border terrorism is part of the unseen foreign policy of many countries. India and Pakistan are no exceptions. The two countries have deployed every scheme in their secret service arsenal to economically and militarily destablise each other. This is because of the belief that a nation’s security increases proportionate to the insecurity of its rival.
Talking about cross border terrorism, Sri Lanka was pushed into a 30-year hellhole and an economic dungeon largely because of India’s support for terrorism in this country in the early 1980s.
India played a positive role in global politics soon after its independence from Britain in 1947 and was an ardent believer in the Panchaseela principles of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. But by 1970, this policy changed and India was seen as a meddlesome country with ambitions to become the policeman of the South Asian part of the Indian Ocean region.
Every South Asian nation has one time or another felt its political freedom is stymied by India’s interference. Take Nepal, for instance. The landlocked Himalayan state was recently punished for taking measures to strengthen ties with China. The hidden hand of India was evident in Nepal’s border region protests which gave India an excuse to delay essential supplies such as oil to that country.
Bhutan on the other hand is a virtual vassal state of India. Afghanistan has also become a close ally of India largely because of its mistrust of neighbour Pakistan. In Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her Awami League bow to India for favours granted.
In the Maldives, too, India is seen to be involved in regime-change games. In Sr Lanka, it is widely believed that India played a behind-the-scenes role in the defeat of the pro-China Mahinda Rajapaksa regime in 2015, and in the dissolution of the pro-west Ranil Wickremesinghe government in 2004.
Calling Pakistan the “Ivy League of Terrorism” or blaming it for the Uri attack and every attack on Indian soil is not the right way to deal with the question of terrorism. That attacks keep taking place regularly in India is a damning indictment on India’s failure to adopt effective countermeasures and intelligence gathering. India needs to put its house in order, increase vigilance, engage Pakistan in confidence-building measures and offer the Kashmiri people who are fighting for freedom a just solution. Let the people of Kashmir on both sides of the divide decide on their collective fate, independent of both India and Pakistan. Much blood has been shed in Kashmir, since the first Indo-Pakistan war in 1947. In recent months and weeks, hundreds have been killed in renewed unrest in the troubled region. There is no world media to cover Kashmir. Their attention is largely on Syria. The human rights community is barred from visiting Kashmir to investigate allegations of rape and extrajudicial killings by Indian troops.
The 70-year crisis in Kashmir is the one most pressing issue that has prevented the progress of SAARC. Both India and Pakistan will not abandon their respective stands on Kashmir. The people of the two countries see each other as enemies. Given these realities, it is in every South Asian nation’s interest to dissolve SAARC.
Countries come together to form regional groupings with the aim of improving their economies and the living standards of their people. They agree to solve their political differences peacefully so that they could achieve progress on the economic front. The EU and ASEAN have succeeded because they worked within such a framework. But SAARC has been a sham since its inception.
If only Sri Lanka had joined ASEAN in the early 1980s, today, it would have been a prosperous nation like Malaysia. President J.R. Jayewardene sought ASEAN membership, but India applied pressure on ASEAN to reject Sri Lanka’s application.
With little option left, Jayewardene then decided to team up with General Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s Bangladesh and other South Asian nations to form a South Asian regional grouping. More than economic cooperation, the hidden objective of the move was to check India, which had by then been aggressively pursuing its policeman role in South Asia. Named the Indira doctrine, the policy called on India’s neighbours to first consult India before they invited an outside power to solve an internal problem. Even Sri Lanka’s Indian Ocean peace zone proposal was seen as a subtle move to check India’s power ambitions in the region.
There is no love lost among the SAARC nations. Even the last summit in Katmandu was held against the backdrop of an India-Pakistan clash across the line of control and moves by Pakistan and Nepal to bring China as a full member or member with observer status.
Jayewardene, one of the architects of SAARC, prophetically said at the inaugural SAARC summit in 1985 in Dhaka, “We are setting this ship afloat today. There may be mutiny on board, I hope not.”
Kill SAARC, it has not done much to improve our lives. It’s not a bad proposition for Sri Lanka to send a fresh application to ASEAN. Or in the alternative, we must include China as a full member of SAARC.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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NAM and sham: Whither Non-alignment?

By Ameen Izzadeen
The message from Venezuela’s Margarita Island is that the Non-aligned Movement is all but dead. The 120-member organisation appeared like a bed-ridden elderly person thinking of beating Usain Bolt in a 100-metre sprint. Like the proverbial rats deserting the sinking ship, over the years many heads of state or government skipped the summit.
When the 17th summit was held in Venezuela last week, only ten heads of state attended it. Among them were Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Cuban President Raul Castro, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The poor show by world leaders raises the question whether there will be a non-aligned summit again? By not having the country represented at the head of state level or by its foreign minister at the Venezuela summit, Sri Lanka, one of the pioneers of the movement that was once the voice and strength of newly independent countries, signalled that it had all but withdrawn from the movement. Throwing protocol to the pigs, Sri Lanka dispatched a minister who holds the portfolio of skills development and vocational training. This was nothing to be surprised at. Sri Lanka was, perhaps, one of the first countries to realise that hanging on to NAM principles was a liability in the post-cold war era. In 2003, the then Ranil Wickremesinghe government betrayed NAM unity and supported the US position at the Cancun trade talks.
In neighbouring India, which recently signed a defence agreement with the US, enabling the two countries to use each other’s ports, officials did not even bother to provide a credible reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to skip the summit. Even the United Nations Secretary General did not consider attending the summit worthwhile.
A waste of time and energy, many NAM heads of state might have thought. And they were not wrong. NAM summits in recent years were largely a foreign policy trophy for the host nation – not for the participating nations, unless they felt that their attendance at the summit would help them promote their foreign or domestic policy goals.
During last week’s summit, the host nation’s president took great pains to portray the parley as a diplomatic success. President Nicholas Maduro called it a meeting that would “be remembered for centuries.” One wonders whether his remarks were prophetic because this could be the last NAM summit. With the Non-Aligned Movement having long outlived its usefulness, solidarity among the developing countries is nowhere to be seen. Be it at the United Nations or any international forum on crucial issues such as climate change, world trade or development goals, NAM countries act individually and take a stand thinking only about their own self-interest.
There was little NAM spirit when India and Libya voted for a US-backed resolution against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2012.
The Non-Aligned Movement was born in response to a post-World War II international order that saw the then two superpowers engaging in a Cold War to win as many allies as possible, virtually dividing the world into two power blocs. Dismissing this world order, the then newly independent states in Africa, Asia and Latin America and other countries with similar thinking decided not to align with either the United States-led Western bloc or the Soviet Union-led Eastern bloc. Enmity towards none and friendship with all was the motto. They first met in 1955 in the Indonesian city, Bandung. Sri Lanka was one of the six convenors of this conference. The others were Egypt, Indonesia, Burma, India and Pakistan.
Perhaps, the present day US-looking mandarins at New Delhi’s South Block, for obvious reasons, do not want the world to know that the term ‘non-alignment’ was first coined by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru during one of the preparatory meetings in Colombo in 1954. He envisioned non-alignment as a political ideology based on five principles or Panchaseela – a mantra for coexistence first offered by Chinese Premier Zhou-Enlai as a guide for better Sino-India relations.
The five principles were: (1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; (2) mutual non-aggression; (3) mutual non-interference in domestic affairs; (4) equality and mutual benefit and (5) peaceful co-existence.
The movement held its inaugural meeting in 1961 in the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, under the stewardship of Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito or “Marshal Tito”.
Since then the NAM had been championing many a noble cause. It was a strong advocate of the Palestinian cause and the independence struggles of Algeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Angola, Mozambique and other nations. It confronted largely the United States. This was because the Soviet Union used solidarity with the NAM cause to its advantage.
The spirit of non-alignment was evident in the foreign policies of almost all the member states during the early years of the movement. But as years went by, NAM countries began to flirt with one superpower or the other to keep their economies going. Countries such as India and Iraq signed friendship treaties with the Soviet Union, while Egypt threw its weight behind the United States after the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NAM members began to see non-alignment as a liability. Yet some tried their best to make it meaningful in the context of post-cold war realities. But no more.
Their apathy was evident at last week’s NAM summit, which hardly made news in the mainstream international media. The summit turned out to be a platform for President Maduro and his anti-US allies to criticise US foreign policy.
But it may be a little too early to write NAM’s death certificate. President Maduro, besieged by growing calls for his resignation as the US-backed opposition capitalises on the hardships that Venezuela’s people face due to the world oil price plunge, told the summit that the UN should not merely be reformed, but re-founded in a manner that all nations have a more balanced share.
But we believe that even NAM needs to be refounded in keeping with the realities. With China emerging as a counterforce to the United States and Russia reemerging as a rival of the United States, NAM countries needs to join forces to strike a balance and benefit from all big powers.

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G20 summit: Substance was in the sideshows

By Ameen Izzadeen
We cannot be over optimistic that this week’s G 20 summit in one of China’s most prosperous cities would become a catalyst to revitalise the global economy. In the run-up to the Hangzhou summit, the media hype gave one the impression it would find a way to boost global growth, deal with the Brexit shock and the rise of protectionism in world trade. Notwithstanding the call by the summit’s host, China’s President Xi Jinping, to convert the “talk shop” into an “action team”, the end-of-summit communiqué indicated this was yet another summit where they came, they talked and they shammed.
G20 is basically an informal economic group. The G20, like the Non-Aligned Movement, has no secretariat. But NAM has a common approach to third world issues. At least, it had in the past. Formed in 1999, the G20, now comprising 19 countries and the European Union, seeks to maintain international financial stability and economic momentum. But it appears that the Hangzhou summit has made little headway in the direction of a global economic revival, what with the undercurrents of the summit being one of suspicion over China’s global ambitions. There were complaints about China’s steel exports flooding global markets and about China making it difficult for foreign investors to enter its market.
The only benefit that international summits of this nature bring was the bilateral meetings between world leaders who are at loggerheads over various disputes. Thus the G20 summit saw several meetings where crucial world issues were discussed. They ranged from the Syrian war and the Afghan peace process to the South China Sea disputes and the US missile deployment in South Korea. Though there was hardly a major announcement at the end of these meetings on the sidelines of the summit, the fact that world leaders holding opposing views on global issues met and discussed matters appeared to have helped ease tension.
Take the meeting between the United States President Barack Obama, now reduced to a lame duck leader with only four months to serve in office, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The picture that captured the formal handshake showed the two leaders seemingly staring at each other. They are poles apart on the crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria, NATO’s eastward expansion and other crucial world issues. Yet the talks between the two leaders and their foreign ministers at least stirred hopes that a solution to the Syrian crisis was possible.
Similarly, Obama’s meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also helped the two countries to narrow their differences after ties between the two NATO allies plummeted following the July 15 failed coup attempt by a small group of Turkish military officers.
Also significant was Putin’s meeting with China’s President. The meeting between the two strategic allies who hold similar views on many global issues was as sweet as ice cream on the diplomatic cake. Putin, in fact, presented Xi a box of Russian ice cream which is popular among the Chinese. If China wants to be a superpower, then it must have a band of dependable allies in times of need. Russia is one such ally.
Since around 2005, China, soon-to-be the world’s number one economy, has been gradually, quietly and cautiously establishing an international profile befitting a world leader. Yet it had tactfully avoided getting involved in conflicts in the Middle East which the United States regards as part of its domain of influence. But last month, in a significant policy shift, China expressed support for the Bashar al-Assad regime, which Russia is trying to prop up with its military intervention. The announcement came following a visit by a high-level Chinese military delegation to Damascus. The delegation offered military assistance to the Assad regime.
“China and Syria’s militaries have a traditionally friendly relationship, and China’s military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria’s military,” China’s state news agency Xinhua quoted China’s Central Military Commission Director Guan Youfeias as saying in a report filed from Damascus. For obvious reasons, mainstream Western media that have embedded themselves with the war party underreported the significance of the Chinese military delegation’s visit to Syria and its support for Assad during the height of war.
Then take the meeting between Xi and Obama. Apparently, the US media were overdramatising the protocol blunder over the Chinese officials’s failure to offer a rolling staircase for Obama to descend from Air Force 1 and the Chinese officials’ yelling “this-is-our-country” at the US media team at the airport. But the meeting saw the two leaders discussing ways and means of improving cooperation and reducing tensions.
Apart from the usual issues such as terrorism and trade, Xi and Obama discussed maritime risk reduction and cooperation and the Afghanistan peace process — issues which China considers vital for its One-Belt-One-Road initiative. The two leaders also announced their decision to ratify the Paris climate deal, a significant step by the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
The meeting between President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also significant because it took place days after India signed a defence pact with the United States. Called LEMOA, or Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, the pact makes the two countries’ naval, air force and army bases available to each other for servicing and repairs on a case-by-case basis.
But China’s displeasure over this agreement is conspicuous, with the state-funded Global Times newspaper in an editorial in its August 30th issue warning New Delhi that if India hastily joins the US alliance system, it may irritate China, Pakistan and even Russia… and may not make India feel safer, but “will bring strategic troubles to itself and make itself a centre of geopolitical rivalries in Asia.”
But at the bilateral meeting, Xi and Modi agreed to work towards putting India-China ties in the “right direction” and to “respect and accommodate” each other’s concerns.
So it was the meetings on the margins of the G20 summit that made the Hangzhou summit a success. Otherwise, summits of this nature are a waste of time. Simply because top world leaders attended a summit does not make a summit great. Greatness is measured largely by the results of the proposals arising from a summit. But so far, no G20 summit has achieved such greatness. Neither are G20 decisions binding. Need we say more?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka)

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The pogrom of children: The picture behind the pictures

By Ameen Izzadeen
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of August 26, 2016)A chilling picture of a child – identified as Omran Daqneesh from Aleppo in Syria – is making international news and creating much debate in the social media, but it appears that the whole exercise of showing a child to win sympathy or demonise the enemy has a war agenda.
Pictures may tell more than a thousand words, but do they change policy?
If the Omran picture was posted with the aim of stressing the need for meaningful and urgent peace talks, it was then certainly praiseworthy. But if those who posted the picture were killers posing off as members of a British-funded rescue group, and they did so with the intention of providing an excuse for Western nations to intervene in Syria in a robust way as they had done in Libya, then their action is as reprehensible and shameful as the killing of children caught in war zones.
Besides, they are also very much mistaken if they think that pictures can change the policies of the United States. The US is cautious about picture-driven policymaking. It once happened during the 1992-93 Somalia famine and civil war. As the mainstream world media showed live footage of famine-stricken children of Somalia, pressure grew on the Bill Clinton administration to intervene. But once the US troops landed in Somalia, footage of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu forced Clinton to withdraw the troops amid growing domestic opposition to the US military involvement.
What happened in Somalia was an example where media coverage led to policy change. This phenomenon is described in foreign policy circles as the CNN effect.
US foreign policy experts such as George Kennan have warned of the adverse repercussion of policy decisions based on news accounts that by their very immediacy are incomplete, have little context and are sometimes wrong.
If pictures can change policy, it could have happened in September last year. The picture of Aylan Kurdi, dead on Turkey’s Mediterranean beach, made hearts melt. Yet the war mongers — call them big powers — showed little or no urgency to end the Syrian war. Perfunctory peace talks, as expected, made little or no headway, but they paved the way for more heads to roll, literally, as the Syrian conflict intensified, with the ISIS and other terror groups, some of whom were backed by the West and its Arab allies, capturing more territory, provoking Russia’s intervention to prop up the Syrian regime.
If pictures of children affected by war could bring peace, wars that erupted since the day photography became part of war journalism, would have ended no sooner they started. Who could forget the Pulitzer Prize winning AP picture of nine-year-old naked Kim Phuc wounded by the Napalm bombs the United States-backed South Vietnamese planes dropped on the village of Trang Bang, on June 8, 1972? The people the world over were moved by the black-and-white picture, but the war continued for three more years with the United States sending in more troops to prop up a puppet government.
Then take Israel’s war on South Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. More than a thousand children died in the two wars. Many were the photographs of dead and wounded children that journalists captured and sent out from the two war zones. They were as heartbreaking to watch as the pictures of Aylan and Omran. Yet the big powers were muted in their condemnation, for it was Israel, their beloved, which was doing the right thing – defending itself from groups such as Hezbollah. While the United States and its Western allies gave their tacit approval for Israel’s military action to punish Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations stood helpless to stop the massacre of children. Its inaction proved once again that it was only a tool in the hands of powerful nations.
The less we talk about the United Nations’ commitment to protect children caught up in armed conflicts the better it is. That it has an Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict and the annual reports it publishes to name and shame the perpetrators do not absolve the Secretary General or the world body of culpability in the massacre of children. Their culpability comes in the form of their slow response to situations which require urgent action to save children caught in armed conflicts. The Secretary General’s Special Representative, Leila Zerroiugi, talked early this month about a 15-year-old Iraqi boy who was brutally killed by the ISIS. Her speech before the UN Security Council made little sense or only raised more questions on the UN’s efficacy, because the UN was not right there for the little boy or had no mechanism to protect him when ISIS tied his legs to two vehicles moving in opposite directions.
The Office of the Special Representative publishes annual reports and participates in debates in the UN Security Council – a routine. But we need to ask how committed the Special Representative is to the cause of children caught up in armed conflicts, as she made no protest over Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s surrender to the money power of Saudi Arabia, which is being accused of killing children in Yemen. Following Saudi Arabia’s threat to withdraw funding to the world body, Ban removed Saudi Arabia from the report the Special Representative prepared to name and shame countries and organisations that have killed children in armed conflict.
And also not named and shamed were those Western countries killing children in indiscriminate drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other places. In Pakistan alone, according to Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates, some 966 children have died in US drone attacks. So the picture behind the picture is that the high and mighty to can kill children and get away.
Coming back to the picture of little Omran, evidence is now emerging to claim that the picture was a setup. But the mainstream western corporate media which have joined in the greed driven wars in the Middle East, do not talk about such evidence. The Russia Today and Chinese state media, however, not only analysed the picture but also exposed the men behind the picture.
Showing what they claimed to be evidence, Russia Today television in its lead story on Tuesday identified the men who carried Omran to the ambulance as the very killers of a 12-year-old Palestinian-Syrian boy two months ago. The boy, whom they accused of being an informant, was beheaded and the footage showing his severed head was posted on terrorist websites. But the slaughter of the Palestinian boy by terrorists whom the West fondly calls rebels did not make world headlines.
China Central Television (CCTV) in a news report on the Omran picture said, “Critics have suggested that [the video] is part of a propaganda war, aimed at creating a ‘humanitarian’ excuse for Western countries to become involved in Syria…. The workers did not make rapid rescue efforts and instead quickly set up a camera.”
The CCTV report was subtitled “Posed picture? Exaggeration? The video is suspected of being a fake”.

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