Civic society, come out against government corruption

By Ameen Izzadeen
If a substantial section of Sri Lanka’s people took the risk of being labelled as ungrateful to a political leadership that defeated terrorism and voted that political leadership out of power, not once but twice, it is for one reason: To bring good governance.
But it is high time the people fired a salvo at the politicians, who, campaigning on a platform of good governance, came to power through the January 8 presidential election and the August 17 parliamentary elections. They need to be warned that a public perception is growing that rogues in the present lot are no better than those in the previous lot. The Sinhala saying unuth ekai munuth ekai (both are the same) is increasingly being heard in private conversations. So much so that some compare the present state of affairs to a group of starved savages at a dining table. The table has been laid and they are gobbling like savages as though they had not eaten since 2003.
All this dinner table or pub talk is based on stories that trickle down to the masses through the social media and websites. They may be exaggerated or even rubbish. But there is substance in what the people are saying — and the Government should be warned that its anti-corruption battle also appears to be getting corrupted.
The Government should be reminded that the people voted for the ruling coalition because they longed for economic stability and an end to government corruption. To the conscious citizens, who are a growing majority in highly literate and increasingly social-media-savvy Sri Lanka, democracy cannot be government by the crooks, of the crooks and for the crooks. Intolerance for corruption should be at the sanctum sanctorum of democracy. The people who voted for the new Government may give some time for it to reform the economy and bring about some economic stability, though they have begun to complain about the gloomy economic outlook and rising prices of food, medicine and other essentials. But their patience is running thin and their rage growing fast when their doubts about the anti-corruption credentials of the new lot is further strengthened by the Government’s failure to prove conclusively that billions of dollars of Sri Lanka’s wealth have been plundered by the rogues in the previous government. Is it the case of birds of the same corruption-tainted feathers flying together?
Adding to public concern are utterances in parliament by powerful ministers on Wednesday defending a maritime security company at the centre of a fraud probe, and a gossip column news report that the two captains of the Government have warned three ministerial types after they received complaints of corruption against them. It was only months ago that the Government was struggling to answer corruption allegations over a Central Bank bond issue.
The saying that the Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion is apparently lost on some members of the coalition for good governance. That the ruling coalition politicians facing corruption allegations were only warned and freed points to another disturbing state of affairs – the Government leaders are afraid to crack with whip on the errant politicos under their command. The talking citizens say this is because the leaders fear that if harsher measures are taken, the corrupt would cross over. This will reduce the clout the party leaders wield in the coalition Government.
This is all the more reason why the good governance section of the ruling coalition should stop crossovers by introducing amendments to the 19th Amendment. Bud sadly we hear no such movement towards that end.
Mere rhetoric won’t end corruption. It is interesting to note that the Government itself acknowledges this before the international community. Claiming the Government’s anti-corruption drive is not limited to rhetoric, Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva enumerated this week at the United Nations anti-corruption conference in St. Petersburg the measures Sri Lanka’s Government, which he describes as a government with zero tolerance for corruption, has taken to fight corruption. To show the Government’s determination to fight corruption, he cited as evidence the setting up of independent institutions such as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption, the National Police Commission, the National Audit Commission, the National Procurement Commission, and investigation mechanisms such as the Presidential Task Force on Stolen Assets Recovery.
But the people want to see the results of these anti-corruption measures. It is almost ten months since the change of baton, yet all what the people see are bungling and more bungling by the Government in the pursuit of the missing billions stacked in secret accounts in Dubai and elsewhere. With the battle against corruption being not seen to be done to the satisfaction of the people, we may soon hear some minister saying that there is nothing illegal in having secret foreign accounts and – who knows – a statement to the effect that the previous regime they defeated is not corrupt.
With the public confidence in the Government’s anti-corruption drive fast eroding, the responsibility is now more on civil society and the media. But they need to be empowered through legislation such as the Right to Information Bill. The delay in passing this bill is causing some concern in civil society and has given rise to questions whether some sections in the Government are deliberately delaying it to cover up their sins, failures and perhaps their collusion with the rogues linked to the previous regime.
The Government may say it must first gather solid evidence before bringing the culprits to justice. But the Government should also take a serious note of the growing public discontent over its failures.
It should also take note of the power of the social media, especially its ability to topple corrupt governments through public protests. Recently it happened in Guatemala where the people had turned a blind eye to large scale corruption for 36 years since the end of the civil war in that country. But in September this year, in the face of corruption allegations against President Otto Pérez Molina, a small message in the Facebook drew massive public protests across the country, forcing the president to stand down and face trial.
Following social media appeals, massive anti-corruption protests were also held in South Africa recently against the African National Congress government of Jacob Zuma. Similar anti-corruption protests were held even in war-torn Iraq recently. The trend is indicative of a growing phenomenon of youth intolerance of government corruption.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Paradise Kashmir cries out for justice

By Ameen Izzadeen
Why is the crisis in Kashmir not on the BBC, CNN, al-Jazeera or other international media? Mind you, the crisis is far from over. Supporters worldwide marked, this week, the international day of solidarity with the Kashmiris.
Why do some conflicts in the world get all the media attention and some do not? The answer lies in the media value each conflict carries. The media value of a conflict increases when leaders of powerful countries talk about it or try to intervene to solve it by means of war or peace. With world leaders now preoccupied with the war in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe, the other conflicts, including the conflicts in Tibet and Kashmir, have lost their media value.
In deference to the influence China and India wield internationally, Western leaders do not even mention Tibet or Kashmir in passing nowadays. Weeks ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron, avoided a meeting with the visiting Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and icon of the independence struggle. Obviously, Britain feels it stands to lose inby supporting the independence struggle of the Tibetans at the expense of antagoinsing China.
This self-centred logic applies to Kashmir. United States President Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign vowed to solve the Kashmir crisis. This was to make Pakistan fully involved in the war on terror. But in the face of strong opposition from India, a huge market for the US and potential military ally, Obama abandoned this policy and, ever since, has not mentioned the ‘K’ word in public.
At the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly sessions in New York, no country other than Pakistan and India raised the Kashmir issue. Pakistan did so because it feels it is its responsibility to free Kashmir from India’s occupation. India raised the issue in response to Pakistan’s speech. The world powers see the Kashmiri people’s suffering as not their problem but a problem to be sorted out between India and Pakistan.
That the world leaders do not show much interest in the 68-year crisis in Kashmir does not mean that the wolf is dwelling with the lamb and the tiger with the kid in the region referred to as paradise on earth. On Monday, two suspected rebels and one Indian army soldier were killed during an encounter. Regular ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LOC) have brought the two nuclear-power neighbours to the brink of war on numerous occasions in recent months.
There are three compelling reasons for the Kashmiri issue to be on the international agenda. First, it is about the people, their suffering, their dignity and their right to self-determination. The Kashmiri people have suffered long since Maharaja Hari Singh ceded the territory to India in 1947 against the wishes of his state’s Muslim majority subjects who longed for a union with Pakistan. South Africa’s visionary leader Nelson Mandela, who inspired freedom fighters around the world by his exemplary life and resilience, recognised the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination — and that was why he raised the Kashmir issue at the 1998 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Durban, although he knew his remarks would make India unhappy. He told the summit that he believed the Kashmir issue, which remained a “concern for all of us,” should be resolved through peaceful negotiations.
Secondly, since both India and Pakistan are nuclear armed countries, the international community must redouble its efforts to help the two countries sort out any contentious issue that could trigger a major war.
Some may argue that the two countries will not go to war because nuclear weapons are a deterrent in preventing a major confrontation. They may point to the self-restraint shown by the two nations since the Kargil war in 1999. But such assumptions offer no guarantee that the two nations would not resort to nuclear warfare. The threat looms large with extremist ideologies gaining political recognition. Just as Islamic extremism is a threat to Pakistan’s stability, the Hindutva ideology which the Bharatiya Janatha Party and its allies such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) promote is a threat to India’s stability.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi concentrating largely on making India economically strong, the values for which India was once hailed as an exemplary nation are being trampled on by RSS bigots. Beef eaters are hacked to death. In the Kashmir assembly, a Muslim lawmaker was attacked by BJP members because he served beef at a function. Muslims and Christians are increasingly being treated like second class citizens and some RSS ‘unholy’ men even urge their supporters to rape dead Muslim women. With the RSS given free rein by Modi, India is fast straying away from Gandhi’s India. South Asian studies expert Jon P. Dorschner writing for the American Diplomacy sees a parallel between Hitler’s Germany and Modi’s India. He says:
“The BJP was founded as a Hindu nationalist party by right wing Indians who were great admirers of Adolf Hitler….. Hitler portrayed the Germans as the pure Aryans, and the master race. He blamed Germany’s problems on the Jews. He unleashed storm troopers on the Jews, and any group that opposed his agenda. Modi’s BJP characterizes Hindus as the “pure Aryans” and scapegoats Muslims and Christians as outsiders and agents of foreign powers. As Modi cements his hold on power, the RSS and other Hindu fanatics have increased their attacks on religious minorities and critics of Modi and the BJP agenda.”
The rise of Gandhi killers in Modi’s India must be a cause for concern for the international community. Imagine a bigot becoming India’s prime minister and wants to nuke Pakistan.
Thirdly, the region as a whole will prosper through free trade among South Asian countries only if India and Pakistan solve the Kashmiri issue peacefully.
Modi sent positive signals for close cooperation with Pakistan when he invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his inauguration in May 2014. But soon after, the relations between the two countries soured with accusation of ceasefire violations and promotion of terrorism. It is not too late. Sharif in his UN address offered a peace plan. The ball is now in India’s court. India cannot cite the Kashmiri people’s participation in assembly elections as an endorsement by them of India’s sovereignty. On the contrary, the heavily militarised region is still under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act that allows the security forces to act with impunity. Besides, the region is still a no-go zone for the international media and human rights activists. All this shows that Kashmir is a troubled region. India should not fight shy of holding a UN-recommended plebiscite in Kashmir to decide the fate of the region.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on October 30, 2015)

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Israel writes script for the crisis and solution

By Ameen Izzadeen
President Barack Obama, wake up. The bloodletting in the holy city of Jerusalem sends you a stream of urgent messages that you should step in and act decisively to fulfil your promise of peace to the land of peacemakers.
As the crisis escalates with the Israeli police shooting any Palestinian, who they think is acting suspiciously in response to knife attacks on Jewish settlers, President Obama must try one last time to make peace between Israel and Palestine before his term ends in 15 months.
But it won’t be easy, given Israel’s hardline stance and the growing chill in the personal relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, especially in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal reached in July this year.
President Obama made a genuine effort for peace during the early days of his first term. He probably underestimated the power of the Zionist Lobby, which opposes a Palestinian state. His first foreign call from his White House office after he took oaths in January 2009 was to Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas. Indicating he meant what he said, he visited the Middle East within months of becoming the President. He appropriately titled the famous speech he made at the Cairo University in 2009 ‘A New Beginning’. The hope-stirring speech showcased his determination to find a peace deal acceptable to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. He was not unaware of the failures his predecessors suffered in their efforts to make peace. Yet amidst standing ovation from an ecstatic crowd, he described the Palestinians’ plight as “intolerable”, though in the same breath he said the US bond with Israel was unbreakable and called on the Palestinians to abandon resistance to Israeli occupation through violence. In a bold declaration, seen as a departure from the policies of his predecessors, Obama told Israel that settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories should stop.
“… There can be no progress towards peace without a halt to such construction”. … Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s,” Obama assured the region’s peace-starved people.
His peace intentions won him the Nobel Peace Prize, just months after he took office. But a term and a half later, he cuts a sorry figure on the Palestinian issue. Israel has gone on with business as usual, building settlements in occupied territories, while paying little or no heed to Obama’s repeated don’t-do-it pleas. After his reelection in 2012, Obama launched a new peace initiative with an April 2014 deadline. Numerous visits to the region and shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry drew a blank, because of tough conditions placed by Netanyahu.
With Zionist hardliners shooting down his peace initiative, what Obama, in response, could do was to snub Netanyahu by not meeting him during the United Nations General Assembly sessions. Last month, Obama pulled out Secretary Kerry and UN envoy Samantha Power from the UN hall when the Israeli leader addressed the world body.
Netanyahu knows that in the US, the system is more powerful than the president, and as long as the Zionist lobby led by the mighty America-Israel Public Relations Committee has the system – which includes Congress — under its control, Israel has little to worry about and Netanyahu does not give a damn about decisions made by the White House.
In what was seen as a snub to Obama and his peace initiative, Netanyahu was reelected in March this year on the strength of a promise he made in the closing days of his campaign that there could be no Palestinian state while regional violence and chaos persisted.
Netanyahu’s reelection shut the door on Obama’s peace efforts. Yet, unable to turn a blind eye to the escalating violence, the Obama administration on Wednesday, in what appears to be a half-hearted announcement, said Secretary Kerry would travel to the region “in the near future”. But whether Kerry will succeed is a big question. Already, State Department remarks on the current violence which could trigger a third Intifada – uprising – have infuriated Israeli hardliners. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters this week there were “credible reports” Israel was using excessive force against Palestinian protesters.
As violence soars in Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied territories and in Israel, an opinion poll published last week found that 73% of Israelis wanted a harsher response to the attacks by Palestinian youths. Needless to say, Israeli troops resort to collective punishment, bulldozing several houses in a suspect’s village.
The recent violence follows months of tension between the Palestinians and hardline Israelis, who, with state patronage, have been asserting the Jewishness of the Temple Mount al-Aqsa mosque, which the Muslims regard as the third holiest mosque in Islam. The Palestinians say hardline Jews enter the al-Aqsa mosque premises and provoke them by holding Jewish prayers. The Jews say they want to rebuild the Temple and restore it to its original glory.
The Palestinians fear that they will soon lose control of al-Aqsa mosque in the same manner they lost control of the Hebron mosque where Abraham, revered by both the Jews and the Muslims as the great patriarch of monotheism, is believed to have been buried. The Israeli occupying force decides on the days on which Muslims can pray at the Hebron mosque.
For centuries, the Muslims prayed at the Temple Mount while the Jews said prayers at the Temple wall over the cliff. This unwritten agreement survived even after Israel captured Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
With the Palestinians being left to their own fate while Arab leaders are now more interested in fomenting troubles in places like Libya and Syria, the writing is on the wall that soon Israel will have full control of the Temple Mount. If the Muslims lose the right to worship in al-Aqsa, the situation could lead to further radicalisation of the Muslim world and more violence, and the world will have to deal with a much bigger terrorist problem.
Some world leaders are urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to bring the situation under control. But he is old, ineffective and does not enjoy much public support.
With the Obama administration having little clout over Israel and the United Nations being just a bystander, Israel is in a position to write the script of the crisis and also the solution to it. The ideal solution for the current crisis is to bring the Temple Mount site under United Nations control until a final solution emerges. But that is only wishful thinking, given Israel’s grand scheme to annex the whole of Palestine and more Arab lands.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on Oct 16, 2015)

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Russia in Syria: Fears of world war

By Ameen Izzadeen
Russia means business in Syria. Within a week of launching airstrikes against rebel positions in Syria, Russian warships in the Caspian Sea on Wednesday fired 26 missiles, targeting what Moscow called terrorist positions. But the United States and its allies instead of hailing the Russian action are denouncing it, saying Russia is targeting the good rebels. No good rebel or bad rebel, a terrorist is a terrorist in the Russian eye.
With the 9/11 terror attacks, a worldview gained currency that the monopoly of organised violence should be only with the State and any other group taking arms to pursue its political goals should be treated as a terrorist organisation and effectively dealt with. But self-centred states which are into power games make the rules and then bend the rules. They now say there are terrorists and there are freedom fighters. However, for them, the Palestinians fighting for freedom of their country are terrorists.
So, now we have good rebels and bad rebels or good terrorists and bad terrorists. As the discourse persists in the media, we forget that the first casualty in a war is the truth.
Listen to international news channel churning out breaking news from Syria, especially after the Russian military intervention. Couched in carefully crafted words are attempts to resurrect the Free Syrian Army that had been long forgotten in the Syrian war and promote it as good guys who fight President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. In the early days of the civil war, the FSA was known for its barbarity. It was an FSA rebel who shocked the world by eating the liver of a Syrian soldier after he was killed. Yet its atrocities did not attract the same levels of opprobrium as those committed by the Assad’s regime. There is little difference between the FSA and the ISIS. The rules of the savage game in Syria dictate that you win or you die, there is no middle ground. The adage ‘my enemy’s enemy is my enemy’ has been blasted in Syria. In Syria, it is ‘my enemy’s enemy is sometimes my enemy and sometimes my friend and sometimes neither’.
The Free Syrian Army fights the government troops. The ISIS also fights the government troops. But the ISIS also fights the FSA and other rival rebel groups. This is a clear case of my enemy’s enemy is my enemy.
The United States and its Middle Eastern allies regard Assad as an enemy. The FSA and its allied groups fight Assad’s forces. In this case, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. But ISIS which also fights the Syrian troops is still an enemy.
The Russians and the Iranians support the Assad regime and take on ISIS targets. The US and its allies also attack ISIS targets. But the US and its allies cry foul when the Russians hit ISIS and FSA targets. This is a case of my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend. In fact, the US and its allies with their anti-Russia stance appear as friends of ISIS.
The lightning speed with which Russia moved in Syria took the Americans by surprise. President Obama who has given the Americans the impression that he is fighting ISIS, had to say the US would work closely with Russia and Iran to eliminate the terror group.
But, when Russia in another surprise move this Wednesday launched missile attacks from ships anchored 1,500 kilometres away, the US began to realise Russia’s true intention. It is to protect the Assad regime, which the US seeks to oust. When the Russian missiles fell on rebel positions in Syria, Washington said it is a costly mistake.
With the Syrian equation beginning to change in favour of Assad with the Russian intervention, the US and its allies are now mounting pressure on Russia. This week, what could be easily dismissed as a non-issue or a genuine mistake when a Russian fighter jet strayed into Turkish airspace was blown out of proportion in the Western media which made it look like as if Russia had attacked Turkey, a Nato member. This was followed by reports Russia was going after largely FSA targets. Heaping more criticism on the Russians, the Western media say civilians, including children are being killed in Russian air attacks.
But these allegations against Russia mysteriously disappeared the moment the United States military came under fire for bombing a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing patients and Médecins Sans Frontières volunteers.
Unruffled, Russia continues its war in Syria. Russia wants to finish the Syrian war and finish it fast.
But Russia felt it had to act decisively. If Assad falls and a government supportive of the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey is set up, Middle Eastern oil and gas will go to Europe through new pipelines via Syria and Turkey. This will end Russia’s dominance in the European oil market and diminish its political and economic clout.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, a former KGP spy chief, is a great strategist. He has been working behind-the-scenes with the Iranians since the crisis began in February 2011. In July, the two countries felt the urgent need for drastic action. Assad was losing ground, the rebels were advancing from all fronts towards the few remaining government strongholds, which includes Tartous where Russia maintains a naval port. At a secret meeting in Moscow that month, Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, unfurled a map of Syria to explain how the situation could be turned into a victory with Russia’s help.
It is following this meeting that Putin decided to enter the Syrian war ostensibly to take on the ISIS, a terror group known for its savagery which includes forcing women into sex slavery, killing captives and destroying world heritage sites.
Russia has now set up two operating rooms, one in Damascus and one in Baghdad. This shows that the Iraqis, who have been fighting the ISIS with little success despite US military help are also on board.
What’s next? Will there be Russian boots on the ground? Will Russia takes its war to Iraq? Already a few Russian military advisors are in Syria, where hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and some 3,000 Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon are propping up Assad’s forces.
What will be the reaction of the US? Any drastic response in the form of slapping economic sanctions on Russia or Iran may aggravate the situation. If the push comes to a shove, the Iranians may pull out of the nuclear deal and may even go for a bomb at the cost of courting attacks from Israel or the United States. The situation may lead to a major regional war or even a world war. The end result is suffering and more suffering for the people of the Middle East which is already burning in several places – in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Palestine.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on October 09, 2015)

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Syria: Russia’s master stroke a game changer

By Ameen Izzadeen
Russian President Vladimir Putin has well and truly checkmated the United States and its Middle Eastern allies who triggered the Syrian crisis in February 2011.
Russia by launching airstrikes on Wednesday against what it described as terrorist targets in Syria sent a non-nonsense message to the US and its allies: If you mess around in my backyard, which includes Ukraine, I will mess around in areas that you regard as your domain. The war in Ukraine is one of the key factors that pushed Putin on Wednesday to execute his master putsch or his Tai Otoshi body slam, to use a term from his favourite sport Judo.
Syria was relatively a peaceful country till February 2011, despite the one-party sham democracy. Following their success in overthrowing the Muammar Gaddafi regime in Libya, the over-ambitious Middle Eastern powers such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Israel turned their focus on a regime change in Syria with the ultimate objective being weakening Iran. This was because the Bashar al-Assad regime was a key link in the Shiite Crescent which extends from Iran via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon’s southern region dominated by the pro-Iranian militia group Hezbollah, which has vowed to give a fitting response to Israel if Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked. If Assad, who is from Syria’s minority Alawite community, is ousted, Shite-Muslim Iran will lose its regional clout, the Sunni-Muslim states thought.
There is another important reason why the oil and gas exporting countries in the region want Assad out: He had rejected a Saudi-Qatar proposal for a pipeline that would take oil and gas to Europe via Syria and Turkey. The project had a geostrategic significance vis-à-vis the Ukrainian conflict: Punishing Russia. If the Middle Eastern oil and gas through this pipeline glut the European market, Russia, which is the main supplier of oil and gas to Europe would lose its market share and could even be plunged into an economic crisis of regime-change proportions. So protecting the Assad regime is vital for Russia to survive economically. This probably explains why Putin decided to intervene militarily in Syria, though he cited national security factors such as the return to Russia of hundreds of its citizens now fighting along with ISIS and other terror groups in Syria.
Wednesday’s developments came at lightning speed. No sooner had the Russian parliament given the nod than the Russian aircraft were in action giving little time for the US to respond. The last time, the Russians gave a shock of this nature to the Americans was, probably, when they took the lead in the space race by sending Uri Gagarin to space in 1961.
The shock apart, the US was not unaware of the Russian buildup in recent weeks and months in Syria, but felt little reason to panic. Russia has a small naval port at Tartus in Syria – not far from a US military base in Turkey. The naval port is used by small Russian vessels carrying light weapons to Syria. Recently the Russians expanded the base to accommodate larger warships and built an airbase at Latakia, just north of Tartus.
Yet, many analysts thought that Russia would not dare to get militarily involved in the Middle East while it was being hit by crippling western economic sanctions for its intervention in Ukraine.
But when the unexpected happened, the US had no option other than welcoming, albeit cautiously, the Russian air strikes. Perhaps, for the first time since World War II, the US and the Russians are supposed to be fighting a common enemy – this time, ISIS.
But by yesterday, the US began to grumble, saying the Russians were not attacking ISIS; instead, they were killing civilians and providing air cover to the Syrian military to fight the so-called moderate rebels. But the ground reality is that the moderate rebels exist no more. If they do, they only act as a cover to facilitate arms and money transfers to ISIS or as a spent force.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is now facing a military force which means real business. The US and its allies have launched more than 7,100 air attacks on ISIS targets since September last year with little success. This raises the question whether the US is serious about eliminating ISIS. After all, it took less than a month for the US forces to defeat Saddam Hussein’s million-strong Army and bring Iraq under US control in 2003.
The entry of Russia with its SU-25 ground attack aircraft, SU-30 M multi-role fighters and Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters at a time when Assad’s forces have faced a series of setbacks once again underscores the urgent need for a solution to the Syrian crisis which has rendered half of Syria’s 24 million population refugees — 4 million people have left the country while 8 million have been internally displaced.
It is heartening to note that President Obama, despite his country’s complicity – or connivance — in the Syrian disaster, said this week that he was ready to work with Iran and Russia to find a solution to the crisis. Analysts who heard him say this probably had to rub their eyes in disbelief. Aren’t they on the opposite sides in the Syrian conflict? Russia and Iran want a solution with Assad remaining in power, but the Americans say there is no role for Assad. Can there be a compromise?
The Saudis are smarting over Obama’s statement and the thaw in US-Iran ties. Saudi Arabia yesterday demanded that Russia stop its airstrikes in Syria, saying the strikes had caused civilian casualties. Saudi Arabia crying about Syrian casualties is the height of irony. It was only a few days ago that they stood accused of killing 131 civilians during a bombing raid on a wedding party in Yemen; Can Saudi Arabia talk about civilian deaths when it is one of the countries which triggered the Syrian conflict that has seen more than 250,000 Syrian deaths so far?
Russia’s entry into the Syrian conflict has tilted the balance in favour of Assad. The way forward is a dialogue between the US and Russia and restoration of the status quo ante. The US must not think Assad is a problem. He is part of the solution. In the early days of the crisis, he offered solution after solution. He even brought in constitutional reforms to hold multiparty elections and limit the presidential office to two seven-year terms. But the opposition parties obeying their Gulf masters did not take up the challenge. The result: a tragedy of epic proportions.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on October 2, 2015)

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The refugee crisis: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Ameen Izzadeen
Today is the 14th anniversary of 9/11, but we won’t talk about the scores of unanswered questions regarding that terror attack. Instead, we are focusing on the Middle East refugee crisis which, incidentally, has its origin in 9/11 and which has brought out the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Europe.
The 9/11 attacks led to the war on terror. The United States and its Nato allies sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq and brought about regime changes by unleashing brute fire power. Their success encouraged them to meddle in Libya. They removed the Muammar Gaddafi regime. They then targeted Syria, but decided to adopt a different strategy – arming and training various rebel groups. The strategy backfired and a monster called ISIS was created. More than four million of Syria’s 22 million population have now become refugees while another seven million are internally displaced. Sadly a three-year-old Syrian child had to drown in the Mediterranean Sea for the world to stop and take note of the Syrian refugee crisis, which is now more than four years old.
Publishing the picture of the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body on a Turkish beach, world newspapers in their headlines screamed “a picture that changed the world.” If pictures could change the world, if lifeless bodies of little children can change the world, the world would be a better place today. Driven by greed for more power and wealth and warped ideologies, we generally do not care much about other people’s misery. In justifying our crimes against humanity, we describe the destruction which we bring upon our fellow human beings as collateral damage or a price worth paying for.
If we are as compassionate as we claim to be, then how did we explain the continuation of the Vietnam War with all its brutality and barbarism even after we saw the picture of a naked child who was hit by a napalm bomb? Decades later, we sat before our TV sets and enjoyed the fireworks over the skies of Iraq as the United States unleashed its hellfire missiles and bunker buster bombs on that country, showing little or no remorse for civilian deaths. According to, 1,455,590 Iraqis have died in the US war and occupation of Iraq. Stonehearted and desensitised, we failed to stop the war even after we saw the visuals of children dying in Iraq. Instead, we rewarded George W. Bush by reelecting him.
If pictures can change world, how come we did nothing to stop Israel’s wars on Gaza? The world saw Palestinian fathers carrying their children’s corpses dug out from heaps of rubble to give them a decent burial. Some 500 children died and more than 1,500 children were wounded in Israel’s attacks on Gaza last year. Yet the big powers and powerful Arab states which had the ability to stop the war turned the other way, not because they could not see the heart-rending visuals, but because they let it happen to teach the Palestinian resistance group Hamas a lesson. In July this year, the world saw the picture of the burnt body of an 18-month-old Palestinian toddler, but we did little or nothing to protect the Palestinians who were being persecuted. So much for our compassion! Is our human compassion reserved for only natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and last year’s Nepal earthquake?
If we are moved by the human misery brought about by wars, we should have responded when the first stream of refugees left Syria or at least when the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in December 2013 described the Syrian refugee crisis as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
So why are we trying to become Good Samaritans now? Turkish journalist Nilufer Demir’s moving photograph of the dead boy on the beach couldn’t have come at a better time. It turned the focus on hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees, some of whom were embroiled in a standoff with Hungarian officials while others languished in detention centres in the Czech Republic, Greece, and other frontline European states. The world began to see other pictures of thousands of exhausted refugees, including hungry children, behind barbed-wired detention centres.
Europe may be opening its doors to the refugees now, and talking about European values, but days before the deaths of Aylan Kurdi, his five-year-old brother and their mother, it was a different Europe. Hungary ordered police to attack defenceless refugees with batons and tear-gas – and the Czech Republic stamped registration numbers on refugees’ forearms, like during the Nazi days. Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron refused to take any further refugees from the Middle East. European Islamophobes warned their governments that the refugees were terrorists and were on a mission to Islamise the Christian continent. They even challenged Pope Francis who on Sunday said he would give temporary housing in the Vatican to at least two refugee families and asked every one of the more than 1,300 European parish communities, monasteries, and other Catholic institutions to do the same.
A Hungarian bishop said the Pope was wrong. “They are not refugees. This is an invasion. They come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’. They want to take over,” Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, the spiritual leader of Southern Hungary said.
The concerns the bishop and others are raising have some validity because scores of European Muslims, most of whom were once migrants, have been involved in terrorist activities in Europe and joined ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), the terror group playing havoc in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. But if one looks at the crisis from another point of view, Europe has a moral duty to accept millions of refugees from the Middle East. This is because most European countries should take part of the blame for creating the present Middle Eastern crisis. Countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Norway were part of the coalition that bombed Libya and provided weapons and training to anti-Gaddafi rebels, including groups affiliated to al-Qaeda.
In Syria, too, most European nations, Britain included, together with regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, in their bid to oust President Bashar al-Assad, are helping one rebel group or another. Syria was a stable country until these countries decided to implement the regime change formula there, after it worked in Libya, the refugee crisis notwithstanding.
Thus, Europe’s Middle East meddlers cannot wash their hands of the refugee crisis. While most European countries now adopt a cautious compassionate stance, Germany’s brave welcome to the refugees should be commended, though some economists say the refugees could fill the vacancies in the job markets and give the German economy a fresh gallop.
Then what about the Arab and Islamic countries in the region? Just as Egypt closed its Rafah border to the Palestinians during the Gaza war, most Arab and Islamic countries in the region, with the exception of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, have closed their doors on Syrian refugees. They have apparently forgotten that Prophet Muhammad himself was a refugee, and providing refuge to a person irrespective of his or her religion is a fundamental tenet of Islam.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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China: Power without responsibility means chaos

By Ameen Izzadeen
This is not simple math like finding the value of x in the equation x+2=10. This is much more complex, with all the calculus symbols such as dy/dx, epsilon and derivative of derivatives appearing in one big equation. It may be even like the game ‘Go’, which the Chinese know how to play.
Well, we are talking about yesterday’s massive show of force by China, the superpower 2.0, at the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia or Japan’s defeat, for which 14 million Chinese paid with their lives – an underreported casualty figure second only to Russia’s 20 million.
The calculus proportion confusion is because China appears to be mysteriously hawkish and dovish at the same time, engaging in rocket-rattling with the very nations with whom it seeks improved trade relations and closer economic ties. On the one hand it goes with the West in matters such as the Iran nuclear deal and the Ukrainian crisis. But on the other, it defeats and frustrates the West’s efforts to punish countries such as Russia, Syria, Sudan and Zimbabwe over alleged human rights violations or war crimes. In short, China’s economic equation considers even the enemy as a friend. The military equation takes a totally different outlook with a different set of rules, though in both equations, the decisive or the Highest Common factor, to use the math terminology, is China’s national interest.
The Beijing ceremony which showcased the latest weapons in China’s arsenal sent a subtle but tough message to all those who had miscalculated China’s strength and failed to show due respect.
On show were Dongfeng 21D missiles, also known as carrier killers, which are capable of destroying an aircraft carrier warship with one hit. Also paraded were Dongfeng 26 and Intercontinental Ballistic missiles such as Dongfeng 5B and Dongfeng 31A with their range varying from 1,000 km to 4,000 km plus. The United States, take note. Your aircraft carriers and military bases in the Indian and Pacific Oceans are no longer safe. These medium and long range missiles have a low trajectory and therefore are difficult to intercept.
Also on display at the well-choreographed ceremony — with even the usually smoggy skies over Beijing being turned into a clear blue sky — were attack aircraft and state-of-the-art battle tanks – all made in China. Almost 85 percent of these weapons were shown to the public for the first time.
China, which is today the world’s third largest arms seller, was not showing off these weapons only to win new customers. Most of these weapons are strategic assets, the secrets of which China won’t let anyone know and therefore are not on sale. These weapons carry a deterrent value in that they dissuade China’s neighbours from becoming bold or adventurous over territorial disputes. They tell the US that President Barak Obama’s Pivot East military strategy aimed at checking China’s military growth is all but a futile exercise.
But these signals were couched in President Xi Jinping’s message just before the start of the military parade. Perhaps, Xi believes that peace can be brought about by the mere display of China’s military might. He told yesterday’s ceremony at Tiananmen Square that he would cut troop levels by 300,000 or 13 percent of China’s 2.3 million strong military – the world’s number one in terms of troop strength.
“Prejudice and discrimination, hatred and war can only cause disaster and pain. China will always uphold the path of peaceful development,” he said.
The message from Tiananmen Square was directed not so much at the nation as it was at the big powers, especially the United States, Japan, Australia and other states which are not comfortable with China’s economic and military rise in recent years. China has in recent months resorted to assertive diplomacy and military tactics to claim ownership of islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea and in the process soured relations with Japan, the Philippines and many other neighbours.
But in today’s military terms, slashing troop levels is by no means a pacifist move. In modern warfare, the size of the Army is not an important factor. What matters is the lethality of the weapons or their ability to make the enemy shudder, sharper intelligence gathering skills, one-upmanship in cyber warfare and smart diplomacy and money power to win and sustain allies. China has most, if not all, of these features that make a superpower. That’s why there were 30 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the ceremony. Although most Western leaders shunned the ceremony, probably due to the presence of Putin, they were represented at low level. Shockingly, there was none from Sri Lanka, which only a few months back was seen as one of the closest allies of China. Whether there was an invitation in the first place or whether Sri Lanka declined to participate, like North Korea did, may give an indication as to the status of Beijing’s relations with the new government in Colombo.
Yesterday’s ceremony came at a time when China’s economy was experiencing a slowdown, with stock markets taking a plunge. Thus some analysts say the parade offered President Xi a welcome distraction from the domestic problems.
It also comes at a time when Japan’s nationalist Prime Minister Shinto Abe, worried about China’s military might, is moving to increase the country’s defence budget and bring constitutional amendments to set up a standing army, while Australia pushes for a grand anti-China coalition including India, Japan and the US among others.
It also comes against the backdrop of China’s rising influence in Central Asia, across which China’s modern silk route – a network of highways to Europe — is taking shape, while its blue water navy which is now capable of going even to the Arctic and defending international sea lanes, especially those in the Indian Ocean emerges as the defender of the Maritime Silk Route.
The military message apart, the Western leaders by their absence squandered an opportunity to turn yesterday’s Beijing event into a gathering for peace. A war involving big powers certainly spells doom for the entire planet, with the possibility of nuclear warfare looming large. The best tribute to those 14 million Chinese who died during Japan’s occupation of China and World War II should not come in the form of military parades, but as measures aimed at preventing war. It is still not too late for China to take the leadership and convene an international peace conference to sort out territorial disputes with its neighbours. After all, a superpower should also be a responsible power.
This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka

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