Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight, but there’s a whisper of hope

By Ameen Izzadeen

Every year in November, scientists and public interest activists meet in Chicago to assess the danger to the planet we live in and set the Doomsday Clock accordingly. Early this year, the clock was set to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. It was three minutes to midnight throughout the previous two years.
This week, instead of the scientists and experts, the brinkmanship of the United States President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jung-un set the clock to a few seconds to midnight. Not since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 has the world been brought so close to the brink of nuclear war.
In their 2017 statement, the Science and Security Board, which is behind the Doomsday Clock concept, warned, “It is two and a half minutes to midnight, the Clock is ticking, global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”
But there is hardly a public demonstration in any world capital against this danger. Most people the world over go on with their daily chores. Probably they believe their leaderrs will take care of the situation. Wake up, folks!
True, nuclear powers do not go to war. In nuclear terminology, this is called ‘deterrent’, the core of which is MAD — mutually assured destruction. The deterrent value of nuclear weapons, however, depends on the condition that countries that possess nuclear weapons are ruled by sane leaders. Given the imbecility of Trump and Kim, a big question mark hangs over the deterrent the nuclear weapons offer. Those who follow the bellicose rhetoric of Trump and Kim since Tuesday could not but fear that the world was to be destroyed by a nuclear war that was to take place any time.
In response to a Washington Post article that claimed that North Korea had developed miniature nuclear warheads that can be fitted into missiles, Trump issued a doomsday warning. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire, fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he said.
The credibility of the Post article apart, was Trump, as usual, shooting his mouth off? If so, we need not take what he says seriously. Look at all what he publicly said about the wall on the Mexican border during and after the campaign. But in private he requested the Mexican president not to talk about the wall, indicating that what he said need not be taken seriously.
But beware! He has also meant what he said with regard to the Muslim travel ban and the withdrawal from the Paris climate deal. His presidency’s hallmark is his unpredictability. Thus the world cannot just dismiss Trump’s warning as a headline grabber. After all, the issue is about a nuclear war. We will perish in that war or will be affected by it in some way.
To make the situation more perilous, the North Korean leader, who is as erratic and irrational as Trump or, should we say, even more, apparently beats Trump in brinkmanship.
In response to Trump’s ‘fire-and-fury’ threat, North Korea said yesterday it would send a salvo of four missiles over Japan and towards the US territory of Guam and mocked Trump as a man “bereft of reason”.
The one-upmanship has plunged the world in a hellhole of uncertainty. In Game Theory, the situation is expressed in terms of two racing cars speeding in opposite directions on a single track. Foolhardy, both drivers believe the other will swerve to avoid a crash.
When one nuclear power is not sure what a rival nuclear power will do in a tense situation, the recommended option is a preemptive strike.
All nuclear powers know that in a nuclear confrontation, the one who strikes first has a huge advantage. However, if a nuclear war breaks out, the US may survive, but North Korea faces near wipeout, for today’s nuclear bomb is some 50 times more powerful than what was dropped on Hiroshima 72 years ago this month.
If North Korea fires an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile on a US target, it is more likely that the missile will be shot down before it reaches the destination by US anti-missile missiles deployed in South Korea and other parts of the world. Even in the case of a North Korean nuclear missile hitting a US territory, it will not undermine Washington’s ability to strike back, notwithstanding the devastation. But North Korea can ill-afford this miserable luxury. Kim Jung-un is not unaware of this. Though a bully and sadistic dictator, he may, therefore, act with responsibility. At the same time, he may, on the spur of the moment, order a nuclear strike on a US target.
But can the world trust Trump with the nuclear button, despite the US having a system of a Command, Control and Communications system with regard to nuclear weapons? In this intricate process, the President is the ultimate authority on the use of nuclear weapons.
During the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962, the use of nuclear weapons was an option for the US. But President John F Kennedy shot down the advice given by the generals.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon is said to have put US nuclear bombers on standby to attack North Korea after the communist state shot down a US spy plane. Nixon also pondered the use of nuclear weapons against Vietnam. Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Advisor, managed to dissuade the President.
Trump, however, does not have a Kissinger. His security advisors are hardline generals. Both his Defence Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster are hardline military men who have warned North Korea of dire consequences if it does not stop its nuclear and missile programmes.
Needless to say, such warnings will only provoke the North Korean leader to act more defiantly.
With a series of United Nations resolutions against North Korea coming a cropper, the latest being last week, Trump blames China for his failed North Korea policy. Beijing, no doubt, has the persuasive powers to rein in Kim Jung-un. But it will not take any action at the cost of losing North Korea as a strategic ally — the only ally in the region where almost all other countries have territorial disputes with China and maintain close defence relations with Washington.
If Western media reports are to be believed, another option the US is said to be considering is a commando raid on North Korea to kidnap Kim Jung-un. Well, Kim Jung-un is not Osama bin Laden. With the very first sign of a military raid, Kim can unleash his military power, if not on the US, on South Korea. If a military confrontation breaks out, in the very first hour itself, it is feared that nearly a million South Koreans will be killed. Don’t forget the immense damage the nuclear strikes can cause to the environment. Even if the US shoots down North Korean missiles in the air, we do not know what the consequences will be. Let’s hope, the two maverick leaders will withdraw from brinkmanship and explore the possibilities to solve the crisis diplomatically.

(This story first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Hambantota can become Shanghai if security concerns are handled diligently

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Hambantota port has seen a sea a criticism ever since the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government laid the foundation for it in 2010. In comparison, any opposition to last Saturday’s agreement between the Sri Lanka government and China Merchants Port Holdings seems like a drizzle in the middle of an ocean.
Given the international attention the port deal has been receiving, one cannot rule out the possibility of a foreign hand behind the protests. The danger of Sri Lanka becoming an unwitting victim of international power rivalries is apparent.
Caveats apart, last Saturday’s deal was the best of the worst options before the Government to overcome the debt crisis – a legacy it had inherited from the Rajapaksa regime.
The deal was a welcome relief in adverse circumstances – an “any port in a storm” situation.
The port deal is a gamble that is worth the risk. The final outcome and the benefits could far outweigh negative consequences the protesters and pessimists portray. They fear, rightly or otherwise, that Sri Lanka may be dragged into a regional or even global conflict.
To say that the Hambantota port has become the fulcrum of the Indian Ocean security debate is an understatement.
Situated at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, the harbour is a vantage point. The sea southward from Hambantota extends, without being claimed by any country, all the way to Antarctica. Whoever controls Hambantota, therefore, will control a large part of the southern hemisphere and the Indian Ocean, through which transit more than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil.
Hambantota has been the cynosure of all big powers, ever since the West woke up to the reality of a rising China a decade and a half ago. China’s rise as a maritime power has unnerved the United States and India. They see China’s Road-and-Belt Initiative is not only about trade but also about a strategy aimed at enhancing its military power and undermining the traditional security role of the US and India in the Indian Ocean region.
Critics say most ports China builds across the world are dual purpose facilities, meaning they can be used for commercial and military activities. Hambantota, a key port in China’s Road-and-Belt initiative, is one such facility, they say. To support their argument, they point to the 2014 visit of a Chinese submarine and a warship to the Chinese built terminal at the Colombo port. In case of a war between China and the US or between India and China, Sri Lanka’s Chinese controlled ports could become China’s naval bases, they say.
Have no such fears. With certainty, it can be said that nuclear powers will not go to war. Take heart from Wednesday’s US statement offering peace talks with North Korea. It came days after the maverick regime carried out a successful test of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile capable of hitting the US mainland.
The deterrent value of nuclear weapons is one of the key factors why the Third World War has still not happened. For nearly two months, China and India have been bogged down in a face-off in the Himalayas. But neither wants to start a major war. Nuclear powers may find themselves in warlike situations, but will not go to war, unless insane leaders take control of affairs. This is why China and the US have not gone to war over the South China Sea disputes.
With war between ‘responsible’ nuclear powers being only a distant possibility, fears about Hambantota port being used as a naval base against Sri Lanka’s will, despite security-related provisions in the agreement, have little validity. However, the possibility of the installation being used as listening post cannot be ruled out.
Security is a crucial aspect in port deals with foreign companies. In 2006, the United States stopped a move to hand over the management of six key ports to Dubai Ports World which won the tender. This was after protests from those who harboured fears that terrorists could easily infiltrate into the US if its ports were managed by Arabs.
In view of these concerns, the best approach is to bring in more safeguards into the agreement with regard to security matters and remain friends with all big powers. Sri Lanka can take lessons from Greece, Turkey, Australia and Djibouti. Nato member Greece, in a debt crisis much worse than that of Sri Lanka, has sold its Piraeus port to China and allows People Liberation Army vessels to call over. Piraeus is one of Europe’s largest ports.
Turkey, another Nato member, has entered into a joint venture with two Chinese port companies, one of them being China Merchants Port Holdings, to develop container terminals in two strategic ports.
In Australia, another key US ally, the regional government in Northern Territory, has handed over a commercial port in Darwin to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease. The US, which has a military base in Darwin, raised security concerns, but the regional government stood by its decision despite Canberra’s reservations.
Djibouti, on the other hand, has gone to another extreme. It makes the most of its strategic value on Africa’s Indian Ocean coast by allowing any big power to set up bases. It sells its strategic value to strengthen its economy. The US, France, China and now Saudi Arabia have a military presence in this small Horn-of-Africa nation.
In Pakistan, China has gained the controlling stakes in the strategic port of Gwadar, which is, like Hambantota, a key link in China’s One-Belt-One-Road Initiative, though it has made India feel insecure. Indian analysts have described China’s presence in ports in countries around India as a “string of pearls’ that undermines India’s dominance in the South Asian part of the Indian Ocean.
If security issues can be handled diligently, Hambantota can even emerge as another Shanghai. A sluggish fishing port city until the Western colonial powers, including Britain, wrested it from China after the First Opium War in 1842, Shanghai soon emerged as a port city and the place to be – the Paris of the East, with the best art, the greatest architecture, and the strongest business in Asia, not to mention its elegant restaurants, race course, and places for vice and indulgence. Industries boomed, financial institutions flourished and the people prospered. The city’s economy survived the World War and the Communist-era hardships. When China began to open up in the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping, the father of China’s socialist-led market economy, made Shanghai the engine of the country’s commercial renaissance. If China is a dragon, he said, Shanghai is its head. Today Shanghai makes up one fifth of China’s GDP.
Perhaps, Hambantota can be a Shanghai in the near future. But Sri Lanka has to be eternally vigilant, especially in view of security concerns and criticism that in the Road-and-Belt initiative, there are benefits for China and only crumbs for others.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Jerusalem: Horror in the holy city

By Ameen Izzadeen
Etymologically, Jerusalem means ‘the foundation of peace’. But Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, has seen enough wars and violence and more will be its lot in the future, too. Clashes since July 14 in the nearly 5,000-year-old city, considered sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims, have raised fears of a Palestinian uprising or the third Intifada.
For Israel, a grassroots Palestinian uprising in the city will be a dampener of its diplomatic efforts to gain international recognition for its illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the Arab world’s support for its controversial Gaza plan. Israel has successfully kept the Palestinian issue out of the international radar since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. It has won new friends such as India, which was once a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. Any violent suppression of the Palestinian uprising would only kindle a new interest in the Palestinian problem which the international community has virtually abandoned.
Early signs indicated that the third Intifada, if it had taken off the ground, would have made the previous two – in 1987 and 2000 — appear non-events because it would be driven by people’s power and would have the potential to spread to the rest of the Arab and Islamic world. This is because the issue involved the Aqsa mosque. The world’s 1.7 billion Muslims regard this mosque as the third holiest place of worship after the two mosques in Makkah and Madina.
A Palestinian protester told al-Jazeera television: “We are under occupation and al-Aqsa Mosque is a red-line to everyone in Jerusalem — actually, to everyone in Palestine, and all over the Muslim world — but much more for the people of [Jerusalem]. It’s dearer than their own lives.”
Needless to say, the Arab despots shiver at the first sign of any popular uprising. Instead of their predictable silence, the Arab rulers — some of whom maintain secret ties with Israel, though such contacts are no more secret — reacted with the seriousness the issue deserved. They knew if the Muslims were to lose the Aqsa mosque, the region wide uprising may even destabilize their own regimes. Tough words from Turkey and behind-the-scenes diplomacy between Arab capitals, Washington and Tel Aviv helped defuse the tensions to some extent.
Israel began to relax the security measures it introduced at the Aqsa mosque compound after two Israeli policemen were killed by Palestinian gunmen on July 14. During the two weeks of protests, the Palestinians refused to pray inside the compound in protests against what they saw as attempts to bring the mosque under Israeli control. Yesterday, they celebrated when Israel removed the surveillance devices.
The clashes may be over, but it does not mean Jerusalem is all set to live in peace in keeping with its name. On the contrary, it remains a flashpoint.
Since Palestine’s partition through a lopsided United Nations Security Council resolution in 1947, Jerusalem has been a contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The city has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice – once by a brutal Babylonian emperor and later by the ruthless Romans. During the first Crusade in the 11th century, it is said that the invaders waded in blood up to their knees during their violent conquest of Jerusalem.
From 1516 to 1917, the city remained under the Ottoman Turks. With the Ottoman caliphate’s defeat in World War I, Britain occupied the entire Palestine and the same year issued the notorious Balfour Declaration, pledging a homeland for the European Jews in Palestine. This declaration, which was tantamount to one land thief giving a piece of a property he robbed to another land thief, not only laid the foundation for the creation of Israel but also for many wars between Israel and Arabs, not to mention the misery that befell the Palestinian people.
Under the UN partition plan, Jews, a majority of them being migrated European Jews, got 55 percent of the land though they comprised 30 percent of the territory’s population, while the Palestinians who made up 65 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land. So much for the UN’s commitment to justice and fair play! In terms of the resolution, Jerusalem was to be placed under international administration.
Following wars in 1948 and 1967, Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem, but after an agreement with Jordan, the Aqsa administration came under an Islamic trust. Citing security as an excuse, Israel does not allow Palestinian males who are below the age of 40 to enter the compound. During the recent clashes, the age limit was increased to 50.
The Aqsa mosque lies on top of a rock which also contained the holiest Jewish shrine, the Wailing Wall. Both the mosque and the Wall were parts of the Temple which was built by King Solomon, who according to Muslims was a prophet of Allah. Muslims also believe that it was from the Aqsa mosque that Prophet Muhammad ascended to the presence of God. Besides, Jerusalem also receives the Muslims’ respect because it was their first Qiblah. The early Muslims, including Prophet Muhammad turned towards Jerusalem during their daily prayers, until instructions came to them to turn towards Makkah. The Quran refers to the al-Aqsa compound and its surrounding as a sanctified territory.
Disregarding Muslims sentiments, hardline Jews call for the demolition of the Aqsa mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock Mosque, which was built by Muslim conquerors in the 7th century. They want to build the Third Temple. The Palestinians charge that Israel has started archaeological excavation in the compound area with the intention of causing the collapse the two mosques. The politically powerful Jewish hardliners made several attempts to occupy the mosque and conduct Jewish prayers. The Israeli government now allows them to visit the compound under police guard despite Palestinian protests.
The compound is in East Jerusalem which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. But Israel has passed legislation declaring the whole of Jerusalem as its capital. The international community has not recognised this. Even the Donald Trump administration which had earlier said it would shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, now appears to be backpedalling.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians living in Jerusalem have become stateless. They have only resident permits and limited rights, while Israel builds illegal settlements for the Jews in East Jerusalem.
As Jerusalem was being rocked by the recent clashes, details of an Israeli-Egyptian plan for independent Palestinian state emerged. The plan involves Egypt giving up part of Sinai for it to be annexed to Gaza, which will be declared an independent state. Mohammed Dahlan, an exile Palestinian leader favoured by Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, is said to be spearheading efforts to work out the deal. Most Palestinians see the plan as a move to restrict the Palestinian state only to Gaza with the West Bank being divided between Israel and Jordan.
With friends such as these among themselves, do Palestinians need more enemies?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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India, China on brink of war: Where are the peace mediators?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Is there anyone who can prevent India and China from going to war? For the past one month, the two countries have been involved in a major military standoff.
The latest crisis erupted when India opposed China’s moves to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China. The plateau lies at a junction where the territories of China, Bhutan and India’s north-eastern state of Sikkim meet. The road construction work began in a section disputed by both China and Bhutan. India, supports the claim of Bhutan which is a sovereign state in all but name. It is virtually an extended territory of India.
India fears that the new road will give Beijing a strategic advantage over an Indian territory called chicken’s neck, a corridor that links India’s seven north-eastern states to the mainland. India responded by sending troops and stopping the construction work. This prompted China to rush in troops and smash up Indian bunkers. China’s Global Times warned India, recalling the humiliating defeat India suffered in the 1962 border war. India’s defence minister shot back, saying India of 2017 is different from what it was in 1962.
The military deadlock continues with each side expecting the other to withdraw first, while the media in the two countries whip up nationalist fervor. The rest of the world, meanwhile, has other priorities – and making peace between India and China is not one of them.
The United Nations has made little noise about the escalating tension between India and China. Some countries such as the United States and Australia have urged both India and China to resolve the dispute through peaceful means. But none has offered to mediate in the dispute or become a facilitator for talks.
Peace envoys are largely unheard of in international politics these days. ‘Let the war begins’ appears to be the norm. Peaceful settlement of conflicts is given little importance in the post-9/11 international order. As a result, many a dispute that could have been resolved without a single bullet being fired has escalated into prolonged conflicts that have made innocent people lose lives, limbs, property, happiness, security and dignity.
The situation was much different in the pre-9/11 era. Even Sri Lanka played a key role in solving major international disputes and conflicts by offering its services as a peacemaker. Sri Lanka’s efforts to solve the Suez war in 1956, the India-China border conflict in 1962 and the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s cannot be underestimated. Third party mediation in disputes that had potential to spark a war offered a face-saving exit for parties embroiled in hostilities to withdraw from the brink of war.
When war is open business, no wonder, pre-war peace efforts have become scarce these days. In his farewell speech in January 1961, US President Dwight Eisenhower, a World War II General, no less, called the military industrial complex a threat to democracy. He warned the Americans of the formidable union between defence contractors and the armed forces.
The US is today the world’s number one weapons seller making a living out of wars or other people’s misery. It sells weapons to more than one hundred countries.
Today, the military industrial complex is a mega business for many developed countries. To hell with human rights and human misery, the arms they sell fan the flames of war. Take for instance, Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Last week, the British arms industry and the British Government were elated over a court ruling in favour of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The case was filed by the Campaign against Arms Trade. It called for a ruling to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, claiming that the Gulf country has violated international law by using British weapons to kill civilians in Yemen’s civil war. The court dismissed the petition.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam denounced the ruling, saying the court had ignored evidence that the Saudis have devastated Yemen’s civilian population with indiscriminate attacks. But Prime Minister Theresa May was happy, because Saudi Arabia accounts for half of Britain’s weapons exports.
With the revenue from killer industry becoming a crucial factor for economic stability, arms selling countries such as Britain and the US turn a blind eye to human rights excesses by big-time buyers such as Saudi Arabia. To cover up this shame, the arms selling countries, projecting themselves as human rights champions, target small-time human rights violators such as Sri Lanka and cry hoarse about the human rights situations. It is a big drama — and in this drama, the United Nations plays the clown’s role. The less we talk about the UN, the better it is.
Last year, the UN blacklisted Saudi Arabia for committing crimes against children caught up in war, but removed the country from the list, after Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies threatened to stop financial contributions to various UN programmes.
Worldwide countries spend more than 1.8 trillion dollars on defence expenditure annually. Every year, nations spend more than US$ 100 billion on purchasing weapons.
In a report issued in February this year, tThe Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) says more weapons were delivered between 2012 and 2016 than any other five-year period since 1990. Saudi Arabia was the world’s second largest weapons importer, increasing its intake by 212%, mainly from the US and Britain.
India is the world’s number one weapons importer, according to Sipri. It accounts for 13 percent of the global imports. Its Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to Israel last months inked several deals with the Zionist state to procure 630 million dollars’ worth of weapons and defence systems.
China, according to Sipri, is increasingly able to substitute arms imports with indigenous products and has solidified its position as a top-tier arms supplier.
It is no exaggeration to say that India and China, both nuclear powered states, are armed to the teeth. Besides, no one can give a guarantee that a war between them will not see the use of nuclear weapons.
Thus there is an urgent need to bring the two states to the negotiating table. This is all the more reason why India and China should enhance efforts at confidence-building measures. Certainly India’s recent Malabar military exercise with the United States and Japan in the Indian Ocean was not a confidence-building measure. But India joining China’s Belt-and-Road initiative, perhaps, is one. Will India do this? Asia’s prosperity depends on peace between India and China.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on July 21, 2017)

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If not peace, what’s next after ISIS defeat in Mosul?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Iraq’s victory over ISIS in Mosul is not the end of the road for the most ruthless terror group. Neither does it herald the beginning of a peaceful era in the land trod by prophets and peacemakers.
The troubles are far from over, with little or no effort being made to address their root causes. In all likelihood, the next powder keg is Kurdistan.
In many other regions of the world, periods of war follow periods of peace, but not so in the Middle East, birthplace of the world’s three main religions. Its soil has, perhaps, absorbed more blood than rainwater for the past several millennia. Are the people incapable of living in peace? Or, is war a way of life in the region? Nay, the people are the disposables in the political power games their rulers play in collusion with the West.
Be it the creation of Israel in 1947, the present ISIS terrorism or, the war on impoverished Yemen, the troubles have their origins in decisions made in London and Washington, and of late, in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
Who created ISIS or the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria? ISIS is a dangerous byproduct of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. The blunders the West and the region’s arrogant rulers made created the breeding grounds for radicalism. Muslim youth are radicalised easily because they are angry. They are angry because, all they see around them is institutionalised injustice, for which they hold their corrupt rulers and the West responsible.
Global aid agency Mercy Corp, in a 2015 research report, said that more than poverty and unemployment, it’s the experience of injustice, discrimination and marginalisation, coupled with exposure to corruption, humiliation and violence, that triggers the decision for many to join radical groups. It is dignity, not dollars, the angry youth are after.
But the angry youth often become easy prey to manipulative mullahs, who, in turn, are handled by the big powers through their intelligence agencies. Terror leaders cite Quranic verses out of context and sayings falsely attributed to Prophet Muhammad to make terrorism alluring to the youth. Terrorism, if handled diligently, is an instrument used by certain big powers to achieve national interest goals. In hindsight, the origin of ISIS and the role it played in political events of the region appear that the group was part of a grand project aimed at Balkanising the region, beginning with a regime change in Syria. The divide-and-rule principle at play.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is now confirmed dead, came into the scene from nowhere. He was taken to an American-run prison in Iraq as a ‘civilian detainee’ and allowed to make contacts with hardcore Islamists held there. This happened while the Arab Spring was sweeping the region in 2011.
Once released, he revived the Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) which had become defunct after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Baghdadi’s popularity rose among Iraq’s Sunnis, after he successfully led a jailbreak in 2011 in Iraq, and freed some 3,000 Sunnis arrested on charges of terrorism. Adding credence to the claims that ISIS works for foreign powers, the freed Sunni prisoners were moved to Syria. A Hillary Clinton email published by WikiLeaks last year, had this to say: “… we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”
It is worthwhile to mention here that the Taliban which captured power in Afghanistan in 1996, was created by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence and supported by the Americans, the Saudis and the Emiratis.
The astonishing military success ISIS made in Syria, helped the group grow in confidence. It became a runaway terrorist outfit that took only money and weapons from its handlers, but not orders. It even severed all links with al-Qaeda’s leadership and fought al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise Jabhat al Nusra.
While its handlers pondered how to deal with it, the terror group captured large parts of Iraq’s Sunni areas, including key cities such as Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul. These victories made angry Sunni youths worldwide see ISIS as the promised liberator mentioned in the Prophet’s sayings. Across the globe, terror groups operating with Islamic labels pledged allegiance to ISIS.
With ISIS influence spread across the world, it is too early to say the demise of Baghdadi and the defeat in Mosul will sound the death knell for ISIS. As long as institutionalised injustice remains, terror groups will not face a shortage of recruits. It is in this context that the Iraqi government needs to redouble its efforts to woo its Sunni population. They are angry.
The Iraqi government’s victory became possible only after a brutal siege was laid to Mosul. There is virtually, not a single building that is standing, following nine-months of relentless airstrikes and artillery fire by Iraqi and US forces. The scenes of destruction can perhaps be comparable only to the kind of devastation the Allies brought upon Tokyo during World War II.
Now that the ISIS is virtually dead in Iraq and breathing its last in Syria, what’s next? Certainly, it is not peace. More conflicts are likely. Already, fears have been expressed about a military confrontation between the Kurds and Turkey. Even Iraq and Iran may be dragged into this conflict. The Kurds played a key role as a US ally in the defeat of ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. They are now set for major political manoeuvres. A referendum will be held on September 25 in the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq, to decide whether to go as a separate State. The outcome is a likely flashpoint in Iraq.
In Syria, the US is building a base in the Kurdish area, to be used as a backup facility, if Turkey decides to close down the NATO base in Incirlik. Already, Germany has begun withdrawing its troops from this base. A permanent NATO base in Syria is possible only if a Syrian Kurdish State emerges. Syria and its ally Russia will not agree to this. But the US has its own plans.
Despite US President Donald Trump’s boast about hands-on governance, the State Dept and the Pentagon do what they think is right. The Syrian ceasefire worked out last year by Russia and the Obama administration was scuttled by the Pentagon mandarins who were not happy about the truce.
Turkey, which is fighting its own Kurdish separatist insurrection, will not accept, without a fight, the emergence of independent Kurdish States on its borders. The two new Kurdish States, backed by the US and Israel, will also be a major security poser for Iran, a country with a minority Kurdish population.
Needless to say, the developments portend more bloodshed in a region where disputes are seldom settled peacefully.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Without cowing to Trump, India needs to build Asian unity

By Ameen Izzadeen
Behind the bear hug, one wonders, whether there were moves to outfox each other. By the looks of it, the awkward embrace between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United States President Donald Trump underlined India’s endorsement of US hegemony and its willingness to be part of the US hegemonic designs, especially in Asia.
It was also a hug that sealed a partnership between two likeminded supremacists, who seem to harbour hatred towards minorities and who seem to count on populism to stay on in power. In the United States, Trump, perhaps, sending a signal to his white supremacist supporters broke with a 20-year tradition and did not host the traditional Iftar dinner during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In India, sending a message of support to Hindu extremists, Modi’s Bharatiya Janatha Party ministers boycotted the Iftar ceremony hosted by President Pranab Mukherjee. With the two leaders sharing such negative values, no wonder Modi became the first world leader to have dinner with Trump at the White House.
It is nothing but baloney when they claimed during their joint news conference on Monday that the friendship between the United States and India was built on shared values and shared commitment to democracy. Democracies protect minority rights and uphold a secular order. In the two countries, events indicate that key democratic values have been observed more in the breach.
While Trump through executive orders institutionalises discriminatory practices such as the travel ban on Muslims and turns a blind eye to attacks on Muslims, Modi’s BJP has given a freehand to its hardline supporters to lynch Muslims in India. While Modi’s Hindutva supporters or Gau Rakshas (cow protectors) kill Muslims for eating beef, the Indian Prime Minister showed no signs of nausea when he hugged Trump, a beef eater who loves his steaks. Trump is the leader of the world’s number one beef-eating country. In a year, the Americans consume more than 25 billion pounds (or 11.3 billion kilograms) of beef. They slaughter more than 83 million cattle, including 23 million cows, a year. Hope cow vigilantes will take note of this.
Implied or explicit state patronage for violence against minorities is not democracy. But in realpolitik, values have little place. From 2005 to 2014, the United States denied a visa to Modi for his alleged role in the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat while he was the chief minister of that state. When Modi became the prime minister, the Barack Obama administration dumped human rights concerns into dustbin and lifted the restriction. This week’s visit was Modi’s fifth to the US.
Far from improving democracy, Modi’s meeting with Trump centred mainly on security cooperation and business.
India may feel it has every reason to describe the Modi visit as a major diplomatic victory because for the first time the United States had a tough message for India’s archrival Pakistan and for the first time India found in the White House a president who does not mince his words to deal with the so-called Islamic terror.
The White House warned Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used by groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba as a launch pad for terrorist attacks on other countries. A White House statement urged Pakistan to “expeditiously bring to justice” those behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and last year’s attack on an Indian air base in Pathankot. Making India further happy, the US has also labelled Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Salahuddin a “specially designated global terrorist”.
But these words could be mere rhetoric. Reality could be different, because Washington can ill afford to antagonise Pakistan in view of the US war in Afghanistan. The Trump administration has no intention to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. It has, on the contrary, decided to increase the US military presence there to monitor Central Asia and counter-balance China’s westward economic expansion through its Belt and Road Initiative. Washington is unlikely to take any punitive measures against Pakistan simply to please India. Such an action, the US knows, will only push Islamabad further into China’s fold.
Besides, there is little consistency in Trump’s policies. It was only last month, Trump accused India of profiting from the Paris climate deal. And this week, he allows himself for a Modi hug and spoke nothing about climate. Trump described Qatar as a terrorist supporter but within days found Qatar as a worthy partner to enter into a US$ 12 billion fighter jet deal. Trump may find, much to India’s disappointment, Pakistan as a crucial player in US plans for the region. United States Defence Secretary James Mattis, at his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Forces Committee early this year, underlined the need to stay engaged with Pakistan while offering more incentives to that country to eradicate terrorism.
India, in return for the orders for 100 passenger aircraft, 22 drones and many other expensive deals that made Trump happy, wants the US to back its stance on Pakistan and Kashmir and New Delhi’s attempt to get a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Although Washington wants India to emerge as a bulwark to check China, the US support towards India’s needs has not been up to expectations. Yet, the Modi Government, it appears, is more than happy to do the US bidding. In recent years, India has increased defence contacts with the US and signed an agreement allowing the navies of both countries to use each other’s ports. Also New Delhi appears to be keen on forming a trilateral defence alliance with the US and Japan.
During Monday’s White House news conference, Modi said: “The strengthening of India’s defence capabilities, with the help of the United States, is something that we truly appreciate. We have also decided to enhance maritime security cooperation between the two nations.”
India, which is no more a champion of non-alignment and third world causes, perhaps, is making a mistake by aligning itself with the United States and portraying itself as a China’s military rival or Washington’s hitman. While military rivalry leads to a rise in defence expenditure and threatens the economic wellbeing of more than 1.5 billion people in India, close trade relations with China give rise to interdependency and, through it, peace and prosperity.
India’s future lies not in any defence alliance with the US, but in giving leadership to an Asia-centred economic bloc, including China, Japan and other Asian giants. It needs to review its opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. By joining the BRI, India can not only prosper but also check China’s geopolitical ambitions, if it has any.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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London attacks: O judgment! Art thou fled to brutish beasts?

By Ameen Izzadeen
The London Finsbury Park mosque attack was not unexpected. If it did not happen last Sunday, it was only an incident waiting to happen. That the attacker retaliated in kind is significant.
“This is war … We have the right to fight back,” Britain’s far right groups declared on social media in defence of Monday’s attack in which one worshipper was killed and ten were wounded. The attacker, a father of four, plowed a white van into worshippers when they were coming out of the mosque after late night Ramadan prayers. He wanted to kill all Muslims. The incident was a replica of attacks carried out by Isis terrorists in recent months in London and other European cities. The message is that right-wing extremists are able to operate like a mirror image of Isis.
Rise up and cast Islam out of Britain, urged far-right extremists in social media messages. A British user of the American white supremacist site Stormfront described the attack as “A protest against these disgusting pigs”.
The rise of far right groups in Europe has been a serious concern to authorities since Norwegian far right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in two terror attacks on July 22, 2011 killed 77 people, mostly innocent youths at a summer camp.
True, the far-right United Kingdom Independent Party fared miserably at the June 8 British elections and in France, Marine Le Pen of the far right National Front failed to win the French presidential election in May. But in other European countries such as Hungary, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Greece, right wing political groups have made significant gains in recent years and their membership is rising. They see Muslims as enemies and Islam as a threat to their way of life. The enmity increases with every Isis terror attack.
Isis terrorists are not unaware that every terror act they commit will go to strengthen far-right groups. They surely know that their attacks will only make Muslims in the West a target of Islamophobes, who have become more aggressive following Britain’s Brexit vote. According to the Guardian newspaper, the number of Islamophobic attacks in Manchester went up fivefold in the week after the concert bombing, with 139 incidents reported to Tell Mama, a group recording Islamophobic crimes, compared to 25 incidents the previous week.
It appears that either there exists a secret deal between the Isis and the far-right groups or they want to start the clash of civilisations.
However, one cannot expect the West to be peaceful and terror-free when the West is mainly responsible for the bloody mayhem in the Middle East. The Palestinians have been suffering for 70 years, because Britain’s Balfour declaration made 100 years ago allowed the creation of Israel on Palestinian land. As a result of the West’s meddling in Libya, Syria and Iraq, tens of millions of people are going through untold hardships. Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, an anti-war activist, could see it. In a statement following last month’s Manchester arena bomb attack, he said: “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.”
To combat terrorism, Prime Minister Theresa May, on the contrary, took a position similar to the far-right thinking. She threatened to tear up human rights laws, saying “If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it.”
With democratic leaders making such outlandish statements, we are only accelerating our reverse journey towards barbarism. It should not be called a clash of civilisations, for the civlised are capable of avoiding violence. If at all, it will be a clash of those who have hijacked religion and turned it into an ideology for violence, hatred and intolerance.
The so-called Jihadists – call them khwarijs or those who have exited Islam – and the far-right supremacists want such a clash – an Armageddon of sorts between evil forces. One wants to nuke Makkah or kill all Muslims and the other wants to rid the world of all those who do not subscribe to the terrorists’ interpretation of Islam.
The silent majority the world over – like most Londoners — long for a world order based on peace and justice, a world order sustained by a dialogue among civilisations. Cohabitation instead of conflict should be the way forward, but the forces of evil see violence and hatred as means to establish an iniquitous order with supremacists in control. Sadly, even in countries like Sri Lanka, India and Myanmar racist forces and bigots carry out their hate campaigns with impunity, with the State turning a blind eye to hate-mongering or lacking the political will to root out the evil.
Besides racist and extremist ideologies, there are other forces that work against a peaceful world order where pluralism is respected and unity in diversity is seen as strength. With a Donald Trump in Washington, a Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and a King Salman in Saudi Arabia, the threat to a peaceful world order is, perhaps, at an all-time high.
Backed by white supremacists and surrounded by Islam-haters, Trump relishes anti-Muslim rhetoric. The only good Muslims for him are those who make deals with him – like the Gulf royals.
Since Trump’s election to power, anti-Muslim incidents have been rising at an alarming rate. He is quick to take to twitter to congratulate himself for taking an anti-Muslim posture whenever the so-called Islamic terror takes place. But he hardly condemns or is slow to condemn white supremacist attacks such as the Portland incident where two Americans died trying to protect two Muslim women from a knife-wielding white supremacist or the Finsbury Park attack.
Netanyahu, whom Trump and most US Congress members dutifully serve, represents Zionist supremacism while King Salman symbolises Sunni bigotry. The three extremist ideologies – white supremacy, Zionism and Sunni extremism –openly cooperate to sustain a conflict-ridden world order for the benefit of a few at the cost of seven billion people who suffer.
That supremacism and bigotry still exist indicates that civilisation has not kept pace with advancements human beings have made in science and technology. It appears that we are virtually still in the state of nature, which, according to the 18th century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, is a “war of every man against every man,” a constant and violent condition of competition where existence is nasty, brutish, and short. Shakespeare said, in Julius Caesar, “O Judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason!”
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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