Iraq: Cradle of civilization is still a living hell

By Ameen Izzadeen
Fourteen Aprils ago, the world witnessed a giant statue of Iraq’s ousted dictator Saddam Hussein being toppled by a group of people at Baghdad’s Firdos Square. The crowd was surprisingly small. To support them in the task were the invading American soldiers and, of course, the presstitutes — the embedded media personnel who were apparently prostituting journalism and producing bastardized news.
The scene was fake news in the making, as the present United States President Donald Trump would say. It was perhaps the only dramatic event that the then imperial US administration had in its possession to show the war’s opponents back home that the Iraqi people were supportive of the invasion.
Reporting about the controversial event, the Associated Press said: “Joyful Iraqis helped by an American tank retriever pulled down their longtime dictator, cast as 16 feet of bronze. The scene broadcast live worldwide became an icon of the war, a symbol of final victory over Saddam Hussein.”
But reports filed from Baghdad did not say that the the April 9, 2003 event was organised by a US Marine colonel — not joyous Iraqi civilians. A year later, the Los Angeles Times reported: “It was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.”
Despite this underreported correction, the toppling of the statue is cited by war advocates as symbolic of Iraqi people’s support for the invasion codenamed “Operation Iraq Freedom”. The operation was initially named “Operation Iraq Liberation” but the name was changed because its acronym – OIL – seemed to expose the secret objective of the war.
The Firdos Square fake news was rather emblematic of the massive lie with which war-loving US President George W. Bush misled the American people into believing that he was launching a just war.
The war was launched on the pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which were a threat to America’s security and world peace. To add flesh to their bony lie, the war party created more lies. These lies included claims that Saddam Hussein tried to obtain uranium from Niger and that Iraq possessed the capability to assemble its long range missiles and attack London within 45 minutes. The US even presented satellite images claiming that they showed mobile WMD laboratories.
Award-winning war reporter John Pilger asked Charles Lewis, the distinguished American investigative journalist: “What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims, instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?”
Lewis replied that if the journalists had done their job “there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.”
There is blood on the hands of the so-called free media of the west. The very media institutions which swallowed Bush’s lies wholesale — probably due to the media outlets’ blind patriotism, racism or support for the neocon policy to dominate the world through intimidation – are now questioning every statement President Trump makes.
Firdos in Arabic means Paradise. But the Iraq war based on lies after lies opened the gates of hell.
Months before the Iraq war began, the then Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa warned Washington that the war against Iraq would “open the gates of hell” in a region already “angry and frustrated” at Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.
As a result of trigger-happy Bush’s mad war, the Iraqi people paid a huge price and they are still not out of the hell they have been pushed into. Saddam Hussein was a monster, but the horror they have been going through since the US launched its Iraq colonisation project has made the Iraqi people to see the former dictator as a benevolent statesman. During Saddam’s time, the people had little or no religious and political freedom, but they had security, water, electricity and peace. There was no sectarianism in secular Iraq. The Sunnis and the Shiites were not only neighbours but they also intermarried. There was no al-Qaeda or ISIS.
Since the US invasion, more than one million Iraqis have died in war and sectarian violence. Also nearly a million Iraqis, half of whom were children, died due to the US-led economic sanctions which preceded the war. When asked, the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it was a price worth paying. Such was the racism-driven indifference that the leaders of the so-called civilised world had for Iraqi lives.
Iraqis die by the thousands even today, as their government together with the US forces prosecutes a major operation to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, from the clutches of ISIS. Urban wars are fought and won by destroying buildings with scant regard for the trapped civilians. Thousands of Mosul’s civilians have died, especially in air strikes. On Wednesday, Iraqi troops removed 300 bodies from the site of an apparent Coalition air strike carried out on March 17.
Although some 350,000 civilians have fled Mosul to camps where basic facilities are a luxury, still some 400,000 people are trapped in the city. They are being used by the ISIS as human shields. If they try to flee, they are shot dead; if they manage to escape and reach the Iraqi troops, they are grilled, even subjected to torture or killed because of their suspected ties to the terrorists.
The world is today certainly not a better place than what it was prior to the US invasion designed and promoted by neoconservative architects of the Project for New American Century – a think tank which advocated a policy of total global military domination to control the world’s strategic resources.
To the living hell that is Iraq, where suicide blasts have become a daily occurrence, came a visitor on Tuesday – Jared Kushner, son-in-law and special advisor of US President Trump. If a matter so serious like Iraq is to be left in the hands of less experienced people like Kushner, it could mean that the Iraqis will have to wait longer to see peace at least on the distant horizon.
During his campaign for the White House, Trump claimed he was opposed to the Iraq invasion. He said America was not going to be the world’s policeman. But since taking office, he was displaying both hawkishness and indifference to the wars in Iraq and Syria.
In what he claimed as a bold new strategy to “defeat ISIS,” he has intensified US military involvement in Iraq and Syria.
But the Iraqi conundrum is much more complicated than the ISIS issue. It involves the Kurdish problem, the power games that regional players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Israel play, the superpower interests in the region and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
The Iraqis have been going through hell long enough. Since 1979, they have been living with devastating wars – first the nine-year Iraq-Iran war, then the Kuwait war, then the US invasion and now the ISIS. Iraq, the cradle of civilisation, needs a comprehensive peace package. But where are the peacemakers?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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What a world! We want the right to destroy our planet

By Ameen Izzadeen
On Monday, the big powers spurned yet another move to rid the world of nuclear weapons. They apparently prefer to be called the destroyers of our planet.
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” J. Robert Oppenheimer said quoting from the Bhagawad Gita. He was one of the fathers of the first atomic bomb – the illegitimate child conceived and delivered by the top secret Manhattan Project.
The first atomic bomb was detonated by the Manhattan Project’s nuclear physicists on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. On August 6 and 9 the same year, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world’s first atomic bomb attacks killed more than 200,000 people in the two cities instantly. Tens of thousands of people exposed to high radiation died in the months and years to follow. The ill-effects are still being felt.
Oppenheimer, despite his liberal and socialist worldview, supported the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. But he later became an advocate of nuclear non-proliferation and opponent of the global nuclear arms race.
However noble the nuclear non-proliferation initiative is, it smacks of hypocrisy and allows a few nuclear-armed nations to become global bullies and intimidate the rest of the world. Given the destructive power of modern-day nuclear weapons which are a thousand times more lethal than ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nothing short of total nuclear disarmament will ensure the safety of our planet, which we call our home. Every nuclear test is a stab on the back of Mother Earth. Every nuclear accident is a blow on her head. A nuclear war will be the ultimate death blow. If we love this planet and the humanity, we must not rest until the last of the world’s nuclear weapons is dismantled. But the humans are the Earth’s only species hell-bent on the destruction of the planet. According to 2016 estimates, the nine nuclear-armed nations – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — possess some 15,000-23,000 nuclear warheads which could destroy this world more than 100 times over.
Man can be good and evil. Leaders can be brutish and if driven by their animalistic id, they could become destroyers. With the United States and North Korea – both nuclear armed – being run by maverick leaders, the world’s first nuclear war is no longer just a subject for dystopian novelists to describe the aftermath in vivid detail. The dangerous reality or MAD (mutually assured destruction) is close and staring at us. The US has warned North Korea that its policy of strategic patience has ended, while reports say Pyongyang is preparing not only for yet another nuclear test but also for a nuclear war with the US.
Months before Donald Trump became the US President, Nato and Russia had deployed nuclear missiles in Europe, stoking fears of a nuclear war. The tense situation has somewhat eased now because of Trump’s special relationship with Russia. In the volatile Middle East, Israel has some 300 nuclear warheads and Iran is accused of harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions.
In South Asia, too, a nuclear war cannot be ruled out, given the hostility between India and Pakistan.
Evil triumphed on Monday when a golden opportunity to bring about a nuclear-weapons-free world was squandered. The United States, Russia, China, Britain and France together with 36 other nations staged a walkout when the United Nations General Assembly began discussions on a global ban on nuclear weapons. Monday’s session came in sequel to a General Assembly resolution adopted in December to convene a conference “to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
Kim Won-soo, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressing the UN conference said, “Let us all work harder and more creatively, so that we can achieve our common goal of a world, safer and more secure, without nuclear weapons, and better for all.”
He said the possession of nuclear weapons was fundamentally incompatible with humanity’s common aspirations for peace and security.
Pope Francis sent a message of support to the conference. “I wish to encourage you to work with determination in order to create the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. The Pope said international peace and stability “cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power.”
While the widely respected pontiff called for concerted efforts to save our planet, President Trump, in a reckless act that underscored his contempt for warnings about climate change, revoked environment laws his predecessor, Barack Obama, had introduced, and his UN envoy Nikki Haley scuttled UN efforts aimed at total nuclear disarmament.
Addressing journalists at UN headquarters in New York, ambassador Haley, South Carolina’s former rightwing governor, defended her country’s need to possess nuclear weapons, saying, “in this day and time, we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them and those of us that are good trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.” She was referring to the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea.
“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?” she asked.
Haley only confirms our worst fears that a nuclear war between the US and North Korea could be a reality. Imagine how many innocent people will die in both these countries. Some studies claim that North Korean missiles can wipe out 80 percent of the US population, while US strikes can reduce North Korea to mere nuclear ash.
Who wants to give up nuclear weapons, the very possession of which will deter even a thought of an attack in the mind of the enemy? Nuclear weapons mean power and they are here to stay until there emerges a weapon system that can deactivate nuclear weapons of an enemy state through hacking. Reports say the US, Russia and China are moving in that direction. But before such cyber weapons become a reality, a nuclear war could break out.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Palestinians need a hero, not a gutless Guterres

By Ameen Izzadeen
The stench that wafted across world politics last Friday was unbearable. It originated from a place where there was once an old slaughterhouse. The place now houses the 39-storey United Nations building, one of the most photographed world monuments. The building overlooking the East River has an architectural aura, but, by no means, is its glassy exterior symbolic of the sordid state of affairs inside, with matters peace and justice often undermined by powerful nations.
Last Friday was one such day. Underscoring the impotency of the United Nations, its new Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, shattered the hope for peace in West Asia when he ordered the removal of a report critical of Israel from a UN website, just two days after the document was released. By timidly displaying his inability to stand up for justice and stand by Rima Khalef, who, as the head of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), commissioned the report, Guterres seems to have compromised his socialism with which he wooed the people of Portugal to become prime minister in 1995. While Khalef resigned in disgust, the wounded Palestinians, the victims of Israel’s apartheid system, cried: ‘Et tu Guterres’.
The secretary general’s surrender is so disheartening that it pushes peace activists to long for the old abattoir at Turtle Bay, for the blood of the slaughtered cattle would have smelt like jasmine, in comparison with the smell of the putrid power politics of the UN system. It is now becoming clear that the new UN Secretary General succumbed to pressure from the United States and withdrew the report, although the report’s authors, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, widely respected for their global justice activism, insisted that this was only a research paper that did not reflect the views of ESCWA or the UN.
Palestine’s UN envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters on Wednesday that “bullying tactics and intimidation” led to the UN’s withdrawal of the report that accused Israel of practising apartheid.
A UN spokesman, however, said the organisation did not have a problem with the content of the report but rather with Khalef’s failure to follow procedure prior to publication.
“The secretary-general cannot accept that an under secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorise the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” he said.
Whatever the explanation for the removal of the report, Guterres appears as gutless as his predecessor. The present controversy reminds us of the Richard Goldstein report on Israel’s 2008 Gaza war. It was commissioned by the then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The report accused both Israel and the Palestinian resistance group Hamas of war crimes. In indiscriminate Israeli attacks, some 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, perished — half of the victims being children.
Later Goldstein withdrew his report solely on the basis of Israel’s claim that it had no policy of targeting civilians. Independent analysts ascribe the death of the report to US and Israeli pressure on Goldstein.
In another UN retreat under pressure, Ban last year withdrew Saudi Arabia from a list of nations that had committed war crimes against children, after the oil-rich kingdom warned it would stop its funds for UN programmes.
Such pressure and bullying tactics were also evident in recent US statements defending Israel.
America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley dismissed the ESCWA report as “anti-Israel propaganda” and said, “The United States stands with our ally Israel and will continue to oppose biased and anti-Israel actions across the UN system and around the world.”
On Monday, a week after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that the US might withdraw from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Haley slammed the council for its “anti-Israel agenda”. She told the Council: “The so-called ‘Agenda Item 7’ discredits the standing of the only UN body specifically designed to address the state of global human rights by allowing nations to distract from their own abuses back home by churning out anti-Israel propaganda. As a result, the United States will not participate in discussions under Agenda Item 7 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, other than to vote against the outrageous, one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions that so diminish what the Human Rights Council should be, and we encourage other Council members who purport to be defenders of human rights to do the same.”
If Haley, in her zealous frenzy, is determined to protect and reward Israel’s atrocities and cannot accept the ESCWA report, then she should at least read Jimmy Carter’s 2006 best seller ‘Palestine: Peace not Apartheid’. Carter, like all US presidents since 1948, was no enemy of Israel. Defending his book, Carter said Israel’s policy in the West Bank represented instances of apartheid worse than South Africa’s.
“When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa,” Carter said.
Falk and Tilley in their ESCWA report describes more than what Carter saw. They recommended the international community to intensify the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel until it abandons its apartheid policy that dehumanises the Palestinians.
It is to the UN system that the Palestinian people turn to realise their dream of freedom. But the world body has been, in effect, an accomplice in the crime against the Palestinians. It started with Resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine in 1947 in what was seen as a travesty of justice, giving the 30 percent Jewish population, comprising mostly European immigrants, 55 percent of the land and the Palestinians who formed the 70 percent of the population 45 percent. Since then, the UN has been virtually offering its facilities for the United States and Israel to continue their might-is-right policies.
The existence of agencies such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to help the displaced Palestinians will not absolve the UN of its complicity. Guterres should have resisted the US pressure, for it is better to serve the world body as a true soldier of peace for one term rather than serving two terms as an agent of injustice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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US threatens to withdraw from UNHRC

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Donald Trump administration has read the Riot Act to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It has threatened to withdraw from the UNHRC, unless the council agrees to toe Washington’s line.
The warning came through a letter Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent to a group of nine non-profit organisations this week, according to an exclusive report posted on the prestigious Foreign Policy website.
The letter said, “While it may be the only such organisation devoted to human rights, the Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate.”
A senior Tillerson aid said, “If they don’t make these reforms, we’re going to question the value of our membership…. We’re not taking withdrawal off the table.”
Certainly, the reforms the Trump administration is calling for are not aimed at making the UNHRC stronger. Washington apparently wants to make the council a rubber stamp, just as it has made the UN. Or, possibly the Trump administration is planning something more horrendous, with a US$ 54 billion surge in military expenditure.
Successive US governments have been critical of the UNHRC. They have described it as an Israeli-bashing organisation. But at the same time, Washington has made use of the mechanism to put pressure on hostile nations.
The US warning comes as no surprise because, since Trump came to power, human rights have been pushed to the backburner. Perhaps he is forthright and does not want to be hypocritical like his predecessors who talked big about human rights and did the opposite. Why blame only Trump’s United States? Every big power is a human rights crook.
In international relations, human rights remain politicised. Human rights are often seen as a hindrance to a state’s national security. Violations are justified on the basis that the survival of the state is more important than a citizen’s human rights. Human rights have become state-centric, instead of people-centric.
This is why whistleblower Edward Snowden is refusing to leave Russia and surrender to US authorities. He fears that the US courts will uphold the power of the state at the expense of the citizens’ right to privacy and their freedom of expression. WikiLeaks’ chief editor Julian Assange is refusing to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London to face trial in Sweden, because he fears that Stockholm, giving more importance to its relations with Washington than to its supposed commitment to uphold the people’s right to know, would extradite him to the US.
When state-centric human rights are observed, citizens are told they should live and die for the state – a subtle form of Nazism. When the rights of the state are given precedence over a citizen’s freedom, it is also militarism, a system where rulers, democratically elected or otherwise, invoke patriotism, glorify the military and enhance its capability to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests. So much so that militarism supersedes liberal values.
In the United States, both the Republicans and the Democrats subscribe to this unwritten doctrine. Militarism was evident during President Trump’s address to Congress last month. The Democrats, who by opposing Trump’s outrageous policies were posing off as champions of moral politics, shook their heads in disapproval when the billionaire-turned-President waxed eloquent on his controversial policies. But when he hailed the death of US SEAL William Owens during a raid on an al-Qaeda camp in Yemen and drew the lawmakers’ attention to his widow, members from both sides of the divide gave a record standing ovation.
That the botched raid killed civilians was not a matter for them to worry about. That the US troops killed eight year-old- Nawar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and daughter of radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the Americans extra-judicially killed in a drone attack in 2011, did not bother their conscience. That the raid was a violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation was far from their thoughts. That it did not have UN approval was the least of their concerns. So much for the US politicians’ commitment to uphold human rights and international law!
The US commitment to human rights is buried in the graveyard of political expediency, with the epitaph, among other horrors, mentioning the use of Agent Orange chemical weapon in Vietnam, depleted uranium on Iraqi civilians, the indiscriminate drone attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and Washington’s blind support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.
What moral right does the US State Department have to publish its annual country report assessing other countries’ human rights records? Probably, Trump understands this. That may be the reason that the State Department did not have the usual hype when it released the human rights country report on March 3. Downplaying the event, instead of Secretary Tillerson, an assistant secretary of state presided over the low-key ceremony.
It is interesting to note that, in an irony of ironies, China, which is usually named and shamed as one of the big-time human rights violators by the US State Department, has been hitting back at the US by publishing a human rights country report on the US since 1998.
The latest report was released by the Information Office of the State Council, China’s cabinet, on March 9. It scoffs at the US for once again posing as the global “judge of human rights”.
“Wielding ‘the baton of human rights,’ the US report cast blame on the human rights situation in many countries while paying no attention to its own terrible human rights problems.
“With the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics, the self-proclaimed human rights defender has exposed its human rights ‘myth’ with its own deeds,” the report says, highlighting concerns over gun violence, women’s rights and minority rights, among other issues.
All major religions, for thousands of years, have been exhorting their adherents to be just, fair and regard equality as a virtue. But it was only in the 19th century that slavery was abolished and only in the 20th century that civil rights of the Afro Americans in the United States were granted and apartheid was abolished in South Africa. Women were considered in most western countries as worthy of being given the right to vote only about some five decades ago.
However, the golden era of human rights dawned after the Cold War between the US-led Western bloc and the Soviet Union-led Eastern bloc ended in 1991. The United Nations Human Rights Commission was seen as inadequate to deal with human rights violations, and moves were initiated to form a powerful and effective mechanism under a new UN Human Rights Council. During this period, numerous were the European Human Rights Court’s decisions that gave more importance to a citizen’s rights than a member state’s action taken in the name of national security.
However, the movement towards Utopia suffered a severe blow when US President George W. Bush launched the war on terror in 2001. Torture was justified, privacy was undermined, and the Geneva Conventions on warfare and prisoners of war were dumped in the dustbin. The observation of human rights became state-centric. Last year, the Brexit vote enabled Britain to dissociate itself from the European Union standards on human rights. The rot continues.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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North Korea: Smart bombs could stop nuclear warfare

By Ameen Izzadeen

A world without nuclear weapons is a possibility and that day is not far from us. Thanks to North Korea and its provocative behaviour, such optimism is not the wild imagination of a fiction writer. The United States is developing a smart bomb to deactivate all electronic devices, including missile and nuclear systems in the enemy territory.
It is only a matter of time before other technologically advanced nations will also produce such smart weapons, because in digital technology, the gap between the inventor and the imitator is fast closed up due to the competence of Information Technology experts in every big power.
If rival nuclear powers possess such smart weapons, their nuclear arsenals will become a liability. An enemy state can hack into a weapons system and change the direction of a missile that is being prepared to hit a target elsewhere. Of course, we have seen missile system manipulations in movies such as The Spy Who Loved Me. There will be utter chaos. Nay, just as the saying goes that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, those who live by wielding nuclear weapons will be perished by the same weapons.
The US says its smart weapons are part of a plan to deal with North Korea. Perceiving North Korea as the most dangerous state on the Earth, the then US President Barack Obama in 2014, instructed the Pentagon to develop a cyber-weapons programme to sabotage Pyongyang’s missiles before launch or just as they lift off. Obama even warned Donald Trump that North Korea would likely be the most urgent problem he would have to deal with. In response to North Korea’s announcement in January that it would test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the US west coast, Trump famously tweeted, “It won’t happen.”
Last Saturday, the AFP quoted the New York Times as reporting that the US cyber war programme, had only limited success so far.
Advocates of the programme said they believed they had delayed for years North Korea’s ability to mount a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and threaten a US city.
Sceptics, however, said the programme suffers from shoddy manufacturing, disgruntled insiders and simple incompetence.
Whatever it is, the fact remains that cyber warfare is a reality and a race to develop cutting-edge cyber weapons is already on.
On Tuesday, the whistleblowing website Wikileaks published thousands of secret files about CIA hacking tools that were used to break into computers, mobile phones and even smart TVs from companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung.
China and Russia know that US cyber warfare is not exclusively for the sabotage of North Korea’s missile and nuclear systems. They feel they too are being targeted.
It is no secret that Russia and China have their own cyber weapon programmes. Russia’s cyber warriors are the prime suspects in the email hacking drama that jolted the United States and changed its destiny at the November 8 presidential election. US analysts believe that Tuesday’s Wikileaks exposure of CIA hacking tools is also the work of Russian hackers.
In 2015, the US accused China of hacking into the massive data base of the Office of Personnel Management, thought to be cyber impregnable.
China’s dependence on cyber weapons has only increased this week, with the United States moving in THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) missiles to South Korea to protect it from any North Korean attack. The deployment took place hours after North Korea’s missile launches that put not only South Korea, but also Japan and the US military base in Guam on notice. It happened despite China’s strong opposition. Beijing believes that the real aim of the THAAD missile deployment is not to counter North Korea’s missile threat but to deal with China’s missiles. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressing a rare media conference on Wednesday warned the US that the missile deployment could trigger a dangerous nuclear race in the region.
The installation of THAAD missiles in South Korea has dealt a blow to China’s military superiority in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The X-ban radar system installed in the THAAD anti-missile system can detect any missile launch from any part of China and quickly fire a missile to intercept the oncoming missile.
Warning that the US and North Korea were on a collision course, Wang said China would never allow hard-won stability in the South China Sea to be disturbed or undermined again.
Apart from the THAAD missiles in South Korea, China sees the recent navigation of a US aircraft carrier in what China regards as its territorial waters as a major security threat.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang warned on Tuesday that Beijing would “take necessary measures to defend our security interests and the consequences will be shouldered by the United States and South Korea.”
Chinese analysts feel that the THAAD deployment means that Seoul has become Washington’s strategic tool to monitor and contain Beijing and Moscow.
Russia also condemned the THAAD installation. Victor Ozerov, head of Russia’s Federal Defence and Security Committee, described the development as another provocation against Russia to “besiege it from the west and the east.”
Chinese analysts fear that after the THAAD missiles, the United States could even deploy tactical nuclear missiles in South Korea. This again will be an existential threat to China.
Given this situation, it won’t be a surprise if China works out a regime change in North Korea, its only strategic ally in the region, and oust Kim Jong-un who, Beijing finds, is increasingly becoming uncontrollable. Two weeks ago, China stopped buying North Korean coal, but the maverick North Korean leader continued to play his dangerous missile games regardless.
Or in the alternative, Beijing is likely to push for the resurrection of the six-party talks that collapsed in 2009. The talks began at a time when the then US President George W. Bush was preparing for a war against Iraq. He spoke about an axis of evil comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea, because they possessed or were pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Bush invaded Iraq and spared North Korea. Probably the US feared that Pyongyang had nuclear weapons, but others say the war against North Korea did not happen because it had no oil.
To deal with North Korea’s nuclear programme, the Bush administration instead pursued half-hearted diplomacy which led to the so-called six-party talks involving, apart from the United States, China, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia. But the talks collapsed because both the United States and North Korea did not stick to their part of the bargain but adopted more hostile attitudes towards each other.
North Korea is fast emerging as a flashpoint that could trigger a catastrophic conflict in East Asia, which has in recent months seen unprecedented level of defence buildups and military activities by China, the US, Japan and the two Koreas amid tension over territorial disputes that defy diplomacy.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of March 10, 2017)

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If Trump cuts funds, where will UN go?

By Ameen Izzadeen
The United Nations wouldn’t be the same after January 20, roared president-elect Donald Trump in a tweet after the outgoing Barack Obama administration in a startling diplomatic manoeuvre got the UN Security Council to pass a unanimous resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestinian lands.
Days later he tweeted again: “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!” He also suggested the United States could cut its funding to the organisation.
According to a draft executive order, seen by the New York Times, the Trump administration wants a 40 percent cut in its contribution to the UN. The US is the largest contributor to the UN budget – 22 percent. A huge cut or the threat of a cut will certainly make any UN secretary general to compromise his or her hallowed policies in the larger interest of the UN projects ranging from poverty alleviation and promoting education to peacekeeping and climate change. Last year, the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meekly removed Saudi Arabia from a list of war crimes against children, hours after the oil kingdom warned it would slash its funds to the world body.
Trump supporter John Bolton, who was President George Bush’s envoy to the UN, once infamously said that if the 38-storey UN building “lost 10 storeys today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” Bolton was considered for the post of Secretary of State by the Trump team and later for the post of National Security advisor in the wake of Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation over his alleged promise to the Russian envoy that the US would lift some of the sanctions linked to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
After Trump assumed office on January 20, he appointed Nikki Haley, a hardliner, as the United States’ Permanent Representative to the UN. Unlike her predecessor, Samantha Power, who was known for her human rights activism, Haley is known for her politics and entrepreneurship. Though a daughter of immigrant parents hailing from India’s Punjab state, she supports tough laws to crack down on illegal immigrants. Prior to entering politics as a member of South Carolina’s House of Representative, she was running a multimillion-dollar upscale clothing firm, her family business, and was at one time president of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
When Trump invited her to take up the post of UN envoy, she was the Governor of South Carolina, carrying the honour of being chosen to deliver the Republican Party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address last year.
Her predecessor Power, known for her activism against genocide, had put aside her lofty campaigns and fell in line with the Obama administration’s policy of politicising human rights to further the United States’ national interest. Shame on you, she shouted at Russia, Syria and Iran for what was happening in Ukraine and Syria. But she spoke very little against Israel’s atrocities in the Gaza Strip and Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, where a large number of civilians including children have died in indiscriminate air attacks. Her silence during the vote on the December 23 anti-Israeli resolution at the UNSC was the loudest she spoke for the Palestinian cause. The United States’ decision not to oppose the resolution during the lame duck days of the Obama presidency was too little too late. Moreover it was seen as a move aimed at soothing the troubled conscience of President Obama rather than any love for world peace or the Palestinian cause.
Whatever it is, it became an occasion for the Trump team to say the UN would not be the same after January 20. But one can say with much certainty that democratising the UN system or broadbasing its decision making process is far from Trump’s intention. What he probably meant was that the US would do what it wants irrespective of the UN process and would go even beyond what the George W. Bush administration did in disregarding UN mechanisms to prevent conflict. The rot started during the Ronald Reagan presidency, during which the US openly declared that it would not accept the rulings of the International Court of Justice. Since then, the US had been, with arbitrary actions, undermining the UN system. Perhaps, the Obama presidency was an exception.
Haley came to the UN on January 27, weeks after the new UN Secretary General, António Guterres, a socialist politician from Portugal, outlined his vision to revive the global body by urging member-states to uphold their international obligations, including their commitment to world peace and measures to save the environment.
The very first day in office as UN envoy, Haley put the world body on notice.
Addressing a media conference at the UN headquarters, she issued a stark warning to foes and friends alike that the Trump administration would hold to account those who did not back the United States. “You’re going to see a change in the way we do business,” she said. “Our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N., and the way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure our allies have our back as well…. For those who don’t have our back, we’re taking names; we will make points to respond to that accordingly.”
Her warning — amid threats to slash funds for UN peacekeeping operations — reminds us of President George W. Bush’s “Either you are with us or with the terrorists” statement made at the launch of his war on terror in October 2001. Interestingly, Bush is now trying to distance himself from Trump policies though there is hardly any difference.
Notwithstanding the Trump administration’s threats to the world body, Russia and China called the US bluff on Tuesday and vetoed a resolution against Syria. The tough-talking Haley only denounced Russia and China for voting against the resolution cosponsored by the US, France and Britain. Perhaps the lame response was expected, given Russia’s alleged liaison with Trump.
The US dominated UN system is fast changing, with Russia and China asserting themselves at international bodies. The US, from January 1990 to December 2003, used its veto on 11 occasions, while China and Russia used their vetoes twice each during the same period. But since 2004, the US has used its veto only on five occasions, while China had used its veto seven times and Russia 13 times, largely against resolutions supported by the US. (http://research.un.org/en/docs/sc/quick).
China, aspiring to be the world number one power, has also stepped up its role at the United Nations, increasing its support for peacekeeping and development aid.
If Trump walks the talk and slashes the UN funds, the world body needs to map out a strategy to work without the US or even take the UN headquarters to Geneva – as it once did to enable Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to address the world body after the US denied him a visa — or even to Beijing.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka on March 3, 2017)

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Saints, Sindh and ‘sins’

By Ameen Izzadeen
This trembling light, this night-bitten dawn
This is not the Dawn we waited for so long
This is not the Dawn whose birth was sired
By so many lives, so much blood

Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Poetry mixes not with bigotry. Philosophy is no honey for the fanatic. Shorn of spirituality, terrorism is the antithesis of what humaneness is. The Quran records that the angels were worried that man would make mischief and shed blood when God told them he was going to create man on earth. Such divine concerns about chaos, disorder and bloodshed shake not the terrorists. Neither does the scriptural warning that killing one innocent person amounts to the killing of all humanity instill in them the fear of God’s punishment. Being ignorant of the spirit of Islam, the so called Jihadi terrorist is easily brainwashed. Depressed, he clings to any doctrine that promises eternal happiness. Hopeless and loveless, he believes killing the infidels is the way to Paradise. After leading a sinful life, he longs to be killed in the path of God, for he is told the martyr’s sins are forgiven even before the first drop of blood from his body falls on to the ground.
Last Thursday, in Pakistan which has been in recent weeks shattered by a series of deadly terrorist attacks, with the latest being yesterday in Lahore, a suicide bomber saw a Sufi shrine at Sehwan in the Sindh Province as his gateway to paradise. In distant Iraq, the ancestral country of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the Sufi after whom the famous shrine is named, the terror outfit ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
Debates over whether Sufism is Islam have divided the Muslim world. The Wahhabi and Salafi interpretations of Islam have outright condemned Sufism as heretic. The ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda and similar groups from the Wahhabi and Salafi orders see the Sufi shrine visitor as an idol worshipper or a Mushrik. They encourage the destruction of shrines and the killing of shrine visitors. Some 1,400 years ago, Prophet Muhammad visited Thaif, a city of idol worshippers near Makkah. His preaching on the oneness of God was greeted by stones. Bleeding, he ran to safety. Archangel Gabriel asked him whether to destroy the city that harmed him and did not accept his teaching. Muhammad’s reply was that he was sent as a mercy to the whole world, not as a destroyer.
Perhaps, the terrorist did not know this. Or his mentors did not tell him about the tolerance and perseverance with which his Prophet preached the message of Islam.
However deviant the latter day Sufism is, one cannot deny that Islam spread in South Asia largely because of the work of early Sufis. They were the pioneers in taking Islam’s message in Arabic to the people in their own languages. Sufism is an esoteric expression of Islam. It is said Khwajah Muinuddeen Chisty, the great 12th century Sufi of the subcontinent, attracted thousands of converts every day as he moved from village to village. Lal Shabaz Qalandar, the Sufi of Sehwan, the city where more than 90 died in last Thursday’s terror attack, was also known for his love for the poor, apart from his poetry and philosophy.
Describing her visit to the shrine, Christina Lamb in her book ‘Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s struggle for Democracy’, says: “The very air seemed to pickle with expectancy and emotion as we walked down the narrow unpaved streets towards the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, ‘the beggars’ saint’. The excitement was like that of children at a fun fair. On either side were stalls piled high with glass bangles and hung with garlands of green, red and white. Breathing rose and jasmine, I wondered if my eyes too shared the strange unfocused look of those passing us by. The shrine came into view – a white fairyland strung with coloured lights. The drum beat was incessant, inexorably drawing people in.
“There was crush at the entrance as pilgrims touched the door post in wonder, praying for children, for food, for strength, begging the Sufi saint to intercede with God and grant them their prayer. Finally we were inside and it was dazzling. We were buffeted by dream-like people whirling, chanting, reaching ecstasy. It took a moment to adjust to the kaleidoscope of colour. On one side were a small group – the drum beaters, a leading chanter and all around them a swirling morass of men dressed in colours and with kohl-rimmed eyes. Some seemed to be wearing dresses and all were spinning and chanting, chanting, chanting, chanting, whizzing into a trance that would, they hoped, bring them union with God. ‘Dama dam mast Qalandar,’ they sang as fireflies gathered round the lights….”
No doubt, practices such as this are not found in the Quran or in the teachings of the prophet. But Saints and ‘sins’ – petitioning to anyone other than God is a cardinal sin in Islam — are part of what is called popular Islam as opposed to the theoretical and intellectual Islam. Saints did not urge their followers to worship them. But after their deaths, zealous followers glorified them and regarded them as sinless interceders with God to obtain favours.
However irrational or flawed the Sufi belief is, the ardent believer won’t abandon it and adopt the Wahhabi or Salafi version even if he is threatened with suicide blasts. On the other hand, resorting to violence or immoral methods to change a person’s belief is a clear sign of intellectual bankruptcy. Only through intellectual jihad, based on reason and exemplary conduct, can religion, ideology or philosophy reach the masses.
The people of Pakistan’s Sindh province will scoff at anyone who dares to tell them that what they are doing is wrong. Proud of their saints and heritage, the people of Sindh, the land of the 5,000-year-old Mohenjo-Daro civilization, would say that Islam came to South Asia through their land after Mohammad bin Qasim, an Umayyad general invaded it in the late seventh century after an Arab merchant ship returning from Sri Lanka came under attack by Hindus.
Modern day terrorism is a child of many fathers. Besides the misguided mullah, the confused youth are easy prey to intelligence agencies which seek to further their countries’ geopolitical agendas. Ask an Afghan about the Taliban. Which Taliban, he would ask. Pakistan, India, the United States, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia – all have a Taliban group. Whether the Sehwan bomb and the sudden hike in terrorist activities in Pakistan were the work of the terrorists driven by a warped ideology or some foreign hands with the aim of destabilising Pakistan will remain contentious. These attacks come at a time when Pakistan is gearing for a US$ 48 billion economic takeoff through China’s One-Belt-One-Road Project.
Sadly, the Sehwan attack drew little attention in the western media which are over-engrossed in covering Donald Trump.
A tweet posted by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said it all. “Apparently Trump mistook Sehwan for Sweden,” his tweet said referring to Trump’s claim on Saturday of a terror attack that never took place in Sweden.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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