Asia for Asians: Let there be peace in new Indo-Pacific region!

By Ameen Izzadeen
On January 1 last year, this column drew attention to what was then a subtle move to formalise a new geopolitical region dominated by an alliance between India and the United States. The backdrop was a nascent cold war between the US and China.
Till 2015, the term Indo-Pacific was largely a biogeographic term. The term has now assumed geo-political connotations. During Donald Trump’s recent 12-day Asia tour, the use of the term Indo-Pacific in statements was so profuse that one could not resist the assumption that there are hurried moves to win recognition for the new region. That the term is also being liberally used in political discourses in Japan is no coincidence.
The institutionalisation of the new geopolitical region, on the one hand, underlines a ‘rising India’, and on the other, exposes Washington’s eroding power in world affairs and its willingness to work with New Delhi to top up the power deficiency vis-à-vis China: May be it is a readjustment of the US policy giving India an upgraded role.
In recent decades, successive US administrations have been using India as a lynchpin to check China. India, which views China as a frenemy, apparently feels flattered, though it is not unaware that Washington is manipulating it against China.
India’s relations with China have been sticky since the 1962 Sino-India border war. Unresolved border disputes, China’s military assistance to Pakistan, its opposition to India’s full membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group and China-controlled Maritime Silk Road sea ports in India’s neighbourhood prevent normalisation of ties though trade relations have been growing at a healthy rate.
The formalisation of the Indo-Pacific region also reveals that the United States’ ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ policy, which had originally been devised for the Asia Pacific region, now includes the Indian Ocean region.
Given China’s ambition to extend its Maritime Silk Road all the way to Africa’s western coast and beyond, the term Indo-Pacific may incorporate the Western Pacific Ocean and the entirety of the Indian Ocean, the third largest ocean after the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
More than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits takes place through Indian Ocean choke points, with 40 percent passing through the Strait of Hormuz, 35 percent through the Strait of Malacca and 8 percent through the Bab el-Mandab Strait. China’s energy security hinges on the stability of Indian Ocean sea lanes, with some 75 percent of its oil imports coming from West Asia and Africa. All China-bound cargo ships from Indian Ocean enter the South China Sea where Beijing is embroiled in territorial disputes with several littoral nations.
Thus, the Maritime Silk Road with a series of Chinese-managed ports in littoral states has a military dimension. It is quite natural for the US and India to entertain serious apprehensions about China’s entry into the waters they have been dominating for decades.
In yet another move to reinforce the Indo-Pacific concept, on the sidelines of last week’s ASEAN plus summit, officials of the United States, India, Japan and Australia held a meeting to revive the ‘quadrilateral military alliance’.
Downplaying the Indo-Pacific concept, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the region remained important and had great potential, regardless of “whatever concept or term is employed”.
However, China’s official English language mouthpiece, the Global Times, saw the development as worthy of an editorial topic.
“Indo-Pacific countries have been strengthening trade and cultural ties with China with the facilitation of the China-led Belt and Road initiative,” the editorial said adding that the US and Japan had little leverage to play geopolitical games in the region, and few countries were willing to fall into the orbit of Washington and Tokyo.
Commenting on India’s new role, the Global Times said, “India has its own trick to play. In the past, the mainstream media in India was obsessed with competing with China on GDP growth and international status. Now they are keen to compare their country to Australia or Japan to see which can curry more favor from the US. After the US began using the term “Indo-Pacific,” some Indian media outlets were ecstatic that their country had become an important pillar of this new US strategy.”
If we leave aside military aspects, the new region, in an economic sense, is a gold mine of trade opportunities. This is why states like Sri Lanka are advised to stay clear of power games the big nations play and try through bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to promote the region not only as a mega economic zone, but also as a peace zone.
In this context, an Asian economic union sans power politics is quite in order. China has openly called for an Asia for Asians and made this week, yet another effort to bring to fruition the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In what is seen as a victory for China, leaders of 16 countries—ten ASEAN nations plus China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — discussed the RCEP at a meeting in Manila on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit.
The China-led trade deal was once seen as a rival to US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a project floated by the then US President Barak Obama who declared that the laws of the global economy should be written by the United States and not by the likes of China. Some of those countries which took part in the RCEP talks in Manila this week are TPP members. They were left high and dry when President Trump withdrew the US from the TPP.
With Trump trumpeting about his ‘America First’ policy and subscribing to the view that the TPP would be more beneficial to others than the US, trade ministers of the remaining 11 TPP nations held a meeting, on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam last week, to give new life to the grouping with or without the US. It is interesting to note that while Trump at the APEC summit was sending mixed signals to Asian nations, China’s President Xi Jinping was wooing them with economic assistance and a willingness to give leadership to the globalization process.
The US is losing its leeway in the region. With a beleaguered president in the White House, the process will be faster.
The way forward for the states in the Indo-Pacific region should not be one of conflicts. What the region needs is economic prosperity which can come only through peaceful co-existence in keeping with the hallowed Pancha Sheela principles which the countries in the region hold in high esteem. The quadrilateral alliance formation is certainly not a confidence-building measure to keep the Indo-Pacific region as a region of peace. India, Japan and China should give leadership to an Asian economic union – a win-win situation for all — through mechanisms such as the RCEP to bring peace and prosperity to the region.
(Also read this)
This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka

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Saudi purge: Pitfalls in prince’s power plays

By Ameen Izzadeen
The events that have been shaking the Middle East in the past several days and taking even the politically weathered Middle East analysts by surprise, on the one hand, underscore tribalism as a key determinant in Arab politics and, on the other, shine a bright light on an emerging alliance between Saudi Arabia, the United States and Israel.
The region is not unknown for its snake-and-dagger politics among multiple tribes. Prophet Muhammad brought unity among warring tribes known for their sword-happiness, vengeance and brutality. He condemned blind loyalty to one’s tribe at the cost of justice and unity. But within years of the Prophet’s demise, tribalism that Islam sought to eradicate in its bid to create a commonwealth of man began to raise its ugly head once again. Fourteen centuries later, tribalism still thrives in the Arab world, underneath the veneer of modernity which for some oil rich Arab rulers and billionaires meant hedonistic lifestyles represented by lofty palaces, sky-high towers, super-luxury cars, jets and yachts, holidays in Europe and regular pilgrimage to Las Vegas casinos.
Hierarchical and highly conspiratorial, Arab tribalism based on kinship and ancestry delineation is a male-dominant, one-sheikh social order where tribal interests rise above public interest or national interest.
Inter-tribe rivalry made the task of Britain easy to get the tribal sheikhs to betray their Ottoman caliph during World War I. The Brits achieved their goal by dangling before the sheiks the promise of an Arab kingdom.
Saudi Arabia was born out of this betrayal, which was followed by bitter an inter-tribal war between Hejaz province ruler Hussein bin Ali and Nejd’s ruler Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. The sons of Hussein became the rulers of newly created Jordan and Iraq, while ibn Saud subjugated other tribes and formed Saudi Arabia, a country named after him in keeping with the tribal practice.
The present king Salman is the sixth son of ibn Saud and his wife Hussa bint al-Sudairi. Hussa’s seven boys formed the famous Sudairi Seven — the most powerful alliance in Saudi politics.
Saud, Feisal and Abdullah, who were Ibn Saud’s children from his other wives, had occupied the throne, but the Sudairi Seven wielded the biggest influence among the children of Ibn Saud’s 22 wives. These intrigues are part of Saudi tribalism which was at its peak when last Saturday King Salman’s son, Muhammad bin (son of) Salman or MBS as he is also known, ordered the arrests of more than forty top Saudis, including princes, ministers and billionaire businessmen.
There cannot be two leaders in Arabia. Just as Cesare Borgia, the Duke of Valentinois in the renaissance Italy, eliminated his plotters after a feast, MBS moved with an element of surprise to politically sideline potential rivals. Or perhaps it brings to mind the 1972 movie Godfather where Michael Corleone played by Al Pacino gets rid of rival bosses and their heirs in the battle for the Mafia kingdom.
The 32-year-old MBS is trying to put his country on the fast track to modernity through his vision 2030. He was the man behind the decision to allow women to drive and visit sports stadiums to watch men’s sports. He has also set in motion a Dubai-like development process with beach resorts and industrial zones. These moves have made him popular among the Saudi youth. And this has given him courage to stage Saturday’s purge.
Muhammad bin Salman’s rise to power was meteoric. The deaths of two crown princes is 2011 and 2012 paved the way for his father, the present King Salman, to move from the post of governor of Riyadh to crown prince. Salman groomed his fifth son, Muhammad (MBS), a law graduate, for high posts. MBS became the chief of the crown prince court in what was seen as the first in a series of shake-ups.
When King Abdullah died in January 2015, his ailing and senile half-brother, octogenarian Salman, became king. He appointed MBS as Defence Minister and Secretary General of the royal court. With his father said to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease, MBS became the power behind the throne, overshadowing the then crown prince Murqin bin Abdul Aziz, the last surviving son of the kingdom’s founder.
In the first clear indication of a game of throne drama in the royal court, in 2015, a royal decree reinforcing the power of the Sudairi Seven removed Crown Prince Murqin and appointed Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, a son of King Salman’s full brother Nayef, to the post. MBS was made the deputy crown prince.
But within two years, in a palace coup, another royal decree took the post of crown prince away from Muhammad bin Nayef and gave it to MBS. The ousted crown prince has ever since been under house arrest.
The events last Saturday were as seismic as they were momentous. The removal of Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the son of the previous King Abdullah, as commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and bringing this elite force under MBS were moves aimed at establishing a unicentric power centre. Mysteriously killed a day later in a helicopter crash was prince Mansour, son of Muqrin, whom King Salman removed from the post of crown prince. There were reports about gun battles when a prince was being taken into custody.
Eleven princes, including the flamboyant al-Waleed bin Talal, were among more than forty people being held under luxury hotel arrest, with their wealth frozen and fate in uncertainty. Their arrests follow the announcement of an anti-corruption drive.
Corruption in the kingdom is rampant. A famous case is the multibillion dollar sewage pipeline project. The Jeddah project was completed at a highly inflated price. But when completed, it had only manholes with no pipes underneath. The beneficiaries are the royal family members. Billion dollar arms deals are yet another way some royal family members amass wealth. The Yamamah arms deal with British Aerospace is a case in point. Citing national interest provisions, the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair stopped an anti-corruption investigation into payments of a billion dollar commission to a Saudi Prince. MBS himself has come under a cloud for buying a US$ 500 million luxury yacht for himself. Also doing the social media rounds is an alleged one billion dollar bribe MBS gave to President Donald Trump when he was in Riyadh on his first overseas visit as President. During this visit, the Saudis signed US$ 450 billion worth deals with the United States.
It’s is more than interesting to note that a day prior to the purge, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner was in Saudi Arabia discussing issues with MBS, staying up till 4 am. Were they discussing about how to execute the purge? Did Kushner urged the arrest of prince al-Waleed to avenge the scorn the prince heaped on Trump by calling him unsuitable for the presidency and asking him to withdraw from the race?
The arrests came at a time when events related to one another kept analysts busy. First it was Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shocking resignation which he announced while in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Hariri holds dual citizenship of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. Reports say Hariri’s resignation came under duress and he was threatened with arrest if he did not resign. The resignation has created a power vacuum in Lebanon, but surprisingly not the destabilization the Saudis want to create to pave the for another Israeli invasion of South Lebanon aimed at draining Iranian and Hezbollah military resources which have enabled the Syrian regime to defeat pro-Saudi rebels. Keeping Iran under check was a key foreign policy goal of MBS. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and Israel are said to have increased behind-the-scenes contacts.
Another significant development was Saudi Arabia’s virtual declaration of war against Iran following a missile attack from Yemen’s Houthi rebels on the Riyadh airport. The war in Yemen was an MBS initiative. The Saudis have been accused of committing war crimes in Yemen. Yesterday, the UN warned that millions of people would die in Yemen, in what would be the world’s worst famine in decades, unless Saudi Arabia ended a devastating blockade and allowed aid into the country.
The Saudis bid to subjugate Qatar in a bid to isolate Iran has also backfired.
The purge seen together with the Lebanese Premier’s resignation, Saudi Arabia’s warning to Iran, Kushner’s secret visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel-Saudi relations indicate the region is moving towards another phase of destabilization. Perhaps they indicate the formalization of an anti-Iran alliance. Certainly such a development is not in the interest of the region’s people. But do princes pursuing power care?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Xi: China’s new Mao emerging as world’s most powerful man

By Ameen Izzadeen
‘While there’s water, mix the plaster,’ says a Chinese proverb equivalent to the English proverb ‘Strike the iron when it is hot’. This was exactly what President Xi Jinping did 12 days ago.
When the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Congress convened in Beijing, Xi emerged as the undisputed leader of the world’s largest political party with 89 million members. It was not only the 2,300-member Congress that fell in line with whatever Xi proposed. China’s 1.4 billion people also saw him as the man of the hour. In addition to the support within the country, favouring him were tensions in China’s neighbourhood and the global political leadership vacuum created by the chaos associated with US President Donald Trump. Together, these factors formed the platform for Xi to assert his authority, etch his name and policy on the constitution, set sail a powerful futuristic vision and virtually remain the Supreme Leader as long as his health permits.
President Xi became the only the third leader to get his name engraved in the Constitution after Mao Zedong, the founder of the Communist State in 1949, and Deng Xiaoping, who guided the country along a cautious path to move away from a closed repressive state to what is today known as the socialist market economy. Xi, China’s new Mao, is emerging as world’s most powerful man.
Xi’s ‘Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ is now part of the constitution. It spells out specific policies on the modernisation of society and the armed forces, Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative; and target dates for enhancing China’s position in the world. The mood within China after the eventful Congress sessions was one of acceptance for Xi’s policies, for the people appear to place great confidence in the leader and his vision aimed at making China a top innovative nation by 2035 and a nation with global influence by 2050.
Having dealt with the opponents within the party while spearheading an anti-corruption drive, Xi has reinforced his position in the party by electing a loyal politburo and a standing committee. His consolidation of power comes at a time when ideals of socialism within the country are giving way to feelings of nationalism kindled by the tensions in the South China Sea, the dispute with Japan over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and the United States military buildup in the region under its Pivot-to-Asia policy. When nationalism or patriotism rides high in a country, it is quite natural for the citizens to rally behind a strong leader. In China’s case, it is Xi, who was barely known among the Chinese people when he became their president in 2012.
Once in power, he displayed courage to deal with the United States’ hostile Pivot policy. The policy calling for a bigger US military presence in China’s neighbourhood was mooted by the then US President, Barack Obama, against the backdrop of rising tensions in the South China Sea over territorial disputes Beijing was having with neighbouring states, almost all of whom were bonded to the US by defence pacts.
The Trump administration’s deployment of Thaad missiles in South Korea and provocative naval manouvres close to islands, over which China claims sovereignty, indicate that the Pivot is very much in force.
Not only did Xi deal with the Pivot, he also came up with a Belt-and-Road initiative (BRI) to boost China’s world trade, though critics saw it as an ambitious plan to bring about a China-centric world order.
In an apparent warning to China’s rival, Xi told the party congress: “No one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests.”
Xi’s moves signalling a greater role for China in world affairs came at a time when the United States is in political chaos with a maverick president at the helm of affairs.
Europe, meanwhile, is still struggling to cope with the fallouts of the 2008 financial crisis and Brexit Europe’s foreign direct investment outflow to developing nations has seen a decline since 2008 while Japan has been battling to revive its faltering economy for the past two decades. The situation has compelled investment-hungry developing nations to look towards China, the country with a multi-trillion-dollar foreign reserve.
Barely a week after Xi’s extraordinary step at the CCP Congress, reports emerged that China, the world’s largest oil importer, would promote its yuan as the currency for oil deals. If yuan becomes the established oil deal currency, it will pose a huge challenge to the US greenback’s status as the world’s most powerful currency.
In recent months, both China and its ally Russia have been talking about relying less on the US dollar as a means to circumventing US sanctions on nations friendly with Russia and China. These new developments come a year after China’s yuan joined the International Monetary Fund’s basket of reserve currencies in yet another milestone for Beijing’s campaign for recognition as a global economic power. This means, nations seeking IMF’s special drawing rights (SDR) loans can receive them in yuan. The other currencies in the IMF basket are the US dollar, the euro, the yen and British pound.
These measures together with Xi’s BRI and the landmark CCP Congress sessions have further stoked the suspicions of China’s rivals. Increased military cooperation between India, the United States and Japan is an outcome of this suspicion.
In recent weeks, the United States has heaped praise on India and last week, it sent its Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to New Delhi for talks that among other matters included China.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis, during last week’s visit to the Philippines, a US ally which is now drawing closer to China, accused Beijing of following predatory economics principles, the topic of many articles in leading US newspapers in the wake of Xi’s display of his will to aggressively pursue the BRI. These articles in the Western press warn countries like Sri Lanka of disastrous consequences that could undermine their national interest when they get trapped under China’s loans.
China says the BRI project is a win-win project for China and investment loan receiving countries.
Zhou Fangyin, a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies, in an op-ed article in China’s mouthpiece Global Times yesterday said, “China has proposed the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness and works hard to build a community of common destiny with its surrounding countries. China’s will is sincere, and the results are positive. It is wrong to describe China’s intentions as malicious or to portray the effect of China’s rise in a negative way.”
Yet, accusations are galore even in Pakistan, to which China is pouring US$ 48 billion under the BRI. Critics there say the traffic – meaning the benefits — along the Belt and Road project is largely one way – towards China.
China has to do more than mere assurances to allay the fears of its friendly nations that have signed up to the BRI project.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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The Belfour blow: Britain’s crime of crimes, 100 years on

By Ameen Izzadeen
If moral decadence is defined as doing a shameful act and being proud about it, then Britain under Prime Minister Theresa May is an embodiment of moral decadence.
One hundred years ago, on November 2, Arthur James Balfour, the then British foreign secretary, sent a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a British Zionist leader, declaring:
“His Majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.”
Since this original sin of planting the seed for the creation of Israel in Palestine, the Balfour declaration has brought death, destruction and displacement to millions of Palestinians.
Even today, because of this abominable product of the liaison between Britain and the Zionist movement, Palestinians are being persecuted and their lands forcibly robbed by Israel with impunity.
Yet, Britain has no remorse.
While refusing to offer an apology to the Palestinians, a barefaced Prime Minister Theresa May took a preposterous stance to defend the declaration, which Mahatma Gandhi described as a crime against humanity. On Wednesday, at the House of Commons, May declared, “We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of state of Israel and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride.”
If only she had paused and reflected on the issue before she agreed to break bread with Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it would have, perhaps, occurred to her that Britain had no right to give another nation’s land to a group of wealthy Zionists.
In a famous quote, British author and journalist Arthur Koestler described his country’s move as, “One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.”
If only May had pondered as to why Labour Party Leader James Corbyn is boycotting ceremonies being held to celebrate the Balfour declaration, she would have seen the historic wrong the British Government had heaped on the Palestinian people, who were not even told that their land was to be handed over to European Jews. So much for Britain’s boast about its proud history of democratic evolution since Magna Carta and its claim to be the birth place of parliamentary democracy and being the first country to adopt a Bill of Right!
In 2002, Labour Government Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in an interview with New Statesman said the Balfour declaration and the contradictory assurances given to Palestinians could be “an interesting history for us, but not an honourable one.”
Straw was referring to the pledge made in correspondence between British diplomat Henry McMahon and Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and great grandfather of the present king of Jordan. Simply put, Britain promised the Arabs independence if they betrayed their Ottoman Caliph.
One hundred years after this broken promise, the British government has no compunction about exposing its moral depravity, as it goes ahead with celebrations to mark a document that stands out as the nastiest symbol of colonial arrogance.
It is often claimed that the Balfour declaration arose out of a noble intention to help the European Jews subjected to anti-Semitism. Far from it, the declaration that came after the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, smacks of Britain’s intention to further its war efforts and continue its colonial plunder.
When the declaration was issued, Hitler was not even in the European political landscape. The Jews were financially strong in the United States, Britain, and other parts of Europe. Anti-Semitism was waning, especially after the infamous Dreyfus Affair in France.
The Zionists claimed their right to Palestine was based on a biblical promise. If justice is the core of religion, the promise made to a different set of Jews in a different time in history is no licence to perpetuate injustice.
It is also said that the declaration was a payoff for Zionist movement’s support for Britain’s war efforts. Zionist leader and scientist Chaim Weizmann had helped Britain to produce acetone, a key ingredient in naval explosives. Some even detect a racist motive in the declaration — a ruse to ‘ethnically cleanse’ Europe of Jews.
One hundred years ago, before this criminal declaration was made, most of the Jews living in harmony with their Arab brethren in the Middle East had not even heard about the Zionist movement founded by Austrian activist Theodor Herzl in 1897. Not knowing the Zionists’ ulterior motive, the Palestinians welcomed the European Jews’ migration. When in the 1930s, the Arabs realised the danger and revolted, Britain, which was governing Palestine, under a League of Nation Mandate, crushed the uprising and killed several prominent Palestinian leaders.
Within 30 years since the declaration, the Jewish population in Palestine rose from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent in 1947, the year in which the Palestinians were dealt another devastating blow, this time by the United Nations, an organisation formed to establish justice and world peace.
Fatefully, the 70th anniversary of this grave injustice in the form of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 falls also in November, a painful month, in the Palestinian calendar, just as May, in which Israel declared its independence after killing hundreds of Palestinians and expelling more than 750,000 from their homes. Is it justice when the UN divided Palestine, giving Arabs who constituted 70 percent of the population 45 percent of the land and the 30 percent Jewish population 55 percent of the land? Seventy years on, the UN is still a puppet of big powers, incapable of righting the wrong imposed on the Palestinians in its name.
After 100 years, three major Arab-Israeli wars, two intifadas, scores of peace efforts, Palestinians are yet to be freed from the yoke of colonialism.
Today, they possess just 18 percent of the territory the UN partition plan had allocated to them. Laws are regularly passed in Israel to annex as much land from the remaining Palestinian territory. As Jewish settlements grow in occupied Palestine, Israel has become an apartheid state.
It was not the Palestinians who persecuted the Jews during World War II. The Palestinians are paying for Europe’s ugliest crime. Sadly, the persecuted have become the persecutors. As the Palestinians mark the Balfour declaration with tears, the international community is impotent to order Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 borders. The promise of a two state solution is a charade perpetrated by Israel and its key ally, the United States.
As for Britain, we await the dawn of a world order based on justice to take the colonialist nation before a truth commission to face restorative justice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Cosmic cataclysm of nuclear madness

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Nobel Committee by awarding this year’s Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has reiterated the danger nuclear weapons pose to life on earth. The message is timely, given the fact that the world is at the brink of a nuclear war over the North Korean issue.
ICAN won the Nobel for drawing attention to the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of using nuclear weapons and for its efforts to work out a nuclear ban treaty. Yet, total nuclear disarmament is still an elusive dream of an idealist. Anything short of total nuclear disarmament is only a charade.
Take the story of a baby left in the wolves’ lair. Whether the den is inhabited by one wolf or a pack of thousand wolves, the infant will be devoured. To save the baby, we need to eliminate all the wolves. To save the planet and its billions of people, we need to dismantle all nuclear weapons. At present nine countries are said to possess some 15,000 nuclear weapons, each weapon 30 to 3,000 times more powerful than the atom bomb fell on Hiroshima. The actual number is much more and increasing. All nuclear powers continue research to take their nuclear weapons to the next destructive level.
The possession of nuclear weapons enhances a country’s military power. Some say nuclear weapons deter invasions. North Korea’s nuclear weapons have deterred the US from “unleashing” what President Donald Trump described as the ‘fire and fury… the likes of which this world has never seen before.” On Monday, Trump tweeted to say “Our country has been unsuccessfully dealing with North Korea for 25 years, giving billions of dollars [and] getting nothing. Policy didn’t work!” He was warning of a military response, but all what he could do was to send two B-1B bombers on Wednesday close to North Korea’s borders as part of a joint military exercise with South Korea and Japan.
The argument that nuclear weapons deter invasions condones such weapons and promotes proliferation and, therefore, is the anti-thesis of total nuclear disarmament. Nuclear weapons and the perverted mind of a popular leader form a calamitous combination.
No one knows how many millions or billions will die immediately if a full scale nuclear war takes place. Even if we were fortunate enough to survive the immediate impact of the nuclear holocaust, the secondary effect will make us walking dead or crawling dead. Dying of cancer, we will be facing fire storms, a prolonged nuclear winter and extreme starvation. There will be total breakdown of our social and economic life, as we plunge headlong into extinction. Sick and feeble, we won’t be able to inscribe our story on rocks before we die to let any intelligent alien, who will be on a transit through this destroyed planet in the future, know that nuclear weapons are evil and we brought our own destruction.
Despite the warnings the dreaded nuclear holocaust holds out and the efforts of organisations such as ICAN to create a nuclear-weapons free world, most human beings blinded by humanism-killing patriotism take pride in their nuclear weapons. In the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, the support for the use of nuclear weapons during a war is still high, 70 years after the country dropped two atomic bombs on the highly populated Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. A Stanford University study released in August this year says a majority of Americans would support the use of such weapons to kill millions of civilians if the US found itself in a similar wartime situation.
Professor Scott Sagan, who co-authored the study with Benjamin A. Valentino, noted, “The most shocking finding of our study is that 60 percent of Americans would approve of killing 2 million Iranian civilians to prevent an invasion of Iran that might kill 20,000 US soldiers.”
The professors conducted a similar survey in India, a country of 1.3 billion people, and the results were equally shocking. When presented with a hypothetical case where the terror group Lakshar-e-Taiba holed up in a secret bunker in Lahore, Pakistan, is preparing to launch a nuclear attack on India, a majority of the Indians who generally supported the government’s no-first-strike doctrine prefer the use of nuclear weapon to destroy the terrorists’ bunker even if it meant that some 50,000 Pakistani civilians will die.
The support for nuclear weapons is also high in neighbouring Pakistan, which figuratively ate grass to produce its first nuclear bomb. China, like India, has made a no-first-strike declaration. One can presume that the public support for nuclear weapons in this country of 1.5 billion people should be overwhelming; given the security threats it is facing over multiple territorial disputes in the South China Sea and across its borders.
It is also the same story in other nuclear weapon states — Russia, France, Britain, Israel and North Korea. One can assume that more than half the world’s people want nuclear weapons to defend themselves.
But when asked in general terms, a majority of the earthlings will call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In Japan, which ironically takes shelter under the nuclear umbrella of the US, only 5 percent of the people back nuclear weapons. They rejected Trump’s campaign trail proposal that Japan and South Korea should develop their own nuclear weapons to counter the threat from North Korea.
Why cannot nuclear powers follow the example of Nelson Mandela’s South Africa and do away with the weapon of the wicked. The ex-Soviet nations Kazakhstan and Ukraine have also done this, but there was no altruism. Instead of dismantling the weapons, they handed them over to Russia, soon after they became independent.
Probably sooner than later, there will come a time, when nuclear powers themselves will rush to dismantle their nuclear arsenals. That is when nations master the technology to hack into each other’s the nuclear power systems and destroy rival nuclear arsenals. It is not science fiction. In 2010, Stuxnet, believed to be an American-Israeli cyberweapon, sabotaged Iran’s nuclear programme.
Until such time, no nuclear power wants to see a nuclear-weapons-free world. Last month, ICAN realised one of its objectives when leaders of 120 nations signed a United Nations treaty to ban nuclear weapons. None of the nine nuclear power states was among them. Understandable! But why was Sri Lanka, which supported the resolution for the treaty, not among them? Sri Lanka’s absence was mysterious and conspicuous. After all, the country in the 1970s spearheaded a campaign to declare the Indian Ocean a peace zone, free of nuclear weapons. Did Sri Lanka wilt under the pressure from nuclear powers? Certainly, the failure to sign the treaty amounts to a serious omission and a crime against humanity. In an apparent attempt to mitigate the blame, the Government last week published regulations declaring Sri Lanka a nuclear-weapons free country. A lame act!
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Sons of guns behind the Las Vegas killer

By Ameen Izzadeen
Violence begets violence. Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. It does not mean that the 59 people who died at the Las Vegas concert shooting and those who were injured in the worst ever mass shooting in the United States, were promoters of violence. But the collective soul of the United States is.
This collective soul given to violence manifested itself last Sunday in Stephen Paddock, the gunman who, from his 32nd floor room in a nearby hotel, sprayed bullets aimlessly at the country music fans for some ten minutes. Perhaps, this was the first ever mass shooting incident where the killer did not know why he killed and the killed did not know why they were killed. Isn’t this a sign of much worse chaos to come?
Simply put, the motive for this massacre remains an unknown riddle. The 64-year-old millionaire killer was a caring person. He enjoyed the company of family and friends. Fun-loving, he was not known to have held any extreme political or religious views. Besides, he was not a Muslim, an identity that prompts law enforcement authorities to slap a terrorism motive on a killer. Then why did he commit this gruesome crime before he took his life?
Perhaps, an answer to this riddle will never be found. Until the motive is found, the United States’ collective soul stands accused, for it is willingly or unwillingly has been living with violence, since long before it came into being as a political entity.
More than 500 years ago, America was a land of peace. Its native people lived in harmony with nature. But since Christopher Columbus’s west ward drift that exposed the hidden continent to the Europeans, America’s history has been one of violence, chaos and lawlessness. Millions of Native Americans were killed in clod-blooded genocide by the land and gold hungry European invaders. They even came in the guise of humanitarians to kill the Native Americans by distributing to them chickenpox-infected blankets, in what could be described as history’s first germ warfare.
When the Native Americans resisted the nasty white man’s evil designs and launched surprise attacks on White European settlements, the European invaders armed themselves with guns. The invader thought his survival depended on his ownership of a gun, a weapon superior to the Native Americans’ arrow. This was the beginning of America’s gun culture, which found itself a niche in American society during the War of Independence in the 18th century. In the American psyche, there appears to be an emotional link with the violence-ridden past. Soon, the right to bear arms was constitutionally guaranteed under the Second Amendment. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” it says.
Since then, the gun culture, apart from accounting for millions of deaths, has taken the lives of four US Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. President Ronald Reagan almost became the fifth. Yet the call for gun control in the United States has only been a whimper. Voices that were heard every time a shocking gun crime took place went unheard in the bang from the barrel of the powerful gun lobby coordinated by the National Rifles Association.
In the aftermath of the ghastly killing of 20 primary class children and six teachers in Sandy Hook in what was described as the worst school gun crime in US history, the then US President, Barack Obama, pushed for strict gun control measures through a congressional bill, but his effort was shot down by the powerful gun lobby, which carried out a virulent campaign against the bill. An angry Obama hit out: “The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.”
Unlike President Obama, who at least made some efforts aimed at gun control, President Donald Trump is a son of a gun. During the campaign, Trump wooed the gun lobby and won its support as he defended the Second Amendment and criticised Obama for his gun control efforts.
How many mass shootings and victims should it take to check this gun culture in the United States where mass murderer Paddock could own an arsenal of 42 firearms, including automatic weapons, and thousands of rounds of ammunition in addition to explosives?
A staggering 300 million guns are now in circulation in the US, giving the United States the dubious honour of being the world’s number one country of armed civilians. There are 88 guns for every one hundred Americans, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Yemen, a war-ravaged nation, comes a distant second with its gun ownership figure being 55 for every 100 civilians.
Firearms account for some 68 percent of all killings in America or more than 30,000 Americans are killed with guns each year — about two-thirds of those being suicides. The number of Americans who are shot at tops 100,000 a year. This year alone, there have been 50,000 gun crimes. Gun control advocates say Americans are “25 times more likely to be killed with a gun than people in other developed countries.”
Gun control measures have succeeded elsewhere. In 1996, Australia, in response to a mass shooting incident, bought back more than 600,000 firearms and introduced gun laws that have succeeded in halving gun deaths. Similar measures have succeeded in Britain, too.
In the US, if gun control measures are to succeed, the Second Amendment, which is part of the American bill of rights, should be amended without any room for ambiguity that has given rise to judicial interpretations in defence of gun ownership. For this to happen, civil society should carry out a campaign similar to what forced the US government to end the war in Vietnam.
As a further measure, the US foreign policy should not be one based on wars. There is more war than peace in the US foreign policy, an aggressive instrument, through which the president promotes the interest of American capitalism, the arms lobby and the financial mafia. US President Donald Trump calls this policy ‘America First’. But this is what America has been doing since the end of World War II, despite such policy has failed in the Korean peninsula, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. America’s wars, just as its movies, glorify and romanticize violence.
At global level, the United Nations’ measures are apparently as ineffective, despite the Arms Trade Treaty that came into force in 2004 to check illegal transfer of small arms and light weapons. A review conference is long overdue in view of the fact that it is small arms and light weapons that sustain terrorism and killers like Paddock. The bottom line is that if we deny killers and terrorists the access to weapons, then we can at least save some lives.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Kurdistan referendum: Another flashpoint in West Asia

By Ameen Izzadeen
In what could be a trigger for another major conflict in West Asia, Kurds in Iraq on Monday voted overwhelmingly for separation. More than 92 percent of the people – Kurds and non-Kurds in the autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq – voted yes, delivering a powerful message to Iraq and its neighbours that the Kurds’ dream of finally achieving a state of their own will soon be a reality.
The Iraqi Kurds’ victory at the non-binding referendum was greeted with a virtual declaration of war by Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. The preparation for the war has already begun. If the separation takes place, it will cause a cataclysmic upheaval in West Asia’s geopolitics. The referendum will be remembered as another disastrous byproduct of the United States’ Iraq war. As though the millions of deaths, destruction and displacement were not enough, the US war for oil and military contracts is now set to drag the bloodied region into another dark period of uncertainty and violence. This is happening at a time when the region is just witnessing the end of a long haul battle against the Islamic State terror group.
There has already been a lot of bad blood between the Kurds and Iraq’s Arabs, both the Sunnis and the Shiites. It was with the help of the Kurds that the US troops first broke into Iraq in 2003 from the north of the country. Being the Americans’ fifth columnists, the Kurds have, in the new federal constitution gained more political rights, much to the chagrin of the Iraqi Arabs.
In terms of the US-guided constitution, the country’s presidency goes to a Kurd. The constitution recognises the right to return of those Kurds who have expelled from the oil-rich Kirkuk area during Saddam Hussein’s arabisation programme. It allows the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to conduct foreign relations and maintain its own security forces, known as Peshmerga, which played a key role in the defeat of the IS. The region has its own President, Prime Minister and parliament.
In addition to these and many more constitutional rights, the Kurds have arrogated upon themselves the right to sell oil to foreign companies in contravention of Iraq’s laws.
The only factor that has prevented them from declaring a separate state is their fear that their landlocked Kurdistan would not survive if the neighbours turn hostile. Already Turkey has warned of an economic blockade if the Kurds declare their independent state.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is livid that his request to Kurdish leaders to cancel the referendum has gone unheeded. The Kurds had committed a historic mistake, he said on Tuesday and warned that Iraqi troops would take over the region’s international airport at Arbil today if it is not handed over to the state before the deadline. Iraq yesterday called on international airlines to avoid the airport. Abadi also ordered the KRG to send all oil revenue to the centre.
Abadi said he was ready for a dialogue for greater autonomy within Iraq’s constitution.
But on Wednesday, a defiant Abadi told Iraq’s parliament, which is being boycotted by Kurdish members, that there was no question of using the result of the referendum as the basis for talks. “We will impose Iraqi law in the entire region of Kurdistan under the constitution,” he said, while parliament urged him to take “all necessary measures to maintain Iraq’s unity”.
Sensing the growing international apprehension over Kurdistan becoming a flashpoint for a region-wide conflict, KRG leader Massud Barzani in a referendum victory speech tried to allay the fears of Baghdad and neighbouring countries. He said the vote would not lead to an immediate declaration of independence and should, instead, open the door to negotiations.
Meanwhile, Iran extending its support to the Iraqi government, has, moved artillery batteries to the border with Kurdistan, while Turkey, armed with parliamentary approval for cross border incursion, has amassed tanks and troops on its border with Iraq’s Kurdistan.
Turkey, Iran and Syria fear that an independent Kurdistan state out of Iraq could give a boost to Kurdish separatist movements in their countries. In Turkey and Iraq, Kurds make up 18 percent of the population; in Iran and Syria they are seven percent, in Armenia about 5 percent. Overall, more than 32 million Kurds live in a contiguous region spreading over these five countries. All these countries have attempted to de-Kurdise the Kurds. Saddam Hussein used military force and even chemical weapons to crush the Kurdish struggle for autonomy. In Syria, a Kurd cannot be given a Kurdish name. In Turkey, Kurds are not recognised as Kurds. They are called “mountain Turks”. It is illegal to use the Kurdish language in Turkish schools and public offices.
For the past four decades or so, Turkey has been fighting a separatist war against the Kurdistan Workers Party or the PKK, which has been declared a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Nato allies.
In Iran, however, the Kurdish question has been, to a great extent, settled, with the Kurds integrating into the mainstream society. Teheran fears that an independent Kurdistan across the border will disturb this harmony and could turn the Iranian Kurds into a US and Israeli partner for an attack on Iran. Teheran has slammed the independent Iraqi Kurdistan as an ally of Israel.
It is not clear what the US position on the Kurdish issue is. A US State Department statement said the US “is deeply disappointed” that the regional government held the vote but that the “historic relationship with the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region will not change.” It also reiterated its belief that the referendum “will increase instability and hardships for the Kurdistan region and its people”.
But the Pentagon, which maintains close military ties with the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds apparently holds a different view that goes with the policy of Israel, the only country which has welcomed Kurdistan’s independence bid. It is no secret that Israel wanted to balkanize every country in the region to weaken them and maintain its military superiority. In 2006, the Zionist friendly US Senate passed a resolution supporting the division of Iraq into three states – an Arab Shiite state, an Arab Sunni state and Kurdistan. The resolution was moved by Joe Biden, who later became president Barack Obama’s vice president.
Kurds are an ancient people with Indo-Iranian roots. They follow Sunni Islam, though some of them are adherents of Shiism. The great Islamic hero Salahuddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin) who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders was a Kurd.
In 1920, two years after World War I ended, the creation of an independent Kurdish state emerged during the deliberations of the Treaty of Sèvres. Though the defeated Ottoman sultan agreed to the proposal, his Military chief Mustafa Kemal Ataturk opposed it, prompting the allied powers to launch a military campaign against Turkey. This war came to be known as Turkey’s war for independence. With the Turks’ victory in this war, the best chance the Kurds had to carve out an independent state disappeared.
The Kurds have got another opportunity 97 years later. But it is unlikely they can achieve independence without a fight.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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