The Assange Affair: Who leaked what for whom?

By Ameen Izzadeen
Did we see the hand of fascism in last week’s arrest of Julian Assange, the co-founder of the whistleblower portal WikiLeaks? Is democracy a charade in Britain, despite it being the repository of the mother of all parliaments?
Assange freed public-spirited journalism from its shackles and enable it to challenge the fake news industry of the corporate media. His type of journalism empowered the people. He believed in open government and exposed the fascist actions of the so-called democratic states. Therefore, his arrest on April 11 warrants public protests to demand his immediate release and condemn Britain’s move as an assault on free speech.

The arrest raises a key question regarding the State, in the context of the people’s right to know what the State is doing on their behalf. Does the State exist for people or people exist for the State? Like the Sabbath was made for man, and not vice versa, a democratic State — which is of the people, by the people and for the people — is the servant of the sovereign people. Only a fascist will disagree. Liberty, in an absolute sense, is the state of being free from oppressive restrictions on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views. But we agree that rules restricting liberty are necessary to prevent society from being dragged into anarchy. Between absolute liberty and anarchy lies the golden mean which we call freedom with responsibility.
Exercising our responsibility, we the citizens give up some of our freedoms to ensure order in society. But our action of parting with some of our freedoms to allow the State to ensure our security and deal with external threats, should not make our rulers fascists. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. But we have become complacent, allowing the state to become secretive and rulers to turn fascists.
In such a secretive state where democracy is a façade, rulers do not want their wrongs to be exposed by journalists or WikiLeaks like whistleblower websites. In the world of media, there is good journalism and evil journalism. There is corporate media and there is public-spirited journalism.
While evil journalism works in collusion with fascist rulers in democracy cloak, public-spirited journalists strive to expose deception and corruption. This is why some governments see public-spirited journalism as a security threat. There exists an unbridgeable gap between what some governments say in public and what they do in secret. Famous US investigative journalist I.F. Stone once said “every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed”?
WikiLeaks’ postings only confirm that the outwardly democratic and inwardly fascist states do not share with the people what they should know. These states resort to lies and deception that enable them to champion human rights while committing war crimes.
While the United States and Britain take small countries such as Sri Lanka to the United Nations Human Rights Council to maintain the charade that they are the world’s human rights crusaders, WikiLeaks postings show they commit atrocities in theatres they are involved. With documentary proof, the WikiLeaks exposés confirm their crimes. For instance, in Afghanistan, after a convoy of US marines came under a suicide bomb attack near Jalalabad, the marines made a frenzied escape, opening fire with automatic weapons. As they fled along a six-mile stretch of highway, they hit almost anyone in their way — teenage girls in the fields, motorists in their cars, old men as they walked along the road. Nineteen unarmed civilians were killed and 50 wounded.
Based on WikiLeaks papers, the British Guardian newspaper published an account of this incident. The newspaper noted that in their military reports, no soldier gave the account of the rampage. The details, however, transpired in a subsequent 17-day inquiry. At the end of the inquiry, no one was punished, despite strong evidence from Afghan officials who witnessed the bloody trail left behind by the US soldiers during their trigger-happy ride back to the Jalalabad base.
The article also gives details of how US military investigators, who went to the scene of carnage, threatened the journalists there and got them to delete the photographs they had taken.
Here are a few other WikiLeaks exposés:
• A video clip posted on WikiLeaks showed US helicopter gunships killing unarmed civilians, including two Reuter journalists, in Baghdad.
• the US government was involved in moves to topple democratically elected governments in Turkey and elsewhere
• the British government colluded with Washington to “put measures in place to protect the US interests” during war crimes inquiries
• the US military personnel were given permission to carry out extrajudicial killings in Yemen
• The US knew some of its Middle Eastern allies were financing terrorists groups.
Until WikiLeaks came up with the stories, the American people knew little or nothing about these. Remember the Pentagon papers during the United States’ dirty war in Vietnam? The Pentagon Papers, leaked by a public-spirited military analyst, demonstrated that the Lyndon Johnson Administration systematically lied, not only to the people but also to Congress, and hid from public knowledge its war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. This was in the 1960s.
Even today, the so-called democratic States keep their people in the dark, with the help of the corporate media, which, as expected, insist that Assange’s indictment was not about journalism. Assange is the winner of the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award for exposing extrajudicial assassinations in Kenya, the 2008 Economist Index on Censorship Award and the 2010 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.
He is wanted in the United States for endangering the US national security. He is charged with conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to classified information. The corporate media also claim that Assange worked in collusion with Russia.
Aussie national Assange’s troubles began in August 2010 when he returned to London after a visit to Sweden. Two Swedish women accused him of rape and molestation. He was arrested and granted bail. In May 2012, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that he should be extradited to Sweden. Fearing that he would be re-extradited to the US, Assange found refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012. After seven long years as a virtual detainee in the embassy, Assange was arrested on April 11. This came after Ecuador’s new government, seen to be a willing US poodle, ended the asylum granted to him and allowed the British police to enter the embassy and drag Assange away. This was, perhaps one of the darkest moments in Britain’s media freedom history.
The US justifies its call for Assange’s extradition on the basis that he, by publishing classified information, has put US soldiers in harm’s way and jeopardised US national security. Far from it, just as the Pentagon Papers triggered an anti-war movement and ended the war in Vietnam, WikiLeaks exposés can prevent conflict and bring about a rule-based global order.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

There exists an unbridgeable gap between what some governments say in public and what they do in secret. Famous US investigative journalist I.F. Stone once said “every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed”?

The arrest raises a key question regarding the State, in the context of the people’s right to know what the State is doing on their behalf. Does the State exist for people or people exist for the State? Like the Sabbath was made for man, and not vice versa, a democratic State — which is of the people, by the people and for the people — is the servant of the sovereign people. Only a fascist will disagree

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After Bouteflika, Algeria’s youth push for radical reforms

Algerian students raise banners and placards as they take part in an anti-government protest in the capital Algiers. AFP

By Ameen Izzadeen
Is it Algeria’s Arab Spring? After weeks of people-power protests across the country, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Wednesday resigned, ending his 20-year autocratic rule. The news was welcomed by noisy celebrations by millions of young people who had been continuing their protests since mid-February.
The scenes were reminiscent of the jubilation after the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, the overthrow of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989, the fall of Berlin wall in 1991, and the short-lived Arab Spring victory in Egypt in 2011.
The Algerian Spring, we hope, will not end up like the Egyptian Spring.
In Egypt, the people-power revolution ousted the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. A series of democratic elections then saw the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party securing the presidency and the legislative assembly. But the democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, lasted only a little more than a year. The Morsi government was overthrown in a counter revolution backed by the Egyptian deep state, the military, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the United States. It paved the way for the return of a military general as Egypt’s president.
With Egypt’s tryst with democracy going awry and with the Libyan and Syrian regime-change experiments ending up in prolonged bloody civil wars, the Arab Spring had given way to an Arab winter until this Wednesday the Algerian protesters forced the resignation from the 82-year-old paraplegic president.
However, it is too premature to celebrate victory. A closer look at the events that took place in Algeria, in the days and weeks before Bouteflika’s resignation, evokes fears that what happened in Egypt, post-Arab Spring, could happen in Algeria, too.
Just as the Egyptian military chiefs played a mediatory role in persuading Mubarak to step down, Algeria’s Army Chief Ahmed Gaid Salah also took the side of the people and applied pressure on Bouteflika to resign. But the Algerians knew that what happened in Egypt was a charade. The Algerians are politically more battle-hardened, for they won their freedom in 1962 from France after a bloody war. Some 250,000 Algerians were killed in the eight-year independence war led by the National Liberation Front (FLN) and its armed wing the National Liberation Army.
Like many newly independent African states, Algeria’s freedom flavour was short-lived. Ahmed Ben Bella, who was elected as the first president in 1963, was overthrown in a 1965 military coup led by Col Houari Boumedienne. (He visited Sri Lanka in 1976 to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit and handed over its chairpersonship to Sri Lanka’s then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.)
Algeria, an Ottoman province till the French took over it in terms of a 1916 deal with Britain, has a chequered past. In 1976, Boumedienne introduced a socialist constitution with the FLN as the sole political party. Islam was recognised as the state religion to pacify the Islamists who played a key role in the freedom struggle, but had, since, become disappointed with the manner in which the state was being run by the junta. After Boumedienne’s death in 1978, Col. Chadli Benjadid took over, thus continuing with the military’s hold on politics. The country saw its first economic riots in the 1980s. It led to the lifting on the ban on political parties. Encouraged by the development, the Islamists organised themselves under the banner of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and won the multiparty elections to the local councils in 1990. The military-backed government, alarmed by the popularity of the FIS, began a crackdown on the Islamists. Despite the harassment, the FIS won the first round of the 1992 general elections and was predicted to win a clear victory in the second round. The military intervened and cancelled the elections.
The military’s anti-democracy action, however, was supported by the United States and Algeria’s former colonial master France. This was because by 1991, the West had serious worries about the Islamists’ threat to its geopolitical interests in the region, although the West had fathered the birth of modern Islamic radicalism as part of its policy towards defeating the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The action triggered Algeria’s civil war in 1991. The ten-year war killed some 150,000 people. With the Islamists banned from contesting the 1997 elections, military’s backed parties won the parliamentary elections. In 1999, the military backed candidate, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was elected as president.
In his initial years in office, Bouteflika was seen to be doing quite well. He introduced political and economic reforms. Under his presidency, oil-rich Algeria experienced an economic boom in the mid-2000s. But the prosperity was short-lived. Today, in Algeria, every fourth person under 30 is unemployed. The economy is in dire strait. With the economic crisis worsening, the people began to see the wrongs of the ‘corrupt’ Bouteflika regime. They took to the streets in February when Bouteflika announced his intention to go for a fifth term. As the aphorism goes, in the Arab world, presidents do not leave office, they have to be overthrown. Bouteflika is no exception.
But his resignation on Wednesday has not settled the crisis. Fearing that the military’s tough stand against Bouteflika was only a pretense, the young protesters want to end the military’s hold on politics; they want to overthrow, not just an elderly president, but the corrupt and elitist system.
They want free and fair elections, not a Bouteflika henchman to take over as president after the 90-day transition period. The people want a complete overhaul. They vowed on Wednesday to keep protesting until their objective was achieved.
The country cannot afford to plunge into another civil war. The Algerians want to see a change similar to what happened in neighbouring Tunisia, the only country where democracy has taken root after the 2011 Arab Spring protests.
In the 1990s, the West supported the Algerian junta’s crackdown on the Islamists. This policy had a disastrous consequence. It made some of the Islamists to turn towards extremism. An extremist group called al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIIM) is a big threat to the country and the region.
Therefore, the West is well advised to support the pro-reform and pro-democracy protesters and put pressure on the military to submit itself to the civilian authority. The United States, which has close military and security relations with Algeria, has said the future of the country “is for the Algerian people to decide”. Russia, meanwhile, has called for a transition without foreign “interference”. There appears to be some truth in the Russian statement.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Security, water and oil: Hidden reasons why Golan matters to Israel

By Ameen Izzadeen
In yet another blow to international law, the United States President Donald Trump, with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, on Monday signed a proclamation, officially recognising Syria’s Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
There is hardly a whimper of protest from any US politician; after all they brag about their country as a promoter of human rights, democracy and justice.
The majority of the American politicians apparently see no wrong in Trump’s disdain for international law. Even in the Democratic Party, which is quick to pounce on him after almost every tweet he writes, most politicians make no criticism of Trump’s policy on Israel.
In May last year, when Trump binned international consensus and recognised the whole of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, there was little opposition within the US, though the move dashed the freedom hope of millions of Palestinian people and earned international censure. No wonder, Trump had to fear none when he signed the Golan Heights declaration.
The Golan Heights region belongs to Syria. It had been an Ottoman territory before Britain and France, just as two thieves would split their loot, shared the Middle-Eastern region between them in terms of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement during World War I. This criminal deal, along with the Arab tribal sheikhs’ betrayal of their Ottoman Sultan, is the root cause of almost every problem besetting the region today.
Israel captured the Golan Heights during the 1967 war and has since built settlements for its Jewish people. Israel annexed the territory in 1981, but neither the United Nations, nor any country, had recognized the annexation until Trump on Monday did so. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 497 condemned the annexation, stating “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”.
The annexation also violates Resolution 242, which emphasises “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”.
Emboldened by the endorsement of the majority of Americans through their silence and enthusiasm to mollify the Israeli lobby, Trump displays no qualms over his disrespect for UN resolutions and international law. Sadly, only a few realise that such disdain is a feature of Fascism.
Trump, the most pro-Zionist president in US history, would not mind being a Fascist to placate Israel, for it will win him the pro-Israeli white evangelical votes at the 2020 presidential election. Monday’s proclamation is seen by most political analysts as a gift from Trump to Netanyahu to bolster his chances at next month’s general elections, when he is facing corruption charges at home.
Electoral prospects apart, the question now is: What will Trump do next to serve Israel? After Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, will he declare the entire West Bank as part of Israel – as demanded by the hardcore Zionists? Is this Trump’s much-touted Middle East peace plan?
It appears that Trump’s action on Monday was part of Israel’s Plan B after its Plan A came a cropper. Plan A was to create a civil war in Syria, help the insurgents through overt or covert measures, overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, balkanize the country and install puppet rulers who will cede Golan Heights to Israel.
The entry of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia to the Syrian war to prop up President Assad scuttled the plan, forcing Israel to set in motion its Plan B.
Why is the Golan Heights, Syria’s western territory, so important to Israel? Israel has built more than 30 Jewish settlements in the occupied Golan Heights. Some 25,000 Israelis live there, in addition to the original inhabitants, the Syrian Druze people. The security of the Jewish settlers is one reason.
Another reason is water. The Golan Heights is fertile and rich in water resources such as the Jordan River basin, the Yarmuk River and underground aquifers. One third of Israel’s water requirement is met by Golan water sources.
The Golan Heights also has military and strategic value, as it is a high altitude plateau that overlooks low lying areas in Syria and Israel.
Besides, security and water, the Golan Heights has another important asset – OIL. Israeli and US companies have plans to commercially exploit this oil discovered only a few years ago. But Israel is prohibited from selling the Golan oil in the international market because under international law, an occupying nation cannot profit from resources of an occupied area. With the US now recognising the Golan Heights as part of Israel, US companies such as Genie Energy which is connected with the George W. Bush era Vice President Dick Cheney and media mogul Rupert Murdock will now face no legal obstacles to extract Golan oil and ship it to the US market.
Trump’s outlandish declaration has been renounced by the United Nations, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Arab world. At the United Nations, European countries refused to endorse Trump’s proclamation, which came at a time when US politicians in a bipartisan show of support paraded to the AIPAC — America Israel Public Affairs Committee a.k.a the Jewish Lobby — conference in Washington DC to give their oath of allegiance to the state of Israel.
Trump’s fascist action came also at a time when the Gaza Strip was bracing for an Israeli attack after a rocket fired from the Palestinian territory hit an Israeli village, injuring seven people, including two infants. But there was little mention in the mainstream US media that the rocket attack came after Israel during the past 12 months killed nearly 300 Palestinians, including children, disabled people and medics. The protesters were taking part in the Great March to demand that they be allowed to go to their villages in the occupied West Bank.
In the pro-Israeli US media, including the CNN, the fact that Trump violated international law was hardly discussed. Their argument seems to be if Russia could annex the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, Israel could annex Syria’s Golan Heights. A helluva argument! If this is the line the US media are taking, shouldn’t they keep their mouths shut when China proclaims the nine-dash line or the so-called cow tongue in the South China Sea as Chinese sovereign territory?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirrror, Sri Lanka)

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The growing threat from white supremacist terrorism

By Ameeen Izzadeen
As New Zealand’s Muslims offer their first Friday prayers today after last Friday’s massacre in Christchurch, the sad reality is that racism is very much alive today. It was only yesterday that the world observed International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the fact that such a day exists is a damning indictment on humanity. Fascist racists are among us. Their existence is proof that human beings as a whole have still not reached the peak of civilization. The savagery is still with us. Confirming its existence is the Christchurch carnage. That was not the beginning. It was seen in slavery, colonization, in the South African apartheid, the continuing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands, attacks on churches, synagogues, temples and mosques. The barbarism is also seen in the increasing popularity of the white nationalism or supremacist political ideology in the West.
Guilty, yes, we are. Last Friday’s terror attack happened because our education systems have failed to inculcate universal fraternity. It failed to teach the 28-year-old terrorist that all human beings are equal. Our value systems have been denigrated by the cancer of ‘us versus them’ – us superior, them inferior. As a result of this warped value system, we rush to defend attacks on racial and religious communities as freedom of expression.
For instance, Dante’s Divine Comedy depicts the Muslim prophet and Islam’s fourth Caliph as undergoing punishment in hell. Paintings based on the poem portray the prophet as a man split in half, with his entrails hanging out. Such despicable works promoting hatred are defended as freedom of expression. Even today insulting Islam and its prophet draws little condemnation in the so-called enlightened West. Despite worldwide protests in 2012, YouTube still defends the hosting of a movie depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the worst possible manner that a wicked and slanderous mind could imagine. YouTube claims that the movie falls within its guidelines.
Then, there was a video game named ‘Muslim Massacre: The Game of Modern Religious Genocide’. The aim of the popular game marketed in 2008 — against the backdrop of 9/11 — was to kill all the Muslims who appear on the screen with an arsenal of the most destructive weapons. The winner was hailed as the American hero. Protests failed to take the game off the shelf, as, in the name of entertainment, the game promoted racism and poisoned young minds. Then there is a continuous supply of Hollywood movies and tele-series, with the Islamophobic message that Muslims are bad and, therefore, killing them is not only fair but must be done to cleanse society. All in the name of freedom of expression.
Such tolerance of hate expressions makes white supremacist terrorists into believing that there is wider acceptance in societies they grow up for racial attacks on Muslims. The terrorist who carried out the carnage last Friday believed that he was doing it on behalf of an international network of Islamophobe Fascists, with whom he had openly collaborated for years. His 74-page manifesto which he uploaded on social media is a ‘Mein Kampf’ written for like-minded Fascists. Investigations showed that he had contacts with the so-called Knight Templars, a self-style supremacist group linked to the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, whose victims were largely university students who had a liberal and progressive outlook towards accommodating the ‘other’.
Just as the Christchurch terrorist was prompted to violence by the white supremacists, the Islamic terrorists are motivated by war-mongering preachers while extremists in this country, India, Myanmar, Israel, the US and elsewhere are incited by racist rabble-rousers into committing violence against the ‘other”.
It is in this context that yesterday’s UN day theme assumes significance. The theme ‘Mitigating and countering rising nationalist populism and extreme supremacist ideologies’ was adopted following concerns about the worldwide rise of extreme political ideology, euphemistically called populism.
Today, in Europe and the US, anti-immigrant politicians’ views are not far from those espoused by the Christchurch terrorist. Nuke Mecca is a popular refrain of some of these extremists. In Australia, of which the Christchurch killer is a citizen, politician publicly expressing Islamophobic ideas or demonizing Muslims is not unusual. Australia’s One-Nation Party leader Pauline Hanson told Parliament that her country was in danger of being swamped by Muslims.
In New Zealand, progressive Prime Minister Jacinda Ardener, who won worldwide accolades for her humanistic handling of the post-carnage crisis, is unfortunately tainted by her coalition with the New Zealand First Party, which has called for measures to stop migrants from Asia and the Middle East.
American historian, writer, and commentator Daniel Pipes is an open Islamophobe. He recommends increased profiling of American Muslims and Arabs to cope with the threat of “militant” Islam. He had repeated the false claim that then President Barack Obama was a former Muslim who “practiced Islam.” Piples campaigned against the construction of an Islamic centre near the ground zero in New York, warning that the proposed centre would spread Islamist jihadi ideology.
President Donald Trump, who is as anti-immigrant as Pipes, courted controversy in the aftermath of the Christchurch attacks for saying that ‘white nationalism is good’ and that ‘they are not a growing threat’. Critics say his statements or tweets avoided any condemnation of the white supremacist ideology of the terrorist; neither did he express explicit sympathy with the grieving relatives of the victims. Though a White House spokesman later said the president was not a white supremacist, what is found between the lines in his statement only encourages more white supremacists to carry out heinous crimes.
In the US, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish non-profit group campaigning against racism, notes that white supremacist attacks have seen an alarming rise in the past two years during the Trump Presidency. Some of the high profile incidents were the attack on the Unite the Right march at Charlottesville in Virginia, in August 2017 and last year’s synagogue attack that claimed the lives of 11 people in Pittsburgh.
The League said it found white supremacist murders in the US “more than doubled in 2017.
“This attack (in New Zealand) underscores a trend that ADL has been tracking: that modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders, being exported and globalised like never before,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
The League’s statistics and statement are a serious indictment on the Trump’s presidency. No wonder the Christchurch killer had described Trump, as “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
New Zealand’s Premier Ardener this week called for international effort to confront extremism in all its forms. The need of the hour, in keeping with the UN’s anti-racial discrimination day theme, is the convening of an international conference to discuss and adopt measures to stop Christchurch-like massacres.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Afghanistan’s peace challenge

By Ameen Izzadeen
After 18 years of military occupation, the United States appears to be serious about withdrawing from Afghanistan, a country which is known as the graveyard of invaders. In the past, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Great Britain, the imperial Russia and the Soviet Union all failed in Afghanistan.
Multiple peace processes are now in operation, some open and some secret, and they pose different challenges to Afghanistan’s neighbours.
At present, for talks with the United States, a Taliban delegation is in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which is playing an image-boosting facilitator role. After days of talks, both the US and the Taliban delegations have expressed hope that they could map out a framework for peace.
A US State Department Spokesman on Tuesday said talks continued on a daily basis and progress was being made.
He said the two sides were focusing on four interconnected issues that could compose any future agreement — delisting the Taliban as a terrorist group, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue and a ceasefire.
In Iowa on Monday, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he might go to Doha in the coming weeks to take the peace talks to the next level.
“I have a team on the ground right now trying to negotiate with the Taliban terrorists in Afghanistan, trying to find a way to achieve an Afghanistan that’s not at war, that’s not engaged in violence, that doesn’t present a threat to the United States, that will respect the fundamental basic rights for every Afghan citizen—women, children—across the full spectrum,” he told a farmers’ meeting.
Though it is still too early to say whether the Doha talks will end the war in Afghanistan, several peace moves are converging on one point. The chances of a positive outcome are much greater this time than in any previous peace move, especially with US President Donald Trump being serious about the withdrawal, though in the initial months of his presidency he sent more troops to Afghanistan. Another positive factor is that the new Taliban leaders, who took over after the deaths of Mullah Omar and Mullah Mansoor, were less rigid.
In a significant give-away or something for the American delegation to show their people, the Taliban team has assured the US delegation led by Zalmay Khalilizad that no foreign terrorist organisation will be allowed to operate in Afghanistan.
The ongoing Doha talks had a precedent in the 2013 Doha talks which collapsed after a diplomatic spat over the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, a move that made the then Afghan government of Hamid Karzai angry.
In recent months, China, Russia and Pakistan have redoubled their efforts to end the Afghan conflict to achieve their national interest goals.
Both Pakistan and China wish for peace in the region to implement the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key component of China’s Belt-and-Road initiative, and reap its benefits. The US$ 60 billion CPEC project is China’s biggest ever overseas investment.
Pakistan’s main worry in Afghanistan is India. It accuses India of setting up consulate offices in Afghanistan to spy on Pakistan and carry out acts of sabotage. The Afghan governments since the invasion, have, while being close to India, accused Pakistan of fermenting troubles in Afghanistan. If peace returns to Afghanistan, Pakistan could hope that a Taliban-led government would be friendlier towards Pakistan than India. Many analysts believe that Pakistan’s intelligence outfit Inter-Service-Intelligence (ISI) has some control over the Taliban.
From a military point of view, China, Russia and Iran will be happy to see the back of the US troops.
For Iran, a US withdrawal from Afghanistan, on the one hand, will be a relief as it will mean an elimination of the possibility of a US military invasion from its eastern border. On the other hand, it has fears that a Taliban-led government could develop links with Sunni terrorist groups operating in Iran’s Baluchistan region and create problems in the Shiite majority country.
Russia considers Central Asia as its own backyard and any US military presence in Afghanistan as a security threat. Another concern for Russia is the export of extremist Islamic ideology from Afghanistan to its Muslim-dominated regions and also Central Asia. A third Russian concern is the opium trade. Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world’s opium, and the world’s biggest market for heroin is Russia, which sees an estimated 30,000 people dying of drug abuse annually. About 70 tons of Afghan heroin, with a street value of US$ 13 billion, are consumed in Russia every year, according to UN figures.
Russia wonders whether the US failure to destroy Afghanistan’s opium fields is a deliberate strategy to destabilise Russia.
To address these concerns, Russia has intensified its own peace process. Last month, Afghan political figures held talks with Taliban representatives in Moscow. As part of a move to draw the Taliban into the peace process, both the Doha and Moscow initiatives have left out the Afghan government. The two-day Moscow conference brought the Taliban and prominent Afghan politicians face to face for the first time since the US invasion. To end the war, the participants agreed on a broad road map structured on two conditions – the US withdrawal and the Taliban’s commitment to citizens’ fundamental rights.
Although the Afghan government has not been invited to the Moscow and Doha talks, Kabul has tried its own peace moves with the Taliban, which control some 60 percent of the country and which does not recognise the legitimacy of the Kabul government. In February last year President Ashraf Ghani invited the rebels for unconditional talks. But the Taliban responded by intensifying its campaign of violence.
Even the latest peace initiative is marred by continuing violence. On Wednesday 16 Afghans were killed in a suicide blast and yesterday a political meeting attended by Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah came under a rocket attack. The Taliban has denied responsibility for both the attacks.
This shifts the blame to groups such as ISIS, which is operating in Afghanistan in pockets. The Taliban has also fought pitched battles with the ISIS.
Most Afghans want peace. The country has been deeply divided along ethnic lines, with the Taliban deriving its strength from the majority Pashtun tribe, which itself is divided into Parcham and Khalq factions. Then, there are the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, the Hazaras and others. The country’s socio-political structure is still largely tribal. The traditional Loya Jirga or the elders’ assembly still has its place in society when dealing with major issues.
For any peace process to succeed, it needs to recognize and include both the traditional and the modern political institutions. Democracy needs to be defined in a language and form that the Afghans will understand.

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Kashmir crisis explosive: Peace talks urgent

This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka on February 22, 2019By Ameen Izzadeen
The February 14 attack on an Indian military convoy in the disputed Kashmir region once again underlines the importance of a concerted international effort to find a solution to the seven-decade-old crisis. If the international community is unwilling to say the K-word in deference to India, at least it should not fight shy of expressing serious concern over the danger the crisis poses to the world at large.
If India and Pakistan, which have been wrangling over Kashmir since they parted ways as two entities from the subcontinent’s womb, are to go for a nuclear war, it is 99 percent probable that the cause for such a war will be Kashmir.
Millions of deaths apart, the nuclear winter, the attendant famine and radiation-induced diseases will not be confined to the two warring nations. The effects will be felt all over South Asia and neighbouring regions, too. Hence, the urgent need to de-escalate the crisis.
Both India and Pakistan are nuclear powered and claim ownership of the whole of Kashmir, formerly a princely state, one third of which is now controlled by Pakistan. India claims sovereignty over the state on the basis of an instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir in the wake of an invasion by Pakistani tribal warriors in 1947, months after the partition. Pakistan, on the other hand, insists that Kashmir rightfully belongs to it in terms of the partition formula worked out ahead of Independence.
While Pakistan sees a possible solution in a 1948 UN resolution that calls for a plebiscite in the whole of Kashmir, India favours the bilateral process. But, of late, India has been avoiding talks on Kashmir, accusing Pakistan of supporting cross-border terrorism.
The February 14 attack that killed 41 Indian soldiers at Pulwana in Kashmir was not a Valentine’s Day tryst to ignite a love relationship between India and Pakistan. Rather, the attack has only added to mutual hatred. That it happened at a time when India was preparing for parliamentary polls in May was unfortunate, for it offered politicians an opportunity to indulge in one-upmanship anti-Pakistan rhetoric, instead of using the political platforms to promote peace with the neighbour.
Tempers are running high in India, with ultranationalists, who enjoy the ruling Bharatiya Jantha Party’s sympathy, calling for revenge. In response, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has given a carte blanche to the armed forces to take whatever action is required to wipe out terrorism from the region. This kind of response will only lead to a further drifting away from a peaceful solution to the problem, the oldest world issue after the Palestinian crisis.
It is wishful thinking to expect Modi to act in a statesmanlike manner, given the exigencies of the elections. Yet the situation warrants a serious introspection on the causes that led to the February 14 incident. The attack did not take place in a vacuum. For the past two years or so, the Modi government, while claiming that it has defeated the Kashmiri militancy that arose in support of independence or union with Pakistan, has been allowing the troops to use excessive force to deal with the rebellion in the Muslim-majority region.
Human rights groups claim that close to 100,000 people have died since the Kashmiri uprising erupted in 1989. India disputes this figure.
In the past year or so, rights groups say about 3,000 Kashmiri’s have been wounded in the eye by the pellets fired by Indian troops. In November last year, 19-month-old Habeeba became the youngest victim to suffer eye injury by pellet firing.
The Indian military’s excesses only drive youth to radicalism. The youth who carried out the suicide attack on February 14, it is said, had been subjected to torture after being picked up Indian troops.
The Indian media largely report the heroics of the troops, while downplaying the suffering of the Kashmiri people or their agitation against the presence of Indian troops in the region, which is easily the world’s most highly militarised area. Often the media narrative happens to be a government handout. With international human rights groups and the media denied entry into Kashmir, it is the social media which largely give the ‘other side’ of the Kashmiri story—about extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and disappearances. Sometimes, the Indian authorities impose an internet blackout to prevent any dissemination of news.
There is little dispassionate discussion on the goings on in Kashmir. A few people like internationally acclaimed author Arundathi Roy have been branded traitors for highlighting the Kashmiri people’s plight and their aspiration for freedom from India. This week, sections of the Indian media took actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan to task for mentioning the Kashmiri plebiscite. New Delhi often cites the people’s participation in the regular elections it holds in the region to dispel claims that a majority of the people want the region to secede from India.
Last week’s attack also raises a major border security question. From where did the militants get the explosives? India blames Pakistan, probably in a bid to imply that the troubles in Kashmir are instigated by extraneous forces. Although the Pakistan-based group Jaishe-e-Muhammad has claimed responsibility for the attack, a question arises as to its ability to cross the highly fortified border.
If the attack had been engineered across the border, then it is a damning indictment on the Indian military’s ability to secure the border. In this hi-tech surveillance era, surely, the world’s fourth most powerful military should be able to prevent crossborder infiltration. The line of control (LOC) that divides Kashmir is heavily manned. It is now not possible for a repetition of the 1998 Kargil clash which erupted when Pakistan-based militants crossed the LOC.
The way forward is not finding a military solution to the issue. India and Pakistan should come together and find a way out.
In his first comment following the February 14 attack, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said that his government was ready to co-operate with India in investigating the attack and urged New Delhi to come for peace talks.
But he also said New Delhi should reflect on why Kashmiri youth had reached a point where they no longer feared death.
He also had a warning for India. “If you think that you will launch any kind of attack on Pakistan, Pakistan will not just think about retaliation, Pakistan will retaliate.” This is Modi-like cheap political rhetoric aimed at image boosting, but certainly not at winning the hearts of Indians.
India has outright rejected Khan’s offer, pointing out the absence of any condemnation of the attack in his statement. It has also scoffed at his government’s willingness to cooperate in any investigation, saying previous promises had not gone beyond words.
However, hardening of positions won’t lead to a thaw in relations.
In Khan, India certainly has a peace partner. He is no stranger to the Indians. They know him as an affable cricketer, who, incidentally led Pakistan’s cricket team when the then Pakistan President, Zia ul-Haq, visited India to join the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in cricket diplomacy for peace in 1987.

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UNHRC: The right road ahead for Sri Lanka

By Ameen Izzadeen
It is the time of the year when nations convene in Geneva to assess the world’s human rights situation. Can a nation escape scrutiny by saying “the rules of fair play do not apply in love and war”? But what English poet John Lyly first said in his romantic novel Euphues in the 16th century does not apply in modern times where human rights purists argue that not only war, but even love needs to be regulated.
A nation’s degree of civilisation is determined not so much by its history, however illustrious or long it is. A nation will shine as a beacon of civilisation only when it is built on human rights. We are born free, with right to life. To be free from fear and hunger is everyone’s fundamental right. Freedom of expression and assembly and the freedom to worship whoever or whatever are rights we refuse to part with. Every human being has dignity which is as inviolable as the relics, places or days we hold sacred.
The state has no right to usurp or restrict our rights, unless we ourselves willingly surrender some of the rights to the state on an understanding that it is for the greater good of all. The rights thus surrendered to the state are a trust. Therefore, the state has no right to resort to extrajudicial killings and be tyrannical or indulge in corruption and deception. Good governance and transparency are part of the rights-based social contract, upon which the state is built.
Human rights, therefore, are the essence of good governance. But a question arises if the state’s existence is threatened by a rebellion or if some of its citizens lose hope in the state and decide to carve out a separate state. If human rights had been observed to the fullest and the state had acted in a just and equitable manner towards all its citizens, irrespective of their ethnic identities, a rebellion would not have arisen in the first place. A rebellion arises when there is oppression or injustice.
Sri Lanka’s Tamil separatism was an outcome of the successive governments’ failure to uphold the social contract. What could have been remedied by state-level measures to ensure human rights and justice was allowed to spread like a canker which eventually manifested as a bloody war, bringing in its wake untold suffering to every citizen of this country for thirty long years and thereafter. Unable to act and think like statesmen, our politicians became so vile that they, like scoundrels, found refuge in communal politics to achieve their selfish ambitions, instead of seeing communalism as an aberration to enlightenment and eradicating it.
As a result, Sri Lanka is in the dock at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Just like a suspect who goes to a police station once a week to sign a book as part of his bail condition, Sri Lanka has been going to Geneva since 2009 to explain the progress it has made in furthering human rights and addressing the war crimes allegations.
Sri Lanka’s presence in the dock is a serious affront to the nation’s image as Asia’s oldest democracy. Before the war broke out in 1983, Sri Lanka walked with its head held high as a well-respected member of the world community.
We need to regain our pride. For this, we need to address the allegations of human rights violations, not because the UNHRC wants us to do so, but because that’s the right thing to do. After all, the people who suffered are our own people. We owe justice to them. The 30-year war is not a war between two nations; rather it was a war between communities within the country. We were the aggressors and we were the aggrieved.
Our biggest failure since the end of the civil war was the lack of progress in genuine reconciliation.
Many a factor that led to the 30-year war still remains unaddressed. The language policy is not being implemented as it should be, and in the north, the police force in is largely manned by officers from the South.
The Sunday Times recently published a news items based on a Central Bank report on the Northern Province. According to the report titled ‘the Master Plan for an Economic Development Framework for the North’, in the ten years since fighting ended, job creation has been poor, while the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts record the nation’s lowest monthly incomes. Indebtedness has soared. There is an increase in suicides and attempted suicides. Child nutrition levels have plunged, and, in the labour force, women’s participation is well below the national average.
Adding to this socio-economic underdevelopment, a likely recipe for a rebellion, thousands of people grieve over their missing relatives. True, despite criticism from communal forces, the Government has set up an Office of the Missing People and the Office of Reparations, moves that received some praise this week from Britain, one of the co-sponsors of the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. But Britain also points out the slowness in addressing alleged war-time excesses.
The international community needs to understand the dilemma the government faces. It will be politically disastrous for the government, especially at the upcoming elections, if it goes ahead full throttle in addressing war crimes allegations, although that is what it should be doing. But it will only make the hardline parties to gain and win the polls. At least the present government has made some progress in addressing some of the human rights issues. The international community needs to be mindful of the situation becoming worse if the hardliners are returned to power.
In an apparent prelude, President Maithripala Sirisena is considering the country’s withdrawal from the co-sponsorship of the 2015 UNHRC resolution that calls for, among other things, a war crime probe with international participation. The President’s proposal could be counterproductive, for it will exclude Sri Lanka’s consent in any future steps the international community may take. These steps are likely to be punitive rather than concessionary.
The United States, one of the main sponsors of the resolution, has withdrawn from the UNHRC, slamming the UN body as a cesspit of political bias. The US withdrawal raises a question with regard to the validity of the resolutions it has sponsored. This gives Sri Lanka some space to wriggle out of the UNHRC net.
But this does not exonerate the government from its moral obligations towards the victims. As a way-out, a general amnesty to the wrongdoers on both sides of the conflict is being mooted. But this should be deemed morally right only if it is accompanied by a confession process in keeping with restorative justice principles.
No such amnesty should be given to troops for crimes committed outside the warzone. The country’s law should be applied and the perpetrators punished, irrespective of the suspects’ ranks in the armed forces, for the crimes such as the abduction and disappearances of 11 boys, the killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickremeatunga and the disappearance of cartoonist Pradeep Ekneligoda.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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