November , 2014

JK Alternative Viewpoint

Challenges & Responses to Conflictual Politics

Groups opposed to the regime of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir have issued a declaration calling ...
HAPPIER DAYS: Gaddafi attends an African Union session in Ethiopia in 2008 / Air Force ...
The death of North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il increases the likelihood that the ...
Whatever the outcome of the current Syrian crisis, the sectarian killings that have been raging ...
Dangerous bedfellows: A member of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo. (Courtesy Reuters) On a recent ...
  As Steven Pinker observes, we recall the twentieth century as an age of unparalleled violence, ...
Chaos reigns and spreads as enraged leaders in the US, Europe and their clients and ...
Alex Salmond is to step down as first minister of Scotland and as leader of ...
Ennahda's attempts to institutionalise its power and silence its opposition cannot be condoned. Nevertheless, Tunisia’s ...
The writer is an ANP member of the Senate of Pakistan Afghanistan is going through a ...

Archive for the ‘National / International News’ Category

Call for Solidarity with Kobanê-Gezi Platform NYC

Posted by admin On October - 20 - 2014 Comments Off


On Monday, October 6th, ISIS forces entered the autonomous Kurdish canton of Kobanê in Western Kurdistan (North Syria) following a siege which began on September 15th.  Defending Kobanê are the skilled but ill-equipped People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), who are up against The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a religious extremist organization bent on slaughtering, enslaving, and raping hundreds of thousands of civilians using advanced American and Russian weapons.

The International Coalition led by the US, which bears great responsibility for the present bloodbath in the region, has been hesitant and late in taking any action that would have hindered ISIS from entering Kobanê.  For the time being the US has contented itself with remaining as an onlooker to the ongoing barbarism, at times bombing some secondary targets only for appearance.  Although this attitude seems to be changing as a result of rising international pressure, this will not prevent the International Coalition from being responsible for a potential massacre in Kobanê, if the Kurdish forces are ultimately defeated.

Turkey, a strategic partner of the US in the region, bears a particularly big responsibility for the current situation.  The city of Kobanê is presently besieged by ISIS from three sides.  The fourth side in the north is the border to Turkey.  Kurds throughout the region have been demanding for weeks from the Turkish government to open up a corridor from other Kurdish cantons from Northern Syria to Kobanê, so that they can concentrate their military forces there to fend off ISIS.  Turkey, however, is purposefully obstructing any such movement into Kobanê.  This is particularly hypocritical, since it has been well-documented that the Turkish government has been financially and logistically assisting Islamist fundamentalists besides ISIS, including allowing cross-border movements in order to overthrow the Assad Regime.

The march of ISIS into Kobanê has ignited massive demonstrations throughout Turkey, particularly in North Kurdistan (Southeast Turkey).  The response of the Turkish government has been one of violent repression, leading to the death of 35 protesters on the first few days of the protests.  All of these events have seriously threatened the ongoing but fragile peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdish National Liberation Movement.  The end of this peace process would most likely be the start of a bloody civil war in Turkey, which could spark further turmoil across the entire Middle East.

In short, we are convinced that the International Coalition and Turkey are waiting for ISIS to first crush Kobanê, and then the other autonomous Kurdish cantons in the region — all of which stand as the only way of establishing peace through pluralistic and democratic governing in the region.  This is nothing but playing with fire.

We are calling for solidarity with the resistance in Kobanê and helping the Kurds echo their demands.  ISIS must be swiftly and decisively defeated.  To that end, the Turkish government must stop its military manipulation of the situation for its own interests.  We demand that the Turkish government allow Kurdish forces located beyond Kobanê unrestricted access to the city by opening its border gate to Kurds rather than ISIS fighters.  Moreover, any attempt of Turkey with or without the support of the International Coalition to create a buffer zone in Kobanê must be stopped, for such posturing lays the ground for an invasion of other Kurdish territories.  If Kobanê falls, the result will be an uncontrollable spiral of more wars and massacres across the whole of the region — and history will clearly note who is responsible for it!

Long live the resistance of Kobanê!  Bijî berxwedana Kobanê!

Gezi Platform NYC

Afghanistan Faces Uncertain Future-Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR

Posted by admin On October - 20 - 2014 Comments Off


Hindu Kush gets a godfather

«Tom, you know you surprise me. If anything in this life is certain,
 if history has taught us anything,. it’s that you can kill anyone».
Al Pacino in the film The Godfather Part II

The outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai used his national address in office before leaving the presidential palace to warn the new government headed by Ashraf Ghani that the ongoing violence in Afghanistan provided a convenient excuse for the US to maintain its bases in the country.

«My advice to the next government is to be very careful with America and the West», Karzai cautioned in his speech, saying that Afghanistan could be friendly with Western countries but only if the relationship was balanced.

Karzai insisted that his peace process with the Taliban had failed because «America did not want peace» and that the war was not among Afghans but «for the objectives of foreigners».

On a bitter note, he added, «War in Afghanistan is based on the aims of foreigners. The war in Afghanistan is to the benefit of foreigners. But Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims of this war».

Indeed, stung to the quick, the Empire struck back almost immediately. Apart from the signing of the US-Afghan security pact, the second major step taken by the Ghani government has been the reopening of the file on the infamous Kabul Bank fraud case, which the Americans had been pressing for.

Anyone who has been following Afghan politics closely over the years would know that the reopening of the Kabul Bank controversy is an unmistakable warning by Washington to Karzai and his associates – in fact, to the ancien regime as such: ‘Behave or else.’

Blackmail and threats of retribution are going to be the most lethal weapons in the hands of the US in steering the Afghan political transition along a sequestered avenue. The heart of the matter is that a huge section of the Afghan political class stands compromised through various doings during the past decade beyond the pale of law.

Never mind, Washington only might have led some of these souls up the garden path. The important thing is that Washington has an institutional memory of the DNA of the Afghan political class and it has had selective use of it in the past as well.

Thus, at times, Washington had implicitly threatened even powerful Afghan personalities who once collaborated with the US but lately showed signs of intransigence – deceased or alive still – that they could be hauled up for trial before international war crime tribunals. Ironically, Ghani’s first vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum himself faced the American music at one time for allegedly having committed human rights violations as a «warlord».

The rampant corruption and venality and the propensity of Afghan elites to salt away their ill-gotten wealth abroad – Dubai is a favorite destination – works well for the US in today’s circumstances, as they could be easily silenced if they dared to pose impediments to the working of the national unity government. What comes readily to mind is the famous line in movie legend by Marlon Brando, «I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse».

This is where detractors among foreign analysts who doubt the sustainability of the newly-installed national unity government in Kabul need to hold breath. They tend to overlook that the US is immensely experienced in the making and marring of politicians in the developing countries.

Indeed, in the Afghan context, the US has a counter-strategy to make the arrangement that it tenaciously put together in Kabul through months of effort, including at the personal intervention of President Barack Obama, to work. The US is not going to throw in the towel and helplessly watch the national unity government disintegrate, the serious contradictions within it notwithstanding.

Indeed, this is not to underestimate the contradictions, either, because the national unity government is not merely a co-habitation of two rival politicians but its future also is predicated on the cordial sharing of power (for which there is no historical precedent in Afghanistan) between two sets of diverse constituents comprising figures (many of whom also with sharply etched ethnic identities and who themselves may represent interest groups.)

In sum, many of the constituent groups are not monolithic and are in a state of incessant mutation depending on how interests coalesce or conflict at any given time – not only in Kabul but also at the local level. Suffice to say, the Americans have introduced in Kabul an incredibly complex power calculus and the challenge of making it work will be formidable.

However, on the other hand, there are signs that the US is taking the Afghan intelligence set-up firmly into its hands – with the British intelligence ably supporting. (Significantly, British Prime Minister David Cameron was the first foreign dignitary to visit Kabul after Ghani’s government took over.) It is improbable that any regional power such as India or Iran could hope to have the kind of working relationship they might have enjoyed with the Afghan security establishment during Karzai’s rule.

All in all, therefore, the main thrusts of Washington’s approach to the political transition in Kabul would suggest that Afghanistan is turning into a crucial hub of the US’ regional strategies – imposition of a national unity government involving figures who have worked very closely with America in the past; the signing of the security pacts providing for establishment of long term American military presence in bases over which Kabul cannot exercise any control whatsoever; the overtly-threatening posturing toward Karzai and his associates or other potential ‘trouble-makers’ in the Afghan political spectrum; and, the tightening of the grip over the Afghan intelligence.

Curiously, the security pact compels the Afghan government to surrender sovereignty over the country’s airspace and freely allows the US to bring in «technology» – shades of the missile defence system!

It is almost certain that the bases in Afghanistan provide the Pentagon and the US intelligence a good platform to undertake spying missions on neighboring countries. Again, it is inevitable that at some point the US and NATO may deploy components of the missile defence system in these military bases. Article 7 of the pact (Use of Agreed Facilities and Areas); Article 8 (Property Ownership); Article 8 (Positioning and Storage of Equipment and Materiel); Article 10 (Movement of Vehicles, Vessels, and Aircraft); Article 12 (Utilities and Communications); Article 15 (Entry and Exit); and, Article 16 (Importation and Exportation) – these articles virtually mean a surrender of Afghan sovereignty over a range of activities that the US may undertake from its military bases in Afghanistan in the neighboring countries.

So, what could be the American game plan? What emerges beyond doubt is that the US is consolidating in Afghanistan against the backdrop of its «pivot» strategy in Asia and at a time when the Central Asian region itself could be heading for a «transition». The Obama administration deliberately cultivated in the recent years an impression to the effect that the US forces are «withdrawing» from Afghanistan. Many regional powers, including India, began beseeching Washington with pleas not to do that. But the stunning reality is that the US is, on the contrary, becoming deeply embedded in the hugely strategic region of what has been known as «Inner Asia» – but with greater efficiency, cutting out unnecessary flak, reducing the financial burden of the war and avoiding combat role that imperils the lives of soldiers and would militate public opinion at home.

Of course, the US’ consolidation in Afghanistan still remains dependent on three or four key factors. A crucial factor here will be the outcome of the Taliban’s concerted strategy to demoralize, weaken and destroy the Afghan armed forces – and, in turn, the latter’s capacity to weather the storm.

A second factor will be the progress toward good governance in Afghanistan, which on the one hand means winning the trust and confidence of the people and eroding the Taliban’s support base within the country, while on the other hand, creating a favorable environment for the revving up of the Afghan economy, which today is all but one hundred percent dependent on foreign aid.

Thirdly, the big question remains: What are the prospects of a settlement with the Taliban? Equally, it is also necessary to ask: Is the US indeed interested in a settlement with Taliban – except on its own terms; and, paradoxically, would Taliban serve the US’ regional strategies as a geopolitical tool, as Karzai seemed to suggest.

Finally, regional politics has always been a major vector of the Afghan problem and currently, the international mileu has also become considerably volatile of late.

Each of these factors becomes a variable in itself with the potential to modulate the US strategies in the post-2014 scenario.
–Melkulangara BHADRAKUMAR

Former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. Devoted much of his 3-decade long career to the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran desks in the Ministry of External Affairs and in assignments on the territory of the former Soviet Union.  After leaving the diplomatic service, took to writing and contribute to The Asia Times, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. Lives in New Delhi

Eyewitness Hong Kong: The ‘Umbrella Revolution’ unfurls-Sean Starrs

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2014 Comments Off


The largest student demonstrations and occupations in Hong Kong’s history are unfurling in what is increasingly being called the “Umbrella Revolution”, in reference to the sea of umbrellas being used as cover against both pepper-spraying riot police and the rays of the sun.

It began as a Hong Kong-wide class boycott on September 22, with around 10,000 university and college students congregating on the Chinese University of Hong Kong campus for speeches and lectures on civil disobedience. Moving across town to a sit-in on September 24 in front of the main Hong Kong government buildings in the district of Admiralty, by the night of September 29 it had morphed into an unprecedented occupation of four major districts in Hong Kong involving at least 80,000 people, predominantly students.

Three major arteries running through Admiralty, Central and parts of Wan Chai (a roughly 2.5-kilometre by 500-metre area) – constituting the core business and government skyscrapers in Hong Kong, and encompassing the 6000-strong Hong Kong garrison of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – in addition to the largest intersection in Causeway Bay (Hong Kong’s busiest shopping neighbourhood) and the main thoroughfare in Mong Kok and Jordan (Nathan Road) across the harbour in Kowloon (one of the most densely populated districts in the world), are in complete lock-down, with multiple barricades and throngs of students blocking all traffic.
Students, umbrellas and occupiers

This stunning accomplishment has shocked everyone (including the students themselves) . It follows violent police repression on September 27 and 28 of an intensity not seen on the streets of Hong Kong since 1967, when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tried to spread the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) to the then-British colony.

The main organiser of the week-long boycott of classes, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), had planned on ending the strike and sit-in in front of the government buildings on September 26 evening, but late that night some 200 or so students stormed a police line and fence to occupy a square within the government complex. The police reacted violently with batons and pepper spray, making over 70 arrests, including one of the most high profile student leaders, 17 year-old Joshua Wong, co-founder of the mostly high-school student group Scholarism.

As news of the violent police repression swiftly spread, masses of students and other supporters poured into the whole area, eventually blocking major roads (on September 29 afternoon there were still abandoned BMWs and public buses in the middle of the road surrounded by throngs of students).

On September 27, the three co-founders of the group Occupy Central with Love and Peace announced the commencement of Occupy Central, moved forward from its initial start-date of October 1 (a public holiday in China, including Hong Kong, commemorating the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic). Two professors and a clergyman initiated plans in January 2013 to occupy what is now a comparatively tiny section of Central, the downtown core of Hong Kong. Some students accused the co-founders of Occupy Central of opportunism and hijacking the student-initiated mass sit-in, but others welcomed the extra support. By September 29 the three co-founders moved out of the main government building area, with at least one moving to the occupation in Kowloon across the harbour – hence the epicentre of Admiralty remains almost entirely student-driven.

On September 29 scores of businesses could not open due to being in the occupied zones, and more than 200 public transportation lines were either cancelled or heavily diverted, the former including the iconic double-decker trams. According to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (the territory’s de facto central bank), “23 banks including HSBC and Standard Chartered had closed a total of 44 branches, offices and cash machines”. Both the Hong Kong dollar and the Hang Seng stock index fell on September 29 morning. Hong Kong’s air and noise pollution plummeted from the absence of traffic, with eerie scenes of major thoroughfares several blocks from the epicentre being virtually empty on that afternoon (before being filled again with students and supporters by evening). City Hall was forced to shut down for the first time since Typhoon Wanda in 1962.

‘Screw us and we multiply’

In the aftermath of September 27-28′s violent police repression of peaceful and unarmed students (many of them teenagers) – according to the police themselves firing tear gas 87 times in nine separate areas – support has been broadening and deepening, with thousands more on the streets from the after-work crowd on September 29-30.

The Confederation of Trade Unions and the Professional Teachers Union both called on its members to strike in support of the students. At least 1000 social workers, high-school and university teachers joined the strike, as well as pupils from at least 31 schools. The HKFS extended the student class boycott indefinitely.

The chairperson of Swire Beverages Employees General Union, distributor of Coca-Cola in Hong Kong, announced to cheering students in Admiralty that more than 200 workers joined the strike, while 100 more reduced their hours. There were also reports of some taxi drivers striking. Even certain chief executives supported the strike, with for example CEO Spencer Wong of the McCann advertising firm informing employees: “It’s up to you whether you come to work or not. The company will not punish anyone who supports something more important than work.” This is a sharp turnaround from July when the Big Four global accounting firms published a joint warning against Occupy Central of impending chaos if they had their way. A number of legislators, especially from the Civic and Democratic parties, have also expressed support, with some even being arrested on September 27 and 28.

But the vast majority of the initiative, leadership and involvement remains with the students, many of them protesting for the first time. There is a constant stream of supplies pouring into the occupied zones, from water bottles, sodium chloride (first-aid against tear gas) and surgical masks, to food and sleeping mats. Support and donations arrive from people of all walks of life and ages, from a pre-teen helping with clean-up to a 92-year-old woman chanting on the frontlines.

There is no centralised chain of command, with the occupations now far beyond the control of either the leadership of the HKFS or Occupy Central with Peace and Love, with many spontaneous actions sprouting across the occupied zones (such as small groups bringing large objects from afar to construct more and increasingly elaborate barricades along the streets).

Perhaps most significant, even more students poured onto the streets after the leadership of HKFS and Occupy Central on the night of September 28 urged students to return home, as rumours swirled of the impending use of rubber bullets by riot police and increasing fears of a Tiananmen Square-like crack-down (at least 2600 students were massacred in 1989). Many riot police brandished military-style rifles before being taken off the streets on September 29 afternoon, thankfully none were used.

The core demand is for universal suffrage to decide who is Hong Kong’s chief executive officer (essentially its mayor), rather than the changes proposed by Beijing on August 29 that would render it impossible for any anti-CCP candidate to run for office. From September 29 morning, another demand being increasingly shouted is for the current chief executive C.Y. Leung to step down and initiate a new reform proposal committee.

What is clear is that the ramped-up police repression failed spectacularly, echoing a sign popular in Madison, Wisconsin in spring 2011: “Screw us and we multiply.” There was widespread outrage over the violent police tactics on unarmed, overwhelmingly peaceful and non-aggressive students, many of them simply quietly sitting around. Yet, as mentioned above, the police fired tear gas 87 times in nine separate areas, according to their own estimate. Incidentally, the stockpile and use of tear gas is banned by the 1993 UN Chemical Weapons Convention, of which China is a signatory. Apart from using tear gas against South Korean farmers during the 2005 WTO protests, the streets of Hong Kong have not seen this chemical weapon since 1967.

The riot police were formally taken off the streets by noon September 29, officially because the “illegal protesters” have “mostly calmed down.” In reality, the riot police were the ones that calmed down once they realised they could not defeat the students.

During the climax of repression on the night of September 28, I was in one area that was tear-gassed around 4-5 times (each barrage with multiple canisters) in only two hours. The police formed two lines and fired tear gas in order to advance toward the epicenter in Admiralty, after which most of the crowd would flee and then quickly regroup, surrounding the police on both sides with hands in the air to show non-violent intent.

On another note, while unprecedented for Hong Kong, the violent police repression was still relatively tame compared to the demeanor, equipment and tactics now often employed by the heavily militarised police in North America, from the 2010 Toronto G20 protests to Ferguson, Missouri last month.

By the afternoon of September 29, there was only a heavy police presence around the government buildings, the PLA HQ and the police HQ (all within a few blocks of each other). Vast areas had no police presence at all, of which many students took ample advantage, extending the barricades several hundred metres to the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the west, into the heart of the poshest shopping district (a significant advancement of occupied territory from September 28).

The expanding ‘Umbrella Revolution” is no doubt a momentous conjuncture for Hong Kong, and possibly for China itself. All local news outlets are of course doing live and ongoing coverage, but this has also received much international attention. The New York Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and others have their Asia headquarters in Hong Kong, and all have given this their front page. There also happen to be a number of veteran China reporters who have been deported from the Mainland in the past year or two (especially from Bloomberg and the New York Times), and most have relocated to Hong Kong – from where they are all too happy to write less than enthusiastically on the CCP and the heavy-handed and disproportionate repression of the Hong Kong police. A common chant heard on the streets is “the world is watching.”

Nothing short of the future of Hong Kong is at stake. Officially, Deng Xiaoping’s promise of “one country, two systems” is supposed to last until 2047 (half a century after the 1997 handover), but many in Hong Kong fear that Beijing is gradually moving toward “one country” much sooner. The CCP’s attempt to change the security law in 2003 and standardise the education system to emphasise “love of China” in 2012 were both defeated due to hundreds of thousands taking to the streets. The latter incident is the context in which Joshua Wong, then 14 years old, co-founded Scholarism to protest Beijing’s attempted interference in Hong Kong’s school curriculum.

But this time is different. We are currently in the midst of by far Hong Kong’s largest civil disobedience ever. Students have pledged to maintain the occupied zones, vastly larger than Occupy Wall Street or any of its global spawns ever were, until Beijing reneges on its August 29 proposal and grants Hong Kong universal suffrage.

Students are so far incredibly successful, unimaginably more than anyone could have predicted even on September 28. Perhaps most importantly, momentum is on the side of the students, as we begin two Chinese public holidays, October 1 and 2. Whatever the eventual outcome, at the very minimum the Umbrella Revolution will have politicised a new generation of Hong Kongers.

Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone will be radicalised, as for example numerous veterans of 1989 Tiananmen Square after being exiled to the West became investment bankers or Silicon Valley capitalists. Nevertheless, others became critical scholars or full-time activists, perhaps most prominently Han Dongfang, the number-one most wanted man by the CCP in the aftermath of June 4, 1989, who gave himself up and was tortured for 22 months in a Chinese prison, and subsequently exiled to Hong Kong where in 1994 he founded China Labour Bulletin, which is still going strong today.

Students and workers stand up, fight back
Moreover, by far the largest act of civil disobedience in Hong Kong history comes at a very awkward time for the Chinese Communist Party, which at least partly explains the unprecedented and swift but spectacularly failed attempt by the Hong Kong police to violently repress the students and prevent their momentum from growing. With President Xi Jinping’s “anti-corruption campaign” so far targeting only his rival factions, the CCP is currently in the midst of the one of the most serious tests to its unity in decades.

More broadly vis-à-vis the Chinese people, the CCP is increasingly using nationalism and China’s “glorious” past, including reviving Confucianism, once reviled by the CCP as a product of feudal and patriarchal authoritarianism, in order to replace “communist” ideology. Indeed, the CCP announced that class struggle was officially over in China, and therefore removed the right to strike from the constitution in 1982.

Yet, since especially the Nanhai Honda strike in 2010, there have been hundreds if not thousands of increasingly daring strikes across China, the largest of which was earlier this year when 40,000 workers at a Dongguan shoe factory went on strike, less than 100 kilometres north of Hong Kong. And certainly after 1989, it is clear that the tenets of freedom of assembly and speech do not jive well with this CCP hegemonic project, yet are very dear to the hearts of many Hong Kongers.

At the time of the handover, Hong Kong’s GDP accounted for almost a fifth of China’s, yet today it is only 3 per cent. The central government in Beijing will likely do much in its now considerable imbalance of power to prevent any demonstration effect in Hong Kong that might spread to the Mainland. And there is certainly the basis for an Occupy Shenzhen and others across China, as many grievances range from high labour exploitation to severe air pollution, from food safety scandals to rural and urban land seizures, from widespread corruption to increasing violent crime and one of the highest inequality rates in the world.

Hence, especially over the past 10 years, burgeoning social unrest in China seems to be increasingly rattling the upper echelons of the CCP. Since 2009 China spends more on domestic security than external military defence. And the CCP has reacted to the Umbrella Revolution with record Internet censorship on the Mainland, banning many search words such as “Class boycott”, “Occupy Central”, “Hong Kong police” and “Hong Kong tear gas”, while deleting relevant posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network, including all posts with the hashtag #HongKong.

Meanwhile, for the first time, China completely blocked Instagram on September 28, as pictures from Hong Kong started to go viral around the Mainland. There is already contagion internationally, as hundreds of supporters in Taiwan (a country with its own misgivings concerning Beijing’s increasing encroachment, as witnessed by its “Sunflower movement” earlier this year when students occupied the Taiwanese parliament) occupied the lobby of the Hong Kong Trade Office. Solidarity demonstrations are also planned across the world over the next couple days, from Paris to Sydney, from San Francisco to Vancouver and Toronto. China, of course, has a massive diaspora abroad, much of which is still deeply connected with the Mainland (as well as Hong Kong).

But back in “Asia’s world city”, Beijing is in a real damned if they do, damned if they don’t situation. Granting universal suffrage to Hong Kong would be a significant setback for the authority of the CCP, with highly uncertain consequences both in Hong Kong and the Mainland concerning the CCP’s paramount goal: the longevity of its power.

But at least at the time of writing, tens of thousands of students and their supporters remain  entrenched in the three main occupied zones. Seventeen-year-old Joshua Wong of Scholarism has said that most do not expect Beijing to back down, but that was last week. Similarly, many a week ago expected Occupy Central to fail in occupying only a tiny square in Central; even the co-founders did not dare to dream of maintaining a complete lock-down of vast swathes of Hong Kong spanning three of its most important neighborhoods.

As of the night of September 30 Hong Kong time, the possibility of what would be an historic retreat by the Chinese Communist Party with unknown consequences is at least slightly higher than it was only a few days earlier. And very few seriously give any likelihood to a bloodbath on the scale of the Tiananmen Square massacre. There would simply be too big a risk that Hong Kong would be rendered utterly ungovernable if such a tragedy occurred. Beijing also signalled on September 28 that it would not intervene, and praised the Hong Kong police for handling the situation well.

That was, however, before the massive student success and advancements on September 29 that have continued. If the student-led occupations cannot be defeated soon, each day that goes by increases the risks for Beijing of contagion. In the immediate short term, the students have this October 1 and 2 on their side, as both are public holidays. The annual fireworks celebrating the coming to power of the CCP on October 1, 1949, have been cancelled by the Hong Kong government. An average 800,000 Mainlanders cross the border into Hong Kong every day, and this will see a sizable increase due to the national holidays.

One problem, however, is that the vast majority of students have very little political experience, let alone an awareness of the incompatibility of capitalism and democracy, not to mention the environment. Some make the connection between increasing inequality in Hong Kong, with universal suffrage as a means to counter the power of tycoons, the majority of whom are pro-Beijing and of course favour the status quo.

I have argued in an opinion piece that will be published by Hong Kong’s main English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, that too few discuss whether political democracy is possible without economic democracy.

Regardless, this is certainly a giant first step in politicizing a new generation of Hong Kongers, a populace more known for shopping in gleaming malls rather than occupying vast swathes of the third-most important financial centre in the world. Also, from my own very limited one-month experience so far teaching at City University of Hong Kong, many students are extraordinarily receptive to criticism of capitalism at large, more so than my former students at York University in Toronto.

The Umbrella Revolution and the global cycle of protest
As should be clear, the Umbrella Revolution is shaped by specific local conditions in Hong Kong. With that said, it must be placed in the broader context of occupations and popular uprisings the world over that have been inspired by the Arab Spring, especially the occupation of Tahrir Square in early 2011. The occupation of Tahrir Square inspired the occupation of the State Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin and the indignados of Madrid, Spain – both of which inspired Occupy Wall Street in September 2011 and the subsequent blossoming of Occupies around the world, including the original Occupy Central, one of the longest-lasting camps, until September 2012.

And as the Umbrella Revolution and other recent protests around the world reveal, the conditions continue to be ripe for politicising the masses of especially young people for the first time (as well as occasionally breathing fresh air into the spirits of 1968 Paris and 1999 Seattle veterans, among others).

The ranks of those receptive to radical system change around the world continues to swell as the 21st century progresses, even if some also drop out and/or need greater encouragement. In any case, in regard to the largest civil disobedience ever in Hong Kong, anyone’s crystal ball as to how this will end is as uncertain as anyone else’s. What is certain, however, is that the humble umbrella will forever have a new significance in Hong Kong: to protect not only from rain and shine, but also from the instruments of state repression.

[Sean Starrs is assistant professor of international relations at the City University of Hong Kong. He received his Ph.D. in June 2014 at York University, Toronto. He thanks Jordy Cummings for encouraging him to write this.]


In historic vote, Scots decide to remain with the UK-

Posted by admin On September - 19 - 2014 Comments Off


People who voted against the Scottish independence referendum celebrate an early result at a ‘No’ campaign event at a hotel in Glasgow, Scotland, on Friday. Photo: AP
The people of Scotland voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent against independence in a vote that saw an unprecedented turnout.
Scottish voters have rejected independence, deciding to remain part of the United Kingdom after a historic referendum that shook the country to its core.

The decision prevented a rupture of a 307—year union with England, bringing a huge sigh of relief to the British political establishment. Scots voted 55 percent to 45 percent against independence in a vote that saw an unprecedented turnout.
A majority of voters did not embrace Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s impassioned plea to launch a new state, choosing instead the security offered by remaining in the United Kingdom.
Salmond conceded defeat, saying “we know it is a majority for the No campaign” and called on Scots to accept the results of the vote.
Salmond had argued that Scots could go it alone because of its extensive oil reserves and high levels of ingenuity and education. He said Scotland would flourish on its own, free of interference from any London—based government.
Nonetheless, the skilled 59—year—old leader of the Scottish National Party came close to winning independence his long—cherished goal and still won a promise of new powers for Scotland from rattled London politicians.
Many saw it as a “heads versus hearts” campaign, with cautious older Scots concluding that independence would be too risky financially, while younger ones were enamored with the idea of building their own country.
The result saves British Prime Minister David Cameron from a historic defeat and also helps opposition chief Ed Miliband by keeping his many Labour Party lawmakers in Scotland in place. His party would have found it harder to win a national election in 2015 without that support from Scotland.
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot, returned to prominence with a dramatic barnstorming campaign in support of the union in the final days before the referendum vote. Brown argued passionately that Scots could be devoted to Scotland but still proud of their place in the United Kingdom, rejecting the argument that independence was the patriotic choice.
“There is not a cemetery in Europe that does not have Scots, English, Welsh and Irish lined side by side,” Brown said in his final speech before the vote. “We not only won these wars together, we built the peace together. What we have built together by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder.”
For his part, Cameron aware that his Conservative Party is widely loathed in Scotland begged voters not to use a vote for independence as a way to bash his party.
The vote against independence keeps the U.K. from losing a substantial part of its territory and oil reserves and prevents it from having to find a new base for its nuclear arsenal, now housed in Scotland. It had also faced a possible loss of influence within international institutions including the 28—nation European Union and the United Nations.
The decision also means Britain can avoid a prolonged period of financial insecurity that had been predicted by some if Scotland broke away.
In return for staying in the union, Scotland’s voters have been promised significant though somewhat unspecified new powers by the British government, which had feared losing Scotland forever.


China’s mammoth Silk Route plan would dynamise half the world-Pranay Sharma

Posted by admin On September - 12 - 2014 Comments Off


Old Silk Route

•Distance: Over 4,000 miles, stretching from China to the Mediterranean Sea
•The route linked ancient lands of China, India, Persia, Arabia, Bactria and Rome
•Combining extant, ancient trade routes, its golden age was from 2nd century BC till the 13th century
•Got its name from trade in Chinese silk, though cotton and spices from India and precious stones and other items from Persia, Arabia and Europe were also sold
New Silk Route

Nearly 20 countries—China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Kenya—over three continents—are part of proposed project. The number may go up.


Silk Strategy

•China’s proposed Silk Route would uplink connectivity within China to the region and beyond and also give a boost to Chinese industry and investment in different parts of the world
•Build and develop ports and naval bases to ensure the important sea lanes carrying oil, gas and other minerals as well as Chinese goods from the mainland remain unhindered and without trouble
•By developing infrastructure in different countries, present the soft power of China and raise stakes of others to minimise confrontation with Beijing
•Lastly, it would allow China to develop a parallel trading network—a huge overland and maritime arc encircling the whole of Asia and running into Europe—that would challenge the ones by a US-led West

Shrouded in myths and legends, the ancient ‘Silk Route’ had for centuries been the main conduit for trade and cultural interaction between East and West, connecting old civilisations, encouraging merchants, scholars, pilgrims and nomads to travel to newer realms. Now, over 800 years after its decline, thanks mainly to a Chinese initiative, global attention is recast on the famed route. Countries from Malaysia and India, Kazakhstan to Germany, Kenya to Italy and Vietnam to Netherlands are busy debating whether the proposed project gives more muscle to China’s global power or helps in making it play a more responsible international role. Touted exclusively as a commercial venture and an enabler for connectivity, the Chinese proposal is now being studied by strategists, policy-makers and diplomats in various world capitals.

“New opportunities and a new future to China and every country along the road that is seeking to develop,” decl­ares Beijing’s sales-pitch to countries, hoping they would join the initiative. The new Chinese ‘Silk Route’ project proposes to run through both land and sea, connecting China with countries in three continents—Asia, Africa and Europe. (see infographic). In addition, China offers to spend billions of dollars in the countries along the route (on land and the marine corridor) on connectivity and infrastructure projects, involving construction of ports, docks and ship-building yards. To boost trade, the Chinese are also proposing the use of local currencies between countries along the route.

Partly, the proposed network is also a Chinese attempt to ensure that key land  and sea supply lines carrying oil, gas and other minerals to China as well as finished Chinese goods remain smo­oth. There is apprehension that some of the infrastructure that China proposes to build on the sea route could also be turned into naval bases by Beijing. In addition, it also allows China to develop a parallel trading net­work challenging the ones by the US-led West.

Though the Chinese offer to join the project was made to several countries, Beijing considers India to be an essential partner. The two countries have a long history of commercial, cultural and religious links and if India becomes a willing partner then the neighbours—dubbed by China-baiters as ‘rivals’—can indeed turn the 21st century into a truly Asian one.
“India is hesitant about the Chinese offer because it sees it purely from the strategic, not economic, perspective.”C. Raja Mohan, Observer Research Foundation 
“Due to India’s critical geographical location, its participation will ensure the success of the Silk Route initiative, especially for the maritime part of it,” says Li Li, a deputy director at the Bei­jing-based China Institutes of Con­temporary International Relations (CICIR).

Though the Chinese initiative had begun under former president Hu Jintao, it has gained in salience under the current incumbent, Xi Jinping, who has been campaigning for this ‘pet project’ of his around the world.

Twice this year, China sought a res­ponse from India—during the ‘special representatives’ talks in New Delhi in February and in June when vice president Hamid Ansari visited Beijing. India has been ambivalent so far. But the issue has triggered renewed discussion among South Block mandarins in view of Pre­sident Xi’s impending visit to India.
Though we are not averse to the Chinese proposal, we must not rush into it since many of the details are yet to be fleshed out by Beijing,” says a senior MEA official.

It undoubtedly involves striking a fine diplomatic balance. PM Narendra Modi’s recent comment during his Japan visit—on “the 18th century expansionist attitude”—was seen by China-baiters as something directed towards Beijing. Yet, officials point out that the complex relationship between India and China is not limited to their differences, but includes areas in which both have common positions. China, with its impressive foreign exchange reserve, is also a country to which India looks for investment.

Moreover, experts say that China’s Silk Route proposal is not the only one of its sort. In recent years, world players including the US, Turkey and Russia, have tried float their own projects along this route. But most of them have focused on linking their respective capitals and countries to Central Asia. The US plan aimed to link Central Asia with South Asia in an attempt to provide economic and political stability to Afghanistan
According to the US State Department, ‘the New Silk Road’ initiative was envisioned in 2011 as “a means for Afghanistan to integrate further into the region by resuming trading routes and reconstructing significant infrastructure links broken by decades of conflict”. Part of its plan was to link energy rich Central Asia—a vast repository of oil, gas and hydropower—to fast developing economies of South Asia—all of them hungry for inexpensive  and reliable energy—through the ancient trade route.

But nothing much came of the US initiative. Though stability and development in Afghanistan was always part of the plan, much of it aimed to isolate and increase pressure on Iran for its controversial nuclear programme. Now that Washington and Tehran are inching towards a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue, US interest in its central Asian trade route might return.

However, it is the Chinese proposal on reviving the Silk Route that has generated debates and discussions around the world. This is mainly beca­use of the scale and scope of the Chi­nese plan. As mentioned earlier, not only does it span three continents thr­o­ugh land and sea and involve many nat­ions, for operating at an optimum level, it also calls for investments that runs into trillions of dollars. Investment and development at that level can transform half the world. The global response has much to do with the timing of the project—many countries in Asia and elsewhere are wary of a rising China, especially under a strong leader like Xi Jinping. The concerns have sharpened in view of recent dev­elopments, where China finds itself inv­ol­ved in claims and counter-claims with its neighbours in East and Sout­heast Asia over exclusive rights on important waterways and islands.
“Due to its location, India’s participation will ensure the success of the Silk Route plan, especially the maritime route.”Li Li, Deputy director, CICIR 
“In my understanding, the objectives of Silk Route initiative are more economic than political,” says Li Li. She points out that the initiative will help Chinese companies and investments ‘go global’ and alleviate the over-capacity of some of its sectors, like steel, aluminium, cement, solar panels and ship-building. It will also help sustain China’s economic growth.

She added that politically speaking, “It will help construct China’s image as a peaceful power”. Li argues that China believes economic interdependence may reduce the chance of confrontation. “Many Chinese also see it as a good way for China to take more international responsibilities, because China, through this project, is making contributions to others’ development.”

There are sceptics who point out that despite China’s promise to invest heavily in countries that join its Silk Route project, India should be cautious of its end result. However, much of the concern from a section of policy-planners comes from the maritime silk route project. The fear is that the development of Chinese ports in countries in the Indian Ocean and around India could lead to a situation where Beijing can fulfil its strategy of encircling India—the much-publicised “string of pearls” bugaboo.

“As Beijing becomes more involved in building infrastructure in the Indian Ocean, it will play a larger part in the security and governance of the ior, which could pose a challenge to India’s stature as a ‘security provider’ in the region and also adversely affecting New Delhi’s strategic purchase in its primary area of interest,” writes Abhijit Singh of the Delhi-based idsa.

But there are other Indian scholars and commentators who argue that while India should be cautious, it should also take advantage of the Chinese offer as well as other ones to develop its own infrastructure and connectivity.

“India is hesitant about the Chinese offer because it sees it purely from the strategic perspective,” says C. Raja Mohan of the Observer Research Foundation. But he argues that India should develop its internal connectivity to make full use of trans-border connectivity—such as the one being offered by the Chinese.

For the time being, China seems to understand India’s apprehension, tho­ugh there is hope in Beijing that under PM Modi a positive response may come from New Delhi to the offer to join the Silk Route project. At the moment, China draws satisfaction from the fact that both countries are cooperating with Bang­la­desh and Myanmar to develop and est­ablish regional connectivity through the bcim economic cooperation initiative.

“Since it is a long-term vision and will be made step by step, I think India can take time to decide. In other words, India can participate in the project when it feels comfortable. Of course, the earlier India participates, the best it is,” says Li Li. Hopefully, South Block policy-planners are listening carefully to what she has to say.


Imran’s miscalculated march -Rahimullah Yusufzai

Posted by admin On September - 3 - 2014 Comments Off


Unbelievable, unfortunate and ugly things have happened in Islamabad, the beautiful capital of our politically unstable country, these past two weeks. The constitution, the law of the land and the democratic institutions have been abused and challenged in full public view on Constitution Avenue. The use of force has been encouraged in ferocious speeches for short-term gains oblivious of the harm being done to Pakistan.

One wouldn’t like to make an issue of what the ambitious cleric-turned-politician Tahirul Qadri has been saying and doing because he has no stakes in the existing political and democratic system in Pakistan. It would serve his purpose if this system is wrapped up and replaced by his ‘revolution’ led and controlled by him through his so-called ‘revolutionary committees’. He and his Pakistan Awami Tehrik cannot come into power through any election as we found out in the polls held in the past and, therefore, the only way for him to take charge of Pakistan is to lead an ‘inquilab’ or ‘revolution’ with vague goals and not so hidden agenda.

Having pledged loyalty and allegiance to Canada and also Queen Elizabeth the Second, Qadri’s faithfulness to Pakistan has been debated at length. Under the law he cannot contest elections or hold public office in Pakistan, just like his sympathiser, British citizen Altaf Hussain of the MQM, and yet Qadri is adamant to play the role of a saviour in his original homeland. Both these gentlemen would do well to sacrifice their citizenship of an alien country to be able to play a more legitimate role in reforming and serving Pakistan. Unwilling to do so for the sake of the comfort and security that the citizenship of a western country has to offer, Qadri and others of his ilk come to a hard place like Pakistan for short-term assignments as if they are on an extended vacation.

It is difficult to be inspired by Qadri when he has no qualms in first celebrating and then lying to wriggle out of an unpleasant situation. There are many examples that could be quoted but the most recent one was when he denied that the stick-wielding, flag-bearing PAT workers who attacked and occupied the Islamabad centre of Pakistan Television and put its transmissions off air were his men. Rather, he claimed the angry ‘awaam’ did this and his followers forced them to vacate the building of the state-owned TV channel. The ‘eviction’ of the mob was done not by his men but by soldiers who needed a mic and a few sentences to peacefully secure the place and in the process even earn praise and ‘Long Live Pakistan Army’ slogans by the departing mobsters.

If Qadri is right, one could ask why the awaam didn’t storm PTV in the past. The only other people who have entered and occupied PTV Islamabad have been soldiers heralding a military coup, but even they didn’t damage the equipment, eat up the food stocked in the canteen or block the transmissions as was done by the mob wanting ‘inquilab’ or seeking ‘azadi’. All evidence, including TV footage, proved the presence of PAT activists and apparently also some PTI members inside PTV premises raising victory signs and chanting slogans for having conquered a state institution and making it clear that they could do more if and when instructed.

Qadri had a genuine complaint and a justified cause with regard to the non-registration of the first information report (FIR) by the police for the death of 14 PAT workers, including two women, at the hands of the police at Model Town on June 17. By delaying registration of the case and denying justice to the bereaved families, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the ruling PML-N compounded their own problems and weakened their position. The same applies to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s delayed action in responding to the rigging allegations repeatedly made by the PTI Chairman Imran Khan.

In both cases, the Sharifs and the PML-N government could have managed things by giving away far less at the time than a lot more they are conceding and offering now. Embattled and weakened, the prime minister has now agreed to the registration of an FIR for the Model Town incident in which he and Shahbaz Sharif too have been named, in an unprecedented manner, as the accused along with 19 others on a number of charges, including terrorism.

A further sign of Nawaz Sharif’s weakening position is his government’s willingness to accept five out of the six demands made by the intransigent Imran Khan, who started believing the retreating prime minister was on the way out and could be brow-beaten into resigning from his office. That Nawaz Sharif has justifiably stood his ground is to a large extent due to the support given to him by almost all the political parties represented in parliament as well as by the other democratic forces.

With regard to Imran Khan’s foremost demand for the prime minister’s resignation even if it is for a month until the proposed Supreme Court commission completes its probe into the rigging allegations, it is obvious that the demand is unacceptable for the government as well as undemocratic and impractical. For the prime minister to step down would be to concede the unproven allegations that the polls were indeed rigged. He would have no other option but to quit once the allegations are proved.

Imran Khan should trust the Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, who was praised by him to no end, and his fellow judges to do justice without being influenced by the prime minister. Believing that Nawaz Sharif can buy the loyalty of anyone amounts to belittling and insulting the integrity of honourable persons. It also betrays a feeling of victimhood as if everyone is out to block Imran Khan’s march to victory and stop him from achieving his goal of becoming the prime minister.

It was a huge miscalculation on Imran Khan’s part to believe that a million protesters would be part of his ‘long march’ to Islamabad and that he and his strange bedfellow, Qadri, would be able to topple the Nawaz Sharif government through street power. When the promised crowds didn’t turn up, his frustration knew no bounds and that is when he and Qadri began using tough language and making unacceptable demands. One was disappointed to note that Qadri was now leading Imran Khan instead of the other way round even though the PTI chief had more support countrywide due to his star appeal and clean image compared to Qadri’s narrow sectarian agenda and dubious credentials. It wasn’t surprising that stalwarts in his own party began questioning his policies and his authoritarian decision-making style.

The PTI is now suffering strife in its ranks as some of the MNAs have refused to resign from their National Assembly seats and more could revolt against Imran Khan if and when any decision to resign from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly or its dissolution is taken. The electorate in the province had voted the PTI into power as it promised ‘change’ and it still has almost four years to accomplish the task. There is still time to make amends instead of throwing KP into chaos and handing it over to a burdensome coalition of several parties with conflicting agendas.

The way Imran Khan first summarily expelled the PTI President Javed Hashmi for showing dissent and later issued him a show-cause notice showed the arbitrary manner in which the party is being run. Hashmi was probably the lone PTI leader who could speak his mind and stand up to Imran Khan and his expulsion could mean further weakening of the voices of reason and courage in the party.

Hashmi’s subsequent allegations regarding Imran Khan’s links with unnamed people in the military establishment have harmed the PTI chairman’s position and damaged the party’s cause. True or not, this will now define Imran Khan’s politics and turn away many devoted followers from him. It is sad that a promising non-politician who had caught the imagination of so many Pakistanis since his October 30, 2011 public meeting at the Minar-e-Pakistan grounds in Lahore has fallen from grace and is now fast losing his appeal.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.


Forecasting India-Japan ties under Modi and Abe -Sourabh Jyoti Sharma

Posted by admin On June - 29 - 2014 Comments Off


India’s newly elected prime minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe enjoy a friendship which signals increasing co-operation and integration of both nations’ economic and defense plans in a new regional strategic partnership.

India and Japan, the two largest democratic powers in continental Asia, share very close and cordial relations. Thanks to India’s Look East Policy (LEP), the warmth of that relationship is now encouraging the emergence of the ‘strategic’ contours of bilateral diplomacy. So far so good, but what is the future of this ongoing, and mutually beneficial relationship, especially now that India has overwhelmingly elected Narendra Modi of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its Prime Minister. On the other side of India’s far eastern frontier, Japan has already elected Shinzo Abe, an ardent nationalist who represents ‘Japanese Dreams’ as its PM in the remarkable landslide poll of 2012. What beckons in the close relations between these two Asian democracies?

Understanding the ‘Modi-Abe’ personal chemistry
Even before the mass euphoria over electing India’s most popular leader Modi as its new PM receded, and while the new incumbent was still seated in his Gandhinagar election ‘war-room’ on the victorious ‘D-day’ of May 16, Modi was informed that someone wanted to talk to him. That ‘somebody’ was soon found to be none other than Prime Minister Abe from Japan. As Modi ended the fifteen minute long ‘congratulatory talk’ with Abe, it was decided that Japan would be the first foreign destination on Modi’s itinerary after ‘officially’ becoming India’s PM on May 26.

Modi and Abe already share a good personal rapport. Both leaders are dynamic, tech-savvy, and relatively young leaders representing the ‘nationalistic hopes and aspirations’ of their nations. It is worth mentioning here that Modi is the ‘only’ Indian leader and ‘only’ chief minister out of 29 states of India that PM Abe has been following keenly on Twitter. Abe is a known ‘lover’ of India whom he praised profusely in his memoir A Beautiful Country, and the ‘only’ Japanese PM calling India the ‘lynchpin’ of the Indo-Japanese global strategic architecture of the future in the Indo-Pacific region.

Modi for his part shares a strong personal interest in Japan, visited by his beloved ‘Guru’ and ‘Ideal Man’, the ‘Cyclonic Hindoo Monk’ Swami Vivekananda while en route on his maiden voyage to attend the World Parliament of Religions of Chicago in 1893. Swamiji was reportedly in awe of the sheer intensity of the love of the Japanese people for their nation and foretold its becoming a global giant. No power, he predicted, would ever dare to enslave such a patriotic nation.

Modi and Abe share some other commonalities between them, too. Both India and Japan have been experiencing an era of ‘successive coalition governments’ which has become the ‘natural’ way of government formation, since no single party could secure a majority on its own, till these two respectively appeared on the scene. In 2012, Abe, representing the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan, was elected as PM in a landslide victory. In 2014, Modi was elected India’s PM in an overwhelming surge of an unprecedented ‘saffron tsunami’–the decisive majoritarian rejection of years of ‘pseudo-secular’ minority politics, a long overdue feat.

Both ‘strong men’ received a full majority for their parties, ushering in a new era of stabilized decisive governance and ending ‘coalition eras’ gripped by instability and indecisiveness and characterized as having lame duck prime ministers. Modi and Abe are well known for their strong nationalistic leanings and their respective economic models viz. Modinomics and Abenomics. Modi’s visa was cancelled by the US in 2005, citing the post-2002 Godhra Gujarat riots, and Abe’s visit to Beijing has been virtually banned by Communist China after he paid homage to the WW II Japanese soldiers who died fighting on Chinese soil, and whose ashes are being preserved in a “controversial” Buddhist Temple in Japan. Both are leaders who were born after WW II and the independence of their nations in the 1940s. Both are booklovers and writers, too, with keen interests in the latest trends in fashion.

India-Japan relations: areas of futuristic economic and strategic co-operation
India-Japan relations today rest on a very solid and mature ground of mutual respect and co-operation. In 2006, India and Japan signed the Comprehensive Economic and Cooperation Agreement (CEPA). Japan is India’s fourth largest investor, investing about $14 billion under Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and in various other projects. Bilateral trade in 2012 stood at $18 billion and is set to rise under Modi-Abe personal bonhomie-led initiatives to boost investment further to new heights. When Modi was still Gujarat’s CM, Japanese companies participating in his ‘Vibrant Gujarat: Global Investment Summits’ project invested about $2-$3 billion in various manufacturing and infrastructure projects. After becoming India’s PM, Modi can showcase the success of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) as the ‘model’ for scripting other future success stories.

In the pipeline of future Indo-Japanese co-operation are completing the ambitious Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and the futuristic Delhi-Ahmadabad-Mumbai Bullet Train (DAM-BT). The Japanese government has also expressed interest in helping establish a Chennai-Bangalore Industrial corridor and a Dedicated Freight project in the south, which would connect the cities of Bangalore and Chennai.

Moreover, both Indian and Japanese companies can collaborate in the manufacturing sector, particularly in the automobile industry. There are so many Japanese car makers in India–Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda–that can join hands with Indian auto majors like Tata Motors, Mahindra, Bajaj Auto, Premiere, and TVS, establishing ‘hubs’ in industrial areas of both nations on an agreed mutual reciprocity plan. While Japan can share its ‘advanced technologies’, India can share its globally admired ‘cost effective solutions’ in making the best cars at the lowest price end. In the IT sector, joint collaboration, for instance, between Toshiba and HCL, or in the mobile telephony between Sony and Micromax seems a good possibility. Here, the mutual competence and strength of both nations (viz India in software and Japan in hardware) will benefit each other. The sky is the limit, and a great future awaits India-Japan economic partnerships attracting huge FDIs, making both nations the best of the world’s exiting manufacturing hubs.

Today, China has a monopoly in this area, which could however be competitively challenged by an India-Japan partnership, thanks to the availability of enough low cost skilled labourers and raw materials in both nations. What was previously absent to date was the political will, but with both Modi and Abe joining together, these Asian giants will be ‘willed’ together to end China’s long-standing monopoly in this area, for sure.

Bilateral trade between India and Japan in recent years (in billions of USD)

Exports from India to Japan
Exports from Japan to India

Source: “Bilateral Trade with Japan”, Press Information Bureau (PIB), Govt. of India, 12 February 2014.

India and Japan concluded a security pact on 22 October 2008, India becoming one of only three countries in the world with whom Japan has a security pact, the other two being Australia and the United States. In the defense sector–still a virgin area–Greenfield investments can be achieved through joint-collaboration between Indian and Japanese defense manufacturing companies. Both are active naval partners, so there could be more emphasis on building both defense and merchant ships, a sector in which Communist China is calling the shots today. Maritime co-operation seems inevitable between the two seafaring nations which rely heavily on imported energy for its ‘safe passage’ via securing the crucial sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) across the Indian Ocean region towards the volatile South China Sea in the vicinity of Indo-Pacific region.

Most notably, Japan has opted to re-orient its export policies that banned it from exporting arms after World War II. With the recent negotiations of Shinmaywa’s US-2 Amphibian aircrafts under way, Indo-Japan defense ties are surely heading for a fresh reckoning. After the release of the ‘new’ defense doctrine espousing ‘pro-active pacifism’ brought out by Abe in late 2013, a realistic assessment of Indo-Japanese defense and strategic co-operation is set to be renewed by India’s new PM.

Both can opt to co-operate in exploring nuclear energy to lessen dependence on burgeoning energy imports to fuel their economic growth, especially after the signing of the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement plus NSG waiver. New areas of bilateral strategic co-operation could be found viz. co-operation in joint space expeditions and joint development of missile technologies (both ballistic and cruise), given their proven competence in those emerging ‘strategic areas’ which enjoy lucrative markets with increasing demands across the globe. 

Both countries are already revisiting their defense preparedness in the face of what they see as their arch-rival Communist China’s growing militarism. China’s ‘historical claims’ to sole ownership of India’s Arunachal Pradesh (Southern Tibet for China) and Japan’s Senkaku islands (Diaoyu islands for China) are confronting them on a daily basis. India’s ongoing defensive military infrastructure buildup in Arunachal Pradesh and periodical US-India-Japan joint naval exercises in its ‘solely claimed oceanic backyard’ in the East and South China Sea have already rattled Beijing, presenting them with an emerging ‘Troika’, especially after the US’s ‘pivot to Asia’ ‘rebalanced a growing maritime asymmetry in the region’. India, Troika thinking now has it, could help form Abe’s ‘democratic arc’ in containing Communist China’s maritime overdrives in the Indian Ocean.

Mutual expectations: what can Modi and Abe expect from each other?
If Modi visits Japan again, it will be his third visit. Previously, he met the Japanese PM in 2007 when Abe was on an India visit and again in July, 2012, when as Gujarat CM Modi visited Japan where he was accorded ‘state guest’ (reserved only for heads of state) hospitality, Abe ostensibly foreseeing his rise to the saddle in 2014.

There is a ‘new upbeat optimism’ for growing an India-Japan strategic partnership under Modi and Abe. A prominent thinker of India’s strategic community has already termed Modi as ‘India’s Abe’ and vice versa. Both Abe and Communist China have from time to time referred to Modi as the ‘Nixon’ of India–after US President Richard Nixon’s ice-breaking visit to Mao’s China in 1971 which led to developing closer ties.

When Modi visited Japan in 2012, he was shown the ‘economic miracle’ of Japan while travelling through the one of the world’s most heavily industrialized belts of the island nation on a bullet train. Modi was so impressed that he expressed a desire to emulate the ‘Japanese economic cum industrial growth model’ in India.  Abe, the self-proclaimed Indophile, will be happy to give Japanese wings to Modi’s dream of building a new dynamic India–a powerful India of hope and inclusive growth.

This may well be Asia’s fastest growing bilateral diplomacy or what both the Twitterattis would love to call “Twiplomacy” (Twitter Diplomacy), as the two peoples look with high expectations to these leaders of the emerging ‘great powers’ in global power politics. India under Modi, however, must carefully craft a cautious balancing act in its ongoing relations with the two Asian rival nations; continuing with more ‘business-like’ relations with Beijing while preserving the ‘warmth’ of a much closer bilateral diplomatic embrace with Tokyo.
–Sourabh is a research scholar working on ‘Chinese Navy in Indian Ocean and Strategic Implications for India” at the Department of Political Science at Delhi University.

U.S. Troops to Leave Afghanistan by End of 2016- MARK LANDLER

Posted by admin On May - 28 - 2014 Comments Off


WASHINGTON — President Obama, declaring that it was “time to turn the page on a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” announced on Tuesday that he planned to withdraw the last American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
Under a new timetable outlined by Mr. Obama in the Rose Garden, the 32,000 American troops now in Afghanistan would be reduced to 9,800 after this year.
That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, and by the end of 2016, there would be only a vestigial force to protect the embassy in Kabul and to help the Afghans with military purchases and other security matters. At the height of American involvement, in 2011, the United States had 101,000 troops in the country.
“Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them,” he said. “Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century.”
Despite Mr. Obama’s attempt to signal the end of 13 years of American military engagement in Afghanistan, the United States will continue to have troops engaged in lethal counterterrorism operations there for at least two more years. The president also conceded that the United States would leave behind a deeply ambiguous legacy.
“We have to recognize Afghanistan will not be a perfect place, and it is not America’s responsibility to make it one,” he said. “The future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans.”
Republican critics in Congress said that even though Mr. Obama accepted the recommendation of his generals to leave behind a substantial residual force, the rigid deadline for the troops’ departure could expose Afghanistan to the same violence and instability that has erupted in Iraq since the pullout of the last American soldiers in 2011. Military commanders had recommended leaving at least 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for several years after the formal end of the combat mission in 2014.
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Besides carrying out operations against the remnants of Al Qaeda, the troops that stay behind will train Afghan security forces. But from 2015 onward, they will be quartered at Bagram Airfield and in Kabul, the capital. While they will be supplemented by NATO troops, alliance members are likely to follow America’s lead in pulling out by the end of 2016.
The unilateral nature of Mr. Obama’s announcement underscored the loss of trust between him and President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign a long-term security agreement with the United States. Any American deployments after 2014 will hinge on the Afghans’ signing the agreement, Mr. Obama said, though he noted that both candidates in the runoff election to replace Mr. Karzai have promised to do so.
Mr. Obama briefed Mr. Karzai by phone Tuesday morning, as well as leaders of three NATO partners with troops in Afghanistan: Britain, Germany and Italy. On Sunday, Mr. Karzai declined an invitation to meet the president at the Bagram base, north of Kabul, where Mr. Obama had made an unannounced trip to greet the troops.
A senior administration official said Mr. Obama was encouraged enough by recent developments in Afghanistan, particularly the first round of the presidential race, to avoid the “zero option,” which would have meant pulling out all troops at the end of 2014.
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“The priority for General Dunford and his team has been to keep as many troops as possible in Afghanistan for the 2015 fighting season,” said Jeremy B. Bash, a former chief of staff at the Pentagon, referring to the commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
The White House did not say how many of the troops remaining after 2014 would conduct counterterrorism missions, but it would most likely be a small fraction of the 9,800. The Central Intelligence Agency has gradually reduced its presence in the country as it turns its attention elsewhere, and some of the Afghan militias that the C.I.A. created to fight militants in the south and east are being quietly disbanded.
The president is clearly driven by a determination to shift the focus of his counterterrorism policy from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan to a more diffuse set of militant threats, some linked to Al Qaeda, that have sprung up from Syria to Nigeria.
On Wednesday, an official said, Mr. Obama will emphasize Syria’s growing status as a haven for terrorism and signal greater support for the opposition. Among the options on the table, officials said, is expanding the covert training program for rebels, currently run by the C.I.A. in Jordan — perhaps by bringing in the Pentagon to conduct the training.
The training could also take place in nearby countries. But the official cautioned that the president had not made a decision and was unlikely to discuss the matter in any detail at West Point. He is, however, expected to pledge greater American support for the counterterrorism efforts of Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and other countries that border Syria.
Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan announcement has ignited a broader debate about military strategy and the most effective way to wind down a war. A senior administration official said a fixed withdrawal schedule would provide NATO allies and the Afghans with “predictability” while also driving home the limits of the American effort.
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Recent Comments
bergamo13 minutes ago
I will believe that the USA military leaves a country when I see it. Unless you are blind, you cannot fail to see that the USA wants to…

You would think that after Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan we would have learned our lesson.But, after almost 50 years in this country…

David S. Sedney, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, said the decision “gives on one hand (9,800) and takes away on the other hand (deadlines).”
Even defenders of Mr. Obama said they were concerned that the rapid pace of the drawdown would not preserve the security gains made in more than a decade of war in Afghanistan.
“Time will tell whether we can meet that standard at this pace,” said Michèle A. Flournoy, who was under secretary of defense for policy during Mr. Obama’s first term.
Reporting was contributed by Michael R. Gordon, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti from Washington, and Matthew Rosenberg from Kabul, Afghanistan.


When Gabriel García Márquez Went Back to Aracataca-BRENT STAPLES

Posted by admin On April - 19 - 2014 Comments Off


The novelist and maestro Gabriel García Márquez died Thursday , mourned by the world at the ample enough age of 87. But for a time during his youth in Colombia — when he was inhaling three packs a day — he was sure that he would die young, dissolute “and in the street,” as he put it in his 2003 memoir “Living to Tell The Tale.” At that point, his mother, Luisa Santiaga Márquez, appeared unexpectedly in the city of Barranquilla, determined to rescue her law-school dropout son from a wasteful life as a mere writer. She convinced him to travel with her to the desolate, hellishly hot Caribbean town of Aracataca, where he was born in 1927.
Thus unfolds one of the great sojourns in literature, easily on par with the voyage of the Pequod in “Moby-Dick,” or the trip upriver to find Mr. Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness.” Along the way, our nicotine-stained hero-to-be breathes in the scenes and sensations that would later emerge fictionalized in the pages of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” He encounters, for example, a ruined banana plantation called Macondo — a name he remembered from childhood and that he would give to the lost village at the heart of the novel, where ghosts roam and exotic flowers fall from the sky.

Arriving in the withering heat, he writes:
The first thing that struck me was the silence. A material silence I could have identified blindfolded among all the other silences in the world. The reverberation of the heat was so intense that you seemed to be looking at everything through undulating glass. As far as the eye could see there was no recollection of human life, nothing that was not covered by a faint sprinkling of burning dust. My mother stayed in her seat for a few more minutes, looking at the dead town laid out along empty streets, and at last she exclaimed in horror:
“My God!’’
His mother wanted badly to dissuade him from the writer’s life. But the wave of desolation and reminiscence that swept over him that day sent him hurtling into the past and had precisely the opposite effect.

Qatari crisis in context-Mohamed Al-Said Idris

Posted by admin On March - 17 - 2014 Comments Off


The withdrawal of the Saudi, Bahraini and UAE ambassadors to Qatar has thrown the Gulf Cooperation Council into deep crisis

Since its inception on 25 May 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has encountered difficult challenges that were instrumental in obstructing the realisation of unity, a goal that remained an aspiration of GCC members even if it had not been stated in black and white in their charter. The organisation’s goals, as defined by its charter, are “to achieve coordination, integration and interdependence among member states and to deepen and strengthen the bonds, ties and forms of cooperation existing between their peoples in all fields.” The document remained shy of a wording that would call for a unification formula higher or closer than cooperation and coordination. The founders were also clearly determined to obviate an expansionist concept that could bring on board other Arab states. GCC membership is closed; it cannot be extended to any other state or states. Also, under the charter, each member state has the right of “veto”, which effectively strips resolutions adopted by the council of any binding force, rendering them mere recommendations. In addition, the GCC’s Supreme Council, which consists of the heads of state of the six member nations (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), has not appointed a president. Rather, there is a system of an annually rotating chairmanship, the authority of which is limited to presiding over the organisation’s summit sessions.


A LONG HISTORY OF DISPUTES: There are reasons for the foregoing. The rivalries among the six member nations have always been intense and the balance of powers has always been skewed in favour of Saudi Arabia. There is a long history of border disputes and problems that date back to the era of the British occupation. As part of their policy of splitting up the Arab region, in the Gulf area in particular, colonial architects drew up boundaries that ultimately generated a plethora of sources of tension and conflict.

Such were the factors that would subsequently account for the reluctance of the five smaller nations to enter into a joint regional security system with Saudi Arabia since the first and last ministerial conference for the “Regional System of the Arab Gulf”. Held in Muscat in November 1976, the conference was attended by the foreign ministers of the eight Gulf states: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. After it failed to obtain its objective, the six countries that would later go on to form the GCC continued negotiations aimed at creating a regional joint security framework for themselves. But nothing evolved, not only because of the aforementioned causes but also due to a range of other important regional and international factors. Prime among these were:

The constant meddling on the part of the two regional powers Iran and Iraq in relations between Saudi Arabia and the five smaller Gulf countries which, in turn, saw in Tehran and/or Baghdad a key to leveraging themselves with respect to Riyadh.

The fact that all these countries possessed huge oil and gas reserves and were, additionally, located in an area that was strategically vital to world trade and security. They were therefore a focus of major concern to international powers, which readily offered them sufficient protection to enable them to dispense with the need to enter a security and defence pact with Saudi Arabia.

All the above factors combined propelled against the creation of a regional security order in the Gulf during the five years that followed the collapse of the ministerial conference in Muscat, even if all the smaller countries, apart from Kuwait, entered into bilateral security agreements with Riyadh that were chiefly concerned with internal security matters. However, the overthrow of the Shah in Iran and the establishment of the Iranian Islamic Republic (on 11 February 1979) triggered alarm among the six Gulf states in view of the declared intention of the new rulers in Tehran to “export” their Islamic revolution. The fears were heightened with the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran War (in September 1980) the potential repercussions of which galvanised the leaders of the five smaller Gulf states into joining Saudi Arabia in the creation of the GCC.

We can therefore say that the GCC was born weak, as the majority of its members were driven to join it more by the perceived need to counter looming dangers than by the prospect of potential gain. As an organisation, it is also structurally weak. As the member states were determined to retain their full sovereignty and independence, the GCC as a “subsidiary regional organisation” was given no authority above that of its member states and its decisions are “advisory” rather than “binding”. Such structural deficiencies combined with ongoing rivalries and disputes continued to prevent the creation of a joint regional security order and the evolution of the GCC into an economic, political and security bloc capable of offsetting the weight of the two major regional powers in the Gulf, Iran and Iraq. Then, as of the outset of 2011, the shockwaves of the Arab Spring revolutions began to hit. The most affected by the repercussions were Bahrain and Oman, aggravating the causes of disputes that soon escalated into tensions and that began to jeopardise the continued unity of the GCC and its aspirations to develop into a Gulf Union.


THE PROBLEM OF CREATING A GULF UNION: GCC governments, and Saudi Arabia in particular, reacted quickly in order to contain the fallout from the wave of Arab revolutions and uprisings. Firstly, Riyadh injected huge sums of financial aid ($5 billion) into Bahrain and Oman so as to address the economic and social problems that lay at the root of discontent and unrest in those countries. A more significant development was the direct military intervention on the part of the GCC’s “Al-Jazira Shield Forces” to curb the deterioration in the state of security in Bahrain. Then Saudi King Abdullah Ben Abdel-Aziz proposed inviting the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco to join the council. The proposal was roundly rejected by the other members, firstly because of the closed membership stipulated in the charter, and secondly, because they feared that relaxing this stipulation would pave the way to the inclusion of the three neighbouring countries — Iraq, Iran and Yemen — that had also been keen to join the GCC.

However, the most significant development occurred in the organisation’s summit in Riyadh in December 2011, when the Saudi monarch aired the call to transform the GCC into a “Gulf Union” along the lines of the EU. The idea was raised again in the consultative summit in Riyadh in May 2012, but discussion was deferred until the ministerial meeting scheduled for September that year on the grounds that it required more comprehensive study. Then the subject was supposed to head the agenda of the last GCC summit in Kuwait (10-11 December 2013) but — due to reasons pertaining to Omani opposition to the concept — not only was discussion deferred, the subject was taken off the agenda.

The tensions over this issue could jeopardise the future of the Gulf organisation. In the annual “Manama security dialogue”, Omani Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Youssef Ben Alawi Abdullah openly noted the existence of strong differences between GCC members of proposed projects concerning the foreign and defence policies of the council. He went on to state that his country refused to be a member of a Gulf Union project, a subject scheduled for discussion in the summit.

The Omani minister’s statement was a response to the earlier speech by his Saudi counterpart Nazar Madani who, in the Manama dialogue, which had been given the title “Regional Security, Conflicts and the Great Powers”, said that transforming the GCC into a union was “an urgent necessity compelled by security, political and economic changes”. Madani stressed that GCC members needed to work together to turn the Arab Gulf region into “a major strategic power zone”. He urged members to be “cautious and alert” in handling foreign interventions and “to reach collective understandings on the importance of an agreement on a unified framework for responding to the challenges and threats that loomed over the countries of the council”.

Ben Alawi’s sudden, frank and vehement response may have come as a shock to the participants in that conference. But it was not spontaneous; it had been carefully studied in advance. He made it explicit that his country was prepared to withdraw from the GCC should its members choose to pursue the idea of a Gulf Union. “If they create a [Gulf] union, we will not be a member of it,” he stated, adding, “we will not prevent the creation of such a union, even though we could since GCC decisions are taken by unanimous vote.” He also made it clear that Muscat opposed a regional joint security and defence pact. “If there are other or new [security] arrangements among the GCC countries as the result of currently existing or future conflicts, we are not and will not be a party in them.” He cautioned on the need for GCC members “to stay clear from regional and international conflicts” and went on to state: “We believe that, in the GCC and outside of it, power does not necessary mean that people have to militarise in order to enter into conflicts.”

Some Gulf officials who took part in the Manama dialogue responded to the Omani minister’s threat to withdraw from the GCC with remarks such as, “may they leave in peace.” Fortunately, the participants preferred to sustain the unity of the organisation by shelving the Gulf Union project, at least temporarily. However, neither the dismissive sneers of some of the participants or the inclination to sweep the subject under the rug will solve the GCC’s dilemma. This dilemma — indeed, crisis — is the lack of consensus over collective strategies in foreign policies and security and, to be more specific, strategies with respect to Iran. Some believe that Tehran has an expansionist agenda and regard it as a major regional threat. They are therefore pushing for the creation of a regional military bloc strong enough to counter Iranian military might. Among these are some who see Iran as the chief threat or the foremost strategic enemy, and believe that the only way to counter it is to do battle with it to the end, in the Syrian arena above all.

Oman is adamantly opposed to such thinking. It refuses to deal with Iran as an enemy. In fact, Muscat’s attitude towards Iran remains largely unchanged since the time of the Shah: it regards Iran as a strategic partner. Therefore, not only is it opposed to transforming the GCC into a military pact with the aim of doing battle with Iran, it favours promoting “Iranian partnership” with the GCC.

Since the departure of the British from the Gulf, Oman has developed its relations with Tehran (both under the Shah and then the Islamic Republic) as a counterweight to enhance its leverage with Riyadh. More importantly, however, Muscat has been determined to prevent the Gulf from becoming embroiled in avoidable conflicts. Therefore, unlike the governments of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries, Oman moved to defuse the confrontation between Iran and the “P5+1” (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) over the Iranian nuclear programme. It was Muscat that hosted the secret US-Iranian talks (in which the UK participated at some junctures) aimed at reaching peaceful resolution to that crisis. The negotiations, which began in March 2013, led to the Geneva Interim Accord, a development that cast a shadow over Muscat’s relations with some other GCC governments that continue to regard Tehran as a primary source of threat.


QATARI REBELLION BRINGS GCC TO A CROSSROADS: Before the GCC could absorb the shock from the discord that led to the shelving of the Gulf Union project, the organisation was struck by the greatest crisis in its history. This took the form of the joint ministerial statement issued by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain on 5 March 2014 announcing their decision to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. Riyadh then followed through on this unprecedented measure with another stinging blow, which was to declare the Muslim Brotherhood along with a number of jihadist and takfiri groups terrorist organisations and to prohibit any Saudi citizen or resident in the country from affiliating or dealing with these organisations.

In justifying the decision to withdraw the ambassadors, the joint ministerial statement explained that GCC states had exerted considerable efforts at numerous levels to persuade Doha to adopt a mode of behaviour consistent with the GCC charter and the agreements signed between member states, inclusive of the security agreement, and to abide by the principles in those charters. Those principles are to refrain from intervening, directly or indirectly, in the domestic affairs of any GCC member state; not to support, directly or indirectly, any individual or group that threatens the security and stability of a member state; and not to support a hostile media.

These efforts had led to an agreement signed by the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Ben Ahmed of Qatar and all other GCC heads of state in accordance with which Doha pledged to conform to the abovementioned principles. The agreement was signed following the summit that was held in Riyadh on 23 November 2013 and attended by the Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed. However, according to the joint ministerial statement, during the subsequent three months, Doha failed to abide by the agreement, which prompted the heads of state of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to instruct their foreign ministers to alert Qatar to the danger of its behaviour. The ministers issued this caution to Qatar in a meeting that took place in Kuwait on 17 February 2014 and that was attended by Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed of Kuwait, Sheikh Tamim Ben Ahmed of Qatar and the GCC foreign ministers. In that meeting, it was also agreed that the foreign ministers would set into motion a mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the aforementioned Riyadh agreement.

Several weeks later, on 4 March, the GCC foreign ministers met in Riyadh and attempted to prevail upon Qatar the need to take the necessary measures to put the Riyadh agreement into effect and to agree upon the monitoring mechanism. However, as Qatar during that meeting showed no willingness to comply with these demands, the governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain felt that they had no alternative but to proceed with that unprecedented step in the history of the GCC.

The subsequent Saudi decision to enter the Muslim Brotherhood on the list of terrorist organisations has further aggravated the crisis that now threatens the GCC. Qatar is faced with two choices. The first is to bow to the wishes of the other GCC members and cease its support for terrorist organisations and relinquish its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. The second is to persist in its current policies and alliances in the hope that this will precipitate a broader rift in the council and encourage other countries to rebel against the Saudi leadership and even to ally with regional forces opposed to Riyadh, most notably Iran.


THE GCC AND TOUGH CHOICES: What future awaits the GCC in light of the foregoing developments? What are the available options, especially in view of concurrent regional and international developments? In any decisions GCC members take, the questions of Iran (with regard to which the US appears to have put the option of war on a back burner in favour of negotiations), Syria (a looming military intervention scenario receded in favour of multinational diplomacy that includes Iran), the mounting Muslim Brotherhood terrorist threat (backed by the US and Turkey), not to mention the ongoing repercussions of the Arab Spring revolutions loom large. Such questions combined with the internal tensions among GCC countries bring the organisation to a critical crossroads in which its members will have to make some tough choices. The following are the most salient options:

1. To sustain communications with Qatar via the Kuwaiti intermediary. Some argue that this is the most viable option as Doha has been keen to keep channels of dialogue open with Kuwait, which did not follow suit with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. At the same time, officials in these three countries realise that their peoples have common interests that are realised through the GCC and that there are strong economic bonds between GCC countries.

Working against this option, on the other hand, is the intensive financial, intelligence and media support that Qatar provides the Muslim Brotherhood within the framework of a larger alliance that includes the US, Turkey and — ultimately — Israel. The larger objective of this alliance is to engineer a restructuring of the Middle East order in a manner that serves US interests, and empowering the Muslim Brotherhood is a key element in this project. Qatar may not have the desire or opportunity to withdraw from that alliance.

 2. Freeze Qatar’s membership in the GCC. This may be the easiest option, especially since Riyadh appears serious in its resolve to clamp down on terrorist organisations and activities. Nevertheless, the option may not be welcomed by other GCC members, such as Kuwait and Oman, and therefore pushing for it could lead to further ruptures.

3. Restructure the Gulf regional security order in a manner that excludes US participation and, for the first time, brings on board Egypt and perhaps other Arab countries. This could be done by altering the GCC charter to provide for the membership of other nations or by creating a broader framework for cooperation and integration such as an Arab Union, which would operate in parallel with the Arab League and the Maghrebi Federation. This would pave the way for the inclusion of countries that are neither members in the GCC or the Maghrebi Federation in a larger bloc. Membership could be immediately extended to Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, although Lebanon and Syria would have to wait, given the murkiness of the situation there, and the same might apply to Sudan in view of its Muslim Brotherhood connection.

A possible disadvantage of this option is that Qatar might be prompted to promote the creation of a rival framework comprising Iran, Syria, Lebanon as well as such organisations as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbullah and Hamas. Such an alliance would be perceived as a grave threat and aggravate the dangers of divisions, animosities and polarisations in the Arab region.

If such choices are tough, the worst option would be to leave the future of the GCC countries and their stability and security prey to the moods and whims of the ruling regime in Doha whose conceit and arrogance was amply expressed by its foreign minister, Khaled Ben Mohamed Al-Attiya. In a speech at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris on 10 March 2014, he said: “The independence of the foreign policy of the State of Qatar is, simply put, non-negotiable.” He added that his government is “committed to supporting the right of peoples to self-determination and to supporting their aspirations for the realisation of justice and freedom.” Who exactly he had in mind is a matter of conjecture. But his words were not well received in Riyadh.

The writer is head of the Arab Affairs Unit in Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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