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Challenges & Responses to Conflictual Politics

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The writer was foreign secretary from 1989-90 and is a former chairman of the ...
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ISLAMABAD - While Pakistan wants China to build a naval base at its southwestern seaport ...
The writer hosts a show called “Capital Circuit” for News One The Taliban are coming to ...
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, has bluntly told the regime in Syria to implement ...
Advocates of smaller states have a robust case. India should look for further reorganisation as ...
The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in ...
The Ukrainian question, which many governments and many “socialists” and even “communists” have tried to ...

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Iran Will Stand Up for Syria With All its Might-Nikolai BOBKIN

Posted by admin On September - 9 - 2013 Comments Off


The US administration has launched the process of getting congressional approval of an attack against Syria. The Senate foreign affairs committee has voted for the resolution supporting the planned action. The next step is moving the motion to the full Senate and then to the House of Representative to receive bipartisan support. This way Washington is trying to make the decision to strike Syria look legitimate, even if it is going around the UN Security Council.

The prediction that the war will spill over to encompass the entire Middle East in case the United States strikes Syria is coming true. As it was supposed to be, the first outside actor to get involved is Iran.  The enlistment is on, Iranian young people are willing to put on uniform and defend Syria. The number of volunteers is nearing 100 thousand. They have sent a letter to the President of Syria asking for his permission to be deployed in the area of Golan Heights… They want their government to provide airlift to Syria across the Iraqi airspace. Iraq is the country with large Shiite population; the probability is high that thousands of Shiites there will join the Iranian volunteers. Obama wanted the inter-religious strife in the Middle East turn into a slaughter of universal scope, now he can get it, or to be more exact, he can provoke its start in Syria by launching the Tomahawk missiles against this country.

It’s Syria that is in sight, but the main target is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The newly elected President Rouhani’s policy is aimed at normalization of relations with the West and putting a stop to international isolation. It evokes concern among the United States and Israel’s ruling circles.  It’s a long time since Americans have been putting blame on Iran for all the troubles of the Middle East, even when it was clear that Iran had nothing to do with what happened.  It may sound as a paradox, but the Tehran’s readiness to start the talks on nuclear program was perceived by the Obama’s administration as a threat to its interests.  According to the White House logic, it may lose the main argument in the confrontation with Tehran. Then the US sanctions will instill no fear anymore.  Europe is already sending unambiguous signals to demonstrate that it expects real progress to be achieved at the talks.  The US has no trade ties with Tehran and it views the sanctions as an effective leverage in the standoff while Europeans face multibillion losses.    

The argument of “Iranian nuclear threat” has become an obsession for Washington after Ahmadinejad is gone. It fully matches the intent to find a pretext for war. The Syrian phase of the military operation is to start pretty soon.     

Iran needs no war. Instead Iranians want Obama to seriously weigh the consequences of such action letting him know that there is no way he could hide behind the back of Congress. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarifsaid said, “Mr. Obama cannot interpret and change the international law based on his own wish.” He added, that, “Only the UN Security Council, under special circumstances, can authorize a collective action, and that will be under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, and this issue needs the approval of the Security Council.” By and large it coincides with the Russia’s position.

Tehran sees no intrigue in the fact that Congress will finally sanction the war against Syria, it is just curious to see how the US lawmakers will manage to do it under the pretext of “punishing” Syria for using chemical weapons while going around the Iranian issue. The members of Congress will inevitably take into consideration the “Iranian factor.”  Calling for war against Syria, State Secretary John Kerry tries to convince lawmakers that, if no action is taken against Syria, Iran is more likely to move ahead on its nuclear program. Kerry does not deliberate on availability of direct link between the events in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program, he simply states the White House position. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says taking no action against Syria will undermine the Washington’s ability to counter the Iranian nuclear efforts.  The US Congress is under heavy influence of Jewish lobby and the arguments work because, while being hostile to Syria, Israel always had Iran in mind.  Where exactly the “red line” is drawn presents a matter of rather minor importance for Israeli politicians.  Some Republicans in Congress not only support the action against Syria but call for an intervention of larger scale sayinga limited strike will not be enough to seriously scare Iran.  Astrike against Syria is likely to make Tehran boost its security, including the acquisition of nuclear weapons as a universal deterrent… This isa reasonable warning which is not heeded somehow.  Having Iran in sight, a military provocation against Syria is also aimed at stoking disagreement in the ranks of Iranian leadership.  Washington hopes that war-minded politicians will prevail and the Iranian government will have to cede and abandon balanced approaches to the issue.  Indeed, only a few months ago such overt threats from Washington would have stoked a storm of responses, former President Ahmadinejad used to strike the keynote. Now Iran appears to be extremely restrained. Talking to Obama in absentia, Iran’s Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan uses proper diplomatic language and insists that all problems should be solved by political means.

Still, the public restraint of the new Iranian government should leave no illusions for Americans.  It’s not government bureaucrats they’ll have to deal with in case combat actions start, but rather the Iranian Republic’s armed forces – the guarantee of retaliation in case the country is attacked.

Iran’s chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi was quoted declaring that if the US strikes Syria, Israel will be attacked.  It’s not an occasion that Iranian volunteers, who are going to defend Syria, pay no interest in being deployed in the areas adjacent to the borders with Turkey of Jordan. No, they want it to be the Golan Heights – the line of Syrian-Israeli border stand-off since a long time. A potential strike delivered by Iran against Israel in retaliation for US attacking Syria is the worst scenario of all; this is the case when it’s impossible to avoid a large-scale Middle East war.  Instead of taking a decision to back away from a military action against Syria, Obama is driving Iran against the wall by staging incessant provocations like. For instance, the recent demonstrative Israeli missile defense test in preparation for Iranian retaliatory strike. 

Revolution part 2: The fall of Mohamed Morsi-Mary Mourad

Posted by admin On July - 4 - 2013 Comments Off


In response to millions of Egyptians taking to streets, army and number of political and religious leaders propose roadmap aimed at ending year of unrest
Today’s milestone marks a new phase in the Egyptian revolution, one which many had awaited since Mubarak stepped down in February 2011. The statement, read out by military chief-of-staff Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, describes a roadmap that includes the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, suspending the constitution temporarily, and handing over power to the head of Egypt’s High Constitutional Court.

The roadmap, which various political and religious figures participated in drafting, includes forming a committee for revising the constitution, formation of a council for “national reconciliation,” revising laws for parliamentary elections and holding early presidential elections.

Attendees at the press conference where El-Sisi gave his speech included a number of top military and police officials who sat in two rows on either side of the podium.

They included the Coptic Orthodox patriarch Tawadros II, the grand imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayyeb, Mohamed ElBaradei, a representative of the Salafist Nour Party, Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, one of the anti-Morsi Rebel campaign’s founders, and a senior judicial figure. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party refused to join the meeting.

The statement was received with enthusiasm and cheers by anti-Morsi protesters to close the first chapter of the Egyptian revolution and mark the end of the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The army took these actions following the massive demonstrations, marches and sit-ins that started on 30 June throughout the country. According to some estimates, as many as 17 million Egyptians took to the streets.

The historically unprecedented turnout shook the country and was expected to cause pressure on the presidency. Limited violence erupted leaving 34 dead and a few hundred injured, but no massive or organised violence erupted.

The army was the first to come out with a statement on Monday, 1 July giving a 48-hour ultimatum for political forces to come together to “fulfil the people’s demands” or the army would present a roadmap for the country including all political currents. The police followed suit to announce that they were siding with the Egyptian people and protecting protestors.

A speech by President Mohamed Morsi on midnight, 1 July came in reaction to the army statement, calling any attempt to overthrow legitimacy a call for civil war and saying that he was willing to shed his own blood to protect it. Meanwhile, clashes took place in Giza, west of Cairo, leaving 17 dead and hundreds injured before the police finally intervened.

Hours before the end of the 48-hour deadline, the general commanders of the Egyptian Armed Forces met, headed by Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. They called for meetings with representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Tamarod (Rebel) campaign, ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, as well as Mohamed ElBaradei, who was delegated by the 30 June Front and the National Salvation Front (NSF).

Earlier Wednesday, 3 July, Tamarod stressed its demands for Morsi to step down. At the same time, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy refused any calls for negotiations with the army, calling any non-constitutional step a military coup.

The alliance was formed on the Friday before the demonstrations to support Morsi. It is led by the Muslim Brotherhood and includes the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party, the Salafist Watan Party and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya’s Building and Development Party.

The Spark

The spark of action against the president started with the Rebel campaign in May calling to withdraw confidence from the president. Against all expectations, the campaign gathered a lot of public support, leading many opposition leaders and public figures to back the movement and support it publicly until it succeeded in gathering 22 million signatures.

The signatures were to be submitted to the prosecutor-general on 30 June, the anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration, to demand he step down.

Rebel, together with the NSF, 6 April and other groups, formed the June 30 Front, which called for mass demonstrations on 30 June to request Morsi step down.

Meanwhile, fuel and electricity shortages caused public anger and unrest throughout the country, fuelling the signature drive, deepening the crisis. A minor cabinet change and a gubernatorial shuffle that brought many Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood members to public office hastened the unrest and signalled increasing disturbance.

Morsi also hosted a large celebration in Cairo on 22 June where he announced support for the Syrian revolution against the regime, which came only one day after a US announcement to the same effect. The army’s reactions to these statements apparently had not been favorable.

Morsi refused any compromises, either to change individuals or take actions to slow or stop the crisis. A public speech the president gave days before 30 June was awaited with eagerness in hopes it might offer some answers to mitigate the situation. But the speech only addressed the president’s “achievements” and asked the opposition not to get dragged by remnants of old regime into burning the country.

One Year in Brief

The Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, took power in 30 June 2012 following a number of alliances formed with pro-revolution groups and various political powers. Throughout his first year in office, he turned his back on a number of promises given to the Egyptian people and to his electoral alliance, most significant of which was the re-formulation of the constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution.

Not only did Morsi continue with the Islamist-leaning constituent assembly, but Morsi forced a constitutional declaration ahead of the completion of the constitution, giving himself legislative and executive powers and securing the Shura Council against judicial oversight.

This led to significant anger in the streets that turned violent near Cairo’s presidential palace in December 2012, where a number of non-Islamists were killed allegedly by a Brotherhood militia. The National Salvation Front (NSF) was formed as coalition of political parties, movements and activists to oppose the constitutional declaration.

Anger only escalated following the referendum to pass the new constitution against all opposition requests to review it. The constitution eventually passed with a 63 percent majority, but the hoped-for stability never materialised, and the worsening economic crisis was aggravated by instability and a security vacuum.

Currency devaluation, fuel shortages, electricity cuts and dwindling tourism only pointed to an unstable regime that is heading downhill, yet the Muslim Brotherhood and the president gave no indication that a plan was underway to reverse the trend beyond statements and temporary international loans.


Best laid plans: Egypt’s Islamist project on the brink-

Posted by admin On June - 27 - 2013 Comments Off


Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi (C) attends with prominent Sunni clerics a Syria solidarity conference organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, in Cairo in this handout picture provided by the Egyptian Presidency dated June 15, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Despite decades of planning for Egypt’s eventual transition into an Islamic state, only two years of post-revolution politics appear to have put paid to the Muslim Brotherhood’s longed-for Islamist renaissance
As Egypt’s first freely chosen president took the stage last summer, the thousands arrayed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square roared their approval. After a knife’s-edge vote, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi had clinched the country’s most powerful civilian position – the secretive Islamist organization’s goal for over eight decades. Now, surely, an Islamic state was within its grasp.

But one year on, Morsi’s unofficial inauguration in downtown Cairo seems more like the pinnacle of the Islamists’ power then the emergence of a Sharia-compliant Egypt.

In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood’s dream of establishing an Islamic state in Egypt is nowhere close to becoming a reality. Some experts believe that, not only has Morsi’s first year in power tarnished the image of the 85-year-old group, but that of all Islamists.

Following Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011, the Islamists – and specifically the Brotherhood – were expected to effortlessly climb to power. They were the largest opposition present at the time and had the sympathy of many average Egyptians. Their selling point was Islamic Law and the establishment of an Islamic state that would take Egypt back to the glory days of Islam.

The Brotherhood quickly established its political leg, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Meanwhile, members of Egypt’s Salafist Call – the country’s largest Salafist movement – established the Nour Party. During the Mubarak era, Salafists had refused to participate in opposition politics on grounds that it was sinful to oppose a Muslim ruler.

Parliamentary, constitutional travails

The two competed in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary and Shura Council elections, winning majorities in both. Despite their lackluster performance in parliament – in which they were accused of ignoring pressing matters, such as Egypt’s failing economy, while focusing on trivial issues – they remained popular with many Egyptians.

“Their performance in parliament had a negative impact,” explained political analyst and former MP Emad Gad. “But when Morsi came to power, most people still had a positive view of the Islamic project. But during his first year in office he managed to destroy this image in the eyes of most Egyptians.”

He points out that Morsi has made many promises that he never kept and that his regime has tried to ‘Brotherhoodise’ the nation by taking over many of the country’s top institutions, including the Ministry of Interior and the judiciary.

However, Gad adds that the turning point came when he passed a constitution that was rejected by most political forces in Egypt.

The constituent assembly tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution saw numerous squabbles, along with accusations that Islamist assembly members were forcing their opinions on the non-Islamist minority. This led most non-Islamist members to withdraw from the constitution-drafting body, leaving only the Islamists to conduct a final vote in a 14-hour marathon session.

“After this, he confirmed to the public that the Islamic current is undemocratic and does not like dialogue,” said Gad.
Morsi’s refusal to fulfill his promises, including the creation of a coalition government that would include Egypt’s diverse political forces, also hurt his popularity, say critics.

“His lack of commitment to democracy made people not trust him,” explained Khalil El-Anani, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “Secondly, it showed that the Islamists are fascists, and don’t have a democratic ideology.”

Additionally, many Egyptians began to realise that what is said and what is done are two different things.

“He talked about the Islamic project, but did not apply Islamic Law, which is one of the main sellers of the Islamic project,” said El-Anani.

El-Anani pointed out that Morsi agreed to take a loan from the IMF at interest, which is forbidden by Islamic Law.
However, Ahmed Sobie, a leading member of the FJP shoots down these accusations.

“The Islamic current has actually proven to be much more democratic and more serious about pushing Egypt into a democratic path then the other currents,” he said.

He pointed out that it is the Islamist current that has fought to keep the parliament and Shura Council in place. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) that was ruling Egypt after the ousting of Mubarak had dissolved the parliament in June after a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) found fault with laws governing the assembly’s elections.

One of Morsi’s first actions after becoming president is to reinstate the parliament. When the SCC suspended his decision a few days later, the Islamists began a yearlong fight to keep the Shura Council, which was threatened with a similar fate.

“We did this to protect Egypt. We had to make sure that all its important institutions were working,” Sobie added.
He also said that it was the Islamists who fought to draft a new constitution for Egypt. He also denied that the Islamists controlled the constituent assembly.

“Let’s not forget that it was the Islamist ultra conservative Building and Development Party that decided to give up their seats in the constituent assembly for the liberals and leftists,” Sobie said. “They did this in order to give them a voice,” stressed Sobie.

He also pointed out that it was Morsi who turned Egypt from a military state to a civil state.

“I doubt either the liberal or Nasserists would have been able to do this amidst all the criticism we received,” explained Sobie.

Alienating the Islamists

However, it is not just the liberal and leftists forces that are at loggerheads with Morsi. The Islamists themselves have also felt let down by him.

“I believe that Morsi’s first year in power, had a negative impact on the Islamic project,” said Nader Bakar, spokesperson of the Salafist Nour Party.

He accused Morsi and the brotherhood of marginalizing and alienating anyone who is not a member of the group. The he points out shed a bad light on the Islamic project.

“The Islamic project does not say that you discriminate between the citizens of one country; it does not say promote authoritarian rule, it does not tell us to ignore those who have opposing views,” explained Bakar. “The stubbornness of the brotherhood and the unprofessional manner in which they dealt with all the problems of the country has had a negative impact on the way average Egyptians view the Islamists.”

The Islamists also had other gripes with Morsi including his decision to license liquor stores and his lack of support to officers wanting to sport Islamist-style beards. He also opted to smooth relations with Iran thus paving the way for Shia tourists – often seen as a threat by Sunni Muslims – to enter Egypt.

“He also allowed security forces to pursue jihadists, which turned even more Islamists against him,” said El-Anani.

He adds that several other factors have led to the Brotherhood’s failure to lead the country, one of which is the lack of experience in running a populous, diverse and complex state like Egypt.

Mubarak’s iron-fisted rule and repression of the Islamists also resulted in their being excluded from working in government bodies and gaining needed experience.

“Another is the secretive character of the Brotherhood,” said El-Anani. “They know how to work under pressure, but not openly.”

Nor did Egypt’s January 25 Revolution provide the group sufficient time to go from repressed opposition to ruling power.

El-Anani cited the example of Turkey, where the Islamists were gradually drawn into politics allowing them to develop their ideas and moderate their political discourse and approach.

In Egypt, by contrast, the Brotherhood was faced with what El-Anani calls “sudden inclusion.”

“They couldn’t strike the balance between being an opposition movement and a responsible political force or ruling party. So they now hover between both,” he explained. “They still think of themselves as an opposition movement, staging protests, strikes and sit-ins; the mindset has not changed.”

On a more practical level, Morsi’s government has failed to provide Egyptians with much needed services. During the past year, there have been frequent power cuts, along with shortages of diesel fuel, gasoline and bread, among other vital commodities.

“These shortfalls are what bother people the most,” says political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie. “In terms of other issues – concerning politics, judicial independence, human rights and civil rights – Mubarak repressed the Egyptians in all this, too. But he, at least, offered these services to the people, so they were patient with his rule to a certain extent.”

Islamist disunity

What’s more, the Islamists’ united front after Mubarak’s downfall did not last long. Within months, cracks appeared, as electoral rivalries heated up.

Hostilities climaxed when the Salafist Nour Party split in early 2013, after party president Emad Abdel-Ghafour defected and announced the formation of a new party, the Watan Party. There were reports that the Brotherhood had played a role in the falling out.

“The Brotherhood encouraged the differences between the Salafists to split and weaken them,” explained El-Anani. “This is what used to happen under Mubarak; it’s the same old game played by Mubarak-era leaders to divide the opposition in order to manipulate them.”

Another issue is that inter-Islamist divisions have always been present. Their unity in the days following the revolution, says El-Anani, was only temporary.

“There has always been historical tension between them,” he explained. “They never trusted each other. This dates back to the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, when they clashed in Alexandria University.”

Tarek Osman, author of ‘Egypt on the Brink,’ added that the revolution had brought together different Islamic forces to fight a common enemy.

“The revolution brought together these forces behind a very clear objective: defining themselves as ‘Islamists’ against the old regime and against the liberal current in Egypt,” he said. “The more they delve into the details of the country’s legislative, political and economic transition, the more the fractures appear.”

Many Egyptians are now discontented with the Brotherhood’s performance. The group’s seeming confusion has prompted a popular joke: “The Brotherhood fought to control Egypt for 80 years but had no plan what to do when it actually achieved it.”

It remains unclear how much damage this last year has done to the Islamists’ popularity.

“In this struggle about the country’s social identity, the shape of the future, the loudest voice – the key determinant – will be the 45-million Egyptians under 35 years old,” said Osman.

“Their preferences, ideas and views will be the deciding factor,” he asserted. “At the end of the day, it is a fight over the hearts and minds of this generation.”


Asian acrimony-Gamal Nkrumah

Posted by admin On May - 12 - 2013 Comments Off

ESSENTIALLY ANTITHETICAL: Malaysia and Pakistan are poles apart politically, socially and economically. Pakistan’s elections will be held on 11 May 2013. Malaysia, on the other hand, has sworn in Najib Razak for a second term as prime minister after his National Front Coalition, which has governed the Southeast Asian country since independence from Britain in 1957, won 133 of the 222 seats in the Malaysian parliament on Sunday’s general elections. Najib took his oath on Monday before the country’s King Abdel-Halim Muadzam Shah in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

Economic prosperity has failed to bridge the deep socio-economic, racial and ethnic fissures that divide Malaysian society. Poverty has exacerbated Pakistan’s predicament as a borderline failed state. Both Malaysia and Pakistan are facing momentous changes on the social and political fronts. The Malaysian general election on Sunday was a test of the country’s democratic credentials. Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, still a powerful figure in the dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main party within the ruling Barisan Nasional or National Front Coalition, laid the foundations of Malaysia’s economic miracle. The country’s economic prosperity placated its ethnic minorities, predominantly Chinese who compose a quarter of Malaysia’s 28 million people, and the Indians, roughly 15 per cent of the Malaysian population. There is no prospect, though, of an Arab Spring in either Malaysia or Pakistan, but for radically different reasons.

Serial embarrassments around corruption and nepotism in Malaysia have at worst left a scratch on the booming, resource-rich Southeast Asian nation’s reputational gloss. Pakistan is not as prosperous as Malaysia. However, Pakistan also is mired in corruption.

It is high time Pakistan understood that Asia is an opportunity for its talents, its creativity, its wealth and its jobs. And, that India is the key to the rest of Asia, the gateway to the continent. The two South Asian countries are at loggerheads over a number of critically important issues. They are viciously critical of each others’ foreign and domestic policies and relations between India and Pakistan are strained.

What is at stake is climacteric. It concerns South Asia’s capacity to offer a better future for its people. The latest row between the two South Asian nations revolved around Sarabjit Singh, convicted of spying and over his role in bomb attacks that killed 14 people in Pakistan in 1990 and sentenced to death by Pakistan in 1991. Singh died after being attacked with bricks by inmates in Lahore’s jail. Delhi called the attack “barbaric”. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

Malaysia has no such serious issues with its neighbours in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the paradoxical result of Sunday’s election is rising frustration in an economy that is outperforming both Asia and the world. Najib’s National Front Coalition which has ruled for 56 years held on to power in elections branded as fraudulent by a bitter and disgruntled opposition. The three-party opposition People’s Alliance took seven seats from the National Front, extending the gains it made in the last election in 2008, when the ruling National Front lost the two-thirds majority that had allowed it to amend the Malaysian constitution. Defeated opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim accused the ruling Barisan Nasional Coalition of widespread fraud before and during the polls.

Najib’s ruling party naturally denied the opposition’s allegations. Some 80 per cent of registered voters cast ballots and Malaysia’s Election Commission decreed that the ruling party had passed the threshold of 112 seats in the 222-seat parliament. The question is whether the ruling Barisan Nasional Coalition will govern the country forever. And, if so is Malaysian democracy credible?

Malaysia’s Election Commission declared that the National Front won enough parliamentary seats to form a government, compared with the opposition’s 74 seats, with another 25 electoral races still to be tallied. The poor showing of the ruling coalition in the 2008 vote hastened the resignation of Abdallah Badawi as prime minister, giving way to Najib. It is highly unlikely that Sunday’s results will spell Najib’s political demise, at least not for the time being.

The Malaysian election was poised on a knife-edge.

Najib, a seasoned politician, considers Mahathir his mentor. He served in a series of governments in the 1980s and 1990s, reaching the post of deputy prime minister and heir apparent to the illustrious Mahathir, venerated in Malaysia and across the developing world. Under the stewardship of Najib, a 59-year-old British-educated aristocrat, Malaysia has embarked on a series of economic and social reforms to improve its competitiveness and boost incomes. Sunday’s electoral result will enable him to press ahead with a series of ambitious spending plans designed to accelerate economic growth and help this resource-rich Southeast Asian nation catch up with some of its wealthier regional heavyweights such as South Korea and Taiwan and neighbours, most notably Singapore.

A perception is spreading that Malaysia’s vaunted political stability and economic prosperity is cheating those at the bottom out of what they were promised. Ironically, those at the bottom are not the ethnic minorities but rather the sons of the soil, the Bumiputera or Bumiputra, the indigenous ethnic Malay whom the National Front purports to champion. Indeed, 16 of Malaysia’s 20 billionaires are ethnic Chinese.

Ibrahim’s opposition alliance campaigned hard on speeding up the pace of socio-economic change, pledging to remove a race-based system of quotas and preferences that has characterised Malaysia for decades. Ibrahim likewise pledged to open up Malaysia’s closely controlled political system.

Malaysia’s Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections observed that voters included people from Indonesia, Myanmar, and other countries — a claim which Najib denied — to boost the ruling coalition’s votes. Najib has vowed to accelerate an ambitious $444 billion plan to upgrade the country’s infrastructure by the end of the decade and enable the country to compete more effectively against its regional rivals instead of jostling for export orders with middle-income countries such as Thailand, Indonesia or Vietnam.


MALAYSIAN MALAISE: The United Malays National Organisation, the main party in the ruling National Front, can no longer take victory for granted, even though it poses as the representative of the indigenous Malay people. The three-party opposition alliance led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim offers an alternative for an increasing number of ethnic Malays as well as the ethnic minorities.

After claiming an improbable early victory, Ibrahim later said that he rejected the result because the country’s Election Commission had failed to investigate evidence of widespread voter fraud. He said that the powers that be had connived to “steal an election”. The New York-based Human Rights Watch warned there had been well-planned attacks against the country’s independent media ahead of the polls.

“It is an election we consider fraudulent and the Electoral Commission has failed,” Ibrahim declared. The world, and most Malaysians, knew that Najib was the favourite to win. Disaffection with the ruling coalition is not sufficient reason to dislodge it from power. Ibrahim was abruptly sacked in 1998 and spent the next six years in prison on charges that he is homosexual, a serious drawback in the conservative, mainly Muslim Malaysian society. Homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia. He has long denied the allegations of his homosexuality. In 2000 he was then found guilty of sodomy with his wife’s driver and jailed for a further nine years, to be served concurrently with his other sentence. It then appeared that his political career had come to an embarrassing even scandalous end.

However, with his conviction overturned in 2004, he made a political comeback. Ibrahim began laying the groundwork for an opposition challenge on Putrajaya, the country’s administrative capital, with his supporters making unprecedented gains in 2008’s national elections. And, he has been a force to be reckoned with in Malaysian politics ever since. On Sunday, Ibrahim refused to concede defeat, accusing the Malaysian authorities of widespread abuses which he stressed had distorted the result of the election. Ibrahim’s Twitter account claimed his People’s Alliance had won Sunday’s vote, and urged the National Front and Malaysia’s Election Commission not to meddle with the result. Election Commission Deputy Chairman Ahmed Omar said the opposition leader was “bluffing” and “talking nonsense”.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that an increasing number of Malaysia’s middle class have turned to Ibrahim and the opposition, attracted by his pledge to tackle corruption. The ethnic Chinese, too, look to Ibrahim for support to end race-based policies pursued by the ruling coalition that favour the indigenous Bumiputera in business, education and housing. Indeed, ethnic Chinese parties affiliated with the National Front suffered heavy losses in 2008 and were punished by voters again on Sunday. Moreover, Malaysia’s incumbent Prime Minister Najib could now come under pressure from conservatives in his own ruling coalition for not delivering a more powerful majority despite a robust economy and a $2.6 billion deluge of social handouts to poor families. Still, the indigenous Bumiputera, after decades of positive discrimination by the ruling coalition find themselves saddled with social ills and particularly with shoddy degrees — especially as the ruling party designated the Malay language as the medium of higher learning, as opposed to English — that do not deliver them the promised prestigious jobs or social status.


PAKISTAN’S PREDICAMENT: If Malaysia is a mainly Muslim nation, Pakistan’s very raison d’être is Islam. It was founded in 1947 as a sanctuary and the political entity of South Asia’s Muslims. Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, is a catalyst for change. Militant Islamists have long threatened the democratic process in Pakistan. And, it is a matter for the Pakistani people and their institutions to determine whether the militant Islamists have overstepped the line in recent years. On the face of it, the Pakistani constitution does not tell against them.

And, some of the issues the militant Islamists address are precisely those Pakistani voters want elected politicians to grapple with publicly. In 2002, 51 per cent of Islamabad’s voters cast their ballots and in 2008, the capital had the highest voter turnout percentage in Pakistan. A little over half of the city’s 482,801 registered voters — 50.01 per cent to be exact — cast their ballots in the previous election. And, the majority of voters in Islamabad voted against the militant Islamists. Indeed, contrary to international misconceptions about Pakistan, the upper echelons of Pakistani society and most of its middle classes absolutely abhor the militant Islamists.

The worry should not be that Pakistan falls into the hands of militant Islamists and their heinous or rather wayward populist ways, but that the very stability of Pakistan’s political economy makes it too rigid to respond to the needs and aspirations of contemporary Pakistanis.

Education is key. A poor educational system is still based in huge swathes of the country in the outmoded madrassa system of religious learning. Tellingly, Pakistan’s Centre for Civic Education Executive Director Zafarullah Khan pointed out recently that Islamabad had relatively high voter turnout figures because the city’s electorate is comparatively well-educated and has access to adequate means of transport.

Democracy in Pakistan or the lack of it, therefore, is inextricably intertwined with, or at least closely related to the levels of education. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the number of registered voters in Islamabad has increased by 30 per cent to 629,233 for this year’s election. The new voters include at least 117,892 youth between the ages of 18 to 25. The ECP announced that there will be 550 polling stations across Islamabad’s two constituencies in the upcoming polls.

The party that will control Islamabad will not necessarily govern Pakistan. It is the party that will garner more votes in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, and the country’s largest city Karachi in the southern Sindh province that will determine who rules this riotous country.

“The law and order situation will be a major deterrent for citizens, who may avoid voting in some areas of Pakistan,” Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency Executive Director Ahmed Bilal Mahbub ominously warned this week. “If there is no untoward incident in Islamabad, I expect voter turnout to be the same or higher than 2008,” he concluded.

The port city of Karachi in which the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) has the most support is Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan metropolis. This has been reflected in election results in the post-1985 period when martial law and the ban on political parties were lifted. The MQM has been a part of countless governments at the federal level, yet the manifold problems Pakistan’s most populous metropolis remain unresolved.

Pakistani politicians, again contrary to mistaken global perceptions, take democracy very seriously. The number of candidates in the Pakistani capital will also play a part in voter turnout for next week’s polls. A whopping 77 candidates are contesting for two National Assembly seats, with 51 vying for one constituency alone.

Pakistan’s elite still treat militant Islamism as taboo. In next week’s Pakistani general election, voting will take place in all parliamentary constituencies in Pakistan to elect MPs to seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament and to the four Provincial Assemblies — Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The socialist-oriented, and Sindh-based Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilwal Bhutto-Zardari son of the late Pakistani charismatic politician Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, the 11th president of Pakistan, is expected to do well. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif proposes the modernisation of federal and provincial hospitals and general health care.

Yet, it is personalities and not social issues that often pre-occupy the collective political psyche of Pakistan. Bhutto-Zardari announced last year that Pakistan asked Interpol to issue a “red warrant” against former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf for his alleged involvement in the assassination of his mother on 27 December 2007. Bhutto’s assassination in Islamabad’s twin city of Rawalpindi appeared to disrupt the democratic process in Pakistan.

In retrospect, however, it did not. The problem with Pakistan is that most of its politicians are disreputable — including the late Bhutto herself. In April 1999, Bhutto and Zardari were convicted for receiving indemnities from a Swiss goods inspection company that was hired to end corruption in the collection of customs duties. The couple received a fine of $8.6 million. The Swiss and Pakistani governments subsequently indicted Zardari for money laundering. In August 2003, a Swiss judge convicted Bhutto and Zardari of money laundering and sentenced them to six months imprisonment and a fine of $50,000. After his second release in late 2004, he left for exile in Dubai. More recently Zardari left Pakistan for Dubai to undergo medical tests and treatment, reportedly for a “small stroke”.

Another serious problem with Pakistan is the leading politicians’ attempt to interfere with the presumably independent judiciary. For instance, Zardari and Sharif met in Lahore in June 2008 to discuss Musharraf’s removal and the constitutional amendments. Pakistan has never been the same since.

In February 2009, Zardari and the Musharraf-appointed Supreme Court attempted to disqualify Nawaz Sharif from running in any elections. And, again in February 2010, Zardari sparked a standoff by attempting to appoint a Supreme Court candidate without the court’s approval. The son of a large Sindhi landowning family originally from tribal Baluchistan, Zardari has come under scrutiny for his arm-twisting tactics in politics.

Internationally acclaimed cricketer turned politician Imran Khan too has made his mark on Pakistani politics. Indeed, he is the dark horse of Pakistani politics. Khan was voted as Asia’s Person of the Year 2012 scoring more than 88 per cent of the total votes cast. Born in the Punjabi city of Lahore to a family of Pashtun origin, Khan is the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).

Ironically, in 1999, when Nawaz Sharif’s government was removed in a military coup and General Pervez Musharraf took over as chief executive, Imran Khan declared that the “man in khaki”, Musharraf, was the answer to Pakistan’s predicament. Disillusionment set in however, and the PTI decided to withdraw its support shortly before the 2002 elections. While the party’s message of justice and accountability appealed to people weary of confrontational and self-serving politics by the mainstream parties, the PTI’s lack of grass-roots organisation weakens it. Next, the PTI marketed itself as a vociferous opponent of Musharraf’s military rule, even after the latter had assumed the fig leaf of democracy. Imran Khan subsequently became one of the most vocal proponents of the lawyers’ movement which sought to reverse Musharraf’s suspension of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Indeed, the theme of the struggle between politicians and the judiciary in Pakistan is often analogous with issues of law and order, on the one hand, and democracy on the other. These issues also correlate with women’s rights. Both the PTI and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) have, during their campaigns, overlooked the question of championing women’s rights in Pakistan. The PPP takes the issue more seriously. And while the Awami National Party (ANP) talks about crimes against women, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s (PML-Q) manifesto treats women’s rights with a similar disinterest to the other major Pakistani parties.

The MQM does tackle women’s rights from a social perspective from its stronghold of Karachi, a city that has one of the highest standards of education in the country. The MQM manifesto focuses on an increase in staff and equipment at primary and secondary health centres, training of providers at all levels, basic health units, rural health centres and mother and child care centres, and gives a separate section to Family Welfare that talks of bringing down the population growth rate. These are issues that unfortunately do not win votes in much of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), however, is a bastion of the militant Islamists. It is the least developed of Pakistan’s provinces. The Jamaat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) are two critically important parties in FATA. The total number of registered voters in FATA is 1,738,313, including 596,079 women. Yet in a few constituencies such as North Waziristan and South Waziristan, candidates of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement have been marginalised and even physically threatened. The militant Islamists lobbed a hand grenade in the office of PML-N leader General Abdel-Kader Baloch in Kharan town of Balochistan, one of Pakistan’s poorest and least developed provinces.

Such incidents of violence have increased in the past decade, ironically a period that witnessed the advancement of Pakistani democracy. Baloch said five PML-N workers were injured in the attack. The blast also damaged the electoral office of PML-N. Militant Islamists also targeted the electoral office of National Party (NP) Mach town of Balochistan. Police said militants hurled a hand grenade at the NP office.

There is no guarantee that the forthcoming elections in Pakistan will be free and fair. Indeed, already there are signs of widespread attempts at rigging. For instance, a police team recovered and confiscated the National Assembly ballot papers during the search of a vehicle and that the papers were not carrying the seal of the Election Commission of Pakistan and appeared to be fake.

Predominantly Sunni Muslim Pakistan has witnessed a spiralling wave of violence against the Shia Muslim minority and other religious minorities such as the Christians. It is not clear how confessional conflicts will impact the vote. What is crystal clear, however, is that most of Pakistan’s political parties are highlighting the country’s socio-economic shortcomings, and coming up with measures to combat poverty and underdevelopment. “The convergence of all the manifestos on attaching priorities to the critical areas shows that the political parties are aware of the gravity of the situation,” suggested a study by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Political parties, accordingly, have paid heed to policy advice coming from the Planning Commission, observes the study entitled “A socio-economic assessment of manifestos: election 2013”. Still, the child and infant mortality rate in Pakistan is exceptionally high, and maternal mortality rate is even higher, and because the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for maternal health are unlikely to be met in the near future, quality health, education, living, social security and justice remain a challenge for most Pakistanis. The PIDE study curiously noted that tackling the country’s energy crisis topped the agendas of almost all the Pakistani political parties’ manifestos — a preposterous bet on a perennial Pakistani problem.


BANGLADESHI BEDLAM: Politically speaking, Pakistan and Bangladesh are on the same wavelength. Like Pakistan, overwhelmingly Muslim Bangladesh does face serious tensions between the mainstream political parties — the ruling Awami League and the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) — and the militant Islamists. Other major political parties include the moderate Islamist Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI).

Traditionally, the Awami League has aligned itself politically with smaller secularist and leftist parties while the BNP collaborates more closely with Islamist groups. Bangladesh, was however, founded as a secular and multi-party parliamentary democracy in 1971 when it broke away from Pakistan after the bitter Bangladesh Liberation War. Like Pakistan, Bangladesh soon after independence descended into political turmoil, and successive military takeovers shook the foundations of the nascent democracy.

Scores of people were killed in maniacal clashes between police and militant Islamist protesters in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on Sunday and Monday, compounding the trauma in the country that is struggling to come to terms with the collapse of a textile factory that killed more 650 people, mostly women workers, late last month. This week, a leviathan demonstration, spearheaded by the Hefazat-e-Islam, a movement of teachers and students of religious schools, descended into chaotic scenes of pandemonium on Sunday evening when the militant Islamists and police and ruling Awami League activists fought feverishly over the insistence of the Islamists to implement an anti-blasphemy law and their demands for the severe punishment of alleged “atheist” bloggers who they claim have insulted Islam and the Prophet Mohamed. Several hundred shops were torched and vehicles were burnt during pitched battles that raged into the night.

More assertive militant Islamists and myriad social ills are a most dangerous powder keg. Islam and politics have become badly entangled in two of the most populous Muslim nations — Pakistan and Bangladesh. Malaysia is not immune to militant Islamism in its own backyard, but because it is considerably more prosperous economically than either Pakistan or Bangladesh, the urgency of the struggle between secularism and militant Islam is less apparent. Malaysia, though, is not entirely immune to the menace.

It should be said, however, that all three Asian predominantly Muslim nations are not behaving as if they are under imminent attack from the militant Islamists or living in the shadow of the destruction of democracy. Regardless of the rhetorical fusillades of local politicians and an over-excited international media, all three are trying to cope, with varying degrees of success, with the dynamics of, and collision between secularism and political Islam, between moderate and militant Islam.


Threat of partition in Syria- Bassel Oudat

Posted by admin On May - 7 - 2013 Comments Off


A damaged tank belonging to forces loyal to Al-Assad is seen at a deserted street in the besieged area of Homs (photo: Reuters)

Rumours have been spreading about the possibility of partitioning Syria if the regime finds itself close to collapse, with some observers claiming that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is now plotting to break up the country along political, social and demographic lines, with others claiming that this would be effectively impossible.

Partitioning Syria would not be limited to breaking off the Western coastal region where the president and key figures from the regime come from and where many regime loyalists and Alawites are concentrated. Instead, it could also include the possibility of partitioning the country into religious, sectarian and possibly even regional entities.

Under this scenario, Syria would effectively collapse, being divided into four or five separate entities with different and opposing outlooks effectively hostile to each other. Talk of partitioning the country is not new. For decades, proposals about the future of Syria have been floated, and pessimists are now talking about partition as a way out for the regime if it finds itself cornered.

However, pressure from domestic and foreign sources may prevent the implementation of such a plan, especially if the Syrians themselves are determined to maintain the unity of their country. Partitioning would only serve Syria’s enemies and not be in anyone’s interests, many say, apart from some small segments of the population.

Nevertheless, for the time being a political solution to the crisis the country faces remains unattainable, and brutal confrontations continue as religious and sectarian mobilisation climbs amid calls for religious and factional extremism.

As a result, there has been talk of a possible Kurdish enclave in the north of the country, along with a Western portion made up of the present regime and its Alawite supporters. There has also been talk of minority Druze and Christian areas, along with a majority Sunni area that would make up most of the present country.

The Syrian opposition asserts that the regime now fears defeat and sectarian retribution and so has started to carve out a region for itself in its traditional strongholds along the coastal mountain range. This region includes Homs, Hamah, Idlib and as far as northwest Syria, cutting the area off from Western Syria.

Other opposition figures have accused the regime of planning to ethnically cleanse Sunni villages that could be included in the partition plan in order to spread terror among their residents and cause them to flee. In the light of such plans, these figures say, action should be stepped up to overthrow the regime.

Since the start of the uprising against the Al-Assad regime two years ago, the regime has tried to militarise the minority Alawites along sectarian lines, something that has been successful because of the international community’s statements that it does not intend to intervene in the country and will not arm the revolutionaries.

Once the military balance began to tip towards the revolutionaries and they took control of large swathes of the country, the regime began to destroy these areas by adopting scorched-earth tactics.

The Alawites began leaving for Western Syria in the belief that this area would be safer, and the regime and its supporters have reportedly been discussing a plan to set up a small Alawite state and divide the country into sectarian and ethnic cantons that would weaken the Sunni regions, giving these cantons the names of a federation, confederation, non-centralised political administration and so on.

Meanwhile, the massacres have been increasing, and the regime has aimed to further implicate the Alawites in them in order to try to prevent them from objecting to an independent statelet.

Alawite opposition to the regime is limited, and at the beginning of the uprising many Alawites said they feared change and demanded guarantees of the safety of their community, wanting reassurances that they would continue to control the Syrian state and its agencies.

In response to such fears, the revolutionaries declared the Syrian people were united and that the Alawites did not need guarantees because the “homeland is for all.”

“The massacres that have taken place in Homs, Hamah and Idlib in central Syria in areas where the Alawite supporters of Al-Assad are located have been no coincidence,” Fayez Sara, an opposition figure, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “These have been part of a pre-planned policy aiming to terrorise residents so that Sunnis flee these areas, paving the way for the creation of a mini Alawite state along the coast.”

“The massacres are part of a plot that aims to divide northern Syria (Aleppo and Hamah) from southern Syria (Damascus), in preparation for a US-Russian-Iranian agreement to divide Syria into cantons as part of a confederation with a weak central government if the revolution overthrows, or comes close to overthrowing, the regime.”

According to many moderate opposition politicians, however, the regime cannot be described as Alawite, Christian, Sunni or Druze. Instead, it is simply corrupt and oppressive, such people say. It is not defending its own sect, but is instead simply defending what it has stolen from the people and its own privileges.

It would be a grave mistake to fight against it as an Alawite regime, because this could cause this sect to defend it in self-defence, making it difficult for Alawites to turn their backs on the regime and possibly triggering a sectarian civil war in the country.

Meanwhile, the US has said that its offer for Al-Assad to leave power safely does not include his moving to his birthplace of Latakia and creating an Alawite statelet there. In Washington’s view, there can be no question of forming an Alawite mini-state because the US is adamant about maintaining the integrity and unity of Syrian territory.

Commenting on the domestic and foreign objections to partitioning the country, Sara said that “there are broad segments inside Syria that reject partition, not only because of their political culture and heritage, but also because of their cognisance of the interests of the Syrian people.”

“Since its launch, the Syrian revolution has attempted to reconfirm the unity and solidarity of the Syrian people even as the regime and its supporters have tried to break it.  Overall domestic sentiment leans towards resisting partition in order to maintain a united Syria that provides freedom and dignity for its citizenry where all can co-exist without discrimination.”

“Meanwhile, there are also international and regional forces that object to partition, notably because of neighbouring states with populations that are extensions of what exists in Syria. There are Kurds, Sunnis and Alawites in Turkey, for example, and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. There are Sunnis in Jordan, and Sunnis, Alawites and Christians in Lebanon. No one would be able to stop these communities from reacting against the idea of partition, especially if it is caused by or the result of violence.”

“As for the major powers, most of these also reject splitting the country in order to protect their own interests because they would prefer to deal with a single regime. Partitioning Syria would destabilise the states of the region and perhaps lead to their partitioning too, which would destabilise the supply of oil and gas around the world.”

Wael Al-Sawah, a political activist, said that the “regime cannot guarantee the [support] of the sect of which it has declared itself the spokesperson and protector. While there is a group within the sect that supports [Al-Assad], hundreds of thousands of patriotic Syrians from this same sect will not accept any division of their homeland and their becoming isolated in a sectarian mini-state.”

“They will fight this possibility and support the motherland. Thousands of Alawites who have participated in the revolution since the first day will reject Al-Assad’s reign over such an Alawite statelet. They will be joined by their families and friends who will refuse to sacrifice their sons for the sake of a single family that wants to divide Syria,” Al-Sawah said, referring to the Al-Assad family.

Observers believe it will be impossible to create an Alawite mini-state because the demographic reality on the ground is complicated and difficult to disentangle. There is a Sunni majority that would be difficult to displace and a sizable number of Christians who will not accept partition, as well as a percentage of Alawites who oppose the regime and reject it too, including Alawite clerics, military personnel and intellectuals.

However, some radical Sunni opposition elements say there is empathy between the regime and the Alawite sect, and this is not how they view other groups that could be even stronger supporters of the regime. The longer the conflict continues in Syria, the more risky the notion of partition or sectarian division in deciding the fate of the country becomes.

In Lebanon, there are Christian fears of Hizbullah’s possible military involvement in the conflict, and in the north there have been Kurdish demands for a federation. Russia and Iran have not concealed the fact that in the last resort they could be willing to partition Syria and create an Alawite state in the West with the possibility of a Druze state in the south.

“The revolutionaries only have one option, which is to topple the regime by force,” said opposition figure Fawwaz Tallu. “The regime and its supporters have left them with no other choice. This can only be done by going to the Alawite regions and disarming them in order to bring those who have committed crimes against the Syrian people to justice irrespective of their sect.”

“Justice according to the law and through the courts is the sole guarantee that the Alawites can once again be integrated into Syria’s fabric, which was destroyed by this sect after murdering thieves led them into the present adventure.”

Much of the Syrian opposition believes that the best guarantee for the Alawites and for the minorities in general would be for these to support the overthrow of the regime and the creation of a civil state free of tyranny, the rule of security agencies and the presence of sectarian configurations.

This would be a democratic state ruled by a civil constitution that protected equal rights and freedoms and did not countenance sectarian quotas or the partitioning of the country. If a state of this sort cannot be brought about, partition or civil war may await the country.

Israel’s Red Line Crossed, U.S. Tacitly Backs Ally’s Strikes in Syria-Eli Lake

Posted by admin On May - 7 - 2013 Comments Off


In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, damaged buildings wrecked by an Israeli airstrike are seen in Damascus, Syria, on May 5. (SANA/AP)

In a series of meetings over the past year, Israel laid out to the U.S. beforehand what would trigger a strike in Syria. Eli Lake reports.
Israel did not seek permission from the United States before launching two missile strikes this weekend hitting targets inside Syria—but the strikes were part of a policy that Washington had already signaled its acquiescence to, according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

In a series of high-level meetings between U.S. and Israeli officials over the last year, the Israelis explained in detail the conditions that would lead them to attack targets inside Syria. Israel’s “red lines,” articulated in private and public, include the shipment from Iran of advanced anti-aircraft weapons, advanced missiles, and chemical or unconventional weapons to the Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah, according to public reports and U.S. officials.

While Iran has sent conventional arms through Syria to Hezbollah for years, Israel is concerned that the Islamic Republic may now be sending the Lebanese militia advanced weapons designed for national armed forces, including rockets with the range to put most of Israel’s population at risk of attack, shore-to-ship missiles of the sort Hezbollah successfully used in its 2006 war with Israel, and advanced anti-aircraft weaponry. Another red line for Israel would be if sarin gas or other chemical weapons possessed by the Syrian government found their way to Hezbollah in the midst of Syria’s bloody and chaotic civil war. 

“In general they told us in every possible way that this kind of strike would be coming,” said a U.S. intelligence official. Another U.S. official said, “Israel shares its intelligence on Syria with us almost in real time. These latest strikes were an example of Israel enforcing its own red lines.”

This two strikes this week were the first since one in January, also apparently aimed at Hezbollah-bound weaponry. The New York Times reported Sunday that the targets this weekend included a warehouse at Damascus International Airport, with stocks of the Fateh-110 missile—a solid-fuel missile that would give Hezbollah the capacity to strike Tel Aviv. That was followed by a second strike that hit the Center for Scientific Research in Jamraya, a military facility in a suburb of Damascus. The Wall Street Journal reported that both attacks were launched from Lebanese airspace.

President Obama signaled Sunday that the U.S. had no objections to the strikes. “What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah,” the president told Telemundo. “We coordinate closely with the Israelis, recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon.”

That approach contrasts with Obama’s sometimes open spats with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the prudence of attacking Iran. While the two leaders have recently said they share the same view of intelligence on Iran’s progress toward achieving a nuclear weapon, they’ve drawn very different red lines for when a military response would be warranted. While the U.S. has vowed to top Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon, Israel has vowed to stop the Islamic Republic from acquiring the capability to make one, a significantly lower threshold.


“In general they told us in every possible way that this kind of strike would be coming,” said a U.S. intelligence official.
Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations who is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said, “Iran shows no reluctance to share its most advanced conventional weapons with Hezbollah. This raises the question of whether Iran is preparing to transfer unconventional weapons capability.”

Those concerns come as U.S. military commanders publicly have acknowledged that the United States no longer knows where many of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stocks are now located.

The precedent of the U.S. making allowances for Israel military actions inside Syria in some ways dates back to the Bush administration. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state and national-security adviser under George W. Bush, wrote in her memoir, for example, that both she and then–Defense secretary Robert Gates were skeptical of Israeli claims in 2007 that Syria was developing a nuclear-weapons program at the al-Kibar nuclear facility in Syria in 2007—and encouraged President Bush to decline Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request that the U.S. take out the facility. After CIA director Mike Hayden said he had only low confidence that the reactor there was in fact part of a weapons program, Bush rejected the request, and Israel destroyed the facility itself, without American permission. Neither side publicly confirmed the strike. In 2008, several months after the Israeli strike, the Bush administration made public intelligence that it said confirmed the Syrian site had indeed housed a nuclear reactor. The White House also shared with Congress video of North Korean nuclear scientists at the facility.

Politicians and pundits weighed America’s role in Syria, now that Israel has attacked.

Much has changed for Israel since 2007. In recent years, the Israel Defense Forces have quietly adopted a new doctrine to target Iran’s weapons network throughout the Middle East, including through targeted killings, drone attacks, and military actions in other countries. Those actions have included the 2010 assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas military commander, in his hotel room at Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in a somewhat botched operation in which the killers were captured on camera. That same year, Israeli drones fired on al-Mabhouh’s successor, Abdel Latif al-Ashqar, in Sudan. In 2011 Israeli Mossad commandos kidnapped in Ukraine an alleged Hamas operative named Dirar Abu Sisi, who had emigrated there that year to seek citizenship.

At the end of 2011, the Israel Defense Forces created a new strategic command that placed elite military units that worked in foreign countries, often in secret, under a single command structure similar to U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, the operational command for Navy SEALs and the U.S. Army’s Delta Force. “The depth command is a clear signal to Iran,” an Israeli defense official told The Daily Beast in March. “We are willing to go wherever we need to go to stop you.”

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz hinted at this approach in March when he addressed the annual strategic conference at Herzliya, signaling Israel’s willingness to use military force to stop weaponry originating in other countries from reaching Israel’s enemies in Lebanon and Gaza.

“If we have to go into a village and under the ground, that is something we will make sure we are flexible enough to do, that we are able to adapt ourselves to the new situation. We will have to do other things as well. From dozens of places in the world we are being attacked, they are looking at us, and they are watching us,” Gantz said.


Eli Lake is the senior national-security correspondent for Newsweek and the Daily Beast. He previously covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times. Lake has also been a contributing editor at The New Republic since 2008 and covered diplomacy, intelligence, and the military for the late New York Sun. He has lived in Cairo and traveled to war zones in Sudan, Iraq, and Gaza. He is one of the few journalists to report from all three members of President Bush’s axis of evil: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.



Turkey’s recent Kurdish opening: opportunities and the challenges ahead -Selin Bölme and Müjge Küçükkeleş

Posted by admin On April - 24 - 2013 Comments Off

PKK celebrates Kurdish New Year in Qandil mountains

PKK supporters hold pictures of imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan during a celebration of the Kurdish New Year. Demotix/Pazhar Mohammad. All rights reserved.

The opportunity for a peaceful settlement of Turkey’s Kurdish question came as a surprise to many observers, announced as it was in the middle of a period of growing tension. But despite support by both parties, ambiguities that could undermine the whole process subsist.

Throughout history making peace has always been more complicated than waging war. Writing the story of peace is more difficult as well, especially in the light of a civil war that has haunted the political history of a country for 30 years. Looking back at the period from August 2012 to today, one can easily spot how the peace process and the strong nationalist discourse of the politicians were always, and thoroughly, intertwined.

On 17 August 2012, members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has been fighting an armed struggle against the Turkish state since 1984, intercepted the delegation of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), the main Kurdish representation in the Turkish parliament, at a road junction in the Hakkari province of Turkey and embraced them. The images showing BDP members hugging PKK militants (considered as terrorists by Ankara) drew harsh criticisms from the prime minister, who later called for judiciary action against BDP members, implying that his own Justice and Development Party (AKP) would act to lift their parliamentary immunity.

The political tension intensified further with the launch of a hunger strike by Kurdish inmates in September 2012, in protest at the isolation of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and his limited access to his lawyers. Erdoğan’s response to the hunger strike was severe: when questioned about it, he stated that there were no hunger strikes in Turkish prisons and all strike protests are just part of a “show”. Erdoğan also broached the subject of the death penalty to intimidate Öcalan’s supporters.

A person who watched television and read the newspapers from August to December 2012 would probably get the impression that relations between the government and the Kurdish movement had arrived at an impasse. However, behind this tense political atmosphere, a process for peace was also running, and to everybody’s surprise, a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish question now seems closer than ever. Did this outcome come out of the blue? No – it is, in fact, possible to find the traces of this process in the statements of both the government and BDP officials over the same period.

Roots of peace
As the war in neighbouring Syria heightened tensions with Ankara, who accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of arming the PKK, Prime Minister Erdoğan aimed to defuse the situation by mentioning in September 2012 that more talks with the PKK were possible. The initial step towards engaging Öcalan in a peace process was taken in August 2012. The push for starting negotiations with Öcalan came with the collective hunger strikes of Kurdish militants held in Turkish jails. In an attempt to gain Öcalan’s intervention to end the hunger strike, Turkish intelligence officials initiated talks with the Kurdish leader. On 17 November, Kurdish inmates accepted Öcalan’s calls to end the hunger strike.

The cessation of the hunger strike provided the government with an opportunity to push forward the peace agenda. Turkish Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan was personally involved in negotiations in December, and these exchanges paved the way for a BDP delegation visiting Öcalan.

The details of Öcalan’s peace plan were made public on Newruz day on 21 March, after having first circulated in December 2012 following the initial negotiations. Under his three-stage roadmap for a solution, rebels would initially agree to a formal ceasefire in March, and withdraw from Turkish soil in the second stage. The success of the withdrawal was contingent upon political reforms that would guarantee political, social and economic rights for the Kurdish population. The Öcalan plan contained no demand for Kurdish autonomy; it rather sought recognition of Kurdish identity in the Turkish constitution and the strengthening of local administration. After the success of the initial three stages the PKK would put down its weapons in the final stage.

The start of a new era?
On 21 March 2013, Turkey entered a new period when a letter by Öcalan was read to crowds gathered in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkish Kurdistan. In this brief, yet historic letter, Öcalan called for a cease-fire and asked PKK fighters to withdraw from Turkish territory. The letter did not contain the technical details of the withdrawal; nonetheless Öcalan’s remarks of “opening the door that leads from armed struggle to a democratic struggle” hinted at the idea of an autonomous Kurdistan being abandoned.

The initiation of PKK withdrawals prompted the government to work on the psychological impact of the process. On 23 March, ‘wise men’ commissions were formed by the government. Made up of 63 representatives from civil society, academia, business, media and the arts, these commissions have begun to travel to the concerned regions to explain the peace process to the public. The composition of the commissions, however, has raised some criticisms. Some critics stressed that the commission was formed by the prime minister himself; some questioned whether these people could act outside the government framework; and others raised questions as to how, and until when, they would operate. Despite the ambiguities, most agree the commission is an interesting innovation in peace process ‘dissemination’.

Meanwhile, the government has begun to take political steps to strengthen the peace process and build up mutual confidence. For example, a new judicial reform package, although not exclusively about the Kurdish issue, will address some of the major problems that Kurdish inmates suffer from by revising the terrorism laws.

Challenges ahead
By virtue of demonstrating that there is a process in action, all these developments are important, and promising. However, first and foremost the ambiguities that surround the timeline and content of the peace process are a source of worry for observers. Within the current political context neither the government nor the Kurdish movement appears to predicate the process upon a certain timeline. It is a common presumption that the resolution of the complex Kurdish issue as a whole will take a long time; but there is no rough schedule on how long each stage of the Öcalan plan should approximately be. Furthermore, it is also unclear how the three stage formula should be carried out and what each step should exactly consist of.

Ambiguities are not one sided – they are also valid for the Kurdish movement. Except for some well-known demands, Kurdish actors have yet to come up with a specific list of demands. It is not to argue that they do not know what they want. It is rather they have not conveyed a specific list of demands to the government. Even if such a list was kept secret for the moment, there is still extensive confusion in Turkish society regarding what Kurds really want. This confusion, in turn, creates fear of division in the public mindset. Unless they are clarified soon, the ambiguities surrounding the peace process will only create more problems as it goes forward.

Aside from ambiguities regarding the scheduling and content of the process, another problem that could trouble the peace efforts is the prevailing approach towards solving the Kurdish issue itself. It is unrealistic to expect a solution to this problem without democratization. The political rhetoric used by politicians to justify the current peace process should move away from highlighting an end to armed conflict; instead it should prioritize democratization. There is no doubt that resolution of the Kurdish problem will enhance Turkey’s democratic credentials. In the same manner, democratization reforms in Turkey will benefit Turkish society as a whole – including its Kurdish population. That being said, democratization in itself is an essential but not sufficient element for the resolution of the problem. A peaceful resolution to the armed conflict will not make Turkey’s democracy a consolidated one, nor will Turkey’s democratization be a full remedy for the Kurdish issue. The solution lies in an approach that encompasses democratization, but goes beyond it.

The third problem concerns the possible setbacks that could be caused by those who oppose the process. It is true that recent events have solidified Öcalan’s position as a representative of the Kurdish movement. However this doesn’t mean he will be able to control all the actors within the movement. Further acts of sabotage, provocation and attacks are a real possibility. They may reverse the peace process by causing a huge public backslash against the settlement. The BDP should assume greater responsibility for coordinating the different facets of the Kurdish movement to prevent any accidents.

The same risk applies to the state as well. Despite the fact that the peace process is mainly a political process, coordination between different state institutions, primarily the judiciary, is of utmost importance. This is especially the case when it comes to the implementation of new regulations and laws by judges and prosecutors who could invoke the gaps in the new laws to block substantial reform. The need for more comprehensive legal guarantees for both state and non-state actors involved in the peace process is urgent.

The rhetoric of peace            
The possible setbacks and problems that might be experienced along the road towards peace do not end with the aforementioned ones. The paramount precondition for the success of this process is good intentions by both sides – and support and patience from the Turkish public for the attainment of peace. Here, the rhetoric of political actors on both sides is critical. Both the government and the Kurdish actors should refrain from using negative discourse that could upset the process. Developing policy initiatives by themselves may not be sufficient; actors must also better explain the logic and goals of their policy in order to reduce the damage caused by historically dominant images and preconceived ideas within Turkish and Kurdish society. For example, one of the main reasons why a significant part of  the Turkish population has reacted unfavorably to the peace process to date is the extremely negatively rhetoric employed by politicians on the Kurdish issue for decades. Even as Turkey appears to be closer to peace than ever before in its history, a failure of the negotiations may backfire, generate unprecedented polarization and take the country to a low point much worse than before.
—-About the authors
Müjge Küçükkeleş received a BA in Political Science and Public Administration from Middle East Technical University, Turkey in 2008, and an MA in Politics and International Studies from the University of Warwick, UK in 2009. From March 2010 on, she has been working as a researcher in the Foreign Policy Program at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Studies.

Selin Bölme received a PhD in International Relations from Ankara University, Turkey. Dr. Bölme has extensively published on Turkish foreign policy, international relations of the Middle East, Turkey-US Affairs, NATO and is a frequent commentator for the Turkish media. She is a visiting researcher at the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London for the year 2012-2013.



Syria’s Civilian Suffering – Western Imperialism Resorts to Medieval Barbarity-Finian CUNNINGHAM

Posted by admin On April - 17 - 2013 Comments Off


The human suffering in Syria, which has escalated from crisis to disaster over the past two years, is the nefarious work of Western governments and their regional allies. It is a simple, provable, glaringly obvious truth. Yet, the thought-control Western mainstream media manage to somehow turn reality on its head, and make a virtue out of something vile and unspeakably villainous.

Western imperialism has created a human tsunami of suffering in Syria. And rather than making any effort to mitigate this suffering by delivering on much promised refugee aid, the Western powers seem to exploiting the massive misery for political advantage to further undermine the Syrian state and government. This tactic of enforced human deprivation is straight out of the Middle Ages, when invading armies would hold siege of cities by enforcing starvation on the occupants.

Two reports this week testify to the above conclusion – albeit indirectly. The first comes from various United Nations relief organizations for refugees. The UN agencies say that food, water and other basic provisions to some 1.3 million refugees that have poured out of Syria and to more than 4 million remaining within the war-torn country will soon no longer be afforded. The dire situation is because only a fraction of the $1.5 billion pledged earlier this year by international donors has actually been received.

Reuters cited Panos Moumtzis, the UN refugee agency’s regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, as saying: «The speed with which the crisis is deteriorating is much faster than the ability of the international community to finance the Syrian humanitarian needs».

The suffering in Lebanon, where most of the Syrian refugees have fled, seems particularly acute. A spokesman for the World Food Program gave this grim warning: «In one month, and with the current funding, more than 400,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon will no longer receive food assistance».

The number of people displaced inside and outside Syria – more than 5 million – represents about 20 per cent of the total population. In the space of just two years, Syria has gone from a relatively wealthy, stable and peaceful state that was one of the most politically and culturally pluralist in the Middle East to a post-apocalyptic charnel house.

How could such a rapid descent into barbarism be possible? Could a once-stable society really implode like this without external forces bearing down?  Why do Western governments seem able to readily find hundreds of millions of dollars worth of material and logistics to aid so-called rebel groups in Syria, yet remain so parsimonious when it comes to the crying needs of refugees? Is such human suffering being used as a tactical weapon by Western governments? How can Western media organizations, in particular, get away with not asking such pertinent questions?

A plethora of militant groups – many of them not even Syrian, but rather comprised of foreign mercenaries – have in the same time frame spawned from pockets of sporadic resistance towards Syrian government forces to become heavily armed battle groups that are now capable of holding down towns and provincial areas, while carrying out indiscriminate car bomb attacks on the capital, Damascus, and the country’s second city, Aleppo.

Given the nature of the indiscriminate bomb and gun attacks on civilians by these militants, and countless sources of evidence for massacres, executions and other heinous violations, as well as the lack of support from the general populace, these militants can rightly be termed «terrorist» in an objective sense. They have admitted so themselves with one of the main fighting groups – the Al Nusra Front – this week openly declaring its affiliation with Al Qaeda. The latter, we have been told over and over again for the past decade and more by Western governments and news media, is supposedly the number one terrorist threat facing the world.

In yet another whistle-stop tour of the Middle East, US Secretary of State John Kerry talked euphemistically about «galvanizing the Syrian opposition». Kerry is coming a bit late to the game – at least in public. For months now, his British and French counterparts, William Hague and Laurent Fabius, have been brazenly calling for overt arming of Syria’s «opposition» (that is, terrorists) to overthrow the government of Bashar Al Assad.

This official posturing is but a charade. These Western regimes have already been supplying weapons, funding, training and logistics to Syria’s death squads. Last month, Croatian media sources reported that the US and Britain had coordinated the supply of 3,000 tonnes of weaponry – 75 plane loads – out of Zagreb to militants in Syria. One of the recipients was the Ahrar Al Sham group, which is aligned to Al Nusra and, by extension, Al Qaeda.

The airlift of weapons dates back to at least November 2012 and was conducted in liaison with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. That weapons conduit is just one of many that the Western powers have been running into Syria over the past two years.

The myopic Western mainstream media are so pre-occupied with advancing government spin on a day-to-day basis that they fail to see or acknowledge the big picture, even when that big picture falls on their heads with clunking conclusions.

Firstly, Syria is being ravaged by militant groups that seem to have miraculously materialised out of thin air. Even if we don’t describe these groups as terrorists, but give them the more favourable label of «rebels» as the Western media choose to do, it is still abundantly clear that these groups would not be anywhere near as armed-and-dangerous if it were not for the material support from the Western governments and their regional allies. Violence in Syria is therefore largely a Western creation. Instead of elaborating on that line of investigation, the Western corporate media evade and obfuscate.

But the added indictment is that these groups are evidently terrorist in their operations. The facts of indiscriminate multiple car bombs in Damascus and Aleppo that have killed hundreds of civilians, women and children, make this definition incontestable. So there you have it: Western governments, despite all their lofty rhetoric about international law, human rights and the war on terror, are in alliance with terrorists. These governments are using terrorism to achieve their political ends of regime change in Syria. How damningly contradictory of every supposed Western government precept and principle is that?

It seems incredible that the Western media are unaware of long-held plans – going back decades – by the US and its Western allies to topple the Syrian government. US President Dwight Eisenhower and his British counterpart Harold McMillan dallied with the scheme back in 1957. Then it was revived under the watch of President George W Bush in 2007, according to American journalist Seymour Hersch. Under the cover of the Arab Spring revolts across the region in 2011, the US, British and French planners got their opportunity to fully destabilize Syria. That agenda for regime change in Syria has gained impetus from the Western imperialist agenda to re-draw the oil-rich Middle East in its image and interests, to undermine Iran and to cut off Russia and China from vital natural resources. This geopolitical perspective explains much more about what is happening in Syria than naïve Western media narratives about a «Syrian Arab Spring revolt for popular democracy».

The second conclusion from events in Syria that the Western media incredibly feign to ignore is that the sudden and dramatic increase in suffering of some 5 million displaced and homeless Syrians is indisputably correlated with the above dramatic increase in Western-sponsored violence in the country. If it weren’t for the flow of arms and money to Syrian terrorists from Western governments and their regional conduits, it is a safe bet that 5 million Syrians would be presently enjoying the relative comfort of their homes rather than subsisting in tents and hovels in bordering Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

Thirdly, it can be concluded that the lack of funds that the UN refugee relief agencies are decrying stand in stark contrast to the hundreds of millions of dollars that Western governments and their Gulf Arab dictator allies have readily delivered to the Syrian terrorist network. The US and Britain have between them stumped up over $300 million of «non-lethal aid» to Syria’s «opposition». Those funds have been matched by the oil-rich dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. And that’s just the publicly declared amounts. Who knows how many more millions of dollars are flowing in from black budgets to fuel the violence?

In stark contrast, where is the aid for the UN refugee relief effort? Reuters reports that UN coordinator Panos Moumtzis is soon to visit the United States, Brussels and London with a begging bowl «to chase» promised, but as yet undelivered, donations.

Meanwhile, on the ground, aid workers say they are already in desperate straits. «It is a catastrophe. We are being asked to do more and more with less and less,» said UNHCR’s Lebanon representative Ninette Kelley in the southern coastal town of Tyre. «We simply don’t have the resources that we need in order to provide the assistance that is so desperately needed by the refugees».

So let’s draw this further damning conclusion. Syria’s humanitarian crisis of 5 million people living under tents and now facing no food or water is a direct result of Western states playing a callous game of regime change, funding terrorist groups to wreck a society and bring a sovereign government to its knees. One has to conclude that the unconscionable «mis-allocation» of funds is a deliberate calculation by the Western powers and their proxies to maximize civilian suffering and thereby intensify the political pressure on the Syrian authorities.

This use of human suffering for political ends is of course a war crime, committed by the Western governments and conveniently obfuscated by their servile media. The barbarity of using human deprivation as a weapon harks back to the starvation sieges inflicted on cities by European armies in medieval times. And yet the same tactic is today being deployed against Syria, with barely a whimper of concern or question from Western mainstream media – supposedly bastions of free speech and critical, independent thinking.

At the beginning of this piece, we mentioned a second report this week that implicates the Western governments for Syria’s suffering – albeit indirectly. That report comes from the US-based Human Rights Watch group. The 80-page document entitled ‘Death from the Skies’ is presented as a damning study of civilian atrocities allegedly as a result of Syrian army air strikes. The report is, however, more accurately a damning study of pro-Western government bias by HRW. It relies heavily on «opposition activists» for testimonies and data, and it focuses entirely on sites allegedly attacked by Syrian government forces. HRW casually admits that «opposition» groups have committed atrocities yet it focuses solely on alleged government crimes. Perversely, given the above evidence of illegal Western, Turk and Arab arms funneling into Syria, HRW reserves exclusive censure for Russia and China for their official supply of weapons to the Syrian government – supply arrangements that have long been in place under bilateral legal trade agreements. 

«Russia and China’s refusal to support even mild resolutions have paralyzed the [United Nations] Security Council, preventing it from taking action that would meet its responsibility to protect the Syrian people from serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,» says the HRW report. But there is no condemnation of the far more urgent and extant source of violence in Syria stemming from Western governments and their criminal sponsorship of terrorist groups.

The disproportionate cause of violence in Syria from Western-backed forces is inadvertently indicated by the HRW report. It says that it recorded about 4,300 civilian deaths allegedly from Syrian army air strikes on population centres between July 2012 and the end of March 2013 – a period of nine months.

Even if we accept that figure as accurate, it still pales in significance to the total death toll. This week Reuters reported that at least 10,000 people have been killed in Syria over the past two months alone.  Over a nine-month period that death rate would scale up to 45,000. That total death toll equates to 10 times what HRW attribute to victims of Syrian government air strikes. In other words, the discrepancy implies that the preponderance of violence and victims is being perpetrated by non-government forces – the very groups that the Western regimes and their allies are financing and arming.

There can be no mistake or misunderstanding. Syria is a humanitarian disaster made by the West. And, to add massive insult to the massive injury, there is not even a token of aid to the millions of Western-generated victims. Indeed, the West is too busy creating more victims and suffering to expedite its pathological imperialist agenda in Syria and the wider region.

And all the while, the Western mainstream media, with their pretentious claims of free-thinking and speech, act as the dutiful fog machine, hiding the facts, blurring reality and choking any questions that might reveal the grotesque obscenity of what the Western regimes are up to…

China and BRICS: Upgrading Global Agenda-Alexander SALITZKI

Posted by admin On April - 1 - 2013 Comments Off


A few weeks have passed since the Chinese fifth generation leaders came to power. The first impression is really strong. Newly elect Chairman Xi Jinping has visited Moscow and has taken part in the Durbin top level BRICS event; he has received US Secretary of Treasure and Henry Kissinger in Beijing. The issues in focus, the country’s core problems, top events and leading figures have been defined… Xi Jinping stopped in Tanzania on the way to Durbin. Back in history, when China was rather far from being a leading global nation, it built a railroad there, giving Zambia an access to the sea. Beijing makes the world remember its contribution into its progress and the fact China is ready to increase it.

* * *

China appears to become the largest world economy in the coming dozen of years. The economic slowdown is a pure fiction. Let me set a simple example. The GDP grew by 7.8% (the lowest growth this century) or by $700 billion (at currency exchange rate, which is the lowest estimation). For comparison in 2005 the GDP grew by 11.3% adding «only» $270 billion.

The economic growth is dynamic, stable and lasting, a thing of the past for the majority of states in the contemporary world. Naturally it introduces changes in public psychology. The economic landscape is rapidly changing. It gives new impetus to business activities and prosperity of the people and the state, there is a feeling of improvement and mass optimism. The entrepreneurs are prone to make investments, the basic assets get renewed, the middle class is on the rise, a consumer revolution is on the way, and the need for environment protection is coming to the fore. The financial situation is absolutely stable, the Chinese banks face growing number of foreign clients or those who wish to join.

The picture is quite contrary in Europe. There is no growth in sight; the financial situation is all doom and gloom. It all is aggravated by «the parade of egoisms». Nothing could be worse in the times of slump. It’s important the European pessimism would not encompass Russia, which is mentally close to the old continent. Lagging behind Europe, tackling the historic task of integrating the huge country, or reviving the movement to the East interrupted by the end of last century – all these challenges make economic growth an imperative.

Siberia and the Far East are closer to Moscow than Europe and the International Monetary Fund that spoiled the things for Russia in Cyprus. The huge territory of Russia and China’s economic prosperity are a unique opportunity to grasp while implementing the Russia’s XXI pivot to the East. Cyprus is an annoying development that was doomed to take place.

The Russia’s turn to the East has already been transformed in kind of a far eastern off-shore zone making appear new pipelines, ports, roads and bridges. The new infrastructure in the Russia’s part beyond the Ural Mountains is much better than the concrete fortifications and armor formations at the Chinese border in the 1970s or mass voyages to China to buy cheap everyday life goods and clothes in the 1990s.

It’s only natural that a lot of Russia’s contemporary projects are intertwined with China. China’s prosperity is favorable for Russia. The reality justifies further comprehensive bilateral interaction. The process was slowed down in the 1990s and now it’s not that easy to find one’s way to make effective the cooperation with one of world economic leaders while the transnational corporations found this way a long time ago.

* * *

Good relations with China may benefit Russia even more than its neighbor, though there may be arguments to the contrary. Off and on the issue of the need «to contain» China surfaces on the agenda. I doubt the idea is productive: it comes from the times of Cold War. The USA adopted this approach in the middle of 2010, but the US foreign policy team sends cleat signals of reconciliation: the interaction between two world heavyweights is too important. The Japanese have been told to cool down over the disputed Senkaku islands. No way will Delhi or Seoul join the «containment» policy.

Even reproduction, not talking about modernization, could be hardly conceived nowadays without the nuts and bolts produced in China. Insourcing (getting production back to the countries it was started in) is nothing else but political rhetoric; to large extent it contradicts the market laws. Making orders in China takes less time and easier to do – this is the reality of modern economic scene. The US economy moderate growth this year immediately spurred the imports from China.

Non-Western is not a synonym to anti-Western. There is a well-known politician in Singapore who thinks the interaction between the West and the East will be more fruitful if not pushed artificially (1).

Commenting on the Xi Jinping’s Moscow visit, José Manuel Durão Barroso, the current President of the European Commission, said the close ties between Russia and China are good for the European Union (2). This is normal in the polycentric world.

* * *

It’s worth to note, The Durbin BRICS summit stressed again the role of states in organizing development and industrialization. No way can one jump this phase over. The introduction of new technologies can alleviate but not substitute the industrial-agrarian stage on the way to progress. The humanity is still expecting the advent of resources saving phase that could be approached by increasing production, but not hand-outs.

Among other things, the industrial leap of China has proven the predictions of limited economic growth made by the Club of Rome to be too gloomy, though timely. The problems faced by China related to resources and ecology are hard to overcome. But the solution is achievable, including cooperation with Russia, the USA and other resources exporting states. Long-term forecasts do not exclude that large-scale liquid gas supplies to China. Perhaps, it could reduce the exporters trade deficit.

The industrial-agrarian phase cannot be stopped, otherwise grave implications will follow. At that, the continuation of it means further increase of demand for resources in the East and the South against the background of growing population, infrastructure, urbanization etc. The transfer of resources to Asia engenders gradual reorientation of world export flows. The Asia East, South and South-East will exert more and more influence of world prices.

It’s evident China lacks pure energy, water and food. Moreover, historically the country has a different vision of natural economy than in Europe or the United States, it has different approach to the correlation between producers and consumers. The China’s concern over resources is natural. The prospects of China’s market should be watched with special attention. Russia can become a reliable supplier of energy and foodstuffs, something hitting bumps on the way of production in Asia due to lack of water and arable land.

Obviously, Russia will have to face competitors, but there are prospects conditioned by difficulties on the way of providing for Asian food security. Due to well understandable reasons, Asian countries strive to diversify the supplies of strategically important materials.

Self-sufficiency could be advantageous, collective and reliable within the frameworks of regional associations based on good neighborly relations. China declares grain sufficiency to be an important political goal, the production has become subsidized (in 2012 the subsidies exceeded 30 billion dollars, or over $50 per ton). Now the country cannot do without soya imports. In 2012 it brought in 60 million tons and saved about 30 million hectares of arable land – only 110 million hectares are used for grain crops. Besides, China faces growing demand for ecologically safe products.

It’s important to sum up the China’s experience of international cooperation in agriculture (one more issue on the Durbin summit’s agenda). Some patterns have already been put to practice by Russia and China; further progress could result in large-scale long-term projects in Siberia and Kazakhstan. The abandoned land has great prospects in the XXI century. Their development could be launched by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as the way to address the food security issue.

China is not only a successful world workshop. It’s also an important investor, the one who comes with serious intentions for long-term projects. The battleships of state corporations and banks are followed by junks of private business experienced in different areas of economy. These «new colonialists» have to offer more beneficial conditions of cooperation than their predecessors. There is nothing negative about it. Look at Africa. The Chinese expansion in the continent, forgotten by the developed countries by the end of the XX century, had a large role to play spurring economic growth and competition between outside donors.

No need to delude oneself, the Chinese are nor philanthropists, but the fact a new large source of investments appeared on the world map should be welcomed.

The logic of evolution, the growth of possibilities and the sheer size of the country irreversibly leads to the creation of new financial center. Nobody says the Yuan is to take the place of US dollar. But loan and security arrangements, including the ones worked out by BRICS, are timely… It’s a long time since the international financial regulators started to ordinarily come out with the schemes giving rise to holding back development, the export of crises and concerns. A counterweight is a must. It’s not bad its clout is boosted by Chena’s economy.

(1) Kishore Mahbubani. The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World, PublicAffairs Books, February 2013.
(2) http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/770022.shtml#.UU8uGhfwao0

Karzai’s Balancing Act-Kip Whittington

Posted by admin On March - 15 - 2013 Comments Off


Recent weeks have highlighted Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s desire to assert more control over the use of military force by coalition forces in Afghanistan. First Karzai signed a presidential order that prevents Afghan security forces from requesting air support from coalition forces during operations in residential areas. Then the Afghan leader announced that he will ban U.S. special-operations forces from operating in the Maidan Wardak province near Kabul. Karzai even said that the Taliban “want longer presence of foreigners—not their departure from Afghanistan.” These are risky moves, but show that Karzai is driven by internal political concerns.

Both decisions were prompted by what have been cited as significant abuses by international forces and armed Afghan units working independently from the government. Local Afghan officials had repeatedly claimed that civilians were being killed in NATO airstrikes. Karzai finally decided to issue a ban after an airstrike in Kunar province killed 10 civilians.

In the Wardak province, local residents have filed complaints with Karzai’s government claiming that Afghan irregulars working with U.S. special-operations forces were systematically involved in the disappearances and deaths of local villagers (confusion remains as to who exactly is suspected of the alleged abuses, and an inquiry is underway). These reports finally drove Afghanistan’s National Security Council (NSC) to issue the edict against the use of U.S. special-operations units in Wardak. In addition, Karzai has also voiced that he wants to establish control over all Afghan forces.

While the bans might not last forever, the underlying issues are nothing new. For some time Karzai has demanded that coalition forces stop conducting airstrikes and night raids—targeted raids designed to capture or kill suspected insurgents—in residential areas. For Karzai, when collateral damage occurs as a consequence of these operations, it ultimately breeds alienation, as the population equates violence not only with the Taliban, but with the very international forces Karzai’s government allows to operate on Afghan soil. This has created immense distrust between many Afghans, the Karzai government and NATO’s International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF).

The edicts reveal a more forceful Karzai, a leader willing to take control of the use of military force in his country. The moves are meant to strengthen the legitimacy of his government in the Afghan population’s eyes. Thus, this is largely a strategic political move—not a military one—designed to shore up support for the Afghan government in a time of great uncertainty and as the security and political transitions of 2014 loom on the horizon.

An Opening for Insurgents?

But Karzai’s recent political moves will cause an inevitable loss of tactical gains in combatting the insurgent threat. The use of coalition airpower (close air support and drone strikes) by friendly ground forces has allowed them to hit the enemy effectively with low risk to themselves.

U.S. special-operations units have become quite adept at using direct action (night raids) to quickly identify and neutralize terrorist and insurgent targets in Afghanistan. Special operators and intelligence officers use a targeting cycle, perfected during the Iraq War, called F3EA – “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze.” Essentially, special operators find their target, capture or kill the individuals, gather intelligence at the site, and use the information to precisely identify new targets.

These operations usually occur in the form of multiple night raids all throughout the war zone in order to degrade enemy networks quickly—and they work. In strategic provinces, such as the Wardak province, direct action by special-operations forces has kept the Taliban threat to Kabul at bay. And in an effort to train Afghan forces in the uses of direct action, many are accompanying U.S. forces on raids today.

While immensely useful, both tactics have proven to be controversial due to the inevitable mistakes and social disturbances that come with collateral damage, inaccurate targeting and foreigners bursting into Afghan homes at night. The tactics strengthen deep local resentment.

Even when used correctly, the tactics only help accomplish short-term objectives. Referencing the direct-action methods in a Foreign Affairs interview, former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal reaffirmed this point: “The tactics we developed do work, but they don’t provide decisive effects absent other, complementary activities.”

A Strategic Calculation

Do the political risks outweigh the battlefield gains? For the Afghan government the answer is beginning to look like a yes. Karzai, like President Obama, has to weigh domestic political concerns when making military decisions. But the Karzai government currently does not have a monopoly on the use of force in its country. By making such moves as banning foreign air support, raids in Wardak, unilateral detentions and the presence of private security companies, Karzai will slowly ensure that the Afghan government can wrest control from international forces and other armed groups operating in Afghanistan.

While the decisions are likely to limit military commanders (both ISAF and Afghan) in the field, they are important when balancing long- and short-term goals in the larger strategic picture. After all, the ultimate objective is to have a competent Afghan government that is both capable of providing security and seen as legitimate by the Afghan people.

Night raids and airstrikes may degrade enemy networks effectively, but how much are they hurting long-term strategic objectives by simultaneously angering the population? This is a serious question because the coalition is leaning towards a light-footprint approach after 2014 that, amongst other things, utilizes special-operations forces’ direct-action methods and ISAF’s airpower (the Afghan air force is largely incapable of providing the required support) against terrorist and insurgent networks. If Karzai continues to place limitations on ISAF, they could alter the calculus of what the new Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. permits.

In the end, it is the Afghan government that will have to counter the insurgency by providing security, law and order, and governance to the people—not ISAF. With the upcoming 2014 presidential and parliamentary elections, and a government already rife with problems, Afghan institutions will continue to take a more sensitive approach to the use of violence in order to assuage political concerns. Perhaps this is a sign of growing confidence in their security forces. But it could merely be motivated by fear of angering the population.

Either way, if the Afghan government is willing to accept more responsibility, it should be seen by the international community as an important step towards the development of a weak state’s institutions.

Kip Whittington is a Research Associate at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. You can follow him on Twitter at @KipTWhit. Please note that the views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Harald Dettenborn. CC BY 3.0.


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