Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Russian Imperialism: Nationalism Disguised As ‘Socialism’


Many neoliberals are under the impression that communism failed due to wasteful economic policies adopted by the former Soviet Union. Economic weakness must have played a role, but it was only secondary to the primary role played by politics and a desire for enfranchisement in three-quarters of a century old autocratic political system, especially among the non-Slavic population of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

If we take a cursory look at the history of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in December 1991, it appears that the communist system collapsed due to Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalization policies of Glasnost, or openness, and Perestroika, or restructuring.

The Glasnost phenomena is especially important because it sheds light on the impact of new technology on the social and political life of a country. The late 1980s was the era of the emergence of satellite television in the developing world and it coincided with the political developments in the former Soviet Union. The impact of relatively independent media, such as privately owned television channels and radio stations, cannot be underestimated in creating awareness among the masses.

Marxism as it was practiced in Russia and China was barely disguised Slavic and Han nationalism, respectively. Gorbachev wanted to liberalize and democratize the bureaucratic Bolshevism in Russia gradually, but such was the level of frustration felt by all other nations of the erstwhile Soviet Union besides Slavs that things slipped out of control.

The only force that kept the former Soviet Union together was the Russian Communist Party and its repression. But once relatively free and fair elections were held, first for the Congress of People’s Deputies of the former Soviet Union in March 1989 and then for the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russian Republic in March 1990, a rival power center emerged under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin and the ensuing power struggle between Gorbachev as the then-President of the former Soviet Union and Yeltsin as the then-President of the Russian Republic – one of the 15 constituent Republics of the former Soviet Union – and the unfolding events resulted in the declaration of independence by the Baltic states.

In a momentous coup plot on 19 August 1991, Gorbachev’s vice president, prime minister, defense minister and KGB chief put Gorbachev under house arrest. The coup organizers expected some popular support but the public sympathy in large metropolitan cities was against them.

The attempted coup failed after three days and Gorbachev returned as the President of the former Soviet Union, but not only the power of the president but also the invulnerability of the Communist Party and the Soviet armed forces and intelligence apparatus were compromised in the eyes of wider public. A failed coup plot is always a recipe for disaster because it compromises the deterrence value of power projection which is more about tacit intimidation than actual use of excessive and violent force.

Marxism aspires for the lofty ideals of social justice and the establishment of a classless and stateless society, but it fails to offer a modus operandi for the realization of those goals. It leaves everything to the bureaucratic cadres of the communist party’s ideologues. But the accountability of those ideologues can only take place in a top-down manner, not in a bottom-up manner, because they are not held accountable to the people over whom they are supposed to rule.

China is different from Russia due to its cultural homogeneity: 90% Chinese are Han Chinese who speak the same language and share a similar culture. Due to this reason, it may not collapse like the erstwhile Soviet Union, but it must create a representative political framework to function democratically and in an accountable and transparent manner.

Here let me confess that I am indebted to inimitable Karl Marx for his unprecedented critique of the capitalist exploitative system and his numerous concepts pertaining to economic theory and labor rights. But at the same time, I will dare to question Marx’s flawed sociological analysis. His “dialectical materialism” is akin to social Darwinism. Individuals, even analytical philosophers, are socially constituted and socially situated, and apparently the mindsets of Marx and his disciples were structured by their European cultural and historical experience.

The Russian Slavic imperialism in the form of Marxism-Leninism gained world-wide traction simply because Russia is culturally a European offshoot, even though geographically it occupies the North Asia, whereas the Asian Han imperialism in the form of Maoism is only limited to some regionally adjacent countries.

This fact alone is a sufficient proof of the European cultural hegemony on the rest of the world – not only the thesis but the anti-thesis must also have European cultural roots in order to gain traction among social elites of the Western world. The Marxists fail to appreciate the fact that there are two kinds of divisions: vertical divisions on the basis of class and horizontal divisions on the basis of ethnic, linguistic and cultural groupings, which might also have legitimate ethnic and cultural aspirations.

Moreover, after carefully observing ideas and worldviews of disparate groups of socialists around the world, I’ve reached a conclusion that there are two separate and distinct classes of socialists. Idealist Marxists generally are the erudite and highbrow intellectuals of the developed Western countries; whereas national socialists mostly are the Russian, East European, Chinese and sometimes Latin American nationalists.

Basic difference between the two is that idealist Marxists typically are socialists by choice and learning who have overcome their ethnic and nationalist prejudices, whereas national socialists are socialists by birth and indoctrination since their national narratives are based on facile Marxism. The make-believe socialism of the latter class of socialists is actually nationalism in the guise of socialism.

Regarding the New Left, although it seems revisionist, I prefer the evolutionary, non-violent and nuanced approach of the New Left over classical Marxism. I have noticed only one serious deficiency in the New Left creed, however. Instead of being single-mindedly labor-focused, they waste their time and efforts on a wide range of tangential issues.

And the way I see it, it isn’t their fault. When a Western Marxist looks around him, he doesn’t finds an exploited class; the labor is already well paid and there is no need for further labor reforms. Thanks to the North’s exploitation of the South, the general state of national economies in the developed West is robust, and dollar, euro and pound can buy anything; that’s why, the Western Marxists find time to take interest in marginal issues.

Due to the neocolonial global economic order, the real exploited class does not exist in the developed world; it only exists in the developing world; where labor is still underpaid, overworked and labor rights and laws are virtually non-existent. For the New Left to become relevant once again on a world-wide scale, it must focus on the mainstream issues affecting an overwhelming majority of the dispossessed masses all over the world, and not just in the developed world.

Finally, China is an interesting case study in regard to its history. Firstly, although it did fight a couple of Opium Wars with the British in the middle of the nineteenth century, the influence of Western imperialism generally remained confined to its coastal cities and it did not make inroads into inland areas.

Secondly, China is ethno-linguistically and culturally homogeneous: more than 90% Chinese belong to the Han ethnic group and they speak various dialects of Mandarin, thus reducing the chances of discord and dissension in the Chinese society.

And lastly, behind the “Iron Curtain” of international isolation beginning from the Maoist revolution in 1949 to China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, China successfully built its manufacturing base by imparting vocational and technical education to its disciplined workforce and by building an industrial and transport infrastructure.

It didn’t allow any imports until 2001, but after joining the WTO, it opened up its import-export policy on a reciprocal basis; and since labor is much cheaper in China than in the Western countries, therefore it now has a comparative advantage over the Western capitalist bloc which China has exploited in its national interest. These three factors, along with the visionary leadership of Chairman Mao, Zhou Enlai and China’s vanguard socialist party collectively, have placed China on the path to progress and prosperity in the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Is Russia Arming the Taliban to Avenge Loss of Ukraine?

Ronald Reagan and Younas Khalis.
On November 9, Russia hosted talks between Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, the members of the Taliban from its Doha, Qatar office and representatives from eleven regional states, including China, India, Iran and Pakistan. The meeting showcased Russia’s re-emergence as a proactive global power and its regional clout.

At the same time when the conference was hosted in Moscow, however, the Taliban mounted concerted attacks in the northern Baghlan province, the Jaghori district in central Ghazni province and the western Farah province bordering Iran.

In fact, according to a recent report by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the US-backed Afghan government only controls 55% of Afghanistan’s territory. It’s worth noting that SIGAR is a US-based governmental agency that often inflates figures. Factually, the government’s writ does not extend beyond a third of Afghanistan. In many cases, the Afghan government controls district-centers of provinces and rural areas are either controlled by the Taliban or are contested.

If we take a cursory look at the insurgency in Afghanistan, the Bush administration toppled the Taliban regime with the help of the Northern Alliance in October 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack. Since the beginning, however, Afghanistan was an area of lesser priority for the Bush administration.

The number of US troops stationed in Afghanistan did not exceed beyond 30,000 during George Bush’s tenure as president, and soon after occupying Afghanistan, he invaded Iraq in March 2003 and American resources and focus shifted to Iraq.

It was the Obama administration that made Afghanistan the bedrock of its foreign policy in 2009 along with fulfilling then-President Obama’s electoral pledge of withdrawing the US troops from Iraq in December 2011. At the height of the surge of the US troops in Afghanistan in 2010, they numbered around 140,000 but still did not manage to have a lasting effect on the relentless Taliban insurgency.

The Taliban are known to be diehard fighters who are adept at hit-and-run guerilla tactics and have a much better understanding of the Afghan territory compared to foreigners. Even by their standards, however, the Taliban insurgency seems to be on steroids during the last couple of years.

They have managed to overrun and hold vast swathes of territory not only in the traditional Pashtun heartland of southern Afghanistan, such as Helmand, but have also made inroads into the northern provinces of Afghanistan which are the traditional strongholds of the Northern Alliance comprising Tajiks and Uzbeks.

In October 2016, for instance, the Taliban mounted brazen attacks on the Gormach district of northwestern Faryab province, the Tirankot district of Uruzgan province and briefly captured [1] the district-center of the northern Kunduz province, before they were repelled with the help of US air power.

This outreach of the Taliban into the traditional strongholds of the Tajiks and Uzbeks in northern Afghanistan bordering the Russian satellite states Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has come as a surprise to perceptive observers of the militancy in Afghanistan.

It is commonly believed that the Taliban are the proxies of Pakistan’s military which uses them as “strategic assets” to offset the influence of India in Afghanistan. The hands of Pakistan’s military, however, have been full with a homegrown insurgency of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) since 2009 when it began conducting military operations in Swat and the tribal areas.

Although some remnants of the Taliban still find safe havens in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan, the renewed vigor and brazen assaults of the Taliban, particularly in the Afghanistan’s northern provinces as I described earlier, cannot be explained by the support of Pakistan’s military to the Taliban.

In an August 2017 report [2] for the New York Times, Carlotta Gall described the killing of the former Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike on a tip-off from Pakistan’s intelligence in Pakistan’s western Balochistan province in May 2016 when he was coming back from a secret meeting with Russian and Iranian officials in Iran. According to the report, “Iran facilitated a meeting between Mullah Akhtar Mansour and Russian officials, Afghan officials said, securing funds and weapons from Moscow for the insurgents.”

It bears mentioning that the Russian support to the Taliban coincides with its intervention in Syria in September 2015, after the Ukrainian Crisis in November 2013 when Viktor Yanukovych suspended the preparations for the implementation of an association agreement with the European Union and tried to take Ukraine back into the folds of the Russian sphere of influence by accepting billions of dollars of loan package offered by Vladimir Putin to Ukraine, consequently causing a crisis in which Yanukovych was ousted from power and Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.

Although the ostensible reason of Russia’s support – and by some accounts, Iran’s as well – to the Taliban is that it wants to contain the influence of the Islamic State Khorasan Province in Afghanistan because the Khorasan Province includes members of the now defunct Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Russia’s traditional foe, the real reason of Russia’s intervention in Syria and support to the Taliban in Afghanistan is that the Western powers are involved in both of these conflicts and since a New Cold War has started between Russia and the Western powers after the Ukrainian crisis, hence it suits Russia’s strategic interests to weaken the influence of the Western powers in the Middle East and Central Asian regions and project its own power.  

In order to grasp the significance of the New Cold War between Russia and the Western powers, on March 4, Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent working for the British foreign intelligence service, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench outside a shopping center in Salisbury. A week later, another Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov was found dead in his London home.

Skripal was recruited by the British MI6 in 1995, and before his arrest in Russia in December 2004, he was alleged to have blown the cover of scores of Russian secret agents. He was released in a spy swap deal in 2010 and was allowed to settle in Salisbury. Theresa May’s government concluded that Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Moscow-made, military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, and expelled 23 Russian diplomats. In a tit-for-tat move, Kremlin also expelled a similar number of British diplomats.

Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump assured their full support to Theresa May and also expelled scores of Russian diplomats. Thus, the relations between Moscow and the Western powers have reached their lowest ebb since the break-up of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in December 1991.

Although Russia might appear as an aggressor in these instances, in order to understand the real casus belli of the New Cold War between Russia and the Western powers, we must recall another momentous event that took place in Deir al-Zor province of Syria a month before the poisoning of Skripals who have since recovered.

On February 7, the US B-52 bombers and Apache helicopters struck a contingent of Syrian government troops and allied forces in Deir al-Zor that reportedly killed and wounded scores of Russian military contractors working for the Russian private security firm, the Wagner group. The survivors described the bombing as an absolute “massacre” and Kremlin lost more Russian citizens in one day than it had lost during its entire military campaign in support of the Syrian government since September 2015.

The reason why Washington struck Russian contractors working in Syria was that the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which is mainly comprised of Kurdish YPG militias – had reportedly handed over the control of some areas east of Euphrates River to Deir al-Zor Military Council (DMC), which is the Arab-led component of SDF, and had relocated several battalions of Kurdish YPG militias to Afrin and along Syria’s northern border with Turkey in order to defend the Kurdish-held areas against the onslaught of the Turkish armed forces and allied Free Syria Army (FSA) militias in their “Operation Olive Branch” in Syria’s northwest.

Syrian forces with the backing of Russian contractors took advantage of the opportunity and crossed the Euphrates River to capture an oil refinery located east of Euphrates River in the Kurdish-held area of Deir al-Zor.

The US Air Force responded with full force, knowing well the ragtag Arab component of SDF – mainly comprised of local Arab tribesmen and mercenaries to make the Kurdish-led SDF appear more representative and inclusive – was simply not a match for the superior training and arms of Syrian troops and Russian military contractors. Consequently, causing a carnage in which scores of Russian citizens lost their lives, an incident which became a trigger for the beginning of a New Cold War which is obvious from the subsequent events.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

How Khashoggi’s Murder Influenced US Midterm Elections?


A question would naturally arise in the minds of astute readers of alternative media that why did the mainstream media, Washington Post and New York Times in particular, take the lead in publicizing the murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2?

One apparent reason could be that Khashoggi was an opinion columnist at The Washington Post, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon. Washington Post has a history of working in close collaboration with the CIA because Bezos had won a $600 million contract [1] in 2013 to host the CIA’s database on the Amazon’s web-hosting service.

It’s worth noting here that despite the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman being primarily responsible for the war in Yemen that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and has created a famine in Yemen, the mainstream media hailed him as a “liberal savior” who had brought radical reforms in the conservative Saudi society by permitting women to drive and by allowing cinemas to screen the Hollywood movies.

So what prompted the sudden change of heart in the mainstream media that the purported “moderate reformer” was all of a sudden vilified as a brutal murderer? It could be the nature of the brutal assassination as Khashoggi’s body was barbarically dismembered and dissolved in acid, according to the Turkish sources.

More significantly, however, it was the timing of the assassination and the political mileage that could be gained from Khashoggi’s murder in the domestic politics of the US. Khashoggi was murdered on October 2, when the US midterm elections were only a few weeks away. Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner in particular have known to have forged close business relations with the Saudi royal family. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia and Israel for his first official visit in May last year.

Thus, the neoliberal media’s campaign to seek justice for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was actually a smear campaign against Donald Trump and his conservative political base, which is now obvious after the US midterm election results have poured in. Even though the Republicans have retained their 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Democrats now control the House of Representatives by gaining more than 30 additional seats.

Regarding the nature of the steadfast alliance between Washington and Riyadh, it bears mentioning that in April 2016 the Saudi foreign minister threatened [2] that the Saudi kingdom would sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets if the US Congress passed a bill that would allow Americans to sue the Saudi government in the United States courts for its role in the September 11, 2001 terror attack. (Though the bill was eventually passed, the Saudi authorities have not been held accountable; even though 15 out of 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.)

Moreover, $750 billion is only the Saudi investment in the United States, if we add its investment in the Western Europe and the investments of UAE, Kuwait and Qatar in the Western economies, the sum total would amount to trillions of dollars of Gulf’s investments in North America and Western Europe.

Furthermore, in order to bring home the significance of the Persian Gulf’s oil in the energy-starved industrialized world, here are a few rough stats from the OPEC data: Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest proven crude oil reserves of 265 billion barrels and its daily oil production exceeds 10 million barrels; Iran and Iraq, each, has 150 billion barrels reserves and has the capacity to produce 5 million barrels per day, each; while UAE and Kuwait, each, has 100 billion barrels reserves and produces 3 million barrels per day, each; thus, all the littoral states of the Persian Gulf, together, hold more than half of world’s 1477 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.

Additionally, regarding the Western defense production industry’s sales of arms to the Gulf Arab States, a report [3] authored by William Hartung of the US-based Center for International Policy found that the Obama administration had offered Saudi Arabia more than $115 billion in weapons, military equipment and training during its eight-year tenure.

Similarly, the top items in Trump’s agenda for his maiden visit to Saudi Arabia in May last year were: firstly, he threw his weight behind the idea of the Saudi-led “Arab NATO” to counter Iran’s influence in the region; and secondly, he announced an unprecedented arms package for Saudi Arabia. The package included between $98 billion and $128 billion in arms sales, and over a period of 10 years, total sales could reach $350 billion.

Therefore, keeping the economic dependence of the Western countries on the Gulf Arab States in mind during the times of global recession when most of manufacturing has been outsourced to China, it is not surprising that when the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decided to provide training and arms to the Islamic jihadists in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Obama administration was left with no other choice but to toe the destructive policy of its regional Middle Eastern allies, despite the sectarian nature of the proxy war and its attendant consequences of breeding a new generation of Islamic jihadists who would become a long-term security risk not only to the Middle East but to the Western countries, as well.

Similarly, when King Abdullah’s successor, King Salman, decided on the whim of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to invade Yemen in March 2015, once again the Obama administration had to yield to the dictates of Saudi Arabia and UAE by fully coordinating the Gulf-led military campaign in Yemen not only by providing intelligence, planning and logistical support but also by selling billions of dollars’ worth of arms and ammunition to the Gulf Arab States during the conflict.

In this reciprocal relationship, the US provides security to the ruling families of the Gulf Arab states by providing weapons and troops; and in return, the Gulf’s petro-sheikhs contribute substantial investments to the tune of trillions of dollars to the Western economies.

After the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the publicity it got in the mainstream media, some starry-eyed dreamers are wondering is there a way for Washington to enforce economic sanctions against Saudi Arabia? As in the case of Iran nuclear sanctions from 2006 to 2015, sanctioning the Gulf states also seems plausible; however, there is a caveat: Iran is only a single oil-rich state which has 160 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and has the capacity to produce 5 million barrels per day (mbpd) of crude oil.

On the other hand, the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies are actually four oil-rich states: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait. Together, their share amounts to 466 billion barrels, almost one-third of the world’s 1477 billion barrels of total proven oil reserves.

Therefore, though enforcing economic sanctions on the Gulf states sounds like a good idea on paper, the relationship between the Gulf’s petro-monarchies and the industrialized world is a consumer-supplier relationship. The Gulf states are the suppliers of energy and the industrialized world is its consumer, hence the Western powers cannot sanction their energy suppliers and largest investors.

If anything, the Gulf’s petro-monarchies have “sanctioned” the Western powers in the past by imposing the oil embargo in 1973 after the Arab-Israel war. The 1973 Arab oil embargo against the West lasted only for a short span of six months, during which the price of oil quadrupled, but Washington became so paranoid after the embargo that it put in place a ban on the export of crude oil outside the US borders and began keeping 60-day stock of reserve fuel for strategic and military needs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Iran Nuclear Deal was Meant to Give US Face-saving in Syria


Today, the Trump administration announced the most stringent set of sanctions against Iran to appease Benjamin Netanyahu. Donald Trump has repeatedly said during the last two years that the Iran nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration in 2015 was an “unfair deal” that gave concessions to Iran without giving anything in return to the US.

Unfortunately, there is a grain of truth in Trump’s statements because the Obama administration had signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran in July 2015 under pressure as Washington had bungled in its Middle East policy and it wanted Iran’s cooperation in Syria and Iraq to get a face-saving.

In order to understand how the Obama administration bungled in Syria and Iraq, we should bear the background of Washington’s Middle East policy during the recent years in mind. The seven-year-long conflict in Syria, that gave birth to scores of militant groups, including the Islamic State, and after the conflict spilled across the border into neighboring Iraq in early 2014, was directly responsible for the spate of Islamic State-inspired terror attacks in Europe from 2015 to 2017.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to June 2014, when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional Sunni allies and jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis. In accordance with the pact, militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Syrian government.

This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the jihadists of the Middle East against the Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014, when the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against one group of Sunni militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, after the latter overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian government in September 2015, the momentum of jihadists’ expansion in Syria and Iraq stalled, and they felt that their Western patrons had committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause, that’s why they were infuriated and rose up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.

If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the spate of terror attacks against the West was critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, the Obama Administration began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism occurred on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks, the March 2016 Brussels bombings, the June 2016 truck-ramming incident in Nice, and three horrific terror attacks took place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months in 2017, and after that the Islamic State carried out the Barcelona attack in August 2017, and then another truck-ramming atrocity occurred in Lower Manhattan in October 2017 that was also claimed by the Islamic State.

More to the point, the dilemma that the jihadists and their regional backers faced in Syria was quite unique: in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013, the stage was all set for yet another no-fly zone and “humanitarian intervention” a la Qaddafi’s Libya; the war hounds were waiting for a finishing blow and then-Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and then-Saudi intelligence chief, Bandar bin Sultan, were shuttling between the Western capitals to lobby for the military intervention. Francois Hollande had already announced his intentions and David Cameron was also onboard.

Here it should be remembered that even during the Libyan intervention, the Obama administration’s policy was a bit ambivalent and France under the leadership of Sarkozy had taken the lead role. In Syria’s case, however, the British parliament forced Cameron to seek a vote for military intervention in the House of Commons before committing the British troops and air force to Syria.

Taking cue from the British parliament, the US Congress also compelled Obama to seek approval before another ill-conceived military intervention; and since both the administrations lacked the requisite majority in their respective parliaments and the public opinion was also fiercely against another Middle Eastern war, therefore Obama and Cameron dropped their plans of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.

In the end, France was left alone as the only Western power still in favor of intervention; at that point, however, the seasoned Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, staged a diplomatic coup by announcing that the Syrian regime was willing to ship its chemical weapons stockpiles out of Syria and subsequently the issue was amicably resolved.

Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf Arab states, the main beneficiaries of the Sunni Jihad against the Shi’a-dominated government in Syria, however, had lost a golden opportunity to deal a fatal blow to their regional rivals.

To add insult to the injury, the Islamic State, one of the numerous Sunni Arab militant outfits fighting in Syria, overstepped its mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in 2014, from where the US troops had withdrawn only a couple of years ago in December 2011, as I have already described.

Additionally, when the graphic images and videos of Islamic State’s executions surfaced on the internet, the Obama administration was left with no other choice but to adopt some countermeasures to show that it was still sincere in pursuing its dubious “war on terror” policy; at the same time, however, it assured its Turkish, Jordanian and Gulf Arab allies that despite fighting a war against the maverick jihadist outfit, the Islamic State, the Western policy of training and arming the so-called “moderate” Syrian militants will continue apace and that Bashar al-Assad’s days were numbered, one way or the other.

Moreover, declaring the war against the Islamic State in August 2014 served another purpose too: in order to commit the US Air Force to Syria and Iraq, the Obama administration needed the approval of the US Congress which was not available, as I have already mentioned, but by declaring a war against the Islamic State, which is a designated terrorist organization, the Obama administration availed itself of the war on terror provisions in the US laws and thus circumvented the US Congress.

But then Russia threw a spanner in the works of NATO and its Gulf Arab allies in September 2015 by its surreptitious military buildup in Latakia that was executed with an element of surprise unheard of since General Rommel, the Desert Fox. And now Turkey, Jordan, the Gulf Arab states and their jihadist proxies in Syria find themselves at the receiving end in the Syrian conflict.

Keeping this background of the quagmire created by the Obama administration in Syria and Iraq to please Washington’s regional allies, Israel and the Gulf states, in mind, it becomes amply clear that the Obama administration desperately needed Iran’s cooperation in Syria and Iraq to salvage its failed policy of training and arming jihadists to topple the government in Syria that backfired and gave birth to the Islamic State that carried out some of the most audacious terror attacks in Europe from 2015 to 2017.

Thus, Washington signed JCPOA in July 2015 that gave some concessions to Iran, and in return the then hardliner Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki was forced out of power in September 2014 and the moderate Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was appointed in his stead who gave permission to the US Air Force and ground troops to assist Iraq’s Armed Forces and allied militias to beat back the Islamic State from Mosul and Anbar.

The Trump administration, however, is not hampered by the legacy of Obama administration and since the objective of defeating the Islamic State has already been comprehensively achieved, therefore Washington felt safe to annul the Iran nuclear deal in May and the crippling “third-party sanctions” have once again been put in place on Iran at Benjamin Netanyahu’s behest. In realpolitik, one cannot negotiate from a position of weakness, one can only capitulate; because justice simply prevails among equals.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Why Pakistan Army Killed ‘Father of Taliban’?

Imran Khan and Maulana Sami-ul-Haq.

On Friday evening, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq was found dead in his Rawalpindi residence. The assassination was as gruesome as the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He was stabbed multiple times in chest, stomach and forehead.

Sami-ul-Haq was widely known as the “father of the Taliban” because he was a renowned religious cleric who used to administer a sprawling religious seminary, Darul Uloom Haqqania, in Akora Khattak in northwestern Pakistan. During the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s, the seminary was used for training and arming the Afghan so-called “Mujahideen” (freedom fighters), though it is now used exclusively for imparting religious education. Many of the well-known Taliban militant commanders received their education in his seminary.

In order to understand the motive of the assassination, we need to keep the backdrop in mind. On October 31, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman, Aasiya Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy and had been languishing in prison since 2010. Pakistan’s religious political parties were holding street protests against her acquittal for the last three days and had paralyzed the whole country.

But as soon as the news of Sami-ul-Haq’s murder broke and the pictures of the bloodied corpse were released to the media, the religious parties reached an agreement with the government and called off the protests within few hours of the assassination.

Evidently, it was a shot across the bow by Pakistan’s security establishment to the religious right that brings to mind a scene from the epic movie Godfather, in which a horse’s head was put into a Hollywood director’s bed on Don Corleone’s orders that frightened the director out of his wits and he agreed to give a lead role in a movie to the Don’s protégé.

What further lends credence to the theory that Pakistan’s security establishment was behind the murder of Sami-ul-Haq is the fact that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a close associate of the Taliban’s founder Mullah Omar, was recently released [1] by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and allowed to join his family in Afghanistan.

Baradar was captured in a joint US-Pakistan intelligence operation in the port city of Karachi in 2010. His release was a longstanding demand of the Afghan government because he is regarded as a comparatively moderate Taliban leader who could play a role in the peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Furthermore, Washington has been arm-twisting Islamabad through the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to do more to curtail the activities of the militants operating from its soil to destabilize the US-backed government in Afghanistan and to pressure the Taliban to initiate a peace process with the government. Under such circumstances, a religious cleric like Sami-ul-Haq, who was widely known as the “father of the Taliban,” becomes more of a liability than an asset.

It’s worth noting here that though far from being its diehard ideologue, Donald Trump has been affiliated with the infamous white supremacist ‘alt-right’ movement, which regards Islamic terrorism as an existential threat to America’s security. Trump’s tweets slamming Pakistan for playing a double game in Afghanistan and providing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban on its soil reveals his uncompromising and hawkish stance on terrorism.

Many political commentators in the Pakistani media misinterpreted Trump’s tweets as nothing more than a momentary tantrum of a fickle US president, who wants to pin the blame of Washington’s failures in Afghanistan on Pakistan. But along with tweets, the Trump administration also withheld a tranche of $255 million US assistance to Pakistan, which shows that it wasn’t just tweets but a carefully considered policy of the new US administration to persuade Pakistan to toe Washington’s line in Afghanistan.

Moreover, it would be pertinent to mention here that in a momentous decision in July 2017, the then prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from holding public office by the country’s Supreme Court on the flimsy pretext of holding an ‘Iqama’ (a work permit) for a Dubai-based company.

Although it is generally assumed the revelations in the Panama Papers, that Nawaz Sharif and his family members own offshore companies, led to the disqualification of the former prime minister, another critically important factor that contributed to the downfall of Nawaz Sharif is often overlooked.

In October 2016, one of Pakistan’s leading English language newspapers, Dawn News, published an exclusive report [2] dubbed as the ‘Dawn Leaks’ in Pakistan’s press. In the report titled ‘Act against militants or face international isolation,’ citing an advisor to the prime minister, Tariq Fatemi, who was fired from his job for disclosing the internal deliberations of a high-level meeting to the media, the author of the report Cyril Almeida contended that in a huddle of Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, the civilian government had told the military’s top brass to withdraw its support from the militant outfits operating in Pakistan, specifically from the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

After losing tens of thousands of lives to terror attacks during the last decade, an across the board consensus has developed among Pakistan’s mainstream political forces that the policy of nurturing militants against regional adversaries has backfired on Pakistan and it risks facing international isolation due to belligerent policies of Pakistan’s security establishment. Not only Washington, but Pakistan’s ‘all-weather ally’ China, which plans to invest $62 billion in Pakistan via its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects, has also made its reservations public regarding Pakistan’s continued support to the aforementioned jihadist groups.

Thus, excluding a handful of far-right Islamist political parties that are funded by the Gulf’s petro-dollars and historically garner less than 10% votes of Pakistan’s electorate, all the civilian political forces are in favor of turning a new leaf in Pakistan’s checkered political history by endorsing the decision of an indiscriminate crackdown on militant outfits operating in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s security establishment jealously guards its traditional domain, the security and foreign policy of Pakistan, and still maintains a distinction between the so-called ‘good and bad’ Taliban.

Regarding Pakistan’s duplicitous stance on terrorism, it’s worth noting that there are three distinct categories of militants operating in Pakistan: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants; and foreign transnational terrorists, including the Arab militants of al-Qaeda, the Uzbek insurgents of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Chinese Uighur jihadists of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Compared to tens of thousands of native Pashtun and Punjabi militants, the foreign transnational terrorists number only in a few hundred and are hence inconsequential.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly comprised of Pashtun militants, carries out bombings against Pakistan’s state apparatus. The ethnic factor is critical here. Although the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) like to couch their rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity and language that enables them to recruit Pashtun tribesmen who are willing to carry out subversive activities against the Punjabi-dominated state apparatus, while the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants have by and large remained loyal to their patrons in the security agencies of Pakistan.

Although Pakistan’s security establishment has been willing to conduct military operations against the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which are regarded as a security threat to Pakistan’s state apparatus, as far as the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Afghanistan-focused Quetta Shura Taliban, including the Haqqani network, are concerned, they are still enjoying impunity because such militant groups are regarded as ‘strategic assets’ by Pakistan’s security agencies.

Finally, after Trump’s outbursts against Pakistan, many willfully blind security and defense analysts suggested that Pakistan needed to intensify its diplomatic efforts to persuade the new US administration that Pakistan was sincere in its fight against terrorism. But diplomacy is not a pantomime in which one can persuade one’s interlocutors merely by hollow words without substantiating the words by tangible actions.

The double game played by Pakistan’s security agencies in Afghanistan and Kashmir to destabilize its regional adversaries is in plain sight for everybody to discern and feel indignant about. Therefore, Pakistan will have to withdraw its support from the Afghan Taliban and the Punjabi militant groups, if it is eager to maintain good working relations with the Trump administration and wants to avoid economic sanctions and international censure.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hindu Majoritarianism and Pakistan Movement

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.
The prefix ‘Pak,’ which is the root of the word Pakistan, literally means clean or pure in Urdu language. Choosing the name Pakistan for their newfound country sheds light on the mindset of our founding fathers. As the readers are well aware that Hindu religion is a caste-based religion which regards people belonging to other faiths, and even low-caste Hindus, as sleazy untouchables.

The Muslims of India suffered this discrimination at the hands of the numerical majority during the British Raj, that’s why they chose the name Pakistan: the land of the clean or pure, for their newfound sanctuary. Thus, Pakistan and the oft-quoted pejorative, ‘the land of the pure,’ isn’t as much about some conceited sense of superiority as it was about redressing a historical injustice, and the demand for a separate homeland was basically a reaction to the discrimination and persecution suffered by the disenfranchised Muslims of India at the hands of Hindu nationalists.

Sociologically, ethno-linguistic groups are generally regarded as distinct nations but sometimes one’s religious sect can take precedence over ethno-linguistic identity. The Syrian and Iraqi Shias speak Arabic while the Iranian Shias speak Persian; despite the linguistic difference, during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988, the Shia-led Baathist regime of Syria took the side of Iran against the fellow Arabic-speaking and Sunni-led Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. After the fall of Saddam, when the government in Iraq has now been led by the Shias, the three Shia-led states have formed an alliance comprising Iran, Iraq and Syria against the Sunni-led Gulf Arab States.

Having a secular bend of mind, I personally find Sunni and Shia Muslims to be virtually indistinguishable. Although they do have a few minor theological and doctrinal differences but culturally they belong to the same religion and civilization. I have drawn attention to the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East only to emphasize the importance of religion in the Eastern societies. Modern secularists regard the social aspect of religion as some outdated medieval notion, but conformity to ethno-religious identity is a visible and ubiquitous reality in our part of the world.

Now, Sunni and Shia are only two sects of the same religion, Islam, and these minor sectarian differences can make their followers forget their ethno-linguistic identities in choosing friends and forming alliances, while Hinduism and Islam are two radically different religions, so much so that many Muslims in Pakistan don’t even know what deities the Hindus worship. By uncritically imitating Orientalist historians, however, many secularists assume that the creation of a nation state on the basis of ethno-religious identity was an imprudent decision by Jinnah and the Muslim League.

Regardless, here we must try to understand the attitudes and mindsets of the British Indian leaders that why did they favour certain rallying calls and disapproved the rest? In my opinion, this preferential treatment had to do with personal inclinations and ambitions of the British Indian leaders and the interests of their respective communities as perceived by the leaders in heterogeneous and multi-ethnic societies like British India.

A leader whose ambitions are limited only to his own ethnic group would rally his followers around their shared ethno-linguistic identity, but politicians who have larger ambitions would look for common factors that unite diverse ethnic groups, that’s where the role of religion becomes politically relevant in traditional societies.

It suited the personal ambitions of the Muslim League leadership to rally their supporters around the cause of Islamic identity, and it benefited the political agenda of the Congress leadership to unite all Indians under the banner of a more inclusive and secular Indian national identity in order to keep India united under the permanent yoke of numerical Hindu majority.

However, mere rhetoric is never a substitute for tangible actions, no matter how noble and superficially appealing it may sound. The Indian National Congress right from its inception was a thinly disguised Hindu nationalist party that only had a pretence of inclusive secularism, that’s why some of the most vocal proponents of Hindu-Muslim unity, like Jinnah and Iqbal, later became its most fierce critics, especially when Gandhi and his protégé Pundit Nehru took over the leadership of Congress in 1921.

Moreover, while I concede that the colonial divide-and-rule policy was partly responsible for sowing the seeds of dissension amongst the British Indian religious communities, but generally most outcomes cannot be understood by adopting a simplistic and linear approach that tries to explain complex socio-political phenomena by emphasizing a single cause and downplaying the importance of other equally significant, albeit underestimated, plurality of causes.

Islamic nationalism in British India had as much to do with the divide-and-rule strategy on the part of the British colonisers as it was a reaction to exclusionary Hindu majoritarianism. As I have described earlier that different rallying calls are adopted as political agendas by politicians to rally support for their individual ambitions.

Looking at the demeanour of ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi and his aspirations of being a Hindu saint and a messiah, did he look like a secular leader by any stretch of imagination? But he chose the rallying call of secularism because it suited his personal ambitions and the interests of Hindu community which he really represented.

Finally, every political rallying call has its express wordings but it also has certain subtle undertones. It is quite possible that some Westernised Congress leaders might have genuinely believed in the ideals of secularism and pluralism, but on the popular level of the traditional Indian masses, the Hindus of British India coalesced around Congress not because of its ostensible secularism but due to its undertones of Hindu Raj. A fact which has now become obvious after the election of an overt Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi, to the premiership of India 70 years after the independence.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Petro-Islam: Nexus between Oil and Terrorism

Inquisitive observers of the Middle Eastern politics would naturally wonder why do Western powers prop up the Gulf’s petro-monarchies, knowing fully well that they are the ones responsible for nurturing Islamic extremism? Does this not run counter to their professed goal of eliminating Islamic radicalism and terrorism?

Seemingly, the Western powers support the Gulf’s autocrats because it has been a firm policy principle of the Western powers to promote ‘stability’ in the Middle East instead of representative democracy. They are mindful of the ground reality that the mainstream Muslim sentiment is firmly against any Western military presence and intervention in the Middle East region.

In addition, the Western policymakers also prefer to deal with small groups of Middle Eastern ‘strongmen’ rather than cultivating a complex and uncertain relationship on a popular level, certainly a myopic approach which is the hallmark of so-called ‘pragmatic’ politicians and statesmen.

Left to their own resources, the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies lack the manpower, the military technology and the moral authority to rule over the forcefully suppressed and disenfranchised Arab masses, not only the Arab masses but also the South Asian and African immigrants of the Gulf states. One-third of the Saudi Arabian population is comprised of immigrants. Similarly, more than 75% of UAE’s population is also comprised of expats from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.

The rest of the Gulf states, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, also have a similar proportion of immigrant workers from the developing countries. Unlike the immigrants of the Western countries, however, who hold the citizenship status, the Gulf’s immigrants have lived there for decades and sometimes for generations, and they are still regarded as unentitled foreigners.

Regarding the question that is there a way for the international community to persuade the Gulf states to implement democratic reforms, it’s worth noting that the nuclear sanctions on Iran from 2006 to 2015 have brought to the fore the enormous power that the Western financial institutions wield over the global financial system.

Despite the sanctions being unfair, Iran felt the heat so much that it remained engaged in negotiations throughout the nearly decade-long period of sanctions, and the issue was finally settled in the form of the Iran nuclear deal in April 2015. Such was the crippling effect of those ‘third party’ sanctions on the Iranian economy, however, that had it not been for Iran’s enormous oil and gas reserves, and some Russian, Chinese and Turkish help in illicitly buying Iranian oil, it could have defaulted due to those sanctions.

All I am trying to suggest is that there are ways to persuade the Gulf’s petro-monarchies to implement democratic reforms and to desist from sponsoring Islamic extremism, provided we have just and upright international arbiters. As in the case of aforementioned Iran sanctions, sanctioning the Gulf states also seems plausible, however, there is a caveat: Iran is only a single oil-rich state which has 160 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and has the capacity to produce 5 million barrels per day (mbpd) of crude oil.

On the other hand, the Persian Gulf’s petro-monarchies are actually three oil-rich states. Saudi Arabia with its 266 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 10 mbpd of daily crude oil production, and UAE and Kuwait with 100 billion barrels of proven reserves each and 3 mbpd of daily crude oil production each. Together, their share amounts to 466 billion barrels, almost one-third of the world’s 1477 billion barrels of total proven oil reserves. Moreover, if we add Qatar to the equation, which isn’t oil-rich as such, but has substantial natural gas reserves, it will take a morally very upright arbiter to sanction all of them.

Therefore, though enforcing economic sanctions on the Gulf states to implement democratic reforms sounds like a good idea on paper, but the relationship between the Gulf’s petro-monarchies and the industrialized world is that of a consumer-supplier relationship. The Gulf states are the suppliers of energy and the industrialized world is its consumer, hence the Western powers cannot sanction their energy suppliers and largest investors.

If anything, the Gulf’s petro-monarchies have ‘sanctioned’ the Western powers in the past by imposing the oil embargo in 1973 after the Arab-Israel war. The 1973 Arab oil embargo against the West lasted only for a short span of six months during which the price of oil quadrupled. But Washington became so paranoid after the embargo that it put in place a ban on the export of crude oil outside the US borders -- which is still in place -- and began keeping 60 days stock of reserve fuel for strategic and military needs.

Recently, some very upbeat rumours about the shale revolution have been circulating in the media. However, the shale revolution is primarily a natural gas revolution. It has increased the ‘probable recoverable’ resources of natural gas by 30%. The shale oil, on the other hand, refers to two starkly different kinds of energy resources: first, the solid kerogen -- though substantial resources of kerogen have been found in the US Green River formations, but the cost of extracting liquid crude from solid kerogen is so high that it is economically unviable for at least 100 years; second, the tight oil which is blocked by the shale -- it is a viable energy resource but the reserves are so limited, roughly 4 billion barrels in Texas and North Dakota, that it will run out in a few years.

More than the size of oil reserves, it is about per barrel extraction cost, which determines the profits for the multinational oil companies, and in this regard, the Persian Gulf’s crude oil is the most profitable. Further, regarding the supposed US energy independence after the so-called ‘shale revolution,’ the US produced 11 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil in the first quarter of 2014, which is more than the output of Saudi Arabia and Russia, each of which produces around 10 million bpd. But the US still imported 7.5 million bpd during the same period, which is more than the oil imports of France and Britain put together. More than the total volume of oil production, the volume which an oil-producing country exports determines its place in the hierarchy of petroleum and the Gulf’s petro-monarchies constitute the top tier of that pyramid.