Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Islamic State declares Idlib its emirate in Syria

While the representatives of Free Syria Army (FSA) are in Washington soliciting the Trump administration to restore the CIA’s ‘train and equip’ program for the Syrian militants that was shuttered in July last year, hundreds of Islamic State’s jihadists have joined the so-called ‘moderate rebels’ in Idlib in their battle against the advancing Syrian government troops backed by the Russian airstrikes to liberate the strategically important Abu Duhur airbase, according to a recent AFP report [1] by Maya Gebeily.

The Islamic State already had a foothold in neighbouring Hama province and its infiltration in Idlib seems to be an extension of its outreach. On January 12, the Islamic State officially declared Idlib one of its ‘Islamic governorates,’ has reportedly captured five villages and claimed to had killed two dozen Syrian soldiers and taken 20 hostages.

In all likelihood, some of the Islamic State’s jihadists who have joined the battle in Idlib were part of the same contingent of militants that fled Raqqa in October last year under a deal brokered [2] by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In fact, one of the main objectives of the deal was to let the jihadists fight the Syrian government troops and to free up the Kurdish-led SDF in a scramble to capture oil and gas fields in Deir al-Zor and the border posts along Syria’s border with Iraq.

Islamic State’s foray into Idlib, which has firmly been under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) led by al-Nusra Front since 2015, isn’t the only instance of its kind. Remember that when the Syrian government was on the verge of winning a resounding victory against the militants holed up in east Aleppo, Islamic State came to the rescue of so-called ‘moderate rebels’ by opening up a new front in Palmyra in December 2016.

Consequently, the Syrian government had to send reinforcements from Aleppo to Palmyra in order to defend the city. Although the Syrian government troops still managed to evict the militants holed up in the eastern enclave of Aleppo and they also retook Palmyra from Islamic State in March last year, but the basic purpose of this tactical move by the Islamic State was to divert the attention and resources of the Syrian government away from Aleppo to Palmyra.

Fact of the matter is that the distinction between Islamic jihadists and so-called ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria is more illusory than real. Before it turned rogue and overran Mosul in Iraq in June 2014, Islamic State used to be an integral part of the Syrian opposition and it still enjoys close ideological and operational ties with other militant groups in Syria.

It’s worth noting that although turf wars are common not just between the Islamic State and other militant groups operating in Syria, but also among the rebel groups themselves; however, the ultimate objective of the Islamic State and the rest of Sunni militant outfits operating in Syria is the same: to overthrow the Shi’a-led and Baathist-dominated government of Bashar al-Assad.

Regarding the Syrian opposition, a small fraction of it has been comprised of defected Syrian soldiers who go by the name of Free Syria Army, but the vast majority has been comprised of Sunni Arab jihadists and armed tribesmen who have been generously funded, trained, armed and internationally legitimised by their regional and global patrons.

The Islamic State is nothing more than one of numerous Syrian militant outfits, others being: al Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, al-Tawhid brigade, Jaysh al Islam etc. All the Sunni Arab militant groups that are operating in Syria are just as fanatical and brutal as the Islamic State. The only feature that differentiates the Islamic State from the rest is that it is more ideological and independent-minded.

The reason why the US has turned against the Islamic State is that all other Syrian militant outfits only have local ambitions that are limited to fighting the Syrian government, while the Islamic State has established a global network of transnational terrorists that includes hundreds of Western citizens who have become a national security risk to the Western countries.

Regarding the dominant group of Syrian militants in the Idlib Governorate, according to a May 2017 report [3] by CBC Canada, Tahrir al-Sham, which was formerly known as al-Nusra Front until July 2016 and then as Fateh al-Sham until January 2017, has been removed from the terror watch-lists of the US and Canada after it merged with fighters from Zenki Brigade and hardline jihadists from Ahrar al-Sham and rebranded itself as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in January last year.

The US State Department is hesitant to label Tahrir al-Sham a terror group, despite the group’s links to al-Qaeda, as the US government has directly funded and armed the Zenki Brigade, one of the constituents of Tahrir al-Sham, with sophisticated weaponry including the US-made antitank TOW missiles.

The purpose behind the rebranding of al-Nusra Front first as Fateh al-Sham and then as Tahrir al-Sham, and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda has been to legitimise itself and to make it easier for its patrons to send money and arms. The US blacklisted al-Nusra Front in December 2012 and persuaded its regional allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey to ban it, too. Although al-Nusra Front’s name has been in the list of proscribed organisations of Saudi Arabia and Turkey since 2014, but it has kept receiving money and arms from its regional patrons.

Finally, regarding the deep ideological ties between the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, although the current al-Nusra Front has been led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, but he was appointed [4] as the emir of al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012. In fact, al-Jolani’s Nusra Front is only a splinter group of the Islamic State, which split from its parent organisation in April 2013 over a leadership dispute between the two organisations.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Trump’s saber-rattling and Pakistan’s dilemma

Several months ago, a couple of caricatures went viral on social media. In one of those caricatures, Donald Trump was depicted as a child sitting on a chair and Vladimir Putin was shown whispering something into Trump’s ears from behind. In the other, Trump was portrayed as sitting in Steve Bannon’s lap and the latter was shown mumbling into Trump’s ears, “Who is a big boy now?” And Trump was shown replying, “I am a big boy.”

The meaning conveyed by those cunningly crafted caricatures was to illustrate that Trump lacks the intelligence to think for himself and that he is being manipulated and played around by Putin and Bannon. Those caricatures must have affronted the vanity of Donald Trump to an extent that after the publication of those caricatures, he became ill-disposed towards Putin and fired Bannon from his job as the White House chief strategist in August last year.

Donald Trump is an impressionable man-child whose vocabulary does not extend beyond a few words and whose frequent typographical errors on his Twitter timeline, such as ‘unpresidented’ and ‘covfefe’ have made him a laughing stock for journalists and social media users alike. These spelling mistakes reveal that though fond of watching news and talk shows on the American conservative television channels, like the Fox News, but Trump isn’t much of a reader.

It is very easy for the neuroscientists on the payroll of corporate media to manipulate the minds of such puerile politicians and to lead them by the nose to toe the line of political establishments, particularly on foreign policy matters. Nevertheless, it would be pertinent to mention here that unlike dyed-in-the-wool politicians, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appears that Donald Trump is familiar with alternative news perspectives, such as Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, no matter how racist and xenophobic.

Though far from being its diehard ideologue but 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 recent tweet 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 on the Pakistani media are misinterpreting the tweet 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 the tweet, the Trump administration has also withheld a tranche of $255 million US assistance to Pakistan, which shows that it wasn’t ‘just a tweet’ 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 last year, Pakistan’s Prime Minister 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 prime minister, but another 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 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 has since been 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 amongst 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 government’s 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, but 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.

Therefore, the Sharif administration’s decision that Pakistan must act against the jihadist proxies of the security establishment or risk facing international isolation infuriated the military’s top brass, and consequently, the country’s judiciary was used to disqualify an elected prime minister in order to browbeat the civilian leadership of Pakistan.

Finally, after Trump’s recent outburst against Pakistan, many willfully blind security and defense analysts are suggesting that Pakistan needs to intensify its diplomatic efforts to persuade the new US administration that Pakistan is 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 with 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.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The ‘China Model’ of Development

Mao and Nixon in 1972.
It’s an incontrovertible fact that the British colonizers built roads and railways in India, they established missionary schools, colleges and universities, they enforced the English common law, and the goal of exploiting the natural resources and four hundred million strong Indian manpower at the time of independence in 1947, and trading raw materials for pennies and exporting finished goods with huge profits to the Indian consumer market never crossed the ‘altruistic minds’ of the British imperialists.

Puns aside, there is an essential precondition in the European Union’s charter of union, according to which the developing economies of Europe that joined the EU allowed free movement of goods (free trade) only on the reciprocal condition that the developed countries would allow the free movement of labor. What’s obvious in this stipulation is the fact that the free movement of goods, services and capital only benefits the countries that have a strong manufacturing base, and the free movement of workers only favors the developing economies where labor is cheap.

Now, when international financial institutions, like the IMF and WTO, promote free trade by exhorting the developing countries all over the world to reduce tariffs and subsidies without the reciprocal free movement of labor, whose interests do such institutions try to protect? Obviously, they try to protect the interests of their biggest donors by shares, the developed countries.

Some market fundamentalists, who irrationally believe in the laissez-faire capitalism, try to justify this unfair practice by positing Schumpeter’s theory of ‘Creative Destruction’: that the free trade between unequal trading partners leads to the destruction of host country’s existing economic order and a subsequent reconfiguration gives rise to a better economic order. Whenever one comes up with gross absurdities such proportions, they should always make it contingent on the principle of reciprocity: that if free trade is beneficial for the nascent industrial base of developing economies, then the free movement of labor is equally beneficial for the workforce of developed countries.

The policymakers of developing countries must not allow themselves to be hoodwinked by such deceptive arguments; instead, they should devise prudent national policies which suit the interests of their underprivileged masses. But the trouble is that the governments of the Third World countries are dependent on foreign investment, that’s why they cannot adopt independent economic and trade policies.

The so-called ‘multinational’ corporations based in the Western financial districts make profits from the consumer markets all over the world and pay a share of those profits to their respective governments as bribes in the form of taxes. Every balance of trade deficit due to the lack of strong manufacturing base makes the developing nations poorer, and every balance of trade surplus further adds to the already immense fortune of the developed world.

A single, large multinational corporation based in the Wall Street and other financial districts of the Western world generates revenues to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, which is more than the total GDP of many developing economies. Examples of such behemoth business conglomerates include: Investment banks - JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, HSBC and BNP Paribas; Oil majors - Exxon Mobil, Chevron, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell and Total; Manufacturers - Apple, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Pakistan’s total GDP is $300 billion and with a population of 210 million, its per capita income amounts to a paltry $1450; similarly, India’s per capita income is also only $1850. While the GDP of the US is $18 trillion and per capita income is well in excess of $50,000. Likewise, the per capita incomes of most countries in the Western Europe are also around $40,000.

That's a difference of more than twenty times between the incomes of the Third World countries and the beneficiaries of neocolonialism, North America and Western Europe. Only the defense budget of the Pentagon is $700 billion, which is more than twice the size of Pakistan's total economy. Without this neocolonial system of exploitation, the whole edifice of supposedly ‘meritocratic’ capitalism will fall flat on its face and the myth of individual incentive will get busted beyond repair, because it only means incentive for the pike and not for the minnows.

Regarding the contribution of British colonizers to India, the countries that don’t have a history of colonization, like China and Russia for instance, have better roads, railways and industries built by natives themselves than the ones that have been through centuries of foreign occupation and colonization, such as the subcontinent. The worst thing the British colonizers did to the subcontinent was that they put in place an exploitative governance and administrative system that catered to the needs of the colonizers without being accountable to the colonized masses over whom it was imposed.

It’s regrettable that despite having the trappings of freedom and democracy, India and Pakistan are still continuing with the same exploitative, traditional power structure that was bequeathed to the subcontinent by the British colonizers. The society is stratified along the class lines, most of South Asia’s ruling elites still have the attitude of foreign colonizers and the top-down bureaucratic system, ‘Afsar Shahi Nizam,’ is one of the most corrupt and inefficient in the world.

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

CAR’s report on Islamic State’s weapons

During the last week, a report by the Conflict Armament Research (CAR) on the Islamic State’s weapons found in Iraq and Syria has been doing the rounds on the media. Before the story was picked up by the mainstream media, it was first published [1] in the Wired news website on December 12, which has a history of spreading dubious stories and working in close collaboration with the Pentagon and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) under its erstwhile reporters Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, both of whom are now the national security correspondents for the Daily Beast, though this particular report has been written by Brian Castner, “a former US Air Force explosive ordnance disposal officer and a veteran of the Iraq War.”

The Britain-based Conflict Armament Research (CAR) is a relatively unknown company of less than 20 employees. Its Iraq and Syria division is headed by a 31-year-old Belgian researcher, Damien Spleeters. The main theme of Spleeters’ investigation was to discover the Islamic State’s homegrown armaments industry and how the jihadist group’s technicians have adapted the East European munitions to be used in the weapons available to the Islamic State. He has listed 1,832 weapons and 40,984 pieces of ammunition recovered in Iraq and Syria in the CAR’s database.

But Spleeters has only tangentially touched upon the subject of the Islamic State’s weapons supply chain, documenting only a single PG-9 rocket found at Tal Afar in Iraq bearing a lot number of 9,252 rocket-propelled grenades which were supplied by Romania to the US military, and mentioning only a single shipment of 12 tons of munitions which was diverted from Saudi Arabia to Jordan in his supposedly ‘comprehensive report.’ In fact, the CAR’s report is so misleading that of thousands of pieces of munitions investigated by Spleeters, less than 10% were found to be compatible with NATO’s weapons and more than 90% were found to have originated from Russia, China and the East European countries, Romania and Bulgaria in particular.

By comparison, a joint investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has uncovered [2] the Pentagon’s $2.2 billion arms pipeline to the Syrian militants. It bears mentioning, however, that $2.2 billion were earmarked only by Washington for training and arming the Syrian rebels, and tens of billions of dollars that Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states have pumped into the Syrian civil war have not been documented by anybody so far.

Moreover, a Bulgarian investigative reporter, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, authored a report [3] for Bulgaria’s national newspaper, Trud, which found that an Azerbaijan state airline company, Silk Way Airlines, was regularly transporting weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Turkey under diplomatic cover as part of the CIA covert program to supply militant groups in Syria. Gaytandzhieva documented 350 such ‘diplomatic flights’ and was subsequently fired from her job for uncovering the story. Unsurprisingly, both these well-researched and groundbreaking reports didn’t even merit a passing mention in any mainstream news outlet.

It’s worth noting, moreover, that the Syrian militant groups are no ordinary bands of ragtag jihadist outfits. They have been trained and armed to the teeth by their patrons in the security agencies of Washington, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in the training camps located at Syria’s border regions with Turkey and Jordan. Along with Saddam’s and Egypt’s armies, the Syrian Baathist armed forces are one of the most capable fighting forces in the Arab world. But the onslaught of militant groups during the first three years of the civil war was such that had it not been for the Russian intervention in September 2015, the Syrian defenses would have collapsed. And the only feature that distinguishes the Syrian militants from the rest of regional jihadist groups is not their ideology but their weapons arsenals that were bankrolled by the Gulf’s petro-dollars and provided by the CIA in collaboration with regional security agencies of Washington’s client states.

While we are on the subject of Islamic State’s weaponry, it is generally claimed by the mainstream media that Islamic State came into possession of state-of-the-art weapons when it overran Mosul in June 2014 and seized huge caches of weapons that were provided to Iraq’s armed forces by Washington. Is this argument not a bit paradoxical, however, that Islamic State conquered large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq before it overran Mosul when it supposedly did not have those sophisticated weapons, and after allegedly coming into possession of those weapons, it lost ground? The only conclusion that can be drawn from this fact is that Islamic State had those weapons, or equally deadly weapons, before it overran Mosul and that those weapons were provided to all the militant groups operating in Syria, including the Islamic State, by the intelligence agencies of none other than the Western powers, Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf states.

In fact, Washington exercises such an absolute control over the Syrian theater of proxy war that although it openly provided the US-made antitank (TOW) weapons to the Syrian militants but it strictly forbade its regional allies from providing anti-aircraft weapons (MANPADS) to the militants, because Israel frequently flies surveillance aircrafts and drones and occasionally carries out airstrikes in Syria, and had such weapons fallen into wrong hands, they could have become a long-term threat to Israel’s air force. Lately, some anti-aircraft weapons from Gaddafi’s looted arsenal in Libya have made their way into the hands of Syrian militants, but for the initial years of the proxy war, there was an absolute prohibition on providing MANPADS to the insurgents.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Trump administration’s turnaround in Syria

On the campaign trail, in his speeches as well as on TV debates with other presidential contenders, Donald Trump repeatedly mentioned that he has a ‘secret plan’ for defeating the Islamic State without elaborating what the plan is? To the careful observers of the US-led war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, however, the outlines of Trump’s ‘secret plan’ to defeat the Islamic State, particularly in Syria, have now become obvious.
As far as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq is concerned, the Trump administration has continued with the policy of its predecessor. The Trump administration’s policy in Syria, however, has been markedly different from the regime change policy of the Obama administration. Unlike Iraq, where the US has provided air and logistical support to Iraq’s armed forces and allied militias in their battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State militants, the conflict in Syria is much more complex that involves the Syrian government, the opposition-affiliated militant groups and the Kurds.
Regarding the recapture of Palmyra from the Islamic State by the Syrian government forces, a March 2 article in the Washington Post carried a rather paradoxical headline: “Hezbollah, Russia and the US help Syria retake Palmyra” [1]. The article by Liz Sly offers clues as to how the Syrian conflict has transformed under the new Trump administration. Further, according to a March 31 article [2] for the New York Times by Michael Gordon, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, and the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have stated on the record that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq is the first priority of the Trump administration and the fate of Bashar al-Assad is of least concern to the new administration.
Under the previous Obama administration, the evident policy in Syria was regime change, and any collaboration with the Syrian government against the Islamic State was simply not on the cards. The Trump administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective, a fact which is obvious from Donald Trump’s statements on Syria during the election campaign, and more recently by the statements of Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson. Moreover, unlike the Obama administration which was hostile to Russia’s interference in Syria, the Trump administration is on friendly terms with Assad’s main backer in Syria, Vladimir Putin.
It is stated in the aforementioned article by Liz Sly that the US carried out 45 air strikes in the vicinity of Palmyra against the Islamic State’s targets in the month of February alone, which must have indirectly helped the Syrian government troops and the allied Hezbollah militia recapture Palmyra along with Russia’s air support.
Although expecting a radical departure from the six-year-long Obama administration’s policy of training and arming Sunni militants against the Shi’a-led Syrian government by the Trump administration is unlikely, however, the latter regards Islamic jihadists as a much bigger threat to the security of the US than the former. Therefore, some indirect support and a certain level of collaboration with Russia and the Syrian government against radical Islamists cannot be ruled out.
What has been different in the respective Syria policy of the two markedly different US administrations, however, is that while the Obama administration did avail itself of the opportunity to strike an alliance with the Kurds against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but it was simply not possible for it to come up with an out of the box solution and use the Shi’a-led government and allied militias against the Sunni Arab militant groups, particularly the Islamic State. The Trump administration, however, is not hampered by the botched legacy of the Obama administration in Syria, and therefore it has been willing to some extent to cooperate with the Kurds as well as the Russians and the Syrian government against the Islamic jihadists in Syria.
Two obstacles to such a natural alignment of interests, however, are: first, Israel’s objections regarding the threat that Hezbollah poses to its regional security; and second, Turkey, which is a NATO member and has throughout nurtured several Sunni militant groups during the six-year-long conflict, would have serious reservations against the new US administration’s partnership not only with the Russians and the Syrian government but also with the PYD/YPG Kurds in Syria, which Turkey regards as an offshoot of the separatist PKK Kurds in southeast Turkey.
Therefore, in order to allay the concerns of Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East, the Trump administration has conducted a cruise missiles strike on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate on April 6 after the chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun, but that isolated incident was nothing more than a show of force to bring home the point that the newly elected president, Donald Trump, is a ‘powerful and aggressive’ president, while behind the scenes he has been willing to cooperate with Russia in Syria in order to contain and eliminate the threat posed by Islamic jihadists to the security of the US and the rest of the world.
It would be pertinent to mention here that unlike the dyed-in-the-wool politicians, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appears that Donald Trump not only follows news from conservative mainstream outlets, like the Fox News, but he has also been familiar with alternative news perspectives, such as Breitbart’s, no matter how racist and xenophobic.
Thus, Donald Trump is fully aware that the conflict in Syria is a proxy war initiated by the Western political establishments and their regional Middle Eastern allies against the Syrian government. And he is also mindful of the fact that the militants have been funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in the Turkey-Syria border regions to the north of Syria and the Jordan-Syria border regions to the south of Syria.
Finally, Karen De Young and Liz Sly made another startling revelation in a March 4 article [3] for the Washington Post that: “Trump has said repeatedly that the US and Russia should cooperate against the Islamic State, and he has indicated that the future of Russia-backed Assad is of less concern to him.” Thus, it appears, that the interests of all the major players in Syria have converged on defeating the Islamic jihadists, and the Obama era policy of regime change has been put on the back burner for all practical purposes.

Monday, December 11, 2017

How Afghan Jihad triggered insurgency in Kashmir?

Generals Musharraf and Kayani.
In Pakistan, there are three distinct categories of militants: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants; and foreign terrorists including the Arab militants of al-Qaeda, the Uzbek insurgents of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Uighur rebels of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The foreign, transnational terrorists number only in a few hundreds 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 TTP likes to couch its rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity and language that enables it 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 TTP militants which are deemed a security threat to Pakistan’s state apparatus, but as far as the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, 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 the security establishment.

For the half of its 70-year-long history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the security establishment kept dictating Pakistan’s foreign and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971; during General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists; and during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under Washington’s pressure and declared a war against the Pashtun militants that ignited the fire of insurgency in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Although most political commentators in Pakistan nowadays hold an Islamist general, Zia-ul-Haq, responsible for the jihadist militancy in the tribal areas; however, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia; all the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

A strategic rethink in the Pakistan Army’s top brass took place only after the 9/11 terror attack, when Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State during the Bush administration, threatened General Musharraf in so many words: “We will send you back to the Stone Age unless you stop supporting the Taliban.” Thus, deliberate promotion of Islamic radicalism and militancy in the region was not the doing of an individual general; rather, it has been a well-thought-out military doctrine of a rogue institution. The military mindset, training and institutional logic dictates a militarist and aggressive approach to foreign affairs and security-related matters. Therefore, as a matter of principle, military must be kept miles away from the top decision-making organs of the state.

Regarding the Kashmir dispute, there can be no two views that the right of self-determination of Kashmiris must be respected in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions on the right of plebiscite for the Kashmiri people, and Pakistan should lend its moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri cause; but at the same time, the militarization of any dispute, including Kashmir, must be avoided due to colossal human suffering that violence anywhere in the world inevitably entails.

The insurgency in Kashmir erupted in the fateful year of 1984 of the Orwellian-fame when the Indian Armed Forces surreptitiously occupied the whole of Siachen glacier, including the un-demarcated Pakistani portion. Now, we must keep the context in mind: those were the heydays of the Cold War and the Pakistan Army’s proxies, the Afghan so-called ‘mujahideen’ (freedom fighters), were winning battle after battle against the Soviet Red Army, and the morale of the Pakistan Army's top brass was touching the sky.

Moreover, Pakistan’s security establishment also wanted to inflict damage to the Indian Armed Forces to exact revenge for the dismemberment of Pakistan at the hands of India during the Bangladesh War of 1971, when India took 90,000 Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war. All the military’s top brass had to do was to divert a fraction of their Afghan jihadist proxies towards Kashmir to ignite the fire of insurgency in Kashmir. Pakistan’s security agencies began sending jihadists experienced in the Afghan guerilla warfare across the border to the Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s; and by the early 1990s, the Islamist insurgency engulfed the whole of Kashmir region.

Here, we must keep in mind, however, that an insurgency cannot succeed anywhere unless militants get some level of support from local population. For example: if a hostile force tries to foment an insurgency in Punjab, it wouldn’t succeed; because Punjabis don’t have any grievances against Pakistan. On the other hand, if an adversary tries to incite an insurgency in the marginalized province of Balochistan and tribal areas, it will easily succeed, because the local Baloch and Pashtun populations have grievances against the heavy-handedness of Pakistan’s security establishment.

Therefore, to put the blame squarely on the Pakistani side for the Kashmir conflict would be unfair. Firstly, India treacherously incorporated the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir into the Dominion of India in 1947, knowing fully well that Kashmir has an overwhelming Muslim majority, and in accordance with the ‘Partition Principle’ agreed upon between the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress on the eve of the independence of India and Pakistan, Kashmir should have been included in Pakistan.

Even now, if someone tries to incite an insurgency in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir, it wouldn’t succeed, because the Kashmiri Muslims identify themselves with Pakistan. The Indian-administered Kashmir has seen many waves for independence since 1947, but not a single voice has been raised for independence in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir in Pakistan’s 70-year-long history.

Secondly, India re-ignited the conflict by occupying the strategically-placed Siachen glacier in 1984. Pakistan's stance on Kashmir has been quite flexible and it has floated numerous proposals to resolve the dispute. But India is now the new strategic partner of the US against China, that's why India’s stance on the Kashmir dispute has been quite inflexible, because it is negotiating from a position of strength. However, diplomacy aside, the real victims of this intransigence and hubris on both sides have been the Kashmiri people and a lot of innocent blood has been spilled for no good reason.

Finally, 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 parties that the policy of nurturing militants against regional adversaries has backfired on Pakistan and it risks facing international isolation due to the 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 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 policy of an indiscriminate crackdown on militant outfits operating in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s military 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.’

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Terrorism and Islam: Correlation is not Causation

Saleh, King Hussein, Mubarak and Saddam.
Since the time immemorial, it has been an article of faith of every Muslim that suicide is ‘Haram’ (prohibited) in Islam. There is a well-known Islamic precept that whoever commits suicide will go straight to hell. But the Takfirists (those who declare others as heretics) have invented a new interpretation of Islam in which suicide is glorified as ‘martyrdom’ and suicide bombing is employed as a weapon to cause widespread fear.

Historically, suicide bombing as a weapon of war was invented by the Tamil Tigers during the eighties in their war against the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Tamils are a Hindu ethnic group of northern Sri Lanka who were marginalized by the Buddhist majority and they led a civil war in the country from 1976 until they were defeated by the Sri Lankan armed forces’ Northern Offensive in 2009.

Among the Muslims, suicide bombing as a tactical weapon was first adopted by the Islamic Jihad in the Israel-Palestine conflict during the Second Intifada that lasted from 2000 to 2005. Then the transnational terrorists of al-Qaeda adopted suicide bombing as a weapon of choice in some of their audacious terror attacks in the US and Europe. And after that, all the regional militant groups – including the Taliban in Afghanistan, al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – have also adopted suicide bombing as a tactical weapon in their rebellions against regional adversaries.

The phenomena of militancy and insurgency anywhere in the world has less to do with religious extremism and more with the weak writ of state in remote rural and tribal areas of the Third World’s impoverished countries, which is sometimes further exacerbated by deliberate arming of certain militant groups by regional and global players.

The Afghan jihadists of today, for instance, are a legacy of the Cold War when they were trained and armed by the CIA against the former Soviet Union with the help of Pakistan’s security agencies and the Gulf’s petro-dollars. Similarly, the Islamic State’s militants in Syria and Iraq are a product of Washington’s proxy war in Syria in which Sunni militants were trained and armed in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shi’a-led government in Syria in order to contain the Shi’a resistance comprised of Iran, Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah, which constituted a threat to Israel’s regional security.

In order to empirically prove the point that militancy anywhere in the world has less to do with the professed ideology or religion of militants and more with geo-political factors, here is a brief list of some of the recent non-Muslim insurgencies around the world:

First, as I have already described, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka who invented suicide bombing as a tactic of war were Hindus.

Second, the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency in India’s north-east that has been raging since 1967 and has claimed tens of thousands of lives has been comprised of Hindus.

Third, the insurgency of the FARC rebels in Colombia that lasted from 1964 to 2017 and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives was a conflict among the Christians.

Fourth, the Northern Ireland conflict that lasted from 1968 to 1998 and claimed thousands of casualties was a dispute between the Protestants and the Catholics.

Fifth, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army that operated in Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Congo since 1987 were Christians and animists.

Sixth, the Nuer rebellion led by Riek Machar against his former ally President Salva Kiir’s Dinka tribal group since December 2013 in South Sudan which has claimed tens of thousands of lives has been a conflict among the Christians.

Seventh, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict that led to the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and claimed hundreds of thousands of lives was also a conflict among the Christians.

And last, all the belligerents of the Second Congo War that lasted from 1998 to 2003 and claimed millions of fatalities were non-Muslims.

Keeping all this empirical evidence in mind, it becomes amply clear that Islam as a religion is just as peaceful or ‘violent’ as Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism; and taking a cursory look at the list, it also becomes obvious that the common denominator among all these disparate insurgencies has not been religion.

Since most of these insurgencies have affected the impoverished and underdeveloped regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America, thus the only legitimate conclusion that can be drawn from this fact is that militarization and weak writ of impoverished, developing states has primarily been responsible for breeding an assortment of militant groups in their remote rural and tribal hinterlands. That’s the only common denominator among these otherwise unrelated list of insurgencies.

The root factors that have mainly been responsible for spawning militancy and terrorism anywhere in the world are not religion or ideology of militants but socio-economics, ethnic diversity, marginalization of disenfranchised ethno-linguistic and ethno-religious groups and the ensuing conflicts; socio-cultural backwardness of the affected regions, and the weak central control of the impoverished developing states over their territory, which is often exacerbated by deliberate training and arming of certain militant groups that were used at some point of time in history as proxies by their regional and global patrons.

After invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq and when Washington’s ‘nation-building’ projects failed in those hapless countries, the US policymakers immediately realized that they were facing large-scale and popularly-rooted insurgencies against foreign occupation; consequently, the occupying military altered its CT (counter-terrorism) approach in the favor of a COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy. A COIN strategy is essentially different from a CT approach and it also involves dialogue, negotiations and political settlements, alongside the coercive tactics of law enforcement and military and paramilitary operations on a limited scale.

Finally, excluding large-scale insurgencies, even if we take a cursory look at some individual acts of terrorism, the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007 that claimed 32 lives was perpetrated by a South Korean Seung-Hui Cho, then a Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik shot dead 77 students on the island of Utoya, Norway, in July 2011, after that, Adam Lanza carried out the Sandy Hook Elementary Schools massacre in December 2012 by killing 27 people including 20 children, and more recently, Stephen Paddock committed one of the worst mass shootings in the US history by killing 58 people in cold blood at the Las Vegas Strip in October.