Thursday, June 14, 2018

Was Jinnah an imperialist collaborator?


There are only two illustrious South Asian leaders who never went to jail during their otherwise stellar political careers. One was the founder of Pakistan, Jinnah, and the other a crusader against corruption who has been given the sobriquet ‘Pakistan Khan’ by his cultist followers. Perceptive readers are already well aware of the reason why nobody can dare to arrest the latter, even if he lays a four-month-long siege to the paramount institutions of state and stops the state machinery from functioning.

Regarding the allegation levelled against Jinnah by Orientalist historians that he was an imperialist collaborator, it is so preposterous that it would be a waste of time trying to dispel the ludicrous accusation. Instead, I would implore the readers to allow me the liberty to scribble a tongue-in-cheek rant here.

It’s an incontestable fact that Jinnah, Iqbal and Sir Syed were imperialist collaborators who fell prey to the divide-and-rule policy of the British Raj. There were only two progressive Muslim leaders who joined forces with Mahatma Gandhi’s socialist and anti-imperialist Congress against the tyranny of the Raj. One was Sheikh Abdullah of Kashmir and the other was Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) of Pashtunistan.

After the partition of British India, Sheikh Abdullah worked hand in glove with Pundit Nehru to make Muslim-majority Kashmir a part of secular Indian utopia. The Muslims of Kashmir trusted the charismatic messiah with their lives and the latter met their expectations by conniving with the Congress’ pundits. Today Kashmir is thriving and prospering under the suzerainty of India and the dynamic leadership of Sheikh Abdullah’s descendants, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, the true representatives of Kashmiri Muslims.

Had it been up to the visionary and tactful Bacha Khan, he too would have made sure to make Pashtunistan a colony of India. However, a plebiscite was held on the eve of independence in the erstwhile North West Frontier Province; and regrettably, the gullible Pashtuns of the doomed province overwhelmingly voted to become part of an Islamist and reactionary Pakistan.

Let me clarify here that I am not against Bacha Khan and his Red Shirts, ‘Khudai Khidmatgar,’ movement, as such. It was a laudable achievement that he politically mobilised the Pashtuns for independence and enfranchisement. But I have doubts about his political acumen. From his bearing, he appeared like a simpleton who was given to whims and personal attachments. But the people that he was dealing with, Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, were shrewd politicians.

The astute leadership of Congress wheedled and coaxed Bacha Khan and Sheikh Abdullah to form a political alliance with the thinly veiled Hindu nationalist Congress against the interests of Pashtun and Kashmiri Muslims, whom the aforementioned leaders respectively represented. And the way I see it, it had less to do with any political convergence of ideas; rather, it was more about their personal bonding with the shrewd leadership of Congress.

Jinnah was a brash and forthright statesman who used to treat his party workers and associates as subordinates. And Pashtuns, as we all know, are given to ‘Pashtunwali’ (honour), courtesy and other such trappings of symbolic respect. Gandhi and Nehru struck a chord there with feigned cordiality and ensnared two leading Muslim luminaries of freedom struggle, hence striking a political marriage of convenience between the Congress and the Pashtun and Kashmiri nationalists.

In the end, Sheikh Abdullah legitimised the Indian occupation of Kashmir by becoming its first chief minister, though he was later imprisoned by none other than his good old friend, Pundit Nehru. But when Pakistan and, more importantly, the Kashmiri Muslims needed his leadership and guidance the most, he backstabbed them simply because of his personal friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru.

More to the point, in the British Indian context, the divide-and-rule policy originally meant that imperialists used this strategy to sow the seeds of dissension and communal hatred to prolong their tyrannical rule in India. However, some Indian historians later came up with the fancy notion that the colonial powers lent their support to the idea of creation of Pakistan in order to use the latter as a bulwark against communist influence in the region; this latter conspiracy theory is farthest from truth.

Firstly, the British imperialists took immense pride in creating a unified and cohesive British Indian army, and it’s a historical fact that the latter organisation was vehemently opposed to the division of the British Indian armed forces. It simply defies common sense that if the colonial power was apprehensive of the expanding influence of Soviet Union in the region; in that case, it would have preferred to leave behind a unified and strong India army, rather than two divided armies at loggerheads with each other.

Secondly, although Pakistan joined the Washington-led and anti-communist SEATO and CENTO alliances in the 1950s and it also fought America’s Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the 1980s, but we must bear in mind that there were actually two power-centres of communism during the Cold War, i.e. the Soviet Bolshevism and the Chinese Maoism.

If the intention of the colonial powers was to use Pakistan as a bulwark against communist influence in the region, then how come Pakistan established such cordial relations with the communist China during the 1960s that it voted in favour of China’s membership into the United Nations in 1971, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto played a pivotal role in arranging Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

Fact of the matter is that both India and Pakistan had good relations with the Western powers during the Cold War. However, India had friendly ties with Soviet Union and adversarial relations with China, while Pakistan had adversarial relations with Soviet Union and friendly ties with China. The relations of India and Pakistan with the communist powers were based more on their national interests than on ideological lines.

The relatively modern Indian historians who came up with this fancy conspiracy theory have actually retrospectively applied the theory to the historical chain of events: that is, they conceived the theory after Pakistan joined the anti-communist alliances and after it played the role of Washington’s client state during the Soviet-Afghan Jihad. At the time of independence movement in 1940s, neither the Hindus nor the Muslims knew anything about the aftermath of their respective freedom struggles.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan ‘Revolution’

Imran Khan with Prince Charles.

The predicament of Imran Khan’s fanboys has been somewhat like the pubescent girl who falls head over heels in love with a promiscuous playboy; and when her family and friends try to knock some sense into her by telling her that your sweetheart is cheating on you, instead of heeding to their well-meaning advice, she thinks they are jealous of her love life.

No wonder playboys like John F. Kennedy and Imran Khan turn out to be popular and revered leaders because they understand the elementary psychology of the masses. The puerile multitude doesn’t understand that grown-up politics is about following democratic principles and institution-building rather than putting the destiny of one’s nation in the hands of cavalier messiahs.

In order to assess the prospects of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as a political institution, we need to study its composition. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems the worst decision Nawaz Sharif took in his political career after returning from exile in November 2007 was his refusal to accept Musharraf-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) defectors back into the folds of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). After that show of moral uprightness in the essentially unprincipled realpolitik, the PML-Q turncoats joined PTI in droves and gave birth to a third nation-wide political force in Pakistan after PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

If we take a cursory look at the PTI’s membership, it is a hotchpotch of electable politicians from various political parties, but most of all from the former stalwarts of the PML-Q. Here is a list of a few names who were previously the acolytes of Musharraf and are now the ‘untainted’ leaders of PTI which has launched a nation-wide crusade against corruption in Pakistan: Jahangir Tareen, a billionaire businessman who was formerly a minister in Musharraf’s cabinet; Khurshid Mehmood Qasuri, who was Musharraf’s foreign minister; Sheikh Rasheed, although he is not officially a PTI leader but he has become closer to Imran Khan than any other leader except Imran Khan’s virtual sidekick, Jahangir Tareen; and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a former stalwart of Pakistan People’s Party who served as a foreign minister during the Zardari administration until he was forced to resign after the Raymond Davis affair in 2011, to name a few.

Allow me to scribble a tongue-in-cheek rant here on Imran Khan’s ‘Naya Pakistan Revolution’: This struggle for revolution isn’t the first of its kind in Pakistan and it won’t be the last. The first such revolution took place back in 1953 against the unjust status quo of Liaquat Ali Khan and Khawaja Nazimuddin’s Muslim League. The revolutionary heroes of yore, Ghulam Muhammad, Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan, laid the foundations of the dictatorship of proletariat in Pakistan. The first such dictatorship of proletariat lasted from 1958 to 1971, and its outcome was the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Bengalis and the separation of East Pakistan.

The second such revolution occurred against the elected dictatorship of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 and the revolutionary messiah, Zia-ul-Haq, ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988 with an iron hand. After sufficiently consolidating the gains of the revolution in Pakistan, he also exported the revolution throughout the Af-Pak region. The immediate outcome of the revolution was the destabilization of the whole region. It spawned many tadpole revolutionaries whose names we now hear in the news every day, such as the Taliban, the TTP and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The last such revolution took place against the monopoly capitalism and corrupt cronyism of Benazir Bhutto’s People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League in 1999. However, unlike the Stalinists of Zia, Musharraf was a Trotskyite. He joined forces with the neo-Trotskyites of the US like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld and an internecine struggle ensued which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Stalinists and Trotskyites in Pakistan alone, not to mention the millions of peasants who were displaced by this conflict in Pakistan’s tribal areas. No offense to the new revolutionaries such as Imran Khan, Jahangir Tareen and Sheikh Rasheed, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

On a serious note, however, another reason why Imran Khan is desperate now to destabilize the central government is that despite forming the provincial government and ruling Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) for five years, he has no tangible achievements to show. Criticizing the government from opposition benches and making electoral promises is always easy, but showing visible improvement in the affairs of the province which one administers is a hard sell.

The electoral promises of cracking down on corruption and doing away with ‘thana, patwari’ system might earn him a few brownie points in front of his immature audience, but to treat the malady of corruption, we must first accurately identify the root causes of corruption. Corruption and economy are inter-linked. The governments of prosperous countries can afford to pay adequate salaries to their public servants; and if public servants are paid well, then they don’t have the incentive to be corrupt.

There are two types of corruption: need-based corruption and greed-based corruption. Need-based corruption is the kind of corruption in which a poor police constable, who has a large family to support, earns a meager salary; he then augments his salary by taking bribes to make ends meet. I am not justifying his crime, but only describing the factual position.

After establishing the fact that corruption and economy are inter-linked, we need to ask Imran Khan what is his economic vision to improve Pakistan’s economy, and on what basis does he claim to improve the economy on a nation-wide scale when he failed to make any visible improvement in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa during the PTI’s five-year rule in the province? All I am trying to say is the magic wand of savior-type messiahs cannot solve our problems overnight; reforming Pakistan would be a long-term process which would need, more than anything, adherence to democratic principles and institution-building.

Finally, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are the grownup political parties in Pakistan. They learned their lesson from the politics of confrontation during the 1990s that the security establishment employs the Machiavellian divide-and-conquer tactic of hobnobbing with weaker political parties against stronger political forces in order to disrupt the democratic process and maintain the establishment’s stranglehold on its traditional domain, the security and foreign policy of Pakistan. The new entrant in Pakistan’s political landscape, Imran Khan’s PTI, will also learn this lesson after paying the price of colluding with the establishment, but by then, it might be too late.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Why is Israel desperate to escalate Syrian conflict?


After seven years of utter devastation and bloodletting, a consensus has emerged among all the belligerents of the Syrian war to de-escalate the conflict, except Israel which wants to further escalate the conflict because it has been the only beneficiary of the carnage in Syria.

Over the years, Israel has not only provided medical aid and material support to the militant groups battling the Syrian government – particularly to various factions of the Free Syria Army (FSA) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front in Daraa and Quneitra bordering the Israel-occupied Golan Heights – but Israel’s air force has virtually played the role of the air force of the Syrian jihadists and has conducted more than 100 airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon during the seven-year conflict.

Washington’s interest in the Syrian proxy war is mainly about ensuring Israel’s regional security. The United States Defense Intelligence Agency’s declassified report [1] of 2012 clearly spelled out the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria (Raqqa and Deir al-Zor) in the event of an outbreak of a civil war in Syria.

Under pressure from the Zionist lobby in Washington, however, the Obama administration deliberately suppressed the report and also overlooked the view in general that a proxy war in Syria will give birth to radical Islamic jihadists.

The hawks in Washington were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria, but they kept pursuing the ill-fated policy of nurturing militants in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to weaken the anti-Zionist Syrian government.

The single biggest threat to Israel’s regional security was posed by the Shi’a resistance axis, which is comprised of Iran, the Assad administration in Syria and their Lebanon-based surrogate, Hezbollah. During the course of 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel and Israel’s defense community realized for the first time the nature of threat that Hezbollah and its patrons posed to Israel’s regional security.

Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for Israel’s military strategists that what will happen if Iran passed the guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel.

In a momentous announcement at an event in Ohio on March 29, however, Donald Trump said, “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

What lends credence to the statement that the Trump administration will soon be pulling 2,000 US troops out of Syria – mostly Special Forces assisting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – is that President Trump has recently sacked the National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

McMaster represented the institutional logic of the deep state in the Trump administration and was instrumental in advising Donald Trump to escalate the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. He had advised President Trump to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 8,400 to 15,000. And in Syria, he was in favor of the Pentagon’s policy of training and arming 30,000 Kurdish border guards to patrol Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

Both the decisions have spectacularly backfired on the Trump administration. The decision to train and arm 30,000 Kurdish border guards had infuriated the Erdogan administration to the extent that Turkey mounted Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in Syria’s northwest on January 20.

After capturing Afrin on March 18, the Turkish armed forces and their Free Syria Army proxies have now cast their eyes further east on Manbij, where the US Special Forces are closely cooperating with the Kurdish YPG militia, in line with the long-held Turkish military doctrine of denying the Kurds any Syrian territory west of River Euphrates.

It bears mentioning that unlike dyed-in-the-wool globalists and “liberal interventionists,” like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appears that the protectionist 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. He is also mindful of the fact that militants have been funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in Turkey’s border regions to the north of Syria and in Jordan’s border regions to the south of Syria.

According to the last year’s March 31 article [2] for the New York Times by Michael Gordon, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the recently sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had stated on the record that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was the top priority of the Trump administration and the fate of Bashar al-Assad was of least concern to the new administration.

Under the previous Obama administration, the evident policy in Syria was regime change. The Trump administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective because Donald Trump regards Islamic jihadists as a much bigger threat to the security of the US than Barack Obama.

In order to allay the concerns of Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East, the Trump administration conducted a cruise missile strike on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate on April 6 last year after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. But that isolated incident was nothing more than a show of force to bring home the point that the newly elected Donald Trump is an assertive and powerful president.

More significantly, Karen De Young and Liz Sly made another startling revelation in the last year’s March 4 article [3] for the Washington Post: “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.”

Mindful of the Trump administration’s lack of commitment in the Syrian proxy war, Israel’s air force conducted an airstrike on Tiyas (T4) airbase in Homs on April 9 in which seven Iranian military personnel were killed. The Israeli airstrike took place after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma on April 7 in order to convince the reluctant Trump administration that it can order another strike in Syria without the fear of reprisal from Assad’s backer Russia.

Despite scant evidence as to the use of chemical weapons or the party responsible for it, Donald Trump, under pressure from Israel’s lobby in Washington, eventually ordered another cruise missiles strike in Syria on April 14 in collaboration with Theresa May’s government in the UK and Emmanuel Macron’s administration in France.

What defies explanation for the April 14 strikes against a scientific research facility in the Barzeh district of Damascus and two alleged chemical weapons storage facilities in Homs is the fact that Donald Trump had already announced that the process of withdrawal of US troops from Syria must begin before the midterm US elections slated for November. If the Trump administration is to retain the Republican majority in the Congress, it will have to show something tangible to its voters, particularly in Syria.

The fact that out of 105 total cruise missiles deployed in the April 14 strikes in Syria, 85 were launched by the US, 12 by France and 8 by the UK aircrafts shows that the strikes were once again nothing more than a show of force by a “powerful and assertive” US president who regards the interests of his European allies as his own, particularly when he has given a May 12 deadline to his European allies to “improve and strengthen” the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise he has threatened to walk out of the pact in order to please Israel’s lobby in Washington.

Finally, the Trump administration will eventually realize at its own risk that placating the Zionist lobby is unlikely if not impossible because Israel has conducted another missile strike in Aleppo and Hama on Sunday (April 29) in which 26 people, including many Iranians, have been killed and 60 others wounded.

According to NBC [4], the blast at the Brigade 47 base in Hama which serves as a warehouse for surface-to-air missiles was so severe that it caused 2.6 magnitude earthquake and shockwaves were felt as far away as Lebanon and Turkey. This seems like a last-ditch attempt by Israel to further escalate the conflict and to force the Trump administration to abandon its plans of withdrawing US troops from Syria.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The spillover of Taliban-Hazara conflict in Pakistan


The Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region is essentially a political conflict between the Gulf Arab autocrats and Iran for regional dominance which is being presented to lay Muslims in the veneer of religiosity.

Saudi Arabia, which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-led Iran in the regional geopolitics, was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.

The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni Arab bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab world. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast.

Moreover, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush Administration took advantage of the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq and used the Kurds and Shi’as against the Sunni-led Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein. And during the occupation years from 2003 to 2011, the once dominant Sunni minority was politically marginalized which further exacerbated the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq.

The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iran’s encroachment on the traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Shi’a-led Syrian government in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf states along with their regional Sunni allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Iranian resistance axis.

Reportedly, Syria's pro-Assad militias are comprised of local militiamen as well as Shi’a foreign fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and even the Hazara Shi’as from as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. And similarly, Sunni jihadists from all over the region have also been flocking to the Syrian battlefield for the last seven years.

A full-scale Sunni-Shi’a war has been going on in Syria, Iraq and Yemen which will obviously have its repercussions all over the Islamic world where Sunni and Shi’a Muslims have coexisted in relative peace for centuries.

Notwithstanding, in order to create a semblance of objectivity and fairness, the American policymakers and analysts are always willing to accept the blame for the mistakes of the distant past that have no bearing on their present policy, however, any fact that impinges on their present policy is conveniently brushed aside.

In the case of the creation of the Islamic State, for instance, the US policy analysts are willing to concede that invading Iraq back in 2003 was a mistake that radicalized the Iraqi society, exacerbated sectarian divisions and gave birth to an unrelenting Sunni insurgency against the heavy-handed and discriminatory policies of the Shi’a-led Iraqi government.

Similarly, the war on terror era political commentators also “generously” accept the fact that the Cold War-era policy of nurturing al-Qaeda and myriads of Afghan so-called “freedom fighters” against the erstwhile Soviet Union was a mistake, because all those fait accompli have no bearing on their present policy.

The mainstream media’s spin-doctors conveniently forget, however, that the creation of the Islamic State and myriads of other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has as much to do with the unilateral invasion of Iraq back in 2003 under the Republican Bush administration as it has been the legacy of the Democratic Obama administration that funded, armed, trained and internationally legitimized the Sunni militants against the Shi’a-led Syrian government since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In fact, the proximate cause behind the rise of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and numerous other Sunni Arab jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq has been the Obama administration’s policy of intervention through proxies in Syria.

The border between Syria and Iraq is highly porous and poorly guarded. The Obama administration’s policy of nurturing militants against the Syrian government was bound to have its blowback in Iraq sooner or later. Therefore, as soon as the Islamic State consolidated its gains in Syria, it overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014 from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

Apart from Syria and Iraq, two other flashpoints of Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the Middle East region are Bahrain and Yemen. When peaceful protests broke out against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain by the Shi’a majority population in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, Saudi Arabia sent thousands of troops across the border to quell the uprising.

Similarly, when the Iran-backed Houthis, which is also an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, overran Sana’a in September 2014, Saudi Arabia and UAE mounted another ill-conceived Sunni-led offensive against the Houthi militia in Yemen in March 2015.

The nature of the conflict in Yemen is sectarian to an extent that recently the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda’s leader Qasim al-Raymi claimed that al-Qaeda has been fighting hand in hand with the Saudi-led alliance against the Iran-backed rebels for the last three years.

The revelation does not come as a surprise, however, because after all al-Qaeda’s official franchise in Syria, al-Nusra Front, has also been fighting hand in glove with the so-called “moderate” Syrian opposition against the Syrian government for the last seven years of the Syrian proxy war.

Furthermore, according to Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights, 509 Shi’a Muslims belonging to the Hazara ethnic group have been killed in Pakistan’s western city of Quetta since 2013. Although a South Punjab-based sectarian militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi frequently claims responsibility for the massacre of Hazaras in Quetta, such claims are often misleading.

The hub of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s power mostly lies in Punjab while the Balochistan province’s provincial metropolis Quetta, which is almost three-hour drive from the Af-Pak border at Chaman, is regarded as the center of Taliban’s activities.

After the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 with the help of the Northern Alliance, the top leadership of the Taliban has mostly settled in Quetta and its adjoining rural areas and Afghan refugee camps, hence it is called the Quetta Shura Taliban.

In order to understand the casus belli of the Taliban-Hazara conflict, it’s worth noting that the leadership of the Hazara ethnic group has always taken the side of the Tajik and Uzbek-led Northern Alliance against the Pashtun-led Taliban.

The Taliban has committed several massacres of the Hazara people in Afghanistan, particularly following the 1997 massacre of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by the Uzbek warlord Abdul Malik Pahlawan in Mazar-i-Sharif, thousands of Hazaras were massacred by the Taliban in the same city in August 1998 for betraying the Taliban.

The Hazara people are an ethnically Uzbek, Dari (Afghan Persian)-speaking ethnic group native to the Hazarajat region in central Afghanistan but roughly 600,000 Hazaras also live in Quetta, Pakistan. Although the conflict between the Taliban and Hazaras might appear religious and sectarian, as I have already described the real reasons of the conflict are political in nature.

Now, when the fire of inter-sectarian strife is burning on several different fronts in the Middle East and the Sunni and Shi’a communities are witnessing a merciless slaughter of their brethren in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and the Af-Pak region, then it would be unfair to look for the causes of the conflict in theology and medieval history. If the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims were so thirsty for each other’s blood since the founding of Islam, then how come they managed to survive as distinct sectarian groups for 1400 years?

Fact of the matter is that in modern times, the phenomena of Islamic radicalism, jihadism and consequent Sunni-Shi’a conflict are only as old as the Soviet-Afghan jihad during the 1980s when the Western powers with the help of their regional allies trained and armed Afghan jihadists to battle the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

More significantly, however, the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988 between the Sunni and Baathist-led Iraq and the Shi’a-led Iran after the 1979 Khomeini revolution engendered acrimony and hostility between the Sunni and Shi’a communities of the region for the first time in modern history.

And finally, the conflict has been further exacerbated in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 when the Western powers and their regional client states once again took advantage of the opportunity and nurtured militants against the Arab nationalist Gaddafi government in Libya and the Baathist-led Assad administration in Syria.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Appropriation of Pashtun Rights Movement


Historically speaking, from the massacres in Bangladesh in 1971 to the training and arming of Afghan jihadists during the Soviet-Afghan war throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and then launching ill-conceived military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas under American pressure, leading to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, the single biggest issue in Pakistan has been the interference of army in politics. Unless Pakistanis are able to establish civilian supremacy in Pakistan, it would become a rogue state which will pose a threat to regional peace and its own citizenry.

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 defense 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 American 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, 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 Generals 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 was 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.

The rule of law, more than anything, implies the supremacy of law: that all the institutions must work within the ambit of the constitution. The first casualty of the martial law, however, is the constitution itself, because it abrogates the supreme law of the land. All other laws derive their authority from the constitution, and when the constitution itself has been abrogated, then the only law that prevails is the law of jungle.

If the armed forces of a country are entitled to abrogate “a piece of paper” – the phrase used by General Zia to describe Pakistan’s Constitution – under the barrel of a gun, then by the same logic, thieves and robbers are also entitled to question the legitimacy of civil and criminal codes, which derive their authority from the constitution. To bring home the point with another apt analogy, consent is the only element that differentiates rape from consensual sex. Thus, ruling a country without the consent and participation of the masses is nothing short of the rape of a nation.

Notwithstanding, is it not ironic that two very similar insurgencies have simultaneously been going on in Pakistan for the last several years: the Baloch insurgency in the Balochistan province and the insurgency of the Pashtun tribesmen in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering the American-occupied Afghanistan.

While the Pakistani neoliberal elites fully sympathize with the oppressed Baloch nationalists, when it comes to the Pashtun tribesmen, they are willing to give Pakistan’s security agencies a license to kill, why? It’s simply because the tribal Pashtun insurgents use the veneer of religion to justify their tribal instinct of retribution.

The name Islam, however, is such an anathema to the core neoliberal sensibilities that the elites don’t even bother to delve deeper into the causes of insurgency and summarily decide that since the Pashtun tribesmen are using the odious label of the Taliban, therefore they are not worthy of their sympathies. And as a result, the security establishment gets a carte blanche to indiscriminately bomb the towns and villages of Pashtun tribesmen.

As well-informed readers must be aware that military operations have been going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan since 2009, but a military operation – unlike law enforcement or Rangers operation, as in Karachi – is a different kind of operation; it’s an all-out war.

The army surrounds the insurgency-wracked area from all sides and orders the villagers to vacate their homes. Then the army calls in air force and heavy artillery to carpet bomb the whole area; after which ground troops move in to look for the dead and injured in the rubble of towns and villages.

Air force bombardment and heavy artillery shelling has been going on in the tribal areas of Pakistan for several years; Pashtun tribesmen have been taking fire; their homes, property and livelihoods have been destroyed; they have lost their families and children in this brutal war, which has displaced millions of tribesmen who had to live for many years in the refugee camps in Peshawar, Mardan and Bannu districts after the Swat and South Waziristan military operations in 2009 and then the North Waziristan operation in 2014.

The Pashtuns are the most unfortunate nation on the planet nowadays, because nobody understands and represents them; not even their own leadership, whether religious or ethnic. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are represented by Washington’s stooges, like Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani, and in Pakistan, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) loves to play the victim card and finds solace in learned helplessness.

In Pakistan, however, the Pashtuns are no longer represented by a single political entity, a fact which has become obvious after the 2013 parliamentary elections in which the Pashtun nationalist ANP was wiped out of its former strongholds.

Now, there are at least three distinct categories of Pashtuns: firstly, the Pashtun nationalists who follow Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy and have their strongholds in Charsadda and Mardan districts; secondly, the religiously inclined Islamist Pashtuns who vote for Islamist political parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; and thirdly, the emerging new phenomena, the Pakistan nationalist Pashtuns, most of whom have joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in recent years, though some have also joined Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League.

It is worth noting here that the general elections of 2013 were contested on a single issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which has displaced millions of Pashtun tribesmen. The Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) was routed, because in keeping with its so-called “liberal interventionist” ideology, it stood for military operations against Islamist Pashtun militants in tribal areas.

And the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province gave a sweeping mandate to the newcomer in the Pakistani political landscape: Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), because the latter promised to deal with tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.

Although both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif failed to keep their election pledge of using peaceful means for dealing with the menace of religious extremism and militancy, the public sentiment has been firmly against military operations in tribal areas.

The 2013 parliamentary elections were, in a way, a referendum against Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror in the Af-Pak region, and the Pashtun electorate gave an overwhelming mandate to pro-peace political parties against the pro-war Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP).

After the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) was completely routed at the hands of Imran Khan’s PTI during the last general elections, it has come up with a new electoral gimmick in the form of Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement for the parliamentary elections slated for July. Excluding Manzoor Pashteen and some of his close associates, the rest of Pashtun Protection Movement’s leadership is comprised of ANP’s political activists.

But is it not ironic that the very same political forces that cheerled military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas, leading to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, are now championing Pashtun rights? When Pakistan’s military was indiscriminately bombing the towns and villages of Pashtun tribesmen, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) lent their unequivocal support to Pakistan’s so-called war on terror under American pressure, but now they are demanding that Pashtun tribesmen held by security agencies should be released, the area should be cleared of mines and security check posts in tribal areas should be removed in order to placate Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Pashtun majority electorate.

Finally, in Pakistan’s socio-political milieu, there are three important political forces: the dominant Islamic nationalists; the ethno-linguistic nationalists; and the neoliberal elites. The Islamic nationalists are culturally much closer to the traditional ethno-linguistic nationalists, but politically, due to frequent interruptions of democratic process and martial law administrators’ suspicion towards the centrifugal ethno-linguistic nationalists, the latter were politically marginalized.

As we know that politics is mostly about forming alliances, therefore the shrewd neoliberal elites lured the leadership of gullible ethno-linguistic nationalists and struck a political alliance with them. But this alliance is only a marriage of convenience, because culturally, both these camps don’t have anything in common with each other. The Islamic nationalists and the ethno-linguistic nationalists belong to the same social stratum and go through thick and thin together; while the comprador bourgeois are beholden to foreign powers.

Leadership is a two-way street, a judicious leader is supposed to guide the masses, but at the same time, he is also supposed to represent the interests and aspirations of the disenfranchised masses. The detached and insular leadership that lives in a fantasy world of outlandish theories and fails to understand the mindsets and inclinations of the masses tends to lose its mass appeal sooner or later.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Skripals Poisoning and Syria Strikes


On April 11, one of the “smartest” US presidents ever tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

When Donald Trump’s advisers drew his attention to the fact that he might have telegraphed his intentions of bombing Syria to Moscow, the imbecile came up with an even more childish tweet the next day, saying: “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our Thank you America?”

Fact of the matter is that during the last week, Donald Trump has been so distracted by the FBI’s raid on the office of his attorney Michael Cohen and the release of former FBI director James Comey’s new, tell-all book that he has paid scant attention to what has happened in Syria. He kept fulminating about these two issues throughout the last week on his Twitter timeline and mentioned the alleged Douma chemical attack in Syria on April 7 only in the passing.

Even though Trump’s babysitter Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted on the record that though he was sure chlorine was used in the attack in Douma, Syria, he was not sure who carried out the attack and whether any other toxic chemical agent, particularly sarin, was used in the attack. If chlorine can be classified as a chemical weapon, then how is one supposed to categorize white phosphorous which was used by the US military in large quantities in its battle against the Islamic State in Raqqa?

Despite scant evidence as to the use of chemical weapons or the party responsible for it, Donald Trump ordered another cruise missiles strike in Syria on Saturday in collaboration with Theresa May’s government in the UK and Emmanuel Macron’s administration in France. The strike took place a little over a year after a similar cruise missiles strikes on al-Shayrat airfield on April 6 last year, after an alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, that accomplished nothing.

Both these strikes in Syria were not only illegal under international law but also under American laws. While striking the Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, Washington availed itself of the war on terror provisions in the US laws, known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), but those laws do not give the president the power to order strikes against the Syrian government targets without the approval of the US Congress which has the sole authority to declare war.

The Intercept has recently reported [1] that the Trump administration has derived the authority to strike the Syrian government targets based on a “Top Secret” memorandum of the Office of Legal Counsel that even the US Congress can’t see. Complying with the norms of transparency and rule of law have never been the strong points of American democracy but the new US administration has done away with even the pretense of accountability and checks and balances.

What further defies explanation for the Saturday’s strikes against a scientific research facility in the Barzeh district of Damascus and two alleged chemical weapons storage facilities in Homs is the fact that Donald Trump has already announced [2] that the process of withdrawal of US troops from Syria must begin before the midterm US elections slated for November. If the Trump administration is to retain the Republican majority in the Congress, it will have to show something tangible to its voters, particularly in Syria.

Thus, it appears that the “one-off strike in Syria,” as articulated by James Mattis, was nothing more than a diversionary tactic to distract attention from Trump’s domestic troubles. Rather than deterring the Syrian government from its alleged use of chemical weapons, the Saturday’s cruise missiles strikes were meant as a show of force against Moscow.

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 and police has launched a murder investigation into his death.

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 has concluded that Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Moscow-made, military-grade nerve agent, Novichok.

On April 9, Yulia Skripal was discharged from hospital and reportedly the condition of Sergei Skripal is also improving rapidly, which means they might not have been poisoned by Novichok. In fact, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shared the results [3] of a Swiss laboratory on Saturday that “BZ toxin” was used in the Salisbury poisoning which was never produced in Russia, but was in service in the US, UK and other NATO states.

Nevertheless, the US, UK and European nations expelled scores of Russian diplomats and the Trump administration ordered the closure of Russian consulate in Seattle. In a retaliatory move, Kremlin also expelled a similar number of American, British and European diplomats, and ordered the closure of American consulate in Saint Petersburg. The relations between Moscow and Western powers have reached their lowest ebb since the break-up of Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in December 1991.

The fact that out of 105 total cruise missiles deployed in the Saturday’s strikes in Syria, 85 were launched by the US, 12 by France and 8 by the UK aircrafts shows that the strikes were nothing more than a show of force by a “powerful and assertive” US president who regards the interests of his European allies as his own, particularly when he has given a May 12 deadline to his European allies to “improve and strengthen” the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise he has threatened to walk out of the pact in order to please Israel’s lobby in Washington.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Endgame in Syria: Trump Signals Withdrawal of US Troops


In a momentous announcement at an event in Ohio on Thursday, Donald Trump said, “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

What lends credence to the statement that the Trump administration will soon be pulling 2,000 US troops out of Syria – mostly Special Forces assisting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – is that President Trump had recently announced to sack the National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

McMaster represented the institutional logic of the deep state in the Trump administration and was instrumental in advising Donald Trump to escalate the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. He had advised President Trump to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 8,400 to 15,000. And in Syria, he was in favor of the Pentagon’s policy of training and arming 30,000 Kurdish border guards to patrol Syria’s northern border with Turkey.

Both the decisions have spectacularly backfired on the Trump administration. The decision to train and arm 30,000 Kurdish border guards had annoyed the Erdogan administration to an extent that Turkey mounted Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in Syria’s northwest on January 20.

After capturing Afrin on March 18, the Turkish armed forces and their Free Syria Army proxies have now cast their eyes further east on Manbij where the US Special Forces are closely cooperating with the Kurdish YPG militia, in line with the long-held Turkish military doctrine of denying the Kurds any Syrian territory west of River Euphrates.

More significantly, however, the US bombers and Apache helicopters struck a contingent of Syrian government troops and allied forces in Deir al-Zor on February 7 that reportedly killed and wounded dozens of Russian military contractors working for the private security firm, the Wagner group.

In order to understand the reason why the US brazenly attacked the Russian contractors, we need to keep the backdrop of seven-year-long Syrian conflict in mind. Washington has failed to topple the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. After the Russian intervention in September 2015, the momentum of the battle has shifted in favor of the Syrian government and Washington’s proxies are on the receiving end in the conflict.

Washington’s policy of nurturing militants against the Syrian government has given birth to the Islamic State and myriads of jihadist groups that have carried out audacious terror attacks in Europe during the last three years. Out of necessity, Washington had to make the Kurds the centerpiece of its policy in Syria. But on January 20, its NATO-ally Turkey mounted Operation Olive Branch against the Kurds in the northwestern Syrian canton of Afrin.

In order to save its reputation as a global power, Washington could have confronted Turkey and pressured it to desist from invading Afrin. But it chose the easier path and vented its frustration on the Syrian government forces in Deir al-Zor which led to the casualties of scores of Russian military contractors hired by the Syrian government.

Another reason why Washington struck Russian contractors working in Syria was that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which are 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 Turkish armed forces and allied Free Syria Army (FSA) militias.

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 massacre in which scores of Russian citizens lost their lives.

It would be pertinent to note here that regarding the Syria policy, there is a schism between the White House and the American deep state led by the Pentagon. After Donald Trump’s inauguration as the US president, he has delegated operational-level decisions in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to the Pentagon.

The way the US officials are evading responsibility for the incident, it appears the decision to strike pro-government forces in Deir al-Zor that included Russian contractors was taken by the operational commander of the US forces in Syria and the White House was not informed until after the strike.

Notwithstanding, it bears mentioning that unlike dyed-in-the-wool globalists and “liberal interventionists,” like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appears that the protectionist 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. He is also mindful of the fact that militants have been funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in Turkey’s border regions to the north of Syria and in Jordan’s border regions to the south of Syria.

According to the last year’s March 31 article [1] for the New York Times by Michael Gordon, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the recently sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had stated on the record that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was the top priority of the Trump administration and the fate of Bashar al-Assad was of least concern to the new administration.

Under the previous Obama administration, the evident policy in Syria was regime change. The Trump administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective because Donald Trump regards Islamic jihadists as a much bigger threat to the security of the US.

In order to allay the concerns of Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East, the Trump administration conducted a cruise missiles strike on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate on April 6 last year 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 Donald Trump is an assertive and powerful president.

Finally, Karen De Young and Liz Sly made another startling revelation in the last year’s March 4 article [2] for the Washington Post: “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, the interests of all the major players in Syria have evidently converged on defeating Islamic jihadists, and the Obama-era policy of regime change has been put on the back burner. And after the recent announcement of complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria by President Trump, it appears that we are approaching the endgame in Syria, an event as momentous as the Fall of Saigon in 1975, which will mark a stellar military victory for Vladimir Putin.