Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Petro-Islam: Nexus between Oil and Terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neocolonialism and the myth of sovereignty

It’s an evident fact that the neocolonial powers are ruled by behemoth corporations whose wealth is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars, far more than the total GDP of many developing nations. The status of these multinational corporations as dominant players in national and international politics gets official imprimatur when the Western governments endorse the congressional lobbying practice of the so-called ‘special interest’ groups, which is a euphemism for business interests.

Since the Western governments are nothing but the mouthpieces of their business interests on international political and economic forums, therefore any national or international entity which hinders or opposes the agenda of corporate interests is either coerced into accepting their demands or gets sidelined.

In 2013, the Manmohan Singh’s government of India had certain objections to further opening up to the Western businesses. The Business Roundtable, which is an informal congregation of major US businesses and which together holds a net wealth of $6 trillion, held a meeting with the representatives of the Indian government and literally coerced the latter into accepting unfair demands of the Western corporations.

The developing economies, like India and Pakistan, are always hungry for foreign direct investment (FDI) to grow further, and this investment mostly comes from the Western corporations. When the Business Roundtables or the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) form pressure groups and engage in ‘collective bargaining’ activities, the nascent and fragile developing economies don’t have a choice but to toe their line.

State sovereignty, that sovereign nation states are at liberty to pursue independent policies, especially economic and trade policies, is a myth. Just like the ruling elites of the developing countries who have a stranglehold and monopoly over domestic politics; similarly, the neocolonial powers and their so-called ‘multinational’ corporations control international politics and the global economic order.

Any state which dares to transgress becomes an international pariah like Castro’s Cuba, Chavez’s Venezuela and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe; or more recently, Iran which was cut off from the global economic system from 2006 to 2015, because of its supposed nuclear ambitions. Good for Iran that it has one of the largest oil and gas resources, otherwise it would have been insolvent by now. Such is the power of global financial system, especially the banking sector, and the significance of petro-dollar because the global oil transactions are pegged in the US dollars all over the world, and all the major oil bourses are also located in the Western financial districts.

The crippling ‘third party’ economic sanctions on Iran from 2006 to 2015 have brought to the fore the enormous power that the Western financial institutions and the petro-dollar as a global reserve currency wields over the global financial system. It bears mentioning that the Iranian nuclear negotiations were as much about Iran’s nuclear program as they were about its ballistic missile program, which is an equally dangerous conventional threat to the Gulf’s petro-monarchies just across the Persian Gulf.

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

Regarding the exploitative neocolonial system and the stranglehold of the Western financial services sector on the global economy, in April 2016, the Saudi foreign minister threatened [1] that the Saudi kingdom would sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets if the US Congress passed a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible for any role in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

It’s worth noting that $750 billion is only the Saudi investment in the US, if we add its investment in the Western Europe, and the investments of oil-rich UAE, Kuwait and Qatar in the Western economies, the sum total would amount to trillions of dollars of Gulf’s investment in North America and Western Europe. Similarly, according to a July 2014 New York Post report [2], the Chinese entrepreneurs had deposited $1.4 trillion in the Western banks between 2002 to 2014, and the Russian oligarchs were the runner-ups with $800 billion of deposits.

Moreover, in order to bring home the significance of the Persian Gulf’s oil where 28,000 US troops have currently been stationed in their numerous leased military bases and aircraft-carriers, here are a few rough stats from the OPEC data: Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest proven petroleum reserves of 266 billion barrels and its daily crude oil production exceeds 10 million barrels; Iran and Iraq each has 150 billion barrels reserves and have the capacity to produce 5 million barrels per day each; while UAE and Kuwait each has 100 billion barrels reserves and they produce 3 million barrels per day each; thus, all the littoral states of the Persian Gulf together hold more than half of world’s 1500 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves.

Finally, regarding the Western defence production industry’s sales of arms to the Gulf Arab States, a report [3] authored by William Hartung of the US-based Centre for International Policy found that the Obama administration had offered Saudi Arabia more than $115 billion in weapons, military equipment and training during its eight years tenure. Similarly, during its first international visit to Saudi Arabia in May last year, the Trump administration signed arms deals worth $110 billion, and over 10 years, total sales could reach $350 billion.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Relationship between Power and Sex

Imran Khan and General Qamar Bajwa
A question naturally arises in the minds of curious students of regional geopolitics that why did Pakistan choose to wage Washington’s proxy war against the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan back in the 1980s? Was it to strengthen its defences against India, the oft-quoted ‘strategic depth’ theory, or the fear that the former Soviet Union might make further advances into Pakistan’s Balochistan province to reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea?

All these geopolitical considerations might have played a part, but to understand the real reason why Pakistan decided to become Washington’s accomplice in the Afghan conflict, we need to understand the nature of power. Rationally speaking, power ought to be means to achieve higher goals, but in practical life, we often face David Hume’s ‘is-ought dilemma,’ where rather than means to an end, power becomes an end in itself, and it is the nature of power to expand further and to grow more powerful.

Thus, Pakistan’s security establishment did not collaborate in Washington’s ‘bear trap project’ for any ulterior strategic goals, the goal was simply to exercise power by taking advantage of the opportunity. In order to elaborate this abstract concept, I would like to draw a parallel between power and sex. In the grand scheme of things, sex is not an end in itself; it is means to an end, the end being the procreation of offspring.

But many hedonic couples nowadays use contraceptives and don’t consider it worthwhile to procreate and nurture children, due to economic constraints or the unnecessary effort that nurturing children inevitably entails. Social scientists have no business offering advice or moral lessons; to each his own. But if the ultimate end for which nature has invented the agency comes to a naught, that does not per se renders the agency any less significant, instead the agency itself becomes an end in itself. Thus, power is like sex; its exercise is pleasurable and its goal is further expansion and amassing of more power to satisfy the insatiable needs of compulsive power maniacs.

Notwithstanding, many Leftist activists nowadays commit the fallacy of trying to establish an essentialist and linear narrative to global events. One cannot question their bona fide intentions, but their overzealous efforts sometimes prove counterproductive to their own credibility and the causes that they are striving for.

All the contemporary conflicts are not energy wars. The Iraq and Libya wars were obviously energy wars, because Iraq has proven petroleum reserves of 140 billion barrels and it can produce 5 million barrels of crude oil per day, which is second only to Saudi Arabia’s 10 million barrels daily oil production and 266 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves, while Libya used to produce 1.6 million barrels per day before the civil war in 2011 and has the proven reserves of 48 billion barrels.

The Syrian conflict has a different dimension to it. Syria does not produce much oil except approximately 385,000 barrels per day from the north-east in Deir al-Zor and has proven petroleum reserves of only 2.5 billion barrels. NATO’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is for the sake of ensuring Israel’s regional security. The single biggest threat to Israel’s regional security was posed by the Shi’a resistance axis comprising Iran, the Assad regime in Syria and their Lebanon-based proxy, Hezbollah.

During the course of 2006 Lebanon war, Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel, and Israel’s defence community realised for the first time the nature of threat that Hezbollah and its patrons, Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, 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.

Washington’s military intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001 in the backdrop of the 9/11 terror attack, however, was different from all other wars. It was a war of imperial hubris and a war of liability rather than a war of choice. That’s why we didn’t see much commitment of troops and resources by the Bush administration in the initial years of the Afghan war, and only an year into the Afghan war, Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 for its 140 billion barrels of petroleum reserves.

It was the Obama administration 2009-onward that made the Afghan war a bedrock of its foreign policy. By going dovish on Iraq, Obama wanted to offset his public perception of being a weak president by offering an alternative of a ‘just war,’ the Afghan war. And consequently, the number of US troops in Afghanistan spiked from 30,000 during the tenure of the neocon Bush administration to more than 100,000 during the term of the supposedly ‘pacifist’ Obama administration.

It bears mentioning that during the election campaign of 2008 before he was elected president, Barack Obama made an artificial distinction between the supposedly ‘just war’ in Afghanistan and the unjust war in Iraq. In accordance with the flawed distinction, he pledged that he would withdraw American troops from Iraq but not from Afghanistan.

The unilateral intervention in Iraq by the Bush administration was highly unpopular among the American electorate. Therefore, Obama’s election pledge of complete withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq struck a chord with the voters and they gave an overwhelming mandate to the ostensibly ‘pacifist’ contender during his first term as the president.

In keeping with the election pledge, President Obama did manage to successfully withdraw American troops from Iraq in December 2011 during the first term as the president, but only to commit thousands of American troops and the US Air Force to Iraq just a couple of years later during the second term as the president when the Islamic State overran Mosul and Anbar in early 2014.

The borders between Iraq and Syria are poorly guarded and highly porous. The Obama administration’s policy of nurturing militants against the Assad regime in Syria for the first three years of the Syrian civil war from 2011 to 2014 was bound to backfire sooner or later.

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.