Sunday, November 12, 2017

Battle of Al-Bukamal: Al-Baghdadi’s Last Stand

Last week, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, reportedly fled across the border from the town of Rawa in Iraq to the last bastion of the Islamic State in Syria, the border town of Al-Bukamal. On Thursday, the Syrian government and allied militias announced victory in Al-Bukamal, but by late Friday, the Islamic State mounted a counter-offensive and recaptured the northern neighborhoods of the town.

A question would naturally arise in the minds of curious observers of the war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq that why would al-Baghdadi leave the relatively safer region of Anbar in Iraq for Al-Bukamal in Syria which is being heavily contested between the Syrian troops and the Islamic State jihadists? The Syrian troops and allied militias are mercilessly shelling the town and the counter-offensive of the jihadist group is equally fierce, with a large number of VBIEDs (vehicle-bound improvised explosive device) being used against the advancing troops.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from this suicidal gambit by al-Baghdadi is that the self-styled caliph of the Islamic State has become tired of living the life of a fugitive on the run and has decided to fight to death in the last major stronghold of the so-called caliphate that spanned one-third of Syria and Iraq only a couple of years ago, in order to die as a martyr and a create a legend around his persona even after his death.

Regarding the composition and command structure of the Islamic State, although al-Baghdadi has not publicly appointed a successor, but two of the closest aides who have emerged as his likely successors over the years are Iyad al-Obeidi, his defense minister, and Ayad al-Jumaili, the in charge of security. The latter had already reportedly been killed in an airstrike in April in al-Qaim region on Iraq’s border with Syria. Thus, the most likely successor of al-Baghdadi would be al-Obaidi. Both al-Jumaili and al-Obeidi had previously served as security officers in Iraq’s Baathist army under Saddam Hussein, and al-Obeidi is known to be the de facto deputy [1] of al-Baghdadi.

More to the point, excluding al-Baghdadi and some of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. Reportedly, hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy. Thus, apart from training and arms that have been provided to the Sunni Arab militants in the training camps located in the Turkish and Jordanian border regions adjacent to Syria by the CIA in collaboration with Turkish, Jordanian and Saudi intelligence agencies, the only other factor which has contributed to the astounding success of the Islamic State from early 2013 to August 2014 is that its top cadres are comprised of professional military and intelligence officers from the Saddam era.

Moreover, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology play an important role in the battle, and well informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in the battle. Looking at the Islamic State’s astounding gains in Syria and Iraq from early 2013 to August 2014, a question arises that where does its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

The Syria experts of foreign policy think tanks also appear to be quite ‘worried’ when the Islamic State overran Mosul that where did the Islamic State’s jihadists get all the sophisticated weapons and especially those fancy Toyota pickup trucks mounted with machine guns at the back, colloquially known as ‘the Technicals’ among the jihadists? According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [2] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training in the training camps located in the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks can easily travel to the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center known as the Military Operations Center (MOC) based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

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 the present, 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-dominated 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 corporate 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 Bush administration as it has been the legacy of the Obama administration’s policy of funding, arming, training and internationally legitimizing the Sunni Arab militants against the Shi’a-dominated Syrian regime since 2011-onward in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East 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 militant 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, and Washington’s policy of nurturing militants against the Assad regime in Syria 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.

Friday, November 10, 2017

‘Dawn Leaks’ and the ouster of Nawaz Sharif

In a momentous decision on 28 July, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from holding public office by the country’s Supreme Court on the flimsy pretext of holding an ‘Iqama’ (a work permit) for a Dubai-based company. Although it is generally assumed the revelations in the Panama Papers, that Nawaz Sharif and his family members own offshore companies, led to the ignominious downfall of the prime minister, but another important factor that contributed to the dismissal is often overlooked.

In October last year, Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, Dawn News, published an exclusive report [1] dubbed as the ‘Dawn Leaks’ in Pakistan’s press. In the report titled ‘Act against militants or face international isolation,’ citing an advisor to the Prime Minister, Tariq Fatemi, who has since been fired from his job for disclosing the internal deliberations of a high-level meeting to the media, the author of the report Cyril Almeida contended that in a huddle of Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, the civilians had told the military’s top brass to withdraw its support from the militant outfits operating in Pakistan, specifically from the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

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

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

It’s worth noting that there are three distinct categories of militants operating in Pakistan: the Afghanistan-focused Pashtun militants; the Kashmir-centered Punjabi militants; and the transnational terrorists, like al-Qaeda, which number only in a few hundreds and are hence insignificant. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is mainly comprised of Pashtun militants, carries out bombings against Pakistan’s state apparatus. The ethnic factor is critical here.

Although TTP likes to couch its rhetoric in religious terms, but it is the difference of ethnicity that enables it to recruit Pashtun tribesmen who are willing to carry out subversive activities against the Punjabi-dominated state apparatus, while the Kashmir-focused Punjabi militants have by and large remained loyal to their patrons in the security establishment of Pakistan.

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

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

Historically, from the massacres in Bangladesh in 1971 to the training and arming of jihadists during the Soviet-Afghan war throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and then launching ill-conceived military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas under Washington’s pressure, which led 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 the regional peace as well as its own citizenry.

For 33 years of its 70-year-long history, Pakistan was directly ruled by the army, and for the remaining half, the security establishment has kept dictating Pakistan’s foreign and security policy from behind the scenes. The outcome of Ayub Khan’s first decade-long martial law from 1958 to 1969 was that Bengalis were marginalized and alienated to an extent that it led to the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971; during General Zia’s second decade-long martial law from 1977 to 1988, Pakistan’s military trained and armed its own worst nemesis, the Afghan and Kashmiri jihadists; and during General Musharraf’s third martial law from 1999 to 2008, Pakistan’s security establishment made a volte-face under Washington’s pressure and declared a war against the Pashtun militants that ignited the fires 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 tribal areas; however, it would be erroneous to assume that nurturing militancy in Pakistan was the doing of an individual scapegoat named Zia; all the army chiefs after Zia’s assassination in 1988, including Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz, Waheed Kakar, Jahangir Karamat and right up to General Musharraf, upheld the same military doctrine of using jihadist proxies to destabilize the hostile neighboring countries, Afghanistan, India and Iran, throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

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

Finally, the rule of law, more than anything, implies the supremacy of the law: that all 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 the jungle.

If the armed forces of a country are entitled to abrogate “a piece of paper,” known as the 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.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Gender Identity as a Social Construct

The distinction between male and female genders is based less on their physiological traits and more on their respective mindsets. These mindsets, in turn, are a product of social expectations of behavior in a cultural milieu. It is expected from male members of a society to behave in a supposedly manly fashion and it is similarly expected from female members to act in a purportedly feminine manner.

But this emphasis on binary distinction of genders in a rural-agrarian setting served a purpose: the division of functions between male and female members, where women were expected to do housekeeping and nurturing children, while it was expected from men to produce food for the family. Although this distinction is still maintained, to a lesser or greater extent, in urban and industrialized societies, but a distinction based on division of functions is a hypothetical imperative: as means to achieve certain ends and not an end in itself.

Moreover, it would be normative to contend that in primitive tribal societies, women had the same social status as men. The nomado-pastoral and agricultural eras were the age of hunting-gathering, farming and strenuous physical labor, and it is a known fact that women are physically a weaker sex, that’s why we have separate sports and athletics events for men and women.

Women attained the status of equality after the onset of industrial revolution and a shift to mechanized labor, when the focus shifted from physical labor to intelligence and information; and when it comes to cognitive faculties, women are just as intelligent as men, if not more so.

Notwithstanding, instead of taking a binary approach to classification of genders, modern feminists now favor to look at the issue from the prism of a whole spectrum of gender identities. The way I see it, it should not be about being manly; rather, it should be about being human, which is the common denominator for the whole spectrum of gender identities.

When we stress upon manliness, it’s not manliness per se that we are glorifying, but the presence of feminine attributes in the socially-elevated male gender is something that we, as agents of patriarchal structure, frown upon. But such machismo is not a natural order of things, because more than the physical attributes, the rigid segregation of genders is a product of social constructions that manifest themselves in artificial cognitive and behavioral engineering of male and female mindsets.

In our formative years, such watertight gender identities and their socially-accepted attributes are inculcated in our minds by assigning gender roles, but this whole hetero-normative approach to the issue of gender identity is losing its validity in a post-industrial urban milieu, where gender roles are not as strictly defined as they used to be in the medieval agricultural societies.

More to the point, what are the virtues that are deemed valuable in women separately from the ones that are deemed desirable in men? If meekness, diffidence and complacency are disapproved in men, then why do we have double standards for separate genders? Self-confidence, assertiveness and boldness should be equally encouraged in both genders without discrimination.

However, the dilemma that we face is that the mindsets of individuals and gender roles are determined by culture, but if the society itself is patriarchal and male-dominated, then it tends to marginalize and reduce women to a lower social status. Therefore, a social reform is needed which can redefine "virtue" and the qualities that are deemed valuable in human beings should be uniform and consistent for both genders.

Regardless, if we study the behavioral patterns in the animal kingdom, a tigress is as good a hunter as a tiger; in fact, the females of most species are generally more violent than their male counterparts; because they fight not only for food, but also to protect their offspring. But how often do we find a violent woman in human history and society?

Excluding a handful of femme fatales like Cleopatra, bold women are a rare exception in human history. Thus, even though by nature, women are just as assertive and violent as men, but the patriarchy-inspired nurture and male-dominated culture have tamed women to an extent that they have unlearnt even their innate nature.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this fact: first, that it’s always nurture and culture which play a more significant role in determining human behavior compared to some far-fetched concept of essential human nature; and second, that essentially human nature is quite similar for both genders, it’s only the behavioral process of social construction of gender identity that defines and limits the roles which are deemed proper for one gender or the other.

Additionally, regarding physiological distinction between male and female genders, evolutionary biologists are of the opinion that such differences only have a minor importance. Even if we take primary reproductive organs, for instance, clitoris is regarded as a rudimentary penis in females and nipples in males are regarded as rudimentary breasts, a fact which proves beyond doubt that specialization of male and female reproductive organs is merely a mechanism to keep genetic material unimpaired by preference for meiosis division over repetitive and harmful mitosis reproductive division.

Moreover, it is generally assumed about males that due to the presence of testosterone, they are usually more aggressive and competitive than females. If we assess this contention in the light of global versus local character traits theory, however, testosterone only promotes a specific kind of competition: that is, competition for mating. When it comes to competing for food, however, males and females of all species exhibit similar levels of aggression and competition.

Therefore, it would be reductive to assume that the distinction between male and female attitudes and behaviors is more physiological and hormonal than it is due to the difference of upbringing and separate sets of social expectations of behavior that are associated with the members of male and female sexes.

Finally, there is no denying the fact that testosterone is primarily responsible for secondary sexual characteristics in the males of all species. Through the process of natural selection, only those males that have succeeded in mating are able to carry forward their genes, which proves that males with higher testosterone levels do have a comparative advantage in competition for mating, but its effect on attitudes and behaviors of animal species, and particularly in human beings with their complex social institutions and cultures, is tentative and hypothetical, at best.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fingerprints of Islamic State on New York Attack

Sayfullo Saipov.
Eight people have been killed and more than a dozen injured after a truck mowed down people on a bike path in Lower Manhattan. FBI is treating the incident as an act of terrorism and the driver of the vehicle has been shot by the NYPD and taken into custody alive.

The suspect has been identified as a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, which is a Russian variant of the Arabic name Saifullah Saif meaning the sword of Allah. It’s worth noting that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in mid-2015, is one of the most fearsome affiliate of the Islamic State in the Central Asia region because its recruits have been motivated to fight to death.

What lends credence to the theory that the atrocity has been perpetrated by the Islamic State’s recruit is the fact that handwritten notes pledging allegiance to the Islamic State and the terror group’s flag have reportedly been found near the vehicle. Moreover, when the driver of the truck exited the vehicle, apart from shouting Allahu Akbar, he was also brandishing imitation firearms.

Thus, this truck-ramming incident bears all the trademarks of the Islamic State-inspired terror attacks as is evident from the recent spate of shootings, bombings and vehicle-ramming attacks in Europe during the last couple of years. It bears mentioning that via its Amaq news agency, Islamic State has directed its followers to always shout the battle cry of Allahu Akbar to let their affiliation with the Islamic State be known and has also instructed its recruits to wear fake suicide vests and brandish imitation firearms so that they are not captured alive.

In order to understand the motive for the atrocity, we must bear the context in mind: the Islamic State has recently been routed from its de facto capital Raqqa in Syria which it had occupied since 2013. The so-called “Islamic caliphate” that once spanned one-third of Syria and Iraq has been reduced to a few small pockets in both these countries, and it is only a matter of time before the jihadist group is completely routed. Therefore, it is only natural for the Islamic State to use all means available at its disposal to seek revenge for its battlefield defeats at the hands of the US.

More to the point, we should also bear the background of the Western foreign policy in the Middle East during the recent years in mind. The six-year-long conflict in Syria that gave birth to scores of militant groups, including the Islamic State, and after the conflict spilled over across the border into neighboring Iraq in early 2014 has directly been responsible for the recent spate of Islamic State-inspired terror attacks against the West.

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

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

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

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

Regarding the argument that how Washington’s foreign policy of lending indiscriminate support to Sunni militants against the Shi’a-led government in Syria has been responsible for the recent wave of terror attacks against the West, remember that 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 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 the 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 northern border of Israel.

Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional Sunni allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Shi’a Iranian axis comprised of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Finally, although the Sunni states of the Middle East and their jihadist proxies still toe Washington’s line in the region publicly, but behind the scenes, there is bitter resentment that the US has betrayed the Sunni cause by making an about-face on the previous regime change policy in Syria and the subsequent declaration of war against the Islamic State.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Erdogan’s insomnia and NATO’s H-Bombs in Turkey

Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen.
Recently, Pravda newspaper of Russia has reported that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been suffering from serious sleep deprivation and that he was yawning and dozed off during a press conference with the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko while on a state visit to Kiev, and the video of the incident has been going viral over social media.

Though this might appear as a minor diplomatic gaffe but bear in mind that insomnia is a serious psychiatric disorder, cognitive functions of sleep-deprived individuals are severely hampered, and such people are prone to committing rash and reckless acts.

Moreover, readers who have been keenly watching Erdogan’s behavior since the July 2016 coup plot must have noticed in his recent TV appearances that his facial expressions have become quite bland lately, he has been lacking in any warmth even when he is hugging and kissing children for public relations’ photo ops, and he has the look of a madman in his eyes.

In order to substantiate this subjective psychoanalytical evaluation of Erdogan’s attitude and body language with concrete evidence, I would draw the reader’s attention to quite a few rash and impulsive acts committed by the Erdogan administration during the last couple of years.

First, the Turkish air force shot down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet on the border between Syria and Turkey on 24 November 2015 that brought the Turkish and Russian armed forces on the brink of a full-scale confrontation in Syria.

Second, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated at an art exhibition in Ankara on the evening of 19 December 2016 by an off-duty Turkish police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, who was suspected of being a Muslim fundamentalist.

Third, the Turkish military mounted the seven-month-long Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria immediately after the attempted coup plot from August 2016 to March 2017 that brought the Turkish military and its Free Syria Army proxies head-to-head with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and their US bakers.

And fourth, the Turkish military has recently once again invaded Idlib in northwestern Syria on the pretext of enforcing a de-escalation zone between the Syrian militants and the government, despite official protest from the latter that the Turkish armed forces are in violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Regarding the July 2016 coup plot, instead of a serious attempt at overthrowing the government, the coup plot actually was a large-scale mutiny within the ranks of the Turkish armed forces. Although Erdogan has scapegoated the Gulenists to settle scores with his one-time ally, but according to credible reports, the coup was in fact attempted by the Kemalist liberals against the Islamist government of Turkey.

For the last several years of the Syrian civil war, the Kemalists had been looking with suspicion at Erdogan administration’s policy of deliberately training and arming Sunni militants against the Shi’a-dominated government of Bashar al-Assad in the training camps located on Turkey’s borders with Syria in collaboration with CIA’s MOM, which is a Turkish acronym for military operations center.

As long as the US was onboard on the policy of nurturing Sunni Arab jihadists in Syria, the hands of Kemalists were tied. But after the US declared a war against one faction of Sunni militants, the Islamic State, in August 2014 and the consequent divergence between Washington’s policy of supporting the Kurds in Syria and the Islamist government of Turkey’s continued support to Sunni militants, it led to discord and adoption of contradictory policies.

And then, the spate of bombings in Turkey claimed by the Islamic State and separatist Kurds during the last couple of years, all of these factors contributed to widespread disaffection among the rank and file of Turkish armed forces, which regard themselves as the custodians of secular traditions and guarantors of peace and stability in Turkey.

The fact that one-third of 220 brigadiers and ten major generals were detained after the coup plot shows the level of frustration shown by the top and mid-ranking officers of the Turkish armed forces against Erdogan’s megalomaniac and self-destructive policies.

More to the point, it bears mentioning that the United States has been conducting air strikes against targets in Syria from the Incirlik airbase in Turkey and around fifty American B-61 hydrogen bombs have also been deployed there.

The safety of those H-bombs became a matter of real concern during the attempted coup plot against the Erdogan administration when the commander of the Incirlik airbase, General Bekir Ercan Van, along with nine other officers were arrested for supporting the coup. The movement in and out of the base was denied, power supply was cut off and the security threat level was raised to the highest state of alert, according to a 17 July 2016 report by Eric Schlosser for the New Yorker.

Anti-nuclear activists around the world have been worried about North Korea’s nuclear crisis. And during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Democrats made a convincing argument to the American electorate that would they trust a US president affiliated with the infamous Alt-Right movement with nuclear codes?

What’s worth noting in the aforementioned report, however, is the fact that some of NATO’s H-bombs deployed in Turkey are to be delivered by the Turkish air force if the contingency arises. And a Muslim Brotherhood’s fanatic who has been suffering from insomnia and is prone to committing reckless and impulsive acts has absolute control over those nukes.

Therefore, in order to preempt the likelihood of a nuclear Armageddon, Washington should either press upon its NATO ally to constitute a medical examination board to evaluate Erdogan’s psychiatric condition whether he is eligible to serve as president or not, or the US should recall those nukes and deploy them in a safer country like Germany, which is home to one of the largest overseas US airbase Ramstein, where 47,000 US troops have currently been deployed and which already hosts dozens of similar NATO’s nukes on its territory.

Sources and links:

[1] Pravda: Erdogan's lack of sleep becomes a very serious problem to many:

[2] The H-bombs in Turkey by Eric Schlosser:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Paradigm Shift in Syria War after Al-Jolani Critically Wounded

Abu Mohammad al-Jolani.
The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed [1] that one of its airstrikes in Syria has critically injured Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the leader of an al-Nusra Front (currently known as Fateh al-Sham), who has lost limbs in the attack in the northern province of Idlib on Tuesday.

According to the report, twelve field commanders, including Ahmad al-Gizan, the head of al-Jolani's security service, were also killed in the airstrike along with about fifty guards.

Bear in mind that during the seven-year-long Syrian civil war, al-Jolani has emerged as the second most influential militant leader after the Islamic State’s chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In fact, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in August 2011 to April 2013, the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front were a single organization that chose the banner of “Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Although the current al-Nusra Front has been led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani but he was appointed [2] as the emir of al-Nusra Front by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, in January 2012. Thus, al-Jolani’s Nusra Front is only a splinter group of the Islamic State, which split from its parent organization in April 2013 over a leadership dispute between the two organizations.

In March 2011, protests began in Syria against the government of Bashar al-Assad. In the following months, violence between demonstrators and security forces led to a gradual militarization of the conflict. In August 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was based in Iraq, began sending Syrian and Iraqi jihadists experienced in guerilla warfare across the border into Syria to establish an organization inside the country.

Led by a Syrian known as Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the group began to recruit fighters and establish cells throughout the country. On 23 January 2012, the group announced its formation as Jabhat al-Nusra.

In April 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that al-Nusra Front had been established, financed and supported by the Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Baghdadi declared that the two groups were merging under the name "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”

The leader of al-Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, issued a statement denying the merger and complaining that neither he nor anyone else in al-Nusra's leadership had been consulted about it.

Al-Qaeda Central’s leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, tried to mediate the dispute between al-Baghdadi and al-Jolani but eventually, in October 2013, he endorsed al-Nusra Front as the official franchise of al-Qaeda Central in Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, however, defied the nominal authority of al-Qaeda Central and declared himself as the caliph of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Keeping this background in mind, it becomes amply clear that a single militant organization operated in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of al-Baghdadi until April 2013, which chose the banner of al-Nusra Front, and that the current emir of the subsequent breakaway faction of al-Nusra Front, al-Jolani, was actually al-Baghdadi’s deputy in Syria.

Thus, the Islamic State operated in Syria since August 2011 under the designation of al-Nusra Front and it subsequently changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in April 2013, after which it overran Raqqa and parts of Deir al-Zor in the summer of 2013. And in January 2014, it overran Fallujah and parts of Ramadi in Iraq and reached the zenith of its power when it captured Mosul in June 2014.

Excluding al-Baghdadi and a handful of his hardline Islamist aides, the rest of Islamic State’s top leadership is comprised of Saddam era military and intelligence officials. According to an informative Associated Press report [3], hundreds of ex-Baathists constitute the top and mid-tier command structure of the Islamic State who plan all the operations and direct its military strategy.

More to the point, it is an indisputable fact that morale and ideology play an important role in battle, and well-informed readers must also be aware that the Takfiri brand of most jihadists these days has directly been inspired by the puritanical Wahhabi-Salafi ideology of Saudi Arabia, but ideology alone is not sufficient to succeed in battle.

Looking at the Islamic State’s astounding gains in Syria and Iraq in 2013-14, a question arises that where does its recruits get all the training and state-of-the-art weapons that are imperative not only for hit-and-run guerrilla warfare but also for capturing and holding large swathes of territory?

According to a revelatory December 2013 news report [4] from a newspaper affiliated with the UAE government which supports the Syrian opposition, it is clearly mentioned that along with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other military gear, the Saudi regime also provides machine gun-mounted Toyota pick-up trucks to every batch of five jihadists who have completed their training in the training camps located at the border regions of Jordan.

Once those militants cross over to Daraa and Quneitra in southern Syria from the Jordan-Syria border, then those Toyota pickup trucks can easily travel all the way to Raqqa and Deir al-Zor and thence to Mosul and Anbar in Iraq.

Moreover, it is clearly spelled out in the report that Syrian militants get arms and training through a secret command center known as the Military Operations Center (MOC) based in the intelligence headquarters’ building in Amman, Jordan that has been staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations, Israel and the Gulf Arab States to wage a covert war against the government in Syria.

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

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

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

Moreover, according to a recent report [5] by CBC Canada, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which was formerly known as al-Nusra Front until July 2016, has been removed from the terror watch-lists of the US and Canada after it merged with fighters from Zenki Brigade and hardline jihadists from Ahrar al-Sham and rebranded itself as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in January this year.

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

Regarding the rebranding of al-Julani’s Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in July 2016 and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central, it’s only a nominal difference because al-Nusra Front never had any organizational and operational ties with al-Qaeda Central and even their ideologies are poles apart.

Al-Qaeda Central is basically a transnational terrorist organization, while al-Nusra Front mainly has regional ambitions that are limited only to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and its ideology is anti-Shi’a and sectarian. In fact, al-Nusra Front has not only received medical aid and material support from Israel, but some of its operations against the Shi’a-dominated Assad regime in southern Syria were fully coordinated with Israel’s air force.

The purpose behind the rebranding of al-Nusra Front to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and purported severing of ties with al-Qaeda Central has been to legitimize itself and to make it easier for its patrons to send money and arms. The US blacklisted al-Nusra Front in December 2012 and pressurized Saudi Arabia and Turkey to ban it, too. Although al-Nusra Front’s name has been in the list of proscribed organizations of Saudi Arabia and Turkey since 2014, but it has kept receiving money and arms from the Gulf Arab States.

It should be remembered that in a May 2015 interview [6] with al-Jazeera, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani took a public pledge on the behest of his Gulf-based patrons that his organization only has local ambitions limited to fighting the Assad regime in Syria and that it does not intend to strike targets in the Western countries.

Finally, this rebranding exercise has been going on for quite some time. Al-Jolani announced the split from al-Qaeda in a video statement last year. But the persistent efforts of al-Jolani’s Gulf-based patrons have borne fruit only in January this year, when al-Nusra Front once again rebranded itself from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which also includes “moderate” jihadists from Zenki Brigade, Ahrar al-Sham and several other militant groups, and thus, the US State Department has finally given a clean chit to the jihadist conglomerate that goes by the name of Tahrir al-Sham to pursue its ambitions of toppling the Assad regime in Syria.

Sources and links:

[1] Russian strike critically injures jihadist leader al-Jolani:

[2] Al-Julani was appointed as the emir of al-Nusra Front by al-Baghdadi:

[3] Islamic State’s top command dominated by ex-officers in Saddam’s army:

[4] Syrian rebels get arms and advice through secret command center in Amman:

[5] Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate escapes from terror list:      

[6] Al-Julani’s interview to Al-Jazeera: “Our mission is to defeat the Syrian regime”:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How Imran Khan plotted to overthrow Sharif’s Government?

Imran Khan and General Musharraf.
During Imran Khan’s four-months-long sit-in and political demonstrations in front of the parliament in Islamabad from August to December 2014, the allegations of election rigging and the demand for electoral reforms were only a red herring. A question would naturally arise in the minds of curious observers of Pakistan’s politics that what prompted Imran Khan to make a sudden volte-face?

The stellar success of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the general elections of 2013 was anything but a pleasant surprise for the PTI leadership. Imran Khan and his political party were accustomed to winning only a single seat in the parliament right up to the general elections of 2008 which the PTI boycotted.

In the parliamentary elections of 2013, however, Imran Khan’s PTI mustered 35 National Assembly seats and completely wiped out Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province’s Pashtun nationalist party, Awami National Party (ANP), and formed a coalition government in the province with the tacit approval of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), because PML-N could easily have formed a coalition government in the province.

These facts prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the demonstrations and protests by PTI from August to December 2014 were based on political opportunism rather than any genuine grievances against the government. Imran Khan came forward with a very broad and disjointed agenda: from electoral reforms to the resignation of the prime minister to seeking justice for the victims of the Model Town tragedy on 17 June 2014 in which 14 workers of Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj-ul-Quran were killed by the Punjab police in Lahore.

When the government agreed to the demand for electoral reforms, Imran Khan began insisting on the unacceptable demand of the prime minister’s resignation; and when people and media criticized him for being unreasonable and causing disruption to the normal functioning of the state, he immediately occupied the high moral ground by drawing attention to the Model Town tragedy.

Evidently, Imran Khan’s “wish list” was only a smokescreen to hide his real motive, which was to permanently banish Nawaz Sharif and his family from Pakistan’s politics by sending them into another decade-long exile to Saudi Arabia with the help of Imran Khan’s patrons in Pakistan’s military establishment.

This obstructionist politics by Imran Khan was a clever Machiavellian strategy; he knew that he couldn’t beat Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N through electoral process, at least in the next couple of elections. The difference in parliamentary seats was just too big to have been easily bridged: Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N’s 166 National Assembly seats to Imran Khan’s PTI’s 35 seats.

Some Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) stalwarts hinted during the course of 2014 protests that the PTI was open to a military takeover for a few years. So, if things had gotten out of hand during the street demonstrations and the army chief had taken over, say for an year or two, and had sent Nawaz Sharif and his family to another decade-long exile to Saudi Arabia, the political arena would then have been wide open for Imran Khan.

Imran Khan’s PTI could then have easily competed with the only other mainstream political party, Pakistan People’s Party’s 45 National Assembly seats. By wheeling, dealing Imran Khan could have formed a coalition government with the help of the defectors from Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N who would then have joined General Musharraf’s PML-Q, which already got cozy to Imran Khan during the 2014 protests.

Truth be told, Imran Khan’s PTI played the same spoiler role in Pakistan’s politics which the elusive Tamarod Movement had played in Egypt in June 2013, only an year before PTI’s demonstrations in Pakistan. Apart from a small number of Egyptian liberals, Tamarod was mainly comprised of a few thousand football nuts, known as “the ultras,” who claimed that they had purportedly collected “millions” of signatures endorsing the ouster of Mohamed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood, who has had only an year-long stint in power in Egypt’s more than sixty-years-long political history. By what statistical logic, a few thousand cultist demonstrators got the right to forcefully remove an elected prime minister who enjoyed the confidence of tens of millions of voters?

Most Pakistanis don’t have a clue that how close Pakistan came to yet another martial law in its turbulent history; Imran Khan’s PTI’s demonstrations in 2014 were not spontaneous uprisings, they were cleverly planned and choreographed by some unconstitutional forces that have a history of subverting the constitution in Pakistan.

Those protests should be viewed in the backdrop of the Euromaidan demonstrations of Ukraine in 2013, the Rabaa square massacre of Egypt and the mass protests and the ensuing military coup in Thailand only a couple of months before the announcement of street demonstrations against the government by Imran Khan.

Apparently, the “scriptwriter” of 2014 protests first realized the potential of PTI’s zealots to stage a sit-in when the latter blocked NATO’s supply route in Peshawar; it must have then occurred to Pakistan’s military establishment that Imran Khan’s PTI’s highly motivated youth supporters were very much capable of staging months-long demonstrations against the sitting government.

Notwithstanding, there were actually two groups of perpetrators that carried out an assault on democracy and constitution during the mass demonstrations against the government in 2014. Imran Khan’s PTI is a nation-wide political party which has a mass following; however, Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran is a subversive organization which is as dangerous as the Taliban.

The Taliban carry out subversive activities against the state; and in the same manner, Minhaj launched a concerted assault on the paramount institutions of the state: the Parliament, the Prime Minister House and the Presidency.

Here, some readers might draw our attention to the Model Town tragedy on 17 June 2014 in Lahore during the course of which 14 workers of Minhaj-ul-Quran were killed by the Punjab police. It was a condemnable and outrageous act and the perpetrators must be punished, but keep in mind that it was not the first time that Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Minhaj had carried out an assault on democracy in Pakistan.

During the course of Imran Khan’s PTI’s protests, one can make a convenient excuse that Tahir-ul-Qadri was seeking justice for his workers who had died in the Model Town tragedy, but what was his defense for holding Islamabad hostage in January 2013 before the general elections of May 2013?

Those January 2013 protests and sit-in by Qadri’s Minahj-ul-Quran had also been a carefully planned last-ditch effort by the military establishment to delay the elections, which Nawaz Sharif was poised to win and the military had not wanted General Musharraf’s nemesis to dictate terms to them once again. It shows that Tahir-ul-Qadri is a habitual offender and that Minhaj is nothing less than his private militia.

Evidently, the August to December 2014 protests were carefully planned and choreographed. The role played by Imran Khan and PTI was only secondary; the primary role was played by the military establishment’s stooges: Tahir-ul-Qadri, Sheikh Rasheed, Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi.

Imran Khan’s PTI is a broad-based political party which represents the urban middle class; by their very nature, such protesters are peaceful and nonviolent. Left to his own resources, the best Imran Khan could have done was to stage a sit-in at Aabpara Market for a few days.

Both violent charges of the demonstrators, the assault on the Red Zone in Islamabad as well as the Prime Minister House, were led by the Minhaj-ul-Quran workers. Those hooligans were a bunch of highly organized and trained religious zealots who are equipped with sticks, slingshots, gas-masks, cranes and anything short of firearms, which apparently their organizers forbade them from using in order to keep the demonstrations legit in the eyes of public.

The role played by Imran Khan and PTI in the assault on the Constitution Avenue was meant only to legitimize the assault: the peaceful protesters, women and kids, music concerts and revolutionary demagoguery, everything added up to creating excellent optics; but the real driving force in the assault on democracy was Tahir-ul-Qadri and his Minhaj-ul-Quran, which is a religious-cum-personality cult comparable to the Rajavis of Iran and their Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or the Gulenists in Turkey.

More to the point, the role played by Sheikh Rasheed during the mass demonstrations in Islamabad should not be underestimated. It brings to light the fact that whoever controls the constituencies of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can bring the capital of Pakistan to a standstill.

Protesters from outside the Twin-Cities can only stage demonstrations in front of the parliament for a few days, but the natives of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can stage a sit-in for months in a row. Imran Khan’s PTI had also won 6 out of 14 Punjab Assembly’s constituencies in Rawalpindi, which played to its strength.

Notwithstanding, if we look at the numbers game in the general elections of 2013: Imran Khan’s PTI’s 35 National Assembly seats to Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N’s 166, an upstart party still managed to perform well; but we must keep in mind that PTI won more than 90% of those seats in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

Pakhtunkhwa, as we know, has been the worst affected province from terrorism; the elections in Pakhtunkhwa were fought on a single issue: Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which bred resentment and reaction among the Pashtuns.

Pakhtunkhwa’s electorate gave a sweeping mandate to Imran Khan’s PTI which stood for dialogue and political settlement with militants against the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party which favored military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and which was consequently wiped out in the elections. And Imran Khan betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the Pashtun electorate when he endorsed the military establishment-led operation in North Waziristan in June 2014.

Moreover, to add insult to the injury, when the aforementioned military operation led to the displacement of millions of Pashtun tribesmen, who have since been rotting in the refugee camps in Bannu, Mardan and Peshawar districts; instead of catering to the needs of the refugees, Imran Khan staged a four-months-long sit-in in Islamabad on the pretext of alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections.