Friday, June 23, 2017

Origin Of Saudi-Qatar Spat: What Lies In The Future

Origin Of Saudi-Qatar Spat: What Lies In The Future
                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

The western media, which was shy of mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to the Saudi regime, has now started describing it as a threat to Riyadh quite as potent as Shia Islam. This change is a major fall-out from the Saudi-Qatari spat.

Qatar for quite some time has patronized the Muslim Brothers, a powerful grass roots force in Egypt and Turkey. It is sufficiently powerful to keep King Abdullah of Jordan on sixes and sevens. Also, one must not forget the Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama, north west Syria, in 1982, which Bashar al Assad’s father, Hafez al Assad quelled with such brute power that the death toll exceeded10,000. In 2011 when Tayyip Erdogan took a more benign interest in Syrian affairs his advice to Assad was straightforward: accommodate the MB in the establishment.

Unbridled MB power is anathema to both: Israel and Saudis. That is why Saudi’s placed $8 billion in Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s hand when he ousted the MB’s Mohamed Morsi. Today, Sisi’s job is on the line.

Israel has nightmares because it fears the MB weed in Egypt and elsewhere will link up with Hamas, another strong MB outfit. When the western media, protective of Israeli interests, list the “Shia axis” inimical to the Jewish state – Iran, Hezbollah, Syria – it mentions Hamas in the same breath without the essential qualification: Hamas is True Blue Sunni. The link up with Iran is political or ideological not religious.

Saudi anxieties are more profound. Remember, from January 1980, the Saudi began to play down the monarchy and focus more on the King’s role as the “keeper of the holy shrines at Mecca and Medina.” This show of humility followed two events, one after the other, which shook the house of Saud.

The Iranian revolution which brought the Ayatollahs to power in Tehran in 1979 coincided more or less with the siege of the Mecca mosque by Juhayman al-Otaybi and hundreds of his supporters, demanding the overthrow of the House of Saud and an end to the “anti Islamic” monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

Taking advantage of these eruptions, the oil bearing Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, the Shia dominated Qatif and al Hasa region rose in rebellion in 1979 against Riyadh’s anti Shia sectarian bias and arbitrary arrests. The uprising lasted a week. Over 100 died in police action.

This regional uprising magnified itself a 100 fold in Saudi eyes because of the emergence of the Ayatollahs in Iran. This also became the source of anxiety to Bahrain where 70 per cent of the population is Shia and locked in a tussle for more rights from the Sunni rulers – the House of Khalifas.

While pointing at the Shia menace, Saudis seldom express their worries about Qatif and Bahrain where they sent their troops to quell the Arab Spring. Those issues could possibly invite a Human Rights scrutiny. Focus on Iran, Hezbollah, Alawite power in Syria is much more beneficial because this axis invokes Israel’s deepest anxieties. The western media is so much more sympathetic for this reason. If the past is any guide, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times should be on his way to Riyadh for yet another exclusive interview with the new Crown Prince.

That Qatar has relations with Iran is disliked in Riyadh, ofcourse, but what causes much deeper anxieties is the material and moral support Qatar can provide to MB which represents all the tendencies that the Otaybi rebellion in 1979 represented.

Riyadh-Doha differences go back to the days when the aging Emir, was ousted by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa. The ousted Emir’s attempted counter coup failed but it had Saudi support.

Osama bin Laden’s war on the house of Saud had a declared reason: Saudis had accorded hospitality to the troops of the “infidel US”. Qatar took advantage of situation and hosted CENTCOM,

Then came another affront to Saudi pride: Al Jazeera TV. When the BBC shut down its Arabic service, trained TV hands became available in the market. At the time the BBC was also in search of funds for its World Service TV. BBC had been left behind by CNN which stole the limelight during Operation Desert Storm in 1992.

Saudi King Fahd’s cousin, Khalid bin Faisal al Saud’s Orbit Communications hired the BBC hands and launched a channel. But it lasted no more than 18 months because editorial freedom clashed with Saudi’s abiding restrictions on issues anchored to Sharia. Riyadh would not allow the new channel to telecast a documentary on public “beheadings”.

That is when Qatar moved into the breach and launched Al Jazeera, first in Arabic. As BBC retirees like Sir David Frost became available, Al Jazeera English made rapid recruitments.

At a time when Osama bin Laden was a news source, Al Jazeera became the channel for all bin Laden interviews and audio statements. Coverage by BBC, CNN, Fox News of all the 9/11 wars acquired a uniformity which strained credibility. Al Jazeera livened up proceedings by bringing into focus “the other” perspective as well. This was not “cricket” for the authors of the new world order. Scholars like the late Fouad Ajami, supportive of George W Bush’s invasion of Iran and Afghanistan, wrote academic papers on Al Jazeera’s perfidy. Allied aircraft even bombed the channel’s offices in Kabul and Baghdad. All of this boosted Al Jazeera viewership sky high.

The late Saudi King Abdullah, much the most supple ruler in recent decades, mended fences with Qatar. We have to be together, otherwise the “spring” will blow away the region’s monarchies, he argued.

Moreover, CNN, BBC propaganda was not being believed in the region during the Syrian and Libyan operations. Al Jazeera’s priceless credibility was commandeered. Qatar succumbed. Both the operations, Syria and Libya have been a disaster from every angle. Additionally they have taken a toll of Al Jazeera’s credibility.

The present spat however has the potential of restoring Al Jazeera’s credibility should deft editorial hands take up the anti establishment position which was Al Jazeera’s forte and which it surrendered under the personal pressure of the late Saudi king.

The larger game now must impinge on Qatar, Iran and Russian gas reserves, the energy of the future. To keep the cohesion of this triangle or to break it must be the preoccupation of regional combatants now and in the foreseeable future.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Western Arms And Islamic Terrorism: An Endless Spiral

Western Arms And Islamic Terrorism: An Endless Spiral
                                                                      Saeed Naqvi

“Udhar rakeeb, idhar hum bulaye jaat hain
Ki daana daal ke murghe laraye jaate hain”
(I am invited, so is my enemy – at the same time.
Sprinkle some grain in the middle:
and the scene is set for an almighty cockfight)

It would be bad form to describe Saudi kings as fools, but the temptation is vastly enhanced by the brazenness with which the Americans dive into Saudi coffers at will and wink at each other.

It turns out that there is a competition on between the Trump administration and its predecessor, the Obama team, as to who made greater fool of the Saudis.

Last month, Trump and his cohorts, after their revelries in Riyadh, announced they had concluded a $110 billion arms deal with their Saudi allies.

Promptly came a rejoinder from a Clinton adviser, Bruce Riedel, now a specialist at Brookings, that President Obama sold the Saudis $112 billion in weapons in 2012 is a single deal negotiated by Defence Secretary, Bob Gates. He then furnished incontrovertible proof that Trump was bragging about a Saudi arms wishlist but no real deals had been concluded.

Riedel’s other argument is a real clincher:
“You will know the Trump deal is real when Israel begins to ask for a package to keep the Israeli Defence Forces’ qualitative edge preserved.”

What seems to be on its way are a billion dollars worth of munitions to help the Saudi Air Force to continue its nearly two year old bombardment of the Arab world’s poorest country – Yemen.

It will take the Saudis millennia to build a civilization like the one they are destroying in Yemen.

And in this destruction, the US is as enthusiastic a participant as the Saudis will ever have. In the vanguard of the US supporters of the Saudi war machine is Republican Senator, John McCain. Thumping the table he told Al Jazeera, “We are in a war.” Then he clarified, “The Saudis are in a war in Yemen and they need weapons.” So Americans must provide (sell) these weapons to the embattled Saudis.

Even though Riedel described the Trump’s arms deal with Riyadh as “fake news”, Trump continues to cast himself as a great salesman.

The last time Trump overplayed his salesmanship was with South Korea. After aggravating tensions with Kim Jong-un in North Korea, he proceeded to be a defender of South Korean interests by promising the state of the art missile defence system. Before his altruism could sink in, he flourished a billion dollar bill for Seoul to pay. The South Koreans promptly voted an anti American President in Seoul. But it would still be premature to cast Trump as a latter day Willy Loman in The Death of a Salesman. Just look at the masterly double dealing he is attempting in Qatar.

Creating confusion, Trump’s patented style of diplomacy (and salesmanship), is on show in Qatar yet again.

After having blessed Saudi king Salman’s so called Sunni Armed Front, Trump watched the Saudi-Qatari falling out with both anger and glee. (Saudi-Qatar antipathy is historic and requires separate treatment.)

Since Trump imagined he had swung a huge arms deal with the Saudis (since debunked), he felt obliged to call the recalcitrant Qatar names. He called it “a high level sponsor of terrorism.”

While he was spewing his anti Qatar expletives, his Defence Secretary, James Mattis was signing a $12 billion arms deal with his Qatari counterpart, Khalid Al Attiyah. The scene is being set for a perfect cockfight, as my opening couplet suggests. Egg the Saudi on to break with Qatar, promptly dispatch Mattis to Doha to squeeze yet another deal with the nervous Qataris. This would prompt Saudis come running for more arms – and so on.

I have always maintained that Americans, protected by the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, will continue to enhance their dependence on what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex.

Retaliatory consequences of their arms sales in the form of increased terrorism will be borne by Europe which has land and Mediterranean Sea links with areas in West Asia most affected by the post 9/11 wars. Manchester and London Bridge are only the most recent manifestations of terrorism as revenge.

When I told a senior French official in Paris recently that terrorism in Europe would be unstoppable so long as Saudis have the money to buy US, French, and British arms, he shrugged his shoulders. “When US arms giants Lockheed Martin and Raytheon sign mega deals with the oil rich GCC, our governments come under pressure from our arms industry which says – please don’t let us fall behind in the global competition.” It is an endless spiral.

Is “revenge” terrorism in the West different from terrorism elsewhere? For instance, 150 members of Afghan police, army and foreigners were killed by suicide bombers outside the German Embassy in Kabul soon after the Manchester attack. The dynamic here is different. Afghan collaborators with a 16 year old US occupation of Afghanistan are under attack from Taliban, falling back on Afghan nationalism.

What is common in Islamic terror everywhere is the technique: suicide bombing.

This genre was patented by Wahabi, Takfiri thought and will continue until the West lays the blame where it belongs. No Iranian or Hezbollah or indeed Shia militant has yet been found to be a suicide bomber.

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Corbyn Closes Gap: Will He Go Past?

Corbyn Closes Gap: Will He Go Past?
                                                                Saeed Naqvi

Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, have been pitted against each other on a host of issues but nothing has caught the popular imagination more than terrorism, as I discovered after recent interaction with students, teachers and social workers in Manchester. Terrorism has acquired urgent saliency after the recent Manchester bombing in which 22 youngsters, including children, lost their lives.

The tailwind would have been behind the Prime Minister in another era – say, when George W. Bush, dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld were embarked on full spectrum global dominance before Lehman Brother’s collapsed. Theresa May, alas, is mandated to unclasp one hand from Europe and attempt to clasp Mr. Trump’s with the other. But Trump is perpetually on a high wire act of unpredictable spins and turns. How to clasp that hand? His dizzying performances, most recently at the G7 and NATO summits have caused event the dour Angela Merkel to throw up her hands. He is too unreliable; Europe has to fend for itself, she suggested.

Even as she said, this, the new French President, Emanuel Macron, was embracing Vladimir Putin at Versailles Palace. “We have to fight terror together.”

This is not as straightforward a commitment as it sounds. If he is to follow through on “fighting terror” with the Russians, he will come immediately into conflict with the Deep State in Washington with tentacles in Paris as well.

There is a huge difference of opinion on Syria, to begin with. How to separate militant outfits like Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda and the IS from the so called Syrian opposition. According to the Russians, their merger and separation depend on alliance tactics.

Since it is becoming difficult even for western intelligence agencies to keep so many balls up in air, a brazen new theory is being floated: the US must not waste its time fighting groups like the Islamic State and its affiliates in Syria.

This theory was spelt out by Thomas Friedman, ace columnist for the New York Times. He says the IS’s targets are not the US or Israel. “IS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro Shiite Iranian militias.”

Friedman wants “Trump to be Trump – utterly cynical and unpredictable.”

Columns of this nature are not written to advise the state. They are written to generate a wider debate.

It is prescient of Merkel’s advisers to have picked up the scale of “unpredictability” already in the works in Trump’s Washington.

The theory being promoted by Friedman has theoretical application in India’s vicinity as well. After, his recent meeting with Sunni and Israeli leaders, the Saudi’s may well exert every muscle to create Shia-Sunni chaos between Pakistan and Iran. The US cannot be indifferent to the potential of this upheaval which could disrupt the Pakistan-China economic corridor, a key link in China’s mega One Belt-One Road project. But all game plan, are not implementable because international relations do not proceed in straight lines.

Weigh May’s and Corbyn’s stands on the issue of terror in this balance. May’s Security Minister, Ben Wallace is flailing his arms against “duplicitous social media firms”. They are failing to halt terror. “Their data encryption is allowing Jihadist cells to emerge unnoticed.

May has been talking of a full-fledged commission, upgradation of police, intelligence. Corbyn has no quarrel with any of this. But to insulate Britain against terrorists – in this instance with Libyan link – foreign policy will have to obviate military interventions which destroy local structures and leave behind terror breeding grounds.

Outspoken though Corbyn is, even he had to measure his words just in case the media supportive of the ruling party give it an anti-national or an Islamophobic spin.

It is clear as daylight even to the ubiquitous taxi driver: if you destroy countries, kill millions, render many more homeless, by what logic do you consider yourself exempt from the fury of revenge?

It is one of the ironies of our time that the cult of suicide bombing is, in a sense, a gift of the US, Saudi, Pakistan alliance which ousted the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989. But when, at George W. Bush’s behest, Gen. Musharraf turned upon the very Afghan’s which Pakistan had groomed as double-distilled, ferocious Islamists, the suicide bomber mushroomed. Brilliantly brain washed, he was convinced of his pre-paid passage to paradise. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of Pakistan’s Jamiat e Ulema, once told me a chilling story. At a Majlis e Shura, meant only for the elders, he was surprised to see a young man approach him with some urgency: his parents both seriously ill, were eager for their son to go to paradise while they still lived. Could the Maulana help him jump the queue of Suicide bombers?

Corbyn dare not cast Salman Abedi, the Libyan suicide bomber of Manchester, in that kind of stark drama, but he did link faulty foreign policy to acts of terror at home. Immediately, the Prime Minister was on his case: Corbyn is making excuses for terrorism. Her campaign has consisted of attacks on Corbyn, while he has focused on issues – foreign policy, for instance.

As the popularity gap between the candidates narrows, papers, like the Guardian, spot a comparison with Bernie Sanders. But situations differ. I had written then: “if the establishment makes Sander’s impossible, it makes Trump inevitable.” In British elections, if the establishment (media) makes Corbyn impossible, well, you have a lack luster May, one who can barely eclipse Corbyn.

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