Friday, February 27, 2015

Invite The World To Fight ISIS But Help It Militarily

Invite The World To Fight ISIS But Help It Militarily
                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

West Asia becomes more mysterious by the minute. Who is fighting whom on whose behalf? The lines were always blurred. Now they are more so. Iraq’s army has just shot down two British planes as they were carrying weapons to the ISIS in Al Anbar province. How do we know this to be true? The Iraqi Parliament’s National Security and Defence Committee have photos of the planes that have been shot down.

So, on whose side is Britain? It should be clear now that the key Western ally against ISIS has actually been caught delivering arms to the hated enemy.

In recent months, if you called up contacts in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala you received the same response: the Americans are not here to help the government in Baghdad. They have their own agenda.

An amusing sketch doing the rounds on the social network shows Uncle Sam seated inside an ornate carriage. An Arab, looking rather like the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is in the driver’s seat, keeping a firm grip on four reins strapped not to horses but to four burly, hooded ISIS militants. According to this perception, the ISIS is a Western, Saudi asset.

Head of the Iraqi Parliament’s Defence Committee, Hakim al-Zamili, said reports are received in Baghdad regularly that US-led coalition planes airdrop weapons for ISIS.

If this is the state of affairs, why doesn’t Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi blow the whistle on American double dealing? Because the earlier Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defied the US on issues, he was forced to resign. The new Prime Minister, being a creature of the US in Baghdad, is therefore least likely to stand up.

Whatever sense of security there is in the Shia south of Iraq derives from a widespread belief that Iran stands with the people. And now that Washington is inching towards a nuclear agreement with Iran, how does one square rapprochement with Teheran and carrot and stick policy with Teheran’s allies in Iraq? Hakim al-Zamili has an easy explanation. “The US does not want the ISIS problem to end around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.” In other words the US will keep its fingers on all possible levers of power around Iran. Signing of a nuclear deal with Iran does not spell an end to politics with the Ayatullahs.

Meanwhile, it is also a truth, regionally acknowledged that the real battle to ISIS on the ground is being given by Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian army.

If the leadership in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala is cross with Western double speak it may draw some comfort from the fact that even close allies like Jordan and Egypt are on sixes and sevens anticipating the West’s next moves.

Last week the Pentagon made public something Jordan wished to keep secret. Jordan fears internal upsurge for being seen to be a US ally on most regional issues. An important Jordanian training site for anti ISIS operations, the first to be up and running was supposed to be secret until the Pentagon blew the lid few know why. Sites in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar will be online later. But is this line up itself not something of a puzzle?

Turkey under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan has emerged as a bastion for Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar too is under the Brothers’ sway. But Saudi Arabia, atleast while King Abdullah was alive, was fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam, which is what the Brotherhood represents, was anathema to the extremist, monarchist Wahabi theocracy. Clearly, policy under King Salman is undergoing some change.

Remember when Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the loudest cheer came from Riyadh, along with $12 billion. King Abdullah was not going to allow Egypt, the most powerful Arab country, to go the Muslim Brotherhood way.

Has Riyadh dramatically changed its approach to the Brothers? One will have occasion to revisit this theme, but its lineup with Jordan, Qatar, Turkey to train combat troops against the ISIS does indicate a shift.

It is just possible that the new regime in Riyadh has been sold a lemon – or a great idea. The ISIS consists of three broad strands: Muslim Brotherhood as the dominant group, Takfiri Salafi group, the ones who are destroying ancient heritage and the old Baath Party elements reappearing as angry Sunnis.

Anti ISIS troops are being trained in centers not averse to the Brothers. Surely this will help neutralize the Brotherhood component in the ISIS. But for this logic to prevail, the biggest enemy of the Brotherhood in the region, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has to be managed.

Who knows, he may well have provided the opportunity to the US for his own dethronement. The manner in which the Egyptian spread out the red carpet to Vladimir Putin two weeks ago cannot have pleased Washington and its cohorts in the present phase of US-Russia rivalry. An opportunity has been provided for Sisi to hurtle headlong into the Libyan chaos. In Cairo, the restive Muslim Brotherhood may well have its focus trained on a comeback.

Meanwhile, do the Brothers or others of their ilk, have a potential in Afghanistan, Pakistan anywhere? The Americans may be looking.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Obama Asks Arabs To Target ISIS Before Netanyahu Rants On Iran

Obama Asks Arabs To Target ISIS Before Netanyahu Rants On Iran
                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

The appointment of Rashad Hussain, an American of Indian origin as the new coordinator of counter terrorism communication, popped up in the course of a three day summit at the State Department on violent extremism. President Obama went out of his way to correct the impression that the US was at “war with Islam”. That, he emphasized, in an “ugly lie”. A Home Ministry official represented New Delhi at the Summit.

The President’s panacea for all nations present at the meeting was to put an end to violence by “expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue.”

Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, have in an analysis in the New York Times quoted Elisa Massimino, President of the advocacy group Human Rights First who attended the meeting: “We’re sitting in that room with representatives of governments who are part of the problem – if the President believes what he’s saying, then the actions that these governments are taking are undermining our supposedly shared agenda. That has to stop. Or we can have summits every month, but we’re not going to win.”

There is another problem. Autocratic regimes have taken advantage of the war on terror by settling scores with their internal opponents in the guise of fighting the war. The obvious example is the Egyptian military regime cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood. The reverberations of such a crackdown will be felt wherever there is a sizeable presence of the Brothers – Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, Gaza. Recruiting agents of the ISIS then go into action.

Prominent among Obama’s audience was Bahrain. It has a mind boggling human rights record. The regime treats 90 per cent of its population as the “opposition”. Years ago, about the time that the Arab Spring erupted in 2011, US diplomats had brought about a possible rapprochement between Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Shaikh Salman, leader of the Shia opposition. Before an agreement could be inked, Saudi Armoured Personnel Carriers rolled down the 37 kms causeway linking the oil bearing Qatif region of Saudi Arabia with Bahrain.

It must be billed as an important Summit, but the White House will have to cope with a degree of credibility deficit with whatever US says on the Arab world these days. Misadventures in Iraq, Syria, Libya have all left US reputation in tatters.

Consider Syria for a moment. The Syrian opposition was falling apart and there was still no sign of the promised regime change in Damascus. Having learnt a hard lesson in Iraq, the US, one thought, would be realistic in Syria. Instead we had the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, demand with an imperious wave of the hand, “Assad, move out of the way”.

The US had occupied Iraq for a decade, destroyed all the instruments of the State, killed Saddam Hussain, only then was it able to depart, leaving a once perfectly, efficient dictatorship in a disgraceful mess. How then did Washington imagine that fierce and brutal cross border terrorism alone would affect regime change in Damascus?

Last June when the ISIS appeared with the suddenness of revelation, why did Obama drag his feet? Asked why he delayed taking action against the ISIS, he did not mince words. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, had fallen foul of the US because he would not sign an open ended agreement exempting US troops from Iraqi law. He had to be shown the door. ISIS was at that stage advancing unchecked towards Baghdad. “Our strikes against ISIS at that stage would have relieved pressure on Maliki.” Military action against the ISIS picked up only after Prime Minister Haider al Abadi had replaced Maliki. Did the ISIS for that brief spell become a political tool? So, under certain circumstances terror is a diplomatic asset?

Then why blame Prince Bandar bin Sultan who for sheer audacity takes the cake. Having failed to affect regime change in Damascus, he turned up in Moscow on a hush-hush mission. He took Vladimir Putin’s breath away with his blandishments – take everything under the sun but give me Assad’s head. Then he made diplomatic history. The President of Russia would be able to hold winter Olympic games in Sochi without any fear of Islamic terrorism. Most terrorist groups, Bandar promised Putin, were under his control.

The incorrigible Prince’s continued excesses caused the Kremlin to leak the confidential minutes to a Lebanese newspaper.

Clearly, one purpose of the Washington summit was to focus on ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Salafi groups as the principal targets for his Arab coalition. There has been some dithering on who the real enemy is. Obama would like to settle this matter. He has administered something of a fait accompli. This would preempt his betnoire, Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington to address the US Congress, completely bypassing Obama. Netanyahu has found a willing partner in the Speaker of the Congress, John Boehner, who, in fact, has issued the cheeky invitations.

A foretaste of what the US Congress will hear was available to a select audience in New Delhi. Israeli Defence minister Moshe Ya’alon spent the evening persuading his listeners that all the world’s problems emanate not from ISIS or Al Qaeda but from that fount of all evil, Iran. This when there are rumours galore that a nuclear deal with Teheran is on the cards.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

“Modi Lost Because He Did Not Corporatize Fast Enough?”

“Modi Lost Because He Did Not Corporatize Fast Enough?”
                                                                               Saeed Naqvi

Politicians and pundits across the country have been served notice by the Delhi electorate: please take a bow and make way. Mingled with the voter’s ecstasy is a primeval cry: we are tired of old politics.

Meanwhile Kejriwal’s cup runneth over.

“Dene waley mujhe dena hain to itna de de
Phir mujhe shikwa e kotahiye daaman ho jaaey”
(Creator, shower on me your blessings in such abundance that I turn to you with my next supplication: O Creator, give me more space.)

There, out of the window goes my plan to take a seat in the press box to write my “ringside” column on Delhi Assembly. Parliament has become a predictable bore; it would have been fun tracing the new assembly’s baby steps.

A daily piece on the present assembly will inevitably bring Messrs Jagdish Pradhan (Mustafabad), Om Prakash Sharma (Biswas Nagar) and Vijendra Gupta (Rohini) into disproportionate focus. In parliamentary systems, the opposition provides the flavor. If they are smart, the BJP trio can hog all the limelight, force development in their constituencies. Property prices would shoot.

It will be no fun for the media carrying handouts from the Treasury Benches. Anxiety for TRP ratings may trigger inventiveness. Searchlights will locate AAP’s internal faultlines. 67 members in a House of 70 are one too many to be accommodated in a cabinet which, by law, can only have six ministers, Delhi being only a Union Territory.

Rumours were floated that Adarsh Shastri from Dwarka, a first time MLA, may be made Minister. Why? Because he was a senior executive with Apple. Comes a non sequiter from the rank and file: does AAP belong to Apple or the poor man?

Take a Muslim minister; don’t take one. This is the second untended crop of AAP in two years. This year has been a bumper harvest. Still too early to visualize a party with a coherent ideology. It will have to improvise some more before it finds its feet. But the luxury of coming to power with 54 per cent of the popular vote, 96 per cent of seats has clearly filled AAP with courage to gamble for truth, fairness, justice and secularism which the Congress bartered away. The BJP never claimed to be secular.

If Narendra Modi’s economists have coaxed a lesson from the defeat, what will it be? How will it express itself in the budget later this month? The US treasury Secretary Jacob J Lew is at hand, just in case Modi falters. The pink papers (and the New York Times) would like Modi to count his worry beads and chant: I lost because I did not corporatize fast enough. The great cartoonist, R.K. Laxman would have had a field day.

NYT has almost dared Modi. “After imploring Americans, Japanese and Chinese, as well as Indians, to believe in his vision, it is a good bet that no Indian Federal budget will be more scrutinized for what it may, or may not, deliver on building infrastructure, reforming taxes and making a tangled, stratified system more efficient than the one Mr. Modi is expected to make public by the end of the month.”

Soon there will have to be an AAP budget. Comparisons will be fascinating. And, further afield, comparisons with the far left Syriza in Greece, will disturb and excite.

Last year a statement was extracted from Kejriwal: he was fine with capitalism but not crony capitalism. And yet, there is a resemblance between Kejriwal and Alexis Tsipras of Syriza. Both are in their forties, charismatic and pro poor. But unlike Tsipras, Kejriwal has not evolved from doctrinaire Marxism. The ideologues around Kejriwal like Prof. Anand Kumar and Yogendra Yadav, derive more from socialism of the Lohia school.

Looking for resemblances nearer home, AAP’s welfare net may be quite as extensive as Jayalalita’s in Tamilnadu. And Jayalalita’s grip on the electorate is quite firm, fiscal discipline or no fiscal discipline.

In the new politics that AAP has set into motion, Jayalalita, Naveen Patnaik, with luck, Nitish Kumar, are the only regional leaders who may survive the coming rounds. Ignored by the media, Manik Sarkar, the Communist Chief Minister of Tripura, in his fourth term, exists in a different zone altogether.

Just look at the JDU-JD parade outside Rashtrapati Bhavan. A less appetizing congregation of political turn coats is difficult to imagine. What chance does this lot have against a force of such freshness as AAP.

Unfortunately, neither AAP nor a residual Congress exists in Bihar to make any difference. Could disgusted electorate, starved of choices, lurch in unforeseen directions. Which direction? Before JP movement ousted it in the mid 70s, there was a lively Left movement in Bihar.

Syriza is part of a long tradition of Euro communism. The infection could spread to Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy. Paradoxically, the Nordic North of Europe, traditionally liberal, has turned sharply to the right, frothing in the mouth against immigration.

As part of the global grid, India cannot remain unaffected and AAP by the same logic cannot be just a local happening.

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Changing American Views On Israel May Determine Peace Outcome

Changing American Views On Israel May Determine Peace Outcome
                                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

To win the March 17 Israeli elections or to postpone them (because he may lose), Benjamin Netanyahu is turning heaven and earth. Last month’s Israeli air strikes killed six Hezbullah commanders and an Iranian General in the Syrian town of Quneitra.

The purpose was to invite retaliation. Warlike atmosphere would block Secretary of State John Kerry with his skates on towards a nuclear deal with Iran.

What will be his next gambit? Some big skirmish in Gaza or Southern Lebanon or further afield. But after his March 3 meeting with Obama?

One may be forgiven for asking what came of the meeting of 21 world leaders in London, who swore to fight the ISIS? Those fighting the ISIS on the ground are Iran, Syria, Hezbullah, precisely last month’s Israeli targets. And now Jordan has been dragged in. At what possible cost? American public see the ISIS is the biggest threat to US interests, not Iran as Netanyahu does.

Whether Netanyahu wins or loses, Israel for the time being looks the most secure real estate in the region. But how long does a nation look safe when everything around it is falling apart?

Israel was once a softer place, with gentle Kibbutz and, in the shadow of Mount Hermon, Fa Giladi seemed a wonderful place to read, reflect, write. Peace was broken occasionally by shelling from Habbariya in Southern Lebanon. Both, Palestinian resistance and Israeli determination, seemed reconcilable – at some future date.

Then, suddenly, everything began to look irreconcilable once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990. Even before that date, Ariel Sharon had moved into Lebanon. That was the beginning of the gradual decline of the world’s most elegant city – Beirut. Nabi Beri’s Shia Amal gave way to the religious, militarized Hezbullah. So, Israeli action splintered Lebanon into its religious components.

A decade later when Bosnian brutalities were daily fare in the global media, a senior French official told me in Paris: “The balance of power had shifted against the Christians in Lebanon; it was now shifting against the Muslims in Bosnia.”

At the time that Sharon was in Lebanon, the Soviets were in Afghanistan. Began the biggest manufacture in history of Islamist Jihadists on a scale that would match Pope Urban’s crusades beginning 1095. Zbigniew Brzezinski said he would not worry about some “stirred up Muslims” so long as the West won the Cold War.

That may have been Brzezinski’s perspective. But various world capitals, New Delhi included, were gripped by deep anxiety. The Indian Foreign office, like the rest of the establishment, was split down the middle. The Foreign Secretary was waiting for the coup to succeed in Moscow, while his colleagues celebrated when Boris Yeltsin appeared atop a tank in Moscow.

The inauguration of bandit capitalism in Russia was a benign act, we were told. The other day I saw Bill Clinton sharing his deep understanding of Russia with Fareed Zakaria. “Yeltsin was a much better President than Vladimir Putin”. The entire New York Times reading public of the free world would agree.

Was it Western triumphalism or pique, I cannot be sure, but one by one targets were picked from among the Arab states once in the Soviet bloc. Saddam Hussain’s picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine as Hitler. He may have been worse than Hitler, but the thousand mile road he laid from Amman to Baghdad was like a continuous billiard table. Hospitals, schools, colleges, universities thrived.

The best fish in the world, Masgouf, caught from the Dajlah (Tigris) and roasted on open fires along the river is now a delicacy lost. When I looked for my favourite Masgouf hut two years ago, I was told they now get their fish from a nearby lake because the river fish had turned scavenger. This was discovered by a customer who found a baby’s finger in the stomach of the fish.

I would not miss my delicacies if there were other compensations. But no. Totally secular Baath socialism was replaced by acute Shia-Sunni divisions.

After a decade of what Obama thought was a pointless involvement in Iraq, he was, at work again, this time in Damascus and then in Tripoli, destroying a secular and a moderate society to be replaced by rampaging Islam.

Nothing will ever measure upto Beirut, but Damascus too was quite a “markaz” for gracious living. Tripoli would not be boring if it had bistros and bars lining up the splendid boulevard. But it could boast being a city without Mullahs; the most educated in the neighbourhood could lead the Friday prayers. Its military academics for women, an efficient cradle to grave welfare system were not to be sniffed at.

Iraq, Syria, Libya, possibly because of their earlier Soviet affiliations, needed to be cleansed more thoroughly. In the new landscaping of the region, Israel looks fine. But, is it really? Surrounded by dysfunctional societies which were once the region’s most efficient states. Dictatorships, yes, but functional, unlike Afghan democracy where the winner is declared CEO and the loser, President.

Israel must know that a sort of fatigue is setting in all around at its persistent intransigence. I commend to my Israeli friends that they read Shibley Telhami’s opinion poll on shifting ideas in the US about Israel, something even Thomas Friedman is worried about. There may be a shaft of light.

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