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Trump triggers new ‘Great Game’ in South Asia BY ADIL NAJAM

Trump triggers new ‘Great Game’ in South Asia

 

 

Speaking at Fort Myer last week, the president promised that “American strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia will change dramatically.” In Afghanistan, it is unlikely to. In South Asia, it already has – in deep but disturbing ways and mostly because of what President Donald Trump had to say about Pakistan.

Here’s how the stakes, consequences and options for each of the major players in South Asia have been transformed.

The speech left Pakistan hurt and angry.

The country’s foreign minister, Khawaja Asif, was livid at President Trump’s threatening tone and words, claiming that his country’s “sacrifices” as an American coalition partner were “disregarded and disrespected.” Pakistan’s National Security Council (NSC), which includes both the prime minister and the military chief, echoed the consensus in Pakistan that both Washington, D.C. and Kabul are bent on “scapegoating” Pakistan for their own failures.

 

Remarkably for Pakistan, President Trump seems to have united a deeply divided country. Government, opposition, military and civil society are all equally offended. All point out how Pakistan itself has had to spend many times more of its own resources in fighting America’s war than whatever America may have provided: 70,000 casualties, 17,000 Pakistanis killed; a nation living in constant fear of Taliban terrorism; an economy devastated to the tune of over $100 billion.

Of course, American allegations that Taliban encampments exist in Pakistan are not new. But President Trump has refused to recognize that Pakistan’s struggles to eliminate them are no less challenging than Afghanistan’s or America’s efforts within Afghanistan. This has been seen as particularly disingenuous.

 

 

 

 

Given the timing, tone and especially the fawning overtures toward India, Pakistanis read President Trump’s speech as the newest episode of abandonment from the nation’s longest but most fickle ally.

Privately, Pakistan and the United States have each long considered the other to be equally unreliable. With President Trump signaling that America will now look elsewhere, Pakistan feels compelled to do the same. Both China and Russia have been quick to exploit the chasm, advancing their own deep interests not only in Afghanistan but in greater South Asia.

Even before Pakistan had made any response to President Trump’s speech, the Chinese, already wildly popular in Pakistan for investing heavily in its infrastructure, responded with an official statement calling Pakistan an “all-weather friend” and thanking it for its “great sacrifices” in the fight against terrorism.

Not to miss the opportunity, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, proclaimed that Pakistan is “a key regional player,” the pressurizing of whom could “result in negative consequences for Afghanistan.”

In Pakistan, such statements and the speed with which they came have been viewed as evidence that Pakistan does have choices, i.e., it may be time for Pakistan to move out of the U.S. orbit and seek deeper alliances elsewhere. Pakistan’s foreign minister, for example, immediately postponed his planned visit to Washington. This is not simply to register displeasure, but to gain time to visit other capitals and explore alternative options.

India’s initial reaction, not surprisingly, was to gloat. Its narrative about Pakistan was thoroughly embraced in President Trump’s speech. However, this is a gift horse they are likely to examine more carefully. Being anointed America’s sheriff in South Asia brings with it a new stress to their already-strained relations with China.

It is inevitable for tension to grow between these two Asian behemoths, but India would clearly have preferred to plan out the timing and terms of the escalation itself.

President Trump’s message to India that it “makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan,” is likely to be met with nothing more than a polite smile from New Delhi. There is certainly no likely relieffor the American taxpayer in how much they have to pay to keep dysfunctional governments in Kabul in place even while 40 percent of Afghanistan remains under Taliban control.

But the biggest consequence of President Trump’s South Asia strategy is that it gives India a license to elevate a new proxy conflict with Pakistan in Afghanistan. Pakistan is clearly terrified of being trapped in a pincer squeeze on its eastern and western borders by its arch nemesis, India.

But Afghanistan, as recent statements from its former president, Hamid Karzai, suggest, can also not be thrilled by the prospect of yet another major power becoming entrenched in yet another “Great Game.”

Therein lies what is truly new and frightening in Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy.

For the entirety of the last seven decades – including throughout the Cold War, when India was firmly ensconced as a Soviet ally – the American goal in South Asia was, above all, to maintain regional stability. The aim was to avoid and to actively resist tensions in a region that was a powder keg well before India decided to go rogue with nuclear weapons, and Pakistan followed suit. As of last week, the new American policy is to pit neighbor against neighbor in South Asia.

One day, one hopes, someone will explain to President Trump, like Chinese President Xi Jinping did about why North Korea is “complicated,” why the India-Pakistan relationship really is as fraught with danger as it is.

Meanwhile, an abdication of America’s traditional stabilizing role in South Asia has been announced. Afghanistan that will get kicked around the most, as five of the six largest militaries in the world (China, India, the United States, Russia and Pakistan), all nuclear, jockey for advantage in whatever the new South Asian balance of alliances might become.

Let us all hope that the unimaginable remains unimagined.

Adil Najam is the founding dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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THE GREAT WHITE FATHER COMES TO SAUDI ARABIA by Eric Margolis https://ericmargolis.com

by Eric Margolis

May 27, 2017

 
The Great White Father came to Saudi Arabia last week to harangue some 50 Arab and African despots on the glories of Trumpism, democracy and the need to fight what the Americans call terrorism.
Having covered the Mideast for many decades, I cannot think of a more bizarre or comical spectacle. Here was Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, hosting the glad-handing US president who hates Islam and the Mideast with an irrational passion.
I was amazed to learn that Trump’s speech to the Arab and African attendees had been written by Great White Father How very bizarre.
Not only that, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, who are also strongly pro-Israel, were with him. So too was the powerful commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, another ardent pro-Israel cabinet member with whom I spent a weekend last year. Billionaire Ross performed the traditional Saudi sword dance with skill and verve.
Listening to Trump and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, blast Iran as the font of terrorism provided another big joke. Trump’s tirade against Tehran was delivered in Saudi Arabia, a feudal monarchy that holds no elections cuts off the heads of some 80-90 people annually, and treats women like cattle. While claiming to be the leader of the Muslim world, the Saudi royal family funds mayhem and extreme Muslim obscurantism through the region. The current wave of primitive violence by some self-professed Muslims – ISIS being the leader – was originally funded and guided by the Saudis in a covert struggle to combat revolutionary Iran. I saw this happen in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let’s recall 15 of the 18 men who attacked the US on 9/11 were Saudis.
Iran has the freest political system in the Mideast except for Israel). Iranian women have rights and political freedoms that are utterly unknown in Saudi Arabia. Iran just held a fair and open national election in which moderates won. Compare this to Saudi Arabia’s medieval Bedouin society. I was once arrested by the religious police in Jeddah just for walking down a street with an Egyptian lady.
Today, US and British equipped Saudi forces are laying waste to wretched Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation. As a result of a Saudi air, land and sea blockade, the UN now reports that famine has gripped large parts of Yemen. US and British technicians are keeping the Saudi air force flying; the US and Britain supply the bombs.
President Trump arrived with a bag of $110 billion worth of arms (some already approved by the Obama administration), and a promise of $350 billion worth in ten years. There was nothing new about this arms bazaar: for over a decade, the Saudis have bought warehouses of US arms in exchange for keeping oil prices low and fronting for US interests in the Muslim world. Most of these arms remain in storage as the Saudis don’t know how to use them.
Many of America’s most important arms makers are located in politically important US states. The Saudis were so deeply in bed with the Republicans that their former ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, was known to one and all as ‘Bandar Bush.’ Saudi money and influence have flowed far and wide across the US political landscape. That’s how the Saudis get away with mass killing in Yemen, funding ISIS and ravaging Syria with hardly any peeps of protest from Congress.
By now, it’s perfectly clear that the long secret relationship between Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Emirates has finally come into the open. Israel and its rich Arab friends all hate Iran, they oppose Palestinian rights, and fear revolution in the Arab world.
The two most reactionary Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are now close allies, though they compete over who will lead the Arab world. Neither despotic regime has any right to do so. Trump lauded the Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sissi who overthrew Egypt’s first ever democratically elected government (with Saudi help), gunned down hundreds of protesters, jailed and tortured thousands. Suspects in Egypt are routinely subjected to savage beatings and anal rape.
As I tried to explain in my second book, ‘American Raj,’ the brutal, corrupt regimes we westerners have imposed on the Arab world and Africa are the main cause of what we call ‘terrorism.’ So too the wars we have waged in the region to impose our will and economic exploitation. It’s blowback, pure and simple. So-called terrorism is not at all about Islam as our politicians, led by Trump of Arabia, falsely claim.
But no shoes were thrown at Trump by his audience. They were too scared of their heads being cut off by our democratic ally.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MAKING SENSE OF WAR ON TERROR By K. H Zia

Last month, the Washington based Physicians for Social Responsibility (PRS) released a study on the death toll from the on-going “War on Terror”. The total ‘deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan’.
Scores of millions of people have been forced to flee their homes by the wars waged by the West against Islamic countries (The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century, by Jennifer Welsh, House of Anansi Press, 2017). It stands to reason that these atrocities will give rise to anger and radicalization among some, if not many.
 
We claim ISIS and al-Qaida are the enemies who are responsible for terror in the world. No less a person than foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote that al-Qaida was actually the name of the CIA file containing details of all the Arab fighters that it had recruited to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton said that ISIS was created by Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are our allies.
 
We say we are at war against ISIS and al-Qaida. So are Iran and Russia but they are our enemies while Saudi Arabia and Qatar who created and fund ISIS are our allies. Each ISIS fighter is trained, equipped, transported and paid $ 600 a month. Where does the money come from and why can’t its source be traced? Any of them that is injured is treated in Israel which is our ally. Israel also bombs Syrian army and its affiliates that fight against ISIS on a regular basis but never ISIS or al-Qaida (Robert Fisk in The Independent, 23rd. May 2017).
 
And if this is not confusing enough, both al-Qaida and ISIS fought against Kaddafi in Libya and are now trying to get rid of Asad in Syria. So are we, which technically makes us allies. But we insist this is not so because the terrorists follow an evil ideology. If two sets of people have the same aim, how can only one of them be evil and the other not?
 
We claim Islamic fundamentalism and extremism give rise to terrorism. The countries that have been targeted —- Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Syria have constituted essentially moderate, tolerant and progressive societies. It is our allies, Saudi Arabia and Gulf Sheikhdoms who enforce rigid, retrogressive and extreme form of Islam.

According to reports US President Donald Trump last week accepted personal gifts alone worth $1.2 billion from Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia from where fifteen of the 9/11’s alleged attackers originated. One heavy sword made of pure gold and studded with diamond stones weighing 25 kilograms alone was worth $200 million. Then, there is this 125 meter long yacht, which is apparently the world’s tallest personal yacht, with 80 rooms with 20 royal suites.

What could be more Orwellian?
31ST May 2017

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Trump Bull in the Mideast China Shop By Eric Margolis

Trump Bull in the Mideast China Shop

By Eric Margolis

February 01, 2017 

President Donald Trump is getting ready to plunge into the burning Mideast with all the zeal and arrogance of a medieval crusader. The new administration’s knowledge of the region is a thousand miles wide and two inches deep.

Reviving a truly terrible idea originated by know-nothing Congressional Republicans, Trump proposes US-run safe zones in Syria for refugees from that nation’s conflict. The president went out of his way to insist that such safe zones would spare the United States from having to shelter Syrian refugees.

He should better worry about Chicago where 762 citizens were murdered last year.

At the same time, Trump, declaiming from his new Mount Olympus of New York’s Trump Tower, vowed to impose a 30-day halt on immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to ‘protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals.’

One wonders if any of Trump’s Praetorian Guard noticed that all these listed ‘terrorist’ nations have been attacked by the United States or seen their governments overthrown by Uncle Sam. I’m surprised Afghanistan and Pakistan were left off the list. Their time will likely come soon. Is it any wonder that all of these Muslim nations bear a serious grudge against the United States? The angriest group is ISIS, who are seeking revenge for the destruction of Iraq.

Former President Barack Obama shied away from direct military intervention in Syria, preferring stealthy warfare, drones and hit squads. He had the sense to know that US military intervention in the heart of the Mideast would be fraught with danger, not the least clashes between US and Russian forces. History shows it’s easy to invade into unstable areas but hard to get out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But not so for bull in the Mideast china shop Trump as he charges into the Levant, advised by generals who made a mess in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Trump’s ardently pro-Israel cabinet must be rubbing their hands in glee as they see Syria in his cross hairs. The destruction of Syria’s regime and fragmenting that nation is an Israeli strategic priority.

One wishes Trump would stop for a moment and reflect. There are 11 million Syrian refugees in Syria and neighboring states. They are the result of a civil war engineered by Washington, Turkey, the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with France and Britain playing a supporting role. Western money, arms, and supplies have fuelled the six-year-old conflict whose aim was to overthrow Syria’s Assad government because he is an ally of Iran.

The US and France did exactly the same thing in Libya, overthrowing its leader, Muammar Khadaffi, and murdering him – thank you, Hillary Clinton. The US invaded and destroyed Iraq, tore apart Somalia and neighboring Sudan, and is now providing warplanes, bombs and mercenary advisors that Saudi Arabia – the patron of the jihadi forces in Syria – is using to crush little Yemen.

The largest number of Mideast refugees are now in Syria, thank you Uncle Sam, and its neighbors, Jordan and Lebanon. The second biggest group are the 5.2 million Palestinian refugees scattered across the Levant. Iraq is awash with internal refugees, thank you George W. Bush. Add now a couple of million refugees from strife-torn South Sudan, a new failed nation created by blundering US Mideast policy as a way of punishing disobedient Sudan, thank Bush and Obama.

At the same time, Washington must avoid any and all risk of military clashes in Syria with Russia. We can’t keep huffing and puffing that Moscow has no business in Syria when it’s as close to southern Russia as northern Mexico is to Texas. The US has troops and bases across the globe, most lately in Africa. Who are we to tell Russia to get out of Syria?

Just when it seemed that the Syrian conflict was beginning to simmer down, Trump’s intervention will be certain to heat up the conflict and undermine potential peace agreements. In case there are still Muslims who believed the US is their friend, as was the case fifty years ago, they will now understand that America is their enemy thanks to Trump’s ham-handed, ‘no Muslims’ policies.

Muslims account for 23% of the world’s population and will surpass Christians in about four decades. Besides riling up the Chinese, is it really wise to antagonize and insult members of Islam, the world’s fast-growing religion? And single out Muslims as most likely to face torture? Bad idea.

Eric S. Margolis is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune the Los Angeles Times, Times of London, the Gulf Times, the Khaleej Times, Nation – Pakistan, Hurriyet, – Turkey, Sun-Times Malaysia and other news sites in Asia. EricMargolis.com 

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