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Ramifications of military adventurism in Syria

Ramifications of military adventurism in Syria

Asif Haroon Raja

Patrick J. Buchman, an American political commentator stated on March, 24, 2003, “There is a memo at the Pentagon that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off Iran.” George W. Bush also talked of axis of evil in which North Korea was the only non-Muslim country.   Joint Forces Staff College Norfolk, Virginia suggested threatening Saudi Arabia with starvation, reducing Islam to cult status and Mecca, Medina destroyed. Out of seven target countries, three have been destroyed and one divided, one is being destroyed and after its destruction it will become easier to destroy the remaining two.  Emphasis is on piecemeal destruction.

Consequent to non-resolution of Palestinian issue and the ongoing Arab Spring, the Middle Eastern countries that have remained in the iron grip of US backed authoritarian rulers for many decades are in revolt. The old order of subservience to US dictated policies has been replaced by hatred and defiance. The US for all practical purposes has lost its moral authority in the Middle East, as has been amply confirmed by Robert Fisk. Egypt which had remained a secure base of USA and CIA since the times of Anwar Sadat has become insecure in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011 by the people, followed by democratically elected Muhammad Morsi and his Islamic regime in July 2013 by Egyptian military.

Lebanon which was in control of CIA and Israel is now dominated by Iran backed Hezbollah which is connected with Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Hamas which was democratically elected in 2011 holds on to Gaza Strip despite being hounded by Israel. Iran refuses to roll back its nuclear program despite tough sanctions and recent regime change.  Pakistan refuses to roll back or hand over its nukes to USA in spite of massive covert war launched since 2002 and defiantly stands up to external challenges.  

Having forcibly changed Qaddafi’s regime in Syria, the US and its western allies are now fully focused towards Syria since early 2011 to bring down Assad’s regime. Billions of dollars are being pumped in in-support of the Syrian rebels to keep the civil war inflamed. In April 2012 Summit held in Turkey and attended by 70 nations, a total of $ 100 million was pledged by Saudi Arabia, Qatar Kuwait and UAE to pay salaries to rebels Free Army. The US pledged $12 million and London $800,000 including satellite communication and night vision goggles. NATO military advisers based in Syria have been providing guidance to the rebels. High salaries provided to the rebels were a bait to lure government soldiers to defect.

Almost 30-month old civil war in Syria which has cost over 100,000 lives including 40,000 civilians and resulted in displacement of seven million including two million fleeing to other countries has suddenly become explosive because of use of chemical weapons in Ghouta near Damascus on August 21 killing 1400 people including children. Syrian President Assad categorically denied the charge, but international imperial alliance forged between NATO and but Arab client states seeking perpetuation of violence within Syria has a fixed agenda of his forcible removal.   

Truculent Obama tied his hands by impulsively blurting that if Syria crosses the red line, it will face military action. He is now pumped up and wants to strike Syria irrespective of the consequences. While the US Senate has approved military action, Obama is now seeking Congress approval for strikes against Syria. Although US officials insist that US limited military intervention in Syria in which no boots will be used on ground is not aimed at regime change, but to deter Assad from reusing chemical weapons; however, the fact remains that support to Syrian rebels is being extended by the US to bring down Assad regime which is anti-US and anti-Israel and pro-Russia and install pro-US regime. This change in US-Israel-Arabs view would weaken and isolate both Iran and Hezbollah and help in attacking Iran at a later date.

British PM David Cameron, eager to emulate disgraced Tony Blair hastened to state that there was no doubt about the use of nerve gas by Syrian regime. British lawmakers however tripped him and passed a resolution that UK wouldn’t support military action. This move has raised the image of Britain but has caused a setback to both Cameron and Obama. France however, is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with USA but has now modified its stance by saying that UNSC approval is necessary. John Kerry is carrying out intense lobbying to win over allies.

Like in case of Iraq in 2003 when millions protested in Europe and in USA against intended invasion, the Europeans and Americans weary of war and suffering the impact of economic depression have once again come out on the streets, protesting against contemplated use of force in Syria. Both the US and British leaders have lost their credibility after their big lies to justify interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and false promises of restoring peace and democracy. The people are not prepared to get duped again since the two misadventures resulted in destruction of two sovereign countries and loss of over two million lives together with displacement of millions. They now know that the dramas were enacted to serve selfish interests of the elites only. The common people had no share in the loot.

The drama of gas attack has been staged since the rebels despite being armed to teeth are not making any headway and are getting demoralized while the government forces are rapidly gaining ground. Hezbollah has helped in getting Qusayr vacated by the rebels and area north of Homs is also on the verge of falling to Syrian forces. Notwithstanding that minority Alawides under Assad rule majority Sunnis, and Assad has used excessive force against the rebels ruthlessly; he having witnessed the tragic end of Qaddafi cannot afford softness. The rebels have been no less brutal. They have been chided by Human Rights Watch for committing myriad human-rights abuses against Syrian people. They have been involved in kidnapping, detention, torture of security forces, pro-government elements and militias.    

Limited strikes by NATO, which include cruise missiles, air strikes and drones, would aim at crippling the Syrian air defence, air power, rockets and artillery sites, tanks and APCs, ammunition dumps and all such military targets which have enabled the Syrian armed forces to gain an upper edge over rebels. Such a destructive exercise had been undertaken by UK-France military against Libyan regime in support of rebels. This support will be available to Syrian rebels for their final assault on Damascus. The US thinks that US intervention will help in boosting the sagging morale of Syrian rebels. The US has become more assertive after the change of leadership in Tehran under the assumption that the new Iranian President Rouhani being moderate will not act recklessly like his predecessor.     

It is indeed ironic that loss of 100,000 lives has not evoked any sympathy in US led western world but loss of 1400 lives has made them grief stricken. On what moral grounds Obama and his hawkish team are huffing and puffing and trying to moralize Syrian regime when the US military is occupying Afghanistan since November 2001 and devastating the country and its people? Are drones used with impunity in FATA, Somalia and Yemen less lethal than chemical weapons?  Is Sarin gas deadlier than nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Agent Orange in Vietnam, or cluster bombs, daisy cutters and depleted uranium in Afghanistan, or white phosphorous in Fallujah (Iraq)?  Aren’t US and UK the biggest manufacturers of chemicals and commercializing the product in international market?

Why such a hullabaloo over poisonous chemicals when these were used by Iraq against the Kurds of Hallabjah in 1988 and against Iran’s military in the Iran-Iraq war in Fao Peninsula, or by Russia in Chechnya. The US and the West didn’t utter a word since at that time Saddam was a good boy being their ally and Chechnyans were Muslims. Where were their moral scruples when Israeli forces used white phosphorous and cluster bombs against Gazans? Why are US and Russia holding on to their stockpiles of chemical weapons when they were required to destroy them by April 2012?  What role OIC and Arab League are playing to defuse the volatile situation? Pathetic Arab League is paradoxically egging on the UN to take measures against Syria, which implies ‘sort out Assad regime’. Saudi Arabia is more worried about Shia threat and is not inclined towards peaceful resolution of the conflict. Why Saudi Arabia didn’t object when the US pitched Shias against Sunnis in Iraq? How is it so sure that Iran and not Israel will harm it?          

How does the US leadership lecture on human rights when it is the biggest violator of human rights? Blaming Syrian regime is like the pot calling the kettle black. While Syria has no record of using chemicals or other prohibited weapons, the US track record on this account is dismal. While there is little doubt that Sarin nerve gas was used at Ghouta, what is the proof that Syrian troops and not the rebels have used it? The US has no evidence to support its contention and is giving no importance to UN inspectors. There are strong suspicions that chemical weapons were provided to the rebels by their western backers in the wake of Syrian forces gaining an upper edge over the utterly demoralized rebels. Col Lawrence Wilkerson in his article appearing in Jerusalem Post suspects that Israel may be behind it.   

 
 

It is surprising that Assad is unacceptable to the US and a hotchpotch future government of rebels comprising local Sunni Syrians, al-Qaeda elements and Salafis will be acceptable. Military intervention against a sovereign state and that too without UNSC approval, whether limited in scale or full scale, is illegal and condemnable. Military action will further fuel civil war and there is likelihood that it may lead to wider conflagration with dangerous repercussions for the region which is already in a flux. Any glimmer of hope for ending the conflict peacefully will die down.

Libya stood alone to face the wrath of NATO, but Syria is not alone. Russia and Iran have high stakes in Syria and both have cautioned the US that they too have options to exercise. If Israel is important for USA, so is Syria for Russia since it is its oldest and sole reliable ally in Middle East. Apart from oil interest, Russia cannot afford to lose its strategically important deep-sea port facility in Tartars in Mediterranean Sea. Loss of Assad will be a strategic blow to Iran and will make it vulnerable. Hezbollah in Lebanon is a close ally of Syria and will not sit idle. Syrian conflict has sharpened Shia-Sunni divide, which by itself has serious ramifications for the Muslim world.

With such high stakes together with presence of so many aircraft carriers and warships of USA, Britain and Russia in Mediterranean Sea, the obtaining environment in the Middle East has made the overall situation perilous. In case of US intervention in Syria, the affected countries and their allies may wittingly or unwittingly get drawn into the Syrian inferno and may trigger a 3rd World War.

The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, researcher and columnist and author of books. asifharoonraja@gmail.com

 

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OPINION: Extremism is what matters all else is secondary

What is destroying our country: Extremism + Terrorism = Sectarianism.
K. Bajwa

Extremism is what matters all else is secondary

 
 
Ayaz Amir
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 
From Print Edition
 
 

Islamabad diary

 
Punjab, heart and soul of Pakistan, will it also now be the death of Pakistan? Dangerous thought but relevant question because the land of the five rivers, now also the land which rules the rest of troubled Pakistan, has its head buried deep in the sand, conscious of every problem under the sun except what is destroying this country: extremism, terrorism and the by-product of these two, sectarianism.
 
Not theoretical sectarianism… with that most societies can live…but murderous sectarianism, its work accomplished by the bullet and the bomb. So much so that the Shiite community is on the verge of mentally exiting from the ideological confines of a republic confused by nothing so much as its ideology.
 
Spectacular jailbreaks which reveal as much about Taliban skill and daring as the bankruptcy of our defences, or random killings across the country…but it’s much more than that. Consider the sweep of Taliban strategy. They strike at targets in the Frontier – Bannu, DI Khan – and just when we think the problem is the Frontier, there is an incident across the Line of Control and, overnight, a crisis with India, thus diverting, like nothing else could, the attention of the Pakistan Army.
 
Not just strategy but grand strategy, Mumbai on a smaller scale: just when the army is engaged in the west, pull its attention to the east.
 
Yet we are still thinking what to do….still, Allah be praised, trying to stitch together that exercise in metaphysics called our counter-terrorism policy. Pity the strain on our minds because the government of the mini-mandate, in essence a Punjabi government, is still not mentally ready to grasp the true dimensions of this problem.
 
It is not ready to accept the fact that Taliban terrorism is no longer just about the American presence in Afghanistan or the Emirate of North Waziristan. Its sources, its support bases, are now spread across the country, not least in the sacred land of the five rivers.
 
But to strike at these madressahs and watering holes in Punjab, to take up this fight in earnest, is to court the hostility of conservative Punjab. And conservative Punjab, retail-bazaar Punjab, middle-class Punjab, is from where the big or small mandate draws its primary strength.
 
This is a paralysis of politics. It is about evenly matched by a creeping paralysis on the military front. For all practical purposes the army chief is now a lame-duck chief, his over-extended term ending in November. He has done good things including resuscitating army morale after the disasters of the Musharraf years, although one wishes he could have kept some check on the business skills of his brothers.
 
Of what use present pomp and glory if in years to come what is remembered about him are the exploits of his near and dear ones? Musharraf did a lot of good too. But in today’s climate is anyone willing to say a kindly word about him? In a Republic like ours we never seem to learn. And our paladins never seem to know when to depart.
 
So there we have it: a government to all appearances with all the authority it needs, a prime minister certainly with more authority than his predecessors or even Musharraf, but heads buried deep in the sand, and an army command ruefully contemplating the evening sun as it is about to set.
 
This is a vacuum of the deepest sort, government and command at a standstill. Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister, is an able man but he talks too much, a loudspeaker constantly on. Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Sipah-e-Sahaba, the tentacles of what we have started calling the Punjabi Taliban, are all in Punjab. The frontlines of extremism may be in the Frontier. But the ‘strategic depth’ of this phenomenon is now in Punjab. From the attitude of the Punjab government, which claims infallibility for itself, one wouldn’t suspect this at all.
 
Forget about formulating a policy on terrorism. That can wait. Mosque loudspeakers in Punjab now defy the Loudspeaker Ordinance, as they defy common sense. If the interior ministry tackles this nuisance first maybe its words come to merit greater credibility.
 
Surprising thing is that where the government wants to act, and where its heart is, it can act very fast. Look at the circular debt payoffs to power producers. No questions asked and no list of who’s been given what. Nandipur power project, its cost jacked up and up, but government unfazed. When it comes to interests close to the bone, all innocence disappears and alacrity is the watchword. When it comes to extremism and terrorism, probably because there is no immediate profit in this, it is either (for more meditation) a trip to Murree, favourite summer destination, or the way of the ostrich.
 
The Taliban are inhibited by no such compulsions, minds distracted by no Nandipur adventures. They are focused utterly on the destabilisation of the Pakistani state and the spread of extremist thought. This is what makes this an unequal contest. The Republic has resources and guns and the atom bomb. But it lacks leadership and what leadership there is, gifts of a wayward destiny, is without conviction.
 
One thing is for sure, and this can be the first commandment of war. Expect no Battle of Stalingrad, no Vietnam, no victories in the mountains, from a leadership which has most of its money parked abroad. This is a contradiction in terms, not resolvable by platitudes. Similarly, an army command infected by that most alluring of fancies, love of real estate, can lead a nation in no life-and-death struggle. Call this the second commandment.
 
How many houses did Churchill own? Only Chartwell Manor which he bought with his money from his books and journalism. And after the war, imagine this, he couldn’t afford to keep the house and a consortium of businessmen bought it and the arrangement was that as long as he and his wife lived they would pay nominal rent and after their deaths the estate would go to the National Trust. On Churchill’s death in 1965 his wife decided to hand over the house to the National Trust immediately. How many suits did Stalin possess? How extensive was Ho Chi Minh’s wardrobe?
 
So what are we talking about? In normal times none of this would have mattered. The Sharifs could have doubled their Raiwind estate and army chiefs could have more private homes than they have become accustomed to. But the Taliban are at the gates and they have the initiative and a better sense of strategy, a better sense of the indirect approach, than the Military Operations Directorate.
 
For most of us this is the only country we are likely to have. We have already made a cult of the ‘internally-displaced person’ (IDP). The greatest Partition of the last century fell to our lot. Dismemberment we have experienced. How many more traumas can we go through, especially when the space for traumas is shrinking? The IDPs of the Khyber Agency can find refuge near Peshawar, those of North Waziristan in Kohat. To which kingdom on the hill will the IDPs of Punjab go?
 
So the luxury of half-measures is not ours to afford because time is slipping by, and time is not on our side. And please select a proper army chief, a fighting man, not a desk-bound general, or someone keen on remaking his fortune. If the Sharifs fumble this, and they will have their own calculations, then forget about Churchill. Let the spirit of appeasement guide us as we respectfully approach the Taliban, peace-offerings in hand and ingratiating smiles on our lips.
 
Tailpiece: Two excellent columns on terrorism I have just read, one by Ayesha Siddiqa, the other by Tariq Mahmud, former interior secretary. This means we have people who understand the problem. Why are our bonzes so dumb?
 
 
 
 

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