Monday, March 28, 2011

Europe Helps Create ‘Jihad’ Next Door

Europe Helps Create ‘Jihad’ Next Door
Saeed Naqvi

Have Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy ever paused to consider how the 20 million Muslims in Europe might react to their military action in Libya? I doubt if the rest of their countrymen will ever place them with Churchill or de Gaulle.

Arabs, like people anywhere, do not like dictators. But Western military intervention amplified on global media, stokes nationalism, localism. A dictator then becomes “our son-of-a-bitch” against an even more despised Western “outsider”, particularly when this “outsider’s” successive interventions over decades have been devoid of any altruism.

Where there has been any demonstrable sympathy (by Americans not Europeans) for the people of Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Muslims have worn their “thank you” on their sleeves. The image is so etched on my mind that I never tire of repeating it: avenues and squares in the name of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright in Kosovo! A pity there will never be a street in Benghazi named after Hillary Clinton or Cameron and Sarkozy.

Not only has the West halted the Arab spring, it may have done something much more dangerous. Countries with a majority of their populations in the 20s, the youth bulge, who had come out on the streets waving their flags of freedom, where will they turn now?

Cavernous staircases from the Arab street lead to the basements where extremist recruitment centers are looking for custom.

Since, on current showing, Western leaders have eased to see things beyond their nose, it may be useful to din it into their senses that Muslims, like the rest of the world, have on 247 watched Operation Desert Storm, occupation of Iraq, the two Intefadas, a four year long brutalization of Bosnia, occupation of the West Bank, invasion of Afghanistan, civilian deaths in drone attacks in Pakistan – and now, just when the mood in the Arab street was softening towards the West and Israel, come these images of Western action in Libya and rank hypocrisy in Bahrain and Yemen.

A straightforward lesson should have been learnt from Afghanistan where Islamic Madrasas to train Mujahideen against Soviet occupation in 1980 continues to plague the region to this day. How helpless can the Americans be? They have allowed a quarrelling Europe to drag them into their third war with a Muslim country in eight years.

Incidentally, Yemen’s direct link with the Afghan project is generally not understood. Prince Naif bin Abdel Aziz, Saudi Interior Minister, while helping set up training centers for Islamic militancy in Afghanistan, thought of manufacturing thoroughbred Arab Jehadis next door in Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s half brother, Ali Mohsin Al Ahmar was given charge of the training camps. Just as the Afghan Jehadis were motivated to evict the Soviets from Afghanistan, so were the Yemenis trained to fight the then pro Soviet regime in the South, with Aden as the capital. Unification of Yemen took place only in the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Afghan Jehadis (Taleban leavened with Al Qaeda) are plaguing the US in Af-Pak; the Arab Jehadis in Yemen are a thorn in the US-Saudi flesh. Hence, drone attacks on Al Qaeda positions in parts of Yemen, every attack breeding more Al Qaeda.

For the Saudis the matters are a trifle more complicated with Yemen’s Zaidi Shias in Saada, abutting Saudi Arabia, making common cause with the Socialists in the South against the House of Saud.

It obviously suits President Saleh to play the Saudi card to protect himself from the mounting unrest which has taken a toll in lives. How long can the Saudis ward off multiple pressures – from Bahrain, Yemen, Shia dominated Iraq contiguous with its own the oil bearing Shia dominated Eastern Province?

As if all this was not enough, Messrs Sarkozy and Cameron have committed themselves to Benghazi which was rocked by the Danish cartoon controversy and from where Jehadis have participated in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Libyan revolt was led by a group called the National Conference of the Libyan opposition, founded in London in 2005. Can overseas Libyans make a revolution? If Qaddafi survives, will not opposition to his soft Islam be the harder version of the faith? Remember the Danish cartoon protests in Benghazi in 2006 eventually turned upon Qaddafi.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Outline of New World Order?

Outline of New World Order?
Saeed Naqvi

Numbing spectacle of Christchurch’s Catholic Cathedral, like the rest of the exquisite city, reduced to a heap by the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck New Zealand last month; Hamid Karzai’s Populzai tribe in mourning over the killing of his cousin in Kandahar by US soldiers; agonizing tussle over Raymond Davis, part of covert CIA team in Pakistan who shot dead two Pakistani operators. All images of varying degrees of helplessness.

Just as these stunning pictures begin to register, comes an avalanche of images ever more catastrophic. A quake of an unprecedented 8.9 magnitude hits Japan, stirring memories of World War devastation – Hiroshima, Nagasaki et al.

And, just look at the coincidental configuration of the stars! In 1986, just when Chernobyl erupted, Col. Muammar Qaddafi was finding his way through bombs and falling rubble in his Tripoli palace, trying to help his wife strapped to a bed because of a slipped disc.

This time too a coalition of the willing has been, well, almost drummed up either to scare Qaddafi or to pound him and, the frightening nuclear disaster emanates from Japan – echoes of 1986.

Another coincidence? Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat turned up in Tripoli to commiserate but Regan rapped Rajiv Gandhi on the knuckles and Bhagat was sacked. Well, this time New Delhi has withstood pressures and abstained.

President Obama has clearly stated: “no boots on the ground” and that the resolution has the limited purpose of protecting human lives.

American reluctance to enter this North African theatre has been transparent. Trust an American cartoonist to capture the essence of the transatlantic confusion. Some Europeans are sipping Campari and Soda under a sun umbrella. Uncle Sam, standing somewhat like a butler, reports: “There is a fire raging next door.” Europeans answer: “Go, put it out. Don’t just stand there!”

Every itinerant journalist who crossed over from Egypt into Benghazi found an interviewee who demanded a no-fly-zone. Whether the two score British Special Forces and diplomats arrested by the protesters in the vicinity of Benghazi preceded the interviewees or followed them, only time will tell.

Unlike President Mitterand, who had to be coaxed into the coalition for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, President Nicolas Sarkozy has been something of a pioneer demanding the international community’s recognition for the Benghazi rebels. Clearly Sarkozy has in his possession all the East Libyan oil maps.

Even as British Prime Minister David Cameron faced an angry House of commons for his men being caught with their pants down in Benghazi, prompt moral support arrived from Sarkozy. Germany said no. Bertie Wooster would have gulped: “Axis and Allies, what!”

But no help arrived until Qaddafi had retaken the hub of Ajdabiah from where roads fork to Tripoli and to Tobruk near the Egyptian border.

Lebanon backed by Britain and France introduced the UN resolution supported by the US. What next? Not quite clear except that a huge question mark has been placed on the future of east Libyan oil reserves, rather like the one on Kirkuk in Iraq’s Kurdish north.

The US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates was quite clear. European’s cannot be packing up their bags in Afghanistan, where so much “blood and treasurer” has been spent, and expect the US to be in lock-step with them in Libya.

A senior Kremlin insider, places recent events against a larger backdrop. “In a totally interconnected world, the post imperial hierarchy is taking shape – US, China, India and Russia. US inability to shape events in West Asia boosts China’s relative image. Japan’s tragic collapse removes another counterveiling force. Hence the delayed UN resolution.

Another country that has gained in stature in recent years, despite the US, is Iran. Shia power in Iraq, uprising in Bahrain and Yemen with a restless minority agitating in Dammam, adds upto a Saudi nightmare. Hence, Saudi armoured carriers driving into Bahrain, designed to check perceived Iranian influence.

There is considerable significance in Lebanon having taken the lead in sponsoring the UN resolution. Hezbullah supported by Iran, is the leading partner in the Lebanese government. Likewise, Saad Hariri has Saudi support. Does this Iranian-Saudi coordination by proxy have a larger potential?

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Can US Lead While Europe Scrambles for Oil

Can US Lead While Europe Scrambles for Oil
Saeed Naqvi

Peoples’ power in Tunisia and Egypt not only swept away symbols of dictatorial tyranny but also mobilized Arab masses behind a liberal agenda. Not once in Tunis or Tahrir Square was an anti Israeli slogan raised. Nor was anti Americanism in evidence. How little it takes for people to soften, once the weight of injustice is lifted from their shoulders.

Against this backdrop consider Libya. Is “people’s power” being allowed to prevail in that country or is foreign intervention the dominant image? Yes, I did see the BBC’s principal foreign correspondent ask a rather forlorn lady in the vicinity of Benghazi whether she thought the “protestors” would win?

The lady kept pointing a finger at the sky, circling it rather like children flying toy helicopters. “Impose no-fly-zone” she chanted, “impose no-fly-zone”. She asked for guns, tanks so that the “mad man does not finish us”. She was well attired and clearly not from the trenches.

Who was she? Did she live in Benghazi? Or had she walked over the nearby border with Egypt? In a dictatorship, people can revolt but will they invite foreign intervention on live foreign TV? Has anyone studied the mosaic of Libyan tribes?

Precursors to foreign intervention, a dozen or so British Special Forces with two diplomats cross over from Egypt. They are promptly detained by the protestors, causing a convulsion in the House of Commons.

With egg on his face, Prime Minister David Cameron, persists before TV cameras. “The world can’t stand by if Qaddafi brutalizes his people”.

Coincidentally, in Ivory Coast a determined Laurent Gbagbo, refusing to accept electoral defeat against Allassane Ouattara has been for weeks “brutalizing” the “victors” in and out of Abidjan, the capital.

Cameron’s compassion for the Libya people coincides with his principal ally in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, beating his breast in his Kabul palace. “O’ they have killed my cousin; O’ they have killed my cousin”. Apparently NATO forces stormed 65 year old Mohammad Karzai’s home in Kandahar.

Imagine, how the Al Qaeda, Taleban, ordinary Afghans and across the border, the murderers of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan are watching the situation in Libya.

There is utter lack of clarity on what the Western game plan in Afghanistan is. The date of withdrawal of US troops is, well, shall we say, “sometime” in 2014? In 2012 President Obama must seek re election.

A spectacular war would be an election winning devise! The sheer spectacle of it would obscure indecisiveness on Af-Pak. But isn’t the US Gulliver pinned down by its own disapproval of unilateralism? And by China, Russia, deep divisions in Europe between those who had sweet oil deals with Qaddafi and those who didn’t.

Europe allowed the Bosnia war to continue for five years without intervening because Germany and Vatican’s premature recognition of Croatia had caused Britain and France to gear up on the opposite side. To prevent another intra European war, all sides held back their horses.

So what if the Muslim Bosniacs were “brutalized” (Cameron’s term) for four years, with Gen. Sir Charles Rose toting up figures of the Bosniac dead at his daily briefings. European nations avoided falling over each other in a war. But for Europe the collateral damage was enormous. TV images helped bring the Islamic party to power in Turkey.

It was then, even as Europe prevaricated, that the US came to the help of Muslims. Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was removed. A Muslim dominated state of Kosovo was formed. Millions of Muslims in Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and even Bosnia are the only ones of that faith who are positive about the United States. There are avenues in Kosovo named after Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright.

Good sense prevented Europe from starting another war. That is what would have happened if they had taken sides on Bosnian Muslims.

But greed for oil in days of economic despair is causing Europe to fall over each other.

Can good sense prevail in Washington once again? Military action in Libya will generate anti Americanism, which will swell the ranks of Al Qaeda and cause the “Arab Youth” bulge to find a frightening outlet. Asking Saudis or Britain to arm rebels will boomerang unless focus is also kept on Palestinian-Israeli peace.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

West Casts Qaddafi in Saddam Image

West Casts Qaddafi in Saddam Image
Saeed Naqvi

Put it down to Qaddafi’s craft or inept handling of the situation by Washington and Europe, but a certain ambiguity has crept into the evolving scenario in Libya. There are different perceptions emerging. Some days ago he was being ousted by his people. Now the West appears to be involved in his impending ouster. This is a totally new picture. It will change the mood in the Arab street.

Is Qaddafi’s brutal crackdown killing over a thousand protesters, the dominant narrative? Is his invocation of Libyan nationalism not being unwittingly promoted by aggressive Western plans to “impose” a no-fly-zone and that this tends to neutralize the earlier narrative?

Arab TV channels are abuzz with British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s conversation with “several Libyan rebel leaders” on the possibility of the “UK along with its western allies” planning to impose a no-fly-zone in Libya. Is Washington now going to help “rebel leaders” in other countries? Has anyone taken note of the Arab summit in Cairo?

Some clarity was introduced into the proceedings by the Central Command’s Gen. James Mathis – “No-fly-zone would have to be a military operation – it wouldn’t be just telling people not to fly airplanes”.

No-fly-zone would require removal of air defence capability, Gen. Mathis said. “Such an operation would mean sorties involving military facilities throughout the Mediterranean” – Cyprus, Sicily, Crete. Obama is clearly on this slope.

How does all this register with the Arab street? Does it not begin to sound like western ganging up against Libya?

If the west had moved with such alacrity against Mubarak or Ben Ali, it may have rehabilitated itself, in some small measure, in popular Arab esteem.

Why? Both, Mubarak and Ben Ali along with a host of Arab dictators are seen by the people to be serving western interests, subservient to Israel.

Qaddafi hardly fits in this gallery. To the contrary, he was the most provocative, nasty anti West, anti Zionism, Arab. No other Arab leader would have had the cheek to suggest that a “home for the Jews should have been located in Alsace and Lorraine”. But even he is human, after all, because after the treatment handed out to Saddam Hussain, he gave up his nuclear ambitions.

Since his was a largely tribal society (different from the urbanity of Tunis or Cairo), far-flung tribes were prone to superstitious practices, a sort of Libyan voodoo. Playing on people’s superstitions was therefore declared a criminal offence. He banned the system of Mullahs or Imams leading Friday prayers.

So, unlike mere Arab dictators, Qaddafi is a maverick megalomaniac draped in spectacle and pageantry – never obsequious, but consistent and unpredictable. But no Islamic fundamentalist which some of the West’s closest allies are.

The challenge he faced from Benghazi 1000 kms east of Tripoli earlier in the 90s was from Islamists opposed to his Islam with a mod twist.

There are some common elements in the wave sweeping the Arab world – fifty percent of the population between 20 and 30, the 24´7 media like Al Jazeera, youth’s impatience with suffocating dictatorships, corruption, unemployment etc.

Equally, there are differences between the countries so affected. For instance, some observers have noted that Monarchies from the colonial days are less vulnerable than US supported republican dictatorships, more despised because they go through motions of elections which are rigged. No such pretense in the monarchies. Attitude to the Palestinians insulates Syria, Hezbullah, Iran from people’s ire on this count.

In which league, then, does one place Qaddafi? He is flanked by Egypt and Tunisia. Benghazi is closer to Egypt where the Armed Forces would not be comfortable with a mercurial, non conformist, always ready to show up Egyptian indifference to Mid East peace.

Neither Egypt nor Tunisia has oil. In this Libya begins to resemble Saddam Hussain’s Iraq, both rich in oil, both “rejectionists” on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, exactly the framework in which Saudi Arabia is “moderate”.

Qaddafi may have gone on his own. But noisy western orchestration will place on his head a halo he does not deserve. With his penchant for unpredictability, he has gone and inserted Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as a mediator between the regime and protestors. Are western town criers going to blare: “Plague on both their houses!”

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Curtains on the Qaddafi Pantomime

Curtains on the Qaddafi Pantomime
Saeed Naqvi

Nothing became him less than the manner of his own departure. Or, impeding departure, for precision. How deceptive was the theatrical self assurance with which Qaddafi carried himself. He can be caricatured brilliantly on a Broadway musical. “Don’t cry for me O’ Libya!”

I can never forget my first meeting with him in a palatial bunker where I was navigated from my Tripoli hotel two days after the US had bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986.

Even in the midst of tragedy, Qaddafi’s theatre had been choreographed to perfection. His two women bodyguards, one a beautifully chiseled ebony masterpiece and the other a perfect white opposite number, flanked him. He positioned himself on an ornate chair placed on an elevated platform. In those days Qaddafi was the noisiest “anti Zionist” Arab. The state he ran was a dictatorship but without a hint of Islamic extremism.

There were no Mullahs. The most educated in the community could lead the Friday prayers. Not only was there complete gender equality but his was the only state with a military academy for women.

Later, when I met him in his Beduin tent, two years ago, he had abandoned all Arab causes – “because Arab leaders were Western cronies” – and concentrated on Africa where his influence reached as far as Sierra Leone and the notorious President Charles Taylor of Liberia. His footprints were in Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, even the Polisario in Tinduouf in Western Sahara.

From Tripoli, it is an attractive, 1000 km, drive along the coastline to Benghazi, exactly the distance between Khartoum and Darfur in Sudan, bordering Chad.

At Darfur’s Al Fasher airport, I had, during another journey, met Abdul Lehman al Tijani Ali Dinar, great grandson of the last Sultan of Darfur. He was surprised that I did not know Arabic. This is the crux of the problem of all North African states that stretch south into the Sahara and deeper into “dark” Africa. There is an assumption that to be a Muslim you must know Arabic. This is contested by non Arab, African Muslims.

In these areas it is possible to be Muslim without being an Arab. Then there are the tribal divisions. For example Darfur is a combination of two words – Dar, which means home or gate and Fur, the name of a tribe. But Darfur has two other tribes – Zaghawa and Maseelat.

The Zaghawas are dominant in neighbouring Chad, where President, Idris Debey is a Zaghawa.

Both, Chad and Sudan, have borders with Libya. And thereby hangs a part of the tale. The Benghazi based, Arabian gulf Oil company operates the Nafoora, Messala and Sarir oil fields. After the Libyan uprising, these oil fields are under the control of a tribe similar to the one which dominates Chad, except that in Libya it is called the Zawiya. Another tribe, Tuareg in the south, are part of a growing coalition opposed to Qaddafi.

When Qaddafi, a beduin from Sirt, first ousted King Indris in 1969 in imitation of Nasser’s coup in Egypt, it turned out that the deposed King had sympathizers in the Benghazi area. Benghazi was never quite in Tripoli’s grip. And now witness the rebellion in the army. Two air force planes, in defiance of orders, turn up in Malta!

An East-West division of Libya is already beginning to loom as a possibility. The sanctity of post colonial borders may no longer remain inviolable. There is a readymade example in a country contiguous with Libya – Sudan. A Muslim north and a Christian south with a brand new capital in Juba.

Should Libya be halved, the European scramble for the oil bearing regions cannot be checked, particularly now when some of EU members are stone broke.

It is the mass arrival of refugees that could well cause the international community to contemplate a model where European troops take care of different sectors to keep the peace. The Italians will be the first to suggest such a model – Kosovo.

Since European intervention in the Mediterranean will smack of re colonization, the ball will be tossed upto the UN Secretary General to devise a muscular UN Force.

Meanwhile Qaddafi’s pantomime begins to resemble the last scene in Brecht’s Arturo Ui, the ultimate spoof on doomed dictatorships.

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