Friday, September 27, 2013

Obama And Rouhani About To Clasp On The Trapeze

Obama And Rouhani About To Clasp On The Trapeze
                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

The decision making systems in Washington must be saturated with memos, position papers, backgrounders, by dove-nosed hawks and hawk-nosed doves, both in and outside the administration, on the atmospherics required for the initial moves with Iran after the recent signs of a thaw.

President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, must also be casting a glance on the internal dynamics in Iran. That a casual meeting with President Obama on the margins of the UN General Assembly did “not” take place is, by the admission of Iranian diplomats, a “good outcome” because a “casual” meeting at such a delicate juncture would give out misleading signals.

The ball is in play and in the foreseeable future a dour, defensive game should be expected. There are going to be no electrifying, solo runs through the field.

President George W Bush got the United States into a jam in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Obama learnt his lesson the hard way: that was the wrong way to go. His 2009 speech in Cairo was the route he had charted for himself but it took him a full term to realize that there is a Presidency, an establishment and the Deep State, circumventing Obama.

Israeli and Saudis, Washington insiders much before Obama was conceived, began to play that system, fast and loose.

It is commonly recognized in Jerusalem, and elsewhere, that the Likud PM nurses an adversarial chemistry with the US President. He went ahead with Jewish settlements in a most insulting reception to US Vice President, Joe Biden a year ago. That was precisely what Biden had come to prevent.

And, remember the body language of Saudi King Abdullah when he came out of convalescence in February that year. He screamed, like Lear in the forest: what have you done to reliable allies, Zain el Abedin bin Ali and Hosni Mubarak? Who was world’s leader, Obama or the King of Saudi Arabia? He charged back home and rained $135 billion on his people just in case they were tempted by a touch of the Arab Spring. Monarchies and Emirates were quaking. They must hang together or be blown away. Qatar, generally averse to Saudi stance of Gulf hegemon, was also roped in. The Emir came along with the credibility of his Al Jazeera channel.

To reverse the Spring, Security Council Resolution 1973 was brazenly misused for NATO strikes over Libya, a misuse Vladimir Putin has not forgotten to this day.

World’s only super power, the United States, was pinned down like Gulliver throughout this period. Pinned down by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Europe.

A cartoon in the International Herald Tribune shows fire in the distance. Some European grandees, sipping Campari under a garden umbrella, order Uncle Sam, standing in attendance like a butler: “Don’t just stand there; go put out the fire.”

That is what the allies had made of the would-be sole superpower. The US was dragged into a pointless war in Libya which, mercifully, did not drag over two and a half years as the Syrian involvement has.

The US occupied Iraq for a decade, destroyed the Baath structure, the multilayered intelligence apparatus, Republican guards, killed Saddam Hussain and his key comrades. Only then was it able to get away leaving Iraq the embarrassing mess it is today. With this experience, who sold the lemon to Washington that cross border terrorism on a massive scale, financed by the Saudis and the Qataris, would bring about regime change in Syria? The Syrian state structure is every bit as solid as Baathist Iraq was.

When everything else failed, the usual suspects fell back on the ultimate trick: use of chemical weapons. So ham handedly was this card played that everybody ranging from Zbigniew Brzezinski in Washington to Putin in the Kremlin has found holes in Washington’s narrative. Putin called it a “sly provocation” to invite Western military action.

Saddam Hussain once lectured an Indian diplomat on provocation and retaliation. “When provoked, never retaliate with your crack weapons because the purpose of the provocation may be to confirm that you possess them.”

The West focused on Syria’s chemical weapons for one purpose. Brilliant diplomacy by Russia has transformed the chemical arsenal into a huge bargaining asset. Your allegations that Syria used chemical weapons is false and we can prove it, says Moscow. But now that you have raised the issue, Damascus is willing to surrender its arsenal, sign the chemical weapons convention, and we can jointly proceed towards a Middle East free of weapons of Mass Destruction.

It is in this evolving gameplan that the Washington-Teheran rapprochement must be seen.

Will Riyadh and Tel Aviv fall in line? Riyadh has been allowed an unobstructed run of the Egyptian turf. They hate the Muslim Brotherhood possibly a little more than they do Iranian Shiaism. This because Sunni anti monarchism has a powerful subversive potential.

Ideological Muslim Brothers were anathema to the Israelis too. The Jewish state is comfortable with a brutal military regime which is held on a tight leash by US financial support.

This leaves Qatar and Turkey suspended up there, looking for purpose.

At long last, Obama appears to be his own master in the conduct of foreign policy.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Israel And Saudis Cannot Be Amused At The Obama-Putin Pirouette

Israel And Saudis Cannot Be Amused At The Obama-Putin Pirouette
                                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi
The Cuban Missile Crisis produced great scholarship. A classic of the period, Essence of A Decision by Prof. Grahame Allison, is a study of decision making in the Kennedy administration during a crisis when the world came close to a nuclear collision.

By that reckoning, research proposals must be in the process of being cleared as to who ordered the two ballistic missiles towards Syria which Russian intercepts brought down in the Mediterranean? The whole episode is frightening.

It was therefore a chastened Barack Obama who turned up at G 20 Summit in St. Petersburg. The Russian suggestion that Syria sign the chemical weapons Convention and surrender its chemical weapons was a practical idea which would also be a face saver for Washington which had painted itself into a corner on surgical strikes in Syria.

In the whispering gallery of diplomatic leaks, it has been suggested that if Syria acquiesced in some highly restricted missile attacks on its territory, to satisfy US, Israeli, Saudi hawks, the crisis would be over. Bashar al Assad said he would have none of it. Unspecified retaliation would follow.

Why has Assad now agreed to surrender his strategic chemical weapons?

First, the advantage in his willingness to surrender the nasty arsenal is clear in Putin’s article in the New York Times and later in Obama’s weekly address to the nation.

Putin said: “No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”

Putin then issues a warning. “Reports that militants are preparing another attack, this time against Israel, cannot be ignored”. This last sting is enough to set the cat among the pigeons. The implication is straightforward. Having failed to provoke foreign intervention after the August 21 chemical attack in Ghouta on the periphery of Damascus, the Syrian opposition were planning an even bigger provocation by attacking Israel. Putin clearly knows more than he has revealed. Note his cocky assertiveness a few days ago: “It is a sly provocation by the Syrian opposition.”

That is how worrisome the Syrian chemical arsenal has become. The opposition can either use its existence as a cover to obtain supplies of lethal agents like Sarin from across the border or to find defectors from the regime with access to Syrian chemical weapons.

It therefore becomes a critical item in its inventory that Syria is surrendering.

In his address, Obama said: “until recently, the Assad regime would not admit that it possessed chemical weapon. “Today, Syria has signaled a willingness to join with 189 other nations, representing 98 per cent of humanity, in abiding by an international agreement that prohibits the use of chemical weapons”. And, Obama proceeds to pay a compliment to Moscow. “Russia has staked its own credibility on supporting this outcome”.

Washington’s new found reliance on Moscow to navigate it out of the Syrian minefield, is a historic new development. For this very reason it is a fragile arrangement. Israel and Saudi Arabia, for instance, would scream murder if a Washington-Moscow entente sidelined their interests in the eventual outcome in Syria. How does Washington square this circle? This is the pressure on Washington.

Now that clouds of war have cleared a bit, Syria is beginning to feel self confident with the hand it has been dealt to play. So what if it has to surrender its chemical weapons. The gesture will enhance Russian profile in the region which is useful for the entire team – Hizbullah, Iran.

In any case, the strategic shortfall on account of its chemical weapons, would be made up by Russian SS300s or 400s, which have already shown their effectiveness in bringing down US missiles over Syria.

This one act of statesmanship, will be seen to have saved West Asia from a calamitous conflict. Would it not boost Assads regional profile? Within Syria, he will seen to have defeated the regime’s opponents and as a national leader who prevented the breakup of his country into autonomous regions.

All of it seems to be fitting nicely into the Russian aim of Middle East free of weapons of Mass Destruction, an aspiration which has implications for Israel too. Iranian Supreme leader, Ayatullah Khamenei obliged on this score at a meeting with commanders and officials of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. He said Iran’s opposition to the possession of nuclear weapons was based on the beliefs of the Iranian nation. This, was more or less reiterated by President Hassan Rouhani who, while in the US for the UN General Assembly, is also expected to meet President Obama.

Does the script appear to be proceeding advantageously for one side?

To restore balance, how does Russia work closely with the US in ensuring Israeli security, which is the cornerstone of US policy in the Middle East? Moves of interest to Saudi Arabia could be in the works after US diplomat, Jeffrey Feltman, turned up in Teheran recently wearing a UN cap.

After all, Teheran and Riyadh have been on talking terms some years ago. Remember the Mecca Summit?

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Mulayam Singh Has Had It In Muzaffarnagar

Mulayam Singh Has Had It In Muzaffarnagar
                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

The script which eventually brought Narendra Modi to power in Gujarat is being tried out in Muzaffarnagar and, at the time of writing, even in Meerut which is still closer to the national capital. What is frightening is this: the political class is in deep slumber. Nero fiddled while Rome burnt; this class is asleep.

After motoring through some of the Jat dominated villages around Muzaffarnagar from where Muslims have been driven out (or which they have left in fear), I can say with certainty: something very sinister is happening barely two hour’s drive from New Delhi and just a little more from Lucknow.

Mulayam Singh Yadav, ofcourse, has had it in Muzaffarnagar. That is the least important story at the moment because State Assembly elections are due only in 2017. His Prime Ministerial dreams for 2014 are also over, but shattered dreams of ambitious politicians too are not stories of consequence.

I had barely returned from Muzaffarnagar, when friends from Meerut, which is mid way, called: “A Muslim fruit seller, named Zahid, at village Behrampur in Jani Block, has been stabbed to death.” Almost as an echo came the next report. “Pankaj from Bhasuma in Markala Tehsil was likewise killed”. Soon came the news from a Muslim dominated cluster around Gulmarg cinema in downtown Meerut: a Hindu boy killed and his body hurled into the nearby graveyard. In other words, the tempo of Muzaffarnagar is being kept up in Meerut.

It is officially accepted that forty people have been killed in Muzaffarnagar. Maulana Mohammad Nazar, who represents the Deoband seminary in Muzaffarnagar, offered figures which took my breath away. According to him and his colleague Maulana Asad Rashidi, “the number of those killed could be anywhere between 250 to 500”.

Lakhte Hasnain, a respected lawyer of the city, is much more cautious with his figures. “People are either in refugee camps or are hiding in Muslim villages”, he says. “An accurate figure will emerge only after normalcy returns.” But the figure of “40 dead” is too low, he says.

A jat farmer, who is connected with the aggressors in these pogroms spread over atleast 20 villages, believes “100 or more” may have been killed.

Between villages are tall sugarcane fields which the locals describe as “jungles”. Driving through these fields at night is a frightening experience, custom made for a Hitchcock sequence.

The sugarcane will be cut and harvested in November. Only then will the fields reveal their secrets.

Darker secrets reside in the mind of Mohan Sharma, of Meerut’s Vishwa Hindu Parishad who was on the Manch or stage at the Mahapanchayat at the Nangla-Madaud Inter College near Muzaffarnagar. It is from this Manch that Mohan Sharma and his cohorts gave the call of “Beti Bachao” or “save our daughters”. According to this narrative Muslim boys seduce Hindu girls “to expand Muslim population, using Hindu girls as machines”. This entire operation has been given the title: “Love Jehad”.

Mohan Sharma, in an interview to The Hindu, gives a graphic account. “Initially good looking Muslim men are identified. They are trained in Madrasas, given jeans, T-shirts, mobikes and taught to behave in a seductive fashion.” This is a section of the massive communal mobilization: fabricated videos; Hindus in danger; dehumanization of Muslims for an audience of lumpenized youth, the works. And all under the nose of the administration fully aware of the communal mobilization for a fortnight.

Has the Muslim-boy, Hindu-girl element been inserted into the narrative of August 27 in which a Muslim and two Hindu boys were killed? Various stories are available: that two motorcycles collided, leading to a scuffle and that the girl angle is an afterthought. The second is that a Muslim and some Hindu boys claimed the same girl’s favours, and thirdly, a girl complained to her family that Muslim boys tease her when she passes their village on her way from school. Can there not be an official, police version?

The truth is elusive because such allegations are common in a traditional, rural society coping with rapid change.

Jat leader Naresh Tikait was frothing in the mouth over the Supreme Court’s ban on Khap panchayats. He said the society had lost control over “our bahu-betis”, or daughters.

The “Bahu-Beti” slogan resonates powerfully in a society struggling to come to terms with changes it cannot control. That the threat comes from “anti national” Muslims, plotting to procreate according to a plan to become the majority, may sound absurd in sober moments. But toss these provocative slogans at a frenzied mob, which is what the Mahapanchayat of September 7 had become, the resulting riots could have been expected.

In this instance the government in Lucknow have achieved the impossible. Both, Jats and Muslims coming from opposite ends, have turned angrily upon Lucknow, both complaining the leaders favoured the other side. Nor has Jat leader Ajit Singh of the RLD covered himself with glory. Some Maulanas from Deoband called up Ajit Singh to help stop the Mahapanchayat on September 7. He said he would exercise his influence on the Jats. “How does he explain the riots and pogroms which started that night?” asks Maulana Nazar.

I have covered a series of riots these last few years in which the police partisanship followed a pattern: it took sides against Muslims. Of these Massoori in Ghaziabad, Faizabad and now Muzaffarnagar, have been during Akhilesh Singh’s rule. In none of these riots did I ever see the Chief Minister visit the victims. Gopalgarh in Rajasthan and Dhule in Aurangabad were under Congress ruled states. The Chief Ministers, likewise, never obliged.

The most prophetic slogan was by Yogi Adityanand in Faizabad:
“Faizabad shuruaat karega
            UP ab Gujarat banega.”
(Faizabad is the beginning. UP will now follow the Gujarat model)

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Friday, September 6, 2013

US Attack Will Prevent Mid East Coalition From Splintering

US Attack Will Prevent Mid East Coalition From Splintering
                                                                              Saeed Naqvi

If the United States is so convinced that the Bashar al Assad regime used chemical weapons on the opposition in Syria, why is it not sharing the evidence with the UN, Vladimir Putin, anybody?

Putin says he will support military action against the regime if he sees clinching evidence that Assad used chemical weapons. But Barack Obama will not oblige.

It is possible that Obama is bluffing. But there is a bluff and there is a bluff. Deepawali is round the corner and there will be that audacious gambler who will keep tossing chips onto the table even if he, or she, has only one ace in his hand. But the gambler will make nonsense of the game if, on a weak hand, he keeps moving until the bank breaks and the Casino shuts down.

At this stage, the gambling metaphor fails. Now another game begins, the game of Mind over Matter. It does not matter what evidence Washington has. Whatever the evidence, the entire American establishment is under great pressure to find an excuse, (OK, let it be chemical weapons) to act militarily in Syria. What could this urgency be?

Completely out of character with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which glides through diplomatic corridors with so much stealth, the frenetic diplomatic style of the Intelligence Chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has been something of a vigorous Tandav.

He has been darting around from capital to capital like a globule of sodium on water. Sources suggest he has been imploring Washington to give him a month to alter the situation on the ground inside Syria, after which Moscow can be brought into play towards some settlement.

He turned up in Moscow, held Putin’s hand and said he would sign lucrative arms deals, give him all he wanted in oil, gas, pipelines, new hydro carbon discoveries, pricing, the works. And, the piece de resistance, Saudis would keep Chechen extremists on a tight leash so that the Sochi Olympic Games can be held peacefully. “We control the Chechen extremists”.

All this, and more would be delivered unto Moscow if only Moscow co-operated on Syria and supported Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. And, Bandar added, all that he was laying out on the table had America’s blessing. It was like Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) claiming that whatever he said was as Allah’s Messenger.

The distillate from Bandar’s exertions in Moscow are: help us in Damascus and Cairo and we shall give you the keys to paradise.

A revealing moment at the heated hearing in the Republican controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday was when Secretary of State, John Kerry turned to the bench behind him and pointed to “Robert Stephen Ford, our ambassador in Syria”.

In form and feature, face and limb
            One Ford was like the other
For folks went taking him for him
            And each for one another.

I rubbed my eyes with disbelief. I could swear on oath that exactly a month ago I had seen John Kerry appoint the very same Robert Stephen Ford as the ambassador to Cairo to replace Ambassador Anne Patterson who had been too closely identified with Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

What is happening is this. For the Alif Laila world of West Asia (Middle East), Americans have identified a handful of Foreign Service officers who are a cross between Arabists and the Special Services, a poor man’s T.E. Lawrence.

When Morsi was dramatically ousted from Cairo, Ford it was who surfaced as Ambassador for the crisis. But as soon as Damascus needed urgent attention, he reverted to Damascus. There he was, right behind Kerry at the Congressional hearing.

At the hearing, quite inadvertently, Kerry gave the game away. He blurted out another name: Gen. Salim Idris, who defected from the Syrian army last year and is now Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He told NBC News on August 29 that the US Intelligence knows of his “sources” in Assad’s inner circle. He has links with units working on chemical weapons. Idris and other army defectors are therefore the rallying points for Western help which includes military attack so that they can expand their influence on the ground to be credible negotiators at Geneva II. Alternatively, they must excavate deep into the Baathist structure and split it. All of this is easier said than done.

But, again that overwhelming question. Why did Obama not act when the chemical weapons Red Line was crossed earlier? Kerry explained to the Congressmen, because the President had not changed his policy then.

That precisely is the point. Why has Obama changed his policy now? What is the urgency?

The urgency arouse the day the Saudis rushed in with $ 12 billion as a gift for Gen. Sisi for having toppled the Muslim Brotherhood and a Saudi-Qatar split became imminent. The Brothers are a Sunni version of the Ayatullahs in Tehran, both ideologically opposed to monarchies, a nightmare for the Saudis, jointly or separately. Qatar, Hamas, Turkey were a strong coalition of the Brothers focused on Syria and are now in disarray. As it is Kerry was embarrassed at the hearing to list the “34 countries and groups” supporting US military action. Where has it fled, the Atlantic Alliance? “I shall give you a written list” said Kerry, sheepishly.

A very real, regional coalition for change in Syria is about to splinter because of differences over Egypt. A joint military action would be the glue to keep this coalition together.

That is why Bandar is counting his worry beads. Obama, Hamlet like, is holding aloft a scroll of the Valliant 34, like Yorick’s skull: To bomb or not to bomb…..

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