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Old Sunday, June 11, 2017
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Default June 11th, 2017

A dark age

IN the 14th and 15th centuries, Christian Europe was divided by the rivalries of the kingdoms of Spain, France and England, the Holy Roman Empire and the squabbling papal and city states of Italy. They were unable to unite in halting the advance of the ascendant Ottomans who reached the gates of Vienna and were stopped there more by Sultan Suleiman’s demise rather than credible Christian resistance.

Today, the roles are reversed. It is the Muslim world which is unable to unite to fend off the domination of the West. The crisis between Qatar and its GCC partners is reminiscent of the rivalries of Italy’s papal states and role of external powers in determining the destiny of its weak rulers.

The Islamic world, wracked by multiple conflicts and crises, is traversing a period akin to Europe’s Dark Ages.

Today’s vulnerable Muslim world is wide open to the influence and domination of external powers.

First, in many Muslim countries, there is crisis of political legitimacy. Governance structures, mostly bequeathed by departing Western colonists, have corroded. The authoritarian regimes in the GCC and Iran were untouched by the Arab Spring; but most are vulnerable domestically to both democratic and ideological challenge.

Egypt has reverted to military rule. Turkey’s populist leader battles internal and external opposition. External intervention in Libya has yielded a civil war and the emergence of the militant Islamic State group and other terrorist groups. Similarly, Syria has been destroyed by external intervention and a brutal sectarian and ethnic civil war. The fiction of Iraq’s unity is preserved by the presence of Iranian militias, US military support and the war against IS. The US-installed Afghan regime is weak, corrupt, divided, and militarily beleaguered. Ironically, among OIC members, Pakistan is one of the few which, despite corruption scandals, retains a modicum of democratic legitimacy.

Second, violence is spreading across the Muslim world. Global terrorist groups — IS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, etc — are now active participants in civil and cross-border conflicts and pose a threat to global stability.

Muslim nations are not the main sponsors of global terrorism; they are its principal victims. Some major powers have fought terrorists selectively and at times used them for partisan purposes. No effort has been made to stop state terrorism or to differentiate between terrorists and insurgencies which, like the Afghan Taliban, have local, negotiable goals. Most important, no concerted effort has been made to address terrorism’s ‘root causes’: persistent injustices against Muslim peoples eg in Palestine and Kashmir, or poverty, ignorance and social alienation which create recruits for terrorism, including over the internet.

Third, the crises within the Islamic world have been exacerbated by ideological and doctrinal differences. The most vital schism is between Sunni and Shia power. This schism was dormant until Iran’s 1979 ‘Islamic Revolution’. It rose to the fore in the Iraq-Iran war. It was manifest in the Afghan civil war between the Afghan Taliban and the Northern Alliance. It was, however, the US invasion of Iraq, its dismantling of the Sunni-dominated Baath party and army and the organisation of one-man one-vote elections that enabled the Iran-sponsored Shia parties to gain central power in Iraq and extend Iranian influence across the Levant and beyond.

Iran’s rise is anathema to its Sunni rivals: Saudi Arabia, the GCC and Egypt. Turkey has also been uncomfortable; although it has been obliged recently to moderate its rivalry and secure Tehran’s cooperation to forestall Kurdish separatism. Pakistan’s once close ties with Iran also deteriorated over time due to multiple reasons: Islamabad’s termination of peaceful nuclear cooperation, competition for influence in post-Soviet Afghanistan, Iranian ‘interference’ with Pakistan’s Shia community, cross-border events in Iranian and Pakistani Balochistan and Iran’s sudden reversal of support on Kashmir in response to Indian ‘incentives’.

But the sectarian divide is not the sole ideological rift within the Muslim world today. The Muslim Brotherhood and its populist ideology have become abhorrent to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. Hamas, the Palestinian affiliate of the Brotherhood, has suffered collateral damage. On the other hand, Qatar and Turkey have espoused the Brotherhood and Hamas, offered refuge to their adherents and support to them in the Libyan civil war. Such Qatari divergence was evidently the main reason for the Saudi-UAE break with Doha.

Last, but not least, today’s weak, vulnerable Islamic world is wide open to the influence and domination of major external powers. The recent Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh was, more than anything, an illustration of the susceptibility of most of the assembled Muslim nations to US domination. Russia also enjoys critical influence with several Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, due to its military power and growing role in Syria and the region. So far, China has remained aloof from inter-Islamic differences. Its desire seems to be to use its economic and financial power as a force for greater cohesion with Muslim countries.

What seems most dangerous for the immediate future is the hard-line positions being adopted by the Trump administration on most international disputes and crises, including North Korea, South China Sea, Syria and Iran. If implemented, these positions, particularly the formation of an alliance against Iran, are likely to lead to the intensification of the conflicts affecting the Muslim world.

Pakistan’s main preoccupations are: TTP and IS terrorism, Afghanistan and India. It appears that Pakistan will face challenges in addressing these issues. President Ghani’s recent atrocious accusations against Pakistan obviously had clearance from his US patrons. Trump’s refusal to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Riyadh was no accident. The Pentagon’s pre-emptive identification last week of Pakistan as host of a Chinese military base is another negative signal.

While addressing its own priorities, Pakistan cannot ‘play possum’ on issues involving the Islamic world. Such abstention does not behove the Muslim world’s second largest nation, its largest military power and its only nuclear weapon state. Pakistan has consistently concluded that its national and security interests can be best advanced by promoting unity and cooperation among Muslim countries. Today, more than ever, Pakistan is obliged to play an active role to develop viable avenues for conflict resolution and cooperation among the Islamic nations and, hopefully, lead the way to a new age of enlightenment in the Muslim world.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: A dark age
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2017
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Default June 25th, 2017

Strategy-free force

IN a recent Wall Street Journal column, President Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn, wrote: “The world is not a global community but an arena where nations, non-governmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage”, and “we embrace” this “elemental nature of international affairs”.

Under the slogan ‘America First’, and led largely by his generals, Trump seeks to reassert global primacy through raw military and economic power. In almost every conflict where it is engaged, the US has escalated or threatened to escalate the use of force, even in the absence of a long-term strategy.

Unfortunately, the preference for military options can be contagious. Other powers, like Russia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have not been reluctant to resort to force. Even mini-money states, like the UAE and Qatar, have embarked on foreign military operations. If military force becomes the first rather than last option for states, international relations will be transformed into a Hobbesian jungle of all against all.

The wars in Syria and Iraq reflect this dystopian reality. Latest events — the US downing of a Syrian government aircraft and the Russian demand that US aircraft not fly west of the Euphrates — have confirmed the danger of a direct US-Russia conflict in Syria. Once the militant Islamic State group is defeated, Iraq’s three-way (Shia, Sunni, Kurd) crisis will revive, with the Sunni minority turning to Saudi Arabia for support against the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

The Kurds in Iraq and Syria will try to break away, but face Turkish and Iranian opposition and may be ultimately betrayed by their Western sponsors (again). Even after its defeat in Mosul and Raqqa, IS will survive in some form, perhaps merging with other Sunni extremist groups, or escaping to new locations, like Afghanistan. Its campaign of global terror will remain potent.

The Trump summit in Riyadh virtually declared the opening of hostilities against Iran. Predictably, Iran blamed Saudi Arabia for the subsequent terror attacks in Tehran. US Secretary of State Tillerson has upped the ante by referring to the prospect of regime change in Iran.

The recent Iranian missile strikes against IS in Syria were an unsubtle message to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia that Tehran has the will and capacity to retaliate against hostile actions. Iran could inflame West Asia and the Levant; rain Hezbollah rockets on Israel; threaten Saudi oilfields and US bases in Afghanistan; mobilise Shia minorities to destabilise shaky rulers in the Gulf. The Saudi-UAE vendetta against Qatar reveals the fault lines within the Sunni alliance which can be exploited by Iran in the context of the wider regional confrontation.

Afghanistan is about to endure another cycle of violence as the US digs itself deeper into the Afghan quagmire. The new US ‘surge’ (of 4,000 troops) may prevent the collapse of the US-installed Kabul regime, at enormous human and financial cost; but it will not deliver either military victory or force the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Pressure on Pakistan to eliminate the alleged safe havens may prove counterproductive. A focus on fighting the Afghan Taliban will erode the prospects of collective action against IS and other terrorist groups, like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, etc which are present in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the entire region.

Kashmir could spark another India-Pakistan war. The popular Kashmiri revolt against Indian rule has persisted for over a year despite Indian brutality, Pakistani impotence and world indifference. In the run-up to the 2019, Indian general elections, Prime Minister Modi may try to deflect attention from India’s Kashmiri quagmire by escalating the Line of Control ceasefire violations or even attempting a (real) cross-LOC ‘strike’. The ensuing Pakistan-India conventional conflict will not remain limited and could easily escalate to the nuclear level. President Trump should press Modi in Washington this week to accept his offer of mediation to avoid a disastrous Pakistan-India war.

So far, Trump has avoided the Thucydides Trap by holding back from an overt containment of China. He has conditioned the US position on trade on Beijing’s ability to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

However, extreme Chinese pressure on North Korea is unlikely since this may lead to regime collapse, millions of refugees, Korean unification and US troops on China’s border. Beijing’s preference is for a freeze in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes and reciprocal military restraint by the US and its allies. If attempts to evolve a deal collapse, the military option may come back to the fore and Sino-US differences on trade, the South China Sea and other issues may revive, generating tensions across Asia.

Despite the early optimism in Moscow, Trump’s campaign desire for a cooperative relationship with Russia has been stymied by the American ‘establishment’. On the contrary, the new unilateral anti-Russia sanctions imposed by the US Congress last week are an indication that US-Russian tensions will persist and probably escalate. Close ‘encounters’ between Russian-Nato air and naval forces are now commonplace and could lead to a military incident.

The balance of power in Europe favours Russia. Its absorption of Crimea is a reality. Ukraine’s division is unlikely to be overcome except on Moscow’s terms. Nato’s forward deployments, and/or installation of an advanced ballistic missile defence system, will evoke strong Russian responses even as support of several European countries, which desire cooperative relations with Russia, wavers.

To manage the several simultaneous political, economic and technological transitions under way, and meet the existential challenges of climate change, demographic explosion, poverty, terrorism, refugees and communicable diseases, the international community requires intense cooperation and collective action.

Such cooperation is impossible while states are allowed to have recourse to the untrammelled and unilateral use of force. It is essential to revive unconditional adherence by states to their UN Charter commitment to refrain from the use or threat of force in their international relations. Making this commitment a reality should be the first priority of the UN’s new secretary general.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2017
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Default July 9th, 2017

Modi’s American embrace

THE widely circulated picture of Indian Prime Minister Modi clinging to a visibly uncomfortable Donald Trump’s breast illustrates the nature of the emerging relationship between India and the US.

Modi’s eagerness to serve as America’s ‘natural partner’ to contain a rising China is based on the expectation that this will provide India multiple advantages: latest military equipment and technology; expanded US investment; unconditional US support against Pakistan, a free hand in Kashmir and vigorous endorsement of India’s great power ambitions in South Asia, the Indian Ocean and beyond.

The Indo-US alliance has grave security implications for Pakistan. It will exacerbate the military imbalance and make India even more intransigent on Kashmir and belligerent towards Pakistan. Indeed, to deflect attention from its failed oppression of the popular Kashmiri revolt, Modi may feel sufficiently emboldened to actually attempt a cross-LoC ‘surgical strike’ against Pakistan, provoking a war which is unlikely to remain limited.

However, the alliance with America will involve challenges and costs for India which Modi appears to have discounted.

The US and India are unequal powers. As the practitioner of the Art of the Deal, Trump will not be shy to exercise the leverage which the US will progressively acquire over India, eg, to open India’s restrictive trade regime or curtail its traditional ties with Russia and Iran. To sustain the ‘partnership’, India will have to learn to bend, often, to America’s will, compromising the ‘independence’ of its foreign policy.

The alliance with America will involve challenges and costs for India.

As Pakistan discovered, defence ties with the US can be a mixed blessing. The arms and technology tap can be turned on and off by Washington to secure desired behaviour from its allies and partners. When Lockheed’s F-16 production is relocated to India, will the US, as it did with Pakistan, implant software to neutralise the aircraft’s operational capabilities in a crisis? New Delhi will never be sure that any equipment it acquires from the US, or Israel, will not be ‘compromised’ if India attempts to use this for purposes other than those endorsed by the US.

While the US will wish to use India to strategically harass China, it may be more reluctant to support all India’s aims against Pakistan and other smaller neighbours. As a ‘global’ power, the US will want to retain direct influence over Pakistan and other South Asian states rather than delegate this to India.

Undeterred by such considerations, Modi seems to have embarked already on his assigned mission to contain China. India is the only major country to reject China’s Belt and Road initiative. It provoked China by inviting the Dalai Lama to disputed Arunachal Pradesh/south Tibet. And, it has blocked Chinese road construction on Chinese territory along the Bhutan-China border. Beijing has demanded the withdrawal of Indian troops “as soon as possible” and reminded India of the lessons of history, ie India’s 1962 defeat.

In his book, Implosion: India’s Tryst with Reality, John Eliot argues that India is not well placed to confront China. Although India’s GDP is growing annually at seven per cent and China at 6.5pc, the gap is widening since the Chinese economy is more than four times the size of India’s.

Given that India has been unable to bully Pakistan, it is hardly in a position to confront China simultaneously. Even the smaller South Asian states are entering into economic and defence relationships with China. The Bangladesh government, although deeply beholden to India, is buying Chinese submarines and will exploit its major Bay of Bengal gas field with a Chinese rather than an Indian partner.

China’s Global Times asked: “With GDP several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern states border China, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?”

India’s vulnerabilities are extensive. Kashmir remains India’s Achilles heel (where, so far, China has urged Pakistan to exercise restraint). India is fighting 17 ‘active’ insurgencies in 119 districts (according to former prime minister Manmohan Singh), including the Naxalite, Naga and Mizo rebellions, the latter two in areas adjacent to China. With millions of Muslims and ‘lower’ caste Hindus alienated by BJP-RSS inspired discrimination and violence, India is also fertile ground for civil chaos.

Despite the grave implications of the Indo-US alliance, Pakistan should exercise strategic patience. India is on the wrong side of history. It is building alliances with distant powers, the US and Israel, both of which are disliked by the people if not all Muslim regimes. Pakistan has the opportunity of building strong ties not only with China but also Russia, Iran, and others across Eurasia who will be part of the Belt and Road initiative, which is likely to have a more profound impact on regional peace and prosperity than the US military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.

Faced with India’s growing militarisation, Pakistan’s primary objective is to ensure ‘full spectrum deterrence’ against India. The successful test of the short-range Nasr missile is an important step. Islamabad desperately needs a clear, active, national Kashmir strategy to support and sustain the indigenous Kashmiri freedom movement. There is no longer any downside to raising the Kashmir dispute formally in the UN Security Council and other international forums, including the International Court of Justice.

Despite its imbalanced posture, there is no point in a confrontation with the US. In the immediate future, Pakistan may need to reach tactical ‘accommodations’ with the US on Afghanistan in exchange for its active support to end Indian-inspired terrorism in Pakistan.

Over time, the ‘correlation of forces’ in the region will change. India’s friendship with Russia and Iran will erode. (Ayatollah Khamanei mentioned Kashmir twice of late). India may blunder into a conflict with China. Its alliance with the US may erode if India proves reluctant to actually confront China, loosen its links to Iran and Russia or to open its market to US trade and investment.

Meanwhile, Pakistan should continue to ask Washington: would not US interests in Asia be better served by cooperation rather than confrontation with China? Do you really want to step into the Thucydides Trap?

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source:Modi’s American embrace
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2017
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