New Age Islam Edit Bureau
23 February 2016
Afghan Peace Process: Desperation versus Strength
By Davood Moradian
Kurds: Pawns and Kings in Syria and Iraq?
By Sharif Nashashibi
Only the Lebanese Can Save Lebanon Now
By Faisal J. Abbas
Hezbollah Uses The Palestinian Cause As A Pretext
By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Afghan Peace Process: Desperation Versus Strength
By Davood Moradian
22 Feb 2016
On February 23, diplomats from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States will meet in Kabul for the fourth round of talks aimed at bringing respite to a troubled land. This quadrilateral process is the latest effort in the long and arduous journey towards an Afghan peace settlement. The pursuit of peace is almost as old as the Afghan conflict itself.
In January 1980, the United Nations General Assembly called for a political settlement to the conflict, which has never been finalised over the past 36 years. Despite the overwhelming consensus on the need for a peaceful Afghanistan, there remain fundamental questions over the shape of an eventual settlement and the way forward.
Push For Afghanistan Peace Talks amid Taliban Resurgence
The quadrilateral process is overshadowed by Washington's war-weariness, Kabul's desperation, Beijing's ambitious geo-economic regional projects and the overconfidence of Pakistani generals in the Taliban's military prowess.
Attaining consensus for an eventual settlement and for the principles on which it is based are the key requirements for success. To this end, there has to be greater efforts to reach an understanding on the nature of the Afghan conflict, before agreeing on a conflict resolution roadmap.
At this stage, Beijing sees the Afghan conflict as a typical civil war, a position that is closer to some United States pundits and British diplomats who describe the Afghan conflict as a tribal warfare among the unruly Afghans.
Meanwhile, Pakistan blames the conflict on the Pashtuns' exclusion from power, a grievance fuelled by India. The Afghan government characterises it essentially as a war imposed by Pakistan, whereby poor, illiterate and rural Taliban are being manipulated by Islamabad.
Pakistan's Taliban strategy is transform the group into a political and military entity with total control over a number of Afghan provinces, similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This would mean a de facto partition of Afghanistan.
Among the Afghans, there are also divergent views on the nature of the Taliban. While there is an overwhelming consensus about the primary role of Pakistan in the Afghan conflict, there is less clarity and agreement over the degree of Taliban independence and responsibility.
There is hardly any sympathetic voices among non-Pashtun political elites about the Taliban, whereas the views among a significant number of Kabul-based Pashtun political elites range from sympathy, justification and silence. Former President Hamid Karzai's favourite characterisation of the Taliban is "my upset brothers". His successor's view of them is as his "political opponents".
The Taliban apologists are mocked as "necktie-wearing Taliban". And while Afghanistan's growing civil society and democratic constituencies despise the Taliban, a large number of clerics remain silent, with the exception of a few, such as Sayyaf, a prominent Mujahidin leader and a religious scholar.
For the more informed observers, the Afghan conflict is a hybrid one, involving internal drivers (elite polarisation, weak state institutions, and drug/war economy) and external drivers (great/regional powers' geostrategic competitions, Pakistan's hegemonic objective and the rise of Islamist movements).
Therefore, a viable settlement has to address both these internal and external drivers. Pinprick solutions would only lengthening the Afghan conflict.
Embracing "democratic politics" is the only answer to elite polarisation. Neither violence nor "ethnic entitlement" should be justified as a path towards political power. Contrary to his Western lobbyists, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, continues to be haunted by his original sin, which was his failure to win a democratic mandate, thanks to Karzai's manipulation of the electoral process.
Electoral reform and the taming of his ethnic and authoritarian impulses can partially redeem Ghani. The recent warning by James Clapper, the US National Intelligence director, over the risk of a "political breakdown during 2016" in Afghanistan reinforced the primacy of political stability over any hasty peace process.
Despite efforts to create a new political identity, political space and legitimacy for the Taliban, the group after all is an integral part of Islamist radical movements, and incompatible with constitutional and democratic politics. It meets every definition of terrorism.
Pakistan's Taliban strategy is to transform the group into a political and military entity with total control over a number of Afghan provinces, similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This would mean a de facto partition of Afghanistan.
Washington and Beijing seem to be comfortable with such an arrangement, as long as their core geostrategic and geo-economics interests are safeguarded. With other Afghan political groups, however, the only viable path for Taliban's political power has to be democratic politics and mainstreaming.
However, the emergence of the latest generation of radical Islamist groups, namely Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the region, and the death of Taliban's demagogue leader Mullah Omar are changing the Taliban from a coherent, ideologically-driven military group into factions of fragmented militias.
The unending terrorist attacks in Pakistan and President Barack Obama's prediction of growing instability in Afghanistan in coming years should awaken Pakistani's military establishment to the dangers of playing with radical groups. The policy of managed instability in Afghanistan will only accelerate the crippling process of Talibanisation of Pakistan.
In addition, China's grand initiative of "One Belt, One Road" could only be realised in a peaceful neighbourhood. One also hopes that Washington has learned the harsh lesson that wars do not end on schedule, through bureaucratic benchmarks and Washington's electoral cycle.
The weariness generated by the Afghan conflict, coupled with the fear of a regional spill over similar to the Middle East, provide the necessary momentum to push for a viable peace settlement. As many other conflicts have shown, an enduring peace is only attained from the position of strength rather than desperation.
Davood Moradian is the director-general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies and former chief of programmes in President Hamid Karzai's office and chief policy adviser to Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kurds: Pawns and kings in Syria and Iraq?
By Sharif Nashashibi
22 Feb 2016
The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have enabled Kurdish forces in both countries to make significant territorial gains, with the help of weaponry and air support from various foreign powers. Besides the Iraqi government, the Kurds are the only party to the multi-layered conflicts in both countries that enjoys the support of key members from both coalitions.
The impetus behind Western military aid to Kurdish forces - besides long-standing close ties between the United States and Iraqi Kurdistan - is their reliability and organisation, making them effective against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
More recent Russian support, particularly in the form of air strikes in Syria, stems from tensions between Moscow and Ankara sparked by the latter's downing of a Russian warplane over Turkish airspace in November.
As such, the reasons for Russian support - and that of the Syrian regime - differ from those of the West in that they are meant to stick the Kurdish thorn deeper into Turkey's side, and to nurture another allied ground force against Syrian rebels.
The strategy so far is proving effective on both counts. Syrian Kurds, having initially focused on fighting ISIL, are now making gains against rebel groups in the north of the country.
This has infuriated Turkey, which says that it will not accept Syrian Kurdish control of the border, but has backed off from initial threats of a ground intervention.
However, in their fervour to support Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria, parties from both coalitions are overlooking two issues that have major regional as well as domestic implications.
While parties supporting Kurdish forces insist on the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq, that very support is emboldening separatist sentiments and actions among Kurds in both countries...
The first is the catalogue of abuses, including war crimes, committed by those forces against civilians in captured territories, documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and other organisations.
The second issue, which has potentially wider ramifications, is that while parties supporting Kurdish forces insist on the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq, that very support is emboldening separatist sentiments and actions among Kurds in both countries, who have expanded into hotly disputed territories and those beyond their traditional heartlands.
This is of great concern not just to Iraq and Syria, but also Iran and Turkey, which have sizable Kurdish minorities, and are wary of a domino effect should Syrian or Iraqi Kurds gain independence. Ankara's concerns have been heightened in recent months by the resurgence of Kurdish militancy in Turkey.
Syrian Kurds in the oil-rich northeast have had de facto autonomy since the early days of the revolution against President Bashar al-Assad. They declared autonomy in November 2013, and again in January 2014.
Referendum on Independence
This month, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, reiterated a call for a referendum on independence that he initially made in July 2014.
"It's the right of Kurdistan to achieve independence," he said at the time. "From now on, we won't hide that that's our goal. Iraq is effectively partitioned now."
The Kurdish issue is causing tensions within the US-led anti-ISIL coalition. US support for Syrian Kurdish forces has angered Turkey, a major regional ally and coalition member. Ankara, which earlier this month started shelling the same forces supported by Washington, on Sunday called on the US to give it unconditional support in this regard.
US backing of Syrian Kurdish forces has also angered rebel groups, including those directly backed by Washington.
US military support to Iraqi Kurds has caused unease in Baghdad - another major ally and coalition member - where there are suspicions that such aid may eventually be used in pursuit and defence of independence.
Moscow and Damascus see an immediate benefit in bolstering Syrian Kurdish forces. However, they may be creating a momentum that they will be unable to contain if Syrian Kurds cement or expand their autonomy, or press for independence. Rejection of either scenario is one thing that both the regime and opposition groups largely agree on.
Partnership with Assad
How will Syrian Kurdish forces square their partnership with Assad with his vow earlier this month to retake the whole country? Will they seek comfort from Moscow's rebuke of this vow as "not in accord with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is making"?
Similarly, Barzani may be banking on America's blessing for Iraqi Kurdish independence, but the US is highly unlikely to support a move that would so antagonise major allies in the region.
Heightened concerns over Kurdish nationalist ambitions, and the military support that may inadvertently realise them, may complicate and potentially hinder the fight against ISIL if the jihadist group is seen, or portrays itself, as a vanguard against those ambitions.
Just as the Kurds in Syria and Iraq have their agendas in seeking military support, so too do their benefactors in providing it. That both sides seem to be overlooking the divergences in these agendas for immediate gain is short-sighted, because such a strategy is simply putting off, and potentially aggravating, an almost inevitable clash of interests that could lead to direct conflict.
This regional game of chess being played in Syria and Iraq is all the more complex and dangerous because of the number of pieces that are both pawns and kings.
Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs.
Only The Lebanese Can Save Lebanon Now
By Faisal J. Abbas
22 February 2016
Much has been said about the tension between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, however, it was HRH Prince Turki al-Faisal who seems to have hit the nail on the head in describing the situation.
Speaking in his personal capacity yesterday in Abu Dhabi at a round table organized by the Beirut Institute, Prince Turki (who is a former ambassador and intelligence chief) said Lebanon has always been regarded as the "lung" of the Arab world.
"The problem is that this lung is now suffering from pneumonia," he elaborated.
Of course, the Saudis have long known this to be the case, and have tried on numerous occasions to boost Lebanon's immunity against Iranian militant virus Hezbollah.
In fact, the $3 billion in military and security aid (which Riyadh has just announced halting) was the last in a series of attempts to help strengthen the formal Lebanese army and police force.
It's now up to the Lebanese (and the Lebanese alone) to cut off the Iranian tentacles strangling their nation
However, ever since the assassination of Saudi-backed PM Rafiq Hariri in 2005 (which Hezbollah is formally accused of), Iran - through its loyal local agents - has been systematically demolishing all what was left of the Hariri legacy, which was aimed at rebuilding the country, restoring hope and bringing peace and prosperity to ALL Lebanese.
The last straw was when Lebanon's pro-Hezbollah Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, recently refused to support an Arab League statement denouncing Iranian meddling in the region following the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Of course, many Lebanese politicians and concerned citizens voiced their objection to the position of FM Basil, however it seems Riyadh is now convinced that there is no way to help Lebanon unless it decides to help itself first.
A Picture Is A Thousand Words
Critics will probably ask why Saudi’s interference is being painted positively, while Iran’s is being portrayed as a destabilizing force.
Well, it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and those who are in doubt must only revert to an image which recently went viral that really does say it all.
The picture compares a prosperous Lebanon which was rebuilt following the Taif Accord (a Saudi initiative which brought an end to the devastating 15-year civil war), to the country which was left to rot under piles of uncollected garbage last year.
Indeed, Lebanon - once dubbed the Switzerland of the Orient - is now a shadow of its former self. Thanks to Iranian meddling, it has failed to agree on a president since 2014, and continues to have a defunct parliament and a crippled Prime Minster.
One could argue whether or not the cutting off of Saudi aid might risk Lebanon further leaning towards Tehran, however, the reality is that it's now up to the Lebanese (and the Lebanese alone) to cut off the Iranian tentacles strangling their nation.
However, as many Saudis would tell you, the recent escalation is in no way an act against its population, or the "Lebanese who played a major part in the building of Saudi Arabia" (as Prince Turki described them). This was further evident in today’s Saudi cabinet statement which stressed that the kingdom will continue to support the Lebanese people.
Indeed, Riyadh was both gracious and wise not to lend its ears to the reckless comments made by the pro-Iranian lobbyists in Lebanon, for it knows far too well that these opportunists will be the only ones to prosper from a complete breakdown of the relationship.
As for the cutting of military aid, it most definitely should be understood the way it was intended: "You can't have the cake, and eat it too!"
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society.
Hezbollah Uses the Palestinian Cause as A Pretext
By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
23 February 2016
Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah uses every trick in the book in an effort to cement his militia’s credibility within the Sunni Arab world and to justify its existence. His speeches are deliberately crafted to con Arabs, specifically Palestinians, into thinking he is the hero who will defend Jerusalem and free the occupied territories.
Not content with turning Lebanon into an Iranian vassal state, using the pretence he puts Lebanese interests first even though he has triggered war with Israel, turned his guns on his compatriots, and dragged his country into the Syrian conflict. Nasrallah has cynically ramped up his pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rhetoric to lure Palestinians and their sympathisers into his camp.
As several Middle East commentators have noted, he is out to win a place in the Palestinian good books with anti-Israel threats at a time when he is viewed throughout the region as a betrayer for propping up the brutal Bashar Al-Assad regime.
Nasrallah’s latest rant boasts that Hezbollah has the capacity “to cover the entirety of Israel with missiles” adding that the militia would be the victor in any coming war with nuclear-armed Israel. He was even more specific concerning his plans. An ammonia plant in Haifa would be targeted in order to cause a nuclear bomb type explosion.
Those threats are mere flimflam, empty of substance, because, if carried out, Israel would adopt a scorched earth policy in retaliation while every Palestinian would have a target placed on his back. To prove how nonsensical they are in the event Israel were in danger of being obliterated, no American president would sit on his hands witnessing its destruction. That is just a fact which this big-mouthed paper tiger knows only too well.
Nasrallah has cynically ramped up his pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rhetoric to lure Palestinians and their sympathisers into his camp
Until now, neither Iran nor Hezbollah have done anything tangible to aid the Palestinians other than throw them a few dollars and low-grade missiles. They merely hold out the freeing of Jerusalem as a recruitment carrot, one that offers hope to Muslims and, of course, Palestinians in areas where hope is becoming a rare commodity.
He vows to support the Palestinians year-upon-year and so far he has done nothing tangible to that effect. Instead, he has ordered attacks against Saudi Arabia; one example is the attack on the Khobar Towers residential complex near Dhahran carried out by Hezbollah’s branch in the Kingdom. Moreover, Cairo alleges that Hezbollah, together with other groups, murdered guards to release tens of thousands of prisoners during the 2011 revolution, many of them convicted terrorists.
I have advocated for a Palestinian state throughout my adult life. I feel deeply for the suffering of the Palestinians and their frustration in the absence of even a small chink of light. I understand why a small minority may be tempted to grasp at Nasrallah’s straws, but have no doubt that they are being set up for disappointment.
I am sure President Mahmoud Abbas understands Hezbollah’s ruthless game. I do not doubt his patriotism for a second, but I do wonder at his silence. He should dissuade his people from being fooled by Hezbollah with propagandist statements designed to attract recruits who will no doubt be farmed-out to fight elsewhere.
Nasrallah’s agenda is clear. Last year, he called upon all Palestinians and their supporters to rally behind the Islamic Republic of Iran on such duplicitous reasoning as “Iran’s enemies are the enemies of Jerusalem”. He was later to claim Iran and its backing of “resistance movements” was “the only hope left for this region, after God.”
When he is not thumping his chest against Israel, he is slamming Saudi Arabia for its “aggression” against Yemen, which is a legitimate, lawful intervention carried out to reinstate the democratically-elected government and to preserve the Kingdom’s security.
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Minister of Justice Ashraf Rifi resigned his post saying Nasrallah should be “ashamed” of his attacks on Saudi Arabia while describing Hezbollah as “a mere tool” of Iran. “Hezbollah is turning Lebanon into an operations room to spread Iranian hegemony”, he said. Never a truer statement has been said. That is exactly what he wants Palestine to become – an Iranian puppet enclave.
Hezbollah has been bleeding popularity among Palestinians, many of whom were outraged when in December 2015 he spoke against the backdrop of a map of Palestine superimposed with the Iranian flag. That speaks volumes as to his hidden agenda. He does not care about the Palestinians; his interests lie with extending the so-called Shiite Crescent.
Walking the Walk
I would urge President Abbas to encourage our Palestinian brothers to reject Nasrallah’s blatant lies designed to hijack their just cause and he should emphasise strongly that Hezbollah talks the talk but has never once walked the walk. The U.S. may have scratched Hezbollah from its threat list while it was courting Iran to sign up to the nuclear deal, but history does not lie. It remains a terrorist organisation with both Arab and Western blood staining its hands.
I would also counsel Lebanon’s Palestinian residents to assist those of their Lebanese friends struggling to reclaim their country from Hezbollah’s domination which is alienating Saudi Arabia, the majority of Gulf states and other predominately Sunni countries. Hezbollah’s control of the country both politically, diplomatically and militarily has resulted in Saudi Arabia freezing $4 billion set to bolster the Lebanese army and domestic security services because it cannot continue indirectly funding its enemy’s proxy militia.
Palestinians, wake up! You are being played. Disassociate yourselves from Hezbollah and its master. Reject false partners for those who have stood shoulder to shoulder with you rather than those with silvery tongues and anti-Sunni agendas. If you let him, Nasrallah’s weasel words will lead you down a hellish path with no return.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.