Prem Shankar Jha

RBI governor Raghuram Rajan needs to halve India’s lending rates and allow companies to get out of debt in order to revive growth and undo five years of flawed policymaking

File photo of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. Credit: IANS

File photo of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. Credit: IANS

India’s tottering economy has reached a fork in the road.

On April 5, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will announce its policy for the next quarter. What it decides will determine whether the economy will recover or die.

For five years, since mid-2011, industry has been begging the government for a cut in interest rates, but the Reserve Bank of India has been adamant about keeping them up. As a result, the corporate giants have migrated to more benign pastures abroad, taking close to a hundred billion dollars with them. Indian industry has therefore languished, growing at rates below 3% a year – the lowest the country has ever known.

This dark epoch may at last be coming to an end.

It is now a foregone conclusion that the RBI will bring interest rates down. Earlier this week, finance minister Arun Jaitley told the media that what he wants is what everyone wants—a cut in rates. “I have done everything that [the RBI] wanted me to do. I have held the deficit at 3.9%. And I have brought down the deposit rates on provident funds and small savings. This will make it possible for the commercial banks to bring down their lending rates, without losing deposits to small savings accounts.”

RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has also indirectly signalled a rate cut by admitting that official estimates of GDP growth are almost certainly too high.

The question on everyone’s mind is how much the lending rates will be brought down. The markets have assumed a cut of 50 basis points, i.e, half a percent, in key policy interest rates. If commercial banks pass this, and earlier cuts, down fully, the lending rates could come down by more than one percent. In expectation of this, the Sensex has already re-crossed the 25,000 mark, and will doubtless rise further.

But will a 1%, or even 1.5%, cut in lending rates suffice to re-ignite economic growth?

The blunt answer is “No.” Indian enterprises are so deeply mired in debt that all this will do is prolong their death throes.

Where we are now

To understand why this is the case let us take a quick look at where the country stands:

A year ago there were Rs. 880,000 crores worth of “stalled” investment projects – which is just a polite way of describing projects that the investors had abandoned because they felt that carrying on was throwing good money away. Only a handful of these projects have been revived in the past year, and others have joined their number.

Not surprisingly, therefore, by the end of 2015, public sector and private banks had piled up a total of Rs. 400,000 crores of bad debt.

A lot more debt was on its way to “going bad,” for 415 out of 2300 large companies, heavily invested in infrastructure, were not making enough profit to pay the interest on their debt.

Today nine out of India’s dozen steel plants are insolvent and outstanding. Companies like Jaypee and Gammon India have piled up debts in excess of Rs. 33,000 and Rs. 15,000 crores respectively that they are unable to repay.

One by one, companies that had become brand ambassadors for India in the fiercely competitive global market have begun to fail.

Kingfisher Airlines, which had set a new standard of comfort and service in economy class flying, was the first to go, and it has gone all the way to the bankruptcy court. It was followed by Suzlon, which saved itself only by selling out to a foreign competitor and, in effect, ceasing to be Indian.

Jet Airways has done the same and become a subsidiary of Etihad airlines. Today, United Breweries (rechristened United Spirits), which had made its Kingfisher brand of beer synonymous with international cricket, is going the same way.

Unitech, one of India’s largest construction companies, has gone broke and its owners have spent time in jail before being bailed out. Behind Unitech is a queue of other construction companies inching towards a similar fate.

So far, like a caring undertaker, the Modi government has done everything it can to make these companies’ passage to the other world less painful. Loans have been ‘re-structured’ – a euphemism for having repayment conditions eased on a case-by-case basis – and laws have been changed to make the dissolution of bankrupt companies easier and quicker.

But since the Modi government has done nothing to change the basic conditions in the market that have driven these companies into crisis, the re-structured loans are also speedily souring.

The first step to economic revival

Can this economy be revived?

There is nothing magical or secret about what needs to be done.

The first step is to halve India’s brutally high lending rates from the present 11 to 15%, and allow all companies with a positive operating surplus, i.e, a higher current revenue than operating cost, to refinance their loans at the new rates of interest. For a very large number of companies, this will suffice to make them solvent once more.

To those who have uncritically accepted the quarter percent rate cuts that Governor Raghuram Rajan has been willing to concede so far, this cure may sound too radical.

But it isn’t. In 1999, the interest rate I was receiving on my five year bank deposits was 13.5%. By 2003, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and RBI Governor Bimal Jalan had brought it down to 6.5%. But the economy did not suffer because the economy was growing at an 8.2% (genuine) rate of growth. And I did not suffer because I had shifted my money into equity shares and multiplied my capital by 220 percent.

So where is the downside in this solution?

Today’s financial pundits never tire of reminding us that this makes for the revival of “inflationary expectations.” The surge in demand that will follow a sharp lowering of interest rates will, they fear, cause the economy to “overheat” and push up not only prices but also India’s balance of payments deficit. “Real” interest rates, they maintain, must therefore always be “positive,” i.e, above the rate of inflation. With the cost of living still rising at 5% and the REPO – the rate the RBI charges commercial banks that borrow from it – at 6.75% there is only limited room for a further cut.

This reasoning is, to put it bluntly, pure gobbledegook. To investors it is not the REPO but the borrowing rate that matters. Today, the prime lending rate of the commercial banks is 3% higher than the REPO rate, and the average borrowing rate is 4 to 4.5% higher. So, there is plenty of room for a sharp cut.

Waiting for something to grow. Credit: Shome Basu

Waiting for something to grow. Credit: Shome Basu

Misplaced theories

In any case, why must the real interest rate be positive?

China has financed its explosive growth for thirty years by paying negative real rates of interest on bank deposits. The downside of this – a huge excess of capacity in infrastructure and heavy industry – is only surfacing now, but has any Chinese person said, or written, that he or she wishes the growth had not taken place?

By the same token, for more than three decades, South Korea systematically used a variety of financial instruments, including negative real rates of interest, to foster the growth of private and state owned enterprises that it felt had the capacity to take on the European, American and Japanese multi-nationals that dominated the world market.

The truth is that “inflation targeting” and “positive real rates” are products of the neo-liberal dogma spawned by Milton Friedman and the Chicago school. These ideas have gained their popularity because they have served to legitimise the dominance of finance capital over industry in the de-industrialising western world. But they are, in the end, only dogma. And in India, they have been misapplied and have caused us to lose a crucial decade of economic growth – a decade that we may never recover.

Kaushik Basu, who was Rajan’s predecessor as Chief Economic Adviser in the ministry of finance, has summed up the worthlessness of dogma in his latest book An Economist in the Real World, as follows:

“One thing that experts know and non-experts do not, is that experts know less than non-experts think they do. Take for instance monetary and fiscal policies. Decades of careful research have given us important insights into these. But on many large questions we have little more than rules of thumb: if there is stagnation lower interest rates and inject liquidity; if there is inflation raise policy rates and the cash reserve ratios of the banks….

The reason these …work, at least tolerably…is evolution. Over time the wrong moves get penalised and their users either learn by watching others, or disappear themselves. In brief we get our monetary and fiscal policies right …in the same way as birds get their nest building right.”

Basu’s simile sums up everything that has gone wrong in policymaking during the past five years.

Rajan and his predecessor, Subba Rao, abandoned the wholesale price index and switched to using the cost of living index as a measure of excess demand, and imposed a high interest rate regime on the economy. However, what the cost of living index was measuring was not an excess of demand, but shortages of supply caused by the growing failure of the state to provide essential services like health, housing and education, and state government-administered increases in the price of foodstuffs, agricultural raw materials, transport fuels and power.

Today, every index of inflation – wholesale prices, the GDP deflator and the core rate of inflation – is zero or negative. So, either the RBI governor must learn from his mistakes and bring the interest rate down to half the present level over the next six to nine months, or he must “disappear.”

The second step towards revival

Sharply lowering the interest rate is only the first step towards revival.

The second step is for the government to help companies that are deeply mired in debt to be saved, in this way: convert a sufficient part of their debt into equity and then itself buy enough of the shares to instil confidence in the market that it does not intend to let the company in question fail. Here Jaitley could follow Basu’s second dictum – learn by watching others.

The shining example of success is President Obama’s rescue of General Motors (GM).

In 2009, when GM and Chrysler were about to declare bankruptcy, the US treasury spent $49.5 billion to purchase 500 million shares of GM, $1.5 billion to bail out some key ancillaries, and $3 billion in subsidies to make Americans replace old cars with new fuel efficient ones.

Not only was GM saved but three years later, the treasury was able to sell the 500 million shares to the public for $39 billion. What is more, it saved 1.2 million jobs and also earned $39.4 billion in taxes.

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Israel has been joined by Saudi Arabia openly and Turkey covertly, in opposing the rehabilitation of Iran. Here is what is What I wrote about. A shorter verion appeared in  The Indian Express.  

“The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran – EU nuclear  agreement is  proving short-lived. Republicans in the US Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it.  Hilary Clinton, the democratic Presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted ‘at once’.

But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement he warned the American public in three successive speeches that it would threaten the survival of Israel and  increase the risk of  ‘a horrific war’. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of  misinformation.

Netanyahu unveiled  the first at the UN General Assembly in 2012. It was a large cartoon of a bomb with a red line across it, just below the mouth. This was how close Iran was  to making a nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that  Mossad, his own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.

Mossad probably knew what a US Congress Research Service report revealed two months later:  that  although Iran already had enough 5 percent, or low-enriched,  Uranium in August 2012 to build  5 to 7 bombs,  it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of   20 percent to meet the requirement for even one  bomb.  The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because  Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it ‘abruptly’ in 2003.

Netanyahu’s second deception  is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions till it gives up trying to acquire not only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. But he knows that no government in Iran can agree to this. So what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative– a military attack on Iran.

What is more, since he also knows  that  destroying  Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future he does not want the strike to end till it has  destroyed Iran’s infrastructure ( as Israel destroyed Southern Lebanon’s in 2006) ,  its industry,  its research facilities and its science universities.

He knows that Israel cannot undertake  such a vast operation without the Americans.  But there is one stumbling block—Barak Obama, who has learned from his recent  experience that, to put it mildly,  America’s  interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the middle east. So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the US Congress to insert clauses in the Treaty draft  that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of   the spike in paranoia that will follow to  push the west into an attack on Iran.

He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the US, Saudi Arabia. At the end of February Saudi Arabia  quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance  they will need to fly. And less than four weeks later, on March 26,  it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been  relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of  Iran.

This is a substantial oversimplification , and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship. Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias.  The Houthis,  who make up 30 percent of  Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practiced in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit  a  region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of  Yemen, and  three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran, and Asir,  that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934.  The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis  have fought since the 1960s  have not been sectarian, or even  against  the  Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share.

The timing of  Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant  portrayal of   the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked  Sana’a, the capital, last September. So why did Saudi Arabia wait till now before sending its bombers in?

Iran has kept  out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the UN Security Council,  the immediate resignation of the UN special envoy for Yemen Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the  conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by Saleh’s successor,   Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in  Teheran. Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s  sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect  for  Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore  Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift Obama  needs to tell his people precisely how far,  under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the US, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the US to push it  into   actions that have imperiled its own security in the middle east.

Instead of dwelling on how the treaty will make it close-to-impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry but carry out  at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.

Lastly the White house needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know  the price they will pay if  they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back all and more of the sanctions they are under,  but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.

Finally, should a  military strike, whether deserved or undeserved,   destroy Iran’s economy,  it will add tens of thousands  of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and  the other failed states and regions of the world.    The security that  Netanyahu claims it will bring, will turn out to be  a chimera.

  

 

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Nothing has stirred up so much controversy in the US as Obama’s U -turn on Iran . The following article explains some of the important causes behind it. There were also, doubtless, other considerations,but these are less well knwn.

GLOBAL POLITICS AT A TURNING POINT

The nuclear agreement announced in Lausanne on April 2, has made history but  the wolves have begun to gather. Israel’s Prime minister , Binyamin Netanyahu has called it a ‘historic mistake” that threatens the survival of Iran and could lead to a ‘horrific war’. He has been joined by Saudi Arabia and, less vocally,  by  other sunni sheikhdoms in the Gulf.

Their opposition stems from their   thwarted ambitions, for the most cursory examination shows that the agreement is too tightly constructed to leave any loophole for Iran to crawl through into nuclear weapons status.  So if Iran entered the negotiations with the intention of keeping open cracks in it that would permit it to produce  nuclear weapons in the future, it has already lost.

 

President Obama has been at pains to point out that the agreement is based on technology, not trust, but he would not even have started down the diplomatic road   had he not been at least half-way satisfied when he and Rouhani first met at the UN in September 2013 that Iran did not want to become a nuclear weapons power.

Iran’s Foreign Minister explained why in a widely attended talk in Delhi  in January last year. The big powers, he said, remain trapped in a zero sum paradigm, in which if one party to a dispute gained, the other had to have lost. But in the tautly interdependent world of today there are no more zero-sum outcomes, for the damage any conflict does inevitably far exceeds the benefits it was expected to bestow on the initiators.  The way to resolve disputes is to find common ground that leaves both sides net gainers.   This could be found in allowing Iran to develop nuclear technology but not nuclear weapons.

This argument resonated with Obama because  he was acutely aware of   how badly the succession of   preemptive military interventions since the end of the Cold War had  weakened the US and stripped it of   its moral authority.  “Why is it,” he asked reporters while   on a tour of Asia  in April 2014 “that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and our budget?”[i]

But what had completed his disillusionment  was the way in which some of the US’  closest allies had abused its trust and manipulated its policies to  serve their purposes without sparing a thought for how that  affected the US’ security. At the head of this list were  Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

 

Obama got his first shock  on November 28, 2012 when a Jabhat al Nusra  unit north of Aleppo brought down a Syrian army helicopter  with  a Russian SA-7, a   man-portable Surface-to-Air missile. A day that the west had been dreading had  finally arrived: heavy weapons that the US and EU had expressly proscribed because they could bring down civilian aircraft anywhere in the world, had somehow reached Al Qaeda’s hands.

The White House tried to pretend that that rebels had obtained a single missile  from   a captured Syrian air base but,   fed up with the  suppression and distortion of the intelligence they were providing, intelligence agencies   leaked it to the Washington Post that no fewer than 40  SAM missile batteries with launchers, along with hundreds of tonnes of other heavy weapons had been bought from the supposedly US- friendly government in Libya,   by Qatar and transported to the rebels via Turkey. Saudi Arabia had done the same through Jordan.

He received  his second shock at the next ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Marrakesh three weeks later   when not only  the   ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that the US had grouped under a newly formed Syrian Military Council three months earlier, but  all  its Sunni Muslim allies, including Turkey, condemned a ban the US had put on the Jabhat Al Nusra,  while Britain and France remained silent.

But Obama received his  third, and worst, shock nine months later when, two days before the US was scheduled to bomb Syria the British informed him that soil samples collected from the site of the Ghouta gas attack on Augut 21 2013, and analyzed  at their  CBW research laboratories at Porton Down, had shown that the Sarin used in the attack could not possibly  have been prepared by the Syrian army. Had Obama gone through with the attack it would have made him ten times worse than George Bush in history’s eyes.

Only then did Obama fully realize the scale  of the conspiracy that had been hatched to pull the US into a direct attack  on Syria. The first  piece was put in place at the end of August when  the highly reputed German magazine Der Speigel, reported, “quoting several eyewitnesses”,   that Syria had tested  delivery systems for chemical warheads   at a chemical weapons research centre near Aleppo in August, in the presence of  Iranian experts.[ii]

The wealth of detail in a report from an area where no western newspaper has a  correspondent  suggested that the story, while not necessarily untrue, was  planted by an intelligence agency. But one person who took it very seriously was Israel’s Prime minister,  Netanyahu, who  sent  emissaries to Amman twice, in October and November, to request Jordan’s  permission to overfly its territory to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons facilities[iii].

This was followed by another  serious  allegation that the Syrian army had used Sarin   gas on March 19, 2013 at Khan al Assal, north of Aleppo, and in a suburb of Damascus against its opponents. Two more allegations of smaller attacks in April followed.

In May 2013, Turkish Prime minister Erdogan visited Obama, accompanied by his Intelligence chief, and pressed him almost rudely to live up to his “red line” commitment to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons. But by then US intelligence knew, and had conveyed to Obama,  that it was  Turkey’s secret service, MIT, that had been working with the Nusra front to set up facilities to  manufacture Sarin, and had obtained two kilograms of the deadly gas for it from eastern Europe, with funds provided by Qatar[iv]. Obama therefore remained unmoved.

Israel had also launched a vigorous campaign to persuade  US lawmakers that the vast majority of the Free Syrian Army were moderate Sunnis who had risen in desperation against Assad’s dictatorial Shia’a regime.  Jihadis made up  only a fraction, and  even the few who were there  had been drawn to Syria by  a desire to protect its people from Assad’s brutal excesses.

But who these ‘moderate’ FSA were came to light on May 13, 2013 when Senator John McCain paid a secret visit to Idlib on the Syrian-Turkish border to meet them.   Photos and videos posted  on the web, and resurrected after the rise of ISIS, showed that two  of the five leaders whom he  met  were  Mohammed Nour and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim,    spokesman and a key member respectively of  ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the Jabhat Al Nusra[v].  The third was none other than Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,  self-appointed Caliph of ISIS.

The visit had been organized by  a Washington-based organisation, the Syria Emergency Task Force that proudly claimed to have lobbied two thirds of the members of the US Congress in less than two years ( and published an article in the Wall Street Journal without informing it that the author was an employee of a lobbying organization) to  persuade them that the FSA were moderate Sunnis.

When journalists began to investigate its antecedents after  the McCain videos went viral on the internet, they found a deep connection between it and  AIPAC.  When Kerry announced the decision to bomb Syria, Israeli officials could no longer conceal their satisfaction. On August 27, alongside  Kerry’s denunciation of the Ghouta gas attack the right wing daily, Times Of Israel,  published three stories quoting Defence officials, titled  “Israeli Intelligence seen as central to US case against Syria[vi]; ‘IDF intercepted Syrian regime chatter on chemical attack’;[vii] and significantly, “ For Israel US response on Syria may be a harbinger for Iran” [viii].

The hard “information” that had tilted the balance was contained in the second  story: A retired Mossad agent who refused to be named, told another  German magazine, Focus, that  a squad specializing in wire-tapping within the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit had intercepted a conversation between high-ranking regime officials discussing the use of chemical agents at the time of the attack.

 

Obama unveiled his decision to reverse the Bush doctrine in his graduation day speech at West point on May 28, 2014.  “Here’s my bottom line”, he said:  “America must always lead on the world stage. … But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”His  choice of venue  was not accidental, for it was here that George Bush had announced the US’ first strike security doctrine 12 years earlier.

The Nuclear deal with Iran is the first tangible outcome  of the volte face. If no new hitches arise during the drafting of the agreement,   the world will begin to retreat from the  spreading chaos into which it has descended in  the past two decades. But to secure its future Obama needs to demonstrate the benefits that will flow from it well before June 30, if not earlier.

The place where he can do this almost immediately is in the battle against ISIS, for  the agreement has opened the way for involving not only  Iran but Syria fully  in the war against it. But Netanyahu  knows this, and believes that success there  will hasten Iran’s  acceptance as the pre-eminent power in the region.

 

He has therefore thrown caution to the winds and put Israel’s entire relationship with its patron, the US, on the line in an all-out attempt to scuttle the agreement with Iran in the US Congress. In their 2006 book The Israel Lobby in American Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt have described in painstaking detail how Israel has manipulated  US policy in the middle east through AIPAC and other Zionist think tanks and foundations with an utter disregard for its interests and security. Those who have read the book know  how slender is the thread on which  the future of  the middle east and, tangentially, of  South Asia hangs.

[i] http://www.thenation.com/article/181476/why-hillary-clinton-wrong-about-obamas-foreign-policy

[ii] Reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz  On  September 17, 2012.   http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/report-syria-tested-chemical-weapons-delivery-systems-in-august-1.465402

[iii] Reported by Haaretz on December 3, 2012.

[iv] Hersh was told this by two sources, one of whom claimed he had been told by Tom Donilon then Obama’s National Security Adviser , after he left his job. The second was a Turkish official who corroborated the story to a US official. London Review of books 8-17 April. Pp 21-24.

[v] Abu Ibrahim was recognized in one of the photos of the meeting posted by Beirut’s main English and Arabic newspaper the Daily Star.

[vi] http://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-intelligence-seen-as-central-to-us-case-against-syria/

[vii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-intercepted-syrian-regime-chatter-on-chemical-attack/

[viii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/for-israel-us-response-on-syria-may-be-harbinger-for-iran/

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Shortly after posting my article on how government formation in Kashmir could promote better India-Pakistan relations, I read an article by a distinguished former Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. I felt that this needed to be shared with a wider audience in India. Hence this post:

The need to rethink, radically

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi


A state of “no war, no peace”, with a neighbour several times our size provides no context to pursue counterterrorism policies. That too against organisations we have ben using as proxies and which have done us no end of harm diplomatically and domestically.

 

Another all-parties conference; a dash to Kabul; a rage of hangings; a 20-point National Action Plan to succeed the still-born Nacta and NISP; a committee for every point of the NAP; subcommittees for every committee; an overall oversight committee led by the prime minister who proclaims zero tolerance; a defining moment; a do-or-die challenge; an unending jihad against jihadis; eternal cooperation with the military which is invited to discharge his responsibilities; military courts of dubious value and still more dubious constitutionality.
“Democratic” political leaders who until recently were locked in mortal combat are now united in complicit support for a  “soft coup” and a resurrection of the doctrine of necessity.
The Supreme Court judges realising the gravity of the situation met under the chairmanship of the chief justice to assess how the prosecution of those accused of terrorism could be prioritised and completed expeditiously. They have, accordingly, agreed on an eight-point plan. Their plan has been summarily shoved aside by the 20-point plan. So much for the rule of law! Will the Supreme Court now accept amendments to the Constitution that are against its “basic structure” and clear intent and purpose? The superior judiciary is not incompetent. It has been impeded by those who would now supersede it.
There has been no collective and public (civil and military) leadership apology to the bereaved families and the nation. No acknowledgement of responsibility — indeed guilt — for bringing about a state of affairs in the country that directly and indirectly made the atrocity possible, if not likely. How can anyone say “this is a watershed moment” or “we have at last turned the corner”? Our 9/11, no less, have been so many self-inflicted tragedies in our short history including the fall of Dhaka, military surrender and the break-up of the country. There has been the loss of the Siachen Glacier and the fiasco of Kargil. There has been the intermittent war in Balochistan over decades. There were unprincipled deals ceding control in a number of Fata areas to dangerous militants.
These militants have become today’s monsters responsible for the school atrocity and murder and mayhem of every kind in Pakistan. There has been Abbottabad leading to national humiliation and isolation abroad.
Have we responded to all this criminal impunity with a greater concern for national security, governance and leadership? Why, or rather how will it be any different this time? Well, because enough is enough! Our cup of patience runneth over! The leopard will at last change its spots. Inshallah! Indeed, we have a plan for it. Mashallah!
We know the history of inquiry commissions in Pakistan. Even so, why has our suddenly “united” civil and military leadership not immediately sought to “break the mould” by establishing a genuinely independent, repeat independent, and competent commission to inquire into all aspects of how December 16 came to pass? Such an inquiry should, needless to say, seek to ascertain who bore the greatest responsibility for the political and security milieu, as well as the specific lead-up circumstances, including lapses, that resulted in the tragedy. It should make a meaningful and comprehensive set of concise, relevant and mutually reinforcing policy recommendations that are continuously monitored and reported upon to the nation on a weekly basis by our “born-again” leadership.
Counterterrorism in Pakistan has to be part and parcel of a comprehensive state and, indeed, societal transformation process. Yes, this is a longer term effort. But given our truly rotten circumstances, unless our action plan is embedded in a simultaneous commencement of this longer-term and much bigger project, it will lose direction, momentum and credibility very rapidly.
Solemn assurances to the contrary are rhetorical and meaningless because outside this broader transformation context they cannot be credible. This credibility of our counterterrorism commitment will also need to manifest itself in our foreign policy.
Take Afghanistan. Unless we deny the Afghan Taliban and their various cohorts and networks safe havens, sanctuaries and cross-border supply routes on our territory, how do we expect our commitments to President Ashraf Ghani and his government to be taken seriously? How would we play an acceptable role in a peacemaking and political reconciliation process in Afghanistan if the government in Kabul has grave reservations about our reliability as a partner?
If the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan are viable inside Afghanistan without our assistance we can still play a constructive role in facilitating reconciliation without seeking to use them as a check on India’s influence. If a terror-prone Afghan Taliban once again takes over Afghanistan, with or without our deniable assistance, it will be the TTP and not us who will gain “strategic depth”.
Take India. We need to have a predictable working relationship with it despite our continuing and significant differences on Kashmir and other issues. We will need to develop and implement modalities for managing our differences on Kashmir and building essential bilateral and regional cooperation to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
A state of “no war, no peace” with a neighbour several times our size provides no context in which to pursue counterterrorism policies against organisations we have been prone to use as ‘proxies’, and which have done us no end of harm diplomatically and domestically.
Unless we radically rethink our external policy strategies how will we develop a credible counterterrorism policy and transform our economy and society? There is no indication of any of this in the national action plan. Will we finally do what we say and dismantle the whole infrastructure of terror inside Pakistan? Will we begin to rationalise our India and Afghanistan policies and come across as credible to ourselves and the international community?
In memory of our lost angels:
You were the faces of tomorrow
Our living dreams of today.
May you help transcend our sorrow
May you abide and show the way.

Published in Dawn from Karachi and The Tribune from Chandigarh.The writer is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

 

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Contrary to a widely held belief in India, peace on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has always been relative. In 2011, when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there were 61 incidents of firing from the two sides of the border. There was a similar number in the first ten months of 2012. But the exchanges of fire in October this year have been qualitatively different. Not only have these seen the heaviest bombardments that villagers can remember, but most of it has been by India. In a single day, October 9, Indian forces fired more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistani Kashmir. This was preceded by a week of heavy firing from both sides that, by Indian estimates, has killed 35 civilians in POK and 20 in J&K, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

It has been different for three reasons: first, although it too may have started as a local exchange of fire in August, unlike the myriad exchanges of yesteryear it has not been allowed to remain local. Instead, in a manner disturbingly similar to the way the 150 year-old local dispute over the Babri masjid in Faizabad was politicized by the BJP in the 1980s, the Modi government has chosen to read a new aggressiveness in Nawaz Sharif’s government, born out of a change of policy towards India. Second, instead of relying on diplomacy to straighten things out, the Modi government has deliberately chosen coercion. Not only has India’s response to Pakistani firing been disproportionate, but the Modi government has not bothered to hide its desire to teach Pakistan a lesson. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses”, a senior Indian Home Ministry official told Reuters.” The Modi government has decisively closed the doors to a return to diplomacy. Not only will it not talk to Pakistan till it stops provoking India through its violations of the LoC, but it will not do so till Pakistan acknowledges that Kashmir is “an integral part of India”. Third: unlike the UPA and Vajpayee governments, Mr. Modi has not hesitated to make domestic political capital out of an aggressive response to Pakistan. At a pre-election political rally in Mumbai on October 9, he proclaimed “it is the enemy that is screaming …. the enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” “The Enemy”; note the choice of phrase. An aggressive a response to Pakistan would be justified if there was no doubt that it had opened unprovoked fire on Indian border posts first. But we have only our own government’s word for this. Pakistan has stoutly denied opening fire first and Islamabad has lied far more often and habitually than New Delhi. But the Indian media have treated South Block’s press releases as gospel without once publishing a Pakistani refutation. Most policy analysts too have looked only for reasons why Pakistan has changed its policy towards India, without considering that the mote might be in India’s eye. The weak link in the government’s construct is the absence of motive. The Modi government ascribes its new-found aggressiveness to its frustration over failing to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But it does not take a dispassionate observer even five minutes to see that Pakistan has never had as strong a reason to let sleeping dogs lie in Kashmir as it does today. For, under a succession of military governments it has been sowing the wind in its international relations for five decades, and is now about to reap the whirlwind.

In the next few months Pakistan’s army-backed democratic, and moderately Islamic, state is going to face a convergence of challenges to which it has no answer. In Afghanistan, as the last American combat troops prepare to pull out, the Taliban have begun to show their power. Not only do they dominate the countryside in southern and western Afghanistan but they have moved into the north and all but captured the province of Kunduz. The Americans have armed the Afghan national army with modern weapons but left it with an air force that consists of two C-130 transport planes, 80 helicopters and a nascent drone reconnaissance capability. This is far from sufficient to give the ANA the close air support it will need to fight the Taliban. The ANA itself is subject to some of the same tribal and sectarian rifts that have made a joke of the Iraqi army. There is thus the real danger of desertions, collapse and the acquisition of modern American arms by the Taliban The future of the new Afghan government is therefore in considerable doubt. Had this been 2010 there would have been some reason to believe that Pakistan would welcome these developments, for at that time the former chief of the Pak army, Gen. Kayani, had harboured visions of controlling Afghanistan through the Taliban. But those days are far behind us. The Taliban are split; Mullah Omar’s influence has waned, and the link between Pakistan and the Haqqani Taliban has been eroded by incessant US drone attacks upon the latter. Finally, whatever Imran Khan may say, the Pakistan army harbours no illusion that a deal with the FATA-based TTP is possible. General Raheel Sharif is no friend of India, but knowing the bestial cruelty with which the TTP has treated captured Pakistani soldiers, he is adamant that it has to be fought and eradicated. To pursue this fight he has already shifted more than 150,000 soldiers, almost a third of his regular army, from the Indian border to FATA, and may have to shift more. He is also rapidly de-mechanising infantry divisions that had been mechanized only a few years ago in the belief that India was Pakistan’s main enemy. If the Taliban seize eastern Afghanistan the TTP will have an endless sanctuary from which to attack the Pakistan army. Pakistan therefore faces the prospect of a war without end. Worst of all, it will have to fight this war without resources, for the US has already indicated that its aid will be tapered off after it leaves Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, the only other country that has come to its financial aid in the past, has made it crystal clear that future aid will be conditional on its making peace with the TTP.

The difference between Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA and Modi’s BJP is that Dr Singh foresaw Pakistan’s impending crisis and knew that it would create a unique opportunity for the two countries to bury the poisoned legacy of Partition and make a new start towards lasting peace and amity. Dr Singh also knew that the Pakistani State was too weak respond to its own crisis in a coherent manner and would need a lot of forbearance from India. But the BJP seized upon his forbearance and projected it as cowardice and weakness. Today it has made India a prisoner of its own hawkish past.

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A hundred years after it began the American century is drawing to a close. It began in the closing stages of the First World War, when the exhausted allies turned to the Americans for the final, decisive, push to defeat Germany. It is ending with the Obama administration’s increasingly obvious inability to  stop the growth of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. What is coming to an end is not America’s military pre-eminence in the world: no country can even think of waging war against it. What is ending is American hegemony.

Hegemony needs to be distinguished from dominance.  Gramsci described it  as “the permeation throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality that has the effect of supporting the status quo in power relations”. In international relations a dominant country enjoys hegemony when it can claim, successfully, that what it is doing in its own interest also serves the general interest. This is the  perception of America that is dying in a welter of  mutual recrimination.

Momentous changes sometimes reveal themselves in small, even trivial, events. One such occurred  on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN programme ‘GPS’, on Sunday October 12. The subject   was  the imminent fall of Kobani, the capital city of Syrian Kurdistan, to ISIS.  While interviewing Barham Salih, former prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan and deputy prime minister of Iraq, Zakaria asked him whether the Kurdish forces, the Peshmerga,  would be prepared to go into central  Iraq and  Syria to fight ISIS . Salih’s response was carefully weighed: “Kurdistan has emerged as the most reliable partner  of the coalition in the fight against ISIS. There may be a number of reasons. One that I am proud of is that  Kurdistan is a tolerant society with tolerant values. We do have a real interest in taking on ISIS. … but I have to say that the Peshmerga should not be relied upon to go to Mosul or the heartland of the sunni areas. We can be there to support, but at the same time the communities there have to be empowered. The same thing can be said about Syria….” I did not hear the rest of the sentence  because at this point Zakaria cut him off.

Zakaria may have done so unintentionally, but in the  fifteen-minute panel discussion that followed, all the participants, Francis Fukuyama, Gideon Rose of Foreign Affairs, Daniele Pletka  of the American Enterprise Institute  and Walter Mead ,  professor at Bard college and columnist in The American Interest, also  avoided mentioning Syria. Nor did they mention Iran.

Their reticence was strange.  Cooperation with Syria has been an option on Obama’s table since day one: in fact the intelligence agencies began  exchanging  information in June itself.  In August, after  Iran backed the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi,  several members of his administration advocated cooperating with Iran, which would have meant with Syria too. Mead devoted an entire column in the American Interest  to discussing its pros and cons. So why, two months later,  did Pletka,  Rose, and  even Fukuyama, criticise Obama for promising too much, and implicitly advocate withdrawal from the region in preference to cooperating with Syria and Iran?

The answer is that cooperating with Syria now  will be an admission that the US made a colossal mistake in joining the conspiracy to oust Bashar–al-Assad three years ago. Given that this would not be its first but second huge mistake in the middle east, and given their incalculable cost,  it would destroy what is left of America’s moral authority in the world.

That is why it has become so necessary for the US to keep insisting that Assad must  go if peace is to be restored in Syria; to pretend in the face of all evidence to the contrary that, hidden under the  Salafi jihad for the establishment of an extreme theocratic state, there really is a moderate sunni freedom movement that wants to bring in democracy; and that its sunni allies – Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey,  are really  good guys who were paying and arming these fighters in good faith, and are now eager to rectify their mistake.

In reality – and this is the true measure of how deeply American hegemony has been eroded – 62 countries have supposedly joined the US coalition against  ISIS, but their contribution so far has been laughable. Saudi Arabia has 340 aircraft but has  contributed four fighter jets to the aerial campaign against ISIS. Qatar has contributed two. Turkey has so far only allowed NATO to use its bases. Its  tanks and troops are drawn up on the heights a mere  800 metres from Kobani, watching the battle while its government  presses the US to  create  a no fly zone to prevent Syria’s air force from going to the Kurds’ rescue, and demands a commitment to oust Assad as a precondition for sending soldiers to join the battle.

Israel has played a key role in nurturing ISIS: it was an offshoot of AIPAC, its powerful lobby in the US, that introduced Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to Senator John McCain during his four hour visit to Syria last year.  In June  prime minister Netanyahu  went on American television to warn Obama against cooperating with Syria and Iran, because ISIS’ defeat  would allow a  nuclear-capable  Iran to emerge as the pre-eminent power in the region.

Obama has succumbed to all these pressures. As a result he has been left with a ‘grand strategy’ that is doomed to fail. If he wishes to cut America’s losses he would do well to ask himself a few questions: From Pakistan to Indonesia why has not a single Muslim country joined the fight against ISIS ? Why has India not offered help? Why are Kurds in four countries, who are overwhelmingly Sunnis, willing to fight ISIS to the death? And why are so few moderate Sunnis in Syria willing to join the fight against Assad?

The answer to all these questions is the same: This is not a battle between Sunni good guys and Shia devils, but an attempt by a tiny Wahhaby-Salafi fringe of Islam to take over the entire Muslim world, and the Americans are on the wrong side. It is America’s so-called friends that are digging the grave of American hegemony.

 

 

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I am writing to ask Americans whether they have no sense of shame left.

If they do how can they tolerate a government like Obama’s which, despite the public beheading of two american journalists and two more western hostages whose only crime was a desire to help ordinary people in a remote part of the world who were in distress, has deliberately chosen not to attack ISIS when and where it is most vulnerable, and instead preferred to lie to his own people about his government’s true intentions towards ISIS and the larger middle east.

I speak out of agony, not just for the thousands of Kurds who will soon meet their ISIS executioners, but also for America. I am seventy five, and belong to a post-war generation for whom respect, even reverence for America was axiomatic. This survived Vietnam, and only began to erode in 2003. Today I wish I could switch off my feelings and allow the US to destroy itself, but I can’t. So I take tranquillisers and use the only voice I have to try and reach others, especially in the US, who may care about the future of their country and the world.

On September 11, Obama promised to destroy ISIS. There followed a flurry of much publicised attacks on what turned out to be mostly vacant buildings in Raqqa, far from the battle zone. In the meantime ISIS invaded Kurdish Syria and surrounded its principal city, Kubane. Yesterday it captured three eastern districts of Kubane, the main city of Syrian Kurdistan. Kurds are continuing to fight from street to street, but it is now only a matter of time before they are driven outor killed. Then it will be the turn of the civians. Before it entered Kubane, ISIS was out in the fields around it, pounding the city with tank and artillery fire, to which the Kurds had no reply. A handful of US air attacks would have destroyed their tanks and guns. But the US did not send a single plane to destroy them.

The Kurds begged and begged, but were met with a stony silence. And it was not only from the Amercians. On the slopes above Kubane are lined up dozens of Turkish Tanks, and thousands of soldiers watching the inexorable end approach. These are Europe and the USA’s NATO partners. Turkey is also the US’ main ally in the ‘Grand Alliance’ against ISIS. The Kurds have been entreating the Turks too to rescue them. The serried ranks of tanks I saw on the hillside convince me that Turkey could wipe out the ISIS around Kubane in hours. But this great ally of the christian, secular, democratic, West has not only not gone to Kubane’s rescue but demanded air cover for ISIS against Syrian warplanes and a public assurance from the US that it shall remove Assad from power in Syria as a reward for sending its troops in.

What worries me is that Obama is indecisive and gullible enough to believe the Turks. In actual fact , were he to agree Turkey will send in its tanks and ISIS will beat a hasty, pre-arranged, retreat. Turkey will then carry on towards Damascus claiming that it is pursuing ISIS remnants, and when Syria is forced to oppose it, will unleash all of its military power on Syria.

In fact, as you may have guessed, I don’t think Obama is either indecisive or gullible. This was always the real plan behind the mock ‘Plan’ that he unveiled on August 22 and September 11. And, like it, this one too will fail. It will fail because I cannot see Russia not supporting Assad, and I cannot see Iran not sending its army through Iraq (with the governments full covert support) to Syria. Turkey and the West will also find out that Syrians by and large continue to back Assad because he has held a referendum and an election and because he is fighting to save Syria’s secularism. Turkey will face not only ISIS but guerrilla attacks from Syrians too.

And it will fail because ISIS will continue to feed upon the successes that the west is feeding to it. Only two days ago the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the most feared fighters in Pakistan, announced that they were joining Al Qaeda. Since Al Qaeda has now linked up with ISIS, they have in effect joined ISIS. The TTP’s decision will influence others – not least of all in India and Bangladesh. Where does the US think this will end? How long will the graveyard that it is helping to turn the world into take to swallow it too ?

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THE DOG THE BIT ITS MASTER

ISIS rolled into Iraq in 200 pickup trucks on June 9. Had the US unleashed its air power then; had it even left the Iraqi government with a credible air force when it quit Iraq, ISIS’ convoys could have been blown to smithereens in the open desert in a matter of hours. But Obama dithered, put the blame on Malki for alienating the Sunnis of the north-west, raised the bogey of getting entrapped in an age old Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, and did next to nothing.

Two and a half months later ISIS’s ranks have swollen, by some estimates, to 50,000 fighters. It has entrenched itself in Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and Ramadi, captured the Baoji oilfield and murdered, raped, and pillaged on a scale that has not been seen since Pope Innocent III’s crusade against ‘heretical’ Cathars of southern France in AD 1209. But Obama is still dithering.

Obama is dithering because ISIS cannot be defeated without denying it safe havens in Syria, and this, as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint chiefs of Staff pointed out on August 21, cannot be done without the cooperation of the Syrian government. Obama is unwilling to concede this not only because it would be an admission of the monumental folly of his towards Syria, but also because it will put him squarely at loggerheads with Israel. Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not bothered to hide his opposition to the destruction of ISIS. On June 22, when Obama briefly toyed with the idea of enlisting Iran in the defence of Iraq, Netanyahu went on MSNBC’s Meet the Press programme and said: “When your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen either one of them. Weaken both. By far the worst outcome that can come out of this is for one of these factions, Iran, to come out of this with nuclear weapons capability. That would be a tragic mistake. It would make everything else pale in comparison.”

Obama got the message. So, he swallowed the huge insult of James Foley’s public slaughter, forgotten his own condemnation of the genocide in Rwanda last February and, except for declaring Iraqi Kurdistan off limits and protecting the Americans in Baghdad, doggedly refused to react to the hideous videos of mass slaughter and individualized throat-cutting and beheading that ISIS posts daily on its websites to attract the psychopaths of the world to its banner. Instead, in a much awaited press conference on August 28, he made it clear that the US will not oppose the birth of a Wahhaby ‘Caliphate’ in Northern Iraq and Syria. US policy would continue to focus on ‘making sure that ISIL does not overrun Iraq and on ‘degrading ISIL’s capacity in the long run’. To do this he intended to ‘devise a regional strategy … with other partners, particularly Sunni partners, because Sunnis, both in Syria and Iraq, need to feel that they have an investment in a government that … can protect them … against the barbaric acts we have seen in ISIL”.

In plain language he still wants only to ‘degrade’, not destroy, ISIS. He wants to do this with the help of the very same gulf sheikhdoms, and the same regime in Turkey, that have created, and continue to support the Wahhaby brigades in Syria by pouring billions of dollars into arming a virtually non-existent ‘moderate FSA’ with heavy weapons, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles that the US and EU had specifically proscribed, And he pointedly made no mention of Syria or Iran. Obama thus announced a continuation of the very same policies that have created ISIS, without saying a single word about how he intends to make them work differently in the future.

Is this lunacy, or is there a more sinister explanation? Regrettably, the answer is the latter. There is strong, if not clinching, evidence that ISIS, and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in particular, are the West’s own creation. When ISIS ‘turned rogue’ and rolled into Iraq, the US suddenly found itself at loggerheads with its greatest friend and ally in the region, Israel.

Baghdadi’s possible links with the West first surfaced on July 15, when a Bahrain newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, published an interview allegedly given by Edward Snowden to IRNA, the Iranian New Agency, in which he disclosed that Baghdadi had been recruited by the intelligence agencies of three countries, the US, UK and Israel to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” The plan, code-named Beehive, or Hornet’s Nest was designed to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to a newly manufactured regional enemy, ISIS. Baghdadi, the Paper claimed, had been given intensive military training, along with courses in theology and speech for a year by Mossad.

Time magazine trashed the story within four days. It pointed out that ‘No mention of a “hornet’s nest” plot can be found in Snowden’s leaked trove of U.S. intelligence documents’, reminded readers that IRNA had been found to indulge in regime-inspired fantasy in the past, and disclosed that even the editor of Kayhan, Iran’s most influential newspaper, had found the story strange because Snowden had fled the country long before the plot had germinated. But Time’s refutation is not conclusive. First, Snowden has not denied giving the interview. If it is a fabrication then it is difficult to see why someone who gave up his country and his freedom to serve the cause of truth, should now choose to become party to a lie. Second, Snowden blew the whistle and cut himself off from his sources on June 10, 2013. This was eight weeks after Baghdadi became Emir of ISIS, and therefore up to 18 months after the plot, if one exists, was hatched.

As it turns out, the ‘Hornet’s nest’ story is not necessary to prove western connections with Baghdadi. When ISIS posted a video of Baghdadi addressing a congregation from the pulpit of the grand mosque in Mosul it set off a worldwide hunt to identify him. Photo analysts found him very quickly, but in the most unexpected of places – talking animatedly to Senator John McCain at a secret meeting with five ‘moderate’ leaders of the Free Syrian army who had been specially assembled to meet him, at Idlib in Syria.

McCain’s visit to Syria had been organized by Salim Idris, self-styled Brigadier General of the FSA, and the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American not-for-profit organization that is a passionate advocate for arming the ‘moderate’ Free Syrian army. There was no room for a mistake because on May 27, 2013, when McCain met him, Baghdadi had been he had been on the US State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists with a reward of US $10 million on his head. He had also been the Emir of ISIS for the previous six weeks and of ISIL for the previous three years.

Nor was Baghdadi the only wolf in sheep’s clothing at that meeting. Among the other ‘moderate’ Sunni leaders SETF had also included Mohammed Nour and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim. Nour is the spokesman of ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the brutal Jabhat Al Nusra, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, whose brutality was a byword in Syria till put in the shade by ISIS. Dadhiki is one of its key members. Only days before Nour’s meeting with McCain, Northern Storm had kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shia pilgrims on their way to Iraq.

Did McCain know that the leaders he was meeting were not moderate Sunni rebels but some of the most murderous and bigoted terrorists in the world today? Probably not. But the same cannot be said of the organization that took him there, The Syrian Emergency Task Force. SETF had worked closely with Idris to set up the McCain meeting, so it had to have known who was being invited to it. It also knew perfectly well that on the ground in Syria no one was bothering to make the hairsplitting distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ rebels that it was feeding to Kerry, McCain and hundreds of other policy makers in Washington. When, a fortnight after McCain’s visit, a terrorist leader named Abu Sakkar cut out the heart and lungs of a Syrian soldier and took a bite out of the latter for the benefit of global viewers. Idris belligerently defended his inclusion in the FSA, and asked his BBC interviewer, Paul Wood:“Is the West asking me now to fight Abu Sakkar and force him out of the revolution?”

Yet only two months later its then political director Elizabeth O’Bagy felt no compunction in writing, in a massively influential op–ed piece in the Wall Street Journal that John Kerry quoted to the US Congress: “Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news has been led to believe that a once peaceful, pro-democracy opposition has transformed over the past two years into a mob of violent extremists dominated by al Qaeda;… This isn’t the case … Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces, and they have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France”.

Why is SETF willing to stop at nothing to destroy the Assad regime? The answer again comes back to Israel. There is a close, but undisclosed, relationship between SETF and the America Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s premier lobbying organization within the US. Till it was ‘corrected’ in 2013, one of SETF’s email addresses used to be “syriantaskforce.torahacademybr.org.” The “torahacademybr.org” URL belongs to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida whose academic goals notably include “inspiring a love and commitment to Eretz Yisroel” .

The origins of its executive director, Mouaz Mustafa, are obscure, to say the least. His biodata on the SETF website says that he emigrated from Syria to the US when he was 15, but the details of his working life show that he became an aide to Congressman Vic Snyder when he was only 19, the age at which most Americans finish High School. He then worked with Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln, till she lost seat in 2010. On 17 April 2011, possibly after a short visit to Cairo, he became the executive director of a newly formed lobbying group, the Libyan Council for North America. This was a month after the West attacked Libya. He ‘moved on’ again in September 2011 to the newly constituted Syrian Emergency Task Force (again as its executive director), only days after the fall of Tripoli. At that point he was only 25. One doesn’t have to be a Washington Beltway insider to know that he could not have done all this without very powerful, covert support. Mustafa has spoken frequently at meetings of AIPAC, and is a regular contributor on the website of the Al Fikra Forum, which describes itself as an “online community that aims to generate ideas to support Arab democrats in their struggle with authoritarians and extremists”. But according to its email address it is an affiliate of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. WINEP is a think tank set up by AIPAC. Its home page sports a link to the Fikra Forum’s website.

Mustafa is a regular speaker and discussant at WINEP. On July 22, 2014 WINEP released (and probably financed) a film titled Red Lines: Inside the Battle for Freedom in Syria which portrays the lives of Mustafa and a female activist – Razan Shalab As-sham. During the discussion that followed Mustafa said: “Helping Iran to provide security in the region is the worst possible idea, because what happens then is that you make it possible for both Sunni and Shiite extremis to develop deep roots in the region. What we need to do is to help the people, who don’t want to be ruled by the Iranians and don’t want to be ruled by the extremists, and they are there.” . Benyamin Netanyahu could not have put it better.

Israel is the only country in the world to whom it simply does not matter what happens to the rest of the Arab world so long as it somehow enhances its own security. In the mid-nineties a consultant group formed under the aegis of the American Enterprise Institute submitted a Plan for ‘furthering peace in the middle east’ to then Prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Its key recommendations were for Israel to work for the destruction of Iraq, ‘roll up’ of Syria, and isolate Hezbollah in South Lebanon prior to destroying it. The way in which a majority of the members of the group were inducted into the George W. Bush administration and succeeded in bringing about the destruction of Ba’athist and sternly secular, albeit tyrannical, regime of Saddam Hussein has been well documented elsewhere and need not detain us. It is the sequel that concerns us now.

Within two years of destroying Iraq, Israel realised that it had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Whereas Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been an impenetrable buffer between Iran and Lebanon, Maliki’s Iraq was an open chute for arms to flow from Iran to the Hezbollah. To Israel, this chute, which it called the ‘Shia crescent’ became an arrow pointed at it’s heart. As Hezbollah grew ever more powerful Israel panicked. In 2006 it directly attacked Lebanon and the Hezbollah in order to destroy the latter’s tunnels and arms, much as it is doing to Hamas in Gaza today.

But that operation proved a diplomatic and security disaster, for Hezbollah emerged from it even stronger than it had been before. Since then Israel has lived in mortal fear of the Shi’a cresent. Getting Iran to foreswear the development of nuclear weapons was no longer sufficient. The pipeline to the Hezbollah had to be cut. There were only two ways—destroy Iran or destroy Syria. Iran, however was a far larger and more powerful country than Iraq and even George Bush shied away from attacking it. There was no mass hysteria, moreover, such as had seized the American people after 9/11, to capitalize upon. But Syria was small enough to be ‘doable’.

So in 2008, two gentlemen, Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary in the State department and ardent Zionist, who had served two terms in Israel, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s powerful ambassador to the US, concocted another Plan. This one, called without a hint of irony ‘A Plan for furthering Peace in the Greater Middle East’, proposed breaking the Shia cresecent by creating a ‘Sunni crescent’ that would start in Turkey and end in Jordan. The stumbling block was Assad’s Baathist, secular and fumblingly authoritarian Syria. But 70 percent of Syrians are Sunnis. So three quarters of the Plan, which eventually found its way onto the internet in 2012, describes in chilling detail how to use religion, and for some strata economic discontent and pecuniary inducement, to rise against Assad. In 2011, when the Arab Spring began, 51 television and radio stations located in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, had been beaming Salafi and hate propaganda against Assad to the Syrian people for the previous two years.

Israel came within a millimeter of achieving its goal after the gas attacks in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus in August last year. On August 27, alongside the full text of Kerry’s speech committing the US to bombing Syria for crossing Obama’s Red Line on chemical weapons, the right wing Times of Israel published two reports that detailed precisely how Israeli intelligence inputs had proved crucial in making up Washington’s mind. A third, more ominous, report gave details of how Benyamin Netanyahu not only hoped that this would be a precursor for a US attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but also intended to use the precedent it would create to launch the attack on his own.

But contrary to Kerry and Obama’s robust assertions to the US Congress and the media, the US had substantial amounts of evidence in August that the Syrian army had not used chemical weapons at Aleppo and Damascus in March and April 2013, and that not only the Jabhat al Nusra but also the then nascent ISIL had the capacity to produce Sarin. Faced with the prospect of being accused of again manufacturing evidence to start a war, both Cameron and Obama found ways of resiling from their commitment to bomb Syria. Israel therefore found itself robbed of ‘victory’ when it was already in its grasp.

Obama’s initial willingness to cooperate with Iran, and therefore by implication, with Syria, has thrown Netanyahu and his government into something close to panic. But its knee jerk reactions are further endangering Israel’s security. Its invasion and six week long pigeon-shoot in the open air prison called Gaza is a case in point. Netanyahu used the pretext furnished by the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three teenagers from the West Bank as a pretext for launching his attack. But six weeks after it began it is apparent that his real aim is to destroy Hamas root and branch and terrorise the unfortunate Gazans into never cooperating with it again.
But Hamas has stoutly denied that it kidnapped the teenagers. As for their murder, it is not only out of character for Hamas which has regularly kidnapped Israelis only to exchange them for Palestinian prisoners, but also suicidal. On the other hand ISIS has claimed over and over again, that it killed the teenagers as a reprisal for Israel’s killing of three of its members last December when they were about to enter Israel, but Tel Aviv has ignored these claims. If ISIS is indeed partly its creation then its reluctance would be understandable.

Like the invasion of Lebanon, Israel’s attack on Gaza is bound to backfire. It has not only isolated Israel in the international community to an extent that was unimaginable only a year ago, but is probably the trigger for Jabhat al Nusra’s sudden seizure of the Syria-Israel border town of Quneitra. ISIS had already all but evicted Al Nusra from Northern Syria. Its shift to Syria’s southern border could signal a strategic decision by the leaders of Al Qaeda to leave Syria and Iraq to ISIS and focus on Jordan and Israel.

If this shift of focus has not already happened, it is bound to happen in the future. For as Salafi preachers repeat endlessly, their ultimate goal is to free Jerusalem and open al Aqsa, the second holiest shrine in Sunni Islam, to all true Muslims. So great is Israel’s panic that it does not realize that Ba’athist Syria is its last remaining bastion against the Wahhaby hordes. Once it falls, thousands of young people who consider themselves victims of their own governments and societies will flock to the banners of ISIS and Al Nusra for the final assault on Jerusalem. Once that happens, life in Israel, and much of the rest of the world (including Pakistan and India), will become truly ‘nasty, brutish, and short’.

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Exactly two years ago, on March 4, 2012 US President Obama told AIPAC, the premier American-Israeli lobbying body in the US “I have a policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests”. Between July 1, 2010 and October 9, 2012 he issued no fewer than 12 Executive Orders strengthening the sanctions that had been imposed by the Bush administration on Iran. But on January 29 this year he warned the US Congress that he would veto any new bill that imposed fresh sanctions on Iran.

What caused this extraordinary turnabout?

According to the western media, it was the new Iranian government’s willingness to bend at the knees in order to save the Iranian economy. The sanctions had caused huge inflation, a catastrophic fall in the value of the Iranian Rial, a sharp slowdown in growth, and a creeping rise in industrial obsolescence. Ayatollah Khamenei had realised that this posed a greater danger to the stability of the regime in the long run than conceding to western demands on its nuclear policy. The elections and the formation of a markedly more liberal government under President Rouhani, had given him the face saver he needed to change Iran’s policy.

All this may explain Iran’s motives, but it fails to explain why President Obama should have changed his policy so radically. In particular, it does not tell us why, if sanctions were working so well, he did not administer one more dose to soften Iran a little further? All he had to do was to allow the bill already in Congress,to be passed.

According to the American Right, for whom attacking Obama is the second best game after baseball, he did not do so because he is chicken–hearted. But there could be another explanation and, on February 27, a large gathering in New Delhi, which included most of the policy making establishment and not a few journalists, got an inkling of what might be. This is a glimpse of another, more peaceful world: one that Obama had sworn, long ago, to bring into being but had almost given up hope of doing. The glimpse came in an hour-long speech Iran’s new Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif, organised by the Observer Research Foundation, in Delhi. International Relations, he said, cannot be a zero sum game. “The security of one nation cannot be built upon the insecurity of others. Yet this has been the paradigm of all politics during the 20th century. If you win then I must lose”.

This has led those who had acted upon it to defeat, not victory. “If we assess the success of policies by the achievement of goals then 85 percent of the wars fought in the 20th century have ended by making the initiators more insecure at the end than they were at the beginning.” To cite an example he revealed a long held Iranian secret: “when the US and EU first began to put pressure on us (to stop enriching uranium) we had 200 centrifuges. Today we have 19,000. Is this a victory or a defeat?” “there are many more jihadis in Syria today”, he went on to point out, than at the beginning of the civil war”. If the Jihadis win, If Assad falls, then the war will spread to its neighbours and all will be lost.

These remarks were in line with what Iran and Russia have been saying for several years, and what the West has reluctantly had to concede. But Zarif’s purpose was not to say “I told you so!” His remarks were a prelude to the delineation of an alternative paradigm for international relations. Negotiations, he said, had to start with a discussion of goals. “If you can find a common goal then the means to achieve it become much easier to decide.”

A common goal can only be found if both parties look for solutions that leave them better off than before. The US and EU wanted to prevent Iran from enriching uranium altogether. Iran would never accept this but the goal that it could share was to ensure that Iran would never develop a nuclear weapon. This was because it did not want, indeed had never wanted, to be a nuclear weapons state.

This was because it was aware that the possession of nuclear weapons would make it less, not more, safe. “We enjoy conventional military superiority over our neighbours, but we do not underestimate their capacity to secure a nuclear umbrella if we try to raise this superiority to a strategic level. We would therefore risk losing our conventional superiority without gaining anything in return.” Iran, he concluded, was therefore fully prepared to make its nuclear programme completely transparent and subject to rigorous international inspection.

To the leader of a country that had been at war for 13 years, lost thousands of soldiers and maimed tens of thousands more, and run up a gigantic domestic and international debt, only to find its interests more severely threatened than before, Zarif’s alternate paradigm could not fail to have been seductive. For only three months earlier Obama had found himself on the verge of launching an attack on Syria that would have virtually handed the country over to the US’ most inveterate enemy, al Qaeda, and its offshoots, made a jihadi influx into Jordan and Egypt inevitable, triggered a full scale civil war in both countries, and forced the US to send thousands more soldiers into battle to prevent a Jihadi takeover that would have put Israel in mortal danger.

This dismay he had found that Israel was nonetheless willing to play a dangerous game of brinkmanship in Syria in order to create the precedent it needed to drag the US into an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He must also have realised that the Sunni sheikhdoms and two very insecure heads of government in Europe were also not averse to using the US to fight their domestic wars of survival. But opinion polls shown in the US had shown that only nine per cent of Americans favoured an attack on Syria, and Senator Ron Paul and several other legislators had written letters to their constituencies explaining why they intended to oppose the attack. Obama therefore realised how desperately tired Americans were with war. It was in these circumstances that he turned to the Russians to find a way out. Obama must have welcomed the new Iranian government’s peace overtures because these too gave him an alternative to war, but at the UN general Assembly Rouhani and Zarif unveiled the prospect of a wider cooperation to bring peace to the middle east. Slim as the chance may have seemed then, it was too important to ignore.

Zarif’s alternative paradigm sounds new today, but was first articulated more than a century ago, in 1910, by Norman Angell, a professor, journalist and later a Labour member of the British parliament. Angell wrote a book titled “The Great Illusion” which demonstrated, convincingly, that waging war had become a self-defeating exercise for the conqueror because, in an interdependent world, it destroyed the lines of credit and commerce upon which the creation of wealth rested. Angell’s widely acclaimed book did not stop the First World War, but its prediction that war would destroy the conqueror as thoroughly as the conquered proved chillingly true.

Angell was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1933, not coincidentally just after Hitler came to power in Germany. But the Second World War could not be stopped, and once more it was Germany that suffered the most.

In the past thirty years, globalisation has deepened economic interdependence a hundred–fold. Today it is not only commerce and credit but manufacture and information systems that have crossed national boundaries. So the cost of war has risen still higher. But the win-lose paradigm of foreign policy has not merely endured but staged a comeback after the end of the Cold War. The succession of pre-emptive wars waged and supported by the US have all ended by making it and the west less secure. They have fostered instead of ending terrorism, and have nearly bankrupted the US. A new paradigm for international relations, that is based upon creating win-win solutions to disputes is not only desirable but absolutely essential.

What is true of the west is also true for India. India began its voyage as a nation by expressly repudiating the win-lose paradigm. Panch-shila and non-alignment were expressly intended to buffer international conflict or, failing that, to minimise its fallout. But when the Chinese delivered the coup de grace to non-alignment in 1962 India was forced into the win-lose paradigm. It has remained trapped in it ever since.

In the three decades that followed the Sino-Indian conflict India’s foreign policy focussed almost exclusively on its neighbours, and the win-lose, zero-sum mentality expressed itself in a policy of bilateralism towards our neighbours. Predictably, given the huge disparity in size between us and our neighbours, it yielded very few dividends.

In the past two decades India has sought once again to break this mould by evolving doctrines like ‘non-reciprocity’, and offering preferential and free trade concessions to its neighbours. It has also reached out to ASEAN, Japan and South and sub-Saharan Africa. But the win-lose paradigm has endured. It is responsible to a considerable extent for the UPA government’s failure to make any headway in forging more stable and durable relations with Pakistan; it has gravely weakened its relations with Iran; it has all but destroyed India’s relations with secular Arabs, not only in Syria but Egypt and Iraq, and poisoned New Delhi’s perception of Kashmiri ethno-nationalism.

Its relations with Pakistan remain tense because too many policy analysts and media pundits in Delhi have publicly proclaimed that New Delhi is intent on increasing its influence in Afghanistan at Pakistan’s expense. It is afraid of openly supporting the Palestinian cause because Israel is its most reliable arms supplier; it is afraid of supporting Syria because it does not want to jeopardise the flow of oil and remittances from the Gulf sheikhdoms and Saudi Arabia; It has joined China and Russia in BRICS to support the creation of a multi-polar and democratic international order but is hesitant about deepening its strategic cooperation with them for fear of alienating the US. Today it cannot decide whether to build closer strategic relations with China, or join the US, Japan and Australia in ‘containing’ it.

The root cause of its timidity and indecisiveness is the belief that all of its choices are binary, and therefore that gains in one direction will necessarily involve losses in others. But its consequence has been to make India utterly incapable of giving a lead to other nations at a time of deepening systemic chaos in the international order, and universal confusion in policy. It has also made India the least trustworthy among the larger nations in the world.

India too, therefore, urgently needs to make a win-win paradigm as the guiding principle of its external relations. The starting point would be to base its foreign policy on principles and not expediency. The least this will do is to provide leadership in framing alternatives to military intervention, to a world that is no longer even able to discern where its interests lie.

No other country is better placed to do this, for India is not only a democracy, but a profoundly un-threatening one. It has an unblemished record in respecting its treaty obligations and the sovereignty of other nations. And while it may not be able to shower foreign exchange on hard pressed developing countries, it has two other invaluable assets – the largest food stocks and the cheapest supplies of life saving medicines in the world. No other country has better credentials or capacity to guide the world out of the morass in which it is trapped. In a nutshell, what India and the world need is another Nehru.

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Many people have warned against an attack on Syria because it could ignite a sectarian bloodbath in the entire middle east. But I have seen no exhaustive analysis of precisely what could happen. In the paragraphs that follow I have tried to follow the logic of current developments to their logical conclusion and see where it leads. Comments will be welcome.

On Thursday September 5 the Daily Telegraph of London carried the headline “Obama will strike Syria to end war”. Only the heartlessly cynical could make such a statement; only the hopelessly naive will believe it. For the strike on Syria will be not be the end of war but a beginning. What it will end is the Syrian government’s capacity to stave off the waves of al Qaeda linked Jihadis who are flooding into Syria through Turkey from over 40 countries. And it will be the beginning of a larger civil war that will plunge the entire eastern Mediterranean littoral into a sectarian holocaust.

The Syrian people are fully aware of this: in Damascus they are mobilising for war: young men are acquiring arms; tailors are working night and day to sew uniforms for them; and families are stockpiling food and water for the grim days that lie ahead. Christians and Alawis who can afford to, are sending their families to Lebanon. “After the Americans finish bombing the Jihadis will come”, said one young man to BBC as he waved his pro-Assad wristband in front of the camera lens. We will be waiting for them. I am prepared to die for my country.”

Shias are mobilising in neighbouring Iraq. “This is Iraq 2003 all over again”, an Iraqi told the Guardian. “We will not leave our Syrian brethren to fight alone”. In Lebanon the Hezbollah is geared for battle. Its cadres have decimated fleeing Jihadis who have sought shelter in Lebanon. Today they are preparing to flood into Syria with the full backing of the bulk of the Lebanese population.

Syria’s Kurds are also being drawn into the war. Fazel Hawramy, an independent journalist from Iraqi Kurdistan reported in his blog on August 28 that about 70 Kurds belonging to the Al Qaeda linked Ansar-ul-Islam, had joined the Jabhat al Nusra and were fighting Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. The Syrian Kurds therefore already know that Al Qaeda has no intention of respecting their autonomy. This suggests that the wider war that the bombings will unleash is likely to engulf Syrian Kurdistan as well. Lastly since the PYD is the Syrian affiliate of the powerful Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, the fighting can spread not only to sections of Turkey’s 22 million Alawites but to its 11 million Kurds as well.

Obama’s administration cannot be unaware of these dangers, but believes that it will be able to extract a win-win result for itself and its principal ally, Israel. A strong but limited missile strike on Syria, it believes, will weaken the Assad regime without giving the Jihadis an outright victory. The prolonged civil war that will follow will eliminate most of the Jihadis, weaken the Hezbollah and bleed Syria into impotence, leaving Israel the undisputed master of the eastern Mediterranean. It will also send an unambiguous signal to Iran on what will happen to it if it pursues its nuclear weapons programme.

The arrogance that underlies these calculations is breathtaking: indeed this is power gone berserk for it presupposes a capacity to control the outcome of war that, history has shown, does not exist. How can Obama and his planners be so confident that their air-cum-missile strike will draw no response from the Syrian armed forces? How can they be so sure that it will be ineffective? Iraq’s response was ineffective because 12 years of sanctions had left its armed forces without aircraft, guns, ammunition, and missiles. Libya’s was ineffective because the country was tiny, militarily isolated and taken by surprise.

Syria, by contrast has had days of warning. It has a battle hardened army, an array of sophisticated Russian missiles including an upgraded version of the Yakhont anti-ship missile and, just possibly, a few operational batteries of the S-300. What is more, unlike Libya, it will not be cyber-blind. Seven Russian warships are stationed along the Syrian coast, ready to feed it real time information on American ship movements and missile launches.

Can Obama be sure that Syria will not succeed in sinking a single American ship or bringing down a single aircraft? And if it does, how will a President who feels too politically weak to disregard taunts about his inability to enforce an imaginary ‘red line’, face the taunts that will be hurled at him when American soldiers are killed and ships or aircraft destroyed ?

Can he be sure that Iran will not join in the battle; that Baghdad will not give safe passage to Iranian and Iraqi fighters, and Russians will not send ships loaded with S-300 and other deadly missiles to Syria, daring the US to stop them?

To forecast what is likely to happen in Syria one needs to look not at Iraq or Libya but Kosovo . When NATO first drew up plans for bombing Yugoslav forces in Kosovo it had expected to use 40 aircraft and bomb Kosovo for two weeks. But when its supposedly deadly precision bombing damaged or destroyed no more than 20 percent of Yugoslavia’s guns and armour in Kosovo the NATO commander General Wesley Clarke was compelled to seek permission to widen his attack. As a result by mid-April, 1999, three weeks after the bombing began, NATO had committed 1000 aircraft to a non-stop bombing of Kosovo and the rest of Serbia.

In the next fifty days, NATO bombers flew nearly 6,000 bombing missions, dropped 20,000 bombs, knocked out half of Serbia and Montenegro’s airports, all of their oil refining capacity, 31 bridges (including all but two over the Danube), seventy percent of its power supply, two railway systems that linked Serbia to Kosovo, and most of its telecommunications system. By early May 1999 these raids had already killed 1200 civilians and seriously injured another 5,000. The total number of bombs dropped exceeded those dropped on Iraq during the 1991 gulf war. The result: an independent Kosovo —a semi criminal state whose revenues are derived largely from the trans-shipment of narcotics from Asia to Europe.

The longer that Obama bombs Syria, the more certain will a Jihadi victory become. This will upset the US and Israel’s calculations and become the starting point of a much more intense terrorist war that will engulf Jordan, Egypt and, ultimately Israel itself. The precedent for understanding this is Afghanistan 1991. Between 1980 and 1991 around 16,000 Arab Mujahideen graduated from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri’s Beit al Maqtab. After the Russians withdrew, some 2,800 to 3,000 remained behind in Pakistan and around ten thousand headed for home. Within months these plunged Egypt, Libya, and Algeria into civil wars that have still not ended. Many of them , however, became the first mercenaries in the new global army of Islam and headed for Bosnia and Chechnya.

A Jihadi victory in Syria willleave 10,000 to 15,000 foreign jihadis ( John Kerry’s estimate) unemployed penniless and unwanted. With shattered economies and little chance of finding a job at home few will wish, or be allowed, to return to their home countries. Their only option will be to find another holy war to fight. As Osman, a Kurdish member of Jabhat al Nusra, wrote to his brother in Halabja shortly before his death, “Once the fight is over here [in Syria], we will go anywhere the kuffar are fighting against Muslims.”

Al Qaeda and its numerous affiliates, like the Hizbut Tahrir, have never made any secret of their ultimate goal, which is to liberate Al Quds (Jerusalem) and the Al Aqsa mosque. This requires the destruction of Israel. The easiest way to Israel lies through Jordan and the Sinai. So these Islamist mercenaries will target the strongly pro-west half-British monarchy in Jordan and the tottering, army-backed, secular regime in Egypt. In both countries the influx of several thousand battle-hardened fighters who are willing to die for Islam will tilt the scales against the survival of the government.

Obama’s intervention will not therefore ‘end the war in Syria’ but ignite a far larger bloodbath. The death toll will not be counted in thousands but millions. And when it ends there is a more than even chance that the entire region will be under Al Qaeda’s sway. Should this happen Israel’s survival will become doubtful, for it will be surrounded. Its hostile borders will be ten times longer and will therefore become well-nigh indefensible. Iran will then be the least of its worries.

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