8 April 2014

Boiling Cauldron - Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan


Afghanistan and Iraq go for elections this month, while Syria plunges deeper into terror, killings and destruction.While the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been extended until 17 March 2015 vide resolution 2145 (2014), it was acerbic on part of the UNSC to say that the people of Afghanistan should not allow “spoilers and terrorists” to undermine their democratic future, as if the people of Afghanistan are not nationalists and have any control over the terror flowing in from across the borders, besides the ‘great game’ that the region has been subjected to over the years, which is continuing. No doubt very few Pashtuns in the south and east Afghanistan turned up for the 2009 elections because of Taliban threat and the Taliban have again threatened death to anyone who takes part in the elections but voters have to be provided protection and not left to their fate.The 2014 exit declaration by US, inviting Taliban for talks without participation of Northern Alliance (who helped the US invasion succeed in the first place) and the soft US stance on Pakistan (the prime source of terrorism) have led Afghan’s to say that they are being subcontracted to Pakistan. If Hamid Karzai did not sign the BSA, perhaps the main reason was the underhand deal by the US being worked out that Pakistan Taliban entering Afghanistan would not be targeted as long as they were not operating conjointly with Al Qaeda. Obviously, US interests are to keep Afghanistan on the boil – checkmating China? So, what difference would the BSA make other than granting US troops immunity against Afghan law? As it is, the Taliban had declared that they would disrupt elections and terror attacks are taking place pan Afghanistanincluding in the West and North aside from Capital Kabul while south and east Afghanistan are perpetually violence ridden.An official Afghanistan statement this February put the total number of Afghan soldiers and police officers killed during the war at over 13,000 over and above 3,425 coalition soldiers killed during the 13-year conflict. The numbers also showed more clashes in past three years.With Afghanistan ranked 175 out of 187 countries on UN’s development index, whoever wins Afghanistan's 2014 presidential election will have his hands full with poverty, corruption, ethnic rivalries, terrorism and violent insurgency but the question also remains how the US and the West will continue to manipulate events in Afghanistan and the region, portents of which don’t look good.

Iraq tops the global terror index. In 2013 alone, 8000 were killed in terrorist violence and over 18,000 injured. While terrorist attacks in the run up to elections would depend upon the degree of political influence wielded over terrorist groups, given the dynamics of the terrorist groups and the spate of incidents it is unlikely Iraq will be able to successfully separate the terrorists from the population and run a successful campaign in combating terrorism particularly with the state of sectarian strife despite the Sahwa movement since 2005 to establish anti-terrorism Awakening Councils against the ISIL, the most prominent terrorist organization. Apparently the terrorist groups cannot dislodge the central government but the latter too does not have the strength to decisively defeat them. ISIL poses the most serious terrorist and military threat, while the other groups primarily constitute a problem for the government to assert control in Sunni Arab areas. Then is the vital question of outside support to terrorism and political will within Iraq to finish terrorism. ISIL whose cadres were estimated at 2,500 by 2012 can undertake over 100 operations in a single month. Iraqi Kurdish recruits of ISIL are going to Syria to aid the rebels and there is also terrorist movement from Syria to Iraq. Despite the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq preceded by the Status of Forces Agreement and a Strategic Framework Agreement, strong suspicion remains of CIA funding terrorism in Iraq. 

With over 1,50,000 killed, Syria has entered its fourth year of hell with Russia and China backing the government and US and allies aiding and arming the rebels, denials notwithstanding. Hordes of organised terrorists have been crossing into Syria through the Turkish-Syrian border. A peaceful beginning of the Arab Spring has been turned into the worst battleground of geopolitical rivalry, killing, maiming and wounding the population, even brutalising generations with use of chemical weapon attack; Sarin Gas. A strategic refugee problem has been created of gargantuan proportions. To add to the strife, Israel conducted air strikes last month on several Syrian military sites in what it described retaliation for a bombing that injured four soldiers in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. Tensions have escalated with Syrian army backing Hezbollah and Syrian diplomatic missions shut down by the US. Significantly, while bombing of Afghanistan had commenced, US had already planned to take out Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. While things may not have gone strictly as per plan, the state of these countries and outside interference is revealing.The downward spiral appears unchecked and disintegration of the country can hardly be ruled out. As per estimates, some 2000 to 5000 European citizens have joined the rebel groups in Syria. While EU is most worried when the return home with a new high in radicalism, goes without saying their effort in conjunction the West would be divert them elsewhere. Where that would be can be conjectured. During the International Conference to Combat Terrorism held at Baghdad, Iraq last month, there were many references to state sponsored terrorism and the requirement of punishing those who harbour terrorists but as in case of all international forums, no country was named. MurtadaSamadi, Deputy Foreign Minister, Iran clearly pointed to the West in using proxies and destroying Syria but did not name the US. Even Ronald Nobel, Secretary General, Interpol said that in Iraq most terror was coming from Middle East, Europe, Asia etc. but while referring to Middle East and Asia did not name Saudi Arabia and Pakistan even though Pakistan Taliban are operating in Syria and would certainly have established links with ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and similar organisations, the principal terrorist group of Iraq that also is operating in Syria. Unofficially, even Arab participants were accusing Saudi Arabia for sponsoring and funding terrorism globally. On balance, these countries will continue to remain on the boil, besides other reasons courtesy big powers that have no compunctions using proxies.

The author is veteran Lt Gen Special Forces of India Army. Views expressed are personal.

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