18 June 2014

Sunni caliphate has been bankrolled by Saudi Arabia

Robert Fisk

SO after the grotesquerie of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 suicide killers of 9/11, meet Saudi Arabia’s latest monstrous contribution to world history: the Islamist Sunni caliphate of Iraq and the Levant, conquerors of Mosul and Tikrit — and Raqqa in Syria — and possibly Baghdad, and the ultimate humiliators of Bush and Obama.

From Aleppo in northern Syria almost to the Iraqi-Iranian border, the jihadists of Isis and sundry other groupuscules paid by the Saudi Wahhabis — and by Kuwaiti oligarchs — now rule thousands of square miles. Apart from Saudi Arabia’s role in this catastrophe, what other stories are to be hidden from us in the coming days and weeks?

The story of Iraq and the story of Syria are the same — politically, militarily and journalistically: two leaders, one Shia, the other Alawite, fighting for the existence of their regimes against the power of a growing Sunni Muslim international army.

While the Americans support Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his elected Shia government in Iraq, the same Americans still demand the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his regime, even though both leaders are now brothers-in-arms against the victors of Mosul and Tikrit. The Croesus-like wealth of Qatar may soon be redirected away from the Muslim rebels of Syria and Iraq to the Assad regime, out of fear and deep hatred for its Sunni brothers in Saudi Arabia (which may invade Qatar if it becomes very angry).

We all know of the “deep concern” of Washington and London at the territorial victories of the Islamists — and the utter destruction of all that America and Britain bled and died for in Iraq. No one, however, will feel as much of this “deep concern” as Shia Iran and Assad of Syria and Maliki of Iraq, who must regard the news from Mosul and Tikrit as a political and military disaster. Just when Syrian military forces were winning the war for Assad, tens of thousands of Iraqi-based militants may now turn on the Damascus government, before or after they choose to advance on Baghdad.

No one will care now how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered since 2003 because of the fantasies of Bush and Blair. These two men destroyed Saddam’s regime to make the world safe and declared that Iraq was part of a titanic battle against “Islamofascism”. Well, they lost. Remember that the Americans captured and recaptured Mosul to crush the power of Islamist fighters. They fought for Fallujah twice. And both cities have now been lost again to the Islamists. The armies of Bush and Blair have long gone home, declaring victory. Under Obama, Saudi Arabia will continue to be treated as a friendly “moderate” in the Arab world, even though its royal family is founded upon the Wahhabist convictions of the Sunni Islamists in Syria and Iraq — and even though millions of its dollars are arming those same fighters. Thus does Saudi power both feed the monster in the deserts of Syria and Iraq and cosy up to the Western powers that protect it.

War in Iraq hurts every home in India

Published: June 18, 2014 
Praveen Swami

The Islamist resurgence in the great arc from Syria to Pakistan is threatening India’s most vital interest — energy. New Delhi needs to start thinking about how it might respond

“Iraqi democracy will succeed,” President George Bush proclaimed days after United States forces had brushed aside President Saddam Hussein’s forces in just three weeks of concentrated attacks, in 2003, “and that success will send forth news, from Damascus to Tehran, that freedom can be the fate of every nation.” Faced with reports of large-scale looting that followed the fall of Baghdad on April 12 that year, his ideological mentor and Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was dismissive: “freedom’s untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes ….”

Fate authored tragedy, classical writers held, through a cycle of hubris, atë, and nemesis: overweening ambition, followed by impetuous actions, leading on, inexorably, to destruction.

Last week, the epic wars unleashed by Mr. Bush in the wake of 9/11 took a step closer toward their tragic climax. Islamist armies, more powerful than ever before, have swept aside Iraq’s military in Mosul, Tikrit and Bayji; in Syria, too, they control large swathes of territory. Yemen has all but disintegrated; Pakistan is in apparently terminal meltdown. Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two largest regional powers, have been eyeing each other warily — each wondering when the ethnic-religious fires raging across the region will ignite a full-blown war between them.

*** The Intrigue Lying Behind Iraq's Jihadist Uprising

JUNE 17, 2014 

Events in Iraq over the past week were perhaps best crystallized in a series of photos produced by the jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Sensationally called The Destruction of Sykes-Picot, the pictures confirmed the group's intent to upend nearly a century of history in the Middle East.
In a series of pictures set to a purring jihadist chant, the mouth of a bulldozer is shown bursting through an earthen berm forming Iraq's northern border with Syria. Keffiyeh-wrapped rebels, drained by the hot sun, peer around the edges of the barrier to observe the results of their work. The breach they carved was just wide enough for the U.S.-made, Iraqi army-owned and now jihadist-purloined Humvees to pass through in single file. While a charter outlining an antiquated interpretation of Sharia was being disseminated in Mosul, #SykesPicotOver trended on jihadist Twitter feeds. From the point of view of Iraq's jihadist celebrities, the 1916 borders drawn in secret by British and French imperialists represented by Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot to divide up Mesopotamia are not only irrelevant, they are destructible.

Today, the most ardent defenders of those colonial borders sit in Baghdad, Damascus, Ankara, Tehran and Riyadh while the Europeans and Americans, already fatigued by a decade of war in this part of the world, are desperately trying to sit this crisis out. The burden is on the regional players to prevent a jihadist mini-emirate from forming, and beneath that common purpose lies ample room for intrigue.
Turkey Searches for a Strategy

With the jihadist threat fanning out from Syria to Iraq, Turkey is struggling to insulate itself from the violence and to follow a strategic agenda in Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey has forged an alliance with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership in a direct challenge to Baghdad's authority. With the consent of Turkey's energy minister and to the outrage of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, two tankers carrying a few million barrels of Kurdish crude left the Turkish port of Ceyhan in search of a buyer just as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant was ratcheting up its offensive. Upping the ante, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz announced June 16 that a third tanker would be loaded within the week. With al-Maliki now relying on Kurdish peshmerga support to fend off jihadists in the north, Ankara and Arbil have gained some leverage in their ongoing dispute with Baghdad over the distribution of energy revenue. But Turkey's support for Iraqi Kurds also has limits.


By Sanchita Bhattacharya
Waziristan, Pakistan’s lawless tribal region, which has for long served as a safe haven for terrorist groups operating in India, Afghanistan, and other countries, is, according to the latest reports, now hosting a new terrorist formation, the Ansar Al-Tawheed fi Bilad Al-Hind (ATBH, Supporters of Monotheism in the Land of India). According to a May 22, 2014 news report, “the cadres of Ansar Al-Tawheed can be seen training at al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.”

Significantly, according to a May 20, 2014, report, the group issued a video in which its leader Abdur al-Rehman al Hindi declares, “O lions of faith, target the oppressive and infidel Indian Government’s financial centres and economic interests within India and those located around the world, until Indian Government reaches the brink of destruction”. In the video, al-Rehman appeals, in Arabic, to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad; al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri; Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); as well as to al Qaeda’s leaders in Yemen (Nasser Al-Wuhaishi), in Somalia (Mukhtar Abu Al-Zubair), and in North Africa (Abu Mus’ab ‘Abd Al-Wudoud), to come forward to ‘protect’ the Muslims of India. He also urges Indian Muslim youth to join the global jihad of al Qaeda and migrate to the lands of Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, and warns Indian intelligence agencies against mistreating ‘Islamic scholars’ like Maulana Abdul Qavi, who was arrested by Indian Police on March 24, 2014, in New Delhi, in connection with the Ahmedabad serial blasts and other terrorist incidents dating back to 2003.

This emerging group is not the first to get apparent training in the disturbed tribal belt of Pakistan. Outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and Indian Mujahideen (IM) have a history of receiving regular training in camps based in the region. According to a 2007 report, in 2006-2007, Jihadi organisations operating in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) were moved to North and South Waziristan. The report maintains that these groups brought with them a specific guerrilla strategy, which soon altered the dynamics of the Taliban, and asserts that the move “reorganised and regrouped the Taliban movement along the lines of a separatist guerrilla movement that has had a cascading affect in the region.”

Russia to Cut Off Gas Supplies to Ukraine After Price Negotiations Collapse

Russia to Cut Gas Supply to Ukraine
June 2014

MOSCOW — Russia on Monday said it would cut off gas supplies to Ukraine as a payment deadline passed and negotiators failed to reach a deal on gas prices and unpaid bills.

The decision does not immediately affect the gas flow to Europe, but could disrupt the long-term energy supply to the region if the issue is not resolved, analysts said.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said that since Ukraine had paid nothing for the gas by Monday Moscow has no legal grounds to supply Ukraine any more.

"Gazprom supplies to Ukraine only the amount that has been paid for, and the amount that has been paid for is zero," Kupriyanov said Monday morning.

The pipeline to Ukraine also carries gas meant for Europe, but Kupriyanov said that the supply to Europe will continue as planned. Ukraine has the obligation to make sure the gas will reach European customers, he said.

However, Gazprom has notified the European Commission of “a possible disruption in the gas transit” in case Ukraine decides to siphon off the gas, the company said.

Asia’s Cult of Intelligence

By John W. Traphagan
June 17, 2014

With its ‘cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism’ the U.S. risks falling behind rivals in Asia. 
I have been traveling to East Asia (and many other parts of the world) for more than 25 years and over that time one of the things that has always struck me is how intelligent the general public in countries like Japan appear to be. It’s not that there aren’t dummies in East Asia, but it always seems that the average level of education and ability to think about the world intelligently and critically is impressively widespread. I’ve often thought about why this is the case and also why the same seems more difficult to say about the U.S. The answer, I think, can be found in a comment science fiction writer Isaac Asimov made about the U.S. while being interviewed in the 1980s: “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Asimov is right on the mark, and this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such an major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.

Many Americans are aware that the U.S. does not score well on measure such as international student assessment tests when compared to other industrial countries. For example, the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TMISS) the top five countries for math were Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan—the U.S. is not in the top ten. It is better by 8th grade, where the same counties are in the top five (although the order changes) and the U.S. makes number 9. Roughly the same pattern can bee seen for science results. This doesn’t seem too bad, but in a different testing organization’s measure, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. does not fare quite so well, scoring 36th for math, 28th for science, and 24th for reading. With the exception of science, where Finland is ranked 5th, all of the top five countries in this measure are from East Asia.

American policy has generally worked from the assumption that the problem lies in basic weaknesses in the structure of our educational system with its inherent inequalities and the way in which our school curricula are constructed. These certainly have contributed to comparatively weak scores. I have long been convinced that one of the reasons Japan’s educational system is better than the U.S.—at least in the sense that a very broad swath of the general public receives a good and equal education through high school—is related to funding. The U.S. system generates inherent inequalities in school funding by depending upon property taxes. Even in states where there is some (usually grudging) redistribution of wealth to support public schools in poor areas (in Texas it is called the Robin Hood law), it is obvious that children in wealthy areas receive a better education with far greater academic and other resources than those in poorer areas. In Japan, because there is a national curriculum and a significant portion of the funding for public schools comes from the national government, in addition to funding from prefectural and municipal governments, there is considerably less inequality in distribution of and access to quality education than in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the troubles with the U.S. education system are much deeper than distribution of funding or curriculum weaknesses, although these are both a byproduct of the cultural issue that Asimov’s observes. The troubles lie in the cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has been a long-standing part of American society and which has become increasingly evident and powerful in recent years through the propagandizing and proselytizing of groups like the Tea Party and the religious right.

The fundamental reason that countries in places like East Asia present such a significant challenge to the U.S. politically and economically is not because they have a lot of people or big militaries, or seem to be willing to grow their economic and political might without concern for issues like damage to the environment (China). The problem is that these countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. I have never run across the type of suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.

In addition, we do not see in Japan significant numbers of the types of religious schools that are designed to shield children from knowledge about basic tenets of science and accepted understandings of history—such as evolutionary theory or the religious views of the Founding Fathers, who were largely deists—which are essential to having a fundamental understanding of the world. The reason for this is because in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy.

Americans need to recognize that if the cult of ignorance continues, it will become increasingly difficult to compete politically and economically with countries that highly value intelligence and learning. Nowhere is this more problematic in the U.S. than among a growing number of elected officials who are products of that cult of ignorance and who, thus, are not equipped to compete with their international peers. Why is this a problem of national security? Because a population and its leadership need to have the knowledge and intellectual skills necessary to analyze world affairs in an intelligent and sophisticated way and to elect intelligent, capable representatives. The problem is not really with our educational system; it is with our educational culture. Americans need to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to Charles Yancey on January 6, 1816: “”if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be.”

John W. Traphagan is Professor of Religious Studies and faculty affiliate of the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Ten Years of CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan

Micah Zenka
June 16, 2014
One Decade of Drone Strikes in Pakistan
Council on Foreign Relations
In May 2002, Gen. John Keane, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, vowed: “We have broken their will and they are trying to establish another safe haven now in Pakistan…when the time is right, we will deal with that one as well.” Indeed, two years later, his prediction came to pass on June 17, 2004, when a Hellfire missile killed Taliban commander Nek Mohammed, beginning the CIA campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan that continues to this day. One decade later, the United States has conducted a total of 371 drone strikes in Pakistan, killing an estimated 2,878, of which 376 were civilians.
*Based on averages within the ranges provided by the New America Foundation(NAF), Long War Journal (LWJ), The
Bureau of Investigative Journalism, as of June 12, 2014.
Congressional overseers and former CIA officials describe the estimates listed above as being roughly accurate, although the categorization of victims remains contested, based upon how one includes the practices of signature strikes. Interestingly, these databases do not include all of the drone strikes that were revealed by the reporting of Jonathan Landry, including a May 22, 2007 strike conducted at the request of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s spy agency, to support Pakistani troops. The numbers that have beenprovided by different arms of the Pakistani government at different times also vary widely.

After a six-month lull in early 2014, while it seemed drone strikes in Pakistan may be slowing, they began again on June 11. Bringing the first decade to a close onJune 17, 2014, the United States will enter into its eleventh year of drone strikes in Pakistan. Never before in U.S. history has such a lengthy and lethal military campaign been so inadequately described or justified by the government, which retains the fiction that these strikes are “covert” and unworthy of public examination. The vast majority of congressional overseers and citizens concur.


June  2014 · in Hasty Ambush

The spectacular advances by ISIS forces in Iraq in recent days have been a catastrophe for Iraq and a major setback for American interests but they are not the end of the world.

ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) now holds substantial swathes of territory and may have something like $2 billion in cash, a fleet of armored vehicles and probably more small arms than it knows what to do with. Unusually among jihadist groups, ISIS has focused in Syria on governancebeyond just shooting, beheading, and crucifying people it doesn’t like. Presumably it will do the same in Iraq.

However, this will not last. For an explanation why, we can turn to probably the most brilliant jihadist strategist to have touched a keyboard: Abu Musab al-Suri. He believed that “open fronts,” such as the 1980s jihad against the Soviet Union, efforts intended to liberate and hold territory, are unlikely to succeed. The simple fact is that they cannot stand up to modern military power backed up by modern intelligence. Instead, he recommended a turn toward individual jihad because it avoided the enemies’ strengths. In other words, Al-Suri would say that the more cities ISIS captures, the more money it has to keep track of, the more armored vehicles it acquires, the more social services it has to organize and deliver, the more it is setting itself up for a fall. These things have all sorts of pernicious effects from the point of view of security: they tie ISIS to fixed territory, they create networks that can be mapped and exploited, and they provide targets to airpower and artillery. RAND analyst Blake W. Mobley, a former CIA counterintelligence officerand author of Terrorism and Counterintelligence, sums up the issue (albeit with regard to different case studies) this way: “controlled territory places a challenging but guaranteed high-value target directly in the…sights” of the terrorists’ adversaries.

Russia will not be a spoiler in Iraq

16 june 2014

Fyodor Lukyanov is editor in chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. 

Resume: The United States should not expect much help from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is reasonable to criticize experts in international affairs for failing to predict any of the momentous events of the past few decades. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the "Arab Spring" all caught analysts by surprise. There are also cases, however, when the opposite is true and political Cassandras unanimously caution about something, but decision-makers simply dismiss them. Iraq is just one such case.

In the autumn of 2002, when it became clear that the George W. Bush administration was pushing for military action against then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, there was an effective consensus among Russian Orientalists. Save for a few negligible exceptions, they all unanimously asserted that such action would lead to chaos and ultimately to the disappearance of Iraq as a unified state. At all international conferences and in personal meetings, Russian specialists cautioned their American colleagues not to do it. Some of the interlocutors agreed; others nodded knowingly, while remaining unconvinced; while others still, especially those who worked directly with the US administration, shrugged their shoulders. There is no need to scare us, they'd say, the democratic transformation of the Middle East is inevitable, it has only to be encouraged.

After a year or two, however, against the background of bloody turmoil in Iraq, many of the optimists were forced to admit that the Russian skeptics had been right. Later, when some order was brought to Iraq along with the start of relatively democratic procedures, it again appeared that Moscow had exaggerated. Still, even then Russians did not place much faith in the future of Iraq. Most commentaries regarding the withdrawal of US forces from there boiled down to the fact that the United States had one task, namely to ensure that a democratic Iraq would not collapse immediately after the liberation from occupation, thus saving face.

Pakistan and state failure: Waiting for justice

Jun 2014 

Can Pakistan's future be decided by more military-civilian wrestling or is joint action against extremism possible?

Ahmed Rashid is a journalist and the author of five books on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. His latest book is "Pakistan on the Brink, the future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West". 

The security situation in Pakistan has deteriorated without much reaction from the government, argues Rashid [EPA] 

Here is a shortlist of recent horror stories from Pakistan, for which there is no government accountability or action and little public protest out of fear generated by an ever-widening range of Islamic extremists, who carry out acts of terror with impunity.

On May 27, a young woman who had married on her free will was stoned to death by her father and brothers near the Lahore High Court on a road that is one of the busiest in the city. Farzana Parveen, 25, was pregnant and on her way to court to contest an abduction case filed by her family against her husband - whom she had married out of love. Some 20 members of her family were waiting for her outside the court.

They smashed her skull with bricks and she died instantly. Her father was arrested - but in a country where there are 800 registered cases of honour killings a year while thousands more go unregistered, culprits are rarely tried, let alone sentenced. No laws have been changed to make honour killings more punishable or to protect women. Successive military and civilian governments have followed a policy of inaction in all such cases.

A day earlier, a Pakistani-born US citizen Mehdi Ali Qamar, 50, a prominent heart surgeon from Ohio state, was shot dead in front of his wife and three-year-old son, as they visited the family graveyard near Rabwah in central Punjab. Two men on a motorcycle pumped 10 bullets into Qamar at close range.

Karachi Airport Attack and its Portents

The terrorist strike on the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi was neither the first nor the worst attack on such a high profile target in Pakistan. Just as similar attacks in the past – the GHQ and the Parade Lane mosque in Rawalpindi, the Naval War College, FIA building and ISI HQs in Lahore, the Mehran Airbase in Karachi and the Minhas Airbase in Kamra, the DI Khan and Bannu jailbreaks – did not quite serve as a wake-up call for Pakistan, there is no reason that the Karachi airport attack will. After the usual blame-game and finger pointing, followed by some bombastic declarations of how the country will not surrender before the terrorists, followed by a series of high level meetings on how to meet the terrorist challenge, it will be back to business as usual, until the next attack when the whole familiar cycle will repeat itself. And yet, like in the case of every major terror strike, there is always a method behind the madness that has been unleashed by the Taliban on Pakistan.

Given their savage and barbaric behaviour, there is generally a tendency among analysts and commentators to underestimate the sophistication and carefully calculated and calibrated nature of the Taliban strategy. This is a mistake that should be avoided. While it is true that the bestiality of the Taliban (and the rest of Islamist cohorts) has no modern parallel, they must be given credit for choosing their targets and planning their attacks with great care and calculation to cause maximum impact. To explain away an attack either as a sign of their growing desperation (a familiar tack used by governments to put a shine on their failure to pre-empt or prevent an attack) or as a senseless revenge attack or even as an attack whose only purpose was to create a splash, is nothing but self-deception.

Even worse are the bizarre conspiracy theories that are conjured up to somehow lessen the import of the attack and dilute the horror perpetrated by the actual culprits against whom neither the Pakistani people nor their political and security establishment are ready to take an unequivocal stand. Among the most popular of these conspiracy theories is the involvement of the Indian or Afghan intelligence in directing the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacks on Pakistan. According to the latest conspiracy theory (i.e. after the Karachi attack), the Indians were retaliating against the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s attack on its consulate in Herat and the Afghan presidential candidate, Dr Abdullah Abdullah was doing the same against the suicide bombing aimed at assassinating him. The evidence: recovery of some Indian made medicines, conveniently glossing over the fact that these carried the label of the Karachi based importer; recovery of Indian origin ‘weapons’, and even though no one ever specified what these weapons were, everyone kept parroting the line. Quite frankly, if indeed India was behind this and other attacks and was using the TTP against Pakistan, it would be the greatest intelligence coup of the millennium and would be every Indian spook’s dream come true. Only it isn’t. Come to think of it, if India had such covert capabilities, why has it not used them to take out international terrorist like Dawood Ibrahim, Hafiz Saeed and some Khalistani terrorists who continue to strut around inside Pakistan?

ISIS Challenge in Iraq: Let the Neighbors Lead

June 15, 2014 
If any governments, besides the one in Baghdad, ought to be especially concerned about the recent advances in western Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it would be ones in the immediate Middle Eastern neighborhood at least as much as the United States. To the extent any action by outsiders can make a difference in what is happening in Iraq, it ought to be those neighboring states that undertake it. We in the United States have a hard time realizing that, however, for two reasons.

One is the habitual American tendency to equate problems anywhere in the world with problems that are assumed to be within the capacity of the United States to solve and thus are problems that the United States ought to solve. This tendency is, in other words, the inclination to think of the United States as the world's policeman—although put in that clichéd form, everyone would deny that this is what they want.

The other reason is the even stronger tendency to think of other players in world affairs in terms of rigid rosters of allies and adversaries. We condone what those on the first list do and condemn the actions of those on the second list, while failing to realize that each other country in the world, regardless of the labels we may habitually apply to it, has some interests it shares with us and others that conflict with our interests.

The ISIS story is leading Arabs in the Persian Gulf states, and especially in Saudi Arabia, to do some hand-wringing and forcing them to do some policy reappraisal. The Saudis, like Americans, have a habit of rigidly dividing their world into friends and foes, with all the automatic condoning or condemning involved, except that in the Saudis' case the division is defined in sectarian terms. In the Saudi view it's Sunni good, Shia bad. But ISIS is a Sunni group that is so nasty and vile that Saudis in and out of government surely realize it is bad news not just for Shia but for themselves as well. The Saudis could usefully try to exercise some direct influence, including with positive incentives, on the Maliki government, with the objective of enhancing the status and political role of Iraqi Sunnis and thereby undermining the main appeal of ISIS. But first the Saudis have to get over their disdain for dealing with Maliki at all.

The neighboring state that has perhaps the biggest concern about the ISIS story, however, is Iran. The ISIS surge is one of the most salient and clearest examples in which U.S. and Iranian interests are congruent. Both Washington and Tehran want ISIS to be stopped. Iranian public statements have been clear about this objective, although reports vary as to exactly what Iran has done so far regarding assistance or intervention in Iraq.

There is right now an excellent opportunity for useful coordination between Washington and Tehran regarding messages to be sent to, and pressure to be exerted on, Prime Minister Maliki. If both the United States and Iran—the two foreign states on which Maliki's future most depends—tell him the same thing about the need to move beyond his destructively narrow ways of governing, such pressure might begin to have a beneficial effect. Although the Iranians have been happy to see the Shia majority in Iraq finally get out from under Sunni political domination, they also are smart enough to realize that Maliki's performance is more a prescription for unending instability and Sunni radicalism, which neither the Iranians nor we want.


By Hassan Ahmadian

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has succeeded in less than a week to capture many Iraqi cities, including the populous cities of Mosul and Tikrit. This is an unprecedented development. Neither Al-Qaeda, nor any of its offshoots have been ever able to score such a huge victory in the heartland of the Arab world. On the other hand, this is the first time in the Middle East modern history that the borders among Arab countries have become meaningless and ISIL elements have been in transit between Syria and Iraq without facing any important obstacle. This development has had no precedent since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The simultaneous operations carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria is proof to high potential of this terrorist group. Even Arab governments are rarely able to engage in more than one war front at the same time and achieve such major goals. Therefore, the question is why and how the ISIL emerged as such a formidable power?

The ISIL was called “the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)” up to 2011 and was not considered an influential political player in regional equations. When Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi assumed command of the military forces of the Islamic State of Iraq, it was still working under the oversight of the late leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. However, later killing of Bin Laden, on the one hand, and rapid spread of the popular revolutions in the Arab world, on the other hand, changed the conditions and paved the way for a parallel alteration in the nature of this terrorist force. From the very beginning, Al-Baghdadi was not very willing to swear allegiance to the successor of Bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. However, and in order to maintain the unity of the organization under his command, he finally gave in to the allegiance. While the beginning of popular uprisings in the Arab countries was clear sign that Al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries were lagging behind the real developments on the ground in Arab societies, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and his men were waiting for their opportunity in order to take advantage of these developments.

That opportunity first showed up in Syria. Of course, what happened in Syria was not a result of plans made by the ISIL or other jihadist Salafist groups. They only took advantage of the situation. The main factor that helped to promote sectarian divides was countries which were considered the main losers of these developments at the beginning of the aforesaid revolutionary uprisings. Those countries were topped by the government of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, this country and its regional allies decided to minimize the damage they had incurred as a result of the revolutionary uprisings by taking advantage of regional media and restoring the traditional balance of power in the Middle East. As a result, they reached the conclusion that the best way to do this was to intensify negative sectarian discourse against the government of the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as well as the Islamic Republic of Iran. The main output of this approach was creating difficult conditions for Assad’s government in Syria and military intervention by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Bahrain under the pretext that Iran was interfering in the Persian Gulf kingdom to instigate its Shia population against the government. All these instances were based on a sectarian discourse whose main element was revival and further strengthening of jihadist Salafi groups, including the ISIL.

The beginning of revolutionary movements in the Arab world showed that the jihadist Salafist current is way behind what is actually happening within Arab societies. In none of the Arab countries that underwent revolutions, they were part of those developments. It was only through escalation of sectarian discourse that the jihadist Salafist entity, especially Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, found more breathing room. By putting the highest emphasis on the promotion of the sectarian discourse, they once again managed to emerge as the main protagonists behind developments in the Arab world. In this way, the sectarian discourse succeeded in attracting a great number of jihadist Salafist forces from the entire world to Syria. In addition, a considerable amount of financial aid was channeled to Salafist militants from various sources. Most of that aid came in through unofficial channels and were contributed by the citizens, and sometimes princes, in the Persian Gulf states. In this way, it didn’t take long before Al-Qaeda and its subsidiaries managed to marginalize the Free Syrian Army and other opposition forces in Syria.

Who Made the Pivot to Asia? Putin

The Washington Post

On Wednesday, it finally happened — the pivot to Asia. No, not the United States. It was Russia that turned East. In Shanghai, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a spectacular energy deal — $400 billion of Siberian natural gas to be exported to China over 30 years.

This is huge. By indelibly linking producer and consumer — the pipeline alone is a $70 billion infrastructure project — it deflates the post-Ukraine Western threat (mostly empty, but still very loud) to cut European imports of Russian gas. Putin has just defiantly demonstrated that he has other places to go.

The Russia-China deal also makes a mockery of U.S. boasts to have isolated Russia because of Ukraine. Not even Germany wants to risk a serious rupture with Russia (hence the absence of significant sanctions). And now Putin has just ostentatiously unveiled a signal 30-year energy partnership with the world’s second-largest economy. Some isolation. The contrast with President Obama’s own vaunted pivot to Asia is embarrassing (to say nothing of the Keystone pipeline with Canada). He went to Japan last month also seeking a major trade agreement that would symbolize and cement a pivotal strategic alliance. He came home empty-handed.


Three missions characterised China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent visit to New Delhi. As was stated in the official announcement, Wang came to India to get a first-hand familiarity with the newly elected government, rope in high-level Indian leaders to the June 28 event at Beijing to commemorate the 60thanniversary of the initiation of the Five Principles for Peaceful Co-existence (Panchsheel Principles) and as the “special envoy” of President Xi Jinping to convey a message to the new Indian prime minister. To a large extent, these missions were fulfilled and the trip can be stated as successful from the Chinese point of view.

Three Missions

Firstly, China was not sure how the new government would respond, given the last BJP-led dispensation’s nuclear tests of 1998 and its then defence minister calling China a “potential enemy number one”. Besides, China has its own problems to consider in the background of potential conflict situation with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and with Vietnam and the Philippines over the South China Sea islands. In the multilateral institutions like the ASEAN Regional Forum, Shangri-La dialogues and the East Asian Summit meetings, a number of countries were critical of China’s recent actions of setting up an Air Defence Identification Zone or building military infrastructure in the region. Given the fact that the East Asian Summit meeting in Myanmar is a few months away, any negative response from the new Indian leadership could further complicate China’s position in the region. A “neutral” – if not a pro-China – posture by India in the upcoming multilateral meetings is beneficial to the Chinese interests. In courting India ardently, China’s leaders must have been reminded of the old adage “the early bird catches the worm”!

Secondly, China’s leadership realised that the new government in Delhi – unlike all the governments before since 1984 – is not dependent on the coalition partners and can decisively push through successfully legislation in the parliament related to territorial disputes or economic reforms. Both of these issues are of critical importance to China – one is related to security and stability of its peripheral areas and, hence poses challenges, while the other is an opportunity for investment and expanding the scale of its manufacturing prowess. In other words, China’s leadership views that Modi can deliver and, most significantly, the new political dispensation could easily last for another term. Mending fences with the new and stable leadership could provide for rich dividends to China both at the economic level as well as at the international level given India’s track-record of independent foreign policy. China can also piggyback on the Indian diplomatic skills and soft power in the multilateral institutions given the depletion in China’s image due its recent assertiveness in East and Southeast Asia.

Thirdly, the April visit of United States President Obama to Asia – postponed since October last due to budgetary cuts – is seen by the Chinese leadership as strengthening further the US “rebalance” in the Asia-Pacific region. While China has a mutually beneficial relationship with the US, it is concerned over any containment or hedging strategies of the US. China wants the US to hand over the Asian region to Beijing. China is countering the US “rebalance” through the continental and maritime Silk Roads, but for the success of these China also needs Indian cooperation. In this context, the Panchsheel principles could lure India back into a “united front” with Beijing.

Six decades of Panchsheel

Both India and China have officially lauded Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit. Wang’s interaction with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj and other officials was termed as “productive, substantive and fruitful” by the Indian foreign ministry spokesman. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman stated that in the wake of Wang’s visit, bilateral relations have entered into a “new age of gearing up” and that these are conducive in ushering “peace, stability and development of the region and beyond”. India has also decided to send the vice-president to attend the June 28 celebrations in Beijing to mark the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel principles.

Special Envoy: What’s the message?
Significantly, Wang was sent to Delhi as “special envoy” of the Chinese president – a new intervention in the bilateral relations in the recent period. China had sent such special envoys before to the inaugural functions of new leaders in Africa and South America. China also has a Special Envoy for the Middle East and Africa for more than a decade, but Wang’s appointment as an envoy directly under the President (and not under the Premier’s State Council under which the foreign ministry functions) caught everyone by surprise. For the most significant issues in the foreign and security policies are discussed by one of the seven Central Leadership Small Leading Groups under Xi Jinping. Earlier this year, China’s president XI also became the Chairman of the National Security Commission, in addition to wearing other powerful hats like the General Secretary of the Communist Party.

As the special envoy, Wang delivered the message from Xi to Modi which praised the latter’s leadership qualities and, more significantly, on economic development in India. The new leadership’s focus on economic rejuvenation provides innumerable opportunities for China’s capital, labour, management and exploration of a huge market that could sustain economic growth rates in China. Predictably, Wang called Modi an “old friend” of China so as to further cement bilateral relations through high-level communications. More interestingly, Wang also re-iterated Premier Li Keqiang’s phrase that India and China are “natural partners” given the geographical proximity and developing nations’ status of these Asian giants. This move seems to be aimed at creating a parallel construction to the “natural allies” equation between then world’s largest democracies such as the US and India.

(Srikanth Kondapalli is Professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The views expressed in this article, written exclusively for India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, are solely those of the author)

China Executes 13 on Charges of Terrorism

June 17, 2014

Trucks carrying criminals and suspects are seen during a mass sentencing rally at a stadium in Yili, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region May 27, 2014.
In the latest step of its “war on terror,” Chinese courts executed 13 terrorists and sentenced three more to death. 
In the latest sign that Beijing is extremely serious about its year-long crackdown on terrorism, Xinhuareported Monday that 13 people were executed on charges of “organizing, leading, and participating in terrorist organizations” in Xinjiang. The 13 had been involved in seven different incidents, including a June 2013 terrorist attack in Piqan County that left 24 police officers and civilians dead and 23 more injured.

Also on Monday, Xinhua reported that three people had been sentenced to death for the October 2013 attack in Tiananmen Square. The three were given the death sentence for their role in “organizing and leading a terrorist organization and threatening public security through the use of dangerous methods.” Two other suspects were given a life sentence and 20 years in prison respectively for “joining a terrorist organization and threatening public security through the use of dangerous methods.” The final three suspects were sentenced to five to ten years for joining a terrorist group. According to evidence presented during the trial, the men formed a terrorist cell in 2011, and began planning for the Beijing attack in December of 2012.

In both cases, Xinhua tried to emphasize not only the punishments for the accused terrorists, but the justness of the court proceedings. Both articles specified that court proceedings had been conducted using the “ethnic language” of the accused (presumably Uyghur, although Xinhua did not explicitly mention the men’s ethnicity). The article noting the executions referenced the process of appeals and “other legal rights” for the accused.Xinhua quoted a representative of Xinjiang’s highest court as saying that the executions “defended the sanctity of the law, protected justice, and safeguarded social harmony and stability.”

China may be particularly stressing the fairness of these legal proceedings as there have been concerns about the legality of China’s crackdown on terrorism. Earlier this year, a mass sentencing of 55 accused criminals was held in a sports stadium, sparking concerns that the accused had been denied due process in favor of a showy exhibition of official resolve. Celia Hatton of BBC described the mass sentencing as the same sort of “political theater” used during the Cultural Revolution. In addition, human rights organization are worried that the crackdown on terrorism is being accompanied by a general war on Islam, including religious practices such as the wearing of head scarves by women.

The Xinhua articles seem aware of the potential for a backlash, and framed the executions and sentencings as a victory for the justice system. Reforming China’s judicial system to accord with the “rule of law” is one of Xi Jinping’s priorities; thus Beijing seems to have backed away from grand spectacle to emphasize the legal validity of the convictions. Still, grand demonstrations of China’s victories against terrorism are still seen as valuable. AsReuters notes, the trial for the Tiananmen attackers was public, and reportedly attended by 400 people.

China’s Not So Secret War on Religion

By Steve Finch
June 2014

‘Recent developments indicate increased measures to control Islam and Christianity.’ 
The week starting May 18 marked a new low for religious groups in China. That Sunday, authorities quietly removed or destroyed crosses at 50 churches in Zhejiang in what appeared to be a widening campaign against Christianity in this prosperous eastern province. No mention of the campaign appeared in Chinese media.

Four days later, Islamic separatists plowed into the crowded main market in Urumqi, at the opposite end of the country in Xinjiang province, throwing explosives at innocent shoppers and killing 43 people including the five assailants themselves. The next day, Chinese authorities announced a one-year crackdown in restive Xinjiang using “extremely tough measures and extraordinary methods” following a spate of attacks including this second incident in the provincial capital in less than a month.

Although unrelated, these incidents mark a new battle against religion in China: a silent offensive against Christianity in the eastern Han heartland and a much louder campaign against Islamic extremism by minority Uyghurs in the northwest. Is it a fight the Chinese Communist Party can win?

Later the same day as the latest Urumqi attack, more than 1,000 soldiers flanking white tanks and police vehicles put on a show of strength in the Xinjiang capital as President Xi Jinping promised to “severely punish terrorists” and “crack down on them with a heavy fist.”

Severe punishments have followed in Xinjiang thick and fast. On May 27, authorities held a mass trial of 55 people in Yining City stadium packed with a 7,000-strong crowd, with three of the defendants sentenced to death on charges including “violent terrorism.” A week earlier, 39 people were found guilty amid scenes reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution of four decades ago. Mass trials have not been seen in China since the 1990s.

Alim Seytof, director of the Washington D.C.-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), says that the new campaign in Xinjiang has seen armed police and special police forces deployed from elsewhere in China in the two biggest predominantly Uyghur cities of Kashgar and Hotan.

“[They are] carrying out armed sweeps and security operations targeting Uyghurs, especially young males,” he notes. “In other cities, Chinese security forces are targeting devout Uyghur religious believers, especially men with beards and women with scarves.”

Beijing is blaming minority Uyghur Islamic separatist groups – the most prominent of which is the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – for at least 10 major terrorist attacks that have left more than 145 people dead in less than a year, mostly in Xinjiang.

Although the government formalized a new campaign only after the recent Urumqi attack, Seytof says authorities slowly ratcheted up a crackdown on Uyghurs in recent months with each new terrorist attack, often using measures that directly punish religious practices.

On April 16, the website of the Aksu prefectural government published details on how residents in Shayar county could be rewarded up to 50,000 yuan ($8,000) for reporting on local residents exhibiting any one of 53 proscribed behaviors. These included separatist preaching, storing guns, or providing funding to overseas anti-government groups, as well as people holding tabliqs, or informal religious discussions led by a layperson, or growing a long beard. Shayar, which lies close to the border with Kyrgyzstan, is 83 percent Uyghur.

Following the latest terrorist attack in Urumqi, China’s state press has hinted at the growing resentment that lies at the heart of China’s growing ethno-religious fighting. Generally, however, such discourse is sidelined inside the country.

Liu Lei, Xinjiang military command commissar, said in a front page article carried in the state-run China Dailythe day after the attack that religious extremists in Xinjiang were typically aged as young as 10 to 25 and jobless. The rest of the article focused on addressing symptoms of Uyghur discontent – cutting off terrorist funding including from “The West,” the possibility of a new Chinese terrorism law, and increased security checks in hospitals, schools and shopping malls.

“Not enough efforts are being made to solve terrorism at its roots,” Ma Pinyan, deputy director of the Ethnic and Religious Study Center at Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily for the same article. “The ideological basis for terrorism is religious extremism. The extremists have increased their efforts to indoctrinate people.”

Seytof argues that Uyghur extremism is generated by years of worsening repression. Uyghurs are treated as second-class citizens on their own land, he says, and Beijing – in trying to assimilate the population in the name of stability – is forcibly attempting to erase this minority Muslim culture, including its religion.

A vast region of deserts and bitterly cold winters that see temperatures drop to below minus 30 degrees Celsius, Xinjiang is a construct of the People’s Republic of China that has variously been wholly or partly controlled by previous Chinese dynasties, Russia and various Central Asian peoples. East Turkestan, the preferred moniker for the region used by separatists, was only in existence for one year, 1933, before it was taken back by Chinese Kuomintang troops.

Strategically important, China’s largest province is a key part of an economic jigsaw connecting with Central Asia via oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the expansive Tarim Basin that dominates this remote region.

“The Uyghur resentment toward Chinese rule comes from their failure to master and change their political destiny, and the sense of being overwhelmed by millions of Chinese settlers,” said Seytof.

While Chinese authorities have typically played to the majority in announcing measures against this Muslim minority, when it comes to growing crackdowns against Christianity – quite widely practiced by Han Chinese – Communist authorities have generally proven less forthcoming.

On April 28, authorities sent in bulldozers to demolish Sanjiang Church, a $5.5 million structure in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province the local government says overstepped documented planning permission but which the congregation says these same officials orally permitted.

The little coverage the demolition has received in Chinese media has portrayed authorities treating the church even-handedly as a violator of building rules in booming Wenzhou, a port city of nine million people labeled “Jerusalem of the East” because of its large Christian community.

“All the churches that received demolition orders are illegal,” an official of Wenzhou’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China’s government-sponsored Protestant church, told the state-run Global Times.

However, a document leaked and shared among Chinese Christian communities paints a picture of a systematic anti-Christian campaign in Zhejiang province this year. The document, which cannot be independently verified, details how authorities planned to identify targets including churches, unsanctioned house churches, and crosses from the start of the year until mid-February with the aim of tearing them down later this year under the pretext of building violations.

“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document says.

Aside from the 50 crosses torn down and destroyed in Zhejiang on May 18, a further 60 churches have beenforced to remove crosses or have been destroyed in Zhejiang province, according to China Aid, a Texas-based Christian rights group with a network of people inside China.

House churches, which are considered illegal by the authorities, have come under increasing harassment, said China Aid, and a Christian park in Wenzhou was torn down in April.

The heightened crackdown on Christianity in Zhejiang province appears to originate with the visit of provincial party secretary Xia Balong. Reportedly unhappy with the prominence of the Sanjiang spire, which rose more than 50 meters, a month later the congregation was told to remove the cross and the battle to save the church began.

It remains unclear whether the government’s fight against Christianity in Zhejiang is just policy at the provincial level, or whether as a densely populated Christian region it represents a pilot for social engineering-obsessed Beijing for a program that could be extended countrywide.

Many Christians in China say they fear the worst but are trying to remain optimistic. However, self-exiled Chinese Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid, says there are already signs an increasingly harsh anti-Christian campaign is spreading.

“Even other provinces such as Guizhou, Anhui and Guangdong, house churches have started receiving notices to either join the government-sanctioned church or face destruction,” he observes.

At Shouwang Church in Beijing, one of the most popular unsanctioned churches in China, police have started to detain members of the congregation for upwards of seven days, say church sources, whereas previously they were held for a few hours or turned away.

Also last month, the government issued a statement banning the conversion of children at faith-based orphanages.

Signs suggest the government has become increasingly irritated by Christianity, which has historically been viewed in China as a Western-originating threat to power in Beijing.

When Fenggang Yang, director of the center of Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, Indiana State, was quoted on April 18 claiming China would become the most populous Christian country in the World by 2030 with 247 million faithful, the party hit back six days later rubbishing the claim.

Ye Xiaowen, a member of the party’s powerful central committee, told state-run media such claims were “obviously inflated” and “unscientific.”

“It is completely meaningless to predict how many people might believe in Christianity in China in the future,” he added in the Global Times.

Although urban migration from villages including those dominated by Christians has swelled congregation sizes at churches and cathedrals across the country – many of which have been forced to add extra services and put towers of plastic chairs outside to accommodate churchgoers, few in China doubt Christian ranks are swelling. Sheer numbers appear to be working against the party, a network of people over which it struggles to exert control.

While the government says there about 25 million Christians, most independent estimates say the real number is at least 60 million, more than the total number of churchgoers in Europe.

The Chinese Communist Party appears concerned. Last month, Beijing issued a policy-advising “Blue Book”report stating that religion posed a serious threat to national security along with Western democracy and cultural hegemony as well as the spread of information on the internet.

“Foreign religious infiltration powers have penetrated all areas of Chinese society,” read the document.

Chinese media reported that this policy paper could inform the new National Security Council created in November, which held its first meeting in April.

At the very summit of government, there have been no explicit signs of a crackdown on Islam and Christianity in recent months, but few China watchers are in doubt that an apparently threatened Communist Party is clamping down on these religions.

“Recent developments indicate increased measures to control Islam and Christianity,” Purdue University’s Yang tells The Diplomat.

Steve Finch is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, TIME, The Independent, Toronto Star and Bangkok Post among others.