Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lake Chad's Condition Symptom of Greater Problems

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
We’ve known for a long time that the artificially-created states in the Sahel region of northern Africa are in trouble.

Their virtually undefended borders are plagued by Islamist jihadis, tribal warfare, and Christian-Muslim animosity. Governments have little control outside the few scattered metropolitan areas.

This is certainly true of Chad, named for the lake of the same name. Home to several African kingdoms in the 19th century, France conquered the area, called it Chad, and made it part of French Equatorial Africa.

The French focussed their attention on the forced production of cotton, in a fertile part of southern Chad that they referred to as “le Tchad Utile” --Useful Chad.

At the time, Lake Chad, which was dotted with hundreds of islands, was considered an ecological wonder. But things would change.

The French left their immense holdings in west and equatorial Africa in 1960, and a number of states, including Chad, emerged.

A gigantic country of 1,284,000 square kilometres, mostly desert, it is inhabited by just 13.6 million people, divided into more than 200 distinct ethnic groups. 

Many Chadians couldn’t communicate with one another -- there were at least a hundred and twenty indigenous languages. Some people in remote areas were unaware that their villages now belonged to a state.

Libya’s dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, wishing to create a greater country, repeatedly invaded the country, which was propped up by French investors and advisers. Its rule hardly extended beyond the capital, N’Djamena.

Colonial administrators had drawn the boundaries of Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger right through Lake Chad, causing no end of headaches regarding fishing and water use.

For the next two decades, the entire region was stricken with drought. The rivers feeding into Lake Chad dried up and by the end of the nineties the lake, on which some 30 million people depended, had shrunk a massive 90 per cent from what its size in the 1960s.

Its surface area has decreased from a peak of 25,000 square kilometres to approximately 1,350 square kilometres. Much of the northern basin was lost to the desert. 

The lake and the Chari River, which flows out of it, constitute the most important water source in the region. The drainage basin depends on monsoon rains to replenish its water, and this rainfall has dropped dramatically since the early 1960s.

Drought, desertification, deforestation, in addition to climate change, have contributed to its drastic reduction in size.

The lake also slowly begn disappearing due to the overuse of water resources, poor enforcement of environmental legislation, and a weak capacity for water resource management by the countries bordering it. 

Running along the borders of four countries and through varying cultures and ethnic loyalties, the diminishing resources of the Lake Chad water basin have led to humanitarian crises and social conflicts in the region.

Millions of people faced an ecological disaster as once plentiful fish stocks disappeared, and people started dying of hunger.

Worse was to come. The Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram, founded in 2002, sought to establish a caliphate in northeastern Nigeria. It began spreading out along the countries bordering the lake, including Chad. 

Boko Haram began kidnapping entire villages, replenishing its military ranks and collecting new wives, children, farmers, and fishermen to sustain its campaigns.

Hundreds of thousands of people from the basin fled the violence, eventually finding refuge in Chad’s villages and camps, as well as in Niger and Cameroon. The displaced Chadians and refugees have further strained the lake’s resources. 

To combat Boko Haram, each country bordering the lake supplied a few thousand soldiers to a Multi-National Joint Task Force. 

In late July, the Chadian Army ordered an evacuation of people living in the southern basin, warning that anyone who was still there in a week would be considered a member of Boko Haram. 

This was followed, in November, by a sweep further north. Altogether, some 165,000 people were forcibly removed. A month later, Nigerian soldiers arrested more than 400 people associated with Boko Haram hiding on islands in Lake Chad.

This year, the United Nations appealed for $121 million dollars in aid for the Chadian side of the lake, but only a third of that has been donated. 

The military operations, combined with the advancing desert, make the lake’s future more uncertain than ever.

The Embattled Hazara Minority of Afghanistan

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Afghanistan is, regardless of whatever ideological faction rules it, a Sunni Pashtun-dominated state. As a consequence, the Shia Hazaras, Afghanistan’s third largest ethnic group, have long been marginalized. 

Living primarily in the country’s centre, the Hazaras account for some 20 per cent of Afghanistan’s 30 million inhabitants.

The modern Afghan state was the creation of the Pashtun Amir Abdur Rahman Khan, who ruled the country between 1880 and 1901and was determined to foster a state around Pashtuns as the ethno-cultural core of the country.

He ruthlessly quelled many rebellions against increased centralized rule. The most protracted of these was the 1891-1893 Hazara War, following which the traditional Hazara landholding elites, known as mirs and begs, were eliminated.

Tens of thousands of Hazaras died. Some were even sold as slaves. Until recent decades, few attended university or held government positions.

However, their homeland was largely spared from Communist rule and the Soviet occupation that lasted until 1989, so the Hazaras were able to regain some of the autonomy they had lost under Rahman.

Following the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime, the political party Hezb-e Wahdat was founded in 1989 and was transformed into the ethnic party of the Hazaras, sometimes co- operating and sometimes fighting with other ethnic parties during the 1992–1996 civil war that erupted following the disintegration of the country’s Communist government. 

The Hazaras perceived the Taliban, which came to power in 1996, not just as a Sunni Islamist movement but as a Pashtun nationalist force, seeking to restore the historical Pashtun hegemony in the country.

One of the most brutal events took place in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, when thousands of Hazaras were systematically executed, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Although Afghanistan is no longer under Taliban rule, the Hazaras have also cast a wary eye on the post-2001 reconstruction initiatives undertaken by western powers after 9/11.

These projects, funded by major donors, have been mostly concentrated in the southern and eastern Pashtun provinces and so are simply another example of Pashtun hegemony. Yet Hazara provinces have remained among the most peaceful, despite the growing Taliban insurgency.

The Hazaras have taken advantage of the post-2001 political landscape. The 2004 Afghanistan Constitution granted them equal rights, and they have adapted to the current political system. 

The political settlement following the disputed 2014 Afghanistan election averted a potential civil war through an ethnic power-sharing scheme. 

President Ashraf Ghani is a Pashtun while his Tajik rival in the election, Abdullah Abdullah, is now the Chief Executive, a newly created position.  

Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is an Uzbek; while Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Hazara who emerged from the Hezb-e Wahdat, serves as Deputy to the Chief Executive, another new post created after the election.

In November Mohaqiq traveled to Iran and praised Shiite warriors who had taken part in the war in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State fighters.

Of course this whole edifice may come crashing down. Ghani is deeply unpopular and the coalition remains shaky. Next year’s presidential elections promise to be, at the very least, very contentious and perhaps violent. Ghani may be challenged by the Tajik warlord Atta Muhammad Noor, the governor of Balkh Province.

Menwhile, the Shia Hazaras remain victims of extremist Sunni groups. On Oct 20, at least 57 Hazaras were killed, and 100 wounded, during a suicide blast at the Imam Zaman Mosque in the Hazara-populated Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul.

At least 41 people died and 84 were wounded on Dec. 28 when attackers set off an explosion outside a Shia cultural centre in the same area.

In the face of rising attacks against them, President Ghani has stepped up security measures for Hazara buildings.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Turkey's Attack on Syrian Kurds

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal
Turkey’s recent incursion into Kurdish-held areas along its border with Syria puts it further at odds with the other players in the Syrian civil war.

On Jan. 20, Ankara announced that a campaign, “Operation Olive Branch,” had been launched, targeting the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which make up the bulk of the American-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

The Turks want to prevent the Kurds from gaining control over a contiguous sliver of land in Syria they call Rojava, including the towns of Afrin in the northwest, Kobani in the centre, and Qamishli in the northeast.

The current operation is concentrating on an area of northwestern Syria under YPG control that includes the cities of Afrin and Manbij. It is intended to create a security zone about 29kilometres deep inside Syria. 

Turkey believes the YPG has links to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that operates inside Turkey, and which it considers a terrorist group. 

The PKK has waged an insurgency against the Turkish government for decades. Abdullah Ocalan, the KPP leader imprisoned since 1999, was based in Kurdish Syria for nearly two decades.

The current offensive into Syria has been prompted by Washington’s plan to help the SDF alliance create a 30,000-strong border security force along Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey and prevent the return of the Islamic State (IS). 

The move is opposed by Iran, Russia, Syria, and especially Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has called the force a “terror army.”

The Turkish invasion has left Washington with a dilemma.  It will have to scale back its support of the Kurds, one of the few groups that have consistently helped America in Syria and Iraq, or else risk a quarrel with a fellow NATO member.

The attack has also placed Russia in a difficult position. Moscow is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- but also wants to remain on good terms with Turkey. Perhaps for that reason, Russia has moved its ground forces and vacated the airspace to accommodate the Turkish operation.

All this comes against the backdrop of political jockeying by the countries involved in Syria’s civil war to find a political solution to end the conflict.

Moscow has been preparing to host a Syrian National Dialogue Congress, set for Jan. 30 in Sochi. It hopes to broker peace between the Syrian regime and its opposition while appeasing major stakeholders, including various Syrian groups.

Turkey claims to have received guarantees last December that the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds would not attend scheduled talks in Sochi. It protested continued American support for the YPG on Jan. 10 and seeks to pressure Washington to block their participation in the political process. 

Meanwhile, American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Jan. 17 announced that a small U.S. presence of some 2,000 troops will remain in Syria indefinitely. 

Erdogan has said that Manbij, where the U.S. stations military personnel, will soon be attacked and asked the Americans to leave the town. In turn, President Donald Trump cautioned him against the growing risk of conflict. 

This hasn’t scared the Turks. “Those who support the terrorist organisation will become a target in this battle,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag warned.

Erdogan declared Friday that his forces could go even further into Kurdish territory than his government had previously stated. Will two NATO allies actually come to blows?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Religious Conflicts Threaten Stability

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal
When quarrels between nations become violent there is a tendency for them to become framed in terms of religion when there is a religious difference between the sides.

Peter Berger, the Boston University sociologist of religion, has termed this the “de-secularization” and “sacralisation” of conflict; such wars become infused with religious imagery by both parties. 

Wars between peoples that may begin over economic and historical grievances often come to be understood from a religious perspective as their societies are “brought under the domination of religious institutions and symbols.” 

Embedded in each nation’s culture, its myths and memories resurface and return to the public sphere. After all, some essence of religious faith exists across different societies, even if latent.

Religion is important because any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. And since each religion has its fanatic fundamentalists, demagogy, rhetorical intolerance, and demonization of the “other” and “unbeliever” will typically prevail. 

Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world – they see it as a struggle between good and evil, which makes it difficult to justify compromise. 

Such conflicts are hard to resolve by pragmatic and distributive means and become tenacious and brutal.

So, as Berger warned in his 1999 book The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion in World Politics, those who “neglect religion in their analyses of contemporary affairs do so at great peril.”

Today most violent conflicts contain religious elements linked up with ethno-national, inter-state, economic, territorial, cultural, and other issues.

In a world where many governments and international organizations are suffering from a legitimacy deficit, a growing impact of religious discourses on international politics seems inevitable.

“Because religion has come to occupy a more prominent role in international affairs since about the mid-1970s, gradually overtaking ideology in some regions, we logically see its different facets more vividly,” notes Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, head of the International History Department at the Graduate Institute of Geneva, Switzerland. 

He cites the end of the Cold War, the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its related rise of transnational Islamism, 9/11 and its international imprint, and “the big regional conflict of our times, the increasingly existential opposition between Sunnis and Shiites.” 

And there is the seemingly never-ending deadlock between Israelis and Palestinians over such religious symbols as the sacred sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

In Asia in recent years Buddhist monks have attacked churches, mosques and Hindu temples in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, with many thousands dead. In China, the Muslim Uyghurs are under increased pressure by the Han state.

Non-state actors have in various countries seized the opportunity to undermine the legitimacy and control of central governments and to promote their extreme ideologies – Hezbollah in Lebanon is a prime example. 

Conflicts that have a religious dimension are becoming more common in sub-Saharan Africa. Failed states and corrupt polities gave rise to religiously-based movements such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Is religion on the verge of becoming the common denominator in world politics? If so, it is all the more important to understand it correctly. 

This has been difficult for many intellectuals in western, “post-religious” countries such as Canada. They are prisoners of a liberal mind-set that understands little about the “real world” of deep religious and ethno-nationalist conflict.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Putin's Syrian Victory Seems Complete

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

It looks like Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has effectively won his country’s civil war against Islamic State militants. 

The other winners? Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, for sure. But, perhaps more significant for the international order, also Vladimir Putin. 

Through military intervention and diplomatic maneuvres, Putin made his country one of the major players in the Syrian conflict. 

A Russian presence in the Middle East isn’t new. Imperial Russia and its successor, the Soviet Union, both asserted interest in the region. It was not until the 1990s, during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, that Russia briefly retreated from there. 

When Putin came to power, he aimed to return Russia to the Middle East, and restore Russian influence in Syria.

In September 2015, he provided the forces that helped, along with troops from Iran, Hezbollah and Iraq, to turn the tide in the country’s civil war.

Moscow’s military engagement has paid off. The war is still not over, but the focus is increasingly on a future political settlement.

To accomplish this, Moscow has teamed up with the Turks and the Iranians. Russian-led peace talks by the three countries were launched in Astana, Kazakhstan, last January. 

On Nov. 22, the leaders of the three countries again met, in Sochi, Russia, to discuss Syria’s future.
The summit emphasized the necessity of preserving Syria’s unity and territorial integrity, without raising any preconditions for the start of a transitional period.

On Dec. 6 Putin announced that the military operation in the area was now finished, and that the focus would switch to a political process. 

He added that it was important to establish a Congress of Syrian Peoples, a proposed peace conference that Russia has offered to host, which would lead to the preparation of a new constitution and then presidential and parliamentary elections.

In a visit to Moscow’s Hmeymim air base in Syria five days later, Putin met with Assad and ordered “a significant part” of Moscow’s military contingent there to start withdrawing.

Moscow intends to retain its permanent air and naval presence in the country. Though the Kremlin has recently improved relations with Egypt, it still regards Syria as its main geopolitical and military foothold in the Middle East.

The air base and the Tartus naval facility, which is being upgraded to a regular naval base, will stay in place. 

The Syrian armed forces will continue to rely on Russian weapons and equipment, and Russian military specialists will continue to train them. 

At the same time, Moscow has no illusions about Assad’s personal loyalty or his ambitions to keep his power, despite Russian efforts for a political settlement and talks with the opposition.

But the reality is, while Russia is a principal actor, it cannot resolve the situation all alone, and Iran also will retain its influence.

Russia’s main contribution has been air strikes, but Iran-backed Shi’ite militias did much of the fighting on the ground.

Moscow is aware of Iran’s desire for a “Shi’ite corridor” stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria, all the way to Lebanon. Russia still must determine what level of Iranian presence on the ground is acceptable. 

Also, what Russia sees as legitimate opposition forces, to be invited to attend the Congress of Syrian Peoples, may not necessarily match Iran’s viewpoint. 

In fact, during the six years of the Syrian conflict, Russia has tried to establish ties with various Syrian factions, including Kurdish groups, some of which Iran deems suspect. 

So Moscow’s attempt to centralize the political process around its own role could potentially alienate Iran down the road, thereby challenging their so-far-successful partnership in Syria.

As for the United States, Washington seems prepared to accept Assad’s continued rule, reversing repeated U.S. statements that Assad must step down as part of a peace process.

The Syrian regime now controls the majority of the country’s territory, including cities such as Damascus, Hama, Homs, Latakia, and Aleppo, that U.S. analysts refer to as “useful Syria.”

Its forces, along with Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard contingent, have also conquered considerable swathes of the Syrian Golan.

Of course the imminent end of the conflict doesn’t mean Syrians will unite around Assad’s Shi’ite Alawite regime. 

More than six years of war has resulted in the killing and displacement of at least one-third of Syria’s Sunni Arabs, once an absolute majority in the country. They may resume the battle at some future date.

Russia Now Busy Courting Egypt

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian 

Already the major foreign power in Syria, Russia is now trying to extend its role in the Middle by courting Egypt.

Vladimir Putin on Dec. 11 travelled to Cairo for a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, resulting in the signing of contracts for the construction of the Dabaa nuclear plant in northern Egypt. 

The construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, under a $30 billion contract, will be undertaken by Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. The Russian government has offered a $25 billion loan for the project, and Russia will supply the fuel for the plant. 

Annual trade between Russia and Egypt stands at $4 billion and Cairo is very interested in attracting new Russian investments. Putin and Sisi even discussed creating an industrial zone in Egypt with “favorable conditions for the Russian businesses.” They also spoke about trying to revive tourism, hard hit by terrorism.

Military issues were also on the table. Putin’s visit followed the Nov. 30 signing of a draft agreement, valid for five years, allowing the military aircraft of the two countries to share airspace and air bases.

Russia and Egypt also would be able to carry out joint terrorism measures in the Sinai Peninsula, where terrorist operations have been on the rise. An attack on the Al-Rawda Mosque on Nov. 24 murdered 311 worshippers.

Helping Cairo battle terrorists in Sinai, where Cairo has appeared helpless against attacks by militants, may become a pillar of Russian-Egyptian security cooperation.

Nurhan al-Sheikh, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told the Al-Monitor news agency that “It is in Egypt's best interest to cooperate with Russia when it comes to countering terrorism, especially after Russia’s unprecedented success in liberating all Syrian territories from ISIS.”

Putin also stated Moscow's readiness to resume Russian flights over Egypt; all flights had been suspended after a Russian aircraft was downed in the Sinai on Oct. 31, 2015, killing more than 200 people. 

“Egypt has done a great job in making airport security more effective,” Putin remarked. “Russian security services reported that on the whole we are ready to restore such connection between Moscow and Cairo.”

This Egyptian-Russian military rapprochement may also see Russia provide Egypt with the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. Moscow will also soon supply Egypt with MiG-29 fighter jets and has won a tender to sell Egypt Ka-52 helicopters for French-built Mistral ships.

Bases in Egypt would also be useful for Moscow in pursuing its goals in neighbouring Libya. In that chaotic post-Gadhafi country, riven by ongoing battles between rival Islamist and nationalist militias, Russia supports the Libyan National Army forces led by General Khalifa Haftar. 

Russia particularly covets the Sidi Barrani base, which is a mere 100 kilometes from Libya. Haftar is based in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border. 

Haftar met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last August and naval forces conducted maneuvres near the Libyan coast.

This suits Egypt, whose chosen partner in securing its porous western flank is General Hafter.
From Sisi’s perspective, Moscow might be useful in helping solve Egypt’s challenges in the Sinai and in Libya; both are lawless regions that harbour terrorists intent on destabilizing Egypt.

At the United Nations, Egypt has made common cause with Russia to oppose the United States on various issues. Both voted against the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

For Russia, this may be a first step towards a resumption of the old Egyptian-Soviet alliance, which lasted for some 25 years during the Cold War and was a centrepiece of Moscow’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

For Egypt, it involves formulating a new foreign policy that includes a nationalistic reassertion of Egypt’s freedom of maneuvre within the region.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Who Are the Palestinians?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary, Alberta] Jewish Free Press
In the current crisis over the status of Jerusalem, following President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital, some background is in order.

Before the First World War, “Palestine” had been a non-existent country of uncertain size, never sovereign and for centuries part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. 

After the Versailles peace settlement, it acquired a formal designation and boundaries, when in 1922 it was officially created by the League of Nations. Known as the Palestine Mandate, it came under British jurisdiction. 

In addition to direct British rule in western Palestine, which the 1917 Balfour Declaration had earmarked as the venue for a national home for the Jewish People, the Mandate also included eastern Palestine. There, in 1921, the British acknowledged the Hashemite Prince Abdullah ibn Hussein as its governor.

So, while the original Palestine Mandate was supposed to include all of what is today Jordan, in 1921 the British lopped off everything east of the Jordan River and created the puppet state of Transjordan.
Only in 1946 was it formally separated from the Mandate and declared an independent state, as the British understood that their rule over Palestine west of the Jordan was coming to a close.

It’s important to emphasize that this much smaller Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, existed for two years -- from 1946 (the birth of Transjordan) until 1948 (the birth of Israel).  

Before 1946, as a border the Jordan River had little meaning for the self-identification of most of the Arabs living on either bank. The overwhelming majority did not self-identify as Palestinian, but more often as Syrian or part of the greater Arab nation.

Indeed, the word Palestinian until 1948 was more closely associated with Jews and Zionism than with the Arabs in the area. For example, the Jerusalem Post newspaper was called the Palestine Post. The Palestine Symphony consisted entirely of Jewish musicians. 

On the other hand, the Arabs in the Mandate who fought against Jewish independence were united under the name Arab Higher Committee, which had been established in 1936.

The UN-backed partition plan of 1947 proposed partitioning western Palestine between a “Jewish State” and an “Arab State.” These two were designed as ethnic jurisdictions.

But the Arabs in Palestine, joined by the neighbouring Arab states, refused to accept the partition. And once the Jews in Palestine declared independence in 1948, war ensued.

In the conflict that followed, the British-led Arab Legion captured all of what we now call the West Bank, including the Old City of Jerusalem and east Jerusalem. (Egypt retained what became known as the Gaza Strip.)

The country, now renamed Jordan, in effect became a Palestinian Arab-majority state run by Bedouin tribes under Hashemite rule. No Palestinian state was created in the old Mandate.  

Between 1949 and 1967, in effect a version of the “two-state” solution – Arab rule (though not Palestinian) in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel -- was in effect. 

Yet the Palestine Liberation Organization was created in 1964, three years prior to the Israeli occupation of those territories. Obviously, they were planning to “liberate” Israel proper.

The Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza could have had a state after 1949. Why didn
’t they cast off Egyptian and Jordanian administration and create one, with east Jerusalem as their capital? 

Indeed, when Jordan’s Arab Legion conquered the Old City, its Jewish Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods, it forced out every Jew. Before that, Jews were a large and integral part of what is now called East Jerusalem, and at times were the majority population.

So the Palestinians didn’t even need to evict Jews from the city -- yet hey allowed Jordan to govern Arab-held Jerusalem.

Doesn't it say something that they made no real effort to found a state? Wasn’t Jordan’s annexation – recognized by only three countries, Great Britain, Iraq, and Pakistan -- also an occupation? Is it because the Palestinians were content to live under Muslim Arab rule?

Instead, their focus was bent on destroying Israel because they considered the Jewish state -- remember, in its pre-1967 boundaries -- illegitimate. Openly irredentist groups like Hamas still make that explicit.
Nonetheless, every people has the right to self-definition as well as self-determination, and in any final settlement, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs would have to acknowledge each other as distinct and legitimate nationalities, were peace ever to come to this troubled land. 

It will require majority Palestinian areas to become sovereign, while concurrently on their part acknowledging the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel in its ancient homeland. 

This will doubtless require border adjustments of various sorts, perhaps even involving Jordan, and determining the thorny issue of the final status of Jerusalem. A viable Palestinian state would have to be larger than its present configuration.

Such matters can only be dealt with once a “grand bargain” between the two entities takes place at a peace conference. Otherwise, unfortunately, only one state will survive — either Israel or an Arab Palestine.

Monday, January 15, 2018

On Pakistan, a More Muscular American Foreign Policy

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

It’s no secret that U.S. President Donald Trump thinks Americans have for decades been taken for a ride by fair-weather friends when it comes to foreign aid.

They are glad to take the cash, but become no-shows when asked to provide help when Washington needs it.

Pakistan is among the countries he considers freeloaders. In fact, it’s worse than that. 

Pakistan has for a long time been playing a double game, assuring Washington that it was doing what it could to tackle fundamentalist militancy while at the same time turning a blind eye to the many terrorist networks in the country.

Pakistan has actively worked at cross-purposes to Washington’s own foreign policies, from giving sanctuary to Osama bin Laden to providing aid, often surreptitiously, to various groups of Islamists, especially in Afghanistan and the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

It has also long been an open secret that its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency created the Afghanistan Taliban and that it tolerated contact between the ISI and commanders of the insurgency. 

In 2016, the then-Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike inside Pakistan. 

Washington also has charged Islamabad with supporting the Haqqani network militants, who are allied with the Afghan Taliban.

Not one to mince words, at the start of the new year Trump announced that America won’t be played for a sucker anymore. U.S. aid shouldn’t go to countries that harbor terrorists who want to harm Americans, he asserted. 

The United States has provided Pakistan with $33.4 billion in aid since 2002. Annual economic and security assistance peaked at more than $3.5 billion in 2011, but Washington has drastically cut funds to Pakistan in recent years. 

Still, the South Asian nation received $383 million in 2016, according to U.S. government data, and $742 million was earmarked for 2017.

Last August, Trump warned he would slash aid to Pakistan as punishment for giving sanctuary “to agents of chaos, violence and terror.”

These include pro-Kashmir movements that have been unofficially tolerated because of their public popularity. As well, the ISI has long been reported to abet Lashkar-e-Taiba, a radical anti-India militia accused of masterminding a terrorist siege in Mumbai in 2008. 

Organized by militant ideologue Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, it then rebranded itself as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and has recently established its first political party, the Milli Muslim League. 

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Trump remarked, in announcing a new Afghanistan strategy. “But that will have to change.” 

He turned up the heat as 2017 was coming to a close. Trump presented a blueprint for the country’s national security policy on Dec. 18, and went out of his way to criticize Islamabad. “We make massive payments every year to Pakistan,” he stated. “They have to help.”

Vice President Mike Pence reinforced that message while visiting Afghanistan before Christmas, telling American troops that “President Trump has put Pakistan on notice.” 

So Jan. 1, 2018 arrived with one of Trump’s trademark tweets, as he lashed out at Pakistan. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif responded by laying much of the blame on the rise of terrorist elements in Pakistan in the last 20 years on the United States. That didn’t go over too well in Washington.

In a follow-up, the Trump administration announced on Jan. 4 it will suspend most security assistance to Pakistan, expanding its censure over militant safe havens.

The administration had already previously announced it will delay $255 million in military aid to Pakistan.

Analysts say ties are likely to worsen in 2018. “The trend lines have not been good, and the tweet gives an indication of the turmoil that awaits in 2018,” remarked Michael Kugelman, the senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Democratic Transition Follows Liberia’s Election

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

After almost three-quarters of a century, something new out of Liberia: a democratic political transition.

An African country founded by American Blacks in the 19th century, it had not had a smooth transfer of power from one elected president to another since 1944.

In fact, this was the first ever peaceful transfer of power in the country through universal suffrage.

On Dec. 26, George Weah, the former international soccer star, a man with little previous political experience, beat Joseph Boakai who had been Liberia’s vice-president for 12 years.

Boakai served under outgoing president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and darling of the international development community. 

She had herself defeated Weah in the presidential election run-off in 2005, and won a second term in 2011 against Winston Tubman, whose vice-presidential running mate was Weah.

In 2017, Weah and Boakai were the top two finishers of 20 candidates that contested the first round of balloting back on Oct. 10. 

Weah had come first with 38.4 per cent of the vote, compared with the 28.8 per cent won by second-place Boakai. As neither gained 50 per cent, a run-off became necessary.

Scheduled for Nov. 7, it took place after much delay, as some of the defeated candidates cried foul and insisted the election had been plagued by irregularities. 

This time, Weah won 61.5 per cent of the vote against Boakai’s 38.5 per cent. Voter turnout was low, with around 56 percent of registered voters, as many Liberians stayed home on the day after Christmas.

Weah, who was raised in a poor part of Liberia’s capital Monrovia, starred at major European soccer clubs in France, Italy and England. 

And now he will be running Liberia, a country which endured a brutal civil war for 17 years, started by Charles Taylor on Christmas Eve in 1989. The 14-year civil war left 250,000 dead and the nation’s infrastructure destroyed.

Taylor was eventually forced out amid international pressure following his indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone. He is currently serving a 50-year jail term in a British prison following his conviction. 

Weah’s vice-president will be Jewel Howard Taylor, the warlord’s ex-wife. But such is politics in this long-suffering country.

She had caused a stir early in the election campaign when she told reporters that although her ex-husband was no longer involved in Liberian politics, he still had promises that needed to be kept. She called for putting her husband’s agenda “back on the table.”

Rumors had abounded that Charles Taylor was issuing directives to Weah’s campaign from his jail cell during the first round. Weah admitted receiving at least one call from the incarcerated war criminal.

Having secured a little more than 38 per cent of the vote in the first round, Weah obviously had to make a lot of political deals with some of the other 18 first-round candidates in order to win. 

He even sought the support of a former warlord, Prince Johnson, who was taped torturing and killing former president Samuel Kayan Doe in 1990. 

Weah has his work cut out for him, in a country that, despite Johnson Sirleaf’s efforts, is still struggling with acute poverty, high unemployment, corruption and a health system recovering from the 2014 Ebola epidemic, which killed more people in Liberia than anywhere else. 

Compared to this, being a soccer star is a cakewalk.

Monday, January 08, 2018

North Korea is Now a Full-Fledged Nuclear Power

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Kim Jong-un’s North Korea now has missiles capable of reaching North America. How worried should we be? A lot.

Kim has since 2011 been the third member of the family dynasty to sit on the throne in Pyongyang, following his father and grandfather. 

Maybe Donald Trump can mock him as “Little Rocket Man,” but Kim is no joke. In fact he had a very good 2017.

North Korea is now on the verge of being able to carry out a nuclear strike against the United States and this has led to Trump and Kim trading threats with words like “fire and fury.”

Kim can now boast of a missile, the Hwasong-15, that can fly some 13,000 kilometres, and a hydrogen bomb 17 times the size of the one the United States dropped on Hiroshima. 

“The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table,” Kim said in his New Year’s message Jan. 1. “The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range.” 

While it remains among the poorest countries in the world, North Korea spends nearly a quarter of its GDP on its military, according to U.S. State Department estimates.

North Korea’s guiding philosophical principles are juche (self-reliance) and songun (military-first politics). The military plays a central role in political affairs and its position has been steadily elevated.

Estimates of the country’s nuclear stockpile vary: U.S. intelligence believes the number to be between 30 and 60 bombs.

North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 and its missile tests have prompted the UN Security Council to adopt resolutions condemning North Korea’s actions and imposing sanctions against the country. 

These have been steadily ratcheted up in the hopes of changing Pyongyang’s behavior. 

They ban the sale of materials and technology that would bolster North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, financial assistance to these programs, and arms sales; they also impose restrictions on select luxury goods and other foreign trade, and force the inspections of cargo bound for North Korea.

The latest UN sanctions, adopted in late December, required all countries to expel North Korean workers within two years. As many as 147,000 North Koreans continue to work abroad, some as far afield as Poland. 

They also imposed a sharp cut in oil shipments to the nation. Pyongyang called them “an act of war.” 

Trump accused China of allowing fuel to be smuggled into North Korea, amid reports of secret ship-to-ship transfers in international waters by Chinese and Russian vessels. South Korea recently seized an oil tanker accused of transferring 600 tons of refined oil to a North Korean ship.

Kim will not be deterred, because he took to heart the lessons of Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. In both cases, those counties were attacked and their leaders removed after they gave up their nuclear programs.

So Kim has emphasised that the country’s nuclear forces are central to its self-defence capability: “We will defend peace and security of our state at all costs and by our own efforts, and make a positive contribution to safeguarding global peace and stability,” he announced at the start of 2017.

“Kim Jong-un believes that nuclear weapons are his guarantee of regime survival,” contends Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, a California-based think tank.

As a nuclear power, North Korea might also reduce its costly and enormous conventional military forces, and channel scarce funds towards raising the standard of living for ordinary North Koreans.

Right now the country ranks fourth among the world’s militaries with more than 1.1 million personnel in the country’s armed forces, almost a fifth of its population. Pyongyang’s conventional capabilities remain a constant threat to its southern neighbour.

“Kim has now consolidated power internally, is 90 to 95 per cent done with the nuclear program and there are no signs of serious dissent within the regime,” according to Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow for the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Relations Between Greece and Turkey Worsen

by Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

People know that the status of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, partitioned between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since 1974, is the main impediment to good relations between Greece and Turkey, their respective mainland co-religionists.

But there are other contentious issues between Athens and Ankara, dating back decades, and something that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was very explicit about during his two-day visit to Greece in December.

Visiting heads of state usually don’t criticize their hosts during state visits, but Erdogan is a politician who speaks his mind.

The Turkish leader jettisoned diplomatic niceties during meetings that were supposed to cement ties between the rivals, and his confrontational stance stunned his Greek hosts.

What had been billed a groundbreaking visit to Greece, the first by a Turkish president in 65 years, turned into a verbal condemnation of some Greek policies, particularly in relation to its treatment of its Turkish Muslim minority in Thrace, the Balkan region near the Turkish border.

Muslims, Erdogan asserted on Dec. 7, should be able to elect their own religious leaders, rather than have them appointed by the Greek state.

Denying Muslims this right is a violation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, he declared, referring to the agreement which created the modern Turkish Republic. It also delineated the borders between the two nations.

He went further, saying that the treaty, which has long governed Greek-Turkish relations and is seen as a cornerstone of regional peace “needs to be modernized.”

Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos responded. “The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and the sovereignty of Greece, and of the European Union, and this treaty is non-negotiable. It has no flaws, it does not need to be reviewed, or updated.”

In subsequent talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Erdogan also chastized the Greeks for failing to look after former Ottoman sites.

A fervent nationalist and irredentist, Erdogan made it clear he still covets some territory Turkey gave up in 1923.

The two countries came close to war in 1996 over a pair of uninhabited isles in the Aegean Sea, when soldiers from both countries landed on them before American-led mediation persuaded both sides to leave the area.

The dispute resurfaced again earlier this year. The Greek defence minister, Panos Kammenos, flew over the two disputed islands in early February, in a response to an earlier visit to nearby waters by the commander of the Turkish armed forces, Hulusi Akar.

Turkey disputes Greece’s claim that the islands, known as Imia in Greece and Kardak in Turkey, should have entered Greek ownership in 1947, after having first being assigned to fascist Italy in 1923 following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. A defeated Italy gave them up to Greece after the Second World War.

The Dodecanese chain, situated extremely close to the Turkish mainland, blocks Turkey from extending any of its maritime zones of influence beyond a few nautical miles off its coastline.

Erdogan’s insistence on calling the Muslim minority in Greece a “Turkish minority,” is also regarded by Greece as suggesting territorial aspirations. Erdogan even visited the Muslims minority in the city of Komotini (Gumulcine) on Dec. 8.

Perhaps all this should have come as no surprise. After all, Greeks were subjugated under Ottoman rule for centuries before a Greek war of independence beginning in 1821 led to the creation of the modern Greek state in 1830.

Many conflicts followed, most notably in 1922 when the Greek army suffered a disastrous defeat in Asia Minor, prompting a massive exchange of populations – in today’s terms, ethnic cleansing – and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Future of the Two Koreas

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal

When the Korean Peninsula was partitioned after the Second World War, the two states that emerged were in term of ideology diametrically opposed to each other. This was also reflected in their foreign policies. 

While the new Marxist-Leninist state known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), north of the 38th parallel, became part of the Communist orbit, with ties to the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, in the south the Republic of Korea (ROK) forged strong ties with the United States.

The 1950-1953 Korean War devastated both states, and the armistice that followed left both ruling largely the same territory they had governed prior to the conflict.

Both nations have followed very different trajectories. In the north, the DPRK morphed into a strange Communist “monarchy” ruled by the Kim family. A third generation member of the dynasty, Kim Jong-un, now rules this impoverished but nuclear-armed totalitarian country. 

The south, on the other hand, slowly evolved from a military dictatorship into a democratic and prosperous country, one that has become a global success story. 

Economically, it was transformed from one of the poorest places in the world at the end of the Korean War to a developed nation in the early twenty-first century. 

Its growing integration into the world economy was the centerpiece of the nation’s economic developmental strategy.

The DPRK periodically warns the south that it will invade and obliterate its capital, Seoul. But South Korea has an important security treaty with the United States, which commits the two nations to provide mutual aid if either faces external armed attack. There is a large American military force in the ROK. 

The north treats the its existential enemy and threatens to attack it with nuclear weapons, which it continues to develop despite numerous UN sanctions. Largely isolated, though, Pyongyang’s only ally is China -- but Beijing’s support is uncertain.

Meanwhile, Moon Jae-in’s victory in the May 2017 South Korean presidential election may herald a departure in relations with North Korea.

Elected on a platform of renewing a dialogue with the North, in contrast with his two predecessors, Moon has been trying to avoid antagonizing Kim’s regime. 

He has proposed that North and South Korea participate as one team in the upcoming Winter Olympics, and also requested that the United States delay upcoming joint military exercises until after the Olympics.

Kim, too, seems willing to improve relations with the south. He agreed that they should open a dialogue on easing military tensions.

North and South Korea have reopened a long-suspended cross-border hotline, dormant since February 2016.

But efforts to improve North Korea’s behavior by promoting sporting or cultural links have always failed in the past. Still, the Korean people share a common history that extends back more than 3,000 years. 

So what are the possibilities of reunification of the peninsula into a single Korean nation-state? 

There are four paths to reunification: the ideal one is peaceful unification; the second is internal regime change in the north leading to the emergence of new leadership amenable to union; the third is the collapse of the Kim family regime; and the fourth and worst case is through conflict and war.

No one wants that last possibility.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Iran on the March in the Middle East

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Two interlinked wars may be coming to the Middle East. Either could break out within a few years’ time.

One conflict will pit Israel against an Iranian-led coalition based in Lebanon and Syria.

Another may well erupt between Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf on the one side, and Iran and its Shia proxy armies on the other, for hegemony in the Muslim Middle East.

Tensions have been building on Israel’s northern fronts with Syria and Lebanon as Shia militias loyal to Tehran, alongside the regular Syrian army, complete their victory over the Islamic State and other Sunni forces.

Iran’s plans to entrench and consolidate an anti-Israel military front in Syria include long-term military strongholds, a permanently deployed proxy army and the creation of industrial facilities for the production of precision rockets in Syria and Lebanon. 

Tehran is building a land corridor from Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea. This will further consolidate Iran’s already significant sway over the governments of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. 

The route would physically link Hezbollah in Lebanon, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the Iranian satellite government in Baghdad.

Iranian military plans include the creation of a naval base not far from the Russian base in Tartus, an air base near Damascus, and a ground base for armed sectarian forces under Iranian command south of Damascus. 

Tehran is changing into a powerful geopolitical player whose influence will be projected hundreds and maybe thousands of kilometres beyond its borders.

During the Syrian civil war, Iran created a number of Hezbollah-type militia forces. These include the pro-regime National Defence Forces in Syria and the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella organization composed of some 40 militias.

These groups have helped win the civil war for Assad’s Alawite Shiite regime. Meanwhile, Sunni Arab efforts to assist the rebels, in which Saudi Arabia played a large role, ended largely in shambles.

In Iraq, the ruling Islamic Dawa Party is traditionally pro-Iranian, while the militant Badr Organization controls the powerful interior ministry, which has allowed it to blur the boundaries between the official armed forces and its own soldiers.

In October, it appears that Iran helped Baghdad retake the disputed city of Kirkuk from the Kurds following the ill-fated referendum on Kurdish independence.

Lebanon is now effectively an Iranian vassal state. The establishment of a cabinet dominated by Hezbollah in December 2016, and the appointment of Hezbollah’s ally Michel Aoun as president two months earlier, solidified Iran’s grasp over the country.

Saudi Arabia’s bizarre attempt to force Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign last November -- which he later withdrew -- also demonstrated the ineptness of Saudi policy.

In a future northern war, therefore, Israel expects to encounter the battle-hardened Hezbollah along with a reconstructed Syrian army, backed by Iran.

Seyyed Abdolrahim Mousavi, the current commander-in-chief of Iran’s army, warned Israel in October that Tehran can “destroy the Zionist entity at lightning speed, and thus shorten the 25 years it still has left.” He threatened to “turn Tel Aviv and Haifa into dust.”

Elsewhere, too, Iranian leaders have been brilliant in their ability to play internal fissures and grievances across the region to Tehran’s advantage. They see a map not of crumbling artificial states, but rather one of ethnic, political, and sectarian divides.

The Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf states have reason to worry. With its ability to monopolize Shiite religious authority, Iran has been able to utilize minority communities across the region.

Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province and neighboring Bahrain are heavily Shiite and these populations harbour grievances against their rulers. Bahrain is so afraid it has even sent out feelers towards Israel.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led ineffectual embargo of Qatar has driven the gas and oil-rich emirate closer to Iran.

The Houthis in Yemen, who are Zaydi Shias, are now gaining ground in a civil war with Iranian help, despite direct Saudi intervention. They have even fired Iranian-made missiles at Riyadh. 

They may well prove to be the Islamic Republic’s breakthrough on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. This would provide Iran with the ability to control the mouth of the Red Sea.

Iran has been able to establish non-state allies in various countries, which give it political and military influence without the need to deploy Iranian troops. Tehran is winning the battle for the Middle East -- even without nuclear weapons.

Will Corsica Become the Next Separatist Flashipoint?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
If Corsican nationalists have their way, the large French-ruled Mediterranean island of 330,000 inhabitants would become Europe’s next big secessionist tug of war, alongside Catalonia and Scotland.

On Dec. 10 the governing Pè a Corsica (For Corsica) coalition won a convincing 56.5 per cent of the votes in elections for the island’s territorial assembly. French President Emmanuel Macron’s party, La République En Marche (Forward), got just 12.7 per cent of the vote.

The nationalists’ victory was the result of an agreement reached two years ago between the autonomist Femu a Corsica (Party of the Corsican Nation), led by Gilles Simeoni, and those seeking full independence, the Corsica Libera (Free Corsica) of Jean-Guy Talamoni.

The nationalists will have 41 seats, a clear majority in the island's 63-seat parliament. 

With its strong indigenous culture and language, closer to the Italians who ruled it for centuries than to the French, Corsica, the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, has always had an ambivalent relationship to the mainland. 

The nationalist alliance wants an amnesty for Corsicans jailed for pro-independence violence, equal status with French for the Corsican language on the island, and a “Corsican resident” status to dissuade foreign and French investors from buying up local properties.

Other demands include more fiscal autonomy, control over the island’s education system, and a greater say in developing the impoverished interior of the huge island.

This was the second victory in a row for the nationalists, who first came to power in 2015, and who now seem to have consolidated their hold.

Simeoni, the chairman of the Corsican executive council, told the French government that he expected “a true dialogue, so that the Corsica question is settled politically in a peaceful and long-lasting manner.” 

Macron now faces the dilemma of whether to loosen France’s grip on the Mediterranean island or to maintain centralised control.

The Elysée released a statement shortly after the victory, saying the manifesto put forward by Simeoni and Talamoni seemed “ambitious.” 

France has always prided itself of being a centralized state, and Paris has cultivated a policy of silence when faced with the island’s demands.

“It’s not indifference, it’s hostility,” contended Simeoni. “There’s no room for demands like ours in the French framework.” He called the French state “silent and paralyzed.” 

But there has been some state restructuring in France, where limited forms of devolution have created new tiers of governance.  

One of France’s 18 regions, Corsica is known as a territorial collectivity, and as such enjoys a greater degree of autonomy than the French administrative divisions known as departments; its assembly can exercise limited executive powers.

Simeoni is the former lawyer for Yvan Colonna, who was convicted of the 1998 murder in Ajaccio of a government-appointed prefect, Claude Erignac. 

The killing was considered the gravest act of violence in the four-decade conflict led by the Fronte di Liberazione Nazinale Corsu (National Liberation Front of Corsica).

Some 30 militants remain in French prisons but the extremists renounced violence in 2014.

Talamoni, the president of the Corsican assembly, believes independence is the island’s destiny. "We’ve forgotten nothing about taking our country out of the night into which France has plunged us!” Talamoni told a crowd prior to the vote.

 “There’s been a ‘massification’ of nationalism, it’s a nationalism that is now inclusive,” according to Thierry Dominici, a Corsica expert at the University of Bordeaux. This, he asserted, has marginalized the traditional political parties.

The crowds at the nationalist rallies were relatively young, which has allowed their leaders to argue that they represent a wave Paris will have to reckon with.