Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sri Lanka's unfinished war

Karu was a grocery shopkeeper in Puthukkudiyiruppu when’s 26-year-long civil war was nearing its end. Like tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the island nation’s north and northeast, Karu and his pregnant wife, Gowri, were caught up in the war in 2009. He was attacked and dumped in a hospital, where he was brutally tortured; his wife gave birth to a baby girl in a bunker in the heyday of the war. They finally managed to leave Sri Lanka for Tamil Nadu and then set out on a deadly 27-day-long boat journey to Australia.

The Syrian Conundrum

“I guess you killed 7,000 people there,” a Lebanese businessman once said to Rifaat al-Assad, the younger brother of former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, referring to the Hama massacre of 1982. Rifaat was the commanding general of the Hama operation in which Syrian troops, under order from President Hafez, massacred scores of people to quell a Sunni rebellion against the Baathist regime. Normally a politician will play down such a ghastly incident. But Rifaat’s response was rather surprising. “What are you talking about, 7000?” He said to the businessman. “No, no. We killed 38,000.” This conversation, cited in Thomas Friedman’s award-winning book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, offers a complete picture of how President Hafez put down the rebellion in Hama.

The Unending Iranian Nuclear Crisis

If anybody thought that a change of talk in the Bush administration’s Iran policy would be enough to induce the “isolated” Tehran to give up its intransigence and toe the western line, the July 19 meeting proved him or her wrong. Before the Geneva meeting between Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the US sent feelers to Tehran. In a clear indication that Washington was prepared to change its belligerent stand towards Tehran, the Bush administration announced that William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, would attend the meet. In addition, unconfirmed reports said the US was planning to open a diplomatic post in Tehran for the first time since relations were severed during the 444-day occupation of the American embassy in Tehran nearly three decades ago.

A Decade of Wars, Crises and Rises

In international politics, decades are important tools that help us understand and interpret history better. The major developments in the past often come to our mind with tags of decades – the economic crisis of 1920’s, the wars of 1930’s, the reconstruction of 1950’s, the Lost Decade, and so on. Now, standing at the starting point of a new decade, how do we analyse the bygone one (2000-10)? According to British historian Andrew Roberts, the first ten years of the new century, or the Noughties, were full of troubles. It witnessed two major wars, one of the gravest financial crises in decades, a number of natural disasters including Tsunami, and changes in global power dynamics. At the beginning of the century, not many might have forecast such a troublesome first decade.

Why India should continue engaging Iran?

Both the summit and its host have historically been important for India. Keeping up with that importance, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh embarked on a four-day trip to Iran on Tuesday to attend the 16th summit of the 120-member non-aligned movement (NAM). The gathering at the Iranian capital assumes greater significance because it is happening at a time when Iran is being isolated by western countries, led by the US, for its controversial nuclear programme. The West has recently imposed a slew of sanctions on the Islamic Republic aimed at scuttling its nuclear programme, which, they say, is attempting to build bomb. On the contrary, Iran has long maintained that the programme is for peaceful civilian purposes.

The survival of Pakistan

"Every country has a military, but Pakistani military has a country," so goes a popular adage in , which says something about the tremendous power of the armed forces in that country. The military has ruled Pakistan more than half of the country's existence and its interests go beyond the traditional barracks of any military force. The Pakistani military, better known as the "establishment" in the country, has people in politics, industry, civil society, media and even among extremists, who collectively make sure its interests are best served.

When the battle's lost and won

Will the Afghan government survive? With international troops in Afghanistan set to pull out in 2014, this question is becoming louder day by day. What makes the list of achievements, often issued from Kabul and Washington, less attractive is Afghanistan’s own history. What followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, after 10 years of fighting American- and Saudi-backed guerrillas known as the Mujahedeen, was chaos.

The Geopolitical Syrian Puzzle

Saddam Hussein called the first Iraq war the “mother of all battles”. Wait a minute before you blame me for quoting a dead “despised dictator”. Look at today’s Middle East and North Africa. Barring some hit-and-run or run-after-being hit military campaigns such as the Libya bombing of 1986 or the multinational forces in Lebanon during 1983-84, the Iraq war was the first major direct American intervention in the region. In 1991, the Americans came to the Middle East to stay there.  Twelve years later, Iraq was bombed again, destroyed and its president assassinated.

Why Syria?

History repeats itself. Not as a farce; but as tragedy. Those who witnessed the White House-led propaganda against Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 American war on that country cannot miss the startling similarities between those days and the past few ones. Replace Iraq with Syria. It’s almost a reloading of history. If Iraq was part of a larger American plan to reshape the Middle East, irrespective of what all the explanation the Bush clique and the neocon media were distributing, the real reasons behind a possible Syrian war cannot be different.