Sunday 29 April 2012

But why ‘tax’ only the private schools? (Sunday Guardian)

By Madhav Nalapat

Children ride a cart on their way home from school on the outskirts of New Delhi. REUTERS
Officials in the Union Ministry of Finance like to point out that tax rates in countries such as Sweden or Germany are even higher than in India. They forget that in Sweden or Germany, the citizen gets first-class healthcare, law and order, education, infrastructure and housing, usually free. Contrast that with India, where the government provides housing almost entirely to itself, leaving others on the pavement, while public healthcare, housing and education are of a standard that would make Rwanda seem advanced. Don't policymakers know this?
They have indeed, which is why they have thought up a fresh tax, this time an invisible one, and for the present confined to private schools that are not minority-run institutions. This is that a quarter of private school slots be given via a lottery, the mechanics of which will be controlled by the bureaucracy, to "needy" students. The state now wants more than taxes, it wants a share in private property. Had schools been given the freedom to at least select the students who will be given the slots to be made available to the economically disadvantaged, it would not have come as such a blow.
Discipline is emerging as a serious problem in schools, with a more permissive culture being encouraged. Worse, harsh punishments, this time to teachers. There are numerous reasons why a young student commits suicide. Unwelcome sexual attention by older pupils. Inability to face up to parental demands. Issues involving classwork, or personality. However, in Kapil Sibal's India, if a suicide takes place, it is always the fault of the schoolteacher, who is promptly jailed. With the coming into force of the Right to Education Act, the problems of the teacher in a private school can only increase.
In Kapil Sibal’s India, if a suicide takes place, it is always the fault of the schoolteacher, who is promptly jailed. With the coming into force of the Right to Education Act, the problems of the teacher in a private school can only increase.
The hurrahs that have gone up over the passage of the RTE fail to take account of the fact that several of the affected schools in India will have to shut down. Fortunately, members of the minority communities are still allowed to set up schools sans RTE, hence we can expect a mushrooming of minority institutions that can take up some of the slack. But is this what India is all about, a country that continually segments itself on the basis of faith? Soon we can expect the rest of private schools to face demands to reserve 50% rather than 25%. And it will not be a surprise if the "lottery" ensures that students from affluent families get chosen for the "poverty level quota" seats, because a bribe ensures that the high (and now higher, thanks to RTE) fees need not be paid by Junior. In case the government had given an adequate taxbreak for those willing to pay for the upkeep of a poor student in a private school, the problem of gaining access to quality education may have got tackled in a far better way. But this is a government as unwilling to surrender revenue even to promote growth or welfare as the East India Company was.
But why are only private unaided schools run by the majority community the target of the government? Why not a quota for homes as well? Why not legislate that any dwelling ought to set aside 25% of its space for the poor? A beginning can be made by HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who can reserve a quarter of both his state-provided mansion as well as his private residence for the economically disadvantaged. Indeed, any person being lucky enough to enjoy government accommodation that is more than 1,250 square feet in size ought to be made to set apart 25% for the poor. Certainly our ministers and senior officials would rush to do this, in view of their love for the poor. The whole campaign of "25% for the poor" can be kicked off by Sonia Gandhi, who can accommodate poor families in 25% of the living area of 10 Janpath. After all, there is plenty of spare capacity in that building. Sonia Gandhi, who loves the poor, will no doubt welcome them as inhabitants of her official residence and farmhouse. Why only schools? Surely houses ought to be next.

Video: Prof MD Nalapat speaks on reelection of Vladimir Putin, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University, 2012

Friday 27 April 2012

NATO: “James Bond” 007 force (PO)

By M. D. Nalapat 

Justice K John Mathew of the Lok Adalat (Peoples Court) of Kochi in Kerala has computed the value of a human life at Rs 1 crore. That is the money paid by Italian authorities to the next of kin of each of the two fishermen who had been shot dead months ago by Italian marines. Although the victims were in waters where there had been no pirate trouble, and in a small fishing boat rather than in a much larger pirate ship, and all but one of them had been visibly asleep on deck when the attack took place, the other having died when he awoke to the sound of shots and raised his head, the Italianshave claimed that the shootings were justified as “the suspicion was that these were pirates about to attack” the Enrico Lexie, an Italian tanker. Why pirates about to attack a huge ship would be fast asleep on deck, besides being visibly unarmed, has not been explained by the Italian navy,who was angry that two of its men were arrested just for shooting two innocents from India. After all,if NATO personnel were to be arrested for killing innocentcivilians,tens of thousands would now be in jail for the murder of hundreds of thousands in Iraq,Afghanistan,Libya and elsewhere. To join NATO is to get an invisible 007 badge which confers the right to kill without any fear of punishment.

Admirers of Italy in India (and there is at least one prominent political family in India, one very close to the Bhuttos,that speaks only Italian when they are with each other) ensured that the lawyer for the central government sought to excuse the two Italian marines from being prosecuted by saying that the shooting took place “outside the territorial waters of India”, an untruth. If such an argument be accepted, should any person wish to conduct an assasination,all that needs to be done is to lure the victim beyond Indian waters and kill him or her there. According to the government lawyer, Harish Rawal, this would mean that Indian courts would automatically have zero jurisdiction over the case. The intense effort to free the two Italians may ensure that they be allowed to return to their country by next month,if the Kerala High Court accepts Rawal’s arguments. Such an outcome would mean that India would de facto have joined Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations where NATO personnel cannot be held to account by local courts,but must be sent back, usually to be freed even after committing rape and murder. Incidentally,the two Italians who killed the fishermen were first placed in luxuriousguest house accomodation and later moved to a special cell in a Trivandrum jail, where they are allowed to dress and move about as they please,and get specially-prepared meals served to them.Part of the benefits of working in NATO.

Justice Mathew ought to have decreed that at the least,the Italian government should pay Rs 5 crores for each of the dead fishermen. These days,even a middle-sized apartment in a big city costs Rs 1 crore to buy. Bringing up a family on that capital would be very difficult. Hence the fact that at the least,Justice Mathew ought to have awarded Rs 5 crores to each of the two “NATO widows”. That sum would still be much less than what was demanded of the Libyan government (and got) by European governments after the Lockerbie air disaster. It is unfortunate that authorities in India seem comfortable with a situation where the price of a human life in India is placed at a level far below that of a life in any of the NATO member-states,barring perhaps Turkey,which the EU does not accept as European enough to join the grouping. Justice Mathew is following in the path of then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, R S Pathak, who decreed that the tens of thousands killed and disabled by the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster were collectively worth only around $400 million,when in fact a much more reasonable value would have been $4 billion,at the least. The only way to teach NATO that India is still an independent country would be to set a figure for compensation that is similar to what citizens of the alliance themselves claim when a loved one is killed.

India is a democracy where the top priority of the government is the protection of the reputation and assets of the ruling branch of the Nehru family, which interestingly has much more contact with the Italian side of the family than with the Indian. While relatives from Italy come at frequent intervals to enjoy the gracious hospitality of Sonia Gandhi at her government-provided fortress, such a privilege is almost never extended to the Indian relatives,most of whom meet her - if at all - only during special occasions such as weddings,that too in public locations. Officials who know that if their identities get revealed will face severe punishment claim that Sonia Gandhi’s Italian relatives have interceded “several times” in the matter of thearrested Italian marines,and that they themselves and their illustrious sister have been “regularly contacted” by Italian authorities to ensure an early release of the two NATO personnel.We do not know if such claims are correct. However,what is clear is that the Government of India has gone the extra ten thousand miles in accomodating the wishes of the Italian side.There have also been reports that the Vatican in Rome has interceded with prominent Indian politicians to secure an early release of the two marines. Again,such a report is difficult to accept.Why would the Vatican get involved in a muder case,just because the alleged perpetrators are Italian?

The world is a much less secure place because of the James Bond-style 007 privileges given to NATO personnel in action. A human being is a human being,and just because she or he is Afghan,Indian or Iraqi does not mean that a muder should be ignored by the international human rights brigade,the way such killings are at present. In Libya,to tale just this example,several thousand civilian lives were lost in NATO military action,besides much more as a result of the ongoing rampage of those armed,funded and trained by NATO to kill their fellow citizens.There is no longer any security for life or property for Libya,and yet neither BBC nor CNN nor Al Jazeera refer to the country at all in their broadcasts,having moved on to the next target,Syria.Here too,armed gangs have sprouted up so that it is no longer safe to go about in some parts of the country.Countries across the world that have lost lives as a consequence of NATO action need to come together and shame the UN into conducting an investigation into the matter,rather than ignoring it because the headquarters of that venerable institution is dominated by members of NATO,whose license to kill with impunity needs to be taken away before more tens of thousands of innocents perish in bombs,bullets and missiles.

As for the two Italian marines who killed innocent fishermen off the Kerala coast,the chances are that the power of NATO will ensure their escape from justice. They will not be the first NATO personnel to get away with murder.Interestingly,those such as Bradley Manning who sought to expose such crimes are now in prison rather than celebrated for their ethics and courage. But why blame NATO? When governments crawl before the alliance,who can blame them for continuing to regard themselves as above international law and morality?

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Give Democracy a Chance in Syria (The Diplomat)

By Madhav Nalapat

The groups circling for if the Assad regime falls are no solution to the country’s problems. The U.S. and EU should steer clear, Indian Decade contributor Madhav Nalapat writes from Syria.

Even in Dubai, as I’m waiting to catch a flight to Damascus, it’s clear that the Gulf Cooperation Council monarchies have adopted a strategy of constricting Syria in such a way that the Assad regime falls. An Emirates Airlines desk dealing with the issue of 96-hour transit visas for those wanting a stopover in Dubai advised me that while citizens of India could take advantage of the facility, those from Syria could not.

A media delegation from Delhi had to spend the night in the airport waiting room, apparently because the Syrian Tourism Ministry’s request for overnight accommodation was denied at the last minute, when the group was already airborne from Delhi. Even the airport money changers have been co-opted into the strategy, with many no longer exchanging other currencies for Syrian pounds. Several international credit cards have reportedly ceased to work in Syria, while international flights to and from its cities have been reduced to a trickle. It’s small wonder that tourist arrivals have plunged. Almost all European and allied states have issued advisories to their citizens against travelling to Syria and, as a consequence, even getting insured for the visit is proving a problem.

Trying to make Syria tourist friendly had been one the most visible of Bashar Assad’s modest reforms since taking over from his father Hafez a decade ago. Damascus, Aleppo and other cities have been spruced up, with new hotels and diversions that include clubs for the weary and the adventurous to while away the hours in. The country can also boast a visible history dating back millennia, and in location after location there are the physical signs of past greatness, most notably the Roman ruins near Sweida and Shahba.

About 10 percent of Syria’s 24 million people are Christian, while Shia (including the Assad family) account for 12 percent. But it’s the rule by a Shiite family of a country that has a Sunni majority that seems to have impelled Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to join hands with the United States and the EU in seeking regime change in Damascus. In the case of the U.S. and the EU, the target is really Iran, with Syria being the low-hanging fruit that needs to be harvested before turning the full attention of the alliance on Tehran.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said that “means are, after all, everything.” And it is the means now being employed by the Ankara-Doha-Riyadh trio to prize Syria loose from the Assads that may create immense headaches in the future, both for themselves and for their friends. Since mid-2011, the three have reportedly been assisting both financially and logistically any group in Syria that seeks the overthrow of Assad. This includes those who seek the fall of any stable governance structure because of their links to organized crime and terrorism. By not discriminating between such elements (some of which have links to the narcotics trade) and those seeking political change for reasons of ethics and ideology, the trio are empowering disparate groups of individuals as impossible to control as many of the armed gangs that have created their own fiefs in Libya.

Indeed, if the Assad regime does ride out the current international effort at its destruction, the reason will be Libya. The descent of that country into chaos after its “liberation” by NATO has alarmed even Syria’s Sunni majority. They may want to see a co-religionist take over the top job in the country, but not if that involves a Libya-style trajectory. It’s telling that even in the less than neutral atmosphere of the BBC’s Doha Debates, more than 55 percent of the Syrians polled late last year wanted Assad to stay. This isn’t out of any affection for the man, his family or his regime, but over fear of the alternatives that are presenting themselves. The so-called Istanbul Council is seen for what it is, namely a rootless band of expatriate Syrians under French tutelage, Qataris largesse and Turkish hospitality, while the Free Syrian Army exists as a coherent body only in theory. Any of several dozen armed groups – operating for the most disparate of reasons – claim to fall under that umbrella group. This is especially so these days, when it can be a passport to funds from the trio.

Despite its backing for religious groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah (because of their armed opposition to Israel), the Syrian regime is essentially secular, with different sects and faiths having equal rights. The country’s Christians, together with the Shia Alawi, are terrified at the prospect of the Friends of Syria coming to power, aware as they are that the ideologically motivated (as distinct from purely mercenary) component of this band are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that makes little secret of its contempt for a secular state, and which would like Wahhabi Islam to be the sole religion of the state, with other sects and faiths falling in line as “dhimmis” (basically those who surrender to the “protection” of the ruling faith). And while there have indeed been about 9,000 deaths since the troubles began some 15 months ago, what remains unreported is that a significant number, if not the majority, of these are members of the security services and their relatives.

Ultimately, it’s the “Libyan” character of the armed anti-Assad groups that have denied them support within the broader Sunni population in Syria. Had the U.S. and the EU stopped seeing armed gangs as the solution to the Syrian problem, and instead focused on ensuring that the May 7 polls take place in a transparent and fair manner, they would achieve regime change much faster. After forty years in power, the Assad family has overstayed its welcome in this country, but it will take some more years before the mechanisms of democracy work sufficiently smoothly to turf out the family-run Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party from power.

Exactly as the Taliban are going around Afghanistan claiming to be the only group that is really challenging the NATO occupation, those who aren’t exactly backers of democracy are gaining in popularity simply because they are being targeted by the United States, the EU and the trio. The people of Syria are proud of their heritage, and don’t welcome outside interference. Sadly, neither French President Nicolas Sarkozy nor British Prime Minister David Cameron and his fellow traveler U.S. president Barack Obama seem to have absorbed the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq. The “success” of the Libyan operation (even at the price of sending that country into chaos) has energized them into seeking the same result in Syria, and by the same methods. This is a mistake.

I’ve been skeptical of the Arab Spring from the start, instead terming it a Wahhabi Winter. I was also critical of the way Muammar Gaddafi was turfed out, predicting that Libya would in a few years become a base for terrorist operations against Europe. Today, the same flawed reasoning that led to the breakup of Libya into a congeries of fiefdoms is creating the conditions in Syria for instability that will spread across the region.

Sending weapons back towards Ankara is as easy as sending them from Turkey into Syria. And it’s much easier to rouse the Shiites in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (where they are subject to severe discrimination) than it would be to persuade the Sunnis of Syria to en masse go against the Assad regime.
Although slow in comparison to the pyrotechnics of Benghazi and Tripoli, the best way to ensure the coming to office of a regime in Damascus that retains the secular character of the Ba'ath Party sans its adventurism with Israel would be to trust the ballot box. Ankara, Doha and Riyadh need to be reined in, and the U.S. and the EU should multiply rather than cut back on their contacts with Syria, in particular with private industry in that country.

The sanctions in the 1990s against Iraq only succeeded in severely degrading the lives of the population of that country, without touching Saddam Hussein. The present mix of U.S.-EU-trio policies will create a sectarian blowback that could ultimately include the arming of disaffected groups within Turkey and the GCC. It won’t succeed in removing the Assad regime, even if it causes immense economic hardship. Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama shouldn’t forget that the best weapon in the armory of the democracies is, well, democracy.

Monday 23 April 2012

India and China must remember common threat amid missile fuss (Global Times)

Global Times | Global Times
Published on April 22, 2012 20:05
India and China must remember common threat amid missile fuss
The successful launch of the long-range nuclear-capable Angi-V missile on Thursday was applauded and celebrated by many Indian analysts and media outlets. They associate the move with India's wish to set China as a reference point for its military development, and believe that India is going to join the global intercontinental missile club soon.

In fact, India has little to celebrate. Up until the 1980s, India was far more advanced than China in both economy as well as technology. After that, China raced ahead, and today has outclassed India in both areas.

The Manmohan Singh government, because of pressure from NATO member countries, has kept a slow pace with their Integrated Guided Missile Program (IGMP).

The Agni-V is deemed to be in its final stage, whereas in fact the IGMP ought to have progressed to develop a range of 9,000 kilometers.

The celebrations over the missile conceal the inadequacies and slow pace of the program, and hide the fact that successive Indian governments have capitulated to pressure from NATO to restrict the range and power of their launch vehicles.

By now, India ought to be a space power. However, the country is so far behind China in this field that it is embarrassing.

India faces a huge vulnerability. More than 80 percent of its critical weapons systems are imported from France, the US, Russia and Israel.

If these countries cut off supplies or ammunition during a conflict, India would be helpless.

India's recent military output, including a strategic growth in nuclear forces and arms purchasing, is designed to catch the eye. But for how long can borrowed weaponry lead to genuine security?

The fact is, weapons systems imported from abroad are subject to a massive risk of supply disruption.

Those in India who celebrate because the country has become a favorite destination of international arms dealers are just being foolish.

Sadly, it is easy to please the Indian government. All that is needed is flattery.

By playing up the "China threat" and postulating that India can "counter and contain China," vested interests are hoping to ensure that more and more money is spent on foreign weapons systems rather than domestic manufacture.

It is also interesting to see the Indian public's response to the boost of military strength, especially the latest test of the Agni-V missile. There are lots of nationalistic voices to be heard at the moment, they say that the Indian people are strong, the military is motivated and there is no fear of China among the ordinary people.

However, both countries should beware of efforts to create widespread fear and tension. Bad relations between India and China will hurt both countries and aid those who seek to subjugate Asia and the world.

Both Indian and Chinese commentators need to look at the bigger picture and focus on the common threat faced by both peoples; the efforts to derail their nation's development and weaken them internally.

Patriotism is only genuine when it is expressed in a way that helps the country. If expressed in ways that are harmful to national interests, then it is false patriotism.

India still suffers from a lack of funds for infrastructure construction and public voices are speaking out to say that the government should spend more on civil livelihood projects, rather than military schemes. There are similar arguments in China, too.

At China's stage of development, it is not possible to completely separate the military from the civilian.

In the case of both countries, the development of technology is crucial to a better future which means a certain amount of sacrifice has been necessary in recent times.

But it would be short-sighted to slow down on military research and development. On the contrary, technological innovation stemming from military research can help other aspects of the economy to become more competitive internationally. This has to be explained to the people.

Although there is an international effort to paint India and China as enemies and to make the two countries go to war with each other, such an effort will fail. The Chinese and Indian people share a long history and culture, and what is needed is more discussion between the two about their economics, education, tourism and culture.

We must create so many bridges of friendship that the plans of other countries to make China and India into enemies will fail. Together, India and China can make Asia strong. Divided, not only these two countries but all of Asia will remain weak.
The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Chen Chenchen based on an interview with M.D. Nalapat, director and professor of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal University in

Sunday 22 April 2012

Nato wives to Asma Assad: Trust us, Gaddafi did (Sunday Guardian)

Syria’s President Assad and wife Asma preparing aid for Homs citizens at al-Fahya stadium in Damascus on Wednesday. REUTERS
By Madhav Nalapat
oming across excerpts of the video that two wives of Nato diplomats at UN headquarters in New York released for Asma Assad, the spouse of Syria's head of state Bashar Assad, it was impossible not to be amused. Their video is reminiscent of Nicolas and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who became frantic on hearing from their "brothers and sisters" in Benghazi about an "imminent attack" by Muammar Gaddafi on that city. Oddly, Sarko seems determined to refuse entry to his beloved Arab "brothers and sisters" into France. Of course, he knows the family he comes from, so this reluctance is understandable. Sarko's love for Libyans got expressed in the sending of bombers to Libya that enforced a "No Fly Zone" by destroying buildings, vehicles and people, all of whom were presumably just about to fly.
Clearly, the spouses of Nato diplomats at UNHQ are spending most of their time worrying about the fate of Arab "brothers and sisters", this time in Syria. They need to return their gaze to Libya. The country has been devastated by its "liberation", with inflation soaring, jobs vanishing and law and order inexistent. Tens of thousands have died or been jailed by the "democracy activists" and "lovers of freedom" (in Hillaryspeak) who were empowered by Nato to kill Gaddafi and much of his team. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon needs to send 300 or more factfinders to Libya, to find out what is taking place after an operation of which he was the principal international cheerleader. Were he to do so, he would understand why the people of Syria are not at all anxious that their country follow the trajectory of Libya. They know what is happening there, and while the Assad regime is even less competent than the UPA in handling questions of governance, the overwhelming majority of Syrians prefer rule of the Assads to the chaos of another Nato-assisted "war of liberation". Of course, Nato spouses only go by what they are told by media outlets and intelligence agencies of their own countries, and these have fused into a lynch mob determined to see Bashar Assad and his team go the way of Gaddafi.
Will the two Nato wives issue a video asking for justice for the family members left orphaned by the murder of two Kerala fishermen by Italian marines?
Were the two Nato wives whose heart beats for their "sisters and brothers" in the Arab world the same way as Bruni-Sarkozy's did (i.e. in words rather than in anything close to a welcome for such people into their own countries), they may perhaps have spared some time to reflect on the many deaths that have been caused by Nato military action across the region, none of which is the subject of any reference to any human rights court. The only Nato personnel in jail for killing innocents are the two Italian marines who indulged in target practice on two fishermen two months ago, and are still in what may be termed "4-star internment". Naturally, the Italian government is livid that Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has had the temerity to arrest two Nato soldiers for the bagatelle of killing two Third World innocents, and secret efforts are multiplying — helped by Italy's powerful friends in Delhi — to get the two marines released by mid-May. Will the two Nato wives please issue a video asking for justice for the family members left orphaned by the murder of the two fishermen by Italian marines, or do killings by Nato not count as anything other than "errors" and "accidents"?
Nato is searching Syria high and higher for another Saif Gaddafi, a dupe close to the ruler who can persuade Bashar Assad that he can trust the members of Nato and lower his guard, hand over his weapons the way Gaddafi did on persuasion by his sons. The alliance is hoping that Asma Assad can play the role of Saif Gaddafi in Libya, and persuade her husband to unilaterally disarm. And very soon afterwards, meet the fate of Gaddafi. This is their message to Asma Assad. Trust us. After all, Saif Gaddafi did. Which is why his father and several siblings are dead, while he himself cowers in a Misurata prison, not sure if he will last out the next hour.

Syria is cynical about UN peace plan (Sunday Guardian)

MADHAV NALAPAT  Damascus | 22nd Apr
Syria has "no confidence in the objectivity and neutrality" of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said an official to this correspondent, pointing out that Mr Ban had "in all that he said or did, never deviated from the Nato line". He asked why the UN Secretary-General was reserving "all his venom for the Syrian government" led by President Bashar Assad, "while ignoring the arming and financing of armed rebels by the so-called Friends of Syria Group". He asked if this meant that "Ban favoured Nato's policy of instigating civil war in Syria, by seeking to split different communities in the country the way the British did in India".
So far, only six UN "observers" have come, led by a Moroccan officer, who is regarded as "not independent, but close to any position favoured by Paris". Syria was a former colony of France, and under Ban Ki-moon, the UN has given France the lead role in ongoing efforts at regime change in Damascus. A Syrian official said that the UN mission "sought the same extra-territorial rights that similar missions enjoyed in Iraq during the decade prior to the 2003 occupation", but that the Syrian government "was firm that as an independent country, its sovereign rights had to be acknowledged and protected". This difference in perception, he said, had led to "frequent disagreements with the UN about the powers of the mission".
Another official revealed that "some members of the observer mission sought to exit the Sheraton Hotel in Damascus" (where they have been hosted in 5-star luxury) without giving prior information to the Syrian authorities, but that these individuals (who, not surprisingly, were from countries that openly favour regime change in Syria) were "warned to obey the protocol and inform the authorities before any visit was made". The UN mission had sought to "procure its own helicopters from one of the countries that are arming the rebel groups" but the worry that "such machines may carry concealed intelligence-gathering devices" made the Syrian authorities reject such a move, and insist that all transportation should be locally provided. "We have seen what happened in Iraq, the UN was used by Nato for its colonial objectives. We have no wish to be made a slave of Nato," a Syrian official told this correspondent.
Other officials, including the Governor of Damascus Rural, asked why the UN was ignoring "numerous human-rights violations by terrorists (i.e. rebel fighters)". He documented several cases of rape and murder of citizens because they belonged to minority faiths such as Christianity, "but so far, Mr Ban is silent on these atrocities and has accepted Nato's falsehood that all such acts are being carried out by the Syrian authorities". An official claimed that "detailed information has been provided to the UN about killings and torture by terrorists, but so far, the organisation is sleeping on the matter".
Another official claimed that more than 200 Christians were killed just in Homs, a city with a significant Christian population. This was confirmed by a Christian family that had fled the city last week.
While Damascus was calm, there were reports of stray clashes in outlying areas. Tourism, the mainstay of the economy, has been crippled by the travel advisories and sanctions imposed by the Nato powers, with arrivals falling by more than 60% from a high of 8 million in 2010, "although almost all of Syria is still safe", an official of the Tourism Ministry claimed. Others said that there was "a Nato plan to divide the Arab world and see that Arabs fight and kill each other" and that "what was happening in Syria is part of this strategy".
Clearly, the UN has some way to go before it wins the trust of not only the regime change pack meeting in Paris, but ordinary people in the country who are apprehensive at the civil war that is being manufactured from afar, and which is being actively assisted by Turkey and Qatar.

Saturday 21 April 2012

UN: a return to 'mandated colonialism' (Gateway House)

21 APRIL 2012
Gateway House
By forcing regime change in Libya, and attempting the same in Syria, and by promiscuously arming disparate groups of Wahabbis and Salafists to achieve this aim, NATO is creating more room for instability in the region. What Syria needs is engagement, not isolation; it needs dialogue and not the arming of rebels.

Even when compared to his emollient competitor for the job Shashi Tharoor who is beloved in Europe and North America in a way that few international diplomats are, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is a bargain.  Since taking office in 2007, Ban has hewed even more closely to any agenda set by NATO than even Barack Obama.
  Indeed, following on the UN's 21st century replay of the 1930s League of Nations principle of trusteeship in 2001 in Afghanistan and in 2003 in Iraq, the UN Security Council approved resolutions that in effect made the two countries colonies of their military occupiers. The local population was given zero rights. Interestingly, no time limits were placed on such an occupation.
Such a return to "Mandated Colonialism" may be said to be Kofi Annan's contribution to the ideals of the UN, which have most clearly been expressed in the composition of the UN Security Council (UNSC). It has two European countries (the UK and France), another where the ruling elite considers itself part of Europe (Russia) and a fourth that has since its inception been happy to be regarded as a slice of Europe transplanted in the American continent, i.e. the U.S. Only China falls outside this category within the permament members of the UNSC, an 'honour' which Winston Churchill and his successor Clement Attlee succeeded in keeping India away from.
Today, the UNSC has in effect become the UN, with the rest of the "international" body's membership reduced to irrelevance. The UNSC "Permanent 5" usually manage to get another European country, Germany, into "P-5 plus 1" arrangements, for example while dealing with Iran. Why Germany, and not Argentina or Indonesia, is never a point of debate within a UN headquarters that has over the decades been completely house-trained to reflect the views and the strategic and tactical needs of NATO. The non-NATO elements, Russia and China, usually parley their initial opposition to NATO-centric resolutions and statements into private deals between themselves and the NATO countries.
They thereby leave in the lurch those countries that had depended on their veto to avoid hostile actions which suit only the interests of NATO, but which are given an international gloss by becoming the subject of a UNSC resolution. Hence Russia and China's unwillingness to seek a reversal of the 2011 UNSC resolution used by NATO as cover for giving military assistance to armed elements in Libya that sought not dialogue, but regime change in that country.
The odds are that Syria will witness a similar trajectory, when the U.S. and the EU's (usually off-camera) offer of concessions to China and Russia reach a level that will ensure a Libya-style abstention in a future UNSC resolution that targets the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
It is this propensity of Moscow and Beijing to exchange commitments to their allies for concessions from NATO members, that has given UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon the confidence needed to once again go four-square on the side of the Western alliance in an issue before the UN. While Kofi Annan covered up his cheerful, carrying-the-weight-of-NATO, commitments with sometimes acerbic language against the alliance - more notably the US - his successor Ban Ki-Moon has been endearingly honest in declaring his fealty to supporting the interests of NATO all across the globe. Indeed, Ban has evolved his own doctrine, which is that former colonial masters know best how to deal with issues that concern their former colonies.
Thus, he backed France in the Ivory Coast, when Paris armed a faction loyal to itself against another which sought autonomy from its former colonial master. Under Ban, France has once again become the arbiter of the destinies of several of its former colonies in Africa. Italy was given pride of place in the 2011 conferences on Libya, and France has been the location of choice for the numerous "Friends of Syria" meetings whose single aim is to ensure that Bashar al-Assad, the President of Syria, follows Muammar Gaddafy and Saddam Hussein into oblivion. About the only exception that Ban observes for his "former-colonial-masters-know-best" doctrine seems to be Japan, which he has not thus far tapped to be the lead actor in UN moves on the Korean peninsula. Ban is clearly aware of the distaste that Koreans have for their former colonial master, even while he ignores similar sentiments among African and Arab peoples.
As Syria was once a colony of France, the Ban-led UN has given the leadership position to Paris to fine-tune the response of the "international community" (otherwise known as NATO) towards Damascus.
This is nothing short of regime change. The "Arab Spring" would, it was hoped, lead to so many manifestations of dissent within Syria that the country would go the way of Egypt. What was forgotten was that the Egyptian military is a creature of NATO, while Syria's is not. Despite his decades of service to the alliance, Hosni Mubarak was seen as expendable, even by the generals in Cairo, in large part because of the cupidity of his family members (who in their greed resemble certain political families in India) and his determination to have his headstrong, intellectually-challenged son Gamal succeed him as President of Egypt. While the Egyptian military was happy to allow Mubarak to continue in office till natural causes supervened, his increasing ill-health made it likely that Gamal would get speed-promoted through the hierarchy so as to take over from his father.
Unfortunately for the Mubarak family, such a transition plan was put off to 2013, or about three years too late for it to succeed. By 2010, even the military had realized that Mubarak and his brood were a burden on the brass, and needed to go. Hence the January 2011 signal from the Obama White House and State Department to dump Mubarak was accepted almost instantly. Operations to clear up Tahrir Square were abandoned, and Egypt and the rest of the Arab world entered upon a period of ferment, the consequences of which are still opaque.
For reasons that are not self-evident, it was the authorities in Qatar which gave a boost to the scattered demonstrations that took place in Tunisia and in other Arab countries beginning December 2010. There was almost certainly a prod from the Obama administration to local Arab satraps to remove those leaders who were symbols of greed and inefficiency.
Was this the reason why Al Jazeera emerged as the cheerleader of what became known as the "Arab Spring"? Few know, and those who do, are not talking. However, the fact is that the upsurge was immensely fuelled by the 24/7 coverage given by the news channel to the demonstrations, especially in Egypt. Exaggerated accounts of crowd strength were repeatedly aired, such as the frequent estimates (first by Al Jazeera and subsequently CNN and BBC) of a million "protestors" congregating in Tahrir Square, when independent reports never put the number as higher than 200,000 within the square itself. The figure of a million was obviously arrived at by adding bystanders as well as local residents to the number of actual protestors.
Barack Obama's decision to back his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in giving full-throated backing to the "Arab Spring" may, in time, be seen as a decision as momentous as that of the French to give asylum to Ayatollah Khomeini just before the change of regime in Tehran in 1979, and of President Carter's injunction that year to an ailing Shah of Iran to avoid the use of force when dealing with protestors. Teheran could have been cleared up in a week, had the Iranian military been given freedom to do so, while Tahrir Square could have similarly been denuded of protestors, had the Egyptian army enforced the same policy as that followed by the People's Liberation Army in Beijing in 1989. However, it needs to be remembered that militaries in the Mideast are almost all clients of the principal NATO powers, and lack the freedom to act independently in such matters.
Unlike in the case of Libya, where Secretary General Ban was able to ensure the execution of both Colonel Gaddafi as well as his regime, such a result is unlikely in Syria. For one, there is no Saif Al-Islam in Syria. In Libya, Saif and other sons of Muammar Gaddafi prevailed upon their doting father to place his fate in the hands of NATO by surrendering his weapons of mass destruction and his intelligence trove. NATO would like Asma Assad, the spouse of Bashar al-Assad, to play such a role in Syria, by "persuading" her husband to, in effect, concede defeat unilaterally by ceasing operations against irregulars focussed on his destruction. 
But there is no evidence that the siren calls (and threats) from NATO capitals is having any effect on Asma Assad's views. The spectacle of the final days of Muammar Gaddafi must be sufficient reason for her to disbelieve the promises made by NATO of safe conduct, or the same inducements that were offered to Gaddafi (and in large part accepted, until it became clear that nothing except his downfall would satisfy NATO). It is clear that what NATO seeks is the physical end of the Assad regime, including its highest tier, and this has brought together the leading elements of the regime in a way that has not been seen before in Libya, where high-level defections are frequent.
Second, unlike Saddamite Iraq and Gaddafi's Libya, Syria has not unilaterally disarmed in response to the siren calls of NATO. The UN-imposed arms embargo has not stopped the constant flow of weapons from Turkey to Syria via its 600-kilometre land border (the prohibition is imposed only on weapons sold to the regime in Damascus), and it is yet to reach a scale sufficient to threaten the dominance of the Syrian military. Should Ankara (together with Doha) seek to significantly increase the flow of weapons, it may lead to a conflict with the Syrian military as well as a militarization of the Kurdish areas of Turkey, that for long have been eager for independence. It is telling that within Syria, the Kurds - even though Sunni - are keeping away from the NATO-backed insurgency. Should the regime in Damascus decide on a tit-for-tat policy of providing a safe haven for armed Kurdish groups active in Turkey, Istanbul may find itself paying a steep price for joining hands with Doha and Riyadh to remove a Shia from power in a country that is 66% Sunni (including Kurds). 
Interestingly, the question of casualties has been framed in the context of the Syrian Army being solely responsible for them. The reality though, is more complex. More than 6000 members of the security forces and their relatives have been killed by the "freedom fighters," while the figure of deaths for the latter is around 3000. As in Kashmir in the past, the narrative omits the reality of conflict, giving the impression that all such killings are unilateral, committed by the Syrian security forces on innocent civilians. In fact, as in Libya, several armed groups have sprung up on the anti-regime side, who have scant hesitation in taking civilian lives.
Oddly, despite their commitment to "Christian values," Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron are siding with Wahabbis in locations such as Homs, where the Christian minority is comprehensively opposed to the CNN/BBC/Al Jazeera-fuelled insurrection in that city. The Christians there and in the rest of Syria, who ccomprise more than 9% of the population, are terrified that NATO's allies will succeed in Syria the way they have in Libya, and replace a secular regime with a Wahabbi substitute. Perhaps because of gaps in their intelligence-gathering mechanisms, as yet Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama seem unaware that Christians have zero rights in Saudi Arabia, in contrast to the situation in Syria, or that neither Qatar nor Saudi Arabia are democracies. Somehow, in her calls for the world to embrace democracy, these two countries seem to have been left out even by Hillary Clinton.
Even within the majority-Sunni community, the overwhelming masses are terrified that their country will go the way of Libya, should NATO succeed in swapping the Assad regime with the Wahabbi-Salafi mix now in control of the ground in Libya. Alawis - the same group to which Bashar Assad belongs - form 11% of the population, and other Shias a further 13%. More than a third of the population is from the minority communities.
None of these considerations seem likely to prevent the Sarkozy-Obama-Cameron trio from backing Ankara, Riyadh and Doha in forcing regime change on Syria. A beginning has been made by sending UN observers, within which those from countries like Morocco and Denmark who are against the Assad regime, predominate. These can be expected to twist their mission from monitoring the ceasefire to locating military targets for future attack, as well as detecting vulnerabilities in Syrian defenses that can be exploited in a future attack on the country by NATO and the GCC.
By first forcing regime change in Libya and now Syria, and by promiscously arming disparate groups of Wahabbis and Salafists to achieve this aim, NATO is creating the same instability that Brzezinski-Casey caused in Afghanistan following their arming of extremists against a moribund Soviet Union.
What Syria needs - as did Myanmar - is engagement, and not isolation. What it needs is dialogue and not the arming of rebels.
The world will pay a heavy price for the mistakes being made in the Mideast by the trio of Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama.