Monday 20 August 2012

After Syria, wait for the regional deluge (Sunday Guardian)


Security officials investigate the scene after a bomb attached to a fuel truck exploded outside a hotel where UN observers are staying in Damascus, Syria on Wednesday. AP/PTI

eware of what you are wishing for, lest the wish be granted. This adage is coming true in West Asia, where the countries which together form NATO have been seeking a weakening — and eventual collapse — of the Bashar Assad regime in Damascus. Iraq 2003 was a textbook example of the softening up of a regime's morale by Infowar. A campaign began by 2002 to paint the secular Saddam Hussein as a Wahhabi fanatic, and Al Qaeda (which loathed him) as its ally of choice. Its success may be judged from the fact that even in 2012, long after the dust has settled on the conventional battlefield in Iraq and revealed exactly zero links to Al Qaeda, perhaps a majority of US citizens and certainly many citizens across the Eurozone still believe Saddam to have been a theological cousin of the Taliban. That anyone watching Iraq state television during his time, with its female presenters dressed in garb that would seem salacious not simply to a Taliban functionary but to a Saudi member of that country's Vice & Virtue squads, could have convinced himself that such propaganda was rubbish was beside the point. Lies were harnessed in the service of victory in true Churchillian style. Seven years later came Libya, where the hapless Muammar Gaddafi — who had in the meantime willingly surrendered his WMD to NATO — was portrayed as a lunatic eager to set aflame the region. Ironically, some of the numerous warlords, who now collectively control the whole country, have reportedly forced the exit of some of the very NATO diplomats who the previous year had been enthusiastic backers of the NATO operations that felled Gaddafi. Worse, it would seem that even some Al Jazeera journos have been chased out of the country, despite that channel having teamed up with BBC and CNN to act as the voice of the uprising.
Of course, not all of Libya is in the control of the warlords. Discreet arrangements have been made to ensure that the interests of some of the members of NATO are protected in the relatively small number of enclaves from where Libya pumps out and exports its crude oil. And now it is Syria's turn. Certainly Bashar is no exemplar of democracy. But then, neither are those running nearby states that are each investing heavily in financing, training and equipping "freedom fighters" to be inserted into Syria from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. For reasons that are not clear, neither Navi Pillay or Valerie Amos or Ban Ki-Moon seems as enthusiastic about sending observers to monitor the treatment of Shia in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, or non-Wahhabi Sunis and religious minorities such as Christians in locations that now include Egypt. Clearly, neither Ms Pillay nor Ms Amos nor the indefatigable Mr Moon has heard anything about the treatment being meted out to Kurds, Arabs and Armenians in Turkey, not to mention Shia.
The fact is that differential treatment of minorities is the norm across much of the region, with the exception of the UAE or Kuwait. In fact, Syria has a much better record in this respect than either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, not to mention Iran. Despite the 24/7 coverage they are giving to the Syrian "freedom fighters" (and their somewhat un-Gandhian methods of struggle), neither the BBC nor CNN seems to be aware that Asma Assad (the spouse of Bashar) is herself a Sunni, or that several of his relatives too are from that branch of the great religion of Islam. Or that the Defence Minister of Syria, who was recently killed by "freedom fighters", was Christian. For some reason, neither such facts nor the present comprehensive breakdown of law and order seems to be of any interest to BBC, Al Jazeera or CNN. They should be, because what took place earlier in Libya has already had a huge impact on regional security. Libyan fanatics and weaponry are flooding across borders, endangering and destabilising countries in Africa, West Asia and soon, parts of Europe. Once Syria succumbs to the same chaos as has descended on Libya, that country too will become a haven for fighters. And just as the guns and training given to the LTTE returned to haunt India, so will the guns, bombs and training being given against Bashar Assad come back to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers enthusiastically engaged in a struggle to free the region of Shia influence.

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