Saturday 25 January 2014

Geneva-II: Russia key to Assad future (Pakistan Observer)

MD Nalapat. Friday, January 24, 2014 - Since the region got liberated from rule by the Ottoman Caliphs into the hands of the European powers and the US more than a century ago, the territories comprising the GCC have remained loyal partners of the Atlantic alliance. Almost all the money made from sale of crude oil gets sent back to the economies of NATO member-states, even though increasingly it is countries in Asia that are the buyers for GCC oil, predominantly China, India, Japan and South Korea. In 2008,GCC investors lost nearly $1.5 trillion because of the profit-chasing practices followed by NATO bloc financial institutions.

Despite the constant drumbeat of optimistic noises, central bankers in Washington, London and Frankfurt know that the euro is only a small step away from collapse. This situation is unlikely to change, because of the fact that the measures needed to make Europe competitive once again are political suicide. Hence the present trajectory of slow choking of jobs and prospects, a situation that can only get remedied if the financial reserves of the GCC were to be deployed to create jobs in Europe rather than migrate to much healthier long-term investment climes such as India, China and Brazil. Given that the GCC countries are each controlled by small elites without reference to the will of the population as a whole, NATO is eager to fulfill the agenda of the GCC in the region, so as to provide some re-payment for the immense financial benefits that its members are reaping at the expense of the GCC.

Although there are strains between Doha and Riyadh, at present Qatar is not influential enough to challenge the leadership of Saudi Arabia within the GCC. Indeed, on key issues, although tactics and favourites may differ, the geopolitical objectives of both Doha as well as Riyadh are often similar. Thus, both wanted to see an end to Muammar Kaddafy, who delighted in making fun of the rulers of the GCC member-states and thereby earned their ire. This was made possible in 2011 because Moscow and Beijing stepped aside to allow NATO to pound the much weaker Libyan military into submission. Years of sanctions, followed by the destruction of WMD stockpiles, had weakened Libya to an extent sufficient to permit the risk-averse NATO generals to march in, this time mainly from the air. Defeating an emaciated military is easy, as Iraq 2003 demonstrated. Of course, once the war switched from the conventional to the asymmetric ,NATO began to face setbacks.

The reality is that Syria is dead. The country will no longer be able to return to what it was before the NATO-GCC operation to remove Bashar Assad from power. While David Cameron, Francois Hollande and John Kerry do not see any irony in “promoting democracy” together with unelected GCC rulers, they are well aware that the reason why there is visceral hatred for Assad in Ankara, Riyadh and Doha is because he is al Alawite and a Shia. As the Syrian National Council’s Al Jarba said in his opening remarks at Geneva II, ”a minority should not rule over the majority”. It is another matter that Al Jarba represents not Sunnis but Wahabbis, which many consider an entirely different sect, or that Wahabbis are deeply unpopular in Syria, as they increasingly are throughout the Muslim world.

It should never be forgotten that genuine Islam, with its message of peace, tolerance and compassion ,is light years away from the exclusivism and fanaticism of the Wahabbis,a group that owes its origin to the need by the British Empire to create disaffection amongst Arabs for Turks. Interestingly, Prime Minister Erdogan has become the first leader in Turkey to - in effect - embrace Wahabbism, a factor which has made him very popular in Riyadh and Doha, and has given his country much prosperity because of money flows from the GCC Al-Jarba and his SNC have exactly zero control over the multitude of groups battling the Syrian military in Aleppo, Homs, Daraa and the outskirts of Damascus. Hence there is no way an agreement with them will affect the battlefield situation, a fact known to John Kerry, Francois Hollande and David Cameron, their sponsors. The fact is that the Geneva II talks are not about ending the fighting, for those in Geneva who claim to represent the “opposition” are little more than conduits for cash and weapons to the numerous groups fighting on the ground.

These groups, while happy to get assistance from the SNC, regard these “5-star warriors” with contempt. What Geneva II is about is to secure at the negotiating table what the SNC-Al Qaeda partnership has failed to achieve in the battlefield, the removal of Bashar Assad. What these groups seek is that Assad and his team go the way of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Kaddafy, even if the effect of such a removal of the Syrian Head of State will be the Libyanisation of Syria, a breakup of the country into different zones, each controlled by a warlord, most of whom would be followers of the ideology of Al Qaeda. Were NATO to ensure the removal of Assad, it would once again show its financial lifelines in the GCC that their personal objectives can be achieved by a military that is in practice useless except against emaciated militaries in states such as Mali or Afghanistan.

Just as in Libya, the key to the success of the only objective of Geneva II, the removal of Bashar Assad from power in Damascus, is Moscow. In Dmitry Medvedev, NATO has a Russian leader who is as much in sympathy with them as Mikhail Gorbachev was in his prime. Already, Medvedev has succeeded in making Assad follow the Saddam-Kaddafy path of first eliminating the WMD in the possession of his military. Sanctions are already in effect, as they were on Iraq and Libya.Once the WMD gets fully eliminated, a conventional air attack by NATO on Syrian military installations becomes feasible. Before that, huge boosts of cash and weapons will be given to the fighters on the ground, so that the Syrian army gets sufficiently degraded to allow NATO generals to conduct a conventional strike. Of course, all this depends on whether Dmitry Medvedev can once again deliver for NATO, the way he did in Libya. The future of Bashar Assad will get decided not in that tortured country or in Geneva II conference rooms ,but in the Kremlin, as Medvedev seeks to convince President Vladimir Putin to “be a good European” and throw Bashar Assad to the wolves circling for his head. 

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