Monday, August 25, 2014

Thuggery of Imran Khan

The scheme is fairly straight forward - once you fail to win elections outright (which Imran Khan failed in 2013 Pakistani elections) claim that it was fraud, argue that ruling government has no legitimacy, then bring frenzied crowds on streets (how hard it is to exhort few thousands on streets?) and essentially bring riots to de-legitimize duly elected government. 

One cannot compare this with Arab Spring. At least folks there were revolting against dictators. Here in Pakistan Imran Khan is railing against an elected government. In Ukraine, folks revolted against Russian Imperialism and after that they did elect the President by an outright majority. In Egypt, Army eventually moved against incompetent government of Muslim Brotherhood Morsi; though it was democratically elected.

What is not clear is whether one can blame Nawaz Sharif government for all that ails in Pakistan. In that sense Imran's charge that it is all Sharif government's problem is hard to accept. It is so because, it is guaranteed that tomorrow even if Imran Khan becomes Pakistani Prime Minister (not that another opposition figure Quadri will easily back him); Pakistan's problems will not be solved. 

One has to understand, no government can run when only 1% or so people are paying tax while rest of the Pakistan simply pilling on freebies. On top of it Imran Khan is exhorting Pakistan to stop paying taxes and utility bills! Pakistan is  ruled by a feudal system where huge land holding landlords and their crony business partners are controlling all of Pakistani Economy. Pakistan does not have any cushion like Saudi Ghawar Oil Field nor North Field Gas like Qatar to roll out 'totally on government tab' lifestyle to most in the society. Imran Khan himself is the poster child of such a feudal mentality. Never proven in the field of business nor has led any constructive political movement; he behaves as someone who cannot overcome the lust of 'power'. He is the prominent 'mud thrower, rabble rouser' of Pakistan. Sure Nawaz Sharif is a land lord too, but at least he has ran a successful business empire providing jobs to many Pakistanis. Apart from defeating India and England on their home grounds to win Cricket Test Match Series first time for Pakistan in 1987 and then lifting World Cup in 1992, Imran Khan does not have any worthwhile achievements under his belt which can help common Pakistanis. He was responsible for killing of innocent Pakistanis just because allegedly someone flushed Kuran in a toilet and otherwise is essentially a 'play boy Pathan' charming ladies all over the world. 

One suspects that as PM Nawaz Sharif entertains a sensible policy of peace with India and against Talibans in Pakistan; many powerful Pakistanis would see that as an attempt to correct the fundamental 'imbalance of Pakistani State': substantial resources going to Army instead of development for common and poor Pakistanis. And that is the danger that disgruntled Army may side with Imran Khan. Clearly Imran Khan is aiming for such an implicit backing and that is why he is playing increasingly with fire. Hardly any of these developments are helpful for Pakistan.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Iraq's Future

A person close to 'happenings in Iraq' over a decade has appropriately warned that indeed this may be Iraq's last chance. Two positive developments are coming right on time:

- finally Iraqi and Peshmarga fighters are making progress against Jihadis.

But we all know these are just few small things before lot of right things need to happen for peace to return. Given that, it is an appropriate time to appraise the whole notion of Iraq as a country. The country was drawn arbitrarily by colonialists is obvious. On top of it, each of the main three ethnic groups - Kurds, Shiite and Sunnis have suffered genocide scale suffering from other groups (except possibly Kurds who might not have inflicted suffering on other sects on the scale by which other groups did to Kurds) making it harder to 'forgive and reconcile'. Iraq did not experience continuity of its political institutions with a peaceful transfer of power in all these decades; essentially robbing Iraqi people a vehicle with which these groups would have overcome deep chasms. 

I believe the premise for Obama Administration for any further involvement should be that Iraq as it has been might not survive. What America and Iraq's neighbors should strive towards is a plan where these 3 groups can practically live in their regions as semi-sovereign entities and as they build upon the regional co-operation, as it works and as it delivers to subjects of these 3 regions; it will have a well laid path to achieve further integration. In other words, if Iraqi themselves start answering the question "do they want to live together" in more affirmative manner, these groups and regions would embark upon further integration.

The problem in the current political process seems to be a-priori commitment needed from everyone that Iraq as is must be maintained. Rather, the goal should be to arrive an arrangement where different groups are able to live more peacefully and are able to chart their future - either individually or collectively.

What could be such an arrangement then? For a starter, each group will have to own its security arrangement - Peshmarga defending Kurdistan area while Shiites defending from Baghdad to all the way Basra either through Shiite dominated current Iraqi Army or even their own Shiite militias. Sunnis are already demanding essentially guarantees from America in order to pick up arms against IS. Needless to say America will have to nurture Sunni Security abilities while working with Europe to strengthen Kurds. American involvement in building Shiite Security capabilities in forms of training and support to Iraqi Army (I am taking current remaining Iraqi Army as proxy to Shiite Security force) will need to continue.

Once autonomous financial sources are identified and security responsibilities are delegated to their own means, rest of the things for these 3 regions could be lot shared as it is in today's Iraq - same currency, same central bank, shared water resources and free movement of goods, people and capital. It should be relatively straight forward as well to agree for a common law for commercial purposes. Apart from these common interests, each region can decide its own social policy. In foreign affairs, all these 3 regions will still have to speak in one single voice.

The fundamental issues in any such arrangement are:
- How do you finance a stable and prosperous Anbar / Sunni region? (Oil fields near Basra and in southern Iraq are established sources for Shiite region while newly acquired oil fields in addition to existing ones would provide necessary backing to a semi-sovereign Kurdish state.)
- How do you address antagonism of an Iranian vessel state of Shiite southern Iraq against any Sunni mini-state carved out of western Iraq? (Shiite centered around Southern Iraq no doubt will become a vessel state of Iran. Let it be. Iran will realize soon that it hardly changes its current isolation with rest of the world nor strategic influence of America & West get any diminished as Sunni province and Kurds will continue to side with America.) 
- How do you ensure that these 3 mini-states talk in one single voice in foreign affairs? Shiite would sure like to tow the line of Iran while Kurds would like to increase co-operation with Germany and EU (as like Turkey).

Question is how insurmountable these issues are. Agreed that undertaking 'armchair cartography like colonialist' is easy; but given the history of last decade - around trillion dollars spent and thousands of lives lost - starting from a minimalist position might be lot prudent for American and rest of the world.*


(*) - It is a moot point, how much co-operative Russia will be in this endeavor. In the end, Sunni mini-state carved out of Iraq will likely coalesce with substantial part of Syria. Essentially we are talking territory controlled by Jihadists today - except that instead of a caliphate it is a modern mini-state in a loose federation called Iraq. That means Syrian territory loss for Assad - Russia's allay. And that could be a reason why Russia might not come on board with this 3 mini-states plan.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Iraq - America's Familiar Nemesis

I can understand the 'rosy picture' Matt Yeglesias paints of President Obama's Foreign Policy; but I think there is more to that than a simple cherry Liberal reading.

We cannot keep aside a failure here to anticipate that Iraq would not hold itself together under the disastrous leadership of Nouri al-Maliki once Americans left Iraq. Regardless, President Obama owes to Americans to articulate dangers of fragmented Iraq under the influence of Jihadis. May be President Obama was caught up too much in fulfilling his campaign argument of 'winding down the dumb war'. Indeed, Iraq war was the dumb war, no doubt about that; but what was required then was to forewarn Americans that we had had 'broken just too much pottery in the barn' so as America would receive a call back to intervene. Candidate Barack Obama got enamored in his 'peacenik' rhetoric so much that he did not find it politically correct to mention all these hard choices.

Given all that, what is needed from this President is to 'condition' Americans for a greater involvement than what is today. It is a good start that President made it clear out of the gate that this could be a longer term engagement.

Will there be then the danger of 'American boots on the ground'? Sure, that danger persists. The only way such a danger would go away is when Americans know that the job is done. For that, one has to define the 'end goal' and strategic road map to achieve those goals. That is where Obama Administration has a task cut out for them as the Administration is yet to articulate any such strategic plans.

It is a straight forward 'sale' to American Public that to defend Erbil and Yazidis, America is getting involved. That is the easy part - Kurds are allies worth to defend (remember how they were slaughtered by Saddam upon taking up arms against him on cues from America?) and humanitarian crisis of Yazidis is obivious where an American intervention can make clear difference. However, think tomorrow when Jihadis - IS - determine that there is no point taking on Erbil and Kurds and turn their attention back to Shiite community near Baghdada. Imagine thousands of Shiite population is surrounded by Jihadis and incompetent al-Maliki's forces are unable to defend. Will there be any choice for America apart from being 'al-Maliki's Air Force' to avoid yet another genocide? That is the quagmire America has got into. Obviously this is not the contingency Commander-in-Chief would like to say publicly. But then Publicly it might be required to say that 'unless Iraq puts in place an inclusive government' (preferably without al-Maliki)  that region is going to see 'one genocide after another'. President Obama has said that he does not want to be Iraqi Air Force and politicians sympathetic to Administration are saying so too. What is needed is President in a sense talks this truth to Iraqi People directly and finds an occasion to demonstrate that 'he walks the talk' without coming across as a by-standing observer to a genocide(*).

President Obama has got himself in a bind in some sense. He argued correctly that a sovereign Iraq in 2008 did not want American boots on ground and that left no choice for him apart from pulling out all American troops from Iraq. That sovereignty argument is equally constraining him today in demanding removal of al-Maliki explicitly. It is all going to be behind  the screen diplomacy and using all leverages at disposal, more so as America gains leverage by defending Iraqis beholden by Jihadis and by defending Erbil, Baghdad; that Obama Administration has to bring in political change needed to stop further deterioration in Iraq. That is the skill Obama Administration has to bring to the table to minimize America's exposure in Iraq. Otherwise, many decades would pass and we will still have American military presence in that part of the world.

(*) Hillary Clinton is charging that President Obama essentially standing as an observer for the genocide in Syria as well as unfolding national security challenge there. But as many observers have pointed out, why would America take arms against Assad right now when he is battling our longer term true enemy - Jihadis i.e. IS? May be there was a window before Islamic Jihadis came into the picture. But still for Hillary to come out swinging against Obama before November 2014 elections is no good. That is neither helpful for her candidacy, Obama Base is still large and significant, nor helpful to Democratic candidates on the ballot. Any ways, Hillary is more near to "bomb-bomb, bang-bang, shoot-shoot" gang of Lindsay Graham- John McCain than middle of the road Obama Liberals. After all she did find herself at home in committing the original harakiri of sending in USA troops to topple Saddam ....What all that means is Hillary needs to trade waters very carefully here. She has lot of baggage, including not achieving anything substantive when she was Sec. of State, and we all know that "cowboy strategy" is still disastrous compared to "don't do stupid stuff". 

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Israel - Where America's Balance is Questioned

"Now give me that annual $3 billion, another $225 million for the Iron Dome, and shut the f*** up."

-- Andrew Sullivan, The Dish

Essentially that is how Netanyahu has been screwing around John Kerry and Obama Administration. First, he had the gall to come on USA Television in the midst of American Presidential Election and openly try to tilt the balance to Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Next, whenever Sec. John Kerry tried to avoid innocent deaths of Gaza women and children; Kerry was criticized as if he was sleeping with Terrorists. Since when having a conscience and trying to save lives of innocent people has been a sin?

Next, we have a Congress where every American Politician is falling over each other to pour cash into Israel's coffers. These Republicans in Congress would pinch every penny when it comes to spending money on Americans. They cannot borrow money (emergency funding is nothing but increasing debt) for Americans, but Israel - no problem! 

Everyone knows why Bibi is so gaga at this point. Overwhelmingly Israeli's back his initiative against Hamas. Clearly Hamas deserves it. Any organization which cowardly puts their own innocent women and children in harm's way as a way of politics is fundamentally wrong headed. That Europeans are the vocal voice in the generated outrage is a proof of Hamas strategy here. (Add to that American Politicians blindly back Israel makes it relatively easy for Europeans to place their bet on the opposite site. After all 'Tony Blair as the lap dog of Bush' caricature should be deeply ingrained in minds of Europeans. Add to all that - substantial presence of Islamic population in Europe.)

The problem with the current Israeli approach is they are engaging with Palestinians in a way by diminishing viability of any future Palestinian state. I am talking about relentless expansion and settlements by Israel in West Bank. Imagine if Israel would have continued the current 'tough approach' but at the same time had not undertaken settlements in West Bank and had conveyed to the whole word about its willingness to entertain Palestinian state on that land as and when it thinks conditions are right. What Palestinians and rest of the world would see is an Israel which is perfectly alert about its security needs, non-compromising with Hamas and other terrorists while keeping the option of West Bank for Palestinian State. At that point Israel could even demand that West of Jordan river Israel would not be hostage to any other security apparatus except their own even though it might allow a Palestinian state in some certain sense; if not fully sovereign. Point is not that the entire peace process be sorted right now. Point is "don't destroy viable options for Palestinian state" unilaterally. Because when 'all hopes' are gone for a people, sense of morality for folks with their backs on wall is very different than what is conducive to solve the problem. Again no-one is justifying Hamas or no-one is denying Israel's right for current military reprisal of Hamas (though obviously Israel made mistakes in that); but one is talking about Israel conducting affairs in principled manners so as it retains a moral high ground without compromising its security. As a result it would retain 'edge over Hamas' in the global court of public opinion.

Every time Israeli foreign policy is subject to wishes of extreme ideologues on Right, every time American Politicians sign a blank check to Israel; we are collectively taking one step forward towards an apartheid regime in Middle East. American Political Class essentially becomes an enabler here as they ignore a more balanced approach.