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In Syria; Fierce Battle for Strategic Space
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|by K. Gajendra Singh|
A great geo-political strategic struggle is now underway in Syria, with balance slightly tilted in favor of Syria and Iran with full support from Russia along with China. My assessment is that if peace is not brought to Syria and apolitical settlement sought, destruction of this crucial strategic key stone in Middle East will have very serious repercussions and strategic consequences not only for the region but also for the strategic balance and the economic and strategic health of the world for a long time.
Apart from other contentious issues including US led Western attempt to ignite the Shia-Sunni conflict as in Iraq, a link up of territories from the East of Caspian via Iran, Shia ruled Iraq, Alawite ruled Syria and Hezbollah dominated Lebanon will provide routes to carry oil and gas bypassing US led projects over Azeri and Turkish territories.
A major actor in the struggle is Russia's newly re-elected and invigorated Vladimir Putin, who saw how his motherland, former USSR was broken into pieces and up to US$ 1 trillion worth of Russian wealth transferred to Western banks and institutions .He has declared that enough is enough. Moscow has almost full support from China in this regard because weakening or breakup of Syria would very adversely impact Iran, which when feeling cornered or worse if invaded will hit out at NATO and its Arab allies in GCC led by Saudi Arabia. It would be then be a war with no holds barred, almost.
India which is pussy footing on this vital issue wrongly believes that the West plus Sunni Arab countries would come up trumps. New Delhi has six million Indians working in the region and billions of dollars are sent as remittances to India. The whole area would be in turmoil for long and borders would be rearranged.
If Syria feels that the regime is being destabilized , then its 10-12% ruling Alawite elite, it's Sunni supporters including so far security forces and the merchants, more than 10% Christian population and same percentage of Syrian Kurds would fight back ferociously.
Ankara has been following a very dubious foreign policy under the sway of Saudi money and influence encouraged by Washington. Turkey’s border province of Hatay known as Antakya or Antioch in history, has a large Alawite population. This was perhaps one of the reasons why the ruling Sunni regime before World War II did not protest as much as it would now, when under a dubious referendum the province was transferred to Turkey by European powers hoping that Ankara would join them in World War II. But heeding Kemal Ataturk’s sane advice before his demise, Ankara stayed neutral during the War. In Turkey, the Shia Alevis comprise 15% of the population and are mostly the original Turkic migrants from Central Asia.
Syria and its Kurds provided a fertile soil for PKK, the Turkish Kurdish Marxist organization which has been fighting for autonomy in south-east of Turkey since 1980s, a rebellion in which over 40,000 Turkish citizens including 5000 soldiers have been killed. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan now imprisoned near Istanbul was based in Syria with PKK training camps till 1999. Already PKK is restive again and both sides have indulged in violence, killings and reprisals. The Kurds comprise nearly 20% of Turkey’s population.
The ruling Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) is beholden financially and supported by money from Saudi Arabia, where President Abdullah Gul worked in a Jeddah bank for seven years before returning to Ankara to join politics in 1992. Located at the interface of Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and Africa, if Turkey can influence its neighborhood, events and powers in its neighborhood can also influence Turkey. Additionally, under AKP, Turkey’s secular armed forces, a stakeholder in the nation’s emergence out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and its modernization and secularization, have been insulted and humiliated. So a colonel’s coup cannot be ruled out sometimes in future.
It is true that in Syria, the majority Sunni population is ruled by minority Alawite elite, but the Arab Spring, actually was and hopefully remains Arabs revolt against US propped up the dictators like Hosni Mubarak and others. USA with its influence and Saudi Arabia with its petrodollars worried that the Arab Spring might flower in the mediaeval Kingdom ruled by Saud dynasty might lead to overthrow of the regime. So Riyadh and other kingdoms and sheikdoms in the Gulf have joined hands along with European and NATO states and Sunni Turkey with their military muscle to divert attention away from the people’s revolt, with obscurantist and extreme Muslim organizations like Muslim brotherhood Salafis, Al Qaeda and their kind being shoved and pushed into positions of power. For how long?
Since the re-inauguration of Putin's presidency, the Russian president has shown clear intentions of resisting U.S.-led Western encroachment on Russian space in Central Asia and in the Middle East where also its strategic interests lie. In this it has substantial support from China, which needs energy from Iran where it is investing heavily. The encroachment by NATO and the West right into the heart of central Asia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan was stopped by energizing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (in which Iran has Observer status)
A Reinvigorated Putin
After declining to attend the G8 meeting at Camp David, Putin after visiting Belarus, an important piece in restoring the old core Russian order, went to France and Germany. Paris now under a socialist president Hollande is inclined to move away from the US hegemony which has been France's policy since the days of Charles de Gaulle. Germany under a Conservative Angela Merkel would be more difficult to persuade, although her two predecessors Schroeder and Kohl had tried to move away from American strangle hold with US troops still stationed in the country even though World War II ended in 1944. Both of them paid the price of Washington's anger and lost elections and power.
Intervention by NATO forces and some Arab and Muslim countries like Turkey in Libya after a blatant misinterpretation of the UN Security Council resolution has brought catastrophe on the people of Libya (Western corporate media is stunningly silent on the ongoing tragedy with Al Jazeera joining with gang of BBC, CNN and Fox News). While reportedly 5 to 10,000 Libyans were killed before the NATO’s shock and awe intervention, since then up to 100,000 people have been reportedly killed, its ruler Gadhafi killed like a dog much to the glee of the West and its supporters. The country lies in ruins and people are being killed daily, with Al Qaeda, Salafi and other extremist elements taking over power. In spite of this horrible example the West and Sunni Muslim countries are determined to do an encore in Syria.
There are Syrian groups supported and even infiltrated from outsiders under various names which have refused to negotiate with the Syrian regime and the West and some of its allies are asking for open intervention. But the situation is quite different from Libya. Syrian ports are the only ones in Mediterranean where Russian naval ships can dock and refuel. The Russians have supplied to Syria top-quality missiles and other equipment to defend the country. The Russian presence itself should act as a deterrent to any foolhardy adventure which if it goes wrong like the simple attempt to rescue American Embassy hostages from Iran in 1980 could boomerang on Obama's re-election chances as that fiasco had on Jimmy Carter’s.
India’s Changing Stance on Syria
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar wrote recently that India buckled under the combined pressure from Washington and the alluring charm of the oil monarchs of the Persian Gulf. India’s Syria policy took a circle last week to return to where it all began at the ‘Friends of Syria’ meet in Tunis on February 24, notwithstanding a visit by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi. The ‘Friends of Syria’ is a coalition of western countries and Saudi Arabia and Qatar that roots for ‘regime change’ in Syria. South Block had abstained on the resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 1 over alleged human rights violations by the Syrian government. India came out strongly supportive of the mission by the joint UN envoy Kofi Annan. An ‘inclusive’ Syrian-led, Syrian-owned dialogue. This phase ended last week with India voting in favor of the resolution sponsored by the United States and Turkey at the UNHRC demanding an international inquiry into the recent violence in Houla. India effectively rejoined the ‘Friends of Syria’.
The Indian vote is based on political expediency insofar as the US-Turkish resolution presumes that the Syrian government is responsible for the Houla massacre, and in spirit it contravenes the Security Council resolution on Syria.
India saw many exchanges with Gulf nations ; a Joint Commission meeting with Saudi Arabia(January 6); travel advisory on Syria (January 7); foreign-office consultations with UAE (February 8); defense minister visits Saudi Arabia (February 13); EAM’s visit to Cairo (March 2); visit by MOS for external affairs E Ahamed to Saudi Arabia (March 13); visit of deputy foreign minister of Saudi Arabia (March 30); state visit by emir of Qatar (April 4); joint visit by EAM and MOS Ahamed to the UAE (April 14); visit by UAE foreign minister (May 16); visit by crown prince of Bahrain (May 29) and travel advisory on Syria (May 30). India appears like a camp follower. Storm clouds are gathering over Syria. The systematic assault by the US and its Saudi and Qatari allies on Annan’s mission, debilitating and discrediting it at every point, is entering a crucial phase and an overt intervention in Syria is likely. Indeed, top US officials have spoken of intervention even without UN mandate. The specter that haunts the region is a Syria plunging into protracted civil war that could be far more catastrophic for regional security and stability than the bloodbath Lebanon went through for over a decade.
Writing in Lebanon’s Al Akhbar of June 5 As'ad Abu Khalil raised “Some Questions on the Houla Massacre...and beyond,”
There are many sides of the story but the Western media is only covering one side. (Neil Mac Farquhar flat out lied when he claimed twice in the New York Times that Syrian TV does not mention the armed clashes in Syria). To be sure, both sides can’t be believed and their claims can’t be taken at face value, but it is high time that real investigation of the Syrian story be undertaken by people who are not beholden to governments – East or West.”
For Syrian Peace mission led by former UNSG Kofi Annan and its current fate and counter action against Western powers and Sunni allies being planned by SCO in Beijing watch this space.
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