New Age Islam Edit Bureau
23 February 2016
Afghan Peace Process: Desperation versus
By Davood Moradian
Kurds: Pawns and Kings in Syria and Iraq?
By Sharif Nashashibi
Only the Lebanese Can Save Lebanon Now
By Faisal J. Abbas
Hezbollah Uses The Palestinian Cause
As A Pretext
By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Afghan Peace Process: Desperation Versus
22 Feb 2016
On February 23, diplomats from Afghanistan,
Pakistan, China and the United States will meet in Kabul for the fourth round
of talks aimed at bringing respite to a troubled land. This quadrilateral
process is the latest effort in the long and arduous journey towards an Afghan
peace settlement. The pursuit of peace is almost as old as the Afghan conflict
In January 1980, the United Nations General
Assembly called for a political settlement to the conflict, which has never
been finalised over the past 36 years. Despite the overwhelming consensus on
the need for a peaceful Afghanistan, there remain fundamental questions over
the shape of an eventual settlement and the way forward.
Push For Afghanistan Peace Talks amid Taliban
The quadrilateral process is overshadowed
by Washington's war-weariness, Kabul's desperation, Beijing's ambitious
geo-economic regional projects and the overconfidence of Pakistani generals in
the Taliban's military prowess.
Attaining consensus for an eventual
settlement and for the principles on which it is based are the key requirements
for success. To this end, there has to be greater efforts to reach an
understanding on the nature of the Afghan conflict, before agreeing on a
conflict resolution roadmap.
At this stage, Beijing sees the Afghan
conflict as a typical civil war, a position that is closer to some United
States pundits and British diplomats who describe the Afghan conflict as a
tribal warfare among the unruly Afghans.
Meanwhile, Pakistan blames the conflict on
the Pashtuns' exclusion from power, a grievance fuelled by India. The Afghan
government characterises it essentially as a war imposed by Pakistan, whereby
poor, illiterate and rural Taliban are being manipulated by Islamabad.
Pakistan's Taliban strategy is transform
the group into a political and military entity with total control over a number
of Afghan provinces, similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This would mean a de
facto partition of Afghanistan.
Among the Afghans, there are also divergent
views on the nature of the Taliban. While there is an overwhelming consensus
about the primary role of Pakistan in the Afghan conflict, there is less
clarity and agreement over the degree of Taliban independence and
There is hardly any sympathetic voices
among non-Pashtun political elites about the Taliban, whereas the views among a
significant number of Kabul-based Pashtun political elites range from sympathy,
justification and silence. Former President Hamid Karzai's favourite characterisation
of the Taliban is "my upset brothers". His successor's view of them
is as his "political opponents".
The Taliban apologists are mocked as
"necktie-wearing Taliban". And while Afghanistan's growing civil
society and democratic constituencies despise the Taliban, a large number of
clerics remain silent, with the exception of a few, such as Sayyaf, a prominent
Mujahidin leader and a religious scholar.
For the more informed observers, the Afghan
conflict is a hybrid one, involving internal drivers (elite polarisation, weak
state institutions, and drug/war economy) and external drivers (great/regional
powers' geostrategic competitions, Pakistan's hegemonic objective and the rise
of Islamist movements).
Therefore, a viable settlement has to
address both these internal and external drivers. Pinprick solutions would only
lengthening the Afghan conflict.
Embracing "democratic politics"
is the only answer to elite polarisation. Neither violence nor "ethnic
entitlement" should be justified as a path towards political power.
Contrary to his Western lobbyists, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president,
continues to be haunted by his original sin, which was his failure to win a
democratic mandate, thanks to Karzai's manipulation of the electoral process.
Electoral reform and the taming of his
ethnic and authoritarian impulses can partially redeem Ghani. The recent
warning by James Clapper, the US National Intelligence director, over the risk
of a "political breakdown during 2016" in Afghanistan reinforced the
primacy of political stability over any hasty peace process.
Despite efforts to create a new political
identity, political space and legitimacy for the Taliban, the group after all
is an integral part of Islamist radical movements, and incompatible with
constitutional and democratic politics. It meets every definition of terrorism.
Pakistan's Taliban strategy is to transform
the group into a political and military entity with total control over a number
of Afghan provinces, similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This would mean a de
facto partition of Afghanistan.
Washington and Beijing seem to be
comfortable with such an arrangement, as long as their core geostrategic and geo-economics
interests are safeguarded. With other Afghan political groups, however, the
only viable path for Taliban's political power has to be democratic politics
However, the emergence of the latest
generation of radical Islamist groups, namely Islamic State of Iraq and the
Levant (ISIL) in the region, and the death of Taliban's demagogue leader Mullah
Omar are changing the Taliban from a coherent, ideologically-driven military
group into factions of fragmented militias.
The unending terrorist attacks in Pakistan
and President Barack Obama's prediction of growing instability in Afghanistan
in coming years should awaken Pakistani's military establishment to the dangers
of playing with radical groups. The policy of managed instability in
Afghanistan will only accelerate the crippling process of Talibanisation of
In addition, China's grand initiative of
"One Belt, One Road" could only be realised in a peaceful neighbourhood.
One also hopes that Washington has learned the harsh lesson that wars do not
end on schedule, through bureaucratic benchmarks and Washington's electoral
The weariness generated by the Afghan
conflict, coupled with the fear of a regional spill over similar to the Middle
East, provide the necessary momentum to push for a viable peace settlement. As
many other conflicts have shown, an enduring peace is only attained from the
position of strength rather than desperation.
Davood Moradian is the director-general of the Afghan Institute for
Strategic Studies and former chief of programmes in President Hamid Karzai's
office and chief policy adviser to Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Kurds: Pawns and kings in Syria and
The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have
enabled Kurdish forces in both countries to make significant territorial gains,
with the help of weaponry and air support from various foreign powers. Besides
the Iraqi government, the Kurds are the only party to the multi-layered conflicts
in both countries that enjoys the support of key members from both coalitions.
The impetus behind Western military aid to
Kurdish forces - besides long-standing close ties between the United States and
Iraqi Kurdistan - is their reliability and organisation, making them effective
against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
More recent Russian support, particularly
in the form of air strikes in Syria, stems from tensions between Moscow and
Ankara sparked by the latter's downing of a Russian warplane over Turkish
airspace in November.
As such, the reasons for Russian support -
and that of the Syrian regime - differ from those of the West in that they are
meant to stick the Kurdish thorn deeper into Turkey's side, and to nurture
another allied ground force against Syrian rebels.
The strategy so far is proving effective on
both counts. Syrian Kurds, having initially focused on fighting ISIL, are now
making gains against rebel groups in the north of the country.
This has infuriated Turkey, which says that
it will not accept Syrian Kurdish control of the border, but has backed off
from initial threats of a ground intervention.
However, in their fervour to support
Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria, parties from both coalitions are overlooking
two issues that have major regional as well as domestic implications.
While parties supporting Kurdish forces
insist on the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq, that very support is
emboldening separatist sentiments and actions among Kurds in both countries...
The first is the catalogue of abuses,
including war crimes, committed by those forces against civilians in captured
territories, documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the
United Nations and other organisations.
The second issue, which has potentially
wider ramifications, is that while parties supporting Kurdish forces insist on
the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq, that very support is emboldening
separatist sentiments and actions among Kurds in both countries, who have
expanded into hotly disputed territories and those beyond their traditional
This is of great concern not just to Iraq
and Syria, but also Iran and Turkey, which have sizable Kurdish minorities, and
are wary of a domino effect should Syrian or Iraqi Kurds gain independence. Ankara's
concerns have been heightened in recent months by the resurgence of Kurdish
militancy in Turkey.
Syrian Kurds in the oil-rich northeast have
had de facto autonomy since the early days of the revolution against President
Bashar al-Assad. They declared autonomy in November 2013, and again in January
Referendum on Independence
This month, Masoud Barzani, president of
Iraqi Kurdistan, reiterated a call for a referendum on independence that he
initially made in July 2014.
"It's the right of Kurdistan to
achieve independence," he said at the time. "From now on, we won't
hide that that's our goal. Iraq is effectively partitioned now."
The Kurdish issue is causing tensions
within the US-led anti-ISIL coalition. US support for Syrian Kurdish forces has
angered Turkey, a major regional ally and coalition member. Ankara, which
earlier this month started shelling the same forces supported by Washington, on
Sunday called on the US to give it unconditional support in this regard.
US backing of Syrian Kurdish forces has
also angered rebel groups, including those directly backed by Washington.
US military support to Iraqi Kurds has
caused unease in Baghdad - another major ally and coalition member - where
there are suspicions that such aid may eventually be used in pursuit and
defence of independence.
Moscow and Damascus see an immediate
benefit in bolstering Syrian Kurdish forces. However, they may be creating a
momentum that they will be unable to contain if Syrian Kurds cement or expand
their autonomy, or press for independence. Rejection of either scenario is one
thing that both the regime and opposition groups largely agree on.
Partnership with Assad
How will Syrian Kurdish forces square their
partnership with Assad with his vow earlier this month to retake the whole
country? Will they seek comfort from Moscow's rebuke of this vow as "not
in accord with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is making"?
Similarly, Barzani may be banking on
America's blessing for Iraqi Kurdish independence, but the US is highly unlikely
to support a move that would so antagonise major allies in the region.
Heightened concerns over Kurdish
nationalist ambitions, and the military support that may inadvertently realise
them, may complicate and potentially hinder the fight against ISIL if the
jihadist group is seen, or portrays itself, as a vanguard against those
Just as the Kurds in Syria and Iraq have
their agendas in seeking military support, so too do their benefactors in
providing it. That both sides seem to be overlooking the divergences in these
agendas for immediate gain is short-sighted, because such a strategy is simply
putting off, and potentially aggravating, an almost inevitable clash of
interests that could lead to direct conflict.
This regional game of chess being played in
Syria and Iraq is all the more complex and dangerous because of the number of
pieces that are both pawns and kings.
Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab
Only The Lebanese Can Save Lebanon Now
22 February 2016
Much has been said about the tension
between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, however, it was HRH Prince Turki al-Faisal
who seems to have hit the nail on the head in describing the situation.
Speaking in his personal capacity yesterday
in Abu Dhabi at a round table organized by the Beirut Institute, Prince Turki
(who is a former ambassador and intelligence chief) said Lebanon has always
been regarded as the "lung" of the Arab world.
"The problem is that this lung is now
suffering from pneumonia," he elaborated.
Of course, the Saudis have long known this
to be the case, and have tried on numerous occasions to boost Lebanon's
immunity against Iranian militant virus Hezbollah.
In fact, the $3 billion in military and
security aid (which Riyadh has just announced halting) was the last in a series
of attempts to help strengthen the formal Lebanese army and police force.
It's now up to the Lebanese (and the
Lebanese alone) to cut off the Iranian tentacles strangling their nation
However, ever since the assassination of
Saudi-backed PM Rafiq Hariri in 2005 (which Hezbollah is formally accused of),
Iran - through its loyal local agents - has been systematically demolishing all
what was left of the Hariri legacy, which was aimed at rebuilding the country,
restoring hope and bringing peace and prosperity to ALL Lebanese.
The last straw was when Lebanon's
pro-Hezbollah Foreign Minister, Gebran Bassil, recently refused to support an
Arab League statement denouncing Iranian meddling in the region following the
attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Of course, many Lebanese politicians and
concerned citizens voiced their objection to the position of FM Basil, however
it seems Riyadh is now convinced that there is no way to help Lebanon unless it
decides to help itself first.
A Picture Is A Thousand Words
Critics will probably ask why Saudi’s
interference is being painted positively, while Iran’s is being portrayed as a
Well, it is said that a picture is worth a
thousand words, and those who are in doubt must only revert to an image which
recently went viral that really does say it all.
The picture compares a prosperous Lebanon
which was rebuilt following the Taif Accord (a Saudi initiative which brought
an end to the devastating 15-year civil war), to the country which was left to
rot under piles of uncollected garbage last year.
Indeed, Lebanon - once dubbed the
Switzerland of the Orient - is now a shadow of its former self. Thanks to
Iranian meddling, it has failed to agree on a president since 2014, and
continues to have a defunct parliament and a crippled Prime Minster.
One could argue whether or not the cutting
off of Saudi aid might risk Lebanon further leaning towards Tehran, however,
the reality is that it's now up to the Lebanese (and the Lebanese alone) to cut
off the Iranian tentacles strangling their nation.
However, as many Saudis would tell you, the
recent escalation is in no way an act against its population, or the
"Lebanese who played a major part in the building of Saudi Arabia"
(as Prince Turki described them). This was further evident in today’s Saudi
cabinet statement which stressed that the kingdom will continue to support the
Indeed, Riyadh was both gracious and wise
not to lend its ears to the reckless comments made by the pro-Iranian lobbyists
in Lebanon, for it knows far too well that these opportunists will be the only
ones to prosper from a complete breakdown of the relationship.
As for the cutting of military aid, it most
definitely should be understood the way it was intended: "You can't have
the cake, and eat it too!"
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a
renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle
East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and
Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008,
and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of
Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an
associate member of the Cambridge Union Society.
Hezbollah Uses the Palestinian Cause as
Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan
Nasrallah uses every trick in the book in an effort to cement his militia’s
credibility within the Sunni Arab world and to justify its existence. His
speeches are deliberately crafted to con Arabs, specifically Palestinians, into
thinking he is the hero who will defend Jerusalem and free the occupied
Not content with turning Lebanon into an
Iranian vassal state, using the pretence he puts Lebanese interests first even
though he has triggered war with Israel, turned his guns on his compatriots,
and dragged his country into the Syrian conflict. Nasrallah has cynically
ramped up his pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rhetoric to lure Palestinians and
their sympathisers into his camp.
As several Middle East commentators have
noted, he is out to win a place in the Palestinian good books with anti-Israel
threats at a time when he is viewed throughout the region as a betrayer for
propping up the brutal Bashar Al-Assad regime.
Nasrallah’s latest rant boasts that
Hezbollah has the capacity “to cover the entirety of Israel with missiles”
adding that the militia would be the victor in any coming war with
nuclear-armed Israel. He was even more specific concerning his plans. An
ammonia plant in Haifa would be targeted in order to cause a nuclear bomb type
Those threats are mere flimflam, empty of
substance, because, if carried out, Israel would adopt a scorched earth policy
in retaliation while every Palestinian would have a target placed on his back.
To prove how nonsensical they are in the event Israel were in danger of being
obliterated, no American president would sit on his hands witnessing its
destruction. That is just a fact which this big-mouthed paper tiger knows only
Nasrallah has cynically ramped up his
pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rhetoric to lure Palestinians and their
sympathisers into his camp
Until now, neither Iran nor Hezbollah have
done anything tangible to aid the Palestinians other than throw them a few
dollars and low-grade missiles. They merely hold out the freeing of Jerusalem
as a recruitment carrot, one that offers hope to Muslims and, of course,
Palestinians in areas where hope is becoming a rare commodity.
He vows to support the Palestinians
year-upon-year and so far he has done nothing tangible to that effect. Instead,
he has ordered attacks against Saudi Arabia; one example is the attack on the
Khobar Towers residential complex near Dhahran carried out by Hezbollah’s
branch in the Kingdom. Moreover, Cairo alleges that Hezbollah, together with
other groups, murdered guards to release tens of thousands of prisoners during
the 2011 revolution, many of them convicted terrorists.
I have advocated for a Palestinian state
throughout my adult life. I feel deeply for the suffering of the Palestinians
and their frustration in the absence of even a small chink of light. I
understand why a small minority may be tempted to grasp at Nasrallah’s straws,
but have no doubt that they are being set up for disappointment.
I am sure President Mahmoud Abbas
understands Hezbollah’s ruthless game. I do not doubt his patriotism for a
second, but I do wonder at his silence. He should dissuade his people from
being fooled by Hezbollah with propagandist statements designed to attract
recruits who will no doubt be farmed-out to fight elsewhere.
Nasrallah’s agenda is clear. Last year, he
called upon all Palestinians and their supporters to rally behind the Islamic
Republic of Iran on such duplicitous reasoning as “Iran’s enemies are the
enemies of Jerusalem”. He was later to claim Iran and its backing of
“resistance movements” was “the only hope left for this region, after God.”
When he is not thumping his chest against
Israel, he is slamming Saudi Arabia for its “aggression” against Yemen, which
is a legitimate, lawful intervention carried out to reinstate the
democratically-elected government and to preserve the Kingdom’s security.
On Sunday, Lebanon’s Minister of Justice
Ashraf Rifi resigned his post saying Nasrallah should be “ashamed” of his attacks
on Saudi Arabia while describing Hezbollah as “a mere tool” of Iran. “Hezbollah
is turning Lebanon into an operations room to spread Iranian hegemony”, he
said. Never a truer statement has been said. That is exactly what he wants
Palestine to become – an Iranian puppet enclave.
Hezbollah has been bleeding popularity
among Palestinians, many of whom were outraged when in December 2015 he spoke
against the backdrop of a map of Palestine superimposed with the Iranian flag.
That speaks volumes as to his hidden agenda. He does not care about the
Palestinians; his interests lie with extending the so-called Shiite Crescent.
Walking the Walk
I would urge President Abbas to encourage
our Palestinian brothers to reject Nasrallah’s blatant lies designed to hijack
their just cause and he should emphasise strongly that Hezbollah talks the talk
but has never once walked the walk. The U.S. may have scratched Hezbollah from
its threat list while it was courting Iran to sign up to the nuclear deal, but
history does not lie. It remains a terrorist organisation with both Arab and
Western blood staining its hands.
I would also counsel Lebanon’s Palestinian
residents to assist those of their Lebanese friends struggling to reclaim their
country from Hezbollah’s domination which is alienating Saudi Arabia, the
majority of Gulf states and other predominately Sunni countries. Hezbollah’s
control of the country both politically, diplomatically and militarily has
resulted in Saudi Arabia freezing $4 billion set to bolster the Lebanese army
and domestic security services because it cannot continue indirectly funding
its enemy’s proxy militia.
Palestinians, wake up! You are being
played. Disassociate yourselves from Hezbollah and its master. Reject false
partners for those who have stood shoulder to shoulder with you rather than
those with silvery tongues and anti-Sunni agendas. If you let him, Nasrallah’s
weasel words will lead you down a hellish path with no return.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure.
He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful
conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on
international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to
promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his
country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics,
he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books.
Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and
in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE
Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first
time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of
innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.