Plagued by terrorism

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Changing dynamics of North Africa and Middle East

It was a shocking news that Turkish, American made, F-16 fighter jet fired at and downed a Russian jet. After such incidents both sides made competing claims, a usual modus operandi. Turkey justified the act in the name of protecting her sovereignty which was supported by USA and European countries as NATO allies. Russia cried foul play claiming its plane never crossed Turkish boundary and was operating inside Syria to hit Islamic State militants. Russian President Vladimir Putin also labelled Turkey an ally and facilitator of Islamic State. China supported Russian position. But both sides emphasised that the situation needs to be de-escalated and suggested that there is no risk of war between the two countries. Russia demanded an apology from Turkey and cancelled its visa-free entry agreement from January 1st. There were also suggestions that energy and other trade arrangements will also be revised.

No matter how much we deny but there is a low intensity war going on in North Africa and Middle East. With each passing day the heat is rising and all signs point towards the high probability of full scale war. Everyone involved in these crisis is not engaged in it for the sake of humanity but to protect their national interest in land, oil and other strategic assets. Despite claims by many, including USA and Russia, the reality is that Islamic State has been consolidating its position in the areas held by it in Southern Syria and Northern Iraq. In all likelihood there will be redrawing of the map with emergence of some new countries. The probability of an independent Kurdistan comprising of parts of Iraq and Syria is very high. There will also be an emergence of a Sunni state comprising the lands now held by Islamic State. This is the scenario on which Western powers are working to create new political entities.

But there is another scenario on which extremists and militants are working. Europe has dominated Africa for almost 200 years. In these two centuries, colonial powers have sucked the continent dry of its natural resources while at the same time destroyed its culture and civilisation. This breakdown of society has resulted in civil wars and unstable governments for the last seven decades when most of these African countries got nominal independence from their colonial masters. Middle East, on the other hand, which was part of Ottoman Empire was divided into many countries through a Sykes-Picot agreement by the British and French governments after First World War.

Majority of people in Africa and Middle East blame Europe for its social, political, economic and cultural destruction. That hate and anger coupled with religious zeal has contributed towards emergence of violent militants in the shape of Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al-Shahab, Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghrib (AQIM), Nusra Front etc. Some of these were initially parented by West and its allies to defeat communist Soviet Union. These militants feel that they have an upper hand in this struggle as sophisticated weapons used by the West produce collateral damage that helps them have more recruits. On the other hand, local political leaders have lost credibility among their people as proxies of the West because of their Western education, business ties and foreign assets. In the absence of creditable politicians, the populations that have experienced Western subjugation for decades, have a sympathetic view of militants that appear to be winning this armed struggle.

Another dynamic that is working in favour of militants is the emergence of extreme right politics in Europe and USA that has already plagued weaker nations. The statements from Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and others about closing mosques, issuance of special ID cards for Muslims and rejecting Syrian refugees is further increasing the divide. German extreme right PAGIDA held large rallies in many cities to reject Muslims being incompatible with Western culture. There are chances that some of these politicians will get majority mandates in next elections which could result in further escalation of the already dangerous situation. A case in point is the election of Narendra Modi in India. He is now encouraging forced conversion of non-Hindus and rising incidents of mob violence against Christians and Muslims.

The conflicts in the world have political, social and economic dimensions and without addressing all of these, the situation cannot be brought under control. The chances are that the crises will escalate further as most politicians are driven by populist fervor rather than provide leadership as statesmen. A dialogue should be initiated at various forums including UN, EU, ASEAN, African Union, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC). There should be a new charter of non-interference, non-aggression, parity among nation and respect for sovereignty. These were the founding block of United Nation after Second World War which was proposed and promoted by United States. But after terrorist attacks of 911, US as a sole superpower, decided to take unilateral action against Iraq which severely damaged these long-held values.

Pakistan should take the lead in reinvigorating the non-aligned movement (NAM) to demand from the world powers to develop regional platforms to solve each of these crisis. These platforms should give due consideration to the strategic interests of all neighbours along with finding viable political solution that are supported and approved by local populations. Long simmering issues of Palestine, Kashmir, Chechenia, Nagarno-Karabakh, Afghanistan and other such hotspots have to be resolved through these platforms.

This may be an idealist position but this is the only way forward since pragmatism has been abandoned in pursuit of narrow national interests. Price for this national greed is paid by innocent and unprotected people of North Africa, Middle East and South Asia. If powerful countries refuse to take concrete actions, then the sons of these poor will answer the calls of extremists and terrorists in larger numbers, producing more mayhem around the world and at the same time believing that they are pleasing God.