Thursday, 25 October 2007

Sanctions against Iran disregards Sovereignty of Nations

US step up sanctions against Iran for their alleged support for terrorism. The measures target the Revolutionary Guards and three state owned Banks. This comes only days after the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair comparing Iran with the rise of fascism in the 1920s. He went as far as almost explicitly framing Iran as the New Fascists of our century, warning ‘western’ powers against complacency. Days before Mr Blair’s pronouncements, the Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran in a historic tour, the first ever of any Russian Leader for over half a century. Given the strategic importance of Iran, it is important to look at the issues at stake. It is important because the US-Iran represents the latest most important issues that can destroy the peace and stability of our world.

It is relatively easy to deal with the issue of Terrorism. US accuses Iran of arming fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Hamas and Hezbollah. For US have listed Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organisations and is fighting against the insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the ease of ordering, we will deal with the issue of Iraq and Afghanistan first.

Afghanistan was attacked by the US and her allies soon after the attack on Twin Tower in New York by a group of terrorists which came to be known as the 9/11 attacks. US cited the involvement of Taliban, then ruler of most of Afghanistan and hold them responsible for providing grounds for training and accommodating terrorists. Although in military terms US ousted Taliban from power with little hardship, they continue to face increasingly stronger challenges from the Taliban element which questions the achievement of the ‘allied’ forces in Afghanistan. At present, given the difficulty in finding countries willing to commit troops, there is a real danger that Taliban may again gain grounds. Amid the fear of the return of Taliban in some form, US is desperate to step up pressure on Taliban while shift the focus of US people away from the issues. Iran, being a non-friendly nation to the US and strategically important Neighbour of Afghanistan is an easy escape goat. To date there has been little credible evidence to support Iran’s involvement in arming the Taliban. In fact, history tells us that the Taliban was ousted with silent support from Iran.

In Iraq, US and allied forces are struggling to keep hold of their grounds. The country is in chaos with little progress in sight. Despite the best efforts of the US soldiers, the security situation is in dire, the economy is frail and confidence of people is extremely low. There has been little movement towards stabilisation and the growth of democracy; the government is in tatters. More and more nations are bringing back their forces back, leaving US to sort out the mess it created alone. The opposition to Iraqi occupation is increasing in the US with the election eminent. The Bush administration is failing to keep up its commitment. Yet again they need an escape goat in order to wash their hands off the incompetence and arrogance and who better to blame than a worried neighbour, Iran? Of course the story is familiar; Syria has also been blamed but since Syria poses little significance these days, Iran as the most influential nation in that region suits better. Note again, there has been little evidence to make a compelling case against Iran in arming the Iraqi fighters.

Supposing, for the sake of argument, that Iran indeed is harbouring resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, would US be justified to take the measures it is taking against Iran? I doubt it especially if US is to follow its own standards. Meddling in others business, destabilising nations and violating sovereignty of other states have been a common feature of successive US administrations. Even to date, US justify all kinds of actions based on its ‘self interest’. Is it not in the interest if Iran to have a favourable government in its strategically important neighbouring states?

With regards to Hezbollah and to some extent Hamas, Iran have been an open supporter of their causes. For centuries nation after nation supported independence struggles of the people against occupation. US itself fought bloody war to achieve its own freedom. Hamas and Hezbollah have been created under very specific conditions to achieve clear objectives. Both these movements are based on popular support within their respective communities. There is little evidence that they force people in supporting them, in fact, both these movements gained reputation for being fair, just and not corrupt. People in their respective areas see these movements as saviours of their cause. Yet the US and its allies continue to support increasingly isolated forces accused of corruption on mass scale. US talk of democracy and freedom yet denies ground realities and throws her weight behind occupying forces and corrupt, self proclaimed leaders with waning public support.

There are other accusations against Iran which deserves to be discussed with much importance. However for today we shall limit our focus on the issue of terrorism. It is clear to any reasonable person with a fair mind and sense of justice that the accusations against Iran of supporting terrorism are based in thin grounds. If anything, it has been the US continuously threatening Iran from all around with huge force. Iran has reason to believe that it may be subject to an attack from the US and may take precautionary measure. As such, it is conceivable that Iran is being forced to improve their strategic understanding with the forces opposing US hegemony.
The attitude of the US amounts to clear disrespect for international Institutions and the sovereignty of independent states. She has violated the sovereignty of more than one nation and continues to threaten more. This kind of attitude reflects the arrogance of the neo-conservative led administration and poses the greatest danger to our world’s security. Let us hope that the presidential election being just round the corner, common sense will prevail and a major shift will be in place in the US to prevent us going back to the olden days of cold war.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Let Burma be our moment of Reckoning

Situation in Burma continues to be tense with each side determined to see the end. The military junta continues to do all it can to suppress protesters while the pro-democracy activists demonstrate despite the harsh realities. The world, despite some sound bites, observes as bystander. In the mean time, some of us wonder what future holds for Burmese people and the significance of this latest development at the international scene.

For decades now, Burma has been governed by the military elites who established tight control over the state apparatus. They have ruthlessly suppressed all efforts of the pro-democracy activists and imprisoned the leaders. International community only managed to occasionally express concern in words but nothing beyond that has taken place. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, in the name of ensuring democracy and ushering new era, global powers undertaken expansive military adventures result of which is the messy Iraq, dysfunctional Palestine and the increased uncertainty over global stability.

The test as presented by the Burmese experience is this: how far can international community can go to ensure ‘democracy’ in a state? From what we are experiencing, the answer is that the extent to which international community can go to ensure democracy, rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights is very limited. Of course some would argue that the case of Burma is different in that it does not offer much respite for the only super power to intervene, nor does it inconvenience any of the global players. To proponent of this view, Anglo-US axis has no moral vision and shows little regards to defend democracy; rather they are driven by self interest. While those that sees the axes as the sole custodian of democracy will argue that the Bush lead west perhaps with active participation of the European Union should if necessary take military stand against the Burmese government to ‘free’ the people of Burma from the unimaginable sufferings implicated upon them by their own government. In reality, both of these camps are impractical and unrealistic in the views that they hold.

The war on Iraq, the Palestine Crisis and most recently the increasingly eminent war on Syria points to us that war can only break our peaceful world into suspecting blocks where suspicion, mistrust and lack of cooperation makes it almost impossible to achieve peace and stability. It is also witnessed over the years that however powerful a nation or group of nations may be, they still are unable to mount military challenge in every land where the values of commonly acceptable civility is being violated. We have seen that action in Darfur has been limited to diplomacy and verbal condemnation, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kashmir etc have long been forgotten. In fact, as recently as last week, the British Foreign Secretary himself admitted that while there is victory, there is no military solution. This is extraordinary given that it was this very person who was the tsar of Tony Blair’s policy making.

SO leaving aside the rhetoric, it is now time to take a pragmatic approach to our world’s problems. Our approach should be one of re-conciliation between parties, building bridges and mending differences. War is easy but bringing peace is difficult. There are enough conflicts and potential conflicts, there are far too many potential issues that can divide our world and lead us to devastating consequences. With Burma now dominating the airwaves, we do not need yet another military solution, yet another war in whatever form it may take place. What we need is real courage and determination to come up with creative ideas that will pave the way for a better Burma and indeed a better world.

To this end, it goes back to the old argument in which international institutions like that of UN must be strengthened and their authority well established. TO do so, all nation and most importantly the powerful nations must respect the authority of these institutions even if at times the interest of these nations are not well served. Along with this, we also need to develop an infrastructure, a culture in which no nation is left to be isolated and cornered into little cells. We need effective means of communications with regimes like the one in Burma so we can talk in time of crisis. For this to happen, the authorities in such countries must not feel threatened. We need to create an interdependent world in which no government is able to run its businesses entirely on its own. That way when there is a problem we can apply real pressure that will work.

Isolating countries whether it is Burma or North Korea, be it Iran or Syria, will only make the leadership of such nations ever more determined in going about doing just the kind of things we want them no to do. Allowing them space and time may in short term seem giving way to the ideologically wrong kind of people, but in long term it allows us to weaken those regimes by making them more reliant on others who in turn can force these regimes to change. For the regimes, since they would be used in communicating and cooperating with other regimes, it would be unthinkable for them to isolate and do their businesses alone.
Let therefore our message be one of reconciliation, peace and perseverance. Let us say in loud and clear language, no more songs of wars, no more aggressive tactics to ensure ‘democracy’ but to create space for everyone and give them time to learn to dream of a better world. We want to see an end to the bloody clashes in Burma, but that must be achieved without creating more bloodshed at greater scale. Burma should be our moment of reckoning where we resolve to strengthen international institutions and increase our capacity to deal with this kind of regimes.