. TUESDAY OCTOBER 28, 2014 AFGHANISTANTIMES By Raghida Dergham China has no strategy, but it has a policy. This is what Chinese experts have said in the course of explaining – or justifying – Chinese policy toward the countries of the Middle East. Russia is clinging to its policy because it is a state that understands strategy and what makes a strategy, from geography to natural resources. Russian experts speak in this manner, sometimes condescendingly, with their Arab counterparts. The Europeans are fragmented and they confess to their disunity. Their strategy is tactical in nature. For their part, the Americans take turns in refusing to blame the United States on the one hand, and in admitting their tactical mistakes, on the other. When it comes to a longterm U.S. strategy, most American experts almost deny its existence, arguing instead that U.S. policy is the policy of respective presidents and administrations. This is some of the most prominent impressions that came out of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate forum, organized by the Emirates Policy Centre (EPC), in collaboration with the Foreign Affairs Ministry in the UAE earlier this week. The goal of the event is to reach a common understanding among international and regional actors about tendencies of regional and international powers, as well as enhance efforts of policy-making among those actors. EPC is headed by Dr. Ebtisam Al Qutbi, the first woman to ever head a thinktank in the UAE. Going into the details of the topics addressed by the meeting, including the impact of hotspots on Gulf countries, as the conference put it, the international actors seem to have brought interesting insights with them to the Middle East region, deserving pause for the sake of a better understanding of current regional and international developments. UAE policy In the opening session, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Mohammad Gargash identified the main outlines of UAE policy, calling for a “clear vision,” a “comprehensive strategy,” and “coordinated efforts” regionally and internationally to tackle challenges including, but not limited to, ISIS. Gargash considered war on extremist groups a necessity because extremists “were not amenable to moderation” and urged a clampdown on the flow of money and fighters to where these groups are, and also called for promoting education, culture, and openness. Concerning Syria and Iraq, Gargash blamed sectarian and exclusionary policies. He expressed “cautious hope” in recently nominated Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi but described his comments on the statements made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden attacking the UAE and Saudi Arabia by saying: “Unfortunately, they undermine the willingness to turn the page on the past” and raise “doubts.” Egypt represents the “cornerstone of stability in the region,” as per UAE foreign policy, Gargash said. He stressed that Egypt must regain its historical and key position in the region and the world. Iran is a neighbor with whom warm relations should be sought, Gargash also said, but he stressed that there was a difference between Iran as a state and society and Iran as an expansionist foreign policy. Iran’s policy has provoked sectarian wars, exacerbated instability and promoted chaos in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. As for nuclear negotiations, the Gulf countries want them to lead to an airtight agreement. Otherwise, these countries will have to think about what better suits their interests. Gargash stressed that the UAE had no ambitions for a greater regional role, preferring to be a model for “moderation” in the region that refused attempts to “change our world through extremist movements.” The first intervention came from Dr. Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Institute of Oriental Studies and a professor at the faculty of global policy at the University of Moscow. Russia and Middle East He said that the Middle East is not high up on the list of priorities and strategic interests of the Russian Federation, albeit it remains of interest to the Russians. Naumkin stressed that the oil and gas factor is extremely important to Moscow, indicating that there are a lot of conspiracy theories involving Russia and the Gulf. In particular, he referenced an article by American journalist Thomas Friedman in which he wrote that there was a U.S.-Saudi conspiracy against Russia behind the dramatic fall in oil prices in the past few weeks. There have been voices saying falling oil and gas prices were part of a new strategy to harm Russia, being one of the world’s top exporters of oil and gas. It has also been said that one of the goals of this strategy was to push Iran to show more flexibility in nuclear negotiations, which, if successful, would lead to lifting the sanctions on Tehran. Russia is committed to the alliance with Iran in the Middle East and this was clear through all the Russian interventions made at the Abu Dhabi Debate. The Russian participants were almost in complete agreement in the main topics of their interventions, which did not diverge much from official Russian policy. What is frustrating about a large number of interventions made by the Russians, whether by speakers behind podiums or in the course of their comments on the sidelines of the meeting, was the extent of arrogance and condescendence they displayed toward Arab attitudes and interventions. There was a kind of contempt and ridicule of the Arab character and not just of the various opinions expressed by the participating Arabs. The goal of the forum, which invited more than 10 Russian figures, was to open the door for interaction and exchange of experiences. Unfortunately, the Russian presence was characterized by mocking Arab “sentimentality” and by belittling the Arab positions, which insist in their majority on independent decision-making within the Arab region, away from Iranian meddling in Arab countries. The Russian comments – including the ones made by Dr. Elena Suponina, director of the Middle East and Asia Center, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies – stressed that Iran is not only a key player in solving the problems of the Arab countries but must also be a leading player in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Suponina downplayed Arab roles and leaders, and suggested that the UAE follow Russia in lifting the sanctions on Iran, given that the UAE has the highest trade volume with Iran in the region. Suponina completely ignored Arab objections to Iran’s military roles in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Russia’s order of precedence Dr. Ekaterina Stepanova, head of the peace and conflict studies unit at the Institute of the World Economy & International Relations (IMEMO), Moscow, summed up the conditions that govern whether or not a given issue is seen as important in Russian foreign policy as follows: First, the issue has to be a source of concern for society, such as the Afghan refugees and the situation in Ukraine. Second, it has to be linked to energy because Russia is affected by the state of oil and gas. Third, it must be linked to the issue of extremism and terrorism because Russia assigns great importance to the impact of ISIS and extremism in general on Russian Muslims. Back to Naumkin, he said that Russia was willing to cooperate in the fight against ISIS as part of a joint comprehensive strategy that he said “has not been adopted yet.” Naumkin called for including Tehran and Damascus in this strategy as a condition. He said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wants to participate in the U.S.led coalition against ISIS and that Russia “is willing to support his efforts in the fight against terrorism.” The fact of the matter is that there is no change in Russian policy in terms of the centrality of its alliance with Iran and its commitment not to backtrack from supporting Tehran’s regional ambitions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. There is no change in Russian policy in terms of supporting Assad’s bid to remain in power. Moscow is pleased to have the members of the anti-ISIS coalition wage a war on its behalf to a certain extent. If the war against ISIS were confined to within Syria, this would most likely affect Russia and Iran more than others. Hence, practically and realistically, Russia and Iran are not in a hurry to take part in the coalition against ISIS. They are both satisfied by the developments in the war, because it relieves some pressure on them, even if provisionally. This does not mean, from an American perspective, that Syria is no longer a quagmire for Russia and Iran’s own “Vietnam.” There are still those who insist on the theory regarding the long-term U.S. strategy that sees the developments in Syria as an opportunity for U.S. interests, first because Russia “winning over” a Syria in ruins, a Syria that is torn apart, and a Syria that is overrun by terrorism and extremism is not a strategic victory. Second, Iran’s “victories” in Syria pave the way for a broader and deeper immersion for Iran and its regional ambitions in a bloody war like the one raging in Syria. Here, returning to the issue of the difference between strategy and policy, i.e. tactic, the United States appears to have a strategy, while the policies of the administration governing it appears to be a tactic. For this reason, the majority in the Arab region are convinced that everything that is happening is part of a U.S. plot. U.S. experts reject this view and accuse its proponents of conspiratorial thinking. China and Middle East In the context of the equation of strategy versus tactics, the Chinese participants voiced some interesting opinions during the Abu Dhabi event. The first surprise came in an intervention by Dr. Chen Yiyi, head of the Center for Middle East Peace Studies at Shanghai University. He said: “China has no strategy or a vision on the Middle East.” He said he asked himself how China wronged Syria in the context of the argument that no one is innocent in what happened in Syria, but was not convinced by the answers. He spoke about the negative perception of China in the context of the rift with the Gulf countries. He talked about the U.S. policy based on not sending U.S. troops to the battlefield, and said that the “Israelization” of the United States has reached a peak. Yiyi declared that China does not believe in quick change because it runs the risk of failure, saying that China had no experience in building institutions but had a unique experience in building an administration for a large number of people and was determined to press ahead with economic development as the mainstay of its policy. For his part, Dong Manyuan, senior research fellow specialized in Middle East studies, China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), Beijing, stressed the core constant principles in Chinese policies related to absolute respect for countries’ sovereignty. He said that China is working to strengthen its relations with Arab countries and at the same time to maintain relations with Iran. He defended the triple Chinese veto in the Syrian issue at the Security Council and said: “Arabs wanted a different stance from China in the Security Council, but China adheres to the principles of international relations such as non-interference.” When he was confronted with some tough questions, he ignored them completely and made a passionate and combative speech on the Palestinian issue instead, in a deliberate move to outmaneuver the Arabs at the conference. His colleague Dr. Jisi Wang, president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University, Beijing, called on the United States and the Arab countries concerned to abandon their demand for Bashar al-Assad to step down. He diagnosed the practical aspect of Chinese policy on the basis that China has no welldefined policies, and instead relies on policies related to the needs of the market. As is known, China has enhanced and developed its economic ties with Iran and military ties with Israel simultaneously, even as Chinese experts were engaging in one-upmanship over Palestine and defending the veto without any attempt to understand Arab criticisms. Because China and Russia are allies of Iran – and also have advanced relations with Israel – it is perhaps worthwhile to note the Iranian interventions at the event by Dr. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, associate research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and Dr. Mohsen Milani, professor of politics and chair of the department of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Iran’s objectives in region Mousavian called on the Arabs to alter their strategy and refrain from supporting continued sanctions on Iran because a nuclear agreement would be good for the region and said that there was a need to promote regional cooperation to achieve stability in oil pric- es. Mousavian said agreeing to consider ISIS the largest threat was a good beginning for fostering cooperation between Iran and the Arab Gulf countries, calling for the creation of a new regional security system (practically replacing the Gulf Cooperation Council). Mousavian also said that IranianGulf negotiations must take place without preconditions, which include for example the demand that Iran withdraw from Iraq and Syria, and so on. Milani summed up Iran’s major objectives in the region, including maintaining a good relationship with Iraq; managing the mini-cold war with Saudi Arabia that has been raging for years; and agreeing on regional security arrangements to maintain the security of the region and to ensure the continued flow of energy supplies. Milani challenged the accusations against Iran of pursuing sectarian policies, saying that Iran acts as a state based on its interests, though it may use sectarianism as a tool like any other. Milani said it was important to contain sectarianism, especially since Shiites do not account for more than 20 percent of the population in the region. Interestingly, Milani criticized the Arab objection to Iranian intervention in the affairs of Arab countries when Iran is not an Arab nation, considering this to be “discrimination.” It was very useful to listen to Iranian, Chinese, and Russian opinions, though it would have been better if the messages were expressed with less arrogance. The goal of such conferences, in part, is for experts to influence one another and convey a useful gist that would help shape policies, be they tactical or strategic in nature. Hopefully, the next round will see less patronization and more attentive engagement. Dr. Ebtisam al-Qutbi did well to design a forum that highlighted the importance of international roles in the Middle East, beginning with Russia and China, and not ending with Europe and the United States. Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based alHayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. This article was seen at Al Arabiya News. it will not be an obstacle to the reconstruction and agreed that the Palestinian unity government will oversee the reconstruction of Gaza Strip. It is true that some people may look at that as political concessions, but at the same time it shows the flexibility and political skill of the leaders of Hamas. Indeed, if the government of national unity has succeeded, Hamas certainly will incur part of the praise because it was involved in the formation of that government. While if the government fails, Hamas will certainly shift the blame on the shoulders of the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the international community. This situation accurately described by Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University, who said: “The balance between the pro- and anti-Hamas assistance might shift, but Hamas cannot be entirely avoided, nor can it be in complete control.” Hamas cannot ignore what is happening in the region, especially the American war on ISIS. Hamas is fully aware that Israel might exploit the situation in the region to its advantage, thus it is necessary to wait until the picture becomes clear in the Middle East. Or, as the Arab proverb says “bend until the storm passes.” More importantly, Hamas knows that calm and economic recovery in Gaza is in the interest of both Egypt and Israel. The Egyptian government is fighting a war in the Sinai against Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, consequently it’s not in Cairo’s interest to see the situation in Gaza deteriorating to dangerous levels. Perhaps Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of Israeli Defense Forces, was more candid and put it bluntly: “At the end of the day, 1.8 million Palestinians live there, and the quiet is also dependent on the trend of creating economic hope there.” No disarmament Perhaps most importantly, Hamas did not pledge any commitments to disarmament, or resolve any of its military apparatus. Indeed, Israel has failed to link international aid for the reconstruction of Gaza to its central demand that the Islamic movement must disarm. This situation could provide Hamas with the opportuni- ties to re-arm and make up for what they lost during the summer’s war with Israel. This dilemma is summed up by Khaled Abu Toameh, a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute : “From now, the PA will be working toward rebuilding the Gaza Strip while Hamas will use its own resources to smuggle in additional weapons and prepare for the next war with Israel.” Hamas itself needs a period of quiet to reassess its military strategy and compensate for what it lost of human cadres and military equipment in the war with Israel. In that regard, the existence of a national unity government will certainly increases its focus on the development of its own capabilities and removes the heavy burden of managing nearly two million people. Without a doubt the Islamic movement has gained great popularity in the recent war with Israel, in addition to that the Hamas still holds invaluable “cards” which may play an important role to strengthen its political prestige. One of them is a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, where it is believed that the movement retains the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed during the summer war in Gaza. The situation for the Palestinian Authority may be more complicated as they are required to fulfill the Palestinians political aspirations, to oversee the reconstruction of Gaza, at the same time provide for the economic needs of the millions of Palestinians. In the event of failure, it is very likely that the Palestinians will blame the PA and its’ President Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas. Dr Naser al-Tamimi is a UKbased Middle East analyst, and author of the book “China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Alliance?” He is an Al Arabiya regular contributor, with a particular interest in energy politics, the political economy of the Gulf, and Middle East-Asia relations. The writer can be reached at: Twitter: @nasertamimi and email: [email protected] How Britain fell from grace as a global military power By Peter Oborne Britain’s 13-year stay in Afghanistan is over. Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province — UK troops’ main Afghan base since 2006 — was handed over to Afghan control yesterday. The courage and fighting spirit displayed by our servicemen and women has been beyond praise and a matter of permanent national pride. Some 453 soldiers have died, while many hundreds of others have lost limbs or been mutilated in other life-changing ways. They will always carry Afghanistan with them. Maybe this heroism and blood sacrifice has held the rest of us back from analysing our Afghan engagement. By contrast, the Iraq war has already been the subject of four official investigations. The fifth and longest such study, the Chilcot Inquiry, now looks almost certain to be published early in the new year, and thus before the next general election. There are some sound reasons for this contrast. The case for invasion in Iraq was quickly tainted by claims of lying and fabrication, augmented by doubts about the integrity of the government information machine. There have been far fewer accusations of bad faith in Afghanistan. In addition, voters have tended to see Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, as a relatively virtuous conflict. Nevertheless there are important questions that now scream to be asked. These do not, as a whole, concern the original invasion of Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001. This was a brilliant and cleanly executed operation. The questions concern what followed. Specifically, why was there no serious attempt to rebuild Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban? This failure created the power vacuum that British forces sought to fill when they took charge in Helmand five years later. In retrospect, it is obvious that neither the politicians nor the generals who reported to them knew what they were doing. Britain had no serious knowledge or understanding of southern Afghanistan. As a result, we were blind to the difficulties which we were about to confront, and did not send in nearly enough troops. This fundamental ignorance was well expressed when John Reid, as defence secretary, notoriously stated that Britain’s involvement in Helmand was about reconstruction and that he would be happy if we left without firing a shot. Disastrous inkspot strategy Britain started out with an “inkspot” strategy. We hoped to concentrate our efforts in a tiny area between Camp Bastion and the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. This was doomed to failure and soon we were sucked into the problems of the entire province, meaning that British forces were far too thinly spread, and became targets. This weekend, Afghanistan: The Lion’s Last Roar, a series of BBC films, broke the culture of relative silence that has surrounded the military presence in Afghanistan. I have had a preview of this fascinating and complex study, which exposes a great deal of the muddled thinking that fatally undermined the decision to send troops to Helmand. The film establishes that as early as 2004, the British presence in Afghanistan had surprisingly little to do with what was going on within the country itself. Our presence there was determined by pow- erful external considerations. The first of these was the Iraq war, which by 2006 the British military detested. Our troops were bogged down and surrounded in Basra, and the generals wanted an escape route. The politicians, however, were determined to maintain the visceral British partnership with the US — the mountains of Afghanistan appeared to offer a far more romantic situation than the urban squalor of Iraq. A second consideration was even more significant. British generals were terrified of budget cuts. In their quest to avert them, they needed to prove to politicians that the Army was useful. The BBC film strongly suggests that senior military figures may have played down the risks of the Helmand entanglement as a result. One crucial piece of evidence concerns the small reconnaissance team that was sent into Helmand ahead of the main body of troops. The BBC obtained an interview with the official in charge, Mark Etherington, who tells viewers: “We found a tremendously backward province largely lawless, corruption was endemic. The chief of police was illiterate, and I seem to remember the director of education was also illiterate. There was a single tarmac road, the areas were vast, it was clearly an extremely challenging environment.” After two weeks there, Etherington bleakly concluded that the British objectives of establishing security, good governance and economic regeneration “were not going to be substantially possible”. But this warning was ignored. He suggests this was because the British Army didn’t want to listen. He recalls being told by one officer: “Don’t raise too many issues, or they won’t let us come.” LETTER TO THE EDITOR Support polio vaccination drive The second round of polio vaccination drive was kicked off this week. It covers more than eight million under five years old children countrywide. Positive cases of polio have surged in Afghanistan this year. Insecurity is the main reason behind this problem. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the three countries where polio still remains as an endemic. I have some suggestions for the government to eradicate polio in Afghanistan. These suggestions include boosting up security all over the country and as well as raising awareness campaigns through media outlets. Religious scholars can play an important role in this regard particularly in remote areas of the country. They can encourage people in their communities to let the health workers apply two drops of polio vaccine for their children. Jamal Khan, Hese Se Khairkhana, Kabul Letter to editor will be edited for policy, content and clarity. All letters must have the writer’s name and address. You may send your letters to: [email protected] This view is confirmed by Ed Butler, former head of the SAS, who commanded British forces in Helmand: “My view was that the train had already left the station.” General David Richards, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2006 and later Chief of the Defence Staff, remembers that: “We were actually hoping for the best and planning for the best.” To sum up: British forces were ill-equipped, underprepared and, at the most senior strategic level, atrociously led. The men themselves were nevertheless brave as lions. The conflict in Helmand will be remembered for centuries as a shining example of astonishing heroism combined with pointless sacrifice. The province is now formally under the control of the Afghan army (ANA). Those who have been there recently, though, tell me that “the ANA are in charge during the day, but the Taliban are in control during the night.” It is doubtful that British generals bear all the blame. Neither Tony Blair nor John Reid, defence secretary when the deployment was made, agreed to be interviewed for the BBC programme. I suspect they were very sensible. Blair’s wars, which have dominated the first decade of this century, have collectively been a disaster. They even failed in their key strategic objective of maintaining our alliance with America. Basra and Helmand have caused the United States to lose faith in the capability of the British Army. It may very well be that historians will look back on Helmand and conclude that it marked the moment when Britain’s ability to act as a global military power came to an end. They will marvel, too, at the stoicism, patience, resource and raw courage of ordinary British soldiers, doing their best in the face of appalling odds. Let’s always remember those who have died and let’s always acknowledge the terrible scars, both mental and physical, which must be borne by those who have survived. Let’s also remember the Afghans themselves, so many of whom have been entirely innocent victims of the dreadful conflict of the past 13 years. Have we made their lives better? It is still impossible to say. Dr. Naser al-Tamimi After more than seven years of complete control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas appears to be on its way to allowing the Palestinian national unity government, which was formed about four months ago to run the Strip especially the border crossings, to function. This shift in the position of Hamas raises an important question: What are the real reasons that prompted Hamas to adopt new policies? At the beginning we can say that the national unity government can be considered for both sides, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas as a “mandatory corridor.” From the standpoint of the PA, the negotiations reached an impasse, it’s legitimacy has begun to erode as the time passes by, and maybe it’s time to put the “house in order” to prepare for the next steps. Meanwhile, Hamas might consider the situation as a “warrior repose” and waiting for a new round of conflict. Hamas has realized that the Palestinian people are desperate for a period of tranquility Dr. Naser al-Tamimi Hamas realized (and rightly so) that it cannot alone rebuild the impoverished Gaza Strip, which was subjected to vast destruction, besides economic blockade. The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon in his recent visit to Gaza captured the gravity of the situation, when he described the destruction in Gaza as “beyond description” and a source of “shame to the international community.” Within this context, many experts indicate that Hamas has weakened and some of them predict the movement might negotiate with Israel. There is no doubt that Hamas has suffered a severe blow during the recent war with Israel, however you can argue that the recent developments will not compel Hamas to negotiate with Israel and the Islamic movement will be able to cope with new developments. In fact, the situation may turn into a win- win for Hamas. Political skills Hamas has realized that the Palestinian people are desperate for a period of tranquility and to start working on reconstruction projects. Hamas has stated clearly Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or opinions of the Afghanistan Times. This document was created with Win2PDF available at http://www.win2pdf.com. The unregistered version of Win2PDF is for evaluation or non-commercial use only. This page will not be added after purchasing Win2PDF.
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