Taking sides

Taking sides



Galal Nassar assesses recent shifts in Turkey’s regional role

Many wonder whether the crisis in Turkish-Israeli relations has reached the point of no return. Did the show-down in Davos between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Shimon Peres permanently damage the once “special ties” between Israel and Turkey?

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Israel has been trying to play down the crisis. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, while admitting that some damage has been done, claimed that bilateral ties were too important for either side to allow them to be sacrificed over the Gaza squabble. Turkish officials, both in the Foreign Ministry and the army, were equally quick off the mark to draw a line between the Gaza crisis and the long-term interests of Turkey and Israel.

European and US figures, including Jewish activists, also tried to mediate between the two countries. The success of these efforts depends largely on the reasons for the current strains in Turkish-Israeli relations. If it is all about Gaza, and Gaza alone, then perhaps it is a storm in a teacup. But I suspect there was more to the recent show of raw nerves than meets the eye.

Let’s think for a moment of the regional relations of the Erdogan government. The Turkish government has old ties with Hamas, as well as with other political parties that use Islam as their rallying call. Ankara has been actively trying to persuade the Europeans and Americans to treat Hamas better, arguing that the group could play an important and positive role in the peace process. Turkish officials roundly denounced Israel‘s assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Eyebrows were raised in Israel when the Erdogan government dragged Syrian-Turkish relations from the brink of decisions. Israel is fine with Turkey mediating with Syria though it tolerates, rather than encourages, closer Syrian-Turkish ties.

Erdogan felt that Olmert’s attack on Gaza was a direct insult to Turkey, especially that Olmert had been warmly received in Ankara just a few days before launching the attack. The visit by Olmert to Turkey was supposed to bring about further progress in talks with Syria.

Apart from the Turkish official position ordinary citizens feel solidarity with the population of Gaza. Not only was this support evident in Istanbul, where Islamic and leftist groups alike have traditionally voiced sympathy with the Palestinians, but in dozens of other Turkish cities.

Erdogan, with his keen grasp of public opinion, knew all along that the Turkish people were going to be moved by the horrors unfolding in Gaza. And then there is the complication of what I will call neo-Ottomanism, for want of a better term.

The Turks have been quite active in the region of late. Turkey is playing a significant role in Iraq. It has forged closer ties with Syria, economic as well as political. It has signed a major tariff exemption treaty with Egypt. Turkish businessmen and industrialists have been coming in droves to work in Egypt. Turkey has close ties with Qatar. It is becoming particularly friendly with the Saudis. It is sending officials to visit most Arab countries on a regular basis. Turkish contractors are engaged in development projects across the Arab region.

Because of the Islamic ideology of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Erdogan government has had an easy time communicating with Arab Islamic groups, including Hamas. The Turkish, or Ottoman, flag is returning to Arab territories for the first time in 80 years. In the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon war the Turks offered to participate in the international peacekeeping force on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Turkish soldiers were thus back to being deployed on Arab land, albeit under the UN umbrella.

Turkey has been a NATO member since the early 1950s. Its army is described as one of NATO’s largest, second only to the American. As such Turkey is a major player in the Western bloc and acted accordingly throughout the Cold War. Even during last summer’s Georgian crisis, when Ankara adopted a neutral position, it was no secret that Turkey had contributed, directly and indirectly, to the arming of Georgia.

Turkey was the first Islamic country to recognise Israel and in 1996 the two countries signed a military cooperation agreement. Dozens of Israeli companies operate in Israel. And Turkey has been trying hard to join the EU for some years now.

There is a dichotomy in all of the above. Turkey is being torn in two directions, pulled by opposing forces. The AKP is facing a dilemma, if not an identity crisis.

Turkish governments, including those of Turgut Ozal and Bulent Ecevit, showed compassion to the Palestinians and acted generally to boost Turkish relations with Arab countries. But none of these prime ministers, certainly not since WWII, has seen Turkey‘s future as outside the Western alliance. Since the AKP came to power a change of perspective seems to have taken place, leading to the emergence of contradictions that must be worked out.

The AKP government is doing all it can to enter the EU. Accession negotiations, though stalled, are having a favourable domestic impact. Turkey is becoming a more democratic and humane place, less radical and generally softer in its commitment to secularism. Turkey is also trying to restrict the intervention of the military in politics.

Turkey‘s leaders are not dreamers. They realise that Europe may not, at least in the foreseeable future, grant Turkey full EU membership. Meanwhile, they see a chance to make diplomatic gains outside Europe, in the region that used to be the Ottoman Empire, including the Arab world, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

I am not suggesting that Turkey‘s current leaders harbour imperial ambitions or are solely reliant on a nationalist discourse. But they do see a chance to consolidate relations with neighbouring countries, empire or no empire.

Turkey‘s new policy is not based on past ties. Turkey is coming to realise that a country’s identity is not a one-dimensional thing. A Turk remains a Turk even if he sees himself also as a Muslim, a Kurd, an Arab or a European.

What goes for the Turks goes also for Syrian and Egyptian Arabs, and for everyone else in this diverse region. The Turks have much in common with the inhabitants of the region and are trying to forge relations of a new type with them. It would be an oversimplification to deny the heritage of the empire. A large section of Turks, including those in the ruling party, see present day Turkey as heir to the Ottoman imperial legacy. But it would be unfair to see Turkey as acting out of a crude expansionist policy rather than a sense of responsibility towards its own neighbours. As Turkey‘s sense of stature, power and self-confidence grows so does its sense of responsibility.

The new Turkey sees itself at the heart of the world, including the Western world. It sees itself as a secular republic even as it seeks to become more humane, tolerant and free. The Turkey of the AKP is not about to leave NATO. Nor is it inclined to sever ties with Israel over Palestine.

Turkey is not part of the Arab game of shifting alliances. It has firmly opposed the Western campaign against Iran without condoning Tehran‘s expansionist policies. The Turkish government is primarily concerned with the welfare of the Turkish people, and that concern is what inspires its economic activities in neighbouring countries.

The new Turkey hasn’t abandoned the nationalist foundations of the republic even as it tries to open the door to ethnic and cultural pluralism. What I call neo-Ottomanism is far from having assumed its final form.

Israel will try to keep Turkey on its side. The Israelis were not just shocked by the public statements of the Turkish government. They have been horrified by the mobilisation campaign conducted by the Turkish Ministry of Education in schools around the country. And they were dismayed at AKP participation in demonstrations that urged the Turkish army “to march on Jerusalem“.

But just as Israel has problems with the Erdogan government the latter has complaints of its own. Turkish leaders were shocked by reports of cooperation between Israel and Kurdish secessionist groups. These reports are no longer secret. US journalist Simon Hersh has just published a full report on Mossad links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). So furious were Turkish officials that their reaction was described by Israeli papers as a wave of anti-Semitism.

Israel still harks back to a time when the Turks would have acted anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian just to appease the West. Now, though, it is difficult to imagine Turkish-Israeli relations returning to the “special relationship” of yore. Rising resentment of Israel among Turkish public opinion is enough to put a damper on ties for some time to come. According to recent polls, 80 per cent of Turks support the AKP’s tough stand on Gaza.




Khomeinist Iran turns to Pakistan

Khomeinist Iran turns to Pakistan

By M.D. Nalapat
Column: Future Present

Published: February 11, 2009


Iran‘s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a rally marking the 30th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution at the Azadi (Freedom) Square in Tehran, Iran on Feb. 10, 2009. (UPI Photo/Hossein Fatemi/Fars News Agency)

Manipal, India

The Shiite branch of Islam is regarded as heresy by followers of the founder of Wahabbism, Abdel Wahab (1703-1792). Extreme adherents of this faith routinely visit violence on the Shiites, and every one of its preachers condemns the Shiites as un-Islamic.

However, the 1979 ascendance of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to absolute power in Iran meant the capture of one of the geopolitical pivots of the Shiite world – the other being Iraq – by a thinker whose teachings closely resembled the philosophy of Abdel Wahab.

These ideas had originally been designed to counter the control exercised by Turkish Sufi doctrine over the Arab Bedouin. The Wahabbis enjoyed the support of the British Empire and its successor in international reach, the United States, initially because this alienation from Turkish influence suited their interests.

This backing began to be withdrawn only after 9/11. Nearly nine years after that event, the prising away of Wahabbis from the state structures of key Muslim-majority states has been at best partial, and usually no more than cosmetic. Wahabbism continues to dominate the world of Muslim religious schools and sites by ensuring the elimination of clerics and scholars who subscribe to a moderate – if not Sufi – worldview.

Nowhere has this process secured deeper roots than in Pakistan. Apart from some locations in the Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan has become the most significant jihadi factory, turning out thousands each year. Education in the religious schools, or madrassas, is based on vilification of those not subservient to a Wahabbi mindset. Even regular school education in Pakistan has aped models in the “moderate” Middle East by including heavy doses of religion in what ought to be secular curricula.

The products of such Wahabbist indoctrination are often unable to compete effectively in a globalizing world, and hence develop feelings of resentment that motivate them toward extreme solutions. Sadly, while former U.S. President George W. Bush funneled billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars toward “reforming” education in Pakistan, his administration failed to ensure the overhaul of the curricula to educate a generation able to resist the temptations of jihad.

Both the Khomeinists and the Wahabbis see the United States and Israel as their Axis of the Devil, and both produce a profusion of literature designed to create hatred for both countries.

Although Wahabbi literature also continues to openly and repeatedly condemn Shiite philosophy as apostasy, this has not prevented “revolutionary” Iran from coming together with the Wahabbi group within the Pakistan army – which has been dominant since the 1970s – and the institutions it directly and indirectly controls.

Travel and telephone records, including “coincidental” visits by Iranian and Pakistani military commanders to locations such as Beijing or Dubai, show a steep acceleration in contacts between the ruling Khomeinst structure in Iran and its Wahabbi counterparts in Pakistan.

The Pakistani military has even succeeded in making into its helpmate the once-feared al-Qaida, which barks out threats against India at regular intervals.

India has a record of helping the Palestinians, even during the 1950s, when Pakistan was opposing the Palestine Liberation Organization and refusing to recognize an independent Palestinian state. India has invariably supported Arabs against outside intervention, including opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Yet the Pakistan army has got the Jihad International to vilify this secular democracy – which includes 156 million Muslims – alongside Israel and the United States, creating a triangle that they have together vowed to oppose.

Not surprisingly, al-Qaida commanders routinely and publicly offer to help the Pakistan army if there should be another war with India, and threaten India with retaliation if it were to attack Pakistan. Clearly, the leaders of al-Qaida are grateful for the sanctuary and support they have received within Pakistan.

The Wahabbis have been adept at the “good cop, bad cop” routine needed to lull the best and the brightest in Washington D.C. into their customary stupor when faced with the need to implement actual – as distinct from cosmetic – measures against the Wahabbis that dominate the Pakistan military and its affiliates.

In contrast, the theatrical Khomeinists have succeeded in turning successive U.S. administrations, and even domestic public opinion, against them with the ranting of their leaders. This is especially true of the current loudmouthed president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hand-picked nominee of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Although the majority of the Iranian people are not Arab, and hence not directly related to the situation in the Palestinian territories, Iran has become the biggest state sponsor of the militant Palestinian groups that seek to extinguish through violence the state of Israel.

Interestingly, the flow of technology to the country from states as varied as China and Germany continues unabated, enabling Iran’s mullahcracy to move closer to the day when it can launch a devastating blow against Israel and NATO assets in the vicinity.

What will be the effects of this increased fraternization between the Khomeinist establishment in Iran and its Wahabbi counterparts in Pakistan? The jury is still out, although both would like to see a weakened United States that would, in their view, be more susceptible to Iran’s bullying and Pakistan’s cajoling.

Given the complementary skills of the two countries in asymmetrical warfare, this emerging alliance between Iran and Pakistan is significant enough to merit the attention of the international community.

Drones Targeting Baitullah Mehsud? What Gives?

Drone mows down 28 in S. Waziristan

By Our Correspondent
WANA, Feb 14: Two missile strikes on a site suspected to be housing militants loyal to Baitullah Mehsud killed 28 people and injured 15 others in Ladha sub-division of South Waziristan on Saturday.

Official and local sources said that a missile strike by drones flattened a ‘hujra’ (guest house) of Roshan Mehsud, an associate of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, in Showngai Naserkhel area. The compound was situated in an isolated area.

Residents said that three unmanned aerial vehicles were hovering over the area when two loud explosions were heard at about 8.30am.

This is the third and the deadliest drone strike in the tribal region near the Afghan border since US President Barack Obama assumed power on Jan 20.

The region is considered to be a safe haven of local and foreign militants and suspected drones have carried out five attacks in North and South Waziristan since Jan 1.

Local Taliban sources told Dawn by phone that 28 people, including Arabs, Uzbeks and Afghans, were killed. Condition of 10 wounded persons was stated to be serious. A child passing the compound was also injured.

The Taliban earlier claimed that a seminary had been targeted. They said that three weeks ago over 60 foreign militants had assembled in the premises.

According to locals, militants rescued 15 wounded comrades from the debris and took them to a private hospital in Makeen, 15km east of Showngai.

The Taliban have established health facilities in the area for treating wounds suffered in drone strikes and clashes.

The sources said that the compound had earlier served as a seminary. Later it was handed over to Uzbek militants. The area is under the diktat of Baitullah Mehsud.

After the missile strike, the Taliban encircled the compound and started rescue operation.

Eight of the dead were buried in Ladha and the others in Makeen. Many bodies were beyond recognition.

A remotely-piloted aircraft hovered continually over North Waziristan on Saturday.

Soon after the missile strike, militants captured three alleged spies and took them to an unknown location.

The sources said that one alleged spy belonged to the Mehsud tribe and two to the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe. One of them was identified as Mohammad.

AP adds: Intelligence officials said the victims included about 15 ethnic Uzbek militants and several Afghans.

Two of the officials said followers of Baitullah Mehsud were in residence in the compound that was hit.

The accounts of Saturday’s incident could not be verified independently. The tribally governed region is unsafe for reporters.

US base active near Tarbela, says Beg

US base active near Tarbela, says Beg

By Salman Ghani

submitted 22 hours 10 minutes ago

LAHORE – Former Army Chief Gen (r) Aslam Beg has drawn the attention of the politicians and people towards the threats faced by the country in the areas of national solidarity, integrity and independence. He said that it was now the time for the people to handle the important affairs themselves and find solution of the problems themselves, rather than leaving things to the rulers only, failing which the nation might face internal break-up. Aslam Beg was talking to The Nation. “We should not be mum over the wrongs done by US and India after we have admitted our crime regarding Mumbai incident. This is the first time that I am being disappointed by the Army because the Army was sent to establish the writ of the government in certain areas but after five minutes the writ has altogether finished even where it was formerly established.” “Now the only way left for the government and the rulers is to revert to the Parliament in order to chalk out a strategy for national security and solidarity and sovereignty.” Talking about the drone attacks inside Pakistan, he said it was known to all that US base near Tarbela was working as nerve centre and carrying out operations in the areas like Waziristan, FATA and even Afghanistan. “All this has been done during the Musharraf regime and everyone will come to know with the passage of time what a single man had been doing only to keep his rule intact. We had no problems till 2004 but when Musharraf was attacked and some Army personnel were involved in the case it was declared that the master-mind of these attacks hailed from Waziristan and on this ground attacks were begun. More than 7,00 innocent people were killed and the tribals who always guaranteed the security of our borders were forced to think a lot about their future.” He disclosed that Maulvi Nek Muhammad, with whom the Government of Pakistan had made an accord, was killed by America so that the condition of war could continue. He also opined that the blind use of force to solve problems had affected our power and produced anarchy in the country. “What do the people of Swat want from us? Nothing except that they want Shariah, which was already in force in those areas. There is no justice in our system and justice is available only in Shariah. Benazir Bhutto had allowed Qazi courts there in 1994 which brought peace,” he disclosed. Beg said the nation would definitely start mourning if it came to know what Musharraf had done to it. He gave open licence to CIA to do whatever they wanted in NWFP and Balochistan. Americans are at large there now and the greater wrong done by influencing the political agency people, he said. He also disclosed that tribals were targeted. He said that there was not one US base in Pakistan rather there were so many and all of them active to kill Pakistanis on Pakistan’s soil. Commenting upon Pakistan’s confession over Mumbai blast, he said the government adviser on the interior announced this as if he had got a big success and big conspiracy had been unveiled whereas the entire world knew that this confession was outcome of the dictation. He called upon the nation to witness that there was a CIA network in the tribal areas of Pakistan from where the whole of the Afghanistan was being controlled. “Our elected leadership has surrender to American dictation and it is working for the accomplishment of US agenda, keeping aside its real agenda. This is the first government, the stakeholders of which say something else and do something else. Their existence has become a point of anxiety for the people. Therefore, the people and the politicians should bring the matters in the Parliament to deliberate and should not attach hopes with the rulers,” he said.