Saturday, 7 January 2017

Middle-East in shambles.

    An offensive that started to take up the eastern Aleppo which was held by the Syrian rebels gained quite a momentum in the final days of November 2016. The Syrian regime backed by Russia's strong air-power and Iran militias stormed through the largest Syrian city and the commercial hub of the country - Aleppo. Aleppo was under the control of the Syrian rebels for more than four years now. Aleppo, the 'New-york' of Syria, is said to be one of the most ancient civilizations. It is said to have a historic and cultural significance that dates back to more than 5000 years; a city which is mentioned in 'Macbeth' and 'Othello' - William Shakespeare's finest works; a city which has witnessed rich colors and flavors of heterogeneous ethnic masses, food, culture, and religions. The 'Syrian rebel' is a complex collection of armed groups that oppose the rule and regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Assad is 'Alawite' which falls under the Shiite sect of Islam. His armed opponents are majorly from the Sunni sect of Islam. The armed opponents call themselves 'The Syrian Rebels'. The 'rebels' is a complex collection of armed groups with different agendas, different ideologies, and different strengths. Syria now has as much as 1,500 armed groups which have been declared as terrorist organizations. Some of them are nationalists, some regional and some locals just to achieve their short-term goals. The complexity of the entire Syrian crisis also goes to next level when these groups along with the sidelines of fighting with the Assad regime are fighting among themselves. Of these rebels, Free Syrian Army (FSA) is the most branded insurgent group that has been backed up by the United States. FSA during the beginning of the Syrian conflict tried to lead the rebels but now is incapable of managing the rebel groups with such a complexity. President Assad has been implementing 'divide and rule' policy among these rebels and so far has been successful.

It all started with the 'Arab Uprising' backed by the CIA in 2011. Iraq was already facing a sectarian violence and was a political doom. The uprising gathered steam in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. The uprising was designed to topple the regime governments in Middle-East and Northern Africa which were already in a dictatorial mode. It gained massive success in Egypt and Tunisia. It also with some efforts was lubricated to a mass protest movement that turned violent against the rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and resulted in his road-side murder. (Courtesy - Hillary Rodham Clinton!) The same pattern was applied in Syria, now 6 years ago when a group of protesters started demonstrations against the Assad rule, peacefully. The government open-fired on them and the protests all over the nation took a violent turn. It is since then Syria is bleeding. The rebels are fighting with the government forces and among themselves. The government allied with Russia, Iran, and Iran-backed Hezbollah is fighting with the rebels backed by USA, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. The complexity of the entire Syrian conflict is enormous. Add the Islamic State (IS) to this equation which is fighting with either side; also add the al-Qaeda faction Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra) and the crisis deepens exponentially. It was until September 2015 that Assad was on a complete back-foot. It is even reported that Assad was few hours from his miserable defeat before Russia dived into the war. It was due to the Russian air support that Assad government was able to corner and defeat the rebels. The United Nations in 2013 reported that Assad was using chemical weapons (Sarin gas) against the rebels and President Obama in a live address from the South Lawns of the White House warned Assad 'not to cross the red-line'. And despite proofs about the chemical usage, he flinched and delayed any actions to his warnings. It was only then Vladimir Putin decided to make strong moves in Middle-East. Putin himself was much cornered economically for his annexation in Crimea and Ukraine. Russia has a naval based set-up at the Tartus port just aligned with the Mediterranean Sea. The port is also a gateway for Russia into the Middle-East. Assad on the throne is always a beneficial deal for Russia. The United States wants Assad out of his office. The Sunni dominated nations besides Syria press for the same goal. Assad in this turmoil has Iran (the only Shiite dominated nation on the planet) beside him as his closest ally from the region. Iran after agreeing to shut-off its nuclear program and nuclear enrichment facilities on the other hand plans to defeat Saudi (the most Sunni dominated nation on the planet) in whichever way possible. The assets that belong to Iran which were frozen before the Iran nuclear deal are free now. Iran's oil is into the open markets. Iran's oil production was doubled in six months post the nuclear agreement. The aggressiveness of Iran has sparked proxy wars against Saudi in Syria and Yemen. Weapons worth billion dollars are being purchased and put to use for this senseless regional conflict and dominance. Despite the plummeting oil prices now in the bracket of 50-55 USD/barrel Iran and Saudi are on a conquest of a do-or-die situation. Their economies are on a definite decline. Its unemployment is soaring high like never before.

And with such a drift from Russia (entered into Middle-East after 20 long years) and Iran, Assad was gaining grounds against his opponents. Assad has crushed the rebels and the civilians in every possible way. He has used chemical weapons, slaughtering, airstrikes and double-tapped airstrikes have not spared the hospitals, women, children and any aid from the UN. And with such a dire seize around Aleppo, with a firing air-power, strong boots on the ground, the reluctance of Obama administration to help the rebels and Turkey turning away from the rebels, a ceasefire was agreed upon between Turkey-Russia and the Syrian rebels. Aleppo is free from the rebels now. Russia and Assad had dropped leaflets over Aleppo which warned the civilians 'to leave or they will be annihilated'. The ceasefire was not what Iran and Assad ever wanted. One conclusion that we can draw here is that Assad and Iran are with a complete vengeance. A ceasefire is something that they are not happy with. One more thing to notice here, Secretary of State John Kerry has been shuttling from Washington-Moscow-Tehran-Riyadh-Geneva-Venice for a possible breakthrough. Russia has opposed any ceasefire initiated by the US and now a ceasefire brokered by Russia now, the US is completely excluded! The Syrian crisis is the most miserable example of a defeat that reluctance can cause. Syria is the biggest failure of President Obama's foreign policy and the repercussions that it will cause are dangerous. The entire region has lost its stability and Putin despite being a military player is playing a peace-making role. Lebanon's Hezbollah even after three decades of its foundation solely depends on Tehran for its existence, weapons and money. The weapons that reach to Hezbollah are routed through Syria and this being also the reason that Iran wants Assad to be Syria's President. So on a strategic note, we see a Shiite crescent forming from Tehran - to Shiite dominated and governed Iraq - to Damascus - to Beirut. Russia on the opposite side is a failure for the United States and its allies. Turkey is a NATO ally. Turkey and the United States have funneled money via Saudi for IS's proliferation. They all along with Qatar have been partners-in-crime. Turkey was a landing point for the foreign fighters who landed in Istanbul to join the IS. Turkey opened its border with Syria for these foreign fighters to get to the IS headquarters in Syria and Iraq. Saudi has reportedly opened its prisons and asked the prisoners to join IS. This is all exposed now. Russia and the US striking the IS bases the foreign fighters are off to Europe. The radical youth trained and brain-washed in Syria and Iraq are into Europe as refugees. Europe itself has sleeper cells packed with radicals planning to strike. With the influx of these radical refugees and their blend with the sleeper cells will cost Europe. We have witnessed the dramatic rise in the crime incidents in past two years and attacks in Paris, Berlin and Nice have underlined this. The attackers have traveled across the Mediterranean and the European intelligence agencies have failed to detect their traces. Schengen is a problem now. Europe is on a definite time-bomb.

Turkey is said to have absorbed three million Syrian refugees. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faced a failed coup that was planned against him. After this failed attempt of the coup, Erdoğan has imprisoned over 40 thousand government employees, military officers, media-men and his opponents. It is now said that Erdoğan orchestrated this coup as a plan to curb his opponents. He now enjoys a wide national support and now is one of the right-winged leaders that are emerging across the globe. His hands dirty into the Syrian conflict have compelled him to pay the price. Turkey has faced over a dozen deadly attacks in the past year. Its proximity to the Syrian border and the rate with which Syrian refugees along with the terrorist elements are entering Erdoğan's country, Turkey is subject to a major chaos down-the-line. Erdoğan's foreign policy is in a pendulum mode. Considered to be a US ally and a NATO partner, Erdoğan has maintained trade relations with Russia. Russia and Turkey both are interdependent nations in terms of trade, economics, and tourism. Their bilateral relations worsened when a Russian fighter jet was shot down in 2016 and two Russian pilots were killed. But, Putin and Erdoğan seemed to have agreed upon their long-term goals and mutual benefits. But, the public assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov in Ankara after the fall of Aleppo may turn the equations upside down either-way. Putin will always welcome Turkey being on his side of the table. But, the current political situation indicated that Turkey will pay a heavy price for the Syrian conflict, for the gateway it provided to the foreign fighters, for the illegal, cheap oil that was smuggled by IS via Turkey. Besides all this, one major reason of concern for Erdoğan is the rising influence of the Kurds. Kurds are for over a decade now demanding a separate region - Kurdistan. The Kurds have been a major player battling against IS. And by conquering the IS territory, the Kurds have expanded the area under their control. Till the mid of Syrian conflict, PKK and YPG were declared as terrorist organizations by the United States. Now, the US allies have no choice but to accept the legitimacy of these Kurdish factions and are now shouldering with PKK and YPG to defeat IS. Growing demand for Kurdistan is a definite headache for Erdoğan. It will be interesting to see which side he chooses under the Trump administration.

For now, Assad is back to power with a brutal force. Assad, Russia, and Iran have managed to corner the FSA directly backed by the USA. Assad, before Trump, ends his honeymoon period will pace up his actions and now will approach Idlib which is under the control of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and then will make a final call to defeat IS in the de-facto capital of its Caliphate - Raqqa. The battle for both Raqqa and Idlib will cause a severe toll and equally bad humanitarian crisis. Iran and Saudi will continue their proxy wars and which in turn will continue the Syrian crisis for some more time now. It was said that Syria cannot unite again under one rule. Assad now claims he can unite Syria under one banner. But, during the battle for Aleppo, IS re-captured Palmyra from Assad's forces which clearly indicates the incapability of Assad to stand without Russian or Iranian support. Middle-East is on the verge of a dire future which will engulf the entities directly or indirectly associated with it into a dark future. The very basic principles and diplomatic equations are about to change as we witness some of the most dramatic-dynamic relations building up and breaking away at the same time. Middle-East will carve the foreign relations of the major nations across the globe. It will be interesting to see which side of the aisle these nations go for and how do they fulfill their individual, ever-growing ambitions!

The Marathi version of this article was published in the editorial section of 'Sakal' dated Tuesday, 20th December 2016.

अलेप्पोनंतरचा सीरिया आणि पश्चिम-आशिया

गेल्या महिनाअखेरपासून सीरियाचे अध्यक्ष बशर अल-असद यांनी रशिया, इराण आणि हेजबोल्लाह यांच्या मदतीने सीरियातील अलेप्पो या सर्वात मोठ्या शहराचा ताबा असलेल्या विरोधकांशी निकाराची लढाई सुरु केली. अमेरिका, तुर्कस्तान, सौदी अरेबिया आणि इतर सुन्नीबहुल आखाती देशांनी या विरोधकांना रसद पुरवली आहे. याच रसदीच्या जीवावर हे विरोधक असद सरकारशी गेले चार वर्ष अलेप्पोत लढत आहेत. मात्र, रशियाच्या जोरदार हवाई हल्ल्यामुळे आणि अमेरिकेने एकूण सीरिया प्रकरणात केलेल्या दुर्लक्षामुळे असद सरकारने या विरोधकांना जेरीस आणले. कमी होणार संख्याबळ आणि दबावापोटी या विरोधकांनी रशियाशी बोलणी करून शस्त्रसंधी मान्य केली. इतके दिवस सामान्य नागरिकांच्या आडून लढाई करणाऱ्या विरोधकांचे असद सरकारने कंबरडे मोडले आहे. वेढा घातलेल्या अलेप्पोत सामान्य नागरिक अडकले होते. रुग्णालयांची, अन्न-पाण्याची वाताहात झाली होती. या शस्त्रसंधीमुळे जखमी नागरिक आणि हत्यारे टाकलेल्या विरोधकांना मोकळी वाट करून एका रक्तरंजित अध्यायाची समाप्ती झाली आहे. 

अलेप्पो हे तुर्कस्तान आणि सीरियाला जोडणार, बाजारपेठा असणार महत्वाचे शहर आहे. त्याचा ताबा मिळवणारा गट सीरिया प्रश्नात वरचढ ठरेल. इतके दिवस विरोधक अलेप्पोच्या जोरावर असद यांनी खुर्चीवरून खाली खेचू पाहत होते. त्यांच्या या प्रयत्नांना असद यांनी सुरुंग लावला आहे.
Aleppo, Syria
Image credit - Google
थेट धुळीस मिळवलेल्या विरोधकांचे असद यांना हटवण्याचे सामर्थ्य आत्ता तरी नाही. इच्छा मात्र फार आहे. अलेप्पोचा विजय हा सीरिया प्रकरणाचा कल बदलवू शकतो. आनंद साजरा करणाऱ्या असद, रशिया, इराण आणि लेबेनॉनच्या हेजबोल्लाह यांच्या आत्मविश्वासाला आता अधिक धार चढलेली पाहायला मिळेल. अमेरिकेचा पाठिंबा असलेल्या गटाचा पराजय तसेच, संपूर्ण सीरियातील लढ्यात आता असद यांचे पारडे जड असा हा दुहेरी आनंद आहे. असद हे 'अलावाईत' गटाचे असून ते शियापंथात मोडतात. त्यांचा विरोधक सुन्नी गटाला अमेरिकेने केलेली मदत त्यांना रूचली नाही. आणि म्हणूनच 'आयसिस'च्या ताब्यात असलेल रक्का आणि अल-कायदाच्या ताब्यातील इदलिब ही शहर सोडून त्यांनी अमेरिकेच थेट समर्थन असणाऱ्या विरोधकांच्या ताब्यातील अलेप्पोला हात घातला. आता त्यांचा रोख रक्का आणि इदलिब शहरांवर असेल. या लढाईत त्यांनी प्रजा आणि समोर येईल त्याला जमीनदोस्त करत अमेरिकेचा वचपा काढला. या एका डावामुळे त्यांनी आपली खुर्ची शाबूत राखली आहे. रशियाने मध्यस्थीची बोलणी करून आपणच शांतिदूत असल्याचे संकेत दिले आहे. सीरिया हा मध्य-पूर्वेतील रशियाचा सख्खा मित्र. त्याची मदत करतानाच आपण शांतता प्रस्थापित करू इच्छितो हे चाणाक्ष व्लादिमिर पुतीन यांनी दाखवून दिले आहे. तसेच दहशतवाद्यांना ठेचून युरोपकडे जाणाऱ्या निर्वासितांचा रेटा आपण थांबवू पाहत आहोत हे त्यांनी आधीच ग्रासलेल्या युरोपीय समुदायाला निदर्शित केले आहे. पुतीन यांच्या या चालीमुळे अमेरिकेच्या मध्य-पूर्वेतील धोरणांना जबर फटका बसला आहे. २०१३ साली असद यांना आवळून टाकण्याचे पुरावे असतानादेखील ओबामांनी बोटचेपे धोरण स्वीकारले. त्याचे थेट परिणाम म्हणून अमेरिका आज या प्रदेशात पिछाडीवर फेकली गेली आहे. ओबामांचा कार्यकाळ आता जवळपास संपला असताना, डोनाल्ड ट्रम्प यांच्या शपथविधी आधी असद आणि त्यांचे सहकारी आपल्या हालचालींमध्ये वेग आणतील असे स्पष्टपणे दिसते. परराष्ट्रीय धोरणाबाबत आपली ठोस भूमिका जाहीर न केलेले ट्रम्प रशियाशी हातमिळवणी करण्याची वाच्यता करीत आहेत. रेक्स टिलरसन या पुतीन यांच्या जवळील उद्योगपतीला परराष्ट्रमंत्रिपद देऊन त्यांनी ही वाच्यता सत्यात उतरवली आहे.
Aleppo, Syria
Image credit - Google
तसे केल्यास सौदी आणि आखातातील अमेरिकेचे इतर सहकारी काय भूमिका घेतात यावर या पट्ट्याची स्थैर्यता अवलंबून आहे. इराण आणि हेजबोल्लाहने असद यांना केलेली मदत शिया गटाचे वजन वाढवत आहेत. सुन्नी गटाचा कैवारी असणारी सौदी शिया गटाची होणारी ही सरशी किती खपवून घेतो यावर आंतरराष्ट्रीय राजकारण हेलकावे घेईल. मात्र, अलेप्पोत शाश्वत विजय मिळवलेला इराण आता शांत बसेल असे दिसत नाही. याच पद्धतीची शिया-सुन्नी लढाई इराण-सौदी येमेनमध्ये खेळत आहेत. अगदी परवा अमेरिकेने आपला हात किंचित आखडता घेत सौदीला शस्त्र मिळत राहतील असे जाहीर केले आहे. या गोंधळात संपूर्ण मध्य-पूर्वेत कैक कोटी डॉलरची शस्त्र रिचवली जात आहेत. या प्रदेशामधून निर्वासित म्हणून युरोपमध्ये दहशतवादी गेल्याचे गुप्तचर यंत्रणा सांगत आहेत. त्यामुळे मध्य-पूर्व आणि युरोपमध्ये धोक्याच्या घंटा वाजू लागल्या आहेत. अलेप्पो पडल्यानंतरदेखील सीरियात पेटलेला वणवा शमणार नाही तो यामुळेच. संबंधित घटक आणि त्यांची पणाला लागलेली प्रतिष्ठा मात्र या परिणामांच्या पलीकडे गेली आहे.

सुसंस्कृत आणि एकात्मिक प्रदेशाची डोळ्यांदेखत राख कशी होऊ शकते याचे अलेप्पो त्यामुळेच एक ज्वलंत उदाहरण आहे. अलेप्पोच्या पूर्वेला पडलेल्या वेढ्यातून जरी हा जनप्रवाह आता बाहेर आला असला तरी त्यांची ही सुटका सहजासहजी झालेली नाही. तब्बल चार वर्षांहून अधिक वेळ या शहरासाठी युद्ध सुरु होत. ही संपूर्ण वेळ त्यांनी उपासमार, रोजचा बॉम्बवर्षाव, कुपोषण, रोगराई आणि मरणाच्या छायेत घालवली आहेत.
Aleppo, Syria
Image credit - Google
हजारोंची उघड शिरकाण झाली आहे, शेकडो अजूनही पडलेल्या इमारतींच्या ढिगाऱ्याखाली प्राणहीन अवस्थेत आहेत. बेचिराख झालेल्या अलेप्पोचे पुनर्वसन, शिक्षण व्यवस्था, वैद्यकीय व्यवस्था, संस्कृती आणि सामान्य समाजमन पूर्णपणे उभारी घेईपर्येंत पुढील काही वर्ष जातील, त्याची इतिहासात नोंद होईल, या युद्धाचा तपशीलवार अभ्यास होईल, कठीण काळ हवेत वीरूनही जाईल. सांप्रत काळातील अतिभयंकर आणि विध्वंसक समजल्या गेलेल्या या कत्तलीला जबाबदार असणाऱ्या संबंधित राष्ट्रांचा, घटकांचा, मुत्सद्देगिरीचा, लढाईचा आणि तुमच्या-आमच्या माणुसकीचा हा पराभव आहे हे मात्र विसरून चालणार नाही. 

                                                                                                                                                 - वज़ीर 

हा लेख मंगळवार, २० डिसेंबर २०१६च्या 'सकाळ'च्या संपादकीय पानावर (पान ६) छापण्यात आला.

I spoke briefly with IBN Lokmat about the assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov and its Syrian connection. 

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