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Thursday, October 1, 2020
Middle East Press on Clemency for the Taliban and Western Hypocrisy in Belarus: New Age Islam's Selection, 1 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 October 2020
• Clemency for the Taliban Will Not Lead To Peace in Afghanistan
By Rustam Ali Seerat
• Sheikh Sabah Made Kuwait an Oasis for Reconciliation
By Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
• Lebanon Is Teetering Close To the Edge
By Fawaz Turki
• Western Hypocrisy in Belarus and Rising Euroscepticism in Eastern Europe
By Serkan Aydin
Clemency for the Taliban Will Not Lead To Peace in Afghanistan
By Rustam Ali Seerat
30 Sep 2020
Relatives gather at a graveyard of the victims who were killed in a suicide attack in an educational centre two years ago, as Afghan government officials and the Taliban hold talks in Doha aimed at ending 19 years of war in the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan September 14, 2020 [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]
When given a choice between security and freedom, people always choose security. That is why so many dictators and demagogues survive by creating a false sense of threat and then presenting themselves as the saviours.
The same logic applies when people are given a choice between safety and justice. They would choose safety over justice. In the case of Afghanistan, this has fed a continuous cycle of violence over the past few decades.
The absence of any legal consequences for violence and war crimes has only further emboldened armed groups. The release of Taliban fighters as part of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban and the continuing negotiations between the armed group and the Afghan government will not lead to peace. Only a thorough transitional justice process will.
A Repeat of History
The decision to sideline justice to supposedly maintain security and peace is not without precedent in recent Afghan history.
During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979-1987), more than 800,000 people lost their lives. The United States and several Muslim countries supported the mujahideen’s fight against Soviet forces. Both sides regularly committed serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law throughout the conflict. While the atrocities committed by Soviet forces were widely reported on, war crimes committed by the mujahideen during the same period were largely undocumented.
After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, infighting broke out between various mujahideen groups which led to more war crimes being committed. In February 1993, for example, the infighting between mujahideen factions resulted in the Afshar massacre, in which up to 1000 Hazara men, women and children were brutally murdered. Intra-mujahideen fighting lasted from 1992 to 1994 costing up to 50,000 civilian lives. It is this violence and upheaval that gave birth to the Taliban, which took over Kabul in 1996 and established an Islamic emirate. In August 1998, the Taliban executed between 2000 to 5000 civilians from the Hazara ethnic group in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The 9/11 attacks on the US turned the odds in favour of the same Mujahideen as the US-led coalition which invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 allied with them against the Taliban. In 2007, after a US-backed government was installed in Kabul, Mujahideen leaders involved in the 1990s civil wars passed legislation in parliament granting them amnesty for their war crimes. The justification given for these laws was simple: if the international community and the government of Afghanistan tried to bring them to justice, the Mujahideen would provoke more chaos and insecurity.
Hence, no transitional justice measures were carried out, thereby sacrificing accountability to maintain an illusory post-2001 peace. Suffering for more than two decades, the people of Afghanistan who were the primary victims of the Mujahideen’s war crimes let go of justice in the hope of security.
The absence of a transitional justice process against the Mujahideen emboldened the Taliban and reassured its members that there would be no consequences for their actions and they continued to commit ever more gruesome violence against the Afghan people. In other words, the impunity the Mujahideen enjoyed did not really bring peace to Afghanistan.
This approach to war ethics is problematic, not only because it denies justice to the victims of the Taliban atrocities but also because it strengthens the Taliban’s capacity to prolong the war to achieve its goal of establishing a theocracy.
Transitional Justice in Afghanistan
The release of thousands of Taliban fighters after the armed group concluded an agreement with the US on February 29 this year has been justified as necessary to jump-start peace negotiations. However, the odds are against any permanent peace in the country.
The Taliban will not give up violence because it knows that it is only through violent means that it can have any political power. Even with its enormous corruption scandals and its own track record of violence against civilians, the government in Kabul is still preferred by 92 percent of Afghans, according to a 2015 poll. Any impunity the Taliban enjoys will also motivate other groups to continue committing crimes against the Afghan people.
Because of this, calls are growing for the leaders of the Taliban to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Nevertheless, Taliban leaders are unlikely to face the court soon. Not only the Afghan government and its international backers would be happy to give the members of the group amnesty should they agree to make peace, the US itself is not willing to allow the ICC to investigate the crimes its troops allegedly committed in the country.
Moreover, an ICC investigation at this critical junction risks undermining the ongoing Doha peace talks, as it may discourage the Taliban from agreeing to make peace. But there are ways to achieve some transitional justice without insisting on an ICC investigation.
The war crimes committed in Afghanistan in the last four decades by all parties can and should be officially documented. This would put an end to widespread attempts to whitewash history and force the perpetrators of these crimes to face some accountability. Following the documentation of these crimes, all political parties, including the communists, the mujahideen factions and the Taliban, should officially apologise to the people of Afghanistan in general and the victims of violence in particular, to officially acknowledge and atone for their past crimes.
A public apology by leaders involved in war crimes has a precedent. During his 2013 election campaign, President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate, Abdul Rashid Dostum, issued an apology for being a part of the 1990s civil wars. Dostum’s apology and pledge to never repeat his past mistakes was welcomed by many Afghans.
The people of Afghanistan are once again being asked to choose between justice and security. While an acknowledgement of war crimes and a promise by perpetrators to not repeat them would not heal the victims of these crimes, it can be an important step towards healing Afghanistan. If these steps are backed by a commitment by the international community to prevent further human rights violations in the country, Afghanistan can finally leave its painful past behind and turn its face towards the future.
Rustam Ali Seerat is Research scholar at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi.
Sheikh Sabah Made Kuwait an Oasis for Reconciliation
By Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
September 30, 2020
Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jabir Al-Sabah in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, May 31, 2019. (Reuters)
On Tuesday, I saw some breaking news on my phone: The TV broadcast in Kuwait had been disrupted to air verses from the Holy Qur’an. News started spreading that the emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, had passed away. This was confirmed later on by Kuwait’s official source, the Emiri Diwan.
The 91-year-old monarch left a rich legacy. He witnessed the independence of his country in 1961, the birth of the Gulf Cooperation Council 20 years later, and the invasion of his country and its liberation, among many other turbulences and events that rocked the region during the course of his long life. He was hailed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “a distinguished statesman and an outstanding humanitarian.” He was the last of the Gulf state builders’ generation to leave us — a titan who will be remembered every time Kuwait or the Arab Gulf is mentioned.
The most important achievement that will mark his legacy is the moderating role Kuwait played during his rule. A patriot with a strong attachment to the Arab nation, he did everything he could to benefit the Arab world. While adopting a policy of neutrality, the attitude of his country never meant isolation or disengagement and never meant pursuing the interests of Kuwait in a selfish manner or from a narrow nationalist perspective. On the contrary, all his policies had the interests of the Gulf and the Arab nation at their heart, starting with his position on the Palestine issue. Senior officials in August declared that Kuwait would be the last country to normalize relations with Israel, reaffirming the emir’s support for the Palestinians.
Two weeks before his departure from this world, while he was in the US receiving treatment, President Donald Trump bestowed a top honor on him for the central role he played in trying to bring Gulf countries together. A seasoned diplomat with 40 years’ experience as a foreign affairs secretary for Kuwait, he was a master of mediation. In fact, standing at an equal distance from all the different parties, his neutrality gave him credibility as an honest broker. Under his leadership, Kuwait became an oasis where warring parties could lay down their arms and enter into constructive discussions under his wise patronage.
Those who criticize Kuwait’s neutrality fail to see the benefits it brings to the Gulf and to the Arab nation, as well as its commitment to Arab solidarity. Despite its neutrality, Kuwait still sent its military to fight the Houthis. Though its force was small in size, the emir did not hesitate to send 15 of his jets to fight as part of the coalition that aims to fend off the threat to the southern borders of Saudi Arabia. Its contribution to the coalition against the Houthis shows how much Kuwait was committed to its Arab neighbors’ security under the leadership of the late emir.
While Arab Gulf countries were alarmed by the warming of relations between Turkey and Kuwait, leading to the signing of a military cooperation agreement in 2019, observers should analyze this rapprochement in the context of the current regional dynamics. The Kuwaiti-Turkish relations never meant Kuwait was siding with Ankara against its fellow Arabs; on the contrary, it meant creating the ground for de-escalation. No one wants a full-blown war, as the various parties know that direct confrontation would be devastating to everyone and there would be little likelihood of any axis prevailing. Hence, the existence of a neutral friend like Kuwait is more important than ever.
Similarly, the cordial relations Kuwait has kept with Iran allowed it to host negotiations with the Houthis, who are sponsored by Iran. Though the negotiations that were initiated in 2016 did not bring an end to the conflict, they created some common ground that can be nurtured and may ultimately lead to a settlement between the warring parties.
The diplomatic windows the late emir opened are much needed in these tense times that the region is witnessing. Sheikh Sabah had credibility and the different parties trusted his wisdom, as well the purity of his intentions. Honoring our beloved titan, those who come after him should preserve his legacy by keeping Kuwait as an active mediator and an honest broker. In his memory, Kuwait should remain an oasis for reconciliation, constructive discussions and conflict resolution. The same way Sheikh Sabah stood tall and firm, held his ground and did not succumb to pressure, his successors should do the same. They must keep Kuwait’s positive neutrality while preserving its commitment to Arab principles.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is the co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building (RCCP), a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.
Lebanon Is Teetering Close To the Edge
By Fawaz Turki
September 30, 2020
An anti-government protester chants slogans as she holds up a Lebanese flag
Image Credit: AP
There was a time, not long ago, when Lebanese looked down their noses, or at the least pitied, those wretched refugees from neighbouring Syria who boarded smugglers’ boats from the port cities of Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli for the risky — at times deadly — crossings to Europe, via Cyprus, the island nation in the eastern Mediterranean a mere 165 miles away from the Lebanese coast.
Now the people of Lebanon, in droves, are doing just that, trusting that their boats will not get caught in storms or lost at sea — all in an effort to escape the misery of life in a country that has become a basket case, unable to cope with multiple social problems, reform its sclerotic government institutions and curb a political elite too invested in the system to change it, a country now pitied as much by its own people as by the outside world.
Evidence of how true that is was presented last Saturday when Prime Minister Designate Mustafa Adib threw in the towel and stood down following his failure to form a government after a whole month of negotiations with the feuding political blocs in Parliament, who appear to put their parochial and narrow agendas ahead of the national interest.
Failure by an individual as by a nation is not fatal. We all fail at times. Failure to change, however, is.
Singling Out Hezbollah for Harsh Criticism
At a news conference last Sunday devoted to Lebanon, French President Emmanuel Macron — whose country was the Mandate power in the region in 1943 and carved Lebanon out of Greater Syria that year — took to task those political blocks for their failure to work for the collective good, namely to come up with an audacious plan to form a national unity government, singling out Hizbollah for harsh criticism.
He said bluntly that the group, which since the 1980s has played an oversized role on the political scene, needed to explain, and do so soon, whether “it is a serious political party committed to implementing a road map for the country’s future” or a militia operating at the behest of Iran. He wondered additionally whether Lebanon’s power brokers have “betrayed” their obligations to the nation, thus committing “collective treason” (in French, “trahison collective”).
Them are fighting words, Emmanuel. But given the fact that Lebanon has seen its unemployment rate rise to 35 per cent and the value of its currency drop by 80 per cent, topped last month by the devastating explosion of close to 3,000 tons of improperly — very improperly — stored ammonium nitrate that killed 200 people and ravaged large swaths of the capital, plunging the country into deeper crisis, fighting words are what is needed to jolt that political elite, whose divisive, what’s-in-it-for-me view of political culture has torn Lebanon apart.
Heaven knows when the next prime minister designate will be appointed and tasked with forming a reform-minded government. Meanwhile, Lebanon will remain in limbo, unable — with a lame-duck, caretaker government in charge — to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for much needed funds slated for economic recovery. If, as seems all but inevitable at this point, these feuding blocs in parliament abandon efforts to form any government real soon, we’re all in for the long haul.
Illustrious Modern History
How sad for Lebanon, once an otherworldly and winsome nation that — at just roughly 4,000 square miles and a population of just under seven million — is not just the smallest sovereign state in the Arab world but the smallest in mainland Asia, a state whose illustrious ancient history places it as home to the Phoenicians, the enterprising maritime culture that flourished for three thousand years, and whose equally illustrious modern history places it as a cultural hub, traditionally a gathering place for writers, poets, theoreticians, ideologues, artists and belle lettrists, whose creative effusions fuelled the Arab struggle for national independence and self-definition, a country that, additionally, enjoyed a diversified economy that included tourism, agriculture, commerce and banking, indeed a country that exuded prosperity, élan and self-confidence.
Today That Country Is, Well, Yes, A Basket Case.
If at the end of the day you find yourself, as a political commentator, reflecting on what to say about the future of this troubled land, don’t take at face value the stark observation proffered by Michel Aoun, the country’s president. “Lebanon”, he said last week, “is hell-bound”.
We all hope, of course, that that prediction will be proven wrong, and the country’s many failures will in time act as its teacher not its undertaker.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile
Western Hypocrisy in Belarus and Rising Euroscepticism in Eastern Europe
By Serkan Aydin
October 01, 2020
Belarus is often dubbed the last dictatorship in Europe by the Western axis. The instant President Alexander Lukashenko declared his landslide victory in the elections, which many claimed was rigged, violent protests broke out across the country.
When is an election not thought as free and fair by the Western hegemony? The answer: When it yields victory to a government that turns down neoliberal orthodoxy and objects to submitting its foreign policy to Washington or Brussels.
The West is an ardent discipline of liberal candidates in Central and Eastern Europe, where there has been an adamant polarization between younger and older voters.
For instance, Polish President Andrzej Duda utilized a divisive election strategy in which he promoted Poland's Catholic identity and traditional and religious family values against the growing neoliberal outlook of the younger generation. He has been vehemently criticized for lashing out at neoliberal rhetoric, such as that forwarded by the LGBT+ movement, Antifa and those who trump immigration and multiculturalism.
Since his knife-edge election win, the European Union has threatened to sanction Poland for its restrictions on the judiciary, media and civil society.
The Guardian soon after published an article titled: "Poland on 'the velvet road to dictatorship' after Andrzej Duda wins the presidential election," showing the West's dissatisfaction with the victory of a conservative candidate who questions the morals and ethics of the EU's neoliberal agenda.
Euroskepticism, best defined as "a general term for opposition to the process of European integration" has been on the rise of late.
Long-term commitment to values and norms promoted by the EU has become a contentious issue. Accession countries are forced to fulfill certain demands under pressure and are unable to backpedal when they became full members of the union.
On the whole, there is a range of Euroskepticism.?Hard Euroskepticism is an idealistic opposition to the EU's principles and an aspiration for national withdrawal from the EU. Soft Euroscepticism, on the other hand, refers to opposition to certain policies based on perceived threats to the national interest.
For instance, British Euroskepticism is a soft one that it is based on economics, tariffs and state power. However, we observe a hard Euroskepticism in Hungary, Lithuania and Poland, where ethnocentrism and illiberalism have recently increased, while European cosmopolitanism and moral relativism have been blacklisted.
According to a new survey by the Eurobarometer, most Hungarians are fiercely dismissive of the LBGT+ movement, the size of which has substantially soared over the last few years. Last year, U.S.-based watchdog, Freedom House, described Hungary as only "partly free," and the EU has threatened to suspend Hungary's membership of the bloc until it decides Hungary is in compliance with EU values. Unsurprisingly, Hungarian President Victor Orban has been proclaimed the first dictator in the EU.
In 2012, when Guido Westerwelle, who was Germany's first openly gay minister, called Lukashenko's government the "last dictatorship in Europe," Lukashenko retaliated by saying that he "would rather be branded a dictator than be gay." Similarly, the Western media accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using homophobia to gain votes when nearly three-quarters of voters in Russia opted to support an amended constitution that reinforces a ban on same-sex marriage in July 2020.
The EU's moral identity has been in crisis. While Central and Eastern European communities strive to promote a more traditional lifestyle and religiosity, countries like the Netherlands, which has mandated that "Christ" be spelled with a lowercase "c," and Spain, where birth certificates now provide for same-sex parents to be referred to as "Progenitor A" and "Progenitor B," there has been a drift toward a more postmodern, politically correct society.
A Hungary-based survey on "Socialism, Capitalism, Democracy and System Change" found that 50% of respondents in the Central and Eastern European countries looked at the previous communist regimes positively.?The breakdown of this statistic in each country showed Slovenia with 68%, Lithuania with 59%, Hungary with 58%, Estonia with 55%, Poland and Slovakia with 51%, Latvia with 50% and the Czech Republic with 32%.
The same polarization is also evident in Belarus. According to Belarus-based Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS) polls conducted between 2014 and 2016, when Belarusians were asked to choose between being unified with Russia or joining the EU, 40–50% chose Russia, while 25–35% picked the EU.
Belarusian presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who according to Western media won the Aug. 9 presidential ballot, has said: "The protest movement is neither a pro-Russian nor an anti-Russian revolution. It is neither an anti-EU nor a pro-EU revolution. It is a democratic revolution."
The Western axis claims not to be in pursuit of a prospective EU membership for Belarus and there exists no Belarusian interest in NATO. It is repetitiously stated that the staple objective of the West is to persuade Lukashenko to alleviate repression, adhere to human rights and allow for a bit more political space. Western criticism is said to be based on democratic norms and criticism of a stolen election. There can be no burning desire to pull Belarus into the West as both the EU and NATO have more than enough on their plates! However, is this the truth?
The United States and its European allies have long used the smokescreen of democracy and human rights to undermine regimes that they do not approve of while turning a blind eye to undemocratic practices and rights abuses in countries that do their bidding. Let's remember how pro-Western dictatorships such as Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's Iran, Gen. Augusto Pinochet's Chile and Suharto's Indonesia have been generously bankrolled.
The Sheer Replica of the Soviets
I lived in Belarus for a year and it was stunning to see how the country is a sheer replica of the Soviet Union in many ways. It is a highly religious and traditional society deeply embedded in conservatism. In 2018, Belarus slammed the U.K. embassy in Minsk for flying a rainbow flag on the International Day Against Homophobia, calling LGBT+ relationships "fake." In a wordy statement, the Interior Ministry said the U.K. was challenging the country's "traditional values."
Belarusian rapprochement with the West began in 2015 and it was driven by pure pragmatism. The West should note that Belarus is not Ukraine. The Belarusian economy is dependent on Russia and above all, there is this historical kinship between the Russian and Belarusian people based on Eastern Orthodoxy in religious terms and Soviet brotherhood on a political basis.
The Western media has cast much light on the ongoing protests and violent crackdown, yet there have been massive pro-Lukashenko rallies in every city as well.
The EU and the U.S. expect that the Lukashenko regime will lose its legitimacy so they can add another vassal state to their list. Rather than call for a recount with international observers, the EU instead called for the creation of an alternative government. The EU has designated that almost 60 million euros ($70.26 million) to be used to fund alternative (anti-government) media channels and non-governmental groups in the country. Is another coup d'etat underway through Western interventionism?
The solution for Belarus is not siding with the EU. The bloc is politically and economically capitalist in nature, and capitalism is parasitic. The state industry of Belarus and its mineral wealth would be enslaved to the post-Lukashenko, pro-EU world.
Ukraine's so-called de-Sovietization and EU integration is an ignominious fiasco as it only deteriorated into corruption and dented the economy overall.
Russian military intervention would also culminate in havoc therefore nor is this an optimal solution.
Instead, Lukashenko should ease up his authoritarianism and restore democracy, human rights and economy with the people of Belarus peacefully and independently.
Serkan Aydin is an independent journalist and a lecturer at Leeds University