With skates on, Turkey could slip into Syrian quagmire

BY SAEED NAQVI

Hakan Fidan, Chief of Turkish Intelligence, did not give much credence to warnings by Russian Agencies that a coup to oust President Tayyip Erdogan was in the works. But he shared the information with others on a “need-to-know” basis. In a manner of speaking, he closed the door, a sort of general precaution. He did not send out an alert.

The Russians persisted. A helicopter gunship would target Erdogan at his Mediterranean holiday resort.

Subsequent stories remain unverified – that Erdogan could not land at Istanbul, Germany, Azerbaijan. That is when the Americans gave him refuge at the Incirlik air base which, ironically, happens to be in Turkey. Then Fethullah Gulen surfaced as the master plotter, in cahoots with “some” American Generals.

Obviously the Russians had their ears close to the ground when they picked up the earliest signals of the impending coup. When Erdogan called out the people to thwart the plotters, Tehran was the first capital to openly support the embattled Turkish president. Suddenly, Moscow, Tehran, Hezbullah in Lebanon, Iraq particularly Najaf, because Prime Minister Haider al Abadi in Baghdad is seen as something of an American puppet – all of them had broad smiles on their faces.

With athletic agility, Erdogan turned up at St. Petersburg, apologized for the Russian pilot being shot down over Turkey in November, 2015, and locked Vladimir Putin in a tight embrace.

And, to and behold, Turkish forces are now in Syria, tanks and all. Is the theory of unintended consequences catching up with everybody after the failed coup of July 15? I mention this because I have been witness to another botched up coup which changed the world – The Saur (April) 1978 revolution which brought the Afghan Communist Parties, Khalq and Parcham, to power. This paved the way for the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1980. I remember a panic stricken Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser on the Pakistan-Afghan border, discussing strategies.

Let me first explain how it was a “botched” up coup.

Having suffered reverses in Vietnam, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua at the hands of local communist movements, the Americans pressured the Shah of Iran’s Savak secret service to oust the Left in Kabul which was getting powerful around President Daoud Khan.

When the coup plan was still in its nascent stages, Mir Akbar Khybar, a trade union leader, affiliated to Parcham, was killed in an intelligence-counter intelligence mixup. The coup plot had leaked. Abdul Qadir and Aslam Watanjar, Communist moles in the Afghan Armed Forces, drove out tanks from Pul e Charkhi. They slaughtered Daoud and his entourage.

The Left, unprepared for power, persuaded Nur Mohammad Taraki of Khalq to take over as Prime Minister. Within two years, the Soviets were in Afghanistan.

The US, Saudis, Pakistan, for their own reasons, got into a scrum. Began the training of Mujahideen in hundreds of Madrasas along the border with Afghanistan. The strategy was to play on Islamic aversion to “Godless” communism. The trick, bolstered by stinger missiles, worked.

After 1981, President Reagan had raised the cost of the Cold War for the Soviet Union everywhere, including Afghanistan. By 1989, the new Secretary General of CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, began withdrawing Soviet troops. Then, the Berlin wall fell. By 1991 the Soviet Union had come down like melting ice cream.

Two comparisons with the situation in Turkey and Afghanistan are possible. It was a botched up coup in Afghanistan in 1978 which changed the world. The consequences plague us to this day. Witness the ghastly attack on the American University in Kabul this week. Likewise, the botched up coup in Turkey has brought about strategically new power equations globally as well as regionally.

The other comparison, to which Syrians are subscribing, is plausible: Soviet Union hurtled headlong into Afghanistan and came out irreparably broken. Might Erdogan likewise be leading Turkey inextricably into the Syrian quagmire?

The omens are not good. For the past five years every country in the Syrian theatre – the US, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan – has been supporting either “moderates” opposed to Bashar al Assad or extremists like Jumat al Nussra in pursuit of the same end. Each side has other gameplans which are played out as subsidiary side shows. These are too many to be listed.

Americans occupied Iraq for a decade, dismantled all its institutions and left in 2011 more or less empty handed. Which is why they had to remove Premier Nouri al Maliki who had dedicated himself exclusively to the expansion of his Shia base. Saudis next door were throwing fits. Americans needed influence in Baghdad. Little wonder Prime Minister Haider al Abadi is their man.

With such experience in Iraq how did the Americans (and their cohorts) imagine that mere cross border terrorism – albeit, lethally armed – would topple Assad? After all the Baathist structure in Syria is the mirror image of the one in Iraq. Assad is a non practicing Alawi just as Saddam Hussain was only a notional Sunni. Except for public rituals, both must be listed as devout atheists.

The impression now being put out is that Erdogan’s primary aim for entering Syria is to prevent Syrian Kurds carving out territory along the Turkish border. That would feed Turkish Kurd party, the PKK’s quest for separation. Erdogan’s purpose last year was different: he was facilitating ISIS’s oil trade across the border. Erdogan’s ownership of a large fraction of ISIS was universally acknowledged. In brief, everybody in the Syrian war was everybody else’s proxy. Erdogan was a major player in this game of surreptitious intent.

Will the terms of endearment now change totally just because Erdogan kissed Putin on both his cheeks in St. Petersburg?

A new pirouette has begun in Syria. Only after the US elections will it become clear who is on the dance floor and who is sinking in a quagmire.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Zakir Naik’s fortunes and loss of Saudi clout

BY SAEED NAQVI

Zakir Naik, Islamic evangelist with rock star ratings, could be only temporarily in trouble. Come November and he may be able to find apologists in the NDA government.

What has November got to do with the government? Because, like the rest of the world, New Delhi is waiting for the outcome of the US elections. A Hillary Clinton victory will end the nail biting suspense globally, and in Israel and Saudi Arabia there may be celebrations. Naik’s patrons in Saudi Arabia are perhaps low today, but they could bounce back with a Clinton victory.

Islamic Research Centre and The Clinton Foundation have another link: considerable sums for their respective Foundations have come from Saudi Arabia.

Naik has been officially in the business of evangelism since 1991 when IRF was established. That year Manmohan Singh’s New Economic Policies brought New Delhi in line with the US. George Bush Sr. was the President. The Bush family’s extraordinary interests in Saudi Arabia continued during the Clinton years.

An economically “reformed” New Delhi looked at Washington for almost every foreign policy lead. Since the Saudis could do no wrong in US eyes, New Delhi adopted the same public stance towards Riyadh. Zakir Naik preached in the Salafi-Wahabi idiom, favoured by the House of Saud. Little wonder, successive Indian Prime Ministers were advised to look the other way. During days of breathless adoration for the US, particularly when the nuclear deal was being negotiated, what registered in South Block was an unstated message from Washington: tolerate Saudi Arabia and its interests. Zakir Naik had Saudi protection. Therefore, his evangelism was acceptable to India for the past 25 years. Wahabism-Salafism was kosher when, on cue, New Delhi was voting against Iran in Vienna.

Naik has fallen on bad days because the West and their clients like Saudi Arabia have badly bungled in Syria. Jointly and singly they financed and armed all manner of extremist groups. Their search for a “moderate opposition” remained a pipe dream.

The blowback from the Syrian, Libyan (earlier Iraqi and Afghan misadventures) continued to plague the Saudis. Ultimately, to run away from themselves, they leapt into the bubbling Yemen cauldron.

Destroyed countries and civilizations created a migration problem, an Exodus of Biblical proportions, causing Europe to shuffle out of its old coil. Two party political structures, secured a long time ago, began to crumble.

As if all of this were not unsettling enough, the Americans have just come up with an unconvincing Republican nominee for President and a Democratic nominee who is by her own admission “unloved”. Even The Economist, that pillar of the Western-liberal establishment has pulled out from the dictionary adjectives of an extreme nature to describe Hillary Clinton: “dishonest”, “untrustworthy”.

In brief, the West has its own crises to worry about. The Saudis had already come down a notch or two when the Iranian nuclear deal was signed. And now, the mess in Europe and the US, has pushed Saudis away from the West’s attention radar.

New Delhi, which keeps a steady gaze on Washington and its changing moods, has shrewdly noticed Riyadh’s fall from grace. Naik can now be taken to task. The change of heart on the evangelist also signals something important: New Delhi now feels secure in the thought that Sufism and mild Hanafi Sunnism most characterize Indian Muslims. Wahabism-Salafism is remote from the wider Islamic practice among India’s Sunnis.

Riyadh maybe down, but it would be premature to count it out. After all, should Hillary Clinton enter the White House, who knows what might she not do for “Israel’s security”. Her email released by Wikileaks confirmed that the Obama administration had deliberately provoked the civil war in Syria as “the best way to help Israel”.

In an earlier email she said: “the best way to help Israel deal with Iran’s growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.”

“Overthrowing Bashar Assad” was the one point theme former Saudi Spy Chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan had been instructed by the late King Abdullah to pursue. Typical of Prince Bandar’s theatrical style of diplomacy, he turned up at the Kremlin on a secret mission. He promised Putin a “terror free” Sochi Olympic games if only he could have Assad’s head on a platter. Bandar was sidelined because he could not deliver on Syria.

So long as the Israeli military point of view is part of Western strategic thinking, a regime change in Damascus must re surface as a Washington priority, should Hillary Clinton win.

Such an operation would require co ordination with the Saudis as well. In other words the current nosedive in Saudi saliency maybe quite as dramatically arrested. Zakir Naik’s protectors in Riyadh may yet be able to stiffen their sinews and summon up the blood. Good for Naik. Also Delhi will then have to place Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina’s concerns in the balance. Apparently Naik’s evangelical mesmerism is causing concerns in Dhaka where acts of terror have picked up in frequency, allegedly influenced by his eloquence.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)