Consensus: conflicts in South Asia will only be resolved by political means

August 13, 2018

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In his election manifesto Pakistan’s prime minister in waiting, Imran Khan, said that his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), will move ahead ‘substantively’ on the bilateral strategic dialogue with India.

He recognises that for lasting peace within the region, especially with its neighbour India, conflict resolution and the security route to cooperation is the most viable. PTI will work on a blueprint towards resolving the Kashmir issue within the parameters of UN Security Council resolutions.

All aspects of the strategic nuclear deterrence will be addressed so as to prevent a spiralling nuclear arms race in the region.

PTI will push for the principle of non-discrimination in all arms control and disarmament measures, including global nuclear disarmament.

Early in July U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a surprise visit to Afghanistan, promised support for President Ashraf Ghani’s bid to start peace talks with the Taliban

He said that the United States would be willing to join the talks. However a week later Reuters reported that the Taliban have rejected talks which would include the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which they see as illegitimate and instead insisted they would only talk with the United States.

The US has refused to talk to the Taliban ever since the Afghan government failed to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The un-named author of FT View, two weeks later, said that it is time to bring the Taliban ‘inside the tent’

S/he comments that, initially, the US stance stemmed from hubris — an enduring and fateful characteristic of nearly two centuries of Afghan expeditions. They expected to defeat the Taliban swiftly and completely and though the US military has abandoned the hope of a swift end to the war, it clings on to its belief that victory is possible, if only more resources were made available.

The first attempt after 9/11 to gather competing Afghan groups to sit down and talk in Bonn in 2001 led to a reasonable outline for a new Afghan state. The Taliban, however, were not invited to the meeting in Bonn, nor to the jirgas or plebiscites, held afterwards in Afghanistan to legitimise the agreements made there. FT View writes that the Taliban have been exacting revenge for their exclusion ever since.

Today, FT View states, the Taliban control or contest more than 40% of the country and civilian fatalities in 2018 have hit a record high, adding, “However hard it will be, it is time to bring them inside the tent”.

It adds that most Afghans have welcomed the NATO forces because of their state’s weakness and the security force’s frailties. Yet they have always understood that the insurgency, here as elsewhere, would only be resolved by political not military means.

The FT reflects that Gen Nicholson, who has spent much of the past 10 years building relationships with Afghans of all factions, is widely respected in that country. Is it too much to hope that he could work with a team including Imran Khan?

Afghanistan’s Ambassador Shaida Mohammad Abdali yesterday welcomed Mr Khan’s victory statement: “We hope that the positive speeches that Imran Khan gave on his victory day will be realised by practical steps that we will also see in the future”. 

 

 

 

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The Myanmar peace process

June 20, 2018

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Welcoming our first reader from Burma/Myanmar in May, prompted an attempt to find out more about the search for peace in that country.

This picture of a stilt village in Myanmar is the only reference made on this site to several descriptions of social and environmental diversity found online.

Having only received news of the plight of the Rohingya refugees and the condemnation of Aung Suu Kyi’s lack of support for this minority, the writer’s search unveiled a far more complex situation than ongoing news bulletins have indicated.

The Panglong conference of 1947 between the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minority leaders and Aung San, head of the interim Burmese government led to an agreement to join in a union government that would give equal status to all citizens and press for independence.

The term ‘federalism’ was construed by many in Burma as being anti-national, anti-unity and pro-disintegration.

When the non-Burman ethnic groups pressed for autonomy or federalism, as incorporated in the 1947 Constitution, at a time when there was a weak civilian government, the military leadership staged a coup d’état in 1962, moving towards democracy gradually in the 90s.

Following the democratic election of the Thein Sein government in 2010, the government embarked on a series of reforms to direct the country towards liberal democracy, a mixed economy, and reconciliation, includes the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, the granting of general amnesties for more than 200 political prisoners, new labour laws that permit labour unions and strikes, a relaxation of press censorship, and the regulation of currency practices.

By 2011, the government accepted the concept of federalism, one of the core principles of the ongoing peace process with the country’s ethnic armed groups.

            Map of Myanmar and its divisions, including Shan State, Kachin State, Rakhine State and Karen State.

The government allowed the use and discussion of federalism and the drafting of a Constitution by individual states and regions and international approval included:

• ASEAN’s approval of Myanmar’s bid for the position of ASEAN chair in 2014;
• a visit by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in December 2011 – the first in more than fifty years,
• and the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the 2012 by-elections.

However, there were ongoing conflicts in Myanmar:

• The Kachin conflict between the Pro-Christian Kachin Independence Army and the government;
• a civil war between the Rohingya Muslims, and the government and non-government groups in Rakhine State;
• Armed conflict between ethnic Chinese rebels and the Myanmar Armed Forces have resulted in the Kokang offensive in February 2015. The conflict had forced 40,000 to 50,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border
• a conflict between the Shan, Lahu, and Karen minority groups, and the government in the eastern half of the country.
• A widely publicised Burmese conflict was the 2012 Rakhine State riots, a series of conflicts that primarily involved the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist people and the Rohingya Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State—an estimated 90,000 people were displaced as a result of the riots.

The recent violence in Kachin State, where thousands have been forced from their homes because of renewed fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) that was reached under former president and retired army General Thein Sein. And despite this agreement, even groups that signed the deal are regularly having to fend off incursions by government soldiers into their areas.

Armed conflict between ethnic Chinese rebels and the Myanmar Armed Forces led to the Kokang offensive in February 2015. The conflict forced 40,000 to 50,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border.

The army has stepped up its campaign while global attention focuses on the Rohingya crisis, which has seen some 700,000 people flee to Bangladesh.

General elections in November 2015 gave the National League for Democracy (NLD) an absolute majority in both chambers of the national parliament and Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed that peace with the ethnic minority groups would be her top priority. However, she has not continued with the talks initiated under the previous administration and it is reported that some negotiators who had championed her cause have been sidelined. Ethnic groups now say that the government team charged with finding peace rarely travels to their part of the country to see or hear at first-hand what the issues are.

The Myanmar Government does not include the Rohingya as a Burmese minority group

They are classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982—on the government’s list of more than 130 ethnic races and, therefore, the government states, they have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.

Wayne Hay reports that in 2012, there was a series of Rakhine State riots, conflicts that involved the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist people and the Rohingya Muslim people in the northern Rakhine State, displacing an estimated 90,000 people.
The Myanmar government’s Nationwide Ceasefire now has eight ethnic armed groups as signatories which could participate in the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference. The third meeting of the conference in the second week of July will discuss fundamental principles on federalism in Myanmar.

The Diplomat reports that the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) continues to insist that there should be a single army under the new federal arrangement. The ethnic armed groups, however, prefer having a federal army, which could allow them to keep their respective armed forces:

“Essentially, the Tatmadaw deems that the ethnic armed groups will be a threat to territorial integrity if they are to retain their weapons and personnel. It is also concerned that the union government would have little authority or control over the regional governments if there is a federal army.

“On the other hand, the ethnic armed groups argue that their forces have to be retained to serve either as a deterring factor or as a counter in the event of unexpected or unprovoked attacks from the Tatmadaw. Any conflict settlement arising from the process will not be sustainable if there is an element of mistrust between the negotiating parties.

“Trust cannot be built if attacks by the Tatmadaw continue alongside the civilian government’s efforts to conduct the peace process. Early this year, the Tatmadaw launched attacks on the Kachin and northern Shan States, triggering renewed clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The Tatmadaw’s actions also strengthen the case for retaining the ethnic armed forces”.

Serving in the Kachin Independence Army

However, preservation of the union has been a longstanding belief of the Tatmadaw and its uncompromising stance could trigger the ethnic armed groups to maintain arms and continue the fight, providing justification for maintaining military operations against these armed groups.

Eugene Mark, a Senior Analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, ends:
“Immense challenges lie ahead for the peace process in Myanmar. However, if the peace process is to have any chance of succeeding, one should look at building trust between the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed groups as the starting point. Perhaps the best solution is for the two sides to listen to each other’s concerns and be ready to compromise in the larger interest of the country.

“Conflicts that are political in nature require political consensus”.

Those who want to read more about Burma’s complex and eventful history during these years, with one ference to CIA/USA intervention, can do on these sites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panglong_Agreement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panglong_Conference 47-62
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1962_Burmese_coup_d%27%C3%A9tat 
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-43933332
http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-06/20/c_137267461.htm
https://thediplomat.com/2018/02/myanmars-challenging-path-to-peace/
https://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/asia/2018/05/struggles-myanmar-peace-process-180502064233955.html

 

 

 

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NATO: ensuring stability and security? Or a real barrier to peace?

June 1, 2018

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Dr. Ian Davisnews about the May meeting of the NATO Military Committee in the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels was followed by Peter Hitchens’ succinct reflection.

Chiefs of Staff discussed proposals that will go to the defence ministers of 29 countries at their NATO meeting in June and ultimately to alliance heads of state/government at the July NATO Summit. The meeting had four key sessions (summarised):

  • A ‘scene-setting’ discussion on the key strategic issues facing the alliance;
  • Security and stability in Europe’s southern neighbourhood, with a focus on instability and conflict in the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel, as well as the continuing mission in Afghanistan.
  • Enhancing NATO’s deterrence and defence, including NATO-EU cooperation, especially in regard to military mobility, the reinforcement of the alliance maritime posture and the NATO Readiness Action Plan; and
  • Alliance modernisation with a focus on the proposed adapted command structure.

A pdf briefing may be accessed here.

Peter Hitchens writes:  

If NATO was dissolved tomorrow, you’d be amazed how peaceful Europe would become. The reason for its existence – the USSR – vanished decades ago.

We don’t keep up a huge alliance to protect us from the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Ottomans, or any other powers that have disappeared.

So why this one?

It was preserved to save the jobs and pensions of its staff. It was only expanded because American arms manufacturers were afraid they would lose business when the Cold War ended.

So they spent huge piles of cash lobbying the US Senate to back eastward expansion, as the New York Times uncovered.

Having survived and expanded, it needed something to do, and began to infuriate the Russians, and so that is where we now are.

If you look for trouble, you get it. 

SCROLL DOWN TOTHE SECOND ITEM: http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/03/peter-hitchens-the-patriotic-thought-police-came-for-corbyn-you-are-next.html

 

 

 

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Is Donald Trump’s letter being undervalued by the media?

May 24, 2018

The Financial Times reports that Donald Trump has cancelled the meeting with Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, which was to have taken place in Singapore on June 12.

It provided a copy of the cancellation letter from the White House released hours after North Korea said it had destroyed its nuclear test site in a move that was designed to show its sincerity about pledges to denuclearise.

 

 

 

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FT reader suggests ‘NATO – just STOP’!

February 4, 2018

 Anti-Russian propaganda escalates

Just one example: there were warnings about “huge” Russian wargames in September, raising alarm among the credulous. A briefing by Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, warned that Russia “has used big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbours”, citing Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.  The British Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, said the exercise was “designed to provoke us” and appeared to accept the estimate of 100,000 troops.

But Zapad-17 offered nothing more alarming than footage of Vladimir Putin observing the exercises through binoculars and a report that three people had been injured when a Russian helicopter accidentally fired on spectators.

The numbers forecast as 100,000 were put by all observers at between 10,000 and 17,000. Russia pointed out that their given numbers had been accurate and international borders had been respected.

Is this briefing done to strengthen the case for NATO expenditure and expansion?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. When that was dissolved in 1991, NATO decided to expand eastwards, though newly declassified documents confirm that – as Rodric Braithwaite, former British Ambassador to the Soviet Union, recounted in March 5, 1991 – British foreign minister Douglas Hurd and British PM John Major assured the Soviet leader that NATO would not expand eastwards.

Despite this assurance, expansion continued, with Albania, Croatia, Montenegro as the latest recruits. Roger Boyes, Berlin correspondent to The Times, warns that NATO’s expansion eastward needlessly provokes Russia and must stop growing if it wants to survive. Sardonically, Small People Against Big Government published this map:

He sees Turkey’s plans to buy a Russian-made S-400 missile defence system that cannot be integrated into NATO’s radar network – and the consequent training of Turks by Russia – as a serious problem for the alliance. Boyes believes that the Turkish president should observe its membership conditions or leave the alliance, losing nuclear weapons from the Incirlik base, new F-35 jets, training of Turkish soldiers and intelligence sharing.

Take seriously Putin’s fear of encirclement and end the process of NATO enlargement

Boyes concludes: “The correct response to Putin, then, is a paradoxical one. It doesn’t mean shelving rigorous sanctions policies against Putin, and it doesn’t mean we should recognise his illegal annexation of Crimea.  It is to take seriously his fear of encirclement and end the process of Nato enlargement . . . to stay credible a defence alliance has to live within its means, stay alert and regain the will to act. That has to be better than the present enfeebled ambiguity”.

Dr Harlan Ullman, described as the principal creator of “shock and awe”, fears that Vladimir Putin is turning this concept against NATO and “understands well how to rattle us” but adds that “Mr Putin has no intent of starting a war or invading any NATO member”.

In the Financial Times he deplores “relatively tiny deployments of military forces to central and eastern Europe that will still not be complete for months” adding that “While these token forces may reassure Nato allies, it is unlikely that Mr Putin is impressed”.

He prescribes a variant of shock and awe to defend ”the easternmost allies”: providing large numbers of anti-aircraft and anti-armoured-vehicle shoulder-fired missiles and local forces that would make any incursion very costly. Ullman also believes that assigning a US or UK Trident or French ballistic missile submarine to NATO would be a significant signal, as Russia has a ‘shorter-range nuclear numerical advantage’.

Though both conclude that Russia has no aggressive intentions towards NATO they could go further and heed the advice of an FT reader to STOP:How about just stopping to provoke the Russians? Stop your ‘colour’ revolutions in Russia’s backyard, stop trying to roll NATO’s (Washington’s occupation forces for Europe) tanks on Russia’s doorstep and stop any economic warfare”.

 

 

 

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Ireland protests: the EU Talking Peace – Preparing for War

January 26, 2018

As noted on this website, Ireland has a traditional policy of military neutrality defined as non-membership of mutual defence alliances, but in the midst of the ongoing controversy regarding Brexit and the fate of the Irish border, a very significant move by the Cabinet has gone almost unnoticed. This is the decision to give the go-ahead for Ireland to take part in EU plans for closer cooperation on ‘security and defence’ matters.

This plan, to establish permanent structured cooperation, is known as PESCO:

“Article 42 (6) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) according to which those “Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another in this area with a “view to the most demanding missions” shall establish permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) within the Union framework” – read more here.

The Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA), and the Peoples’ Movement are organising a Conference on PESCO in Dublin on Saturday 17th February 2018, 12pm-5pm.

PESCO is justified under the catch-all excuse of combating the growing threat of terrorism, and comes with the ritual assurance that this poses no threat to Ireland’s traditional and highly-regarded policy of neutrality.

One of the consequences of joining PESCO is that Ireland would be asked to increase spending on weapons and military affairs, requiring a leap in defence spending from the currently planned €946 million for 2018 to an estimated €3 billion+ annually by 2020, constituting a further abandonment of our traditional non-aggressive foreign policy.

The single greatest action that Ireland can take to combat terrorism is to withdraw the facilities of Shannon airport from the US military for use in their wars of aggression, wars which have played a major part in increasing the global terrorist threat in the first place. Read more here.

Demonstrators have held regular marches to protest the use of Shannon Airport by the US military: read more here.

Rather than joining military structures which proclaim the efficacy of military ‘solutions’ to complex political problems the experience of Ireland’s history should be used to offer solutions to such problems through dialogue and negotiation.

With the ever-increasing numbers of homeless people on Irish streets – and unprecedented numbers of refugees seeking safety on European shores, many forced from shattered homes as a result of Western-backed wars and weaponry – it is scandalous that the government plans to spend more money on militarism, further destabilising an already impoverished and war-weary world.

Opening address:
Ardmhéara Mícheál MacDonncha

Contributions from:
Lynn Boylan MEP, Lave K. Brock, People’s Movement, Denmark, Dr. Karen Devine, Luke Ming Flanagan MEP, Seamus Healy TD, Senator Alice Mary Higgins, Gino Kenny TD, Eamon Ryan TD

The Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin 2
Conference on PESCO

Saturday 17th February 2018, 12pm – 5pm

 

 

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The journey into world disorder: 14 years later – a downward spiral?

January 23, 2018

Extracts from the introduction*: Martin Bell writes

“This is a time for storm warnings if ever there was one. Some of those storms, of war and terrorism, are already breaking over us. We worry ourselves to bits about little and local issues ­footpaths, flight paths, career paths and the like, as if the conditions of peace and freedom, on which our societies depend for their normal functioning, are natural entitlements, which can safely be taken for granted  . . .

It is when war becomes a local issue that we really will have something to worry about. And it is worth remembering that in the end war always is a local issue, claiming individual lives in specific places. It is the trench or cellar or street or field where its victims, soldiers or civilians, breathe their last. It is the pilot who says, `I didn’t know who was there. I really didn’t care. You fall totally into execute mode and kill the target‘ . . .

“If we don’t blow ourselves into oblivion the quest for regime change, or whatever other military adventures attract our leaders, and if we don’t continue to go to war for its own sake, then future generations will look back on life in the Western democracies at the start of the twenty-first century, at least until 11 September 2001, as a sort of golden age, or fools’ paradise – depending on the strength of the hostile forces ranged against us.

From where I have been and what I have seen, my antennae tell me that the fools’ paradise theory is very much nearer the mark. The Second Gulf War, an exercise of raw power that applied the values of the Wild West to the relations between states, has sharpened the edge of the argument . . .

“We share with creatures who are in every respect less destructive than we are. With a few exceptions, the fiercest predator or venomous reptile kills only one at a time, for food or in self-defence, and is benign in relation to man.

“We kill our own more than any other species on earth, and we do it to the point of genocide. In the ratio of civilian to military casualties, the wars in the collapsed states of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have mocked the Geneva Conventions and victimized the innocent to an unprecedented degree.

“Weapons of mass destruction proliferate – and not only those in the hands of sovereign or rogue states. A passenger jet flown into a skyscraper is as much a weapon of mass destruction as a nuclear warhead. So is a sea mine rolled downhill into a village, or a 500 pound aircraft bomb bolted to a rocket and fired into a crowded city centre, or a mortar bomb aimed at a market place. These are not imagined examples. I have seen their effects at first hand  . . . 

“The Cold War was safer than this . . .

“Our way of life is defended by new and ever more ingenious ways of death. The sole remaining superpower seeks out its enemies and blasts them with the firepower of its missiles, drones, long-range bombers and carrier-based aircraft. By answering terror with counter-terror, it bids for the status of the world’s most hated nation. Too bad about the collateral damage and the needless taking of life. The higher the warplanes fly, the harder it is for their pilots to distinguish between a friend and a foe, an allied and an enemy reconnaissance vehicle (Iraq), a tank and a tractor (Kosovo), a terrorist cell and a wedding party (Afghanistan). The mark of Cain is upon us . . .

Language is another casualty

“When we speak of degrading an enemy’s assets, what we actually mean is killing people – the unarmed and the armed, the innocent and the guilty, blown to bits in the same high-explosive inferno. The same applies to `blue on blue’ or ‘friendly fire’ – the code for attacking our allies. Power and ignorance, like officers and maps, are a dangerous combination . . .

“The United Nations, the last best hope of mankind, is a forlorn cave of winds on New York’s First Avenue – invoked (when it is convenient to do so and bypassed when it isn’t

“The most vital issues of war and peace are resolved in something close to a state of anarchy. The rule of international law is whatever the White House, with an obedient echo from Downing Street, says that it is in the New American Century. ‘If we need to act we will act,’ said President Bush, `and we don’t need the approval of the United Nations to do so’ . . .

The war in Iraq, waged without a specific or sufficient United Nations mandate, was the sort of imperial enterprise that, in the sweep of history, belonged more to the nineteenth than the twenty-­first, century. It was gunboat diplomacy, conducted not with ships’ cannons, but with all the weapons of mass destruction that at the science of the new millennium can procure . . .

Our media, which should be informing us, are instead turning out the light and joining the stampede from reality in the blind and mad pursuit of commercial advantage, of profit without honour.

“The culture of celebrity, like an army of ants, has colonized the news pages both tabloid and broadsheet . . . Television is the god that failed . . . It has not yet become the worst that it can be, but it is working hard on the project and is still on a downward trajectory. Just when you think it has hit the bottom, it finds new depths to plumb.

“The outcome is that it serves us less as a window on the world than as a barrier to it. Its screen is only a screen in the original sense – something that blocks our view of what lies on the other side of it . . . and then, because we find these things strangely unreal (and they have already been censored by the `good taste brigade’ of broadcasting to stop them upsetting us too much), we take refuge in `reality TV’ and the bromides of Big Brother.

“Our reach has exceeded our grasp. Something is seriously out of joint. We are left with no heroes, but only celebrities. We need a survival strategy, but seem to lack enough of what it takes to put one together: understanding, courage, compassion, common sense, connectedness, care for each other, steadiness under fire and memory. 

“What follows is a journey through the new world disorder Better fasten your seat belts. This could be a rough ride.”

 

 

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*THROUGH GATES OF FIRE – A journey into World Disorder, by Martin Bell, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003