WHOSE ‘WAR’ IS IT? AND WHO IS IT AGAINST?
France bombs the Syrian city of Raqqa
NEW DELHI: Another terrorist outrage, this time in Paris. On November 13, on a Friday night, gunmen wearing explosive vests mowed down 129 people and injured 200 others in six places in the city. The fact that most of those killed were young men and women who had gone to a concert or were in restaurants for fun and relaxation makes their deaths more reprehensible and poignant. That this happened in the French capital which is the centre of European culture and civilisation makes it a barbarous crime. There were other terrorist attacks in the same week. Bomb blasts in Beirut killed 43 people and in Baghdad in which 26 died. It is also confirmed that the Russian airliner which was flying from Sharam el-Sheikh in Egypt to St. Petersburg was brought down by a bomb killing all 224 people on board. All these attacks were claimed by the ISIS or the Daesh as it is called in Arabic.
There is no question that the world is faced with a major terrorist threat and this menace needs to be combated and eliminated. But the real issue is to identify the sources of this terrorism and to adopt policies and methods which can help counter them. Here lies the problem. There are vehement denunciations which come in the wake of anyone seeking to point out certain facts and truths to the Western powers.
The president of France, Francois Hollande, has said after the attacks that France is at war. The question is who is the war directed against? The obvious answer is against the Daesh and the Islamic State which is entrenched in parts of Iraq and Syria. But that is not what has been happening. The roots of the tragedy, which hit Paris, lie in the killing fields of Syria and Iraq. The rise of Islamist extremism and the acts of terror which have taken place around the world stem from the military interventions and the policies pursued by the Western powers led by the United States in Iraq and Syria. The United States attacked Iraq and occupied it after toppling the Saddam Hussein regime. President Bush had falsely accused Saddam Hussein of helping al Qaeda, when the fact is that the al Qaeda rose in Iraq as a result of the US occupation and the destruction of the secular State there. Now that al Qaeda has morphed into the ISIS in Iraq.
In Syria, France has been in the forefront amongst the NATO allies of the United States in working for the overthrow of the secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad. From 2011-12, France has supported the anti-Assad opposition forces in a country which was its former colony. In doing so it has funded and equipped the Islamist extremist forces who are backed by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies. France has been complicit with Turkey, another NATO partner who has through its borders, facilitated the crossing of thousands of extremists who flocked to Syria to wage jihad against the Assad government. The French government was not unduly concerned when radicalised Muslim French citizens went to Syria to fight, as long as they were fighting the Assad government. For France, like the US led alliance, toppling Assad and regime change was the priority and if fundamentalists and extremists were to be the battering ram, so be it.
The destructive civil war and the weakening of the Syrian government created conditions for the rise of Daesh and the establishment of the Islamic State that controls large chunks of territory in Northern Iraq and parts of Syria. It is this monster which was created by the US-French-NATO intervention that is now posing such a serious threat. The US-French bombings in Syria are now seeking to curb this menace which was, in the first place, created by their aiding the extremist forces like Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist forces that were financed and equipped by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
The Western powers were refusing to see that it is the existence of the Assad government and the fight of the Syrian army against the Daesh and other Islamist extremists which has prevented Syria from descending into total anarchy and becoming the base for barbarous extremism.
This has begun to change because of recent developments. Firstly, the last few months have seen the massive flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq to Europe. This desperate rush by men, women and children to escape the horrors of war and extremist killings has brought the Middle East conflict right into the heart of Europe. The European Union is now forced to acknowledge that ending the war in Syria is the only way to stop this human tragedy. For this, they cannot stick to their primary aim of getting rid of the Assad government.
The second major development was the decision of President Putin and Russia to militarily intervene in support of the Syrian government and army. The Russian airforce began to strike at the Daesh and the other extremist forces. The Russian intervention has brought a qualitative change in the situation – boosting the capacity of the Syrian government and armed forces to fight the rebels. The Western powers are being forced to acknowledge that regime change cannot be the priority now. The talks being held in Vienna by the International Syria Support Group got a fresh lease of life. For the first time, Iran, which has been the other target of the Western powers and a strong supporter of the Assad government, was invited to join the talks. These talks have begun discussions on how to end the fighting and for a political settlement.
The third factor was the downing of the Russian plane from Egypt and the Paris attacks. These have brought an added urgency for bringing about a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
The Russian, French and American forces have stepped up the aerial bombardment of ISIS targets in Syria. But this alone cannot defeat the ISIS. What is required is a change of course by the US and its allies like France. For decades, the United States and its NATO allies have backed a reactionary power like Saudi Arabia which has funded extremism all over the region. They have targeted and attacked secular regimes in the Arab countries in order to grab and control the oil resources. Their interventions led to the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, the Al Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
As a first step, they should stop targeting the Assad government for a regime change. There are signs that France is changing its stand. Hollande said in his address to the French Congress that the Assad regime is not the problem but the main enemy is ISIS. This would mean putting an end to the financing and equipping of the rebels in Syria. There has to be a united strategy to isolate and defeat the ISIS. This would require the United States and NATO ensuring that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey also stop their proxies from conducting their armed activities within Syria. They will have to join hands with Russia and Iran to fight the ISIS and see that peace is restored in Syria. There has to be a political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations whereby minus the extremists, the Syrian people can decide the future political set-up in their country.
(Prakash Karat is the former General Secretary of the CPI(M))