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Focusing on menacing Middle East geopolitical environments

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Simmering geopolitical environments in Middle East (ME), characterised by violence and conflicts have posed a challenge as well threat to the security, peace and stability of Western Balkan Region (WBR).

EU also woke up to its surprise when a wave of instability swept across ME and authoritarian governments, considered strong and stable thus far, fell like pack of cards (Arab Spring). “Middle East is the most important geography which can directly affect the EU’s well-being in economic and security aspects. Therefore, the EU ought to redefine and reorganize itself in order to pursue a common policy towards the Middle East for its future.”[1] Weak governance if not absolute corruption, absence of rule of law and justice, nepotism and non adherence to the democratic processes were main collapse-syndromes that many see as possible recurring phenomenon in Western Balkan if these were let to pass by in ME without inferring clues to achieve peace and prosperity in WBR. The proposition, as a rider clause, would be examined in the context of overall EU’s philosophy of affording entire Europe conducive geopolitical environments through an umbrella of peace and prosperity.

WBR, the periphery of Europe, some call it even periphery of the periphery is vital ground that Europe cannot remain oblivious about it. Though it poses no military threat of any significant magnitude, it has the potentials to become a conduit for the threats and challenges that emanate from the Middle East and Sahel-Sahara Region. In other words, not only the brilliant future of WBR, in the realm of peace and security would remain eclipsed because of transnational actors, it would also prevent Europe to achieve disconnect from turbulent past when Balkans were inclined to be gripped by the euphoria of fragmented supremacy, having roots in ethno-religious and imperial incentives of the powers that contested for influence, even territorial expansions. The Balkans historical narrative is not pleasant, particularly for Europe as its reminiscences would only yield a kind of pessimism but if it stays at back of the minds while looking forward, the narrative can become a sort of force multiplier for EU and WBR to push their gigantic energies to crave for peace and stability which, not only is European dream but hugely becoming a global necessity. Though the subject does not offer the opportunity to determine empirical deductions, it does offer the flexibility for a critical enquiry, which would focus on transnational organised crimes likely to plague WBR. Anis H. Bajrektarevic is of the view, “Although visibly evident on the old continent over decades, the issue of Organized Crimes has attracted very little attention at higher politico-economic levels in Europe in the last decades of the 20th century. Simultaneously, the radical changes in CEE/SEE countries of the late 1980s implied growing possibilities for organized crime to carry out trans-frontier operations throughout Europe. Consequently, the criminal markets have become very mobile, more flexible, transnational and transcontinental, highly accumulative and increasingly aggressive.”[2] In other words, expanding dimensions of the threat ought to be perceived.

While going through the arguments, impression would emerge that no mention of the critique has been made from some credible sources about the possible anomalies, EU pursues wittingly or unwittingly. For example, some lament about its ‘tough love’[3] or its status to have become an ‘Alphabets Soup’ and so on. Such notions can lead to a very lively debate about EU’s functional deficit if any and remedial strategies that would make a strong case to examine separately and hence out of the purview of this article. Here threat of main organised crimes to WBR at the hands of international and transnational actors would be dealt with.

Geopolitical Contours and the Regional Primacy

 

Western Balkan Region. Briefly touching on the geography to refresh our focus, WBR includes Croatia, Serbia (and Kosovo), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. To the east lies Eastern Balkan Region (EBR), comprising Romania and Bulgaria. Greece hugs its territory in the SE. To the north Slovenia and Hungary sit on top of Balkans. To the west, the region has Adriatic Sea that slants from NW to SE. Viewing Balkans as WBR and EBR has been a moot point, as some  scholars contend that Balkan could be logically split as geographical entity like Northern Balkan and Southern Balkan because a prominent mountain range divides the two as it traverses in East-West direction. In the beginning of 19th Century, August Zeune, a German geographer named it ‘Balkan Peninsula’ after the Bulgarian mountains.  Historically it constituted borders between empires, religions and civilizations. Imperial wars and ethnic massacres to achieve homogeneous character by dominant ethnic segments that forced persistent displacements, led to disproportionate ethnic dispersion. A reviewer highlighted the era of revenge and retribution, “The Chapter Five discusses the manner in which atrocities committed by empires can be seen as conspicuously stamped into the culture of those empires in their music, art and literature. Poets and the philosophers were swayed by the desire to portray horror and glorify imperial wars out of an urge to deride the oppressors.”[4] WBR now is like a buffer for the West and in the obtaining paradigm of 21st Century, it thus gains tremendous weight in geopolitics once the West has launched itself in the quest for sustainable peace, a peace that would not recognise earlier points of fissure and proverbial tectonic plates but subdue Balkans thorny issues with promise of respect, equality, security, peace and stability for better ‘tomorrow’ for all and sundry. European Security Strategy also hinges on the premise of enabling its Eastern, South Eastern as well as Mediterranean border countries to become sound and stable governments that is a prerequisite for peace and prosperity of the states. EU is in the forefront to turn such dreams into reality though it faces a usual critique as well.

 

Middle East.  The region has unique geographic connotations. It sits at the junction of Europe, Asia and Africa and thus it dominates strategic approaches, leading to the three continents. Impressed by its geostrategic importance, George Lenczowski remarked in 1952 that still holds the ground, “No intelligent foreign policy today can ignore the Middle East and its impact upon the rest of the world.”[5] However, the impact analysis here pertains to the threats and challenges emanating from ME that confront WBR with strong under currents reaching EU space. ME geography is remarkably simple to grasp but its internal dynamics make it the land of complex scenarios historically as well as in the recent context. The span of Asian territories lying south of erstwhile Soviet Union, west of Pakistan and Egypt included, makes the ME. If referred to by an older term, Near East, which pops up in certain accounts, some geographers tend to include Greece as well as Aegean Sea in ME. Mainly it can be divided into two main zones: the Northern Belt that is ethnically non-Arab and the Southern Belt that constitutes Arabs hard core. ME has two distinctions. The holiest of the places for Jews, Christians and Muslims are located in the ME. In other words, it is the cradle of three divine religions, the people of the books and the largest of oil and gas reserves are found here. In the recent history, Arab-Israel wars, Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi attack on Kuwait and in response US drubbing of Iraqi forces, US war on Iraq and Afghanistan in post-eleven scenario, Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Iran-Israel nuclear tangle, ever festering Palestinian wound and now Syrian cauldron where people of same nationality are killing each other, have reduced ME to a blazing inferno. The unfortunate part is that the severity of conflicts is likely to exacerbate than diminish in full view of plethora of peace restoring institutions, major powers and above all human passion and genius. As a consequence, the adjoining regions, WBR included, have either come to the brink of being sucked in or have been impacted dangerously by the fall out of simmering conflicts, one way or the other. EU effort to douse ME creeping fires, some analysts opine, need even handed as well as sure handed treatment. “…EU policies and their implementation have worked towards preserving the status quo in the Mediterranean despite the declared goal of transforming the region in line with the EU values, such as democracy, human rights and rule of law. This is because in practice the priority has been improving European security and not the needs of the individuals or societies in the region.”[6] History guides us that whenever violence rules, dispensation of justice becomes an unfulfilled dream and writ of the states weakens, then threats and challenges emerge for the host states as well as for the neighbours like a hydra-headed monsters. They not only survive in the same very masses but also draw succour from them and employ them to advance asymmetrical political agenda which is more often diametrically opposed to conventional themes of International Relations, practiced by the comity of nations.

What Makes Two Regions Asymmetric?

 

Before attempting to determine the politico-military and socio-economic disparities that constitute the incentive for organised crime from ME to WBR, one would reemphasise that the entire discussion has EU in the frame in ultimate context. Therefore, sometime WBR and EU sound as the interchangeable entities because what is dangerous for WBR would certainly be repugnant to EU as well. Now the relevant asymmetries between the two:

  • EU as Patron. EU has embraced the role of a patron for all its members as well as neighbours where it wishes to introduce peace and prosperity as the means to eliminate historic deficit of mutual harmony among the nations as well as regions. For the EU, WBR is a contiguous stretch of territory that it wants to influence for extending to them an umbrella of peace and prosperity which is the hallmark of EU philosophy. Advancement of Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia towards reconciliation under EU patronage, albeit gradually, suggests that EU is determined in resolve to expand its parameters firmly. The so called footnote or asterisk agreement between Prishtina and Belgrade in February was yet another breakthrough. Not only did it pave Serbia’s way to candidacy and open the gates to Balkan regional bodies to Kosovo, but also it helped the Commission start work on a feasibility study in March…. Such steps will strengthen the EU’s hand while inaugurating a more mature and even relationship with both Kosovo and Bosnia, well beyond crisis management.[7] ME, despite its resources, largely squandered, has not seen any initiative of this kind.
  • No Parallel. Being an economic power house, EU has no parallel. After Maastricht and throughout the rest of the 1990s, the European Union remained what it was once famously compared by Belgian Minister of Stat, Mark Eijskens as an, ‘Economic giant, political mouse and military worm.’[8] One may differ with his statement partially but in spite of colossal fragmentation of the societies within, EU is gradually and consistently expanding its sphere and building the bridges of harmony within and without but seems to draw grudge of the devastated elements from ‘arc of instability’,[9] who attempt to violate international laws and resort to such measures that would undermine EU’s ability to achieve its goal i.e. peaceful and prosperous united Europe including its peripheries.
  • EU Inspires. EU serves as an inspiration for the fence sitters who want to join EU. It has not relented about the values-mark, the candidates have to achieve by laying down conditionalities to abide before they join. Not stopping here it is extending enormous help at the same time to the candidates to qualify for the membership. There is no such model in ME.
  • ME and Youth Bulge. ME is devastated by conflicts or the threat of impending conflicts where poverty is rampant and unemployed ‘youth bulge’ instead of becoming a strategic asset for the states, has shifted allegiance to become strategic asset of the non-state actors. The prospective milieu is also very threatening. A

credible report in the sphere of ‘likely impact’ of untapped ‘youth bulge’ underscores year-2025 scenario, “Opportunity for mass-casualty terrorist attacks using chemical, biological or less likely, nuclear weapons will increase…”.[10] It also highlights that ‘arc of instability’ stretches from Andean Region in Latin America though Sub-Saharan Africa, ME, Caucasus and northern South Asia where unemployed youthful age group and demographic explosion mark the crescent as a threatening scene. On the other side, WBR is relatively more prosperous where humans are now cared about and their youth, in pursuit of life-long objectives are busy to remain an asset for heir states.

  • Non-State Actors. They resort to terror, arms smuggling, loot, plunder, hostage taking, high seas piracy, narcotics and human trafficking as the means to support their minimal expenses. The young adventurous minds of the available youth bulge are readily drawn to them and be the party to their crimes, some becoming the hardened terrorists and gang leaders later. EU is fortunate to be free of such risks except presence of small pockets that may have penetrated from the countries located on the arc of instability. It makes the crux of focus of EU endeavour to deny them such capability.
  • ME Lacks Will. EU worry should be compounded to learn that some poor ME countries have no or at best rudimentary will to rehabilitate the youths and stem out the poverty that needs to be tackled through expanding education base, establishing rule of law to prevent exploitation of the poor masses and affording them equal opportunities for surviving with dignity. Middle East countries, some exceptions apart are marred by poor governance, corruption and squandering of their national wealth in wrong priorities. EU is almost free of such malice and is also inspiring the candidates of WBR to come up to the mark. EU being a vibrant model of peace and prosperity serves as a beacon for them to emulate.
  • ME Statesmanship Not Reconciliatory. In ME the statesmanship, as in Iran, Hezbollah’s and Israel, generally thrives on the conflicts, which the leadership uses as pivots of popularity and maintaining appeal among their masses. EU has turned away from the conflicts, denouncing them out rightly as loathsome phenomena. It affords peace of mind to EU but no such luxury of peace of mind is available in ME. As a result, bitterness is compounding that denies logical thought process to contemporary approaches and hence reactionary, some time, violent discourses are preferred by the belligerent states.
  • EU’s Diplomacy and Politics. Whenever EU came across a road block en-route to peace and harmony, it effectively employed its political and diplomatic muscles to eliminate the hurdles in WBR through UN, NATO, OSCE and Council of Europe options, besides committing its own platform for moving on with consensus among the member states. In ME, other than UN, there exist such apparatuses as Arab League (AL) , Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and an overlap of OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) but the consensus on critical issues among the major ME actors, namely Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia is non-existent.

 

  • No Direct Threat. WBR or the EU has no direct enemy that may consume their efforts and budget for the military spending. In ME, the scenario is bleak when there is perpetual standoff between Israel and Iran, Israel versus other Arab states and Iranian tiff with Gulf countries over territorial disputes. Maintaining large standing armies thus becomes their compulsion, a practice that engulfs their large chunks of GDPs and also creates a lucrative sophisticated weaponry market for the developed countries. Thus the bad news is that with the status quo perpetuating in ME, the people are not likely to witness any lustrous transformation unless the causes that lend longevity to their true and false pretexts of the parties are eliminated. US interventionist strategy, the regime-change mantra, has not only drawn considerable flak but has been challenged by Syria on the grounds of legitimacy when two of the P5 are singing discordant tunes. Among the Muslim world, US neutrality in ME, particularly on Palestinian and the occupied Arab territories issues is ‘monumentally’ suspected. Hence US have lost the lustre of an honest peace broker, a virtue that had characterised Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and even George H. W. Bush era. Tragedy of the time is that there is no hope of recovery. In fact breakdown of Turkish-Israel relations recently, euphemistically speaking, have cast deep shadows on the prospects of restoration of peace in ME. Turkey’s demonstration of military restraint in case of Israel and Syrian provocations has been remarkable that gave boost to the Turkey’s grace and international stature. However Syrian antagonism when seen against Turkey in the NATO’s context is becoming unbearable. Syria’s mighty allies, Russia, China and to an extent, Iran are showing some signs of fatigue. Yet Turkey appears inclined to let the tyrant sink in the predicament of his own follies. Logically ME has emerged as a revealing challenge for the EU which, when some other actors stoke the fury of conflicts, can broker peace. One would hope that ME and the world powers would heed, if no one else, at least to Jesus, revered both by Christians and Muslims, He (Jesus Christ) said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”[11]

Middle Eastern Threats Profile

 

Threats and Challenges for WBR and EU. After a brief view of the prevailing dynamics of the conflicts in ME, it makes it feasible to assess the threats and challenges as corollaries that confront WBR in specific terms though there appears a consensus that no potent military threat from ME to Balkans and hence to the EU is on the horizon. However, transnational organised crimes, pertaining to some of following areas is a possibility that needs to be taken cognisance of:

  • Illegal Immigrants Traffic It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country

Of origin, transit or destination for victims.[12] In the wake of visa liberalisation for the WBR by EU, there has been tendency of its immigrants to seek better living standard from the relatively poorer to the richer states of WBR or EU. This trend is historic and perhaps manageable by WBR or at least not as risky as the inflow of Asians and Africans who beat the Border Check Points ability to interdict illegal immigrants. Such illegal immigrants may be criminals, potential terrorists or arms and drug smugglers as no record of their credentials is available as compared to those falling in the category of regular immigrants. WBR would certainly be impacted, as the statistics prove, increasing number of them are appearing on Greece-Turkish, Romania-Serbian and Serbian-Macedonian borders. Out of total 7400 detections of irregular traffic in 2011, on nationality basis, Afghans had 28 % share, followed by 25% of Pakistanis. This increase resulted from the combination of increasing flows and more efforts undertaken by the Serbian authorities to detect migrants at their green borders. Consequently, Serbia’s 2011 share in the region’s overall total for illegal border-crossing rose to a massive 40%, up from just 3% during 2010. [13] Yet there appear some deterring arrangements in place that keep WBR somewhat immune from the machinations of the organized crime axis. Therefore, the criminals who facilitate the illegal immigrants from Africa and ME, by employing modes worst than those meted to animals, have not been able to develop WBR as huge market of profit so far that revolves around $ 150 million as compared to illegal immigrants from East, West and North Africa to Europe and from Latin America to North America that fetched them a bonanza of about $ 6.75 billion last year. UNODC plays crucial role to train and built the target states capacity to combat organised crimes. EU in concert with UNODC appears to be mindful of the aspect and the vulnerability that confronts WBR. Remedial improved options have to be exercised, soonest the better.

 

  • Drug Trafficking. It poses a threat to the entire world but predominantly to the Western Europe that makes lucrative market for the drug traffickers. Annual flow of drugs to global market is to the tune of about 450 tons. Out of this, the statistics for 2008 show, 380 tons of heroin and morphine were produced in Afghanistan only, finding access to Western Europe and Russia through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and WBR that constitute Western Approach as well as through Caspian and Central Asia which is the Northern Approach. There have been sizeable seizures also, conspicuously in Turkey and Iran but the drug barons appear determined to swallow the losses for the sake of Western European market ($ 20 billion) and the Russian Federation market ($13 billion).[14] Along the route, some quantities are sold to the locals that are wreaking havoc on the societies where one finds large number of young addicts with no hope of recovering them. To put simply, when the drug route of western approach from Afghanistan is fairly broad, it converges on WBR that should rightly worry its governments. They are left with no choice but to accept the challenge to eliminate it through operational as well as pre-emptive strategies in concert with EU. In other words, EU is compelled to consider that its stakes are heavy in WBR while confronted by the drugs assault with dangerous consequences. Covering the threat of huge quantities of Cocaine from Colombia is not direct concern here because no significant source is located in ME. However Europe shares a big brunt. In 2008, 470 tons of Cocaine moved to North America, Canada and Europe when 40 % was consumed in North America only, and a quarter of it reached Europe.

 

  • Terrorism. Terrorists have invariably a political agenda, often ambitious. They enjoy universal alliance, though unspoken, with all such elements in any part of the world across all conceivable divides because their mutual interests do not clash. In other words, at least their sympathisers if not abetters are found everywhere that facilitate their clandestine operations of sabotage and destruction. Such vulnerability haunts the WBR because conventionally drugs, illegal human trafficking, arms smuggling and terrorists are traditional allies that move hand in glove and follow common trajectory. In WBR, ordinary crimes have shown decline but strong foot prints of organised crimes have remained indelible. Corruption and crime nexus could not be refuted, particularly when ethnic wars were rampant. In case of Bosnia-Herzegovinian, there has been Middle Eastern militants support though no conclusive evidence has come forth, not necessarily because it did not exist but for the possibility that these groups may have managed clandestine support effectively. This is partly due to difficulties in defining the concepts. But it is also due to the difficulties of identifying the motives of groups operating within a network.[15] Elsewhere, WBR region has remained generally inwardly focused on ethnic roots and, at least for now, has not been enthused by the ideological incentives. Similarly where ethnic division in WBR are settling down in the new found status of states, having common border(s) with previous entity, threat of influx of potential terrorists may be lurking, abetted by erstwhile parent state(s) in their efforts to undermine the fragile governance of the breakaway state(s) through a design of outsourcing the terror that some states are inclined to adopt worldwide as costs of conventional interstate wars have become colossal. WBR remains prone to such threats because of some complexities the budding states have inherited. Of all, Bosnia-Herzegovina is most fractured. Milan Jazbec rightly observes, “It seems that most complex state structure in the sub-region lays at the foundation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Created by the DPA, the country consists of three nations and two entities, numerous local authorities and a three-member state presidency.”[16] What WBR has to strive for is that they got to evolve happy societies through efficient governance because threat of terror tends to emerge from poverty stricken regions and heads for areas where instability and chaos rules. Out of the two components of the threat, the one that is immediately within reach of WBR governments is to focus on the public inspiration and faith in the democratic states as pre-emptive strategy. That is what EU is committed to, for WBR.

 

  • Money Laundering. The organised crimes perpetrators need to funnel money to give it needed legitimacy or stash it at such locations and banks that their wealth remains out of sight because they got to maintain the flexibility of uninterrupted financing of the criminal networks working for them. Bojan Dordevic contends that money laundering involves disguising the source of illicit profits and is achieved through a basic process (although money laundering typologies differ in complexity):
    • Placement – illicit proceeds are placed within the formal banking sector;
    • Layering – illicit proceeds are redistributed through a series of accounts in small amounts so as to disguise the origin of the funds; and
    • Integration – the once-illicit proceeds are now licit and are used to purchase property, stocks and bonds so that they can be deposited legally into client bank accounts.[17]

To afford the states the desired ability to nab these ill-gotten treasures, UNODC has been  assigned the role to enforce laws to combat money laundering and terror financing in shape of Global Programmes against them, employing its unit that was established in 1997. The unit mandate was reinforced by subsequent protocols and legal instruments to enable the states for implementing necessary measures to combat the curse of money laundering. The unit also provides guidance and technical assistance. WBR certainly deserves to seek help from UNODC.

Global Overview of Tangential Threats to EU

Brief reference to the global conflicts away from ME that pose danger to EU may be a pertinent proposition. The destiny of Balkans, more importantly of the WBR is intertwined with the destiny of Europe. Therefore any conflict scenario looming on the horizon worldwide, threatening Europe would be a dire challenge for the Balkans as well. As the globalisation is characterised by the universal interconnectivity through rapid communication means hence long stretch of spaces have shrunk. EU thrust in European as well as adjoining continents is not only to manage the conflicts but to resolve them despite not possessing any integral military might except within the NATO Charter. On the threat perception chapter, some areas can devastate the world peace, being potentially loaded with the risk of turning into a wide spread conflagration. Though the peace is contingent upon reconciliatory strategies but world powers maintain deterrence at the same time for the potential adversaries. The conflict issues in ME, Caucasus, Korean peninsula, Indian Subcontinent and recently in Asia-Pacific can wreck EU efforts to quell eruptions in and around Europe as well as in far flung areas to the East. For instance, in all cases, if diplomacy fails and conflict graph probability picks up a hype; US, India, Japan, Australia, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, North and South Korea, Egypt, Iran and Turkey are likely to be sucked in by any of the imbroglios one way or the other. EU that maintains ideal relations with large spread of countries would be the first casualty by way of resultant traction on Euro-Atlantic alliance directly and on trade volumes indirectly that would tailspin because future conflicts would also be riddled with economic blockades and severing of sea lanes. The point to emphasise here is not to give the probable dimensions of each conflict but to elucidate a point that the EU has on its responsibility card, not only the European continent and ME but the stretch of spaces that could become war arena anywhere in the world. What really emerges from the prevailing strategic and global military orientation is that EU has to be forthcoming to conduct dispassionate critique of its own erring allies as well as others when the friendly and not so friendly powers are suspected to embrace too much of Richelieu Concept and show scant regard for the urge to sustain peace. It also implicitly means that world’s greater expectations for conflicts resolution would seek a major shift from the traditional titans to would-be honest brokers. EU is in unique position to adjust to the emerging global realities.

Conclusion

 

To conclude, one would briefly emphasise on two aspects. First, WBR deserves break from violence and chaos. Any effort by EU to help WBR emerge as peaceful, secure and prosperous entity would draw a loud applause internationally. Award of Nobel Peace Prize to EU is not only the recent manifestation but also an acknowledgement of its peacemaking efforts within and beyond Europe. Secondly, efforts should be made while emulating EU to seek prosperous societies across the continents that are sinking in the quagmire, largely of their own making. The advanced world owes much to humanity in this context for addressing their miseries that are heaped on large swaths of Afro-Asian territories. Simple deduction establishes the wisdom that mode and manoeuvres notwithstanding, fires in the neighbourhood and afar would always remain a challenge as well as a threat. Therefore, desirability to quell these fires needs no arguments.



[1] . Kenan Dagci, “The EU’s Middle East Policy and its Implications to the Region”, ‘ALTERNATIVES: Turkish Journal of International Relations’, Volume 6, Number 1&2, Spring & Summer 2007, p. 177

[2] . Anis H. Bajrektarevic, “The Justice-Home Affairs Diplomacy”, International Institute for Middle East and Balkans Studies, Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU, pp.4-5, accessed on www.ifimes.org, on 29 October 2012.

[3] . The aspect inspired Steven Blockmans to write a book, “Tough Love: The European Union’s Relations with the Western Balkans”, (T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague, Netherlands-2007).

[4] . Muhammad Aslam Khan Niazi,   (Book Review of) Cathie Carmichael’s ‘Genocide Before the Holocaust’ ‘Europe-Asia Studies Journal’, Volume 63, Number 2 (University of Glasgow/Routledge:Taylor & Francis Group, March 2011) p. 347

[5] . George Lenczowski, ‘The Middle East in World Affairs’, 3rd, (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York-1962) p.xxv

[6]. Zerin Torun, ‘The European Union and Change in the Middle East and North Africa: Is the EU Closing its Theory-Practice Gap?”, ‘Middle East Studies, Journal of Politics and International Relations’ Volume 4/Issue 1, July 2012. P. 83.

[7] . Dimitar Bechev, “The Periphery of the Periphery: The Western Balkans and the Euro Crises”, ‘Policy Brief’, European Council of Foreign Relations, p.2, accessed at www.ecfr.eu on 10 September 2012.

[8] . Steven Blockmans, “Tough Love: The European Union’s Relations with the Western Balkans”, (T.M.C. Asser Press, The Hague, Netherlands-2007), p.1

[9] . See the text following foot note 10 for the description of ‘arc of instability’.

[10] . National Intelligence Council, US DoD document, “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World”, (US Government Printing Office, 2008), p. iv

[11] . Luke; 12:54-57.

[12] . UNODC: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, report, “Transnational Organized Crimes: Let’s put them out of business”, accessed at www.unodc.org/unodc.en/human-trafficking, on 2 October 2012.

[13].  “Western Balkans: Annual Risk Analysis 2012”, (Report), FRONTEX: European Agency for the Management of Operational Co-operation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, Warsaw, Poland, April 2012, accessed at www.frontex,europa.eu on 10 October 2012.

[14] . UNODC Drug Report-2010, accessed at www.unodc.org/unodc.en/drugs on 29 September 2012.

[15] . “Organized Crimes and Corruption Threaten Human Security in the Western Balkans”, accessed at www.scoopproject.org.uk/incorporating, on 6 October 2012.

[16] . Milan Jazbec, “Security and Diplomacy in the Western Balkans”,  International Institute for Middle East and Balkans Studies, Ljubljana,2007, p.84

[17] . Bojan Dordevic, “Underground Banking: Legitimate Network or Money Laundering System”, in Claude Berthomieu and Srdjan Redzepagic (eds), “Financial System Integration of Balkan Countries in the European Financial System”, Institute of Economic Sciences, Znaj Jovina, Belgrade, Republic of Serbia, 2008, p.33

* An abridged version of the article was presented by the author at Crans Montana Forum’s 14th International Annual Summit (cmf.ch) in Geneva, Switzerland on 19 October 2012 as a part of IFIMES International Institute’s (www.ifimes.org) panel proceedings. Director of IFIMES, Zijad Bećirović, Slovenia,  received ‘Gold Medal’ for the Institute, conferred upon it by Crans Montana Forum, graciously recognizing its contributions in exploring and charting Balkan’s path to peace, security and stability in concert with EU.

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan is a retired Brig Gen from Pakistan Army, served 32 years. A veteran of ‘1971 Indo-Pak War’ has been instructor in officers’ Pakistan Military Academy, commanded Divisional as well as Corps Artillery. Holds first class Masters degree in International Relations and PhD degree, acquired in 2002-2007 from University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Authored a book, writes frequently in national and international media. Has attended several seminars and conferences within the country and abroad on invitation. Travelled to Switzerland (twice), UK, US, UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Germany (twice). Cambodia and Thailand. Email: dr.makni49@yahoo.com

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Middle East

“Kurdish Spring”: drawing to a close?

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For decades, the Kurdish problem was overshadowed by the Palestinian one, occasionally popping up in international media reports following the much-publicized arrest of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the genocide of Iraqi Kurds and the scandalous referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. A few years ago, the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds’ opposition to the “Islamic State” (banned in Russia) pushed them to the forefront of global politics with the media now talking about the so-called “Kurdish Spring.”

In short, the Kurdish problem boils down not only to the absence of independent statehood for 40 million people, who account for approximately 20 percent of the population of Turkey and Iraq, and between eight and 15 percent of Iran and Syria, but also to the refusal by Ankara, Tehran and Damascus to discuss the possibility of an autonomous status for the Kurds. Today, the very issue of Kurdish independence is being hushed up, at least in public.

The first example of Kurdish statehood in modern history was in Iran: in 1946, the Kurdish Autonomous Republic was proclaimed in the city of Mahabad, only to survive less than a year. Since then, the Iranian authorities have spared no effort to make sure the name of one of the country’s provinces (Kurdistan Ostan) is the only remainder of the Kurds’ presence in the Islamic Republic. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that the Kurds, most of whom happen to be Sunnis, are a hurdle on Tehran’s official course to achieve the religious unity of the Iranian people.

Since all Kurdish organizations, let alone political parties, are outlawed, most of them are based in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan. For most Kurdish organizations, the original goal of gaining independence has increasingly been transformed into a demand for autonomy for Kurds inside Iran.

The other “pole” of Kurdish nationalism is Iraqi Kurdistan. The history of the region’s autonomy goes back to 1970, and since the 90s, it has been sponsored by the Americans, who needed a ground base for the “Gulf War.” In 2003, the Iraqi Peshmerga helped the Anglo-American troops to topple the country’s ruling Ba’athist regime.

Under the current Iraqi constitution, Kurdistan enjoys broad autonomy, bordering on the status of an independent state with nearly 40 foreign consulates general, including a Russian one, officially operating in the regional capital Erbil, and in Sulaymaniyah.

Following the referendum on independence (2017), which was not recognized by either Baghdad or the world community (except Israel), Baghdad sent troops into the region, forcing the resignation of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the founder of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Massoud Barzani. He has maintained a close presence though, with both the current president and the prime minister bearing the same surname.

According to various sources, the armed forces of the Iraqi Kurds number between 80,000 to 120,000, armed with heavy weapons, armored vehicles and tanks, and their number keeps growing. Who are they going to fight? Erbil is on fairly good terms with Turkey and Iran, the autonomy’s two “windows to the world,” and you don’t need a huge army to keep the remnants of jihadist forces in check, do you? Iraq? Iraq is a different matter though, given the presence of disputed territories, the unsettled issue of distribution of oil export revenues, and a deep-seated rejection of the 2017 Iraqi military invasion.

However, the political ambitions of the Barzani and Talabani clans, who divided Iraqi Kurdistan into zones of influence back in the 70s, are obviously offset by oil revenues, and are unlikely to extend beyond the “return” of the territories lost to Baghdad in 2017.

The Turkish factor is a major factor in the life of Iraqi Kurdistan: several thousand Turkish military personnel are deployed there, checking the activity of mountains-based armed units of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is branded by Ankara as a “terrorist” organization. Baghdad is unhappy about their presence, while Erbil, rather, pretends to be unhappy as it is in a state of undeclared war with the PKK itself. At the same time, Turkish soldiers are standing by to nip in the bud any further attempts by the region’s Kurdish authorities to gain sovereignty as Ankara fears that an independent Kurdish state will set a “bad example” for Kurds living in Turkey proper.

During the 1980s, several regions in southeastern Turkey declared themselves “liberated” from Ankara. In 1984, the “Marxist-Leninist” PKK (created in 1978) prevailed over all the other local Kurdish groups and declared war on the Turkish authorities. Following the arrest of their leader in 1999, the PKK militants were squeezed out of the country into Syria and Iraq, despite the fact that discarding the slogan of creating a “united and independent” Kurdistan, the party had already settled for a demand for Kurdish autonomy within Turkish borders.

For many decades, the Turkish authorities denied the very existence of Kurds as an ethnic group. During the 2000s, in a bid to sweeten the pill for the Kurds, and meeting the requirements of the European Union, the Turkish government came up with the so-called “Kurdish initiative,” lifting the ban on the use of the Kurdish language, returning Kurdish names to a number of settlements, etc.

Legal organizations and parties, advocating the rights of the Kurds, were granted greater freedom of action. However, this did not prevent the authorities from banning such parties for “connections with terrorists” and “separatism.” The current Kurdish party (creation of any associations on a national basis is prohibited) – the Peoples’ Democracy Party – is also under serious pressure with some of its leading members currently behind bars.

However, the apparent defeat in the military conflict with NATO’s second largest army is forcing Turkey’s Kurdish nationalists to focus on a legal political struggle.

During the past few years the main attention of the international community has for obvious reasons been focused on the Syrian Kurds, who for many decades remained “second-class citizens” or even stateless persons in their own country. Any manifestations of discontent, which occasionally boiled over into uprisings, was severely suppressed by the authorities.

With the outbreak of the civil war, the Kurds assumed the position of armed neutrality, and in 2012, announced the creation of their own statehood with the capital in El Qamishli. Six years later, the name of the quasi-state was changed from a “democratic federation” to an “autonomous administration,” meant to demonstrate the refusal by the authorities of Syrian Kurdistan to pursue their initial demand for independence.

Needless to say, that change of priorities was prompted by the occupation by Turkish troops and their proxies of parts of the Kurdish territories. In 2019, Ankara halted its military advance only after the Kurds had allowed Syrian troops into the areas under their control, and international players “dissuaded” Ankara from any further expansion.

In addition to the Turkish factor, another important factor with a serious bearing on the situation are US troops and members of American military companies who remain in northeastern Syria without any legal grounds for their presence.  Back when the current US President was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he promoted the idea of ​​creating a Kurdish state in Iraq and Syria. The Kurds have long lost their faith in Washington’s desire to grant them independence, but in bargaining with Damascus for the delimitation of powers, they never miss a chance to refer to US support.

However, in recent years, the Syrian Kurds (and not only them) have had ample opportunity to feel the results of Washington’s unreliability as a partner.

A lack of trust in the Americans, on the one hand, and the constant threat from Turkey, on the other, are forcing the Kurdish leaders to ramp up the negotiation process with the leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic. Moreover, the Kurds are pinning their hopes for the success of the negotiations primarily on the mediation of Russia, given Moscow’s allied relations with the Syrian authorities. Besides, Moscow maintains working ties with the leadership of the self-proclaimed autonomy, and with the leaders of the opposition Kurdish parties.

Meanwhile, the negotiations are stalling with Damascus opposed to the idea of either autonomy or the preservation of the Kurdish armed forces’ organizational independence. It is still imperative, however, for the sides to agree on certain conditions. The “return” of the Kurds can become a turning point in the intra-Syrian confrontation as the Americans will feel too “uncomfortable” in a united Syria, and the Turks will lose the main argument for their continued occupation of the border zone, which will now be controlled not by “terrorists,” but by the central government. Which, by the way, is gaining more and more legitimacy even in the eyes of yesterday’s irreconcilable opponents.

From our partner International Affairs

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Middle East

UAE schoolbooks earn high marks for cultural tolerance, even if that means praising China

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An Israeli NGO gives the United Arab Emirates high marks for mandating schoolbooks that teach tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and engagement with non-Muslims.

“The Emirati curriculum generally meets international standards for peace and tolerance. Textbooks are free of hate and incitement against others. The curriculum teaches students to value the principle of respect for other cultures and encourages curiosity and dialogue. It praises love, affection, and family ties with non-Muslims,” the 128-page study by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) concluded.

However, at the same time, the report appeared in its evaluation of Emirati textbooks to hue closely to Israeli policy towards the UAE and, more generally, most states that populate the Middle East.

As a result, the report, like Israel that seemingly sees autocracy rather than greater freedoms as a stabilizing factor in the Middle East, skirts the issue of the weaving of the principle of uncritical obedience to authority into the fabric of Emirati education.

That principle is embedded in the teaching of “patriotism” and “commitment to defending the homeland,” two concepts highlighted in the report. The principle is also central to the notion of leadership, defined in the report as a pillar of national identity.

Ryan Bohl, an American who taught in an Emirati public school a decade ago, could have told Impact-se about the unwritten authoritarian principles embedded in the country’s education system.

There is little reason to believe that much has changed since Mr. Bohl’s experience and every reason to assume that those principles have since been reinforced.

One of a number of Westerners hired by the UAE to replace Arab teachers suspected of sympathising with the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Bohl described in an interview teaching in Emirati classrooms as “following the autocratic method, very similar to the ruler and the ruled.”

It’s in classrooms, Mr. Bohl said, “where those political attitudes get formed, reinforced, enforced in some cases if kids like they do, decide to deviate outside the line. They understand what the consequences are long before they can become a political threat or an activist threat to the regime. It’s all about creating a chill effect.”

Seemingly to avoid discussion of the notion of critical thinking, the IMPACT-se report notes that students “prepare for a highly competitive world; they are taught positive thinking and well-being.”

The report’s failure to discuss the limits of critical thinking and attitudes towards authority that may be embedded in the framing of education rather than in textbooks raises the question of whether textbook analysis is sufficient to evaluate attitudes that education systems groom in their tutoring of successive generations.

It also opens to debate whether notions of peace and cultural tolerance can be isolated from degrees of social and political tolerance and pluriformity.

The report notes positively that the textbooks “offer a realistic approach to peace and security,” a reference to the UAE’s recognition of Israel in 2020, its downplaying of efforts to address Palestinian aspirations, and its visceral opposition to any form of political Islam with debilitating consequences in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.

It would be hard to argue that intervention by the UAE and others, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, and Russia, in whatever form contributed to peace and security.

The report notes that “support for the Palestinian cause continues but no longer (is) seen as key to solving the broader range of regional challenges. Radicalism and hate are the chief threat. Iranian expansionism is a threat.”

This is not to suggest that IMPACT-se’s evaluation of textbooks should judge Emirati policies but to argue that rather than uncritically legitimising them, it should explicitly instead of implicitly acknowledge that the country’s next generation is being shaped by a top-down, government-spun version of what the meaning is of lofty principles proclaimed by Emirati leaders.

To its credit, the report implicitly states that Emirati concepts of tolerance are not universal but subject to what the country’s rulers define as its national interests.

As a result, it points out that “the People’s Republic of China is surprisingly described as a tolerant, multicultural society, which respects religions” despite the brutal crackdown on religious and ethnic expressions of Turkic Muslim identity in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

IMPACT-se further notes that the textbooks fail to teach the Middle East’s history of slavery. The report insists that the Holocaust and the history of Jews, particularly in the Middle East, should be taught but makes no similar demand for multiple other minorities, including those accused of being heretics.

The NGO suggests that the UAE could also improve its educational references to Israel. The report takes note that “anti-Israeli material has been moderated” in textbooks that teach “cooperating with allies” and “peacemaking” as priorities.

However, UAE recognition of Israel does not mean that a map of Israel is included in the teaching of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

To be fair, Israel may not yet feature on Emirati maps, but Jewish life is increasingly part of public life in the UAE. Kosher restaurants are open for business, as is a Jewish cultural center. Large menorahs were lit in city squares to celebrate the Jewish feast of Hanukkah in December, and a government-funded synagogue is scheduled to open later this year.

Meanwhile, Arab Jews who once fled to Israel and the West are settling in the UAE, partly attracted by financial incentives.

Striking a mildly critical note, IMPACT-se research director Eldad J. Pardo suggested that Emirati students, who were well served by the curriculum’s “pursuit of peace and tolerance,” would benefit from courses that are “equally unrelenting” in providing “students with unbiased information in all fields.”

Mr. Pardo was referring to not only to China but also the curriculum’s endorsement of traditional gender roles even if it anticipates the integration of women into the economy and public life, and what the report described as an “unbalanced” depiction of the history of the Ottoman Empire.

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Middle East

Iraq: Three Years of Drastic Changes (2019-2022)

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When the wave of the protests broke out at the beginning of October 2019 in Iraq, the Iraqi politicians did not realize the size of the gap between the demands of the protesters which were accumulated more than seventeen years, and the isolation of the politicians from the needs of the people. The waves of the protests began in a small range of different areas in Iraq. Rapidly, it expanded as if it were a rolling snowball in many regions of Iraqi governorates. Moreover, the platforms of social media and the influencers had a great impact on unifying the people against the government and enhancing the protest movement.

Al Tarir Square was the region where most protesters and demonstrators were based there. At that time, they stayed all day in this region and set up their tents to protest and demonstrate against the public situation of their life.

The protesters demanded their looted rights and asked for making economic reforms, finding job opportunities, changing the authority, and toppling the government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. The protest stayed between ebb and tide, pressuring the political authority in Iraq.

A new period began in the history of Iraq where clashes between the protesters and the riot forces broke out in Al Tahrir Square and many governorates in the south of Iraq. Tear gas and ductile bullets were used against the protesters to compel them to retreat and disperse them. But the protesters insisted on continuing their demands. Many protesters were killed and wounded due to the intensive violence against them. The strong pressure with falling many martyrs gave its fruit when the Iraqi representatives of the Parliament endeavored to achieve the protesters’ demands by changing the election law into a new one. On 24 December 2019, the Iraqi Parliament approved of changing the unfair Saint Leigo election law into the open districts. The new law divided Iraq into 83 electoral districts.

Moreover, this violent protest led to the collapse of the Iraqi government presided by Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. He was compelled to resign by the end of 2019. Many political names were nominated by the Iraqi politicians but the protesters refused them all because they were connected with different political parties.

Finally, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, who worked in the Iraqi Intelligence Service and had no party, was nominated by the politicians to be the new Prime Minister. He was well-known for ambiguity and far from the lights of media.

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has become the Prime Minister in March 2020. The protests were over at the beginning of April 2020. With the taking of responsibility of helping Iraq, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi promised the protesters, who were called “Octoberians”, to hold a premature election, and the election was fixed on 10 June 2020.

Many politicians tried to postpone or cancel the premature election. Under their pressure, the premature election was postponed and fixed on 10 October 2020. During Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s period as a Prime Minister, he opened new channels with the Arab states to enhance the cooperation and held many summits to support Iraq in the next stage.

Attempts to postpone the premature election by the Iraqi politicians were on equal foot, but all these attempts failed and the election occurred on the due time.

Before the election, many Octoberians and influencers encouraged the people not to participate in the election. On the day of the election, it witnessed low participation, and people were convinced of not happening any change. These calls gave their fruits in the process of elections in Iraq where the election witnessed very low participation, and most Iraqis refused to participate and vote to the nominees even though there was a new election law. When the elections were over, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Iraq announced that the results would be within two days. After announcing the results of the election partially and defeating many political factions in the Iraqi arena, many convictions were directed to the commission, and it was convicted by fraud and manipulation with the results. This aspect affected the activity of the Commission and led to put great pressure on it. After two weeks of pressure and convictions, the final results of the elections were announced and many political elite Iraqi leaders were defeated gravely.

The results of the election gave a new start through new leaders who were supporting the October revolution that happened in 2019. And most names of these winning movements and alliances were inspired by the October Movement. Those, who represented October Revolution, were also convicted by other Octoberians that Octoberian winners in the election deviated from the aims of the October Revolution.

A new struggle has begun between the losers in the election and the new winners who will have the right to be in the next term of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Representatives. Moreover, many independent individuals won in the election, and the conflict would deepen the scope of dissidence between the losers and winners. Finally, all raised claims of election fraud have not changed the political situation.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.  The Shiite Sadrist movement, which represents 73 seats, has wiped out its competitors. This aspect has compelled the losing Shiite competitors to establish an alliance called “Coordination Framework” to face the Sadrist movement, represented by the cleric Sayyed Muqtada al-Sader. On the other hand, Al-Takadum Movement (Progress Party), represented by the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives, Mohamed Al-Halbousi, has taken the second rank with 37 seats.

The final results of the election had been announced, and the date of holding the first session of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives was fixed to nominate and elect the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament of Representatives.

Finally, the first session of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council was held. Mohamed Al-Halbousi has been elected as the spokesman of the Iraqi Council Parliament of Council. During the next fifteen days, the president of the republic will be elected.

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