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Focusing on menacing Middle East geopolitical environments

Dr. Muhammad Aslam Khan

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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

The rapport between Iran and Turkey over Syria: Liaisons or tussle?

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The two powers of Iran and Turkey constitute a crucial feature on the map of the Middle East. The influence of the dyadic interactions exceeds sometimes the meanings of any bilateral ties, transcending the political borders to impact the geographical proximity of surrounding states. However, more evident their influences upon the Arab Sphere were at the aftermath of what so-called the Arab Spring, particularly in Syria that became the most prominent playground for their regional competition became.

Syrian tragic conflict has, indeed, a multi-scalar interaction with different players, each of which is driven by complex and contradictory motivations. In the same vein, Turkey and Iran have several aims for intervening into Syria militarily. Nonetheless, the explicit objective for Turkey is to create a ‘buffer zone’; thus, it might drive out the Kurdish presence along its border with Syria and address the Syrian refugee issue there. On the other side, the strategic partner for Syria, Iran, is seeking to bolster Assad’s government, as it used to work as a safety valve for the regime in Damascus.

In order to prop up Bashar al Assad’s regime, Tehran developed close ties with Russia that changed the equation in Syria. But, Moscow founded the rapports with the strategical foes of Tehran; Saudi Arabia and Israel. Likewise, the “marriage of convenience” brought Turkey with Russia, which, subsequently, facilitates carving up northern Syria between them by Sochi agreement, in October 2019.

Although it worked on the opposite front to Turkey’s, nevertheless, Iran attempts always to maintain warm and unruffled relationships with it. Tehran has overtly been competing, just as it covertly cooperating with Ankara in Syria for managing the dynamic variables of the surrounding area. Subsequently, the unsatisfactory with Turkey’s presence in the torn-war Syria doesn’t mean by any means a full conflictual; neither means otherwise, a comprehensive cooperation and peace. After all, seems, Iran needs Turkey shortly both in Syria and beyond.

Upon the US withdrawal from the Kurdish-held zone of northern Syria the dispute between the two-peer regional powers, Iran and Turkey, has surfaced off considerably off. Tehran has continuously been preserving a secret connection with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units which backed by the US. It was gaining a margin of leverage by occasionally working as a covert conduit bridging the differences between the Kurdish movement and the al-Assad’s regime.

Nonetheless, Iran’s substantial concern was a repercussion which might spill over its Kurdish regions if Turkey fulfils its intent to fill the expected power vacuum in the north of Syria.Thus, it was not surprising, once Turkey uncovered its intention by interfering the north-eastern Syria militarily, Iran announced the military exercises under the slogan “one goal … one bullet” in the area barely 20 miles from the Turkish border. Its maneuver, however, implied two-edges; on the one hand, it was against any potential Kurdish movement in its territory.

On the other hand, it gesticulated an external dimensional message, mainly to Turkey. In parallel to this combatant stand, Iran attempted to show, at least rhetorically, its alignment with and understanding of, Turkey’s anxieties. As the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated in an amicable expression: “We are calling on our friendly and brotherly neighbor Turkey to act with more patience and restraint and to revise its decision and chosen path” of military invasion. Further, Tehran urged Ankara alternatively to work inline with the Adana agreement.

The Adana agreement of 1998 was signed between Turkey and Syria to address the border differences. The broker of the deal, along with the other Arab countries, was Iran, and the primary aim of the agreement was at expelling the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from Syria.

A complex of causes makes Iran avoid Turkey’s dissatisfaction. The latter was always supportive of the Iranian regime in challenging times. Turkey, whether during the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s or international sanctions that intensified on Tehran in 2012, opened its borders with Iran to allow the trade that reached Europe. Similarly and lately, it helped Tehran to circumvent the US suffocating sanctions to a large extent.

As well, Turkey attempted to exploit the tensions between Tehran and Riyadh after the attacks on Aramco’s oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia last September, by denying Tehran’s involvement in the attacks. In an interview with Fox News, Turkish President RecepTayyip Erdogan said: “I don’t think it would be the right thing to blame Iran.”A few days later, when the architect of Iranian expansion in the Middle East the Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani was assassinated, Erdogan offered condolences to him, though didn’t use ‘martyr’ to describe him.

Notwithstanding, the chapter of persuasive confrontation between Iran and Turkey manifested when the Syrian airstrike hit the Turkish-backed forces in Idlib province on 27 January 2020. That resulted in killing 33 Turkish combatants. While Russia accused the Turkish soldiers of being “operating alongside jihadist fighters” when they had been struck, conversely and simultaneously, Iran emphasized on deescalating and restraining the tension in Idlib. It, further, called for all parties resort to decisions that had been taken by the presidents of Astana Process.

Although the Iranian President and his Turkish counterpart conducted a discussion on the phone regarding the tension over Idlib province, Turkey carried on the retaliation by launching a dozen air and missiles attack against the Syrian troops. The offence begot causalities of the Syrian military as well as several deaths of Iranian-backed forces in the northwest of Syria. As per the official Iranian media reported eight fighters of Hezbollah, and at least 21 militants affiliated with Fatemiyoun and Zaibayoun brigades were among the deaths.

Concurrently, Ankara opened the borders for the influx of the Syrian refugees to head for Europe. By so doing, it attempted to force its allies of the NATO states to pressurize Russia in order to alter its policy in Syria. Again and as always, Russian condemned the Turkish raids, but, its pragmatic rapprochements with Turkey outweigh the differences. Therefore, it is no wondering to see Russian assistance to Damascus minimized notably. Further, a deal will be reached to reduce the tension in Idlib when the Turkish President met his Russian counterpart in Moscow on March 2020.

On the other side, Iran and its affiliates warned Turkey by referring that its troops were within their “fire range”. Tehran, however, tried to shun from escalating the situation, and instead, it was accusing the US of getting Ankara into Syrian trap. Meanwhile, it was calling Ankara for holding a new summit for Iran, Russia, and Turkey within the Astana summit framework.

By devoting immense political and financial potentialities to safeguard the Ba’ath regime, Iran was not ready to cede its clout there. So convinced too, it prefers a political triumph over martial achievements. Perhaps, for that reason, it worked to boost connections with the major players in Syria, including Turkey. However, Iran shares Turkey several issues not merely in Syrian circle, but expand to the regional level sometimes. In addition to their shared economic and commercial benefits, they both have a fear of Kurdish ambitions to establish of own state, as they both stood firmly with the government of Baghdad against the Kurdish referendum in the north of Iraq in 2017. Second: Although, Turkey’s differences with Washington are mostly temporary; it meets with Iran in several issues that troubled their relations with the US.And thirdly: They were mutually pro-Qatar stand against Saudi and its allies. Qatar’s flights switched to the “Iranian airspace and Turkey upped the ante on its military presence in the country as a sign of strength and commitment”.

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Middle East

Teething Troubles for Pakistan in Mediating the Saudi-Iran Tension

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Imran Khan’s visit to America, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia carries much importance concerning the unity of the Muslim community and solution of their long-standing differences and enmities particularly Saudi-Iran Tension. Moreover, these visits are not only very significant for the relations of Tehran and Jeddah but also for Pakistan, being one of the neighbors of Iran. As for as the visit of PM Imran Khan to China is concerned, Beijing, being a rising power and an economic giant, could play a very effective and decisive role in normalizing the relations between Iran and Saudi along with Pakistan because of its economic interests. Islamabad has been experiencing many changes in the national, regional and global dynamics. In this regard, Pakistan wants to balance its side by engaging with China and tries to mediate between Iran and Saudi to end the long-standing conflict between both the Muslim nations.

However, it is not easy to lessen the tensions between both the rival nations as perceived by a large portion of societies because America never allows this to happen smoothly while it will try vigorously to counter this activity because of its long-standing problems with Iran. Particularly looking over the policies and actions of the United States against Iran such as when the whole world is suffering from a fatal disease known as COVID-19/Corona Virus, America imposed more sanctions on Iran which is against humanity. Besides, the killing of Iran’s top bras general QasimSulemani in an attack by the US and the scrapping nuclear deal with Iran are condemnable acts. There can be many reasons for opposition from the United States for instance, it never wants China to engage with various nations throughout the globe mainly Iran. Because it creates the environment of friendship and engagement for China with other nations which pose threat and fear for the dominant position of Washington.

Moreover, America considers Iran as one of the staunch opposite nations of the world therefore the conflict between the US and Iran has been continued for very long. In this regard, America has imposed numerous sanctions upon Iran which creates more hardships for Tehran to smoothly run its affairs. While Iran considers it the violation of international and humanitarian laws that should not be bearable for any well-educated, sophisticated and sincere nation of the world. According to Iran, the US has been practicing inhuman and illegal policies throughout the world, especially the Muslim World. In this regard, Iran in the UN General Assembly strongly condemned the policies and actions by Washington in which Iran is on top of the list. On the other side, Saudi Arabia is one of the closest and reliable allies of America because of its economic interests.

Rationally looking over the US-Saudi bond, Washington keeps much influence concerning the economic, political and financial policies of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this regard, attacks on the oil fields of Saudi Arabia created insecurity for it therefore Saudi King called MBS requested more American forces to protect the security of his country. There are multiple perspectives regarding the control, influence and creating the warlike environment in the oil-rich Muslim nations of the Middle East. For instance, it is considered by a huge portion of the population within the Muslim world that these all issues and conflicts which have generated the deaths, destruction, fear, and insecurity all over the region are created by America to gain its interests mainly economic benefits.

This is the reason for which America intervenes within these countries rich in natural resources in the pretext of saving humanity and the US being a savior of human rights violations all over the world. While within the Western nations it is considered that terrorism and other multiple kinds of evils are generating from this region because of the undemocratic structure of these states. In this regard, the US should intervene to eliminate all evils from the region for protecting the peace and progress of the world. Therefore, Pakistan can play a very significant role through normalizing Saudi-Iran relations though it is very difficult because of sectarian division between both nations. Recent condemnation and opposition by PM Imran Khan about the new sanctions on Iran by the US is a good and positive sign. Besides, it is also considered by a huge population within the Muslim world that they are under the serious threat of Western Powers beneath different agendas so Pakistan being the only nuclear power state within the Muslim countries should seriously take the issue towards a peaceful solution. Though it is also in the interest of Islamabad because in case the spiraling tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are not solved and turn into the escalation of the conflict, Pakistan because of Iran’s neighbor will face direct impact which could be sectarian violence and increasing oil prices.

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Middle East

Ten years on Syria is still deep in wars

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Having barely risen from the menacing impact of Bashar al Assad’s poor economic policies during the drought from 2007 to 2010, that brought more poverty, unemployment and social distress, a spiral of conflict, in 201, took Syria from one warring episode to another. Ten years on, with most of the country in the rubble, there was little respite even in the news in 2018 that the US would reduce its footprints in Syria.

The nature of the beast is now more local than foreign.

It began when exercising their democratic rights, the disgruntled Syrians took to the street, in 2011, to demand economic and political reforms. They also wanted freedom of expression, in the political sphere. This movement to democracy was one of the many strains Syria had attracted from the Arab-spring that had erupted in the neighboring countries. 

Not used to disagreements, the Syrian government, headed by the Assads for the last four decades then, responded angrily. On March 18, 2011, the Syrian Army opened fire on the demonstrator killing four people with many more arrested.  Shocked by the treatment of the government, more people came out on streets in different parts of the country. Instead of repositioning its responses, the administration used more force to control the damage. In retaliation, a group of defected soldiers and army officers formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to protect the protesting civilians.  The group would in no time become powerful on the back of other anti-government forces. No sooner Syria descended into a full-blown civil war. 

A war that began between Syrians and their government escalated into varying wars each with its own protagonist and agenda. Supported by its Sunni allies in the Middle East, the US demanded regime change.  Taking a leaf from Iraq where the end of Saddam Hussain’s government had brought more misery than relief, Iran and Russia defied the US demand and thwarted it militarily. With this outside involvement, the war is no longer Syrian. It has become regional and even international, with an overtone of sectarian crisis. 

Today, Syria is battling three wars: Coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); violence between the Syrian government and opposition forces, and military operations against Syrian Kurds by Turkish forces.   

The US-led regime-change wars have wrought havoc with the Middle East.  Each regime change from Iraq to Libya to Syria was masked as a rescue operation to liberate people from the humanitarian crises unleashed by the bloodthirsty dictators. Not that it was the first of its kind of crises the US had perpetrated. A long list of countries stands witness to the interventionist policies of the US that would always bring more suffering then relief.

With the end of the cold war and democracy becoming the only ideology that promised salvation from all kinds of bounds and fetters, scholars started seeing the world come of its age. What other bigger event could unfold—Europe was unified and its eastern part had come out of the Russian shadow, the Central Asian states were free to form the Bolshevik yoke, colonialism had almost tapered off, proliferation of nuclear weapon had been controlled through various treaties, and with the rise of Asia the world was heading towards a more equitable survival.  

This, however, proved a ‘purpose-built façade’ with little tenacity to hold itself out for too long. The slide was rather quick. Just as the communist propelled the social system was being defeated, a new disintegrative system—terrorism—was pushed through the US military establishment to justify interventions for regime change.

This enemy on the gate was there for a long haul.  It would no more be a straightforward rivalry. An enemy in one war theatre would be a friend in another. If in Afghanistan Al Qaeda was a threat to homeland security, it joined hands with the same militant organization in Syria.  Lent to multiplication and manipulation the Jihadi proxies would later consolidate into a broader percept—the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Contrary to its overriding mission of reincarnating Caliphate, the ISIS instead obliterated Iraq and Syria—the two iconic cultural sites of Islamic heritage.  Today the ISIS has its fangs spread to every country, but not without casting a negative effect on the west, though. Bred on the anti-Muslim hysteria a significant number of voters in Europe have grown against the Muslim migrants. In reaction, they voted to power the ultranationalist parties to cleanse Europe of the outsiders. Trump and Brexit owe their success to the Islamophobia industry that grew dramatically after the 9/11 attack.

The Syrian war unfolded some of the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. The United Nations had put the Syrian death toll to 400,000 in 2016. As the war becomes more complex, diffused and with no sign of abatement, international monitoring groups, even the UN have stopped counting causalities. Saying: “it is virtually impossible to verify how many died.”

According to the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees, over 5.6 million Syrian have registered as refugees. The majority of these refugees moved into neighboring countries. Not only did these migrating people brought an economic burden to the host countries, but they also opened a new ethnic fault- lines concerning Kurds. Soon doors were being closed down on the migrating refugees, with European countries appearing cruelest. It was not until the pictures of drowning children in the Mediterranean Sea, and refugees living in dilapidated conditions in makeshift camps on borders hit the social media, picking on the European conscience, did the European leadership start showing its moral side.  

Everything has changed in Syria in these ten years, except its political structure.  Ten years is a long period for the civil war of such ferocity triggering a huge transformation. The World Bank has assessed the damage to be at $200bn, while according to the United Nation Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, in order to restore Syria to its 2010 condition, almost $ 400 bn would be needed.

The question is: has the Syrian government started wrapping its head around the reconstructing options, that includes finding investors to foot the bills, or will Syria become another Afghanistan for proxy war among regional and global powers.

From our partner Tehran Times

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