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Middle East Update, and gossips about our Neighbour - Arindam Mukherjee

MIDDLE EAST

I remember writing this back in 2017 – “But don’t assume that the Kurds are a monolithic block. The KRG party… is not very friendly with the PUK… Then, the Kurds, need to import a whole lot of things from Iran and Turkey. 95% of their agricultural produce comes from Turkey and Iran. Forget for the time the oil barrels are distributed by Ankara, if the import stops, they starve… All in all, despite a good referendum and all, the Kurds don’t seem to hold many aces. And that is the root of concern here.”

That root remains. You can’t pretend reality away. The guys carving up the region didn’t think of them then; I don’t see anything’s changed much from those times.  

Kurds straddle the conjunction of four nations – Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Technically, this is a geostrategic nuke that no one would want to detonate for time-pass. So – referendum, sympathy, aggression or whatever – they are destined to remain the way they are, till a) they integrate with the host nations, b)those four nations go bankrupt at the same time, implode on their own and give the Kurds that one in a million window, or c) someone has a damn intelligent and damn devilish balkanization plan that has some sound financial backing. [Remember: this is not breaking up a Pakistan or a Yugoslavia; this is nibbling away from four nations at the same time to create a fifth. And that too might not end on a happily ever after note. With their own set of internal divisions, the Kurds – if EVER there is an independent Kurd nation – have a high-chance of ending up living like the Pakhtun warlords.]

And so, as of 2019-end, Sultan has started bombing NE Syria. He has also been threatening Cyprus and Greece – a friend living there updates us regularly. Perhaps the Sultan is impatient to try out grand-ma’s homemade O-Caliphate Fudge recipe. We know the deal; that has been done to death. Let us imagine the fallouts.

We have heard that Scrooge has greenlit Sultan’s plan by initiating his force withdrawal. And the first parallel that comes to mind is Uncle nudging Iraq to attack Kuwait once upon a time through April Glaspie, and then descending on Saddam like a sack of bricks. Though, I don’t think there is a possibility that that could repeat itself – Uncle isn’t what he used to be – but as I said, the mind wanders here and there. Friedman wrote long ago in a book whose name I don’t quite remember that Turkey would be the MAIN THREAT across Atlantic, for Uncle in the 21st century. And you know how priapic the establishment guys are about those think-tankers who follow the Kissinger-ZBig path.

And if Trump loses 2020... well, whadya know, it could well be Uncle’s chance to resume ‘salvaging’ the rest of the world.     

There is one consideration here. This kind of an aggression could also try to cover the fact that Sultan himself isn’t in a great shape. He has a screwed-up election to look back at. Apparently, his subjects don’t love him anymore. He projected himself as, well – The Sultan – and thus it became his burden if/when the sultanate’s economy tanked. That has. Another miscalculation: Syria didn’t balkanize – no territory came his way.

So? No land, no money, and no love of his people. He is now left to threatening the EU with immigrants, Cyprus and Greece with guns and planes, and Syria with a war. To me this looks an incredibly acute angle that would take a Houdini to slip through without a scratch.  

Might be advantageous for Syria though. In the immediate future, this aggression could well provide that push that led to a quick consolidation of the Kurds under Bashar must-go Assad. This process could be complex; there are variables that need serious consideration, and assuming they proceed through to both parties’ satisfaction, then that might mean Syria gets to the front hiding the Kurds where Turkey’s border ambitions are concerned thus effectively stalling Sultan’s plans, and Kurds step in wherever required for reconsolidation of Syrian political lines in a quid pro quo (and handle the ISIS too). And that would be interesting to watch.   

WHO GAINS?

Precisely the spot where things look a lot exciting for Russia. We all know that Russia has been quite reluctant to define the lines of engagement between guys like Iran, Turkey, Syria etc during this whole time, preferring a selective focus (which DID lend advantage to a certain degree, no doubts). Worked well from 2015 thru 2019. But now, with Uncle moving out, you are suddenly left with no bully/idiot to put all the blame on and pretend ambiguity. Let’s see if that works from here on, or, with altered facts on the ground in the shape of a Turkish incursion finally comes a time when that constructed vagueness goes out of the window.

Kurds don’t matter. Like Houthis, or many other tribes and ethnicities across Middle East, they never did. Middle East has always been considered as a butting ground of two monoliths – Shia and Sunnis – by blockheads in Uncleistan, and that’s how the perception largely remains even today. [Those that have considered ethnic nuances and sentiments, have emerged winners. Ask Putin and Kadyrov.]

So, Uncle – the unreliable ally – moves out for now, and in that resultant vacuum Putin might find an opportunity to propel his image to the next level. Kurds need a plan right where they stand. Israel needs one in Golan Heights. KSA, tangled between Houthis and Iran needs a plan. Syria needs a plan for Idlib. Iran needs one too. If Scrooge says he ain’t gonna fight Middle East wars, these guys need someone to fight… or help them disengage and initiate a recess. And if Putin is who/what he makes us think he is, then he should be smacking his lips in anticipation. Keep a watch.  

 

OUR NEIGHBOUR

Now a little bit about our neighbour: Pakistan. Despite events surrounding it being kinda overwhelming, Pakistan is playing a reasonably good innings, and that makes the average onlooker more excited in anticipation about the fall of wickets. IK’s acknowledgement for example, of Pakistan’s role as the HR Manager of the Mujahideens during the Afghan Fiasco, that was partially reported by the glorious Indian media has actually enabled him to collect brownie points in Uncleistan. Naturally, Pindi is OK with whatever he’s had to say. The devil in the details. He has put the blame squarely on Uncle. Apparently, it was due to Uncle’s absolute Soviet fetish that poor Pakistan had to do all the dirty work and pay a steep price for it eventually. Not bad, eh?

That was just one part of the recent IK ‘sympathy tour’. He (read, his backers) is/are quite active trying to muster whatever support that they can from Uncleistan; and that has perhaps got more to do with FATF than Kashmir. More on that later.

Then, when it comes to Iran and KSA and tricky water between the two, Pindi was batting extremely cautiously, and was doing a commendable job, till KSA started warming up to India. The key to their collaboration was Pindi’s continuous avoidance in getting dragged into regional instability directly. Again, devil in details: Pindi is committed to KSA’s vision of REGIONAL PEACE, and not their vision of REGIONAL AMBITIONS. Technically. Riyadh never forced Pindi in matters directly pertaining to Iran thus. It was an okay relation. But, an opportunity soon presented itself, and Riyadh – respecting Pindi’s commitment or whatever, quickly zeroed down on India and Israel (as prospective allies) following Uncle Scrooge’s flipflops on Iran and Afghanistan. Now that has made Pindi hastily change its stance. They have offered to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran – perhaps to keep India out of the game, or perhaps in a genuine effort to establish stability in the Gulf. We have to see how that affects the strike rate.

The abrupt halting of the Afghan Peace Process has been a loss of wicket. There is the long-term aspect of Pindi losing some credibility with the Taliban; but that is not much of a concern here and now, because of two reasons. One, Pindi is quite good in making amends with a specific set of people; the more radical the better. And two, whether the Taliban deserves that kind of importance when one considered the more immediate issue is a question that remains. Which brings us to FATF. The noises made during IK’s sympathy tour, then, asking for Uncle’s permission to allow Hafeez Syed access his account etc are actually Pindi counting on Uncle’s good word as far as the FATF is concerned. ‘Good word’ was why they had gone all-out with the Afghan Deal. Which failed (and there is an urgent need to revive that). But the show meanwhile has to go on; recommendation has to make its way somehow. The FATF meeting is just around the corner. If the results are not good, then there will be financial trouble; you all know about the economic issues there. [Oh, there is an interesting albeit small issue of JUI-F – a madrassa-based political party in Pakistan, that is planning to storm the streets demanding a resignation of IK, in November. They think that the govt is going soft on Israel and Kashmir. Though this is almost nothing in its scope in anyway – mobs like these have proven their worth in the long run, a lot of time in history.]

Enjoy the weekend.

 

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