Saturday November 27, 2021

An indefinite stay

January 23, 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent announcement that America will maintain an indefinite military presence in Syria has alarmed the country’s friends and foes.

Tillerson has cited a range of policy goals that go far beyond emphasising the defeat of the IS as the condition under which the US troops can withdraw from Syria. He has listed vanquishing Al-Qaeda; ousting Iran; and securing a peace settlement that excludes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the goals of the continued presence of the 2,000 American troops who are currently deployed in a Kurdish-controlled corner of northeastern Syria.

It is clear that these goals cannot be achieved in decades, let alone years. This means that the sole superpower is likely to remain in the country forever. Russia, China, Iran and Turkey are sceptical of America’s presence. If the history of the deployment of American troops is anything to go by, we can conclude that they never leave a country until they are thrown out or pressured to opt out by public opinion in the US.

The US is adroit at creating conditions through which it can justify its military presence. During the cold war, the bogey of communism was employed to intervene in various parts of the world. Interestingly, a large number of governments that were toppled during this period did not claim to be socialist in nature – except the government of Salvador Allende, which was overthrown in 1973.

The elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran was not a proletarian dictatorship that was bent on annihilating the capitalist system. Nevertheless, it was sent packing through a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953. Similarly, the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala had no aspirations to initiate any form of revolution. However, its plans to rein in large American companies did not go down well with Washington. Arbenz was taught a tough lesson when a military junta was imposed in his country in 1954 – once again with the help of the CIA, the vanguard of American democracy.

In addition, popular leaders like Sukarno of Indonesia, Z A Bhutto of Pakistan and Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo were also taught bitter lessons. Dictatorial regimes in South Korea, Brazil, Haiti, Dominican Republic and a number of other states were backed by the democratic and free world to ward off the danger of a red revolution. The democratic world did not stop there. It also openly propped up the autocracies of the Arab world – that too in the name of democracy and the free market.

If the communists took over one part of a country, the Americans occupied the other part to save it from the former’s ideology. When North Korea fell into the hands of the communists, the US occupied South Korea. The presence of red troops in the region that was formerly known as East Germany prompted Washington to perpetuate its presence in the western part of the country. Today, the US has more than 700 military bases in over 150 states and most of its troops have been deployed for decades.

After the demise of the USSR, the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism was used as an excuse by the US to intervene in various parts of the world. Al-Qaeda’s attacks on American interests in various parts of Africa and the Arab world and the destruction of the Twin Towers provided Washington with a pretext to orchestrate the invasion of Muslim states.

The global terror outfit carried out the 9/11 attacks to drag America into the Afghan imbroglio. Their aim was to bleed the US in the same way that Vietcong did. But their plan boomeranged on them. The invasion of Afghanistan, in fact, opened new avenues for Washington that not only destroyed the country but also reduced Iraq to ashes.

In their struggle against the West, the fundamentalists inadvertently brought benefits to Washington and its Western allies. They stirred chaos in Libya, Syria, Somalia and Sudan by picking up arms. However, they ended managed to strengthen the position of the West by weakening or dislodging anti-American rulers. Now, the Western footprints can be noticed across the Muslim world in different forms. This might help them exploit more than 50 percent of the world’s natural resources, which lie in Muslim countries.

America’s intention to stay in Syria should awaken countries like Turkey that are partly responsible for sowing the seeds of chaos and anarchy in Syria. Now, Ankara is concerned that Washington has thrown its weight behind the Kurdish militants who pose a major threat to Turkey’s security. The Turkish leadership has committed another blunder by fomenting religious sentiments among its people. This could have long-term effects on the social fabric of Turkish society, which has perhaps been the only secular country in the Muslim world that is not divided along sectarian lines like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and several states across the Arab world.

Kabul and Islamabad should also be wary of the indefinite deployment of American troops because if the US fails to subdue a country, it prefers to carve out a territory of influence within the border of that country – just as it seems to be doing in Syria. Tillerson’s earlier warnings to Islamabad of should be taken seriously. If Pakistan and Afghanistan do not resolve their differences, Washington and its Western allies will reap the benefit. The restoration of peace in the war-torn country will leave the US with no excuse to prolong its stay.

However, not all blame for such interventions should be placed on the US and its Western allies. For instance, why has the Assad dynasty been clinging to power for decades? Why did the Syrian ruling elite not carry out democratic reforms? Why did the eccentric Colonel Qaddafi not allow anyone else to rule the country? If he was so confident about his popularity, why did he not hold polls to substantiate his claims of popularity? Why didn’t both leaders engage the dissidents and opposition leaders who ended up helping the Western interventionists?

Pakistan is beset by threats. It is time for Islamabad and the powers that be to understand that disgruntled elements in the country could end up inadvertently benefitting foreign powers in the future. The state must also find a way to put an end to the phenomenon of enforced disappearances since that can be exploited to defame us globally.

If Baloch nationalists claim that their province is the poorest in Pakistan with the highest rate of child mortality, this is not something that cannot be tided over. If they complain that only a paltry $600 million is being spent on Balochistan out of the CPEC projects that are worth $56 billion, there is no harm in verifying their claims and addressing them.

The writer is a freelance journalist.