Questions to Kim Sengupta

Yesterday Kim Sengupta, defence correspondent for The Independent, recently returned from Aleppo, answered questions from the online community. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay to view the whole discourse but my question was answered:

Q. What reaction was there from fighters regarding Kofi Annan’s resignation, the role played by the UN and the £5 million in British non-lethal aid? – John, Brighton

A.The fighters regarded the Annan plan as dead in the water a long time ago. They do not appear to have much faith on the UN and, increasingly, any peace plan; the feeling is that the military option is the only one left unless President Assad and his circle leave Syria. There was some curiosity about the British aid with questions about how exactly the money would be disseminated and spent.

This was followed by a good question from Wael.

Do you think providing the opposition with more developed weapons can help end this crisis faster? How do you evaluate the public support of the SFA inside Syria? Can you see any prospect for a solution? – Wael

A. It is undoubtedly the case that the rebels need heavier weapons facing what they do from the regime. In particular they are in need of anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank weapons. Part of the problem about arming them, I gather from people who are supplying the arms, is that the rebels have, so far, failed to form cohesive bodies through whom distribution can take place, Instead individual khatibas (battalions) send their own shopping lists. Any solution must start with a proper cease-fire which can be monitored. I am afraid that on the ground the chances of that seem further away than ever.

It’s all well and good sending non-lethal aid. But against a regime with heavy weaponry, including tanks, gunships and fighter jets, this aid may soon end up in the hands of Assad’s supporters. What the Free Syrian Army (FSA) really needs is weaponry. This view was expressed by a Syrian doctor – a doctor of all people – in an article by Kim Sengupta.

“We need weapons, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, anything we can get hold of.”

Fears of escalating the conflict are well founded but from which angle? Iran and Russia will lose an ally in the region if Assad is overthrown while groups like Hezbollah can only gain from the turmoil. Meanwhile the West speaks of the appalling atrocities of the Assad regime but fails to act decisively.  Whatever the outcome Syria, and the Middle-East, will remain unstable.

The situation in Syria has spread to neighbouring countries. From the kidnapping  of Iranian ‘pilgrims’ and differing sects from Lebanon, to refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Yet today the UN will meet to discuss whether to establish a new civilian office to end the conflict.

As Mr Sengupta said, the fighters viewed the peace plan dead a long time ago. Both sides believe they can win militarily yet one is under equipped to remain in the struggle for much longer.

Where there is a will there is a way. But a lack of political will means the conflict can only end one way; further violence and the uncertainty that follows.


Annan resigns over UN failure to intervene while Jihadists act

Kofi Annan’s resignation proves the United Nations cannot resolve the Syrian crisis diplomatically and its role must change.

Kofi Annan had a tough job. Trying to enforce a peace plan with a lack of observers against a regime hell-bent on cracking down on its opposition. And all this against the backdrop of indecision within his own organisation.

In an article in the Financial Times Annan said: “The international community has seemed strikingly powerless in its attempts to influence the brutal course of events – but this is by no means inevitable.”

The truth is the International Community has begun to act. But this isn’t a reference to Barrack Obama signing a supposedly ‘covert’ order authorising US agencies to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or Saudi Arabia providing cash. It’s relation is to al-Qaeda and other Jihadists taking action.

Al-Qaeda and other groups have not been dormant since bin Laden’s death.  A new foothold has been established in northern Mali. Historic buildings have been desecrated and an unmarried couple have been stoned to death for committing adultery.

Both the FSA and the Jihadists want Assad to be removed; but both seek a different future for Syria. This clash of ideologies will determine the future of the region- even if the proxy war develops.

There are arguments that the violence brought by a UN intervention would lead to an unstable transitional period followed by sectarian violence. It is more than likely this will occur anyway, the issue is who will combat it?

The Assad regime is witnessing it’s final days – if the word of analysts is to be believed. Even if the regime remains intact, the violence will continue. It will have to suppress any dissidents as well as a new wave of Jihadists. If the FSA take control further clashes will result except the remnants of the army and an exhausted FSA may have to combat a new insurgency.

In his FT article, Annan closes with: “Is ours an international community that will act in defence of the most vulnerable of our world, and make the necessary sacrifices to help?”

The UN was created to prevent great power conflict. Much like national militaries must assess the changing strategic landscape, the UN must adapt to civil wars and popular uprisings.

As the battle for Aleppo, and the future of Syria and the Middle East as a whole rages on, the UN must realise its failure to decisively intervene will lead to clashes it cannot hope to control.

Syrian military uses heavy weaponry in village of Trenseh

Syrian troops have killed at least 200 people in an attack on the village of Tremseh.

Russian Mi-24 Hind Helicopters

The number of dead is yet to be confirmed, due to the restrictions imposed on journalists by the regime.

However, the UN has confirmed that tanks, heavy artillery and attack helicopters were used in the attack, which has bought further  condemnation of the al-Assad regime from the US, UK and France.

Ban Ki Moon,  UN Secretary General, said the acts of violence: ” Cast serious doubts on President al-Assad’s recent expression of commitment to the six-point plan.”

Later in his statement, the Secretary General called on member states to take collective and decisive action, saying: “Inaction becomes a license for further massacres.”

As I’ve previously discussed; this action must take the form of military intervention as it is the only thing the Syrian regime seems to understand.

This leads to my second point; the Syrian regime continues to say armed terrorists are responsible for the violent killings. Is this the legacy of the War on Terror?

Will oppressive regimes label acts of violence against systematic state oppression as terrorism – a concept that hasn’t been clearly defined – in an attempt to justify their actions?

As the International Community continues to debate on the best course of action, the violence continues.

Recent intelligence suggests the Syrian military has moved chemical weapons, including cyanide and sarin, to the Homs region.

The fear now is how these assets will be used.

The regime could use the gas as a deterrent against any planned intervention as a counter-value target. In other words, if you intervene we’ll gas Homs.

If any action is to be taken; it must be taken swiftly and it must be taken now.

Turkey Summons NATO

Turkey Summons NATO

I had a try at using Storify the other day. For some reason I can’t seem to link wordpress with the original so I’m embedding a link instead


Syria and the U.N.-successful Response

The Syrian Situation has gone on long enough.

Attacks in the Houla area last weekend resulted in the deaths of 32 children and over 60 adults.

The deaths are the latest in a campaign that has been waged since the unrest began 15 months ago and has been met with widespread condemnation by the international community.

With pressure increasing against President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime to face justice this begs the question as to when should the U.N. intervene in the affairs of another sovereign state?

Article 2.7 of the U.N. Charter states that:  “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

But when the institutions of a state are turned upon its own citizens then a serious breach of sovereignty has occurred.

Articles 2.4/7 are later contravened by Article 42 which states: “It [the Security Council] may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

This statement may prove more potent than first thought. It was used to justify the intervention against Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990 and against Serbia in the mid-90’s.

It becomes more relevant as sectarian violence is showing signs of escalating in Lebanon.

Alawites, a Shia sect of Islam that supports Assad, have clashed with Sunni’s who support the Free Syrian Army.

The Middle East is volatile enough without further sectarian violence spilling onto the streets of Lebanon.

It is clear that further intervention must be imposed but what form should the intervention take?

The main penalty which the U.N. seems to dispense like paper towels are economic sanctions.

Recent reports from Syria’s oil minister estimate that economic sanctions have cost the Country $4 billion and have led to a shortage of  fuel, sugar and other essentials.

This underlines the problem. Sanctions against a dictatorship do not work.

Economic penalties hurt the people rather the regime as they can still afford luxuries through extortion and privilege. The only thing a dictatorship understands is the use of force and the impact that force can have on its power.

This leaves the issue of military intervention but this is stacked high with difficulty.

First is the question of Russia. The former Soviet Union has close military links with Syria. It supplies the regime with arms and trains military personnel in exchange for a naval base in Tartus.

By removing the Assad regime from power, the U.N. may risk diplomatic escalation as a new government may not take kindly to the fact that Moscow had been supplying its oppressors with military aid.

Russia may, therefore, lose the benefits of its Syrian agreement. Even U.N. Peace Keepers seizing weapons may prove as a tipping point in international relations.

The second problem is who would intervene?

Any intervention by Western powers may be met with further suspicion from the Islamic world as part of the ongoing ‘War on Terror’ and attempts by the West to weaken Islamic regimes through the establishment of democracy.

Daft as this may seem, it is is real issue and must be addressed by the U.N.

The best answer to this issue is to get Arab and African League nations to provide troops to protect civilians. But as events in Libya showed, these institutions lack the political will and military expertise to contribute a decisive military element.

This would most likely result in Western Air power providing the bulk of the force perhaps implementing designated ‘safe zones’

But with economic matters taking priority and a lack of political willpower to intervene, the fate of more Syrian civilians hangs precariously with the Syrian Army.

Many in the West have become wary of the prospects of military intervention but how many more events such as Houla must occur to grab the worlds attention?

Addressing the Gulf: Saudi Arabia and the Olympics

Saudi Arabia will be the only nation in the London 2012 Olympic games to not feature female participants.

The Gulf state has refused to send any female athletes to the games in accordance with it’s domestic policy regarding women and sport.

Speaking at a news conference on 4th April Prince Nawwaf al-Faisal, the Saudi sports minister and head of the Saudi National Olympic Committee, said: “At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics.”

The decision goes against the fourth fundamental principle of the Olympic Charter which states that: “The practice of sport is a human right.”

The charter also says that: “Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind.”

This is further compounded by principle six which says: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race,religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic

Saudi policy towards women in sport begins at an early age with girls being banned from taking part in physical education at school.

The state also bans women from accessing sports facilities and does not hold any competitions for women to qualify for national teams and international competitions.

Discrimination is further substantiated by a lack of sports clubs for women compared to the 153 government supported ones for men.

At the Beijing Olympics in 2008 Saudi Arabia was joined by Brunei and Qatar as countries with all male teams.

Saudi Arabia did send a a female athlete to the Inaugural Summer Youth Olympics in 2010.

Dalma Rushdi Malhas won a bronze medal after she competed in the equestrian individual jumping event. The medal was the only one picked up by Saudi Arabia during the games.

With less than 70 days until the 2012 opening ceremony, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director for Human Rights Watch, said: “The clock is running out for Saudi women to join the Games.”

Bahrain: a Moral Pit Stop?

Cartoon by Latuff

In an almost surreal bit of advertising, petrol bombs came to symbolise Bahrain in the build up to the Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Government crackdowns still continue 14 months after the so called ‘Arab Spring’ began. Spreading from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya, Syria and . . . . Bradford?

Meanwhile, back in Bahrain, Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince issued this statement:

“We are not trying to say we are perfect — we are a real country with real issues,” he said. “I genuinely believe this race is a force for good. It unites many people from many different religious backgrounds, sects and ethnicities, under the roof of Formula One.”

A good comment from his highness. Until you except that Formula 1 is primarily built onrich, European men.  It would have been nice to see people in Bahrain, and other areas of the Middle East, stop protesting about their rights and go home to have a cup of tea and biscuit under the uniting roof of sport but, strangely enough, this did not happen.

When asked whether the race should be cancelled he said: “Cancelling the race just empowers extremists.”

This coming from an unelected official who’s police forces have brutally beaten protesters that want nothing more than better representation.

Some might say that the primary concern is money. The cancellation of last years race is estimated to have cost Bahrain £250m in tourism revenue alone. But Formula 1 was allowed to keep the £25m that the country paid to host the event.

As it happens, no incidents directly effected the race itself. But F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone said that there was “no such thing as bad publicity.” 

Fair enough Bernie, next time someone wants to raise money for charity they should go and beat up some women to draw people’s attention.

Dark humour aside, we must enlighten our minds as to whether or not Formula 1 made the right decision.

The fact that the controversy surrounding the race elevated the unrest in Bahrain back into the public eye must be acknowledged. Alas, this was merely a moral pit stop. Except in this instance, nothing has been changed.