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Call the IS bluff now

French Police officers stand on guard near the church of Sacre Coeur, on top of the Montmartre hill, in Paris on Wednesday.  

In the wake of the Paris attacks, it is significant that world leaders, most specifically the leaders of the U.S. and Europe are meeting twice this month to discuss a global strategy to fight Islamic State (IS) — once in Turkey for the G-20, and in France for the COP21 climate change conference. It is significant as France and Turkey are the two countries that have most recently faced the brunt of IS’ new offensive outside of Syria and Iraq.

In October this year, twin bombings near the Ankara train station killed about 100 people and then 129 died in the multiple shootings and suicide bombings on 13th November in Paris. But there is another link between the two countries, and that is their support to Anti-Assad rebel groups in Syria.

For the past four years, it is France’s moral and technical support and Turkey’s physical support, opening its borders for fighters to cross over, channelling arms and funds that have been most crucial to these groups. In 2011, President François Hollande was at the forefront of a possible intervention in Syria, and was readying his jets for an attack on Damascus and Syrian forces, when a vote in the U.K. parliament, and U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to approach his Congress, forced him to pull back.

President (then Prime Minister) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made it clear Turkey would help in any way to bring down the Assad regime and it practically facilitated thousands of fighters who came from all over Europe and West Asia to stream into Syria.

While neither accepted the fact openly, there is no doubt that it is those actions that most weakened the Assad forces, and more importantly strengthened the hand of IS. Coupled with the IS gains in Iraq where the U.S. itself admits its disbanding of the Iraqi army in 2003 was a major factor. These fighters were boosted by the overthrow and then killing of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya by Islamist rebels, who received support from NATO strikes, and later moved from Libya to Syria in large numbers to join IS forces.

But despite the gains IS has made, establishing its own quasi-government in Raqqa, amassing land and oil installations in both Syria and Iraq, and carrying out the most brutal pogrom on non-Sunnis everywhere, the target for the U.S. and Europe has remained fixed on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Even when it emerged that IS was engaged in institutionalised rape of Yezidi girls and establishing a massive slavery market, as IS showed video after video of how it killed its hostages, burning a Jordanian pilot alive, drowning others in cages, beheading many on camera, these countries maintained that Assad was the biggest threat, and that they could only truly fight IS once his regime was gone. But that was then, and this is now.

It is significant that in the wake of the attacks on their civilians, France and Turkey are the two countries that are making the biggest shift in their positions. Over the past month, the Turkish Parliament has authorised Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu for strikes on IS territory, including sending ground forces if necessary, while within days of the Paris attacks France has carried out the most heavy bombardment of Raqqa, something it had criticised Russia for doing only a few weeks before.

A joint statement issued by France, Turkey, the United States, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Britain on October 3 had called on Russia to cease its bombardment of Syria, and focus “only on ISIS”. None of those calls for restraint are being heard anymore, as President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and other leaders have met with President Putin, calling for a united front against terrorism. It is hard to understand how these bombings will be any more successful than the U.S. coalition has been in the past year given that there is no coordination with forces on the ground.

The U.S.-backed strikes in Iraq have been successful, to the point of liberating Sinjar from IS, only because Iraqi forces have been providing intelligence and back-up from the ground. It is only a matter of time before the West accepts that it needs similar support from Syrian forces of the Assad regime on the ground if it wants an early outcome to the war on terror.

'The West has to acknowledge its mistakes'

What is also clear is that the West has to acknowledge its mistakes of the past if it seeks to secure the future of West Asia, and in the process secure its own cities against the terror wreaked in Paris.

The first is to accept that its interventions for regime change of secular governments in Iraq, Libya and Syria have only strengthened Islamist forces in these countries. Replacing one brutal dictator, with equally if not more brutal chaos is hardly cause to declare victory, as the U.S. and its allies have done in the past.

The second is to question the free pass given to Saudi rulers, who have funded radical Islamisation through Madrassas around the world, and in the Syrian case, funded militant Islamic groups in order to counter Iran’s influence there. In South Asia, the effects of similar funding are apparent in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives as well. The U.S., in particular, must ask the question: what would its response have been if the 9/11 attacks had been carried out by 15 nationals of any other country, who were funded by a terrorist leader who belonged to one of the richest groups in that country? The same country has carried out months of air strikes in Yemen this year, reducing the country to rubble without even the semblance of a U.N. mandate, or of serious distress from the West over its actions.

The third double standard the West should acknowledge is in its expectations from other countries that face the same terror that they do. After the 9/11 New York attacks, the U.S. struck across Afghanistan and demolished the Taliban regime there. After the 7/7 London bombings, Britain increased its presence in Afghanistan and stepped up the strikes. After the Paris attacks, France is vowing a “pitiless revenge” on IS, and has already started the bombing in Syria. Yet, after the Mumbai attacks, the West only counselled restraint to India, which, to India’s credit it would have kept anyway. What’s worse, India’s repeated demands for the U.N. to effect the prosecution of Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba have received only polite lip service. Instead, the U.S. government agreed to a plea bargain for one of the attacks key planners David Headley, and when the operations commander of the 26/11 attacks Zaki-Ur-Rehman Lakhvi received bail in Lahore this year, the U.N. refused to even investigate how the Pakistan government was able to evade its strict sanction regime. When the Paris attacks occurred, everyone remembered Mumbai, especially the subsequent Osama Bin Laden directive to his followers to carry out “Mumbai-style” attacks in the U.K., Germany and France. It would be better if they remember also, what they have done since then.

It is time to call the West’s ISIS bluff now, so that no country’s citizens suffer what the people of Paris did on Friday the 13th again.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 6:54:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/webexclusives/sushini-haidar-writes-it-is-time-to-call-the-wests-isis-bluff-now/article7892901.ece

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