U.S. has “destroyed” Afghanistan, says former Afghan president

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

Addressing the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi on Thursday, India’s flagship foreign policy conference held annually, the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out at the United States, claiming that it had “destroyed” Afghanistan.

Participating in ‘The Afghan Poser’ panel session, Karzai said he had invited the U.S. to Afghanistan to bring peace and stability and defeat extremism, but after coming to the country, they destroyed it.

Karzai, who served as the president of Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, fell out of favor with the US after he rejected the controversial bilateral security agreement between Washington and Kabul in the run up to 2014 Afghan presidential elections. Since then, he has repeatedly and vigorously criticized Washington’s Afghanistan policy.

Slamming the U.S., Karzai said its Afghanistan policy has been a complete failure, which has given rise to dreaded militant groups like ISIS. “It is up to the United States and Pakistan to explain the rise of ISIS,” the former Afghan President said. He said the militant group which has gained strong foothold in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years sprouted in full presence of the U.S. forces.

A few months ago, Karzai had accused the U.S. of aiding ISIS in Afghanistan. “How did ISIS emerge in Afghanistan under the watch of US intelligence and military officials,” he said in an interview on RT. “We have the right to ask these questions and the US government must answer.” He also spoke of how the U.S. bases in Afghanistan are “used” and how “unmarked, non-military coloured helicopters” supply ISIS in many parts of the country.

Commenting on terror sanctuaries in Pakistan and Trump administration’s latest diatribe against Islamabad, Karzai said the U.S. knew it all along and how terrorism was being “used as an instrument of state policy”, but little action was taken. “Now that the U.S. has admitted terror sanctuaries exist (in Pakistan), I hope they act,” he said, in a sardonic tone.

On the issue of growing religious extremism in the region, without mincing words Karzai called it the “product of US-Pakistan collaboration against Soviet Union”. It is pertinent to note that the militant groups like Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network were born from the U.S.-led war against Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1980s.

Karzai said the West is more corrupt than countries in the South-West Asia region. “I don’t believe in western indices. They represent us as savages. We are a deeply cultured society,” adding that the word “mafia” had western roots. He also said that “others” (the West) get the money from opium production while Afghans get the bad name.

Speaking on the same panel, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov dismissed speculations about Russia’s links with the Taliban. “We are offering to create conditions for talks (with the Taliban), but there is no evidence of Russian assistance to the Taliban, he stressed.

On Asia being a new power hub, Morgulov said it is no longer a geographical entity but “a dynamic political and economic concept”.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Kazem Sajjadpour also spoke at the conference and hailed Chabahar Port as an example of win-win cooperation, echoing what India’s Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari said last week during his meeting with Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi.

“Chabahar is a major example of success in connectivity between Iran, Afghanistan and India. There is no competition between these orders. It’s a win-win (situation) for all stakeholders”, he said. India has pledged to invest $500 million into the ambitious project in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, besides an additional $16 billion investment in Chabahar free trade zone.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in her address denounced the use of terrorism as state policy. She said that it is high time world wakes up to this “global menace”.

Indian Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat downplayed the border tension between India and China, saying the bonhomie between New Delhi and Beijing has returned to where it was prior to the Doklam incident. “I don’t visualize a very serious trouble,” he said.

Designed on the lines of Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore, more than 150 speakers and over 550 delegates from around 90 countries are participating in the Raisina Dialogue.

(First published in Tehran Times)



Netanyahu in India: Why India must not shake hands with him

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

On Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose animated bear hug easily beats Trump’s awkward handshake, went against protocol to welcome his new friend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the New Delhi airport. After a bear hug and handshakes, the six-day visit kicked off with both leaders extoling each other and reaffirming commitment to enhance bilateral ties.

Modi and Netanyahu, to quote a catchy phrase from a leftist newspaper, are “ideological soulmates”. While one epitomizes right-wing Jewish nationalism, the other represents right-wing Hindu nationalism. Under Modi government, India and Israel have strengthened bilateral defence and trade ties much to the chagrin of civil society and intelligentsia in India, which is fiercely pro-Palestine. The covert cooperation between the two countries has become more overt in recent years.

Modi became the first Indian premier to visit Israel in July last year and Netanyahu is the first Israeli premier to visit India in 15 years, since Ariel Sharon in 2003. Hailing India-Israel partnership as a “marriage made in heaven”, Netanyahu, who is accompanied by a strong 130-member delegation of Israeli diplomats and entrepreneurs, said his visit is a testimony that India-Israel relationship is “moving on so many fronts forward”.

Last month, India voted in favor of a resolution to reject the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in line with New Delhi’s traditional position on Israel-Palestine conflict. The resolution, which came as an embarrassment to Washington and Tel Aviv, created some tension between India and Israel ahead of Netanyahu’s India visit. The annulment of a lucrative arms deal with Israel’s state-owned defence contractor last month had already raised a few eyebrows in Tel Aviv.

Speaking to mediapersons in New Delhi, Netanyahu admitted that Israel was “disappointed” with the UN vote but said his visit marks the “dawn of a new era” in India-Israel relations. The two countries seek enhanced cooperation in the areas of security, agriculture, technology, tourism. But, the major focus is on defence and security. India is one of the biggest importers of military equipment and Israel happens to be its biggest supplier, selling $billion worth arms every year.  It has been widely described as a “worrying trend” since India’s defence budget is big and imports are extremely high. For a country hailed as a ‘rising power’ and ‘economic powerhouse, it doesn’t augur well.

The deepening ties between Israel and India under the Modi government have become a cause of concern to many people in India, who fear it might put a spanner in India’s relations with countries in the Arab/Persian world. India has historically been a strong advocate of the Palestinian cause. Founders of modern India Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were vocal supporters of Palestine and they minced no words in condemning Israeli barbarism in Palestine. An editorial in a popular Indian leftist newspaper ‘People’s Democracy’ this week lashed out at Netanyahu and emphatically stated that the people of India have always stood in solidarity with the people of Palestine and against Israeli aggression.

So, even though the current political dispensation in New Delhi is cozying up to Israel, this “marriage” will most likely end up in an acrimonious divorce. The popular mood in India suggests that Israel cannot be a bankable, long-term partner for India which seeks a bigger role in regional and global politics. By embracing Israel, India will be antagonizing many important players in the region, including Iran.

To register their protest against Netanyahu’s India visit and India’s growing ties with Israel, people took to streets in many parts of India, including New Delhi, Kashmir, Lucknow and Hyderabad. Social media has also been abuzz with anti-Israel and anti-Netanyahu posts and hashtags. So, the writing is on the wall. India must look at the bigger picture, focus on long-term goals and shake hands with time-tested friends. Israel is not one of them.

First published in Tehran Times


After UN snub, Netanyahu trying to woo India

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Syed Zafar Mehdi

As the clamor for his resignation grows louder at home over large-scale corruption and hideous family scandals, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to board the flight for India, where his “friend” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was waiting to welcome him with a bear hug. The growing proximity between New Delhi and Tel Aviv in recent years, especially since the BJP government came to power in India, is intriguing considering India’s historical ties with Tehran and many Arab states.

Modi became the first sitting Indian premier to visit Israel in July last year and Netanyahu is the first Israeli premier to visit India in 15 years. This bonhomie between Modi and Netanyahu, whom a leftist newspaper in India described as “ideological twins”, has raised many eyebrows in India’s intelligentsia circles who consider it a departure from Nehruvian foreign policy principles.

Jawaharlal Nehru, considered the architect of modern India, was a strong proponent of anti-colonialism and non-violence. He believed that the foreign policy must be rooted in principles of solidarity with the oppressed and that is what informed India’s foreign policy for decades. So, in line with Nehruvian-era foreign policy principles, India has traditionally been an advocate of Palestinian cause. Even though New Delhi recognized the so-called ‘state’ of Israel in 1950, diplomatic ties between them were established only 42 years later – in 1992 – during the Narsimha Rao government.

Despite diplomatic ties, the successive governments in New Delhi have appeared reticent in embracing the Zionist regime openly owing to India’s historical ties with many Muslim countries and a sizeable domestic Muslim population. India’s strong cultural and commercial ties with Iran – the bête noire of Israel – is a case in point. Iran has traditionally enjoyed tremendous amount of goodwill, respect and support in India, particularly among the burgeoning Muslim community. The two countries  And New Delhi has been wary of antagonizing them.

For the political parties in India, it has also been a smart move to keep Muslims – who constitute country’s 15 percent population – in good humor. The issue of Palestine touches the emotional chord of Indian Muslims; hence it is directly linked with ‘vote-bank’ politics for these parties. That perhaps explains why New Delhi for all these years chose to keep its ties with Tel Aviv covert, for the fear of losing important allies in the Muslim world and upsetting Muslims at home.

Since Modi took office in 2014, much to the chagrin of Indian Muslims and to the astonishment of regional observers, the cooperation between India and Israel has become more overt and visible. In recent years, India has sought to de-hyphenate its policies toward Israel, which is today one of the major suppliers of arms to India, selling almost $1 billion worth military equipment each year. In April last year, they signed a lucrative $2 billion deal for surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communication technology. The overall trade between them is estimated to be around $4 billion annually.

Netanyahu’s India business

Despite the deepening commercial ties beyond their longstanding covert defence partnership, the build-up to Netanyahu’s visit to India was soured when New Delhi last month cancelled a $500 million deal to buy anti-tank guided missiles from Israel’s defense contractor Rafael. India’s Defence Ministry chose to offer the lucrative contract to a local company, leaving Tel Aviv fuming. It was followed by New Delhi’s vote at the UN against the U.S. move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which compounded the matters further.

Speaking to media in New Delhi, Netanyahu admitted that Israel was “disappointed” by India’s snub at the UN, but went on to describe India-Israel relationship as a “match made in heaven”. He said his visit to India will “strengthen cooperation in areas like technology and agriculture and other spheres that are changing the world.” Clearly, he sounded like a jilted lover complaining about the heartbreak and desperately trying to woo back the beloved. And Modi responded with his famously infamous bear hug.

During his six-day visit, Netanyahu, who was accompanied by 130-member entourage, repeatedly spoke about the “dawn of a new era” in India-Israel ties. At least nine MoUs were signed in the areas of gas and oil, renewable energy, aviation, industrial research and development, cyber-security, reciprocal investments, supplementary medicine, space research and joint movie productions. The business honchos accompanying Netanyahu, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, included senior executives of an Israeli drone maker under criminal investigation by the police’s international crimes division. That is something no media outlet in India highlighted.

In their wide-ranging talks, Modi and Netanyahu explored possibilities of enhancing cooperation in various fields, while vowing to strengthen their defence partnership. Looking back, Israel and India had a difficult defence relationship until 1992. After the collapse of Soviet Union, India looked for an alternative source of arms and Israel raised its hand. Since then, many agreements have been signed between them rather clandestinely.

The fact that Israel is one of the top arms suppliers to India is a difficult pill to swallow for many in India. While the country aspires to be an economic superpower and a military giant, it has the dubious distinction of being the world’s top defense importer. The growing defence partnership with Israel also raises concerns of arms race in the region that could possibly lead to tensions with neighboring nuclear-armed countries like Pakistan and China.

India’s relations with Pakistan continue to be marked by acrimony and relations with China continue to fluctuate from good to bad. The deepening defence cooperation between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, strategic affairs analysts warn, might force countries like China and Pakistan or even Japan to have similar arms deals, which could have dangerous ramifications for peace and security in the region.

Shadow of US/Israel on Iran-India relations

Iran and India have had long, time-tested historical, commercial and cultural ties, often bracketed under “civilizational relationship.” New Delhi has been a major importer of Iranian crude oil, even at the height of draconian Western sanctions on Iran. Since last year, the crude exports to India have increased significantly and now Iran happens to be its third largest supplier. In 2015, the trade volume was estimated to be $16 billion dollar, and during Modi’s visit to Tehran in May 2016, New Delhi and Tehran reaffirmed their commitment to renew business ties and inked many deals.

India’s geographical closeness to Iran makes it an important customer for oil and gas reserves. And as energy experts have forecasted, India will become the world’s second-largest consumer of hydrocarbons in next three decades and then Iran’s oil and gas reserves will be extremely important to India.

Even though India’s investment in Iran’s Farzad B offshore gas field, which contains up to 12.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, has hit a roadblock, the operationalization of Chabahar Port in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province has taken India-Iran relations to another level.  India has pledged to pump $500 million into the project, besides an additional $16 billion investment in Chabahar free trade zone. In May 2016, when the deal to develop the port was signed, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said it was not only an economic document but also a political and regional one, emphasizing the importance of enhancing ties with India and other regional players.

The U.S., which has considered Iran an adversary since the 1979 Islamic revolution and which has developed close ties with India since the 2005 Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, has tried hard to put a spanner in relations between Tehran and New Delhi, but it has proved counterproductive. Observers believe the growing proximity between Israel and India should not pose any threat to India’s relations with Iran since the popular mood in India is strongly in favor of India’s friendship with Iran and fiercely against India’s relationship with Israel. Ultimately, in a democracy, people hold the mandate.

What Netanyahu calls a “match made in heaven” is actually a “marriage of inconvenience” that is most likely to end in a rancorous divorce. India’s relations with Tehran and some Arab countries have stood the test of time and the overwhelming sentiment in India favors close ties with them. The writing on the wall is that the warm handshake with Tel Aviv can have good short-term results but in the long-term would prove counterproductive to India’s long-term strategic goals and interests.

Mass murderer not welcome

When a country’s foreign policy disregards popular public sentiment, it cannot produce the desired results. Thousands of people who poured into the streets this week in different cities of India made a resounding statement that a ‘mass murderer’ cannot be welcomed in the land of ‘the messiah of non-violence’. Protestors in New Delhi, Kashmir, Kargil, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Kolkatta and Mumbai burnt effigies with pictures of Netanyahu and raised slogans against the Zionist regime’s horrendous atrocities in the occupied territories of Palestine.

The leaders and workers of CPI and CPIM, leftist parties in India, also took to streets to condemn Netanyahu’s visit to India. An editorial published in ‘People’s Democracy’, a newspaper owned by the party, launched a scathing attack on both Modi and Netanyahu. “One represents right-wing ultra-Jewish nationalism while the other is an advocate of right-wing Hindutva nationalism,” it said, echoing the popular sentiment in India.

Senior CPI leader D. Raja said they don’t approve the policies of the Israel regime. “Unless we resolve the Palestinian question there cannot be peace and security in West Asia. It is better to address the Palestinian question in a proper historic perspective,” he added.

On Wednesday, quite ironically, Modi escorted Netanyahu to his home province Gujarat where more than a thousand Muslims were killed in one of the worst anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002. Modi was the province’s chief minister that time and he is yet to apologize for the massacre. That perhaps explains why the leftist newspaper called them “ideological twins”.

Writing on the wall

Modi government, which has faced blistering criticism over the cases of mob lynching and cow vigilantism in different parts of India in recent months, is under attack now – at home and abroad – for hosting a man who presides over the genocide of Palestinians. The growing partnership between India and Israel, the popular opinion suggests, subverts India’s traditional position on Palestine at a time when the global consensus is building against the Jewish regime, especially after the UN vote.

India, which aspires to be a global economic giant and permanent member of the UN Security Council, should not be playing into the hands of Western powers and subscribing to their foreign policies. The growing defence partnership with Israel also goes against the principles of India’s founding fathers and makes arms race in the region inevitable. The resounding cry on the streets makes it clear that India’s deepening defence ties with the Zionist state is not in India’s interest and not in the region’s interest.

Netanyahu, implicated in a number of corruption cases in Israel, is feeling increasingly isolated at home. And after the embarrassment at the UN, he feels more frustrated. The timing of his visit to India, just after the UN vote, assumes importance because India is an important player in the region where Israel has few friends. By trying to court India, he wants to stage a comeback of sorts. But, the people in India and people in this region have already announced their verdict: Zionists cannot be anyone’s friend.

(First published in Press TV web)