“The chaos in Middle East has spread its tentacles and if the state of affairs does not improve soon, then we may see disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Libya”
With a keen eye on international affairs and world political spectrum, Prof Dr Munawar Sabir is known for his objective, realistic analyses of the latest happenings across the globe. His columns regularly appear in different national dailies. Dr Sabir is also a vigorous researcher and he has earned many accolades for his brilliance in this field. He has also mentored numerous aspirants of competitive exams to reach the pinnacles of success. In an exclusive interview with Jahangir’s World Times (JWT), he candidly shared his thoughts on the ongoing developments in the restive Middle East.
JWT: Do you think the Ukraine crisis is the dawn of the second Cold War?
DMS: The answer is yes, and no. Yes, because it’s partially true and for this we need to look deep into the demographics of the Ukraine crisis. In Ukraine, including Crimea, a huge population is of Russophones; it is one of the significant commonalities between the Russian and the Ukrainian peoples. Secondly, in international politics, the only dominating school of thought is ‘might is right,’ and national interests of nation-states. So, I said yes because Russia wants to keep its sway over — if not annexation of — Ukraine. Putin wants a pro-Russian government installed there.
But, on the other side, though the Ukraine crisis is not a direct challenge to the United States, yet it sees the crisis as Europe’s arm-twisting by Russia because particularly after the Crimean annexation, the Europe feels threatened. That’s why we saw the EU and the US jointly imposing sanctions against some Russian companies and individuals. However, it’s interesting that sanctions have not affected Russian gas exports. In fact, in the contemporary world, no economy can afford to compromise over energy supplies. Furthermore, during the Cold War period, there wasn’t any large spread agony in the Muslim world against the United States, but after the demise of the USSR, American policies have turned Muslim world into a virtual battleground for the pursuit of the US and Western interests. So, it would be too early to call it the dawn of the second Cold War. Nonetheless, if Russia turns to the western Ukraine, then the situation will be altogether different because the US cannot, at all, afford Russian influence in Europe.
JWT: The Arab Spring created a ripple effect across the stagnant landscape of the Middle East. But, why only Libya and Syria have sunk into an unending, bloody civil war?
DMS: Actually, the whole Middle East region — particularly the Arab countries — is unique in several ways. However, regrettably, its uniqueness is mostly negative; for instance, these countries lack democracy, have low literacy rates, especially the scientific literacy, don’t have any media freedom, have more economic growth than development, and they are still in want of political institutions. Moreover, they have single-product [oil] economies. So, you have rightly said that Arab Spring was an upheaval.
As regards your question that why only Libya and Syria have plunged into bloody civil wars, I would simply say that because it favours the United States! It’s all about ‘pick and chose’ policy followed by the superpower not only in the Arab countries but everywhere in the world where the US has its interests. Still, some domestic factors are also responsible for this unending civil war-like sectarian strife; I am sorry but it’s a truth that in Syria, Iran has sectarian interests. However, in Libya’s case, the only factor was Gaddafi’s close relations with the former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Since Col Gaddafi had crossed the US-drawn limits, so they removed him from the scene. In short, US exploited the Arab Spring in its favour.
JWT: How do you see the emergence of ISIS from the ashes of the Arab Spring?
DMS: The rise of ISIS is not something exceptional. Actually, when situations like civil war or insurgency prolong, then non-state actors like ISIS do emerge as the by-products. This outfit is quite rich as it men control a huge number of oil wells; in fact, they have full control over considerable areas of both Iraq and Syria. I think the US will use ISIS as a pretext to launch another massive military campaign in the Middle East.
JWT: Now that borders between Syria and Iraq have become virtually irrelevant, many scholars have termed it as the 21st century Balkanisation, how do you see this?
DMS: Yes, I do also think so because it’s not a question of history, but of ‘future-history’. The chaos in Middle East has spread its tentacles and if the state of affairs does not improve soon, then we may see disintegration of Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Libya. Moreover, this unending crisis may also give birth to some new non-state actors like the ISIS.
On the contrary, Egypt has adopted a different policy. President el-Sisi is toeing the US line and is doing everything he can to please the US. That’s the reason why Americans have been treating Egypt in a different way than other Middle Eastern nations. But I can foresee that Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Libya having different borders in the future because they do not fit in the designed equation of this region. And, that will be the 21st century Balkanisation that will ensue in a more chaotic region.
JWT: How do you see the future of Kurds or Kurdistan State vis-à-vis Turkey as a potent regional power?
DMS: Candidly, I don’t see a bright future for Kurds because Turkey is not only an important regional player and it is also key ally of the United States in the Muslim world. In fact, Turkey is the only modern, liberal and secular Muslim state and it is the only hurdle in the way of Kurdistan. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Turkey disapproved of its moves to strengthen Kurds for Kurdistan. Moreover, only to make a new state of Kurdistan, the US will never want to lose an ally like Turkey or to put at stake its ongoing rapprochement with Iran. Moreover, neither China nor Russia is in a position to ensure the establishment of Kurdistan. Thus, Kurds remain orphans.
JWT: Why oil prices have nosedived and what adverse effects it may have on Russia?
DMS: There are no hard and fast findings yet by which we can gauge the present decline in the oil prices, yet one major reason is the LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas). I would like to mention another interesting fact here that is the present oil reserves in the world can supply for a maximum of 40 years. Oil is a geological lottery as it has no production cost; if it is there then it is only to be pumped out and refined.
Now, if you look at OPEC countries, they are only twelve in number, and two of them — Libya and Iraq — are, as I have said earlier, involved in bloody civil wars. However, the other ten states are not capable enough to control the oil price. It is also a fact that a significant portion of Russia’s national income comes from energy sales. We must not forget that the prevailing economic system in the world is capitalist, not communist, in nature. So, the capitalist economies manoeuvred oil prices in order to fix Russia.
JWT: Now, coming back to our own region, do you think that the conferment of autonomous status to the Gilgit-Baltistan region is detrimental to Kashmir cause?
DMS: Yes, of course, it is. First of all, we must know that Gilgit-Baltistan is not a province; it’s only an autonomous region and is still operated by the Government of Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan doesn’t have any representation in both houses of the country’s parliament.
Secondly, only a few people would be aware of the fact that when we say the total area of Pakistan is 796,096 sq km, we do not include the area of Azad Jammu & Kashmir and that of the Gilgit-Baltistan. It is believed that Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir make a part of the Greater Kashmir. Therefore, to some extent, the international status of Kashmir is being hurt.
JWT: How do you see the prospects of another civil-war in post-drawdown Afghanistan?
DMS: Well, Pakistan, China and India, indubitably, are three key regional stakeholders in Afghanistan and any of them cannot afford another civil or proxy war there owing to their own interests in the country. So, I think they will definitely come towards a settlement. It is as clear as day that if a civil war breaks out, it will not remain confined to Afghanistan only; it will become an existential threat for China, Pakistan and India.
JWT: What are the motives behind India’s violation of ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary?
DMS: Everyone knows that whenever India speaks of an enemy, it always means Pakistan. Same is the case with Pakistan as well. We must understand that Modi sarkar is patronising the Hindutva philosophy, which directly means anti-Pakistan campaign. Moreover, India knows well that Pakistan’s army is engaged in military operations, namely Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber-1. So, being Pakistan’s archrival, it’s an ideal time for India to open another front for Pakistan. Moreover, Indians also want to divert the attention of their populace from some domestic issues; and you know anti-Pakistan sentiments sell well in Indian politics.
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