Syria burns, as the game of thrones continues| Andleeb Abbas


History repeats itself — the Sunni-Shia conflict, the Russians and Americans as saviours and invaders, the hidden chemical weapons, the Islamic extremism and violence, millions die, the world cries — the theme remains the same, but countries change. From the Iran-Iraq war to the conflict in Afghanistan, it is now Syria. From Saddam Hussein it is now Bashar al Assad. From al Qaeda it is now Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The pattern is tragically familiar. The results are predictable. The winners and losers are visible. The script is abominable. Yet, we see this preordained tragedy being played again and again with pitiable apathy.

The Arab Spring that was heralded as the uprising of the public against the dictatorial governments left a legacy of unfinished business that the national and international exploiters to date have taken advantage of. Inspired by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, the Syrians protested against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad only to have an insecure ruler with sectarian tendencies clamp down on the public protests through armed response. The Islamic countries took advantage of this divide and turned it into a Shia-Sunni conflict. The regime of Assad is backed by Iran and Russian forces while those against them, i.e. Saudi Arabia and America, are fighting against Assad’s regime. Then there is ISIS, the extremist rebel group, who feels that the bloodshed can only be stopped by shedding more blood in the name of Islam.

Turkey and Lebanon are also backing various groups to protect their own borders and fight their own rebel groups. With so many players in this war game, who is bombing whom and for what is almost impossible to trace. The presence of multiplayers gives everyone the luxury to create reasons for intervention but not take any responsibility of their consequences. Aleppo has been the centre of this conflict just like Kunduz was the centre between Afghanistan-Taliban fight.

The script is so sickeningly familiar. Public in America and Europe protested against Iraq war and then the narrative of weapons of mass destruction was developed to justify the war. George Bush had said, “Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly . . . all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes.” Americans are still against the war in Syria and this time President Donald Trump has called on “all civilised nations in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types,” keeping in mind the chemical warfare in Syria and “vital national security interest” of the US.

Thus, the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air force base from which US officials “believe” a chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun had been launched, a news yet unsubstantiated. The reality is that after destroying a country and killing millions of people, Tony Blair now admits that weapons of mass destruction were just a figment of somebody’s imagination and this is what the story in Syria is likely going to be. In fact in its seventh year the genocide in Syria is already more horrific. More than 465,000 Syrians have been killed, more than a million injured and over 12 million Syrians — half the country’s pre-war population — have been displaced from their homes.

Each war has the same pattern. Internal strife, oppressive regimes, rebellion by people, aggression by governments, external saviours, long drawn wars, country destabilised, withdrawal of external actors, country devastated, people displaced and extremism at large. The real question is — if this is the predictable outcome of wars exacerbating devastation, destruction and extremism then why do we repeat this script every decade? The answer is that power games are always zero sum games. The powerful nations and people historically have used aggression and control of resources as the dual control strategy. From colonial to imperial times ‘divide and rule’ has provided space for foreign powers to come in and exploit this vacuum to their advantage.

Wars boost many key industries that the US has an advantage over. Most US presidents depend on arms sales to boost their economies. Obama had come as an anti-war president but turned out to be the biggest arms salesman for America. Trump had a huge anti-war electoral rhetoric and in his three months in office has outdone Obama on “counterterrorism interventions” in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and latest in Afghanistan, where he has proudly launched the GBU43, dubbed the “mother of all bombs”. In March alone 1,000 civilians were reported to have been killed in these attacks. Micah Zenko, who tracks the numbers at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted in March that Trump was carrying out a drone strike every 1.8 days, compared to every 5.4 days under Obama. Arundhati Roy had rightly put, “once, weapons were manufactured to fight wars, now wars are manufactured to sell weapons.”

It is a win-win formula. When countries are devastated they need rehabilitation and that is when US multinationals get mega projects for ‘rebuilding and reconstructing’ destroyed facilities. John Perkins’s book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman describes this in detail. Dick Cheney, vice-president of the US during the Iraq War, owned many of these reconstruction specialists multinationals like Halliburton. One can easily predict Trump Towers and allied partners will soon be conducting many such ‘noble projects’ in Syria and other countries.

The West may have their own agenda of power control, but how does one justify the Islamic world’s consent to this agenda? Why are the countries in the Middle East willing to be pawns in the hands of these powers? How can they let their ‘Islamic brotherhood’ suffer ruthlessly in these conflicts? Why have they not given refuge to the millions fleeing war zones? This proves that it is not religion or ideology, it is not to counter extremism or for peace, humanity, justice and security, but it is for their own perpetuation of power that makes them facilitators of these superpowers in this game of thrones.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2017.