Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 – Will it be any different than 2015?


The year 2015 is over. It was a very messy year in the global politics. Will 2016 be plagued by the same types of violence? In a fast paced world that we live today, it is difficult to predict the future. In what follows I shall attempt to review a few cases.

No region was probably more affected by the scourge of war than the Middle East where the Daesh (more commonly known here in the west as the ISIS or ISIL), the terrorist outfit, made significant territorial gains only to see much of such gains evaporate later in the midst of aerial bombardments from the NATO and the Russian forces. Through its religious nuances, no matter how absurd and ludicrous such claims are, it has been able to confuse many ill-informed youths around the globe to attract to its nihilistic causes and become its foot soldiers – both within and outside the territories it controls.

For a peaceful future, Daesh needs to be defeated ideologically, a task, which must be shouldered by Muslim scholars exposing their falsity. If they fail they would see their own territories drenched in blood by sectarian unrests, something that the Daesh likes to see happen.

Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have fled their war-torn countries and taken shelter in Turkey and other neighboring countries. Some of the refugees have also taken shelter in Europe where (with the exception of Germany) they continue to face unkind treatment and barriers towards their settlement. It’s highly likely that Europe and the rest of the world would continue to see such sporadic bursts of refugee influxes in the coming months unless the political conditions inside Syria and Iraq dramatically improve. It goes without saying that Russia’s dropping of bombs and missiles on the opposition targets have strengthened Bashar al-Assad’s hitherto weak bargaining position significantly. It is unlikely that the latter would step down anytime soon unless his main backers convince him to do so.  With him in power, there is little chance for any improvement in the affected region.

Down south, Boko Haram, another deadly terrorist group, continues to terrorize millions of people in West Africa, mostly in and around Nigeria. Like the Lord’s Resistance Army, it remains a formidable force that will continue killing and kidnapping the innocent people in vulnerable territories unless fully defeated, which is unlikely to happen any time soon.

The Central African Republic (CAR) had her long-delayed elections last week that probably represent the best hope of reuniting the country, one of the world’s poorest, after three years of ethnic cleansing that has displaced a million of minority Muslims. According to the New York Times, the turnout was heavy among the 1.8 million registered voters, nearly 40 percent of the population. Many of the Muslims, displaced by the genocidal wars by the Christian militias could not vote. More than 400,000 refugees — primarily in neighboring Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad — have yet to return.

To this day, the country remains divided: Anti-balaka Christian militias hold territories in the west of the country and small pockets in Bangui, the capital city; the former Seleka rebels (mostly Muslims) control the north and center of the country; and the Lord’s Resistance Army, a brutal Christian terrorist and rebel movement that also operates in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Uganda, controls parts of the east. Only the coming days after the election results are declared would show whether or not the government can survive politically under a single flag. Its survival would surely require political compromise and tough choices, which if ignored could only divide the country along ethnic fault lines.

Myanmar (formerly Burma) had her own general election in November in which Suu Kyi’s NLD has come out as the clear winner. Most Muslims were barred from participating in this election. 2015 also saw tens of thousands of Rohingyas to brave the seas and Indian Ocean to seek shelter in Malaysia and Indonesia. It is worth noting that in their desire to leave the Burmese den of unfathomable hatred and intolerance many of these persecuted Rohingyas unfortunately became easy preys to brutal human traffickers. Many Rohingyas have also died in the hands of those criminals.

The President in Myanmar won’t be sworn in until March of 2016. It should be noted that the military-drafted constitution guarantees that unelected military representatives take up 25% of the seats in the Hluttaw and have a veto over constitutional change. Key security ministries (defense, home affairs and border affairs) are selected by the head of the army, not the president, and there can be no change to the constitution without military approval.

As such, while the NLD has won the general election in both the lower and upper houses of the parliament winning respectively 255 (of the 440) and 135 (of the 224) seats, the coming months will show whether or not Suu Kyi would be able to fulfill the dreams of her supporters bringing in a transformational change in this divided country of many races and religions, thus ensuring safety, security and inclusiveness of all.  For her to succeed she must be able to domesticate not only the all-powerful military but also the divisive and fascist forces like the Ma Ba Tha, led by skinhead monks, which tried to influence the election at the behest of the regime. Ma Ba Tha, sadly, continues to recruit and organize the racist and bigot populace for terrorizing the already marginalized Muslim minorities. Unless crushed, their criminal activities would only strengthen the divisive forces within the country that are already fighting the military for their legitimate racial, ethnic and religious rights.

One of the most surprising events of the last year was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impromptu visit of Pakistan when he met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on his return trip from Moscow. It was the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in almost 12 years. The tense relations between India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, have long been a worrisome matter for many area experts and policy makers, who fear that proxy wars between the two countries could flare into a real one. 

On his part, Modi had sent mixed signals about Pakistan. He surprised many by inviting Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony last year, but three months later abruptly halted that tentative engagement by canceling high-level talks over Pakistani diplomats’ meeting with separatist leaders from Kashmir.

Under his watch, the lives of minority Muslims and Christians in India have worsened significantly. Muslim and Christian places of worship and business have been attacked, and Muslims killed simply on suspicion of eating or storing beef, and transporting cattle. It is worth noting here that the slaughter of cows is banned in large parts of India but the country exports more beef than any other nation. India produced 43% of the world’s buffalo meat in 2015, the highest of any nation. India is expected to export 2.2 million tons of water buffalo in 2016, up from 2.1 million in 2015. The increase is due to rising demand from the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. Vietnam and Malaysia are the largest export markets for India, according to the USDA. What is also seldom discussed is the fact that long before the coming of Islam on the Indian sub-continent, beef was widely consumed. According to history professor D.N. Jha, in the Vedic period it was particularly widely consumed.

The fascist Hindutvadi forces, mostly belonging to the Sangh Parivar, want to declare India a vegetarian country. They are trying to distort Indian history along religious lines and are also behind violent attacks against the minorities. Many well-to-do Muslims feel very insecure these days. When Bollywood superstars complained about the growing atmosphere of intolerance in India, they were labeled falsely as anti-India, unpatriotic and pro-Pakistan.

Rather than condemning such attacks and excesses of his party men, Modi has tried to ignore such issues. And yet, he recently signed a treaty with his counterpart in Bangladesh - Sheikh Hasina - which allowed for integration of affected people living in the landlocked enclaves, something that was denied for some 68 years.

This gives me hope against hopelessness. Probably not everything is lost. We can all hope for a better future. In this regards, Modi’s speech in Pakistan is quite memorable. 

“There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here,” Mr. Modi said. “But, we are here because you have faith in us. You know that India is here to contribute, not to compete; to lay the foundations of future, not light the flame of conflict; to rebuild lives, not destroy a nation.”

I would like to believe that Mr. Modi did not speak with a forked tongue and was genuinely sincere and that the course he has taken toward Pakistan and Bangladesh has shifted to embrace engagement, not confrontation. 


Let’s hope that 2016 would be a better year than 2015 when our world leaders have learned from their past mistakes to take proper actions that make our world a better place to live together in peace and harmony. 

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