BY SHASHI MALLA
The radical Islamist group National ThowfeekJamaath (NTJ) could take hold in Sri Lanka because of the complacency of the political class. After a decade of ending the deadly civil war that had lasted nearly thirty years, the political elite was too busy in their personal feud(s). So much so, that they concentrated their attention on possible threats from the now subdued former Tamil Hindu insurgents, and completely ignored serious intelligence inputs from domestic Muslim sources and external Indian intelligence sources.
The country’s president Maithripala Sirisena, responsible for defense and intelligence, must have received relevant information, but he now denies any such knowledge and has blamed his immediate subordinates for the intelligence lapses and for failing to take any concrete action(s), and for not passing on the relevant information to the prime minister’s office. On the principle of moral responsibility, President Sirisena should have resigned after such a colossal failure and carnage. Instead, he demanded the resignation of the secretary in the ministry of defense [which was complied with], and also the inspector general of police (IGP) [who has till date refused to do so].He has now appointed an acting-IGP.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has credibly stated that he was ‘kept out of the loop’. In the last few months, he was even not invited to participate in the meetings of the National Security Council [probably on orders fro the president]. He has high moral standing because he contemplated resigning.
While the Sri Lankan political class from the majority Singhalese-Buddhist ethnic-religious group were busy with their political tug-of-war, a section of the extremely small Muslim minority had become radicalized by various means and were contemplating sensational terrorist actions under the very noses of the security forces and intelligence agencies. Not that responsible Muslim leaders had not informed the authorities about sinister and secretive goings-on in their respective localities, but these were apparently imperiously ignored!
Thus, the radical Islamist groups in Sri Lanka were quite active and had prepared assiduously to launch multiple, well-coordinated terrorist attacks in different parts of the country–with logistic and material support from the Islamic State (IS/ISIS). They diabolically chose very soft targets – the Christians’ churches [with whom the Muslims in Sri Lanka had no quarrel until now at least, and also being a repressed minority in the Buddhist-majority nation] during the holiest day of the Christian calendar; and luxury hotels, the hated symbols of westernization, modernization and globalization, and the epitome of degeneracy and immorality. Whether the world liked it or not, this was a clarion call for “a clash of civilizations”.
In the meantime, the father and two brothers of the suspected mastermind, ZahranHashim, of Sri Lanka’s Easter bombings were killed when security forces stormed their safe house two days ago. ZaineeHashim, RilwanHashim and their father Mohamed Hashim, who were seen in a video circulating on social media calling for total war against non-believers, i.e. all non-Muslims, were among 15 killed in a fierce gun battle with the military on the east coast.
Last Sunday, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith celebrated mass at his official residence (broadcast live on the country’s television channels), since there were no services in churches because of security reasons. The president and prime minister, as well as the opposition leader Mahinda Rajapakse were in attendance.
The cardinal appealed for peace and unity in the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious island of 21 million people. His was the voice of reason and compassion: “In the name of God, we cannot destroy any person” [a stark contrast to the hate speeches of radical Islam, including IS-honcho Baghdadi]. He continued: “What happened last Sunday is a great tragedy, an insult to humanity,” urging the faithful to show kindness to others as a sign of respect for all the victims.
Kim Demands ‘Security Guarantees’
Last Saturday, North and South Korea struck different notes as they marked the first anniversary of the remarkable summit between their leaders in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the Korean Peninsula. This in turn resulted in a rapid diplomatic thaw, paving the way for a historic summit between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June last year. Here Trump failed miserably as ‘the greatest dealmaker on earth’.
A second attempt was made in February of this year. But this summit in Hanoi collapsed without any agreement at all. Trump and his delegation were ill-prepared and made ‘all or nothing’ demands. Cash-strapped Pyongyang had also demanded immediate relief from sanctions. One year later after Singapore, which South Korean President Moon Jae-in had helped to broker, no progress has been made on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal with Pyongyang and Washington deadlocked. Moon has tried to salvage the diplomatic initiative, although the North has remained largely unresponsive.
Just a week ago, there was another setback with Pyongyang demanding the [impossible] removal of none other than US Secretary of State [SoS] Mike Pompeo from the stalled nuclear negotiations!
As a possible way out of the political morass, Russian and North Korean leaders met for their very first summit meeting in the far eastern Russian port-city of Vladivostok. Russian President Vladimir Putin said afterwards that North Korea would need prior security guarantees before pursuing nuclear disarmament. Without elaborating what kind of guarantees Kim wanted, Putin said that Russia did support the US call for ‘complete disarmament of the Korean Peninsula’, which was “certainly a common priority”.
Putin also underlined that “there are no secrets here, no conspiracies” and that Kim had requested him to inform the American side of his position. Kim himself emphasized his government’s firm and unwavering position to “ceaselessly bolstering and developing strategic and traditional relations between North Korea and Russia.” North Korea does regard China as its key ally and main trading partner. However, the relationship between Pyongyang and Moscow extend way back to the early days of the Cold War, when the then Soviet Union installed Kim’s grandfather Kim il Sung as the very first leader of North Korea. The country was heavily dependent on the Soviet Union until the rise of China.
Kim left the summit with Putin indicating that he has cooled very much on the much-touted attempt by Trump to woo his country into a non-nuclear future. He even told Putin, the US had adopted a “unilateral attitude in bad faith” at the Hanoi summit.
Parallel to Kim’s first official visit to Russia, Pyongyang simultaneously lambasted the ongoing US-South Korean air force drills and warned of a “corresponding response”. In the meantime, Trump was fooling himself, the American public and the world at large by claiming with inanity: “I think we’re doing very well with North Korea. A lot of progress is being made” [!] Iran & US Sanctions
Trump’s administration has started ratcheting up economic sanctions and heavy-handed rhetoric vis-à-vis Iran. Most Middle East experts have criticized this policy from various angles.
According to the International Crisis Group’s Ali Vaez (April 24, 2019), the Trump’s administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran is “more likely to fuel resistance and retaliation than capitulation. Washington should heed past lessons lest it provokes a new nuclear crisis or a regional escalation.”
The US decision on April 22 to end the sanctions exemptions for Iran’s remaining oil clients crucially heightens the US unilateral and forceful moves against Tehran. This comes after the US [unnecessarily] designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The US intends to bankrupt Iran into accepting the unilateral US demands and/or achieving ‘regime change’.
There is little doubt that American “maximum pressure’ has succeeded in damaging the Iranian economy to a considerable extent, and now pushing it to even further deterioration by depriving it of a major source of external income. However, these short-lived and little thought out tactical moves are not capable of achieving their strategic objectives, unless it wants to risk a new regional conflagration.
The misguided strategy’s success depends after all more on China, India and Turkey, which are Iran’s remaining most important oil customers, rather than either the US or Iran itself.
Moreover, the US mistakes that Iranian leaders will undertake nothing. In fact, they may very well instigate militants to disrupt Saudi and Emirati oil shipments through the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb, without closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which Iran ships its own oil to Asia. This may not only disturb the world oil market, but also open the possibility of armed conflict in the region.
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