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EUROPEAN PRISONERS IN SYRIAN JAILS
Why is Bashar Assad Silent?

West Asia

, by M D NALAPAT

Old habits die hard. There is something about the atmosphere in London that changes the willpower of an individual and makes him or her more susceptible to looking at events from an alien viewpoint. Saif Gaddafi, now being daily taunted in a prison cell in Zintan, Libya, fancied that those in the UK who clustered around him and grabbed his father’s cash would stand by him in a crisis. Instead, they joined those who formed the lynch mob which finally ensured that the Libyan dictator died in the same manner as former President Najibullah of Afghanistan was in 1996, publicly and in painful and humiliating circumstances.

Those familiar with Muammar Gaddafi’s policymaking groups know that it was Saif Gaddafi who planted false confidence in Muammar Gaddafi that he could escape from the predicament that NATO had created for him by making concessions to that alliance. What took place was that each concession was immediately followed by a demand for more, until there was nothing left to give. The examples of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi demonstrate NATO’s penchant for going after regimes, but only after it has been ensured that they cannot fight back. The UN was used as cover to gain what extra intelligence input was needed to launch attacks, that organisation’s “peacekeeping” mechanism being dominated by NATO member-states. In a final burst of irony, it is precisely the country that most relies on brute force to enforce its will on former colonies, France, that leads the UN’s “peacekeeping” efforts.

Like Saif Gaddafi, President Bashar Assad of Syria too has spent long and happy years in London, which is presumably why the man who has been marked by his foes for a Gaddafi-style execution still protects the interests, not of the population within NATO member-states, but of the very policymaking groups that are thirsting for his head. Years ago, when his government had evidence of several dozen UK nationals being among those engaged in acts of violence across West Asia, President Assad kept silent when British Prime Minister Tony Blair passed off such involvement as limited to a single individual. Had Assad released the details in his possession of the UK nationals active in the armed struggle against his government, it would have shown the people of the UK - who share with their other European peoples an overwhelming commitment to fair play and to honesty - that Tony Blair was a liar, the same man who led them to a disastrous war in Iraq on the back of obvious untruths.

But Assad kept silent in order to protect the reputation of Blair, just as he does now when his government has within its prisons dozens of nationals of EU countries, all captured as a result of the ongoing war between the NATO-backed Ankara-Doha-Riyadh coalition and the Damascus-Teheran-Moscow axis. Releasing information about these prisoners and the circumstances of their capture would demonstrate the manner in which David Cameron and William Hague are backing groups that contain individuals to whom Bashar Assad’s regime is just the appetiser. The main course, once Syria gets subdued, will be the countries in Europe whose passports they flash.

The Baath Party, whether in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s time or in Syria during the long reign of the Assad family, is known for its administrative incompetence and its obsessive secrecy. Releasing information is anathema to Baathists, even when such transparency can serve their cause. In the chronicles of conflict between NATO member-states and Third World militaries, it was only Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam that succeeded in defeating its enemy in Infowar. Of course, Ho had a powerful tailwind assisting him, which was the Draft. Had the US military been an all-volunteer force the way it is now, it is unlikely that campuses across the US would have risen up in anger against the war in Vietnam. However, such advantages do not detract from the fact that “Uncle Ho” came across as what he was, a gallant nationalist and indomitable fighter, who defeated first the French and later the US itself, this during an era when the US military had not yet been defeated by a small band of thugs in Afghanistan.

What is being witnessed in that country is the retreat of a superpower, anxious to make whatever compromise is needed in order to prevent the killing of more of its soldiers, no matter that the efforts of Barack Obama to come to an understanding with Mullah Omar is pushing back the prospect of the Afghan people (who, in common with Muslims across the globe, are overwhelmingly moderate) themselves defeating the designs of the Taliban to once again take over power in Kabul on the back of a terrified US administration.

By his support to Barack Obama’s persecution of Bradley Manning and attempted capture of Edward Snowden, Prime Minister Cameron has shown his contempt for transparency and for fair play. Shamefully, much of the media within the NATO bloc is silent about Manning’s fate and is part of the wolf pack that is daily excoriating Snowden as a “traitor”. Had India been gifted the good fortune to have a government led by those not in thrall to NATO, by now both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden would have found homes in this country. However, rather than making India a haven of free speech and of internet freedom, the Manmohan Singh administration, dominated as it is by  World Bank logic that sees obedience to US dictates as the natural course to take, has sought to throttle internet freedom. And as for connectivity, India has the lowest percentage of people who are internet-enabled among all major powers, while bandwidth and speeds are derisory. India’s Information Superhighway is as creaky and dysfunctional as its road network.

However, Manmohan Singh and his political superior Sonia Gandhi are not the only individuals dancing to the tune of NATO. The Assad family is in danger of losing not only their liberty but their lives as a consequence of NATO actions, the most recent being the Kerry-Cameron-Hollande plan to give weapons to the Al Nusra front through the fiction of routing it through rootless wonders with zero influence on the ground. However, this has clearly not stopped Assad from protecting Cameron and Hollande by withholding information on the dozens of EU nationals who have been captured by his security forces. Clearly, the trusting Assad believes that these prisoners will be helpful in what he expects will be a future deal between himself and NATO.

However, the reality is that full disclosure about the composition of the groups at war with him would demonstrate to the people of Europe the way in which their security is being compromised because of the eagerness of Kerry, Cameron and Hollande to go along with the desire of the Ankara-Doha-Riyadh alliance to replace an Alawite dynasty with a regime controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. This powerful force has entered into a strategic alliance with the regional troika.

The people of the US and the EU have to understand the forces that their governments are unleashing. The only way this can be achieved is by full transparency on the composition of the so-called “freedom fighter” groups. In particular, the nationalities of the Al Nusra front who have been captured by the Syrian army (and which include citizens of India) need to be revealed. So far, however, Bashar Assad seems determined to follow the example of Saif Gaddafi, who tailored his actions to suit the needs of his future tormentors. Going public with details on the European prisoners in Syrian jails would go against the Baath code of secrecy and backroom deals, but would serve the interests of the people of the globe, who seek a stable and prosperous future free of the violence that extremists inflict on them with support from governments who should know better, and who in course of time (when it is too late), will.

[MD NALAPAT is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana, India.]



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