Red Line: Pakistan, reconciliation in Palestine and Ivo Sanader

A supporter of the banned Islamic organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa shouts anti-American slogans during a rally in favour of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Lahore May 15, 2011. Source: Reuters/Vostock photo

A supporter of the banned Islamic organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa shouts anti-American slogans during a rally in favour of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Lahore May 15, 2011. Source: Reuters/Vostock photo

Each week, Voice of Russia hosts Red Line, a discussion about the events of the week, as seen from Moscow. This week, events in Pakistan, reconciliation in Palestine and Ivo Sanader.

Participants: Ekaterina Kudashkina, Sergei Strokan, Mira Salganik, Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky, Gershon Baskin

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina: This week, we will continue to watch the situation in Pakistan, which faces increased terrorist attacks and questions about its relationship with the United States. Then we will move on to Palestine, where the two major political factions have reconciled, increasing the chances for an independent Palestinian state. Finally, we will discuss the ruling by an Austrian that former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader may be extradited to his home country on corruption charges.

Sergei Strokan: Incidentally, this new terrorist attack and the new chill in U.S.-Pakistani relations coincided with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Russia.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Oh, yes, these days have been very rich in events for Pakistan. Let’s get started with Beyond the Headlines, our opening segment in which we will discuss recent developments in Pakistan. First, the latest suicide bombing: A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed at least 69 people at a paramilitary force academy in northwest Pakistan on Friday, in what Pakistani Taliban militants said was retaliation for the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

I suggest we talk to our guest, Ambassador Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, a professor in International Security at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, India and a very experienced Indian diplomat.

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy: The attack, which killed about 80 members of the Pakistani paramilitary frontier force near Charsadda in the capital Peshawar today, is quite evidently the work of a group called the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. This group is allied with similar groups belonging to the Deobandi Muslim sect, who turned against the Pakistani military. But at the same time they support the Afghani Taliban, which the Pakistani military and intelligence services are backing too.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Could that also be partly retaliation for bin Laden’s assassination?

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy: The killing of bin Laden has certainly strengthened anti-American, anti-establishment sentiments of those who believe the establishment supports the Americans, but this sort of attack takes place regularly in the North-West Frontier Province.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Do I get it right that that series of attacks, including the recent developments, have delivered a powerful blow to Pakistani security services?

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy: Well, Pakistan’s security services are unfortunately now fighting groups they were once supporting.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: What is your forecast? Do you think that the present civilian government is going to stand out in the face of these attacks? Is it going to survive?

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy: The Pakistani military will be discredited the most in the eyes of Pakistani people, because bin Laden was found and attacked by the Americans in the heart of a military cantonment, next to Pakistan’s largest military academy. So, if the most wanted terrorist is found to be living next to a military establishment, where thousands of officers are trained, it’s a disgrace to the military. I don’t think the civilian government has suffered; It’s the military who suffered the maximum loss of prestige.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: And now to bin Laden’s assassination. I believe the Pakistani military will have to face the consequences of the U.S. raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad. The American Special Forces raid, hailed as President Obama’s biggest victory in his war on terror, is also perceived as a serious embarrassment, if not humiliation to Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.

 

We all know that U.S.-Pakistani relations have gone through many crises in recent years, but this time it looks particularly painful.

Mira Salganik: I guess that is particularly painful because it’s absolutely public. There is a lot of attention because of bin Laden. I think we should try to answer the question of what went wrong in the relations between the two allies and when. There is no question that the liquidation of Osama bin Laden was the only way to terminate the activities of Al-Qaeda’s sinister leader once and for all. However, I guess the circumstances of the raid show that it had nothing to do with the much-advertised bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation in fighting terrorism.

Sergei Strokan: You have a point. And the refusal of the Obama administration not only to cooperate with Pakistan, but even to inform Islamabad of its plans is a striking demonstration of a lack of trust.

There is a widening crack in the global-war-on-terror alliance forged by President George W. Bush and President Pervez Musharraf shortly after Sept. 11, but this crack didn’t appear overnight. Pakistan’s sovereignty has long been ignored by the U.S., as demonstrated by its continuous drone aircraft attacks on alleged terrorist targets in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

I have been to Pakistan and I have observed the anti-American sentiments, which are very strong. Ordinary people are not concerned with things like strategic relations between Pakistan and the United States, or massive American aid to Pakistan. So, these people are ready to blame anything on America - even Pakistan’s swooning economy.

Mira Salganik:  Moreover the country is gripped by mounting domestic troubles like internal strife and a faltering economy. The corruption is truly indescribable. The government is unable to cope with it; it seems to be hobbling from one political crisis to another – against the background of economic misery and popular discontent.

Sergei Strokan: And in the background of these developments, American policy towards cash-strapped corrupted Pakistan, can be bluntly described as an “aid-for-raid” program. From my point of view, it is based on the understanding shared by American establishment that there is no way for Pakistan to abandon the donor who pays and sets the rules of the game. And Pakistani leadership knows it, too.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: We can understand some of the exasperation on the part of the Americans when they accuse the Pakistani military of dragging their feet in the war on terror and mishandling the money of U.S. taxpayers.

Sergei Strokan: Let us see how it’s related to President Zardari’s first official visit to Moscow. I was watching President Zardari’s talks in the Kremlin with President Medvedev, and I have a feeling that the major regional players are showing a resolve to come together to decide how to build additional security mechanisms. This is not against America, or the American-Pakistani alliance, but will supplement is by additional security mechanisms, through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, through Russian-Chinese-Indian cooperation.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: So the future of the present civilian Pakistani government largely depends on the support it gains from its various international partners.

Let’s now hear from Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky, deputy director of the Institute for Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. My basic question is, of course, about the visit of Mr. Zardari to Russia. What was the major objective of this visit?

Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky: The major objective of the visit was to discuss bilateral relations between Russia and Pakistan. The last time a Pakistani leader visited was President Pervez Musharraf in February 2003, so many years have passed since this visit. However, President Medvedev and President Zardari have met at multilateral conferences in Yekaterinburg, in Sochi; the last time they met was in August 2010 in Sochi, where both presidents participated in the meeting with the president of Afghanistan. The relationship between the two countries is developing rather fast. I would say that Russia’s concern is really the general geopolitical situation in the region, and this is why Moscow is paying so much attention to the relations with Pakistan these days.

One of the major issues discussed was the drug-trafficking situation in Afghanistan and the potential of developing economic relations between the two countries. There is already cooperation in the energy sector, in the agricultural sector. In general the trade level is still very modest for the two countries that are quite big and have good potential.

Once again I would stress the importance of the regional cooperation; Russia is interested in promoting this regional cooperation between the Central Asian countries and, on the issue of Afghanistan, future development is a great concern in Moscow—what comes after the United States leaves, how it will affect the drug problem, the Islamist terrorist problem.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: I was actually thinking that Mr. Zardari’s visit is coming in a very sensitive moment for Pakistan.

Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky: This visit is one of the first foreign visits of the President of Pakistan after bin Laden’s assassination. His visit to Russia was planned before, therefore, these events are not interconnected. But it is important for Pakistan, it is a kind of exit in the context of very strange relationship between Islamabad and Washington. For Pakistan this moment is very important because it is searching for a counter play at this moment. Of course, Russia welcomes the struggle against terrorism and bin Laden’s assassination, but at the same time it does not want to put Pakistan in a very difficult situation.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Now we are moving on to Red Line’s second heading, Between the Lines, in which where we usually discuss what we believe to be the most notable publication of the week. This time we have chosen the story “Less of America, now, for Palestinians” written by  Rami G.Khouri  for the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper. One of the reasons we’ve chosen it for our program is because it represents a Levant vision of the reconciliation agreement signed last week between Fatah and Hamas. Another reason is that its author is a well-known journalist, a Palestinian and a U.S. citizen now living in Lebanon, so he has a very interesting perspective.

Sergei Strokan: Actually Rami G.Khouri focuses his attention on the “American-Israeli reaction” to the deal, which he believes “once again misses the point.” So, one may ask what is this point and why is it missed?

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Well, Khouri says that the point is missed, let me quote, “mainly because there is no peace process with Israel, and Palestinian leaders are signaling that they have essentially stopped playing the game of Middle East diplomacy according to American-Israeli rules” According to the article, this time the Palestinian leaders “wish to focus on the internal development and national unity needs of the Palestinian people they serve.”

Mira Salganik: National unity is a commendable thing, but I fail to see how Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone making peace with it, detracts from Palestinian national unity? And Hamas’ foreign policy chief Mahmoud al-Zahar did say: "their plan does not involve negotiations with Israel or recognizing it." This being so, one has to agree with Israeli Prime-Minister Benyamin Netanyahu when he says that Palestinians want peace with Hamas and not with Israel.

Sergei Strokan:  Let us begin at the beginning: after four years of what can be called a civil war between Fatah and Hamas, the two organizations signed a reconciliation agreement last week in Cairo. Now, an interim non-partisan government is to be formed to prepare Palestine for elections and for accelerating the establishment of the independent state of Palestine, which would be recognized by the UN.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: Yet, it seems there are very serious hurdles that might undermine the very idea of the new state: the Palestinian leaders’ refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. In addition to that, their condemnation of Osama bin-Laden’s liquidation doesn’t make them leaders particularly welcome in the international community either. On the other hand, there’s huge support for the recognition of a Palestinian state, and the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas might actually be seen as a step in that direction.

Sergei Strokan: The hurdles you are referring to are there, but the Daily Star accuses America and Israel of dealing with the Palestinians, how he puts it, “solely through the lens of Israeli security concerns and American domestic political fears of the pro-Israeli zealots in Washington.”

 

Mira Salganik: There’s no denial of the fact that a strong pro-Israeli lobby does exist in Washington, but I don’t think that it really is the only force that determines U.S. policy in the Middle East. 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  My point is that the whole situation is extremely complicated and extremely vulnerable. This reconciliation might be regarded as a sign of Palestinian society’s drive for unification. Perhaps there are certain conditions on which they wanted to establish peace with Israel.

Mira Salganik: I think that Egypt has mediated the whole thing, the first political step of the new, though interim, government of Egypt. I think Hamas wants to get Arab support—I mean materially, not just in words.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: To get back to our story, Palestinians really have been split into two parts.

Sergei Strokan: The previous national unity government fell apart in 2007, when hundreds of lives were lost in armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas. As the result the Palestinian autonomy was split, with Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip and Fatah controlling the West Bank. It was only in March 2011, after the change of power in Egypt, and the fall of President Mubarak who was supportive of Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas, that the new military leaders of Egypt mediated, and as a result there was the first meeting of Hamas and Fatah that finally led to their present reconciliation.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  Some analysts believe that Hamas with its rather young and vigorous leadership counts on having the upper hand over Abbas’s aging team. Experts claim that Mahmud Abbas doesn’t have a team capable of functioning in the changing situation and moreover, that he is losing popular support. I wonder whether it could lead to actual absorbing of Fatah by Hamas, although I really doubt that scenario. Even Hamas assuming a leading role in Palestine looks like a grim perspective for Israel.

Mira Salganik: As well as a grim perspective for UN recognition of the independent state of Palestine.

 

Sergei Strokan: Let us come back to the Daily Star story. The author doesn’t even mention the differences between Hamas and Fatah, closing the very issue with rather pompous talk about the unity of all Palestinians. As to the crucial problem of Israel’s position regarding this unity – well, let me quote the tail end of the story: “For now, though, only naïve dreamers, delusional fools and political miscreants would react to the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation by asking what it means for peace with Israel or demanding that Hamas recognize Israel before anything else happens. “

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  Now I suggest talk to Gershon Baskin, founder and CEO of the Israel and Palestine Center for Research and Information. Mr. Baskin, thank you very much for joining us. Do you think that it is a step towards more efficient peace negotiations, or, perhaps, on the contrary?

Gershon Baskin: I don’t see any peace negotiations taking place now or in the immediate future between Israel and the Palestinians, and I don’t think that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is influencing the fact that there is no negotiation process. The reason why there are no negotiations right now is that the Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu is not prepared to discuss any kind of real peace with the Palestinians that the Palestinians can accept. The Netanyahu government wants to start as if nothing happened over the last 18 years and to begin negotiations with an offer of 50-60 percent in the West Bank, and this is a nonstarter for the Palestinians. I guess the Palestinians are thinking that, rather than dealing with Israel, which is impossible, let’s at least make peace in our own house.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  But do you see it as a positive development?

 

Gershon Baskin: It’s very mixed. The main challenge is for the moderate camp under Fatah to bring about moderation of the Hamas position. We’ve seen a gradual moderation of the Hamas position: Khaled Mashal and other leaders of Hamas are now talking about a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, and not about a Palestinian state in all the Palestine, but not yet to the point where they are willing to recognize Israel or talk about a peaceful Israel. So this process is making them more moderate, and that’s great. The thing is that if Hamas refuses to accept any kind of conditions for recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism, it could end up creating a very big financial crisis for the Palestinians should the U.S. and some European countries cut off their aid. There could be an economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza, which could very easily lead to a security crisis. Break down the security again – and we’re all in trouble.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  And what was the reaction of the Arab street to the news?

Gershon Baskin: The Arab street very much wanted this reconciliation to happen. The whole reconciliation program was leveraged by the interim military government of Egypt in knowing that Hamas wanted to have access to an office in Cairo, they wanted the border between Gaza and Egypt opened. The Egyptians used the leverage they had and basically made Hamas sign the document, which Fatah had already signed in October 2009. The Arab street, and the Palestinian street in particular, was very supportive of the unity; it was very uncomfortable for them to have a divided national authority.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  Was the process somehow stimulated by the Arab spring developments?

 

Gershon Baskin: The Arab spring development has not yet really crossed into the West Bank and Gaza. The West-Bank Palestinian youth started something that they called the March 15th Movement, in which they called for unity. They staged a small demonstration in Ramallah and a smaller one in Bethlehem, and it didn’t really take hold in the Palestinian street. But there is no doubt that President Abbas felt the pulse of the people and their desire for unity. And the call for unity of this youth definitely had an impact.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  As far as I know, developments in Syria have somewhat alienated Hamas leadership from the Syrian leadership.

 

Gershon Baskin: I think that the Hamas leadership is probably considering its options and the possibility that they may lose their home base in Syria in the coming future.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  What are the relations between Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood?

 

Gershon Baskin: Those relationships are quite good. There is a lot of cooperation, and there will be increased cooperation between them. There are regimes that Hamas has to leave like Syria. They won’t go to Egypt, because the Egyptian regime doesn’t want them in Egypt. They would probably find a new base in Qatar’s Doha.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  From what you’re telling me, I get the impression from that the peace process is actually coming to a stalemate, despite all the developments.

 

Gershon Baskin: It isn’t a stalemate, as the Palestinians are planning to bring the issue to the UN in September. The two-state solution was born in November 1947 in the UN when the UN was a new organization. And 64 years later, the Palestinians want to come back to the UN and say: “So, if the two-state solution and recognizing the state of Palestine in the June 1967 borders make Palestine a member-state of the UN, then deal with the fact that the state of Israel is occupying another member state of the UN.”

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  That sounds like a big problem for the UN, because, as far as I understand, this idea is supported by a growing number of countries, including those in Latin America.

Gershon Baskin: Yes, there are apparently about 130 countries supporting the Palestinian stance there. The question is what the U.S. will do, what will Russia and China do.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  And now we are moving on to Red Line’s final heading, Man in the News. This week it is going to be Ivo Sanader, former prime minister of Croatia (from 2003-2009), currently held in Austria, awaiting extradition to his homeland, where he is charged with corruption. The authorities of Austria have already decided to extradite Mr. Sanader, however, Sanader said he would prefer to be tried in Austria, according to media reports. Ivo Sanader was arrested in Austria on December 10, 2010 on a Croatian warrant linking him to alleged corruption, embezzlement and abuse of office. Now Austria also launched a separate investigation into Sanader's affairs on suspicion of money laundering.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  Just to remind our listeners, Croatia proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991, after a referendum in which more than 90 percent of its citizens supported the move. That sparked a four-year-long war with ethnic Serbs, who were dead set against the independence of Croatia.

Mira Salganik:  The war, which claimed some 20,000 lives, and then the fraudulent privatizations in the 1990s, deeply hurt Croatia’s economy. And the recent global economic downturn has also hit it hard, with Croatia’s economy shrinking steadily for the past two years. At present, the rate of unemployment   stands at eight-year high of 20 percent.

 

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  Also the corruption issue and the revelations of corruption reaching the top levels in politics, including the former prime minister, also fuel public discontent. But let us take a closer look at Ivo Sanader, his career as well as at the charges against him. He is 57 years old, he was educated in Austria, specialized in comparative literature, worked there as a publisher, then joined a nationalistic movement that later transformed into CDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), at present the leading center-right party of the country. In 2000 he was elected leader of the CDZ and in 2003, won the election, becoming the Prime Minister. In 2007 he was re-elected.

Sergei Strokan: Well, a straight and successful political career, yet in June 2009 Sanader abruptly resigned his post! No reasons given, no explanations made! Moreover, Sanader resigns from the CDZ, too, naming Ms. Jadranka Kosor, his deputy both in government and in the party as his possible successor.

Ekaterina Kudashkina: The current prime minister of Croatia is 57, a journalist and a poet. She studied in Zagreb, where she graduated with a degree in law. During the war she worked as the BBC correspondent and later produced two books on war.

Mira Salganik:  As we already know she replaced Sanader both as prime minister and president of CDZ in 2009. Faced with a huge deficit and high unemployment, she had to introduce an emergency budget aimed at reducing spending and the national debt.  She also started a massive anti-corruption campaign – not sparing corrupt CDZ members. A backlash was on the cards. Opposition accused the government – with special reference to prime minister – of concealing the facts of corruption in Sanader’s time, insisting that his deputy Kosor could not but be aware of them.

Sergei Strokan: And Sanader chooses this moment to stage his comeback! In January, Ivo Sanader announced he was returning to active politics saying it was a mistake he ever left. He accused Kosor and the members of the CDZ presidency of failed leadership. Most political pundits believed the reason for Sanader's surprise return was fear that he will eventually be tied to the numerous corruption scandals that have emerged since he left office. Anyway Sanader was expelled from CDZ.

Ekaterina Kudashkina:  Jadranka Kosor said his attempt to return to politics was a move to topple the government and create chaos at a decisive moment for the country's EU accession.  Croatia is expected to wrap up its accession negotiations under the current Hungarian EU presidency.

 

Mira Salganik: Meanwhile Croatia is gripped by mounting popular unrest. It would have been naive to expect that Jadranka Kosor’s harsh economic measures including her war on corruption and new labor legislation – strongly opposed by trade unions – could really stop the economic downslide.

Sergei Strokan: Do you mean the recent anti-government demonstrations in Zagreb and other cities?  As reported by France-24 TV they also burned the EU flag along with flags of the main opposition Socialist party and CDZ. I have noticed a familiar tell-tale feature: a dominance of young faces in the demonstrations that reportedly have been organized via Facebook.

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