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In part two, Newsclick’s Prabir Purkayastha tells Paul Jay that if the Gulf State medieval monarchies are not removed, there won’t be a long-term solution to the crisis in the region

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. This is the second in our series of interviews with Prabir from NewsClick. This is a new collaboration we’re doing with NewsClick India. And we’re continuing our conversation about the rise of Islamic extreme militancy, I guess you can call it. And now we’re going to talk a little bit more about ISIS and such. Thanks for joining us, Prabir. PRABIR PURKAYASTHA, FOUNDER, NEWSCLICK: Thank you, Paul. JAY: So, in the first interview, we talked about how the Pakistanis helped nurture and create the Taliban, and then sections of the Taliban, at least, come back to bite them. You have numerous examples of this, sort of creating these kinds of little monsters that come back to bite the big monster that helps nurture them. And it seems to be somewhat the case with ISIS. The Saudis seem to be quite happy to fund these kind of forces when they’re fighting in Syria. But then these forces, at least it appears, also have them in the crosshairs. PURKAYASTHA: Well, the ISIS case is a little more complex, because the Saudis now feel a very strong sense of competition with Iran, and Iran threatens them in different ways. Partly Iran is still–with whatever its limitations, it’s still a democracy. It’s not a monarchy. The monarchy was overthrown in Iran by the Shia uprising–later on becomes Shia uprising, but, really, popular uprising initially. So Khomeini converts it to a Shia uprising. Now, therefore Saudi Arabians have been trying to make this a Shia versus Sunni conflict. Now, this is, of course, a very old tactic. British used it in Bahrain, for instance, Sunni versus Shia. So Sunni versus Shia, Hindu versus Muslims, this is something which–colonial powers have always played this game. Lebanon is a perfect example, where you have Christians also into the mix. Now, while all this has been going on, don’t forget also there is Turkey at the side. So you have Turkey also stirring this Islamic pot, because they see it also as a way of expanding their influence. So Saudi and Turkey both felt that containing Iran in West Asia and expanding their role meant that they had to back Sunni extremist forces. So this has been a funding given by both Saudi Arabia, by Turkey, and also by the different Gulf emirates, as well as Qatar. So there is a large support for this kind of forces that were given financially–giving demands at different points of time. It was targeted at Syria. And that’s a common interest between the United States and Israel, because you have the Iran, Syria, Hezbollah. This is the axis that was there, and that with Iraq sort of going halfway, because it was also under Shia influence. Don’t forget the Shia forces were in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s time, and they come back and then become politically important in Iraq, and then finally they are the ones running the Iraqi government. The Maliki government was very close to Iran. So you had this axis which was seen to be a resistance axis by Israel, and therefore that was also a threat. So you have a commonality of interests which come together to support a certain kind of Islamic militancy. And, of course, these are what are called takfiris. They are Wahhabis or Salafists. All of them have ideologically the same position on Islam as Saudis have. When Saudi king talks, for instance, about these forces who were Shias, he calls them takfiris. The Houthis, for instance, in Yemen today are designated as takfiris by the Saudi king and the Saudi princes. JAY: Which means? PURKAYASTHA: Which means that they’re basically apostates and they can be killed. So you have this whole designation of takfiri Islam, that–those who are not really Muslims and who therefore can be in the crosshairs. So this kind of militancy which you see is an extreme form of Wahhabi politics, which is what Saudi Arabia has been preaching all this while. But role of Turkey in this, against Syria particularly, is also very important. JAY: From the U.S. point of view, I never quite understood why Assad was such an issue, especially as they start to move towards some kind of accommodation with Iran. I do understand why Israel wanted to mess up Assad, because their real issue is Hezbollah. And I don’t think they cared much about Assad, except he was the conduit of arms for Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is a real at least psychological threat. I mean, they’re not a threat, ’cause I can’t imagine there’s any reason why Hezbollah would ever attack Israel, but Israel just don’t like having a military force they can’t dominate on their border. And Hezbollah has proven that to them a couple of times. But in terms of the American geopolitical strategic interests, it’s almost like they are compromising their own strategic interest under pressure of what Israel wants out of this. PURKAYASTHA: This is–you’re absolutely right in what you say, that both Iraq (Saddam Hussein) or Bashar al-Assad (Syria) do not pose that kind of existential threat to the United States. Never did. And Bashar al-Assad is always willing in some sense to compromise with Israel. They never, never really wanted a military [crosstalk] JAY: And he played ball with the IMF and the World Bank, and he’s integrating himself into global capitalism completely. PURKAYASTHA: He did. And so did Libya’s Gaddafi, and that didn’t spare him either. In fact, he did the renditions. He helped in the renditions. And the guy that he helps rendition out and puts in jail is the guy the U.S. and French back to take over power in Libya. JAY: And Assad did the same thing with renditions. PURKAYASTHA: Absolutely. So they were playing ball. So it was really Israel’s interest that there should be no strong military power in that region. And Syria and Iraq were still two strong military powers compared to what others were. So I think that Israel, in its own long-term interests, wanted to take out first Iraq, which U.S. obligingly did, and handed the country to Iran in some sense, and now to ISI, its other half. JAY: Yeah, I wouldn’t get into it right now, but my sense of it was that that was more an American objective, Iraq, than even Israel. I’ve seen some evidence the Israelis weren’t all that hot about getting rid of Hussein, ’cause he created a barrier with Iran. They always thought Iran was the real issue. PURKAYASTHA: It could be. You could be right. JAY: Yeah. But Syria, I think it doesn’t make any sense other than Israel’s interest. PURKAYASTHA: Syria, it’s clearly that they wanted to break the Hezbollah’s lifeline. Iran is the supplier of arms to Hezbollah. And in any battle that Hezbollah has, if they send out the rockets over to Israel and so on and hid them, which they did in an earlier battle they had, they have to replenish those. JAY: And so they let the Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks start financing the most extreme possible forces in Syria. PURKAYASTHA: Absolutely. And that’s the one which really comes back to Iraq. These are the same forces who, after failing to hold more than the desert region of Syria, then go back and attack Iraq. And they were far more successful in Iraq than they were in Syria–get all the arms, and then come back to Syria again, now with all the Humvees and all the military equipment they were able to loot in Mosul. JAY: Now, I’m not sure if you know, ’cause I’m not sure it’s entirely clear, it seems fairly clear that in the early stages of the formation of ISIS, the Sauds are financing, the Qataris are financing. It does seem now like, as we had talked earlier about the Pakistanis with sections of the Taliban, that the Sauds have lost control of the situation and some of the guns of IS are pointed at the Sauds. It’s not just rhetoric. I mean, what’s your sense of that? PURKAYASTHA: This is the existential crisis that Pakistan also has: how much to go before it threatens itself. Now, I think the Saudis think they still can control it. I don’t think they believe they have lost control. I think they believe that it can threaten them in the long run but right now they can control it. So it doesn’t look like they’ve given up the agenda of trying to support these forces in Syria still. Turkey hasn’t. Turkey’s still demanding that there should be a no-fly zone, which really means take out Assad’s air force completely. A no-fly zone means it would take out Syria’s air force. So they’re asking for a no-fly zone and they’re asking for a safe haven, which means throw out Syrian army from certain parts of Syria and hand it over to their allies. So it doesn’t look [like] Turkey has changed its tack. And I don’t think Saudis believe they have lost control as yet. The only thing is, Qatar seems to be following in Saudis’ lead. Earlier they were playing an independent game. That they seem to have stopped, and they’ve given in to Saudis’ leadership on this issue. JAY: Right now, I mean, you get contradictory reports, but the reports seem to be that IS is kind of losing ground in Iraq. But that means they just push back into Syria, where they seem to be–no one seems to really be able to control what they’re able to do in Syria. PURKAYASTHA: Well, I don’t think the situation in either Syria or Iraq has really changed significantly due to U.S. air attacks. At the end of it, air attacks have a limited role. It’s the ground forces which have to hold ground. That’s the way it goes. And in Iraq, the ability of the Iraqi forces, the government forces, to hold ground is actually still limited. So you have the Kurds who have fought back a little, particularly the YPG, which is aligned to the Turkish–the Kurdish formations. They have really fought back in Kobanî, in that area. But other than that, the main opposition to Syria, opposition to the Islamists on the ground, is actually the Syrian army, which is the most, at least, well equipped and is still fighting pretty hard. JAY: Which every so often Israel still takes a shot at. PURKAYASTHA: Not only takes a shot at; they are also supporting the al-Nusra, which is an al-Qaeda affiliate in a part of the Golan Heights. In that area, they’re really supporting the al-Nusra. And the whole argument is al-Nusra will cut off the supplies of Hezbollah, because they can isolate a part of Lebanon from that side. So you have this–all kinds of crisscrossing of interests, military interests here. But substantively it does not appear that there is a chance of defeating the Islamists on the ground, particularly the IS or the al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra, unless you can really align with Bashar al-Assad. And that’s something right now French or the Americans are unwilling to do. The French are even less unwilling to do that than even the Americans. Americans have started now saying that maybe we need to think about Bashar al-Assad and that he will be there to stay. But the French are still saying no. And Saudis and Turkey are still very much opposed to what’s a continuation of Bashar al-Assad. They don’t want any stabilization of Syria as of now. JAY: Just to go back historically, we talked about the promotion of the jihadist elements as a piece of Pakistan strategic policy, then America strategic policy. But it wasn’t just support for the jihadists, because, I mean, these jihadists to a large extent were rural forces fighting against things they thought were a threat to their way of life, whether it was modernization coming from Russia or whether it was, later, the Americans. But it’s an expression of people’s dissatisfaction with the state of things, if you will. You can go further. But why does it express itself in that form is because there’s been such a demolishment of the secular opposition deliberately. Maybe you can talk about that, both–in various parts of this region it’s the same story. PURKAYASTHA: I think this is a very important point you’re making, that for a long time the understanding of the monarchies in the area, dictators in the area, Shah of Iran, for instance, was that the secular democratic left forces are the main threat, and therefore they have to be taken out. They always believed that the Islamic forces, Islamist forces, if you will, are ones that would not threaten them fundamentally, that they would be always against the kind of full regimes that are progressive, supported by the Soviet Union, and so on. So there was a complete decimation in lot of those countries, a decimation of the left and secular forces. But it is also true that there were certain secular powers–we’ll not call them progressive; they’re not nice, like Hafez al-Assad and so on; but to at least get the Islamists under control. So this taking out of the progressive elements and democratic elements have been a part of the policy of the U.S. for a long time. But at that same time, it is not only this–the physically taken out. I think the fact that Soviet Union fell, the fact that left has weakened these places and has weakened over the period of time, nationalist forces have not succeeded in charting a different course. Look at Syria, what it has done later, what we’re talking about earlier. So I think all of that meant that those who are looking for another alternative have then gone back to this kind of regressive medieval alternative. I would also–[it’s hard to say] that it is not medieval in terms of that–they think in medieval ideological terms, for sure, but they’re not medieval in the way they are organizing, the way they are fighting. So one should really think of them more as Islamic fascist forces in the kind of formations they are ideologically, rather than just a medieval fundamentalist force. JAY: ‘Cause they certainly know how to operate in the modern world. PURKAYASTHA: They are operating in the modern world. They’re using modern means of war. They’re using modern means of communication. They’re not religious in any of those things. So when you see the–where they want to create a medieval ideology using very modern means. And that’s something you have to understand, that it’s not just backward people, rural people wanting to go back to their way of life. They want a new way of life to be introduced the same way that any modern political expression today does, except that it is an ideology which is medieval in its concepts but imposed through modern means–war, military weapons, and communication. JAY: Right. Now, when we talked in the first interview about Afghanistan, you were talking about the need for some kind of regional cooperation amongst the big powers to sort out the Afghan situation. Is it the same issue here when you’re talking ISIS, Iraq, Syria? PURKAYASTHA: I think it’s much more intertwined with the issue of the medieval monarchies in the region. In fact, if the medieval monarchies are not removed, I do not think we’re going to have a long-term solution to what’s happening in the region. So I think that battle is really a part of the petrodollars, being with the monarchies, and monarchies being medieval in their thinking, therefore thinking that these forces are really some kind of tools we can use. So I think it’s really not just getting everybody together, but also looking at what we do with this medieval monarchy, as long as they are going to support these kind of forces. JAY: Well, it’s a very difficult problem, because now they’re sitting on mountains of cash. You have a situation as bizarre as the joint congressional committee into 9/11–you and I were talking about this off-camera. The joint congressional committee into 9/11 finds that the Sauds played a direct role in facilitating and financing the attacks of 9/11. The whole thing, assuming they’re right, the whole thing is hushed up, covered up, the pages are redacted from the report, and it doesn’t seem to affect Saudi relations at all. And, of course, we know it’s–what is it?–$60 billion a year of Saudi arms purchases from the United States–excuse me. I may have the number wrong. But it was an enormous amount of arms purchases taking place. There’s not going to be a lot of motivation on the side in the United States to do anything about the monarchies, ’cause there’s so much of that money is coming back into the rear ends of people here. And the French, certainly, they can scream all they like about how much they hate what happened to Charlie Hebdo, but the French are falling all over each other to sell arms to exactly the same Sauds and other such people. PURKAYASTHA: Yes. This whole argument that Saudis are moderates and there are allies against al-Qaeda, and at the same time that what Saudi is doing–Saudis–I was look–read the WikiLeaks documents today, and in fact they say openly, they have informed the American ambassador, that we have compensated the families of those who have been killed in the attacks in 9/11, believing that they need to be brought back. So they’ve been compensated for the death of the people that were killed in the attacks, those who are the ones who perpetrated the attack. You know, the Saudi Arabian money has been the biggest radicalizing influence (“radicalizing” within quotes) among the Islamic community world over. Islam in most parts of the world were much more local variants. They were very definitely, whether we take, for instance, in Africa, or we take in India, Pakistan itself, there were different kinds of Islam which were there, and they were certainly not an aggressive kind of Wahhabi Islam which condemns any variation in practice as being takfiri and deserving of death. These are not the kind of Islam we have seen in any other parts of the world. But this, after the Wahabis took power and they got oil, now, this has become their major influence, which is being spread directly with petrodollars. And that’s preparing this fertile ground for what we’re calling as this–Islamic movements all over the world. So that’s why I’m saying that it is not such an easy issue of just removing this particular cancer. The cancer is being spread really with monarchial money of this kind all over the world for last 40, 50, 60 years, and we are reaping the fruits of that. So I think that’s why I’m saying that in the short-term, yes, you can excise maybe locally if you come to some agreement, build the Saudis a little more. Maybe we can contain this threat more easily for the time being. But as long as they support those kind of forces all over the world, this is the consequence of that. And that’s not going to stop till you actually come to grips with this issue that monarchies are not terrible in the 21st century. JAY: Now, King Abdullah died just very recently. And you expect any kind of change with the regime? PURKAYASTHA: No, I think all the princes and the family of Ibn Saud sort of get together and run it as a board of the monarchy. So I don’t think one person dying, the titular dying, really makes a difference. I think the policies will continue. JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News and with our new NewsClick collaboration. There’ll be much more to come.


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Prabir Purkayastha is an engineer and a science activist in the power,
telecom and software sectors. He is one of the founding members of the
Delhi Science Forum and serves on Newsclick's editorial board. He has
written and published extensively on a number of science and
technology policy issues.