Monday, December 21, 2020

The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Security Dilemma

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The Persian Gulf Crisis and the Security Dilemma


Global Views 360

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December 21, 2020


American Assault Ship in the Persian Gulf

American Assault Ship in the Persian Gulf | Source: Cpl. David Gonzalez via Flickr

This article explains the recent tensions between Iran and the United States, and presents it as a case of the ‘Security Dilemma’ theory in practice.

The Persian Gulf Crisis 2019-20

To understand the current crisis in Persian Gulf, we must look at the Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The JCPOA was signed between The E3/EU+3 (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, and the United States, China, with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to permit nuclear capabilities for Iran exclusively for peaceful purposes, in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

JCPOA terms:

International Atomic Energy Agency representative in Tehran, Iran for talks on JCPOA implementation | Source: Tasnim News Agency

Under this accord, Iran had to reduce its Uranium stockpile by 98% to 300kg, maintain its level of enrichment at 3.67%, reduce the number of centrifuges, and only keep one of its Uranium enrichment plants active. It also had to redesign its reactor at Arak, so it could not produce weapon’s grade Plutonium. Until 2031, Iran is not permitted to make heavy-water reactors.

Further, it was to permit itself to regular inspection of their nuclear site by the global nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In return, Iran gained over $100bn of frozen assets overseas, and was permitted to allow trading in oil in international markets and use the global financial system for trade.

Trump Administration’s Revoking of the JCPOA

In 2018, the Trump administration reimposed some of the sanctions in Iran, despite Trump's election promise to reduce involvement in the Middle East. Countering the re-impositions, Iran threatens to resume Uranium enrichment. In May 2019, Iran suspends nuclear deal commitments, and gives other signatories a 60-day deadline to protect it from US sanctions, before resuming Uranium enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran had already increased Uranium production, but is unclear by how much.

President Trump signing executive orders, imposing sanctions on Iran | Source: Shealah Craighead via White House

In May 2019, the US increased military deployment in the Persian Gulf, reportedly to prevent what the termed was a “campaign” between Iran and its proxies to threaten US oil shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Tanker Crisis

In June 2019, two tankers were set ablaze in the Gulf of Oman, using mines. The US blamed Iran for these blasts, but Iran denied the charges.

In the same month, Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a US surveillance drone, escalating tensions and causing the US to name the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

In July 2019, the British Royal Marine Commandos seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, as it was suspected to be en route to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions. The US declared that anyone assisting the ship would be considered an accomplice of terrorist groups, namely the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

In retaliation, Iran seized British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Iranian tanker was released six weeks later, on the condition that they do not unload their cargo of 2.1million barrels of oil in Syria.

December Air Strikes

In December 2019, the K-1 Air Base in Iraq was attacked by an unconfirmed party, killing one American contractor. This base hosts Americans (amongst other nationalities) who are responsible for training Iraqi troops in counter-terrorism. The Americans alleged that the attack was carried out by Kataib Hezbollah, which denies it. Kataib Hezbollah is a rebel group (recognized as a terrorist group by the US) backed by Iran. The Iraqi’s alleged that ISIL was responsible.

In retaliation for the killing of the American Contractor, the US launched air strikes on the weapons depot and command centres of Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria in the same month, reportedly killing 25 militiamen.

Assassination of Iranian Major General

Late Iranian General, Qasem Suleimani | Source: Tasnim News Agency

Iraq and Iran condemned the attack, and on 31 December, 2019, Iraqi militia attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad. In response, the US conducted airstrikes at the Baghdad International Airport in January 2020, killing the Commander of Iranian Quds Force, General Qasem Suleimani, the second most powerful man in Iran.

These escalations, placed within the context of US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, provide a good example of the Security Dilemma theory and how it plays out in practice.

What is the Security Dilemma?

Before delving into the theoretical definitions it is worth reminding ourselves that States do not behave as they do because a theoretical model demands them to. Rather, most theoretical models are based on observations of real-world behaviour of states, and seek to explain said behaviour. The Classical Realist theory, of which the Security Dilemma is a part, is amongst one of these, and I endeavour to highlight some of the key points of this theory.

The Classical Realist theory holds that States (or State-actors) are the basic unit of any international system. They are the most important actors, as there is no authority higher than them. The international system is fundamentally anarchic, with every actor left to their own devices with no supranational oversight. Each State finds it in their own self-interest to provide their own means for security. Security comes with the ability of the State to exercise its power, and thus Power Hegemony and Security are inextricably linked. In other words, since no State can rely on a supranational authority to provide security (an every-man-for-himself scenario), it is in each State’s best interest to understand the power distribution across all state-actors and maximize power for themselves, as the ultimate security. This results in a zero-sum game, with one actor’s loss being another’s gain. In providing absolute security for one’s own State, one leaves others insecure. The resulting power imbalance manifests in conflict, and for the Realist it follows, therefore, that Conflict is the natural state of affairs.

This, in essence, is the Security Dilemma: Striving for absolute security leaves others absolutely insecure, thus providing powerful incentives for an arms race, leading to further conflicts. It is little wonder that this is also called the Spiral Model, for in the very process of striving for security, one gives birth to escalating conflict.

How does this relate to the Persian Gulf Crisis?

The US has long followed the Realist model, believing that in a state of fundamental anarchy, it is justifiable to have nuclear capabilities and have intense militarization, as a means of gaining absolute security (justified by ‘offense is the best defence’). However, the US is also known for disallowing Weapons of Mass Destruction and nuclear capabilities in other countries, despite having such resources by itself. Here we see the Security Dilemma: to maintain absolute security, the US cannot allow others to be similarly armed. This is seen clearly in the signing of the JCPOA.

Consider the case from Iran’s point of view. As a result of the US war against Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and overthrow of Saddam Hussain in Iraq, there has been constant American presence in both the countries bordering Iran since almost two decades. That this poses a threat to Iran is obvious: the US caused fundamental regime changes in Iraq after the war; with its manpower and firepower, alongside its strategic placement on both sides of the Iranian border, the US is at a vantage point to attack Iran – placements that are, paradoxically, intended to guarantee American security.

The American show of strength and the impending danger of conflict leave Iran with two choices: Forge alliances with US adversaries, such as China or Russia, to deter Iran-US conflict, or be nuclear-armed. Iran managed both, causing, in effect, a nuclear arms race that culminated in the JCPOA.  In retrospect, the JCPOA seems like the perfect solution to the Security Dilemma in US-Iran conflicts: not only does it allow Iran to benefit from its suspensions of nuclear capabilities, it also ceases the arms race and de-escalates the conflict. In short, it is the Diplomat’s way out of the Security Dilemma, guaranteeing security without arms.

The Trump administration’s call to reimpose sanctions on Iran only serves to re-ignite security concerns for both countries. With Iran having ousted its JCPOA commitments as of January 2020, we can only hope that de-escalations will soon follow to prevent the otherwise inevitable spiralling into arms race and false absolute security.

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July 19, 2021 12:00 PM

The Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and its Implications

In Pakistan, Blasphemy results in a capital punishment in majority of cases. It is perhaps considered a crime worse than terrorism. A crucial case in point is the fact that the Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Court gave around 15 years jail term to two close aides of Hafiz Saeed—chief of the terrorist organization—Lashkar-e-Taiba—and mastermind behind 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks—where at least 150 innocent people lost their lives.

Similarly, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi—Lashkar-e-Taiba’s operation commander and another important figure involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack—was sentenced to 15 years in jail period. Not to mention—this happened amidst the international pressure on Pakistan for letting terrorists to function and roam freely within their country.

While something as violent as terrorism is dealt with lenient punishments, there are draconian laws for blasphemy in the country. Moreover, one can be accused of committing blasphemy—doesn’t matter if they did it or not—and might not even face a fair trial.

This article discusses what are the blasphemy laws and what are their implications while looking at some specific cases.

What are Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws?

What's called Blasphemy law today has its origins in the colonial era. The “offences relating to religion” were introduced by British in 1860, and were later expanded in 1927. These were sections 295 and 295-A from the Indian Penal Code. The laws were made to avoid religious disturbances, insult religious beliefs, or intentionally destroy or desecrate a place or an object of worship. Under the 295 and 295-A, the convicted were to be given a jail term from one year to ten years—with or without a fine.

Pakistan ended up inheriting these laws after the partition of India in 1947.

The laws were amended in 1982 and another clause was added which prescribed life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran intentionally. Another clause was added in 1986 to punish blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad through imprisonment for life or death. These clauses, were added under General Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, in an order to make the laws more “pro-Islam.”

Since then, this law has often been used to persecute people from minority communities—such as the Ahmadiyas, Shias, Christians, and Hindus—they have been accused of blasphemy without much evidence.

Infamous cases and implications of blasphemy in Pakistan

One of the famous cases was of Asia Bibi, which grabbed international attention as well. Asia Noreen—known as Asia Bibi—was a Pakistani Christan and a farm laborer in Punjab province. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, was a brick laborer. A dispute with her Muslim neighbours turned into an accusation of blasphemy—leading to her arrest and imprisoned. There were a lot of protests in Pakistan, demanding death penalty for Asia Bibi.

Two politicians—Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti—who supported and tried to help Asia Bibi, were murdered. Taseer was shot by his own bodyguard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in broad daylight. Qadri was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed in 2016. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero for millions and hardliners praised him as a martyr. He is regarded as a saint and a mausoleum has been built over his grave in his village near Islamabad, where even devotees come to offer prayers.

Asia Bibi was first sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, however was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in a historic judgement of 2018. In 2019, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that she was free to leave Pakistan and was given asylum in Canada where she moved along with her family.

Although after a long struggle, Asia Bibi still got justice and was able to start a new life—unfortunately many others didn’t. Many met with Mob Justice.

In 2017, a journalism student at a Pakistani University was lynched to death by fellow students in Mardan—in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The student—Mashal Khan—was a Shia Muslim and was falsely accused of blasphemy. The mob was enraged by a rumour according to which he had promoted the Ahmadi faith on Facebook. In a similar instance, a man named Tahrir Ahmad Naseem was killed by vigilantes in July last year for blasphemy. He was a former Ahmadi, and was in Peshawar Central Jail since 2018 for claiming to be a prophet. He was shot dead inside the courtroom during trial in the Peshawar Judicial Complex.

Furthermore, in a case similar to that of Asia Bibi, a Christian couple—Shahzad and Shama Maseeh—were accused of blasphemy as well. They were then beaten and burned alive by a mob in 2014. Shama was four months pregnant. The mob, which also included a local cleric, believed that the couple had burned some pages of the Quran along with some rubbish, although the couple’s family still denies this. Five people including the cleric were sentenced to death, while the eight others were given two years imprisonment.

Last year, former Foreign and Defense Minister Khawaja Asif as well was accused of blasphemy for merely stating that “all religions are equal.”

Why is this happening?

According to data by Pakistan’s Centre for Social Justice, there have been 1549 known cases of serious blasphemy in the years 1987-2017, out of which 720 were Muslims, 516 Ahmadis, 238 Christians, 31 Hindus, and the rest 44 are unknown. 75 out of the total cases ended in the person being murdered before their trial.

There are 13 countries in the world which punish blasphemy by death penalty and Pakistan happens to be one of them. But unlike countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where they are executed judicially—as mentioned earlier—accused in Pakistan are often killed in mob violence or assassination. While Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to top in terms of the highest number of executions, most of them for sacrilege or crimes against Islam, Pakistan’s total ‘judiciary’ killings stand at zero.

The problem of this mob mentality in Pakistan, especially when it comes to religion, is actually deeply rooted in its constitution. The country’s aspiration to become a democracy as well as an Islamic state is in itself contradictory. The people want the right to freedom and expression and the hanging of a person committing blasphemy at the same time. The constitution denies criticism of Islam while claiming to allow freedom of speech and religion. The elevation of one religion over others in itself is principally undemocratic.

Another interesting point is the fact that the people supporting these ideas haven’t been aware of how things can backfire. Muhammad Din Taseer—father of Salman Taseer—supported Ilam Din, who murdered a Hindu publisher over blasphemy in 1929. An ancestor’s support for radicalism ended up in his own offspring being assassinated in the name of blasphemy.

Mental illness and blasphemy

In Pakistan, often some mentally ill people are punished to death by mobs for unknowingly ‘committing’ blasphemy. In 2012, a man widely reported by the media and police as ‘mentally unstable’ was arrested for blasphemy in Bahawalpur district, Punjab province. A mob gathered outside the police station, dragged him outside, and burned him to death. There have also been cases of misuse where such vulnerable individuals were subjected to sexual abuse and later accused of blasphemy by the abusers to cover up their crimes.

Such abuses towards mentally unsound people would have been a criminal case and the abusers would have been punished—unless they use the blasphemy law—as the mentally unstable victim cannot defend themselves.

Role of Anti-Terrorism courts

Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism courts were set up to ensure quick justice in cases such as terrorism, sectarian violence, targeted political killings, hijacking, kidnapping, extortion and even arms trafficking. Earlier gang rape was also included in it—but removed later.

They are also key to controlling mob attacks on blasphemy accused as such trials are held here.

Yet, these courts have been facing several problems due to lack of basic resources and understaffing. The posts of judges often remain vacant for months, and the state prosecutors complain of poor working conditions—with no offices, stationery, clerical staff or legal resources. These problems may have risen due to the fact that there are not sufficient funds allotted for the ATC infrastructure, one of the major challenges in Pakistan’s legal system. Due to this, these courts are not able to fulfill their primary objective—to provide ‘quick’ justice.

Moreover, these courts lack independence and are vulnerable to political influence—the judges are held accountable to the executive. Sometimes the witnesses often refuse to testify against the accused, as they fear assassination by terrorist groups the accused belongs to. The judges, state prosecutors and others also have personal security concerns which also lead to delays in trials.

Also, these courts deny terrorism suspects the right to equality before the law. They are not even tried in a public place with full defense and are not presumed innocent. Peshawar High Court advocate Ghulam Nabi even challenged the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance 2009 under Article 199 of the constitution in December 2009, saying that it violated basic human rights.

The blasphemy laws of Pakistan need to be repealed in today's Global civic society. People are fighting for equality everywhere around the globe. And now it is up to Pakistan to choose—whether to become a democracy or continue with a pseudo-democratic authoritarian regime which is based on extremist interpretation of religion.

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