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Showing posts from March, 2017

Pakistan in the hot seat as general takes command of Saudi-led alliance

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By James M. Dorsey
With no troops to command and a Riyadh-based skeleton staff, General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s recently retired top commander, appeared to slide into a cushy job as commander of a 41-nation, Saudi-led military alliance created to fight terrorism.
In fact, the general’s new job is everything but straightforward. He has taken on a task that is likely to require diplomatic tap dancing if he is to succeed in putting flesh on the alliance’s skeleton and ensure that his native Pakistan is not enmeshed in the bitter dispute between Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s closest allies, and Iran, the South Asian state’s neighbour.
Complicating things for General Sharif is the fact that Pakistan is home to the world’s largest Shiite Muslim minority, who account for up to a quarter of its population. Pakistani critics warned that General Sharif’s appointment risked involving Pakistan not only in the Middle East’s seemingly intractable conflicts, but also in Sunni-Shiite Muslim sec…

Mixing politics and sports: Turkish soccer campaigns for President Erdogan

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By James M. Dorsey
Turkish soccer executives campaigned this month for major constitutional change that would grant President Recep Tayyip Erdogan far reaching executive powers. The Turkish Football Federation’s (TFF) backing of Mr. Erdogan’s effort to accumulate more power put to bed any notion of a separation between politics and soccer. So did the failure of world soccer body FIFA and UEFA, its European affiliate, to condemn the TFF’s violation of a cardinal principle of international sports governance.
Speaking at a TFF conference, Mr. Erdogan punctured the fiction upheld by sports officials and politicians of a Chinese Wall that separates sports and politics. “I believe politics and football share many common aspects at the core. Just like sports, the essence of politics is competition, race... Just as a team, playing without any plan, tactic or strategy, have zero chance of winning the cup, politicians, political parties that have nothing to tell the people have no chance of su…

Defeating the Islamic State: A war mired in contradictions

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By James M. Dorsey
US President Donald J. Trump’s vow to defeat what he terms radical Islamic terrorism forces the United States to manoeuvre the Middle East and North Africa’s murky world of ever shifting alliances and labyrinth of power struggles within power struggles.
The pitfalls are complex and multiple. They range from differences within the 68-member, anti-Islamic State (IS) alliance over what constitutes terrorism to diverging political priorities to varying degrees of willingness to tacitly employ jihadists to pursue geopolitical goals. The pitfalls are most evident in Yemen and Syria and involve two long-standing US allies, NATO ally Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson travels to Turkey this week as US and Russian troops create separate buffers in Syria to prevent a Turkish assault on the northern town of Manbij. Manbij, located 40 kilometres from the Turkish border, is controlled by Kurdish forces, viewed by the US as a key ground force in the f…

Middle East Soccer: Trump’s Israel-Palestine peace making put to the test

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by James M. Dorsey
Israel and Palestine are gearing up for a crucial battle in world soccer body FIFA about the status of Israeli-occupied territory that is likely to foreshadow President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to revive long-stalled Middle East peace efforts.
At stake in the battle that will play out during FIFA’s annual congress in May in Bahrain is the status of six West Bank Israeli settlement teams that play in Israeli leagues. The Palestine Football Association (PFA) and human rights groups charge that the Israel Football Association’s (IFA) policy violates FIFA rules as well as international law that sees Israeli settlements as illegal.
Israel has argued that Israeli occupied territory involves disputed lands whose future should be determined in peace negotiations.
Past efforts by the PFA to get Israel’s FIFA membership suspended have stranded, prompting years of failed efforts by the world soccer body to negotiate a solution. FIFA negotiator Tokyo Sexwale, whose mandate e…

Protest in Iran: The murky geopolitics of soccer

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Source: Ahwaz Monitor
By James M. Dorsey
Thousands of Iranian Arabs last week attended an AFC Champions League soccer match between Esteghlal Ahvaz FC and Qatar’s Lekhwiya SC dressed in traditional Arab garb in protest what an opposition news website dubbed were government efforts to suppress their identity.
The English-language website, Ahwaz Monitor, said support for Esteghlal turned into anti-government protests with fans cheering their team in Arabic rather than Farsi. Fans chanted “national slogans” such as “Arabic is my identity and honour” and “Al Ahwaz for Ahwazis and all Gulf state residents are dearest to us.” Fans reportedly recited poetry celebrating their region’s Arab heritage.
Al Ahwaz is the Arabic name for the oil-rich but impoverished, south-eastern Iranian province of Khuzestan that borders on Iraq and sits at the head of the Gulf. It is also the name of the province’s capital that hosts Iran’s foremost refinery.  Part of Khuzestan’s ethnic and religious mosaic, ethnic …

Spreading the Gospel: Asian Leaders Wary of Saudi Religious Diplomacy

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Source: Imgur
By James M. Dorsey
Critics in the Maldives likely sighed relief when Saudi King Salman this week postponed his visit because of an outbreak of flu. The flu is however unlikely to halt a planned massive Saudi investment or the impact on Maldives society of the kingdom’s religion-driven public diplomacy.
Big ticket investments and countering political violence dominated the headlines of the king’s tour of Asia together with the extravagance of his travel – an entourage of at least 1,000, 459 tonnes of luggage, a golden electric elevator for the monarch to descend from his private plane, and a specially built toilet for his visit to a Jakarta mosque.
Yet, religion often was an elephant in the room on most stops on King Salman’s trip that took him to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, China and Japan and that was supposed to also include the Maldives.
All countries on the king’s intinerary feel the impact of a more than four-decade long Saudi soft power effort to spread Sunni Muslim u…

Pakistani military engagement: Walking a fine line between Saudi Arabia and Iran

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By James M. Dorsey
Pakistan is emerging as an important military player in the Gulf as its struggles to balance complex relations with regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran and diverging approaches by different branches of its government.
Pakistan’s military engagement with the Gulf goes far beyond increased involvement in a Saudi-led, 41-nation military alliance that officially was established to counter terrorism, but is widely suspected to also be a bid to garner support for the kingdom’s troubled intervention in Yemen and create an anti-Iranian Sunni Muslim grouping.
As it discusses the deployment of troops to the Saudi-Yemeni border and a senior, recently retired Pakistani military commander appears poised to take command of the Riyadh-based alliance, Pakistan alongside Turkey and China is also emerging as a more cost-effective supplier of military hardware to a region that is home to the world’s largest arms importers.
"You can’t afford having these very expensive contract…