Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rouhani: Iran's Deterrence Doctrine

In a meeting with Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization on August 24, 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani set forth Iran’s defense doctrine: 

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President Hassan Rouhani stressing the need for strengthens and develops the country’s defense industry as part of the deterrence doctrine, said: “Our defense capability will never be used for invading any country, even a weak state. We are not for aggression.” . . .

President, however, warned against enemy threats against Iran and said, “We do not stand idle in the face of enemy threats and plots against our national sovereignty.”

“Islamic Republic’s strategy is effective defense;” said he, and that “Iran does not seek confrontation or interference with internal affairs of the other countries.”

Dr.Rouhani pointed to Iran’s military power as a capability to increase regional security and emphasized that with boosting military, “We do not seek an arms race, but we ourselves will make the necessary decisions to defend ourselves and we do not seek the permission of others in this regard.”

“Iran never seeks to obtain Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) or any other unconventional weapons, despite the fact that it is itself a victim of chemical attack; it rather wants a world without WMD,” noted Dr.Rouhani.

“Our military will secure the country and its neighbors,” added president Rouhani.

“Our neighbors should know that if we become powerful in defense industries, it is not merely for our own security, but it is for the security of the entire region,” Dr.Rouhani stated.

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Iran defense doctrine is deterrence," August 24, 2014, President of Iran website

Nasrallah: Israel Must Be Eliminated

The following are excerpts, translated by MEMRI, from an interview with the leader of Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah. The interview was conducted on August 14-15 by the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar.

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"The most severe problem we are dealing with now in terms of the atmosphere in the Arab and regional arena is that we are approaching a phase in which the peoples of the region see Israel's existence as natural and not a threat to them. [They think that,] if Israel is a problem, then it is the problem of the Palestinian people, not of the peoples of the region. This relates to politics, security, and economics.

"First of all, Israel is an illegal entity and constitutes a perpetual... threat to the entire region. [Since] we cannot coexist with this threat, the end of this nation must be its annihilation, unconnected to all the problems and the sensitivities, of everything that has happened or will happen between Palestinians and non-Palestinians, between Sunnis and Shi'ites, or between Muslims and Christians. All the conflicts, sensitivities, schisms, and struggles must not neutralize the culture that considers Israel a cancerous growth, absolute evil, and a danger to all peoples and governments in this region, and to their honor and their holy places. The final goal must be its annihilation. . . .

"From the point of view of [religious] faith, [Israel] is a matter that cannot even be discussed. When it comes to the [religious] faith, the [extent to which] public debate that is impacted by mood and emotion is more limited. [Since] the people stress that their opinion on Israel stems from [religious] belief, this position has nothing to do with the question of whether we and the Palestinians are reconciled or divided. . ."

"I don't think that there is any [weapon] that Hizbullah has prepared, hidden, or concealed [for use] in a confrontation with Israel and was exposed [in Syria]. The [Syria] campaign gives us experience, knowledge, and wide horizons, that can be used more optimally in any future conflict with the enemy, whether defensive or offensive... Israel is monitoring Hizbullah's experience in Syria. After [Hiabullah] gained experience [in its fighting against armed Syrian groups] in Al-Qusayr and Al-Qalamoun, Israelis asked many times whether Hizbullah could implement the lessons and knowledge it had gained from this experience in a [future] campaign against the Galilee. On occasion, the Syria campaign gives us additional qualitative advantages [that could help us] in any conflict with the Israeli enemy. We have overlooked nothing that could benefit us in fighting the enemy." 

"Throughout the [2006] war, weapons transfers from Syria were not stopped. It was not clear how long the war would last. Therefore, the more options we had, and the more weapons and ammunition, the better the situation would be. Although Israel attacked nearly all the [border] crossings [between Syria and Lebanon], it was still possible to transfer weapons. . .

"It was a reasonable possibility that the war would spread to Syria, because Israel placed part of the responsibility for the steadfastness of the resistance [i.e. Hizbullah] on Syria, as well as [responsibility] for arming it with some of the weapons that had a significant impact on the course of the war. Therefore, this possibility was reasonable due to developments on the ground, especially when talk began of an [Israeli]  ground incursion towards Hasbaya, Rashaya, and the western and central Beqaa [areas in northern and northeastern Lebanon]. Then, around the second week of the aggression, Brig. Assef Shawkat [deputy defense minister and brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad], who maintained contact with us throughout the war, asked my opinion on an idea examined in Damascus – the possibility that Syria would have to enter [the war] on the side of the resistance [i.e. Hizbullah] in the event of a wide-scale [Israeli] ground incursion. I am not saying that such a decision was made, but it was proposed to the president [Assad] and to the relevant group of decision-makers. They monitored every move, and were updated on everything that was happening. After consulting with the brothers [i.e. Hizbullah], I answered [the Syrians]: You are not obligated to do this; the situation here is not so bad, and our ability to handle a ground [operation] is very good. On the contrary, we hope Israel does launch a ground incursion, because then the characteristics of the campaign would be clear. In effect, [a wide-scale Israeli] ground incursion, which might have prompted Syria to enter the war, did not take place, so the idea was scrapped, and there was no discussion afterwards [on this issue]." . . .

"In principle, the decision to capture the Israeli soldiers [in 2006] was made by Hizbullah's Shura Council several months before the operation. Under our modus operandi, when the Shura Council makes a decision such as this, [responsibility for] its administration and its execution are transferred to the Jihad Council, which is headed by the secretary-general in accordance with the Hizbullah charter. This council is made up of a group of central jihadi commanders.

"On the execution level [of such a decision], the matter is discussed by the Jihad Council from several aspects, such as the appropriate location for a successful operation, timing, tactics, the battle plan and how it is to be administered, the participants, [Israel's] possible responses, and precautions that must be taken. All these are usually discussed by the Jihad Council, and decisions are made unanimously or nearly unanimously – that is, not by a vote.

"[Even] after the selection of a location, participant groups, and a course of action, this [operation] was not simple and took months to carry out. More than once, the brothers infiltrated the area and even the land of occupied Palestine, conducting lengthy ambushes, withdrawing from and then returning [to Israel], and waiting for a suitable opportunity. Sometimes targets appeared but it was unclear whether they were civilian or military. We stressed that we must capture soldiers, not settlers, so that they cannot later say that we kidnapped civilians. . .

"It is the secretary-general who decides on [how] the jihad operation will be run, but he of course does not directly manage the jihad units, the fighters in the field... The jihad commanders – or those whom we call the jihadi aides – are in charge [of them]. They, together with the secretary-general, monitor the operation; he is aware of the Shura [Council's] decision-making policy – to some extent, he serves as its proxy, [as he is] updated on the status of the jihad, on the possible options, and on the political situation. For this reason, the secretary-general is the decision-making factor, sometimes also on matters relating to the field, while consulting with, and sometimes on the consent of, the Jihad Council members. For instance, on the decision to strike areas within occupied Palestine – it is not [the commanders] in the field who decide where to attack. This is a decision we [in the Jihad Council] make.

"When a decision is made, the jihadi officials monitor its execution and coordinate among [fighting] units, intelligence elements, and the [units] firing artillery and rockets. That is, if we say we entered the stage of [attacking] Haifa, it refers to a decision [that has been made]. The type of weapons to be used [require] that a decision [be made]. Targeting a Sa'ar 5 [Israeli Navy Corvette requires] a decision.[1] Decisions such as this are made by the Jihad Council and the secretary-general, since he heads the council, and in consultation with and while reaching understandings with the brothers... Every step has its own considerations. For instance, targeting a Sa'ar 5 means that it was decided to attack a quality target, [and that] has many consequences. Additionally, when we use a particular weapon for the first time, it means that the Jihad Council has decided to unveil a weapon that no one knew we had. After the decision is made, the discussion becomes technical, professional, and executive. I have nothing to do with that, and I don't intervene. . .

"Another example relates to targeting Tel Aviv. This is not a procedural matter, but a significant decision. When the Dahiyeh and other cities in the south and the Beqaa [Valley] were attacked, there was a serious discussion on whether to target Tel Aviv at that time. The result of the discussion is that we created a new equation: Tel Aviv-Beirut. Since the Dahiyeh and other areas came under heavy attack in any case, we said, Let's create a new equation by means of which we will defend Beirut or [at the very least] participate in defending it."

In response to another question, Nasrallah stressed that he was part of the decision-making process in the Shura Council, but made no decisions on his own:

"The Hizbullah secretary-general is not the commander of Hizbullah and is not the decision-maker in Hizbullah. In principle, political decisions are made by the Shura [Council]. It is the Shura [Council] that sets out the processes and formulates the positions and principled decisions. Of course, the secretary-general is an influential partner in the decision-making, but he is not the one who makes the decisions... For instance, the decision to enter the battle of Qusayr [in Syria] was made by the Shura [Council], not the secretary-general. Even the decision to announce [the decision to do so] was made by the Shura [Council]. All that remains for me is to [decide] how to express this position..."

While implicitly acknowledging that Hamas's relationship with Hizbullah and Iran is strained, Nasrallah stressed that the ties with Hamas were never severed. In the context of the current fighting in Gaza, he criticized Turkey for trying to aid the Palestinians without cooperating with Egypt, emphasizing that anyone who wishes to help them must do so only via the Egyptian channel.

In response to the question whether the Palestinians had asked Hizbullah to directly intervene in the recent fighting in Gaza, Nasrallah said:

"[Hamas senior official] brother Moussa Abu Marzouq talked about this.[2] No one from the [other] factions spoke to us about this... If such a demand is serious, it will be discussed in private circles, not in the media. The lines of communications between us and Hamas were never severed, even when there was talk of a strained relationship. Communication is ongoing. [Abu Marzouq] or another Hamas leaders could ask to discuss this matter, but to raise it by means of the media – this is inappropriate and surprising...

"Gaza is situated between two problems: the problem of trust with Israel – which is fundamental and essential – and the problem of being between two axes – the Qatar-Turkey axis and the Egypt-Saudi Arabia-UAE axis... We, for example, have consulted with our friends in the Palestinian factions and with our Iranian friends. I proposed that the Iranians contact the Turks, the Egyptians, and the Saudis, even with the mediation of the UAE or Oman. As for the resistance axis, we do not seek to score points or to use the resistance movement to promote internal or regional considerations...

"Turkish Prime Minister Recep [Tayyip] Erdogan launched a personal attack on Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi. Even Qatar, [via] Al-Jazeera [TV], expressed a negative opinion of Egypt. Those who want to provide aid to Gaza should talk to Egypt. The Palestinians themselves say that any solution or arrangement would be impossible without Egypt. This requires both these axes – between which Gaza falls no matter what – to prioritize Gaza above other disagreements or conflicts, and so far this hasn't happened as it should have...

"Naturally, our situation is impacted by the events in Syria, Iraq, and the region. In the Syrian issue, in all our meetings there was a call for us to understand their [Hamas'] position and for them to understand ours, even if we disagreed in our assessments of the situation. There were serious debates between us on this matter. Obviously, the Gaza issue revives the need to prioritize it, so that we can maintain closer ties and closer cooperation. Of course this will have an encouraging effect on Hizbullah's relations with Hamas and with Hamas' relations with the Islamic Republic [of Iran]. The Syria issue is different and complex, and [more] time [is required to deal with it]..."

Asked whether Hizbullah is responsible for all Shi'ite Arabs, Nasrallah said that some Arab elements like to present it that way, but that, fundamentally, the organization's activity is not motivated by sectarian considerations. At the same time, Nasrallah himself used sectarian terms in describing his organization's activities in Iraq. He said:

"There has always been someone to ensure that we would be defined that way [i.e., as responsible for all  Shi'ites. But] Hizbullah has always been a national project as well as a regional [factor] in resisting Israel, and has made substantial achievements and marked tremendous victories in that campaign..."

He added: "When Hizbullah provides aid in any arena, its considerations are nonsectarian. They are a part of what we call the ummah campaign, the ummah enterprise, and the interests of our [Arab] homelands and peoples. For instance, when the Americans occupied Iraq [in 2003] the popular atmosphere mostly did not support the resistance, because of the Iraqi people's oppression at the hands of Saddam Hussein, because of the constant wars, and because of the siege [on Iraq].

"This was natural, since the people were weary... Hizbullah chose to operate [in Iraq] not in accordance with the Shi'ite attitude, but in order to influence it, and to influence any [element], however minor, [to promote] resistance to the American occupier in Iraq. When the resistance [to the American occupation] in Iraq began, it was largely a 'Shi'ite resistance' – that is, the factions that carried out resistance operations comprised Iraqi Shi'ites.

"Many operations were documented on video, but the [Qatari] TV channel Al-Jazeera and the [Saudi channel] Al-Arabiya refused to air them. Isn't that strange? Why? Because they did not want to recognize Shi'ite resistance as part of the Iraqi resistance. This is not an accusation against Sunnis, but only against a few regimes.From the start, [those regimes] used sectarian incitement on the issues of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It just so happens that those situated along the border with the enemy entity are Shi'ites. That is why it was they who fought it. But [those regimes] insist on calling it an Iranian Shi'ite resistance, and so on.

"We adhere to our claim that our presence in Syria is nonsectarian, and the same goes for the resistance in Iraq. [The proof is] that we also helped Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and [other] Palestinian factions, which are [all] Sunni."


 [1] Likely referring to the Hizbullah attack on the Sa'ar 5-Class INS Hanit during the Second Lebanon War.

[2] Abu Marzouq said in a July 29, 2014 interview with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti: "We hope that the Lebanese front will open up, and together we will fight against [Israel]. There’s no arguing that Lebanese resistance could mean a lot.", July 29, 2014.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Demographic Dilemmas in Iran

Garrett Nada, assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the United States Institute of Peace, has an excellent piece on the gyrations in Iran’s family planning policy over the past three decades. It was quite the roller-coaster. The piece has some revealing graphs and pictures, which I have not reproduced. These excerpts give the main picture:

Iran has a numbers problem. Over the past 35 years, Tehran’s family planning policy has gyrated so radically—from encouraging too many babies to producing too few—that the Islamic Republic faces existential economic dangers.

      The origin of the problem dates to the 1979 revolution. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called on women to produce a new Islamic generation for both cultural and security reasons. Khomeini wanted to create a paramilitary force of 20 million religious volunteers to protect Iran from foreign influence. Over the next decade, a baby boom almost doubled the population from 34 to 62 million.

      But the theocracy, drained by the costs of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, gradually realized that it could not feed, cloth, house, educate and eventually employ the growing numbers. So with the supreme leader’s approval, Tehran enacted one of the world’s most progressive family planning programs to slow population growth.

            The program broke many taboos in a culture that favored large families. Clerics gave sermons on reducing family size, while female volunteers were sent door-to-door to encourage women to have fewer children. New billboards declared, “Fewer Children, Better Life.” Before marriage, couples had to take family planning classes. Health centers dispensed free birth control pills and condoms.

            Ironically, the world’s only modern theocracy was home to the only state-supported condom factory in the Middle East, which reportedly produced 45 million condoms a year in 30 different shapes, colors and flavors by 2006. The United Nations and population organizations cited Iran’s program as a model for the Islamic world and developing nations. The United Nations bestowed awards on Iranian practitioners three times from 1999 to 2011.

           The program worked. The fertility rate plummeted—from 5.5 births per woman in 1988 to about 2.22 births in 2000.

      But the initiative was almost too successful. By 2006, the birthrate dropped to 1.9 births per woman—below replacement rate. As a result, Iran’s population is aging. The average age is now 28.3 years. It is expected to increase to 37 years by 2030, according to a U.N. projection. An increasingly elderly and dependent population would heavily tax public infrastructure and social services.

      Last year, the government began debating steps to prevent the kind of population crisis facing Japan, where sales of adult diapers are expected to exceed baby diapers this year. So far, however, the executive and legislative branches have not agreed on how to raise the birthrate. Some lawmakers want to criminalize permanent forms of birth control, while health officials and experts favor creating government incentives for couples to have more children. . . .
            The government introduced more substantive changes in 2012, after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the family planning program had been “wrong” and “one of the mistakes” of the 1990s. “Government officials were wrong on this matter, and I, too, had a part. May God and history forgive us,” he said. “If we move forward like this, we will be a country of elderly people in a not-too-distant future,” he warned.

            Khamenei urged the government to introduce measures to boost the population—now almost 80 million — to 150 million or more. The Ministry of Health then pulled funding from the family planning program and ended free vasectomies to encourage larger families. It eventually replaced birth control classes with ones that urged having more children.

            In the spring of 2014, Khamenei began pushing even harder for an increase in Iran’s fertility rate. “A country without a young population is tantamount to a country without creativity, progress, excitement and enthusiasm,” he warned on May 5, which is International Midwives’ Day.  . . .

            Since Khamenei’s decree, the government has reportedly added new incentives, which include lengthening maternity leave, ensuring female job security after childbirth, and subsidizing hospital care. In June, parliament debated controversial legislation aimed at criminalizing male and female sterilization. The bill, approved by 143 out of 231 members of parliament in August, must be reviewed by the Guardian Council to determine its compatibility with Islam.

            But the bill has produced a backlash from health officials and women’s groups. Mohammad Esmail Motlagh, a senior health official, argued that the legislation would violate citizens’ rights. He instead called on lawmakers to use voluntary incentives to encourage couples to have more children.

            Reformists particularly fear major changes to the family program could negatively impact women’s status, especially in the workplace, where they are already underrepresented. Some 60 percent of university students are female, but only about 12 percent of the workforce, according to the Statistical Center of Iran. Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, noted that no other country has ever used punitive measures to increase fertility rates. She also warned that outlawing surgical procedures could push contraceptive services underground. . . .

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Garrett Nada, “From Baby Boom to Baby Shortage,” The Iran Primer, August 13, 2014

Modi: Dedicate Our Every Activity to the Nation

On August 15, recently-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a major speech (without notes) on the 68th Independence Day celebrations in New Delhi. He spoke from "the ramparts of the Red Fort," a massive structure in Delhi (where I once witnessed a sound and light show). The speech, delivered in Hindi, was rendered in English by India Today.

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My dear countrymen,

Today, all Indians in the country and also abroad are celebrating the festival of independence. On this day of sacred festival of independence, the prime servant of India extends greetings to all dear countrymen.

I am present amidst you not as the Prime Minister, but as the Prime Servant. The freedom struggle was fought for so many years, so many generations laid down their lives, innumerable people sacrificed their lives and youth, spent their entire lives behind bars. Today, I pay my respect, greetings and homage to all those who laid their lives for the country`s independence.

I also pay my respects to the crores [a crore is equal to ten million] of citizens of this country on the pious occasion of India's independence, and recall all those martyrs who had laid down their lives in India's struggle for freedom. The day of Independence is a festival when we take a solemn pledge of working for the welfare of mother India, and also for the welfare of the poor, oppressed, Dalits, the exploited & the backward people of our country.

My dear countrymen, a national festival is an occasion to refine and rebuild the national character. This National festival inspires us to resolve ourselves to lead a life where our character gets refined further, to dedicate ourselves to the nation and our every activity is linked to the interest of the nation and only then this festival of freedom can be a festival of inspiration to take India to newer heights.

My dear countrymen, this nation has neither been built by political leaders nor by rulers nor by governments.

This nation has been built by our farmers, our workers, our mothers and sisters, our youth. The country has reached here today because of generation to generation rigours undertaken by our sages, our saints, our maestros, our teachers, our scientists and social workers. These great people and these great generations, who had worked for the country throughout their lives, deserve our deepest respect.

This is the beauty of India's Constitution, this is its capability which has made it possible that today a boy from small town, a poor family has got the opportunity to pay homage to the Tricolour of India at the ramparts of Lal Quila (Red Fort). This is the strength of India's democracy. This is an invaluable legacy which we have inherited from our architects of the Constitution. I pay my respects to those architects of the constitution of India today.

Brothers and sisters, today if we have reached here after independence, it is because of the contribution of all the Prime Ministers, all the governments and even the governments of all the States. I want to express my feelings of respect and gratitude to all those previous governments and ex-Prime Ministers who have endeavoured to take our present day India to such heights and who have added to the country's glory.

This country has been built on such foundation of ancient cultural heritage, where we were told of only one mantra during Vedic period, which is indicative of our work culture, which we have learnt, we have memorized - "Sangachchhdhvam Samvadadhvam sam wo manansi jaanataam." We walk together, we move together, we think together, we resolve together and together we take this country forward.
Having imbibed this basic mantra, 125 crore countrymen have taken the nation forward. Yesterday only the first Parliamentary Session of the new government had concluded.

Today, I can proudly say that the session of Parliament reflects our thinking and it is a reflection of our intentions. We are not for moving forward on the basis of majority, we are not interested to move forward by virtue of majority. We want to move ahead on the basis of strong consensus. "Sangachhadhwam" and, therefore, the nation has witnessed the entire session of Parliament.

Having taken all the Parties and Opposition along while working shoulder to shoulder, we achieved an unprecedented success and the credit for this does not go to the Prime Minister alone, the credit does not go to the people sitting in the government, the credit for this goes to the Opposition also, the credit goes to all the leaders of Opposition too and also all the Members from Opposition.

From the ramparts of Red Fort, quite proudly I salute all the Members of Parliament, I also salute all the political parties and by virtue of their strong support, we could take some important decisions intended to take the nation forward and yesterday the Session of Parliament had concluded.

Brothers and sisters, I am an outsider for Delhi; I am not a native of Delhi. I have no idea about the administration and working of this place. I have been quite isolated from the elite class of this place but during the last two months while being an outsider, I had an insider view and I was astonished. It is not a political platform, rather it is a platform of a national policy and, therefore, my views should not be evaluated from a political perspective.

I have already said, I salute all the ex-Prime Ministers and earlier governments who have brought the country thus far. But I am going to say something else and it may not be seen from political point of view. When I came to Delhi and noticed an insider view, I felt what it was and I was surprised to see it. It seemed as if dozens of separate governments are running at the same time in one main government. It appeared that everyone has its own fiefdom. I could observe disunity and conflict among them. One department is taking on the other department and taking on to the extent that two departments of the same government are fighting against each other by approaching Supreme Court. This disunity, this conflict among people of the same country! How come we can take the country forward? And that is why I have started making efforts for razing those walls; I have started making efforts at making the government,  not an assembled entity, but an organic unity, an organic entity, a harmonious whole- with one aim, one mind, one direction, one energy.

Let's resolve to steer the country to one destination. We have it in us to move in that direction. A few days back...Nowadays newspapers are full of news that Modi-ji's government has come, officers are reaching office on time, offices open in time, and people get there in time. I observed that India's national newspapers, TV media were carrying these news items prominently.

As the head of the government I could have derived pleasure in the fact that everything started going on time, cleanliness got the attention, but I was not taking pleasure, I was feeling pained. That thing, I want to tell today in public. And why, because if government officers arrive office in time, does that make a news? And if that makes news, it shows how low we have fallen. It becomes a proof of that, and that's how, brothers and sisters, the governments have run? Today in the face of global competition, when we have to realise the dreams of millions of Indians, the country cannot run on the lines of "it happens", "it goes".

In order to fulfill the aspirations of masses, we have to sharpen the tool called the government machinery, we have to make it keen, more dynamic, and it is in this direction that we are working.

My countrymen, it's not long since I have come from outside Delhi, but I give you an assurance that the people in the government are very capable - from the peon to the Cabinet Secretary, everybody is capable, everybody has a power, they have experience. I want to awaken that power, I want to unite that power and want to accelerate the pace of the welfare of nation through that power and I shall definitely do it. I want to assure the countrymen that we will achieve that, we will definitely do that. I could not say this on 16th May, but today after my experience of two-two and half months, keeping the Tricolour as witness, I am saying on 15th of August that it is possible, it will be achieved.

Brothers and sisters, time has come to give a serious thought to the fact that whether we have a duty to create India of the dreams of those great people who gave us freedom, whether we have a national character?

Brothers and sisters, can someone please tell me as to whether he or she has ever introspected in the evening after a full day's work as to whether his or her acts have helped the poor of the country or not, whether his or her actions have resulted in safeguarding the interest of the country or not, whether the actions have been directed in country's welfare or not? Whether it should not be the motto of one and a quarter billion countrymen that every step in life should be in the country's interests?

Unfortunately, we have an environment today wherein if you approach anyone with some work, he begins by saying "what does it mean for me?" He begins by saying "what does it involve for me?" and when he come to know that it does not entail any benefit for him, immediately he says "why should I bother?" We have to rise above the feelings of "what does it mean for me?" and "why should I bother?".

Everything is not for self-interest only. There are certain things which are meant for the country and we have to refine this national character. We have to rise above the feelings of "why should I bother?" and "what does it mean for me?" and instead we have to think that "I am for nation's interest and in this field, I am going to lead". We have to inculcate this sentiment.

Brothers and sisters, when we hear about the incidents of rape, we hang our heads in shame. People come out with different arguments, someone indulges in psycho analysis, but brothers and sisters, today from this platform, I want to ask those parents, I want to ask every parent that you have a daughter of 10 or 12 years age, you are always on the alert, every now and then you keep on asking where are you going, when would you come back, inform immediately after you reach. Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions, but have any parents ever dared to ask their son as to where he is going, why he is going out, who his friends are. After all, a rapist is also somebody's son. He also has parents. As parents, have we ever asked our son as to what he is doing and where he is going? If every parent decides to impose as many restrictions on the sons as have been imposed on our daughters, try to do this with your sons, try to ask such questions of them.

My dear brothers and sisters, the law will take its own course, strict action will be taken, but as a member of the society, as parents, we also have some responsibilities.

If somebody tells me that those who have taken guns on their shoulders and kill innocent people are Maoists, are terrorists, but they are also somebody's children. I would like to ask of such parents if they had ever asked their children as to why they were taking a wrong path. Every parent must take this responsibility; he must know that his misguided son is bent on killing innocent people. He is not able to serve himself nor his family nor the country. I want to say to those youngsters who have chosen the path of violence that whatever they are and wherever they are, it is all because of mother India only that they have got it.

Whoever you are it is all because of your parents. I want to ask you to think how green, how beautiful and how beneficial this earth can become if you shoulder the plough instead of the gun which spills blood on this land. How long shall we have bloodshed on this land, how long shall we take the lives of the innocent people and what have we got after all this? The path of violence has not yielded anything to us.

Brothers and sisters, I had gone to Nepal recently. There I said something publicly to draw the attention of the whole world. There was a time when the Emperor Ashoka who had chosen the path of wars, got converted to the path of Buddha at the sight of violence.

There was a time in Nepal when their youngsters had opted for the path of violence but today I witness that the same youngsters are waiting for their constitution. The same people associated with them are framing the constitution. And I further said that if Nepal could present the best example of moving from the weapons to the books then it could provide inspiration to the youngsters in the world to abandon the path of violence.

Brothers and sisters, if Nepal, the land of Buddha, can give message to the world then why can't India too do the same? So it's the call of the hour that we renounce the path of violence and take the path of brotherhood.

Brothers and sisters, for one reason or the other, we have had communal tensions for ages. This led to the division of the country. Even after Independence, we have had to face the poison of casteism and communalism. How long these evils will continue? Whom does it benefit? We have had enough of fights, many have been killed. Friends, look behind and you will find that nobody has benefited from it. Except casting a slur on Mother India, we have done nothing. Therefore, I appeal to all those people that whether it is the poison of casteism, communalism, regionalism, discrimination on social and economic basis, all these are obstacles in our way forward. Let's resolve for once in our hearts; let's put a moratorium on all such activities for 10 years, we shall march ahead to a society which will be free from all such tensions. And you will see that how much strength we get from peace, unity, goodwill and brotherhood. Let`s experiment it for once.

My dear countrymen, believe in my words, I do assure you. Shun all the sins committed so far, give up that way, follow the way of goodwill and brotherhood, and let's resolve to take the country forward. I believe we can do that.

With advancement of science, brothers and sisters, we have a rising feeling of modernity in our mind, but what do we do? Have we ever thought what the sex ratio in the country is like? 940 girls are born against per 1,000 boys. Who is causing this imbalance in the society? Certainly not God. I request the doctors not to kill the girl growing in the womb of a mother just to line their own pockets.  I advise mothers and sisters not to sacrifice daughters in the hope of son. Sometimes mother-father feel tempted to have son in the hope of supporting them in old age. I am a person who has worked in public life. I have come across families with five sons, each having bungalows, access to fleet of cars, but parents are forced to live in old-age homes, Vriddhashrams. I have seen such families. I have also seen families with only daughter as progeny, that daughter sacrifices her dreams, doesn't get married, and spends entire life in taking care of old parents.

This disparity points to female foeticide and the polluted and tainted mind the 21st century has. We will have to liberate from it, and that is message to us of this freedom festival.

Recently Commonwealth Games were organised. Indian sportspersons brought glory to the country. Nearly 64 of our sportspersons won. Our sportspersons brought 64 medals. But of them 29 are girls. Let's feel proud and clap for them. Girls also contribute to India's fame and glory. Let's recognise it. Let's take them along, shoulder to shoulder. This way we can get over the evils that have crept in social life. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have to proceed in that direction as a social and national character.

Brothers and Sisters, development is the only way forward for the country. Good governance is the only way. There are only these two tracks to take the country forward - good governance and development, we can move forward only by taking them with us. We wish to move forward with the intent of taking them with us. When I talk of good governance, you tell me, when I ask a person in private job, he tells that he does the job; when you ask the same from a person in government job, he says that I do the service. Both earn, but for one it is job while for the other it is service. I ask a question from all brothers and sisters in government service, whether the word "service" has not lost its strength, its identity? Persons in government service are not doing "job", they are doing "service". We have to revive this feeling, we have to take this feeling forward as a national character; we have to move forward in this direction.

Brothers and Sisters, whether the citizens of the country should take steps for the welfare of the nation or not? You imagine, if these 125 crore countrymen move one step forward, then the country moves 125 crore steps forward. The meaning of democracy is not just limited to electing a government, but its meaning is that 125 crore of citizens work together joining shoulder with the government to fulfill hopes and aspirations of the country, this is the meaning of democracy.

We have to create partnership with the people. We have to proceed under Public-Private Partnership. We have to proceed along with the participation of the people. But, please tell me why our farmers commit suicide? A farmer takes loan from the moneylender, but fails to repay his loans. He takes loan for the wedding of his daughter, but fails to repay. He will have to suffer hardships during his whole life. He chooses to commit suicide. Who will save the poor families of such farmers?

Brothers and sisters, I have come here with a pledge to launch a scheme on this festival of Freedom. It will be called Pradhanmantri Jan-Dhan Yojana. I wish to connect the poorest citizens of the country with the facility of bank accounts through this yojana. There are millions of families who have mobile phones but no bank accounts. We have to change this scenario. Economic resources of the country should be utilized for the well-being of the poor. The change will commence from this point. This yojana will open the window. Therefore, an account holder under `Pradhanmantri Jan-Dhan Yojana` will be given a debit card. An insurance of Rs.1 lakh will be guaranteed with that debit card for each poor family, so that such families are covered with the insurance of rs 1 lakh in case of any crisis in their lives.

My brothers and sisters, it is a country of young people. The 65 percent population of the country happens to be under the age of 35 years. Our country has the largest number of youths in the world. Have we ever thought of deriving an advantage out of it? Today, the world needs a skilled workforce. Today, India also needs a skilled workforce. At times, we look for a good driver but he is not available, we look for a plumber, but he is not available. If we need a good cook, he is not available. We have young people, they are unemployed but the kind of young people we seek for are not available. If we have to promote the development of our country then our mission has to be "skill development" and "skilled India".

Millions and Millions of Indian youth should go for acquisition of skills and there should be a network across the country for this and not the archaic systems. They should acquire the skills which could contribute towards making India a modern country. Whenever they go to any country in the world, their skills must be appreciated and we want to go for a two pronged development.

I also want to create a pool of young people who are able to create jobs and the ones who are not capable of creating jobs and do not have the opportunities, they must be in a position to face their counterparts in any corner of the world while keeping their heads high by virtue of their hard work and their dexterity of hands and win the hearts of people around the world through their skills. We want to go for the capacity building of such young people. My brothers and sisters, having taken a resolve to enhance the skill development at a highly rapid pace, I want to accomplish this.

Brothers and sisters, the world has undergone a change. My dear countrymen, the world has changed. Now India can not decide its future by remaining isolated and sitting alone in a corner. The economics of the world have changed and, therefore, we will have to act accordingly. Government have taken many decisions recently, made some announcements in the budget and I call upon the world and call upon the Indians spread world over that if we have to provide more and more employment to the youth, we will have to promote manufacturing sector. If we have to develop a balance between imports and exports, we will have to strengthen manufacturing sector. If we have to put in use the education, the capability of the youth, we will have to go for manufacturing sector and for this Hindustan also will have to lend its full strength, but we also invite world powers.

Therefore I want to appeal all the people world over, from the ramparts of Red Fort, "Come, make in India", "Come, manufacture in India". Sell in any country of the world but manufacture here. We have got skill, talent, discipline, and determination to do something. We want to give the world an favourable opportunity that come here, "Come, Make in India" and we will say to the world, from electrical to electronics, "Come, Make in India", from automobiles to agro value addition "Come, Make in India", paper or plastic, "Come, Make in India", satellite or submarine "Come, Make in India". Our country is powerful. Come, I am giving you an invitation.

Brothers and sisters, I want to call upon the youth of the country, particularly the small people engaged in the industrial sector. I want to call upon the youth working in the field of technical education in the country. As I say to the world "Come, Make in India", I say to the youth of the country - it should be our dream that this message reaches every corner of the world, "Made in India". This should be our dream. Whether, to serve the country, is it necessary for the youth of the country to be hanged like Bhagat Singh? Brothers and sisters, Lal Bahadur Shastri had given the slogan "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan". A soldier sacrifices himself at the border and protects Mother India. Similarly, a farmer serves Mother India by filling the godowns with grains. This is also nation's service. Filling the granary is the biggest nation`s service that a farmer provides. That is why Lal Bahadur Shashtri had given the slogan of "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan".

Brothers and Sisters, I would like to pose a question to my youngsters as to why despite them, we are forced to import even the smallest of things? My country's youth can resolve it, they should conduct research, try to find out as to what type of items are imported by India and then each one should resolve that, through may be micro or small industries only, he would manufacture at least one such item so that we need not import the same in future. We should even advance to a situation wherein we are able to export such items. If each one of our millions of youngsters resolves to manufacture at least one such item, India can become a net exporter of goods. I, therefore, urge upon the youth, in particular our small entrepreneurs that they would never compromise, at least on two counts. First, zero defect and, second again zero effect. We should manufacture goods in such a way that they carry zero defect, that our exported goods are never returned to us. We should manufacture goods with zero effect that they should not have a negative impact on the environment. If we march ahead with the dream of zero defect in the manufacturing sector then, my brothers and sisters, I am confident that we would be able to achieve our goals.

Brothers and sisters, the youth of India has completely transformed the identity of India in the world. Earlier, in what manner did the world know our country? Till only 25-30 years back, if not more, there were many people in the world who thought that India was a country of snake charmers, it was a country which practiced in black magic.

The real identity of India had not reached the world, but my dear brothers and sisters, our youngsters, 20-22-23 years old youngsters have mesmerized the whole world with their skills in computers. Our young IT professionals have given a new path of making a new identity of India. If our country has this strength, can we think something about the country? Our dream is, therefore, of "Digital India". When I talk of "Digital India", I don't speak of the elite, it is for the poor people.

You can imagine what a quality education the children in villages will get, if all the villages of India are connected with broadband connectivity and if we are able to give long distance education to the schools in every remote corner of the villages. If we create a network of telemedicine in the places where there is a shortage of doctors, we can have a clear guideline of the way in which health facilities have to be provided to the poor people living in those areas.

The citizens of India have mobile phones in their hands, they have mobile connectivity, but can we walk in the direction of mobile governance? We have to move in a direction where every poor person is able to operate his bank account from his mobile, is able to demand various things from the government, can submit applications, can conduct all his business, while on the move, through mobile governance and if this has to be done, we have to move towards `digital India` and if we have to move towards `digital India` then we have a dream.

Today we are importing electronic goods on a large scale. Friends, you will be surprised that we are bringing in these televisions, mobile phones, iPads and all these electronic goods. It is a necessity to import petroleum products, oil, diesel and petrol. Second to this is the import of our electronic goods. If we move ahead with the dream of `digital India` to manufacture electronic goods and become self reliant at least there, how big can be the benefit for the treasury! Therefore, e-governance is what we need to take this idea of `digital India` forward.

E-governance is easy governance, effective governance and also economic governance. E-governance paves the way for good governance. There was a time when we used to say that the railways provided connectivity to the country. That was it. I say that today it is IT that has the potential to connect each and every citizen of the country and that is why we want to realise the mantra of unity with the help of "digital India".

Brothers and sisters, if we move ahead with all this then I believe that a `digital India` will have the potential to stand with the world on equal footing. Our youth have that capability, it is an opportunity for them.

Brothers and sisters, we want to promote tourism. Tourism provides employment to the poorest of the poor. Gram seller earns something, auto-rickshaw driver earns something, pakoda seller earns something and tea seller also earns something. When there is talk of tea seller, I feel a sense of belongingness. Tourism provides employment to the poorest of the poor. But there is a big obstacle in promoting tourism and in our national character and that is - the filthiness all around us. Whether after independence, after so many years of independence, when we stand at the threshold of one and half decade of 21st century, we still want to live in filthiness? The first work I started here after formation of government is of cleanliness. People wondered whether it is a work of a prime minister? People may feel that it is a trivial work for a Prime Minister but for me this big work. Cleanliness is very big work. Whether our country can not be clean? If 125 crore countrymen decide that they will never spread filthiness, which power in the world has ability to spread filthiness in our cities and villages? Can't we resolve this much?

Brothers and sisters it will be the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in 2019. How do we celebrate 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi? Mahatma Gandhi, who gave us freedom, who brought so much honour to such a big country in the world, what do we give to Mahatma Gandhi? Brothers and Sisters, Mahatma Gandhi had cleanliness and sanitation closest to his heart. Whether we resolve not to leave a speck of dirt in our village, city, street, area, school, temple, hospital, and what have you, by 2019 when we celebrate 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi? This happens not just with the Government, but with public participation. That's why we have to do it together.

Brother and Sisters, we are living in 21st century. Has it ever pained us that our mothers and sisters have to defecate in open? Whether dignity of women is not our collective responsibility? The poor womenfolk of the village wait for the night; until darkness descends, they can`t go out to defecate. What bodily torture they must be feeling, how many diseases that act might engender. Can't we just make arrangements for toilets for the dignity of our mothers and sisters? Brothers and Sisters, somebody might feel that a big festival like 15th August is an occasion to talk big.

Brothers and Sisters, talking big has its importance, making announcements too has importance, but sometimes announcements raise hopes and when the hopes are not fulfilled, the society sinks into a state of despondency. That's why are in favour of telling those things, which we can fulfill just within our sight. Brothers and sisters, you must be getting shocked to hear the Prime Minister speaking of cleanliness and the need to build toilets from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

Brothers and sisters, I do not know how my speech is going to be criticised and how will people take it. But this is my heartfelt conviction. I come from a poor family, I have seen poverty. The poor need respect and it begins with cleanliness. I, therefore, have to launch a "Clean India" campaign from 2nd October this year and carry it forward in 4 years. I want to make a beginning today itself and that is - all schools in the country should have toilets with separate toilets for girls. Only then our daughters will not be compelled to leave schools midway. Our parliamentarians utilising MPLAD fund are there. I appeal to them to spend it for constructing toilets in schools for a year. The government should utilise its budget on providing toilets. I call upon the corporate sector also to give priority to the provision of toilets in schools with your expenditure under Corporate Social Responsibility. This target should be finished within one year with the help of state governments and on the next 15th August, we should be in a firm position to announce that there is no school in India without separate toilets for boys and girls.

Brothers and sisters, if we proceed with the dreams, we are in a position to realise them. Today, I wish to tell one more specific thing. It has its own importance to discuss the matters and express the views of nation's interest. However, our Members of Parliament do not get opportunity though they are willing to do something. They can express themselves, write to the government, agitate, give memoranda. Still they do not get opportunity to do something on their own.

Today I have come to you with a new idea. We are running so many schemes in the name of the Prime Minister in our country, there are numerous schemes in the name of various leaders. However, today I am going to announce a scheme on behalf of the Member of Parliament- Sansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana. We shall fix some parameters. I urge upon the Members of Parliament to select any one of the villages having population of three to five thousand in your constituency. The parameters will be according to the time, space and situation of that locality. It will include the conditions of health, cleanliness, atmosphere, greenery, cordiality etc.

On the basis of those parameters, each of our MPs should make one village of his or her constituency a Model Village by 2016. Can't we do at least this? Shouldn't we do this? If we have to build a nation, we should start from the village. Make a Model Village. The reason of fixing this target for 2016 is that it is a new scheme. It takes time to formulate a scheme and then to implement it. After 2016, select two more villages for this purpose, before we go for the General Elections in 2019. And after 2019, each Member of Parliament, during his/her tenure of 5 years must establish at-least five model villages in his/her area. I also call upon the Members of Parliament from urban areas to adopt one village of their choice.

I also urge upon the Members of Parliament from Rajya Sabha to adopt one of the villages. If we provide one model village in each district of India then the surrounding villages shall be automatically inspired to follow that model. Let us establish a model village, let us establish a village well equipped with all systems and facilities. The birth anniversary of Jai Prakash Narayan Ji happens to be on 11th October.

On 11th October, the occasion of birth anniversary of Jai Prakash Narayan Ji, I will present a complete blueprint of Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (Members of Parliament Model Village Scheme) before all Members of Parliament and State Governments, and I urge upon State Governments also that as per the feasibility in their respective states, all the Members of Legislative Assembly resolve to establish a model village. You can imagine all the Members of Legislative Assembly and all the Members of Parliament in the country establishing a model village. All of a sudden, there would be a model village in each block of India which could inspire us to transform the amenities in rural areas and could give us a new direction and, therefore, we want to move ahead under this Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.

My dear brothers and sisters, ever since our government has taken charge, there has been a discussion in the newspapers, on TV channels as to what would happen to Planning Commission. I believe that when Planning Commission was constituted, it was done on the basis of the circumstances and the needs of those times. In recent years, Planning Commission has contributed to the growth of the country in its own way. I respect that, I am proud of that, but the prevalent situation in the country is different, global scenario has also changed, governments are no longer the centre of economic activities, the scope of such activities has broadened. State governments have been at the center of development and I consider this a good indication. If we have to take India forward, it can happen only by taking the states forward.

India's federal structure is more important today than in the last 60 years. To strengthen our federal structure, to make our federal structure vibrant, to take our federal structure as a heritage of development, a team of Chief Minister and Prime Minister should be there, a joint team of the Centre and the states should move forward, then to do this job, we will have to think about giving the Planning Commission a look. So, I am saying from the rampart of the Red Fort that it is a very old system and it will have to be rejuvenated, it will have to be changed a lot. Sometimes it costs more to repair the old house, but, it gives us no satisfaction. Thereafter, we have a feeling that it would be better to construct a new house altogether and therefore within a short period, we will replace the planning commission with a new institution having a new design and structure, a new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards forging a new direction to lead the country based on creative thinking, public-private partnership, optimum utilization of resources, utilization of youth power of the nation, to promote the aspirations of state governments seeking development, to empower the state governments and to empower the federal structure. Very shortly, we are about to move in a direction when this institute would be functioning in place of Planning Commission.

Brothers and sisters, today, on 15th August, we also have the birth anniversary of Maharishi Aurobindo. Maharishi Aurobindo, being a rebel, moved on to achieve the status of a Yoga Guru. With regard to the destiny of India, he remarked, "I have a faith that the divine power and spiritual heritage of India will play an important role towards the welfare of the world." Such sentiments were echoed by Maharishi Arvind. I strongly believe in the words of legends. I have great faith in the statements made by ascetics, sages & saints and that's why today at the ramparts of Lal Quila I am reminded of the words of Swami Viveknanda. He had said - "I can see before my eyes Mother India awakening once again. My Mother India would be seated as the World Guru. Every Indian would render service towards welfare of humanity. This legacy of India would be useful for the welfare of the world". These words were spoken by Swami Viveknanda ji in his own style. Friends, the words of Viveknanda ji can never be untrue. The words of Viveknanda ji, his dream of seeing India ensconced as World Guru, his vision, it is incumbent upon us to realize that dream. This capable country, blessed with natural bounty, this country of youth can do much for the world in the coming days.

Brothers and sisters, our foreign policy is a much talked about issue. I clearly believe that India's foreign policy can be multi-dimensional. But there is an important issue to which I want to draw your attention that the way we fought for freedom, we fought together; we were not separate at that time. We were together. Which was the government with us? What were the weapons available to us? There was a Gandhi, a Sardar and lakhs of freedom fighters and such a huge empire. Didn't we win in the struggle of freedom against that empire? Did we not defeat the foreign powers? Did we not force them to leave India? We were the ones, they were our ancestors only who showed this might. If the people of India could remove such a big empire without the power of the government, without weapons and even without resources, then friends, it is the need of the hour to eradicate poverty, can we not overcome poverty? Can we not defeat poverty? My 125 crore dear countrymen, let us resolve to eradicate poverty, to win against it. Let us move with the dream of poverty eradication from India. Our neighbouring countries are also faced with the same problem. Why not get together with all the SAARC nations to plan out the fight against poverty? Let`s fight together and defeat poverty. Let us see at-least for once as to how wonderful is the feeling of being alive instead of killing and getting killed.

This is the land where incidents from Sidharth's life happened. One bird was shot with an arrow by one brother and the other took out that arrow to save it. They went to mother- whose bird, whose swan? Whether killer's or saviour's, they asked of mother. The mother replied, saviour's. The saviour has more power than the killer and that makes him Buddha in future. And that's why I seek cooperation from neighbouring countries for fighting against poverty in concert and cooperate with them, so that together with SAARC countries we can create our importance and emerge as a power in the world. It is imperative that we work together with a dream to win a fight against poverty, shoulder to shoulder.

I went to Bhutan, Nepal, all the dignitaries from SAARC countries took part in oath-taking ceremony; this marked a good beginning. This will definitely yield good results, it is my belief and this thinking of India, in the country and the world, that we want to do well to the countrymen and be useful for the welfare of the world, India wants such a hand to be extended. We are trying to move forward with these dreams to achieve them.

Brothers and Sisters, today on 15th August we will resolve to do something for the country. Let's be useful for the country, we will move ahead with a resolve to take the country forward, and I assure you, Brothers and Sisters, as well as my colleagues in the Government, that if you work for 12 hours, I will do so for 13 hours. If you work for 14 hours, I will do for 15 hours. Why? Because I'm amidst you not as a Prime Minister, but as the first servant. I have formed the government not as a ruler, but as a servant.

Brothers and sisters, I assure that this country has a destiny. It is destined to work for the welfare of the world, it was said by Vivekanand ji. India is born; this Hindustan is born in order to achieve this destiny. One hundred and twenty-five crore countrymen have to move forward wholeheartedly for the welfare of the nation.

Once again I feel proud of the devotion, the sacrifices of the security forces of the country, para-military forces of the country, all the security forces of the country to protect Mother India. I say to the countrymen, 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty'.

The army is vigilant, we should also be vigilant and the country scales new heights, we have to move forward with this resolution. Speak loudly with me with full force - Bharat Mata ki jai, Bharat Mata ki jai, Bharat Mata ki jai. Jai Hind, Jai Hind, Jai Hind. Vande Mataram, Vande Mataram, Vande Mataram!

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"Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech: Full text,” India Today, August 15, 2014. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Christians in Aleppo: None Support the Rebels

Edward Dark of Al Monitor interviews a range of observers in the Christian neighborhoods of Aleppo, Syria.

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. . . Yousef is a shopkeeper in the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Sulaimaniyah, which has seen almost constant rebel shelling since the civil war divided Aleppo in July 2012. His brother serves in the Syrian army in Damascus. In conversation, he conveyed to me some of the predominant questions and anxieties going through his community.

“Why aren’t the moderate Muslims doing more to stop the extremists in their midst?” he asked bitterly. “Do they agree with their ideology and extremism? We saw hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets against the abuses of the regime, so why are we not now seeing those thousands of protesters against what IS is doing? Worse, we are now seeing many people and rebel groups joining them. There are so many hundreds of these Islamic rebel groups, but they are all the same, they all have this extremist ideology against us. My conclusion is that these groups and IS are fully supported and backed in what they are doing by the anti-government forces."

The Christians of Syria had for the most part tried to stay out of the country’s raging civil conflict, but had often found themselves embroiled in its messy and bloody events. On more than one occasion, the Christians became the focal point of action, as in Maaloula, Yabrud and Kassab, as well as high- profile kidnappings of nuns and clerics.

But there are voices starting to question whether they should remain neutral in a conflict which they view as having mutated to blatantly targeting them and threatening their community with annihilation. Many believe that taking up arms, at least for self-defense, is a wise choice, but others feel it would only further enrage and inflame their worst enemies, spurring them into perpetrating even more heinous crimes.

As with many of West Aleppo’s inhabitants, some Christians too have fled the violence that has torn apart their city; many will never return. But unlike the mass exodus of Christians seen elsewhere, Aleppo’s Christians have largely stayed in their city, suggesting that Aleppo’s Christian community remains attached to its ancestral home, and are an integral part of the city’s diverse social, ethnic and cultural mosaic.

But fear of the kind of ethnic cleansing that is being seen in Iraq strikes deep. George, a mechanic who owns a garage in Sulaimaniyah, told me, “The Christians of Aleppo will not stay if the regime loses control of the city. They will be finished here, maybe for good. The takfiri jihadists will make sure of that. Their plan is to clear the nation of all non-Sunni people. They are now using fear tactics and propaganda to intimidate people to leave even before they arrive; it’s that easy. This is why they do all their grisly crimes on camera, to win without firing a bullet. And when they enter new areas, they burn down our churches and confiscate our homes and businesses. They want to erase all traces of us from our own lands. What kind of message are they spreading? Why would you want someone to join your religion by the threat of death?”

George accuses the West of being complicit in the removal of Christians from the Middle East. “Why didn’t the United States take military action when the ISIS persecuted Christians in Raqqa and Mosul? Why only now when it is Yazidis being targeted? There is a plot to remove all Christians from the Middle East, it is crazy, the West has the same plan as the terrorists for us! It is clear, look, now France is taking in all Christian refugees from Iraq, but in Mali it sent in its army to defeat the terrorists. Are they only terrorists in Iraq and Mali, but revolutionaries in Syria?”

Many of the points Yousef and George raised were being echoed across the Christian community in Aleppo, indicating their shared predicament and anxieties no matter what their political affiliations. Not all Christians in Aleppo support the regime; in fact, a large number of them do not, but equally significant is that you won’t find any that support the rebels, either.
The recent repeated rebel shelling of the Syriac Catholic Church, a large and iconic building in the heart of the old Christian community at Azizeh, is seen by many as a clear message by the rebels, revealing their true intent toward their community.

“There is no more need for the pretense of liberation and freedom.” Yousef said, “They [rebels] have successfully sold that to the outside world while they pursue their real agendas inside Syria in broad daylight.”

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Edward Dark,  “Aleppo’s forgotten Christians,” Al Monitor, August 11, 2014

Iraq PM-Designate Abadi: April 2013 Interview

The indispensable Al Monitor digs out an interview with the new Iraqi prime minister designate, Haider Al-Abadi. The interview was conducted on April 21, 2013 by the editor, Andrew Parasiliti.

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Haider Al-Abadi, chairman of the Iraqi parliament's treasury committee, warned that “if not handled properly” the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq over oil revenues “can lead to the disintegration of the country.” The impasse can affect other regions of Iraq, Al Abadi said, and “it looks very bad when it is perceived by other areas, by Basra, which is producing 85%” of the Iraqi budget.

Al-Abadi, a senior leader in Iraq’s Dawa Party and one of Iraq’s most influential parliamentarians, said Iraqi Kurdistan is illegally exporting oil to Iran and Turkey and selling it at 45% of market price.  While he blamed the Iraqi Kurdish leadership for “not seeing beyond their nose” and “not seeing the big picture,” Al Abadi emphasized “we are very keen to solve” the problem. Otherwise, he added: “The next step is not to give Kurdistan their share of the budget revenues because they are not giving their shares of the oil production.”

Al-Abadi, who spoke with Al-Monitor Editor/CEO Andrew Parasiliti in Washington, said the spike in bombings in Iraq is related to the war in Syria, including attempts by terrorists to scare away Iraqis from participating in the provincial elections, which took place on April 20. It is now well known, he said, that terrorist groups operating in Syria have made Iraq a target as well. Last month, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and al-Qaeda in Iraq announced their alliance.  Arms are regularly smuggled from Syria into Iraq.

Al-Abadi said that “we are very hard at work on a political solution” to the war in Syria and have reached out to the Syrian opposition, including “clandestine contacts” with both Islamist and nationalist factions. But Al-Abadi lamented: “The whole thing is dragging into sectarianism, there is no accommodation.”

Al-Abadi said Iraq opposes sanctions on Syria and takes the position that arms shipments to both the Syrian government and the opposition should stop.   He recalled that more than a decade of international sanctions did not dislodge Saddam Hussein and only weakened and demoralized Iraqi society.  

Al-Abadi made clear that, despite Iraq’s commitment to a political solution, “there is no love lost between us and the Syrian regime.” He said that even though Syria hosted members of the opposition to Saddam Hussein (including current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki), Syria’s later support for suicide bombers and al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in Iraq “helped to kill a lot of our people.” Al-Abadi added: “We have paid by our blood because of that regime ...  we have told the Iranians the Syrian regime is your ally, it is not our ally.”

Iraq maintains “friendly” relations with Iran, Al-Abadi observed, and that there is “a very, very harsh competition between Iran and Turkey” in Iraq and the region, especially as a result of Syria.

Al-Abadi predicted a strong showing for Maliki’s State of Law coalition in the provincial elections April 20, noting that “according to our own calculations and opinion polls ... no local government can be formed without us in these governorates.”  

The moves to try to unseat Maliki by Iraqiya (the primarily Sunni opposition bloc), the Iraqi Kurdish parties, and cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr are unlikely to succeed because all thet can agree on are there difficulties with Maliki.  Their consensus breaks down as soon as another issue is raised, including “who will replace him and what else do they want.”  Al-Abadi said that “some would say that Muqtda Al-Sadr is playing hard and trying to create problems for a simple reason that the only way he can preserve his status is by creating problems.”  Al-Abadi gave Maliki credit for amendment of the de-Baathification, despite criticism from all sides.

Al-Abadi, who was in Washington last week for meetings with US officials, business leaders, and experts, commented on the “good framework” for the US-Iraq relationship and the need for the United States to stay engaged on security. “It would be a shame that we should allow al-Qaeda to regroup,” he said.

Despite the spike in recent terrorist bombings, Al-Abadi said that Iraq is overall “very safe,” including no incidents of foreigners being kidnapped. He hoped that the US State Department would reconsider the travel advisory on Iraq, which hinders travel and business, and called for “credit guarantees and credit facilities” to facilitate US investment.   Iraq would like to see US companies claim a larger share of the opportunities in Iraq. “We don’t want to fall into the trap of relying on China only or Turkey,” Al-Abadi said.

He also hoped that there could soon be a direct flight between Iraq and the United States.

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Andrew Parasiliti, “Iraqi MP: Oil Dispute Could Lead to Iraq’s ‘Disintegration,’” Al Monitor, April 21, 2013

PKK: We're Freedom Fighters, Not Animals Like ISIS

A story by Mitchell Prothero of McClatchy highlights the role played by the PKK, officially designated a terrorist group by the US State Department, in the northern Iraqi operation against ISIS. (The Iranians were also pitching in, meeting with Kurdish officials practically down the hall from the American advisors.) Here is one snippet of the report:

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According to one PKK commander currently in Irbil, the PKK forces arrived Friday and at first took up defensive positions to help protect the capital, including in Irbil’s largest open space, Sami Rahman Park, in plain view of the city with their distinctive uniforms and female fighters, something the peshmerga does not have.

“We first based in the park,” said the commander, who asked to be called Ali. “But it was not a good situation to be so visible in the center of town. And once the Americans began bombing, we were asked to move out on the offensive to retake Mahmour. There are tensions between our party and the (Kurdish President Massoud) Barzani over his close relationship with Turkey, but we have set these aside to face the Daash threat together.”

As for the irony of being considered terrorists by the United States even as they play a critical role in protecting U.S. assets in Irbil from other radicals, Ali laughed.

“It’s a special situation, and everyone is smart enough to know we’re nothing like Daash,” he said. “We only fight for a Kurdish homeland and freedom for our people. We’re not like these animals. Our designation is only politics now.”

Mitchell Prothero, “U.S. airstrikes helped, but Kurds from Syria turned tide against Islamic State,” August 12, 2014

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Update, August 16: Vice News reports that that Yazidi refugees are in no doubt as to who helped them: the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG): "It was the YPG who saved us. The peshmerga betrayed us and ran away like cowards, but the YPG saved our lives. They are heroes to us."  Aris Roussinos, "'Everwhere Around Is the Islamic State': On the Road in Iraq with YPG Fighters," Vice News, August 16, 2014.

Putin vs. Zhirinovsky

On August 14, Vladimir Putin gave a speech in Crimea. There was a lot of buildup to the speech but, mysteriously, it was not covered in the Russian media. Putin spoke in Yalta with members of political parties from the State Duma (including Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev and State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin.) The President of Russia’s website has some remarks from his visit (referring mostly to Crimea), but none of the juicy quotes. Unfortunately, the western media almost never provides the text of speeches of foreign leaders. I've only found the following snippets.  I’ll post the full text if it ever appears.

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From the Globe and Mail (AP), August 14, 2014:

During a meeting with hundreds of lawmakers, Mr. Putin spoke with a restraint that contrasted sharply with lawmakers’ bellicose speeches.

Referring to a suggestion by firebrand nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky that the Kremlin should take as an example the czar’s decision to enter the First World War and test new Russian weapons on Ukrainian forces, Mr. Putin said that “Russia should learn from mistakes.”

. . . In a seeming response to the public’s indignation, Russian lawmakers who met Mr. Putin at a giant conference hall in the resort town of Yalta called for blood. Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, called for Russia to assume “a tougher stance” against Kiev, arguing that “the lack of a vocal position of our country prevents us from fully protecting the people and stopping the bloodshed.” But Mr. Putin called for a quick end to the conflict: “The country has plunged into a bloody chaos, a fratricidal conflict, a humanitarian catastrophe has hit southeastern Ukraine. We will do all we can to stop this conflict as soon as possible and end bloodshed in Ukraine.”

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From The Moscow Times, August 15, 2014:

"We must calmly and with dignity build up our country without fencing it off the outer world, without breaking ties with partners," Mr. Putin said in comments carried by state news agencies. . . .

"All our partners must understand that Russia, as a large sovereign state, has different ways and means to ensure its national interests, including armed forces," Putin said, Reuters reported. "But this is not a panacea and we do not intend, like some people, to dash around the world with a razor blade and wave that blade around."

During the meeting, organized in newly annexed Crimea, leaders of Duma factions lashed out furiously at the West and Ukraine, advocating outright military conflict.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the notoriously fire-and-brimstone leader of the LDPR, proposed reviving the Russian Empire, replacing Russia's flag with the imperial one, introducing a minister of propaganda and renaming the office of president "supreme commander."

"Elections are worthless, they are a profanation," Zhirinovsky told the audience of elected lawmakers.

Putin responded by saying that Zhirinovsky's arguments do not always reflect Russia's official position, but that he always "gets the party going."

According to [Alexi] Makarkin, the reason that some of the most rabble-rousing Duma deputies were allowed to speak at the event was to demonstrate that Putin is Russia's "sole European" — a reference to the aphorism of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who referred to the Russian government as the country's sole European — and someone who has enough authority and is shrewd enough to control Russia's nationalist zeal. . . .

[Putin[:"Crimea can play a unique role in uniting Russia, it can become a source of historical reconciliation of Red and White forces, so that we may heal the wounds that were inflicted on our people by the dramatic schism of the 20th century."

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