Counting Winners And Losers In Ukraine Is Becoming Easier

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EDITORIAL: By Saeed Naqvi, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India Observer, TIO, NJ: My great Aunt Nani Ammi, in her fertile imagination had dreamt up war as a tennis match where soldiers shot at each other until dusk, after which it was time for tea and exchanging of samosas and pastries across the trenches.

Therefore, when my first khaki uniform, web belt, beret and army shoes were packed in a black trunk in readiness for my coverage of Chhamb in the Western sector during the 1971 Pakistan war, Nani Ammi lifted the Quran in her right hand, a sort of holy gateway under which I was to pass.

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She then produced two Imam Zamins or amulets. One she tied around my right arm as guarantor of my protection. The other amulet I was to carry for my cousin Akbar, a major on the other side, who she was convinced would meet me at night when the guns fall silent.

My great aunt’s touching naivette about warfare came back to me as if it were yesterday. A cocksure anchor, updating the Ukraine conflict, rolled her eyes and asked knowingly. “Who is winning the war?”

has not yet thrown in the towel. Vladimir Putin has not faced an anti war rebellion in the Kremlin. President Joe Biden has not yet leaked the Pentagon report which prohibits upgradation of weapons to Ukraine. None of this has happened. Is the war at a deadlock? Has nothing happened in over a year since Russian troops crossed into Ukraine on February 24, 2022?

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The date of the Russian invasion will be prominent in history books for millennia. But in my private notebook will be even more important dates which, according to my lights, begin with partnership “without limits” signed in the Kremlin by Xi Jinping and Putin plus the “new era” in relations between the two spelt out in sequence by Xi during Putin’s visit to Beijing on February 4. While the pretty anchor is inviting viewers to delve into the deepest layers of thought to come up with a victor in Ukraine, may I commend to her the thought that she cast her eyes across the globe, even West Asia where signs of victory and defeat are already under way.

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China, with Russia’s robust backing is altering all the key dynamics in the region. Take the Saudi-Iran rapprochement. I remember thinkers like Henry Kissinger giving the Palestinian issue relatively low saliency because the Arab world was riven by the Shia-Sunni divide.

The West never juxtaposed Shah’s Iran as Shia versus a Sunni Arab world. They were both allies. The “Godless” Chinese understood the divide as a political ploy which could only be resolved politically.

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Yaroslav Trofimov’s brilliant book ‘The Siege of Mecca’ details Juhayman al Otaybi and his followers’ siege of Islam’s holiest mosque in 1979 exactly as the revolution was toppling the Shah in Tehran. The book established what the Chinese also knew: the existential threat to the Saudis was from the Otaybi variant of the Muslim Brotherhood which was at the root of what subsequently bloomed as Al Qaeda. It was easy sailing during the “Sole Superpower” moment. Just as the Saudis sensed Washington’s grip on the world order slacken, it clasped with alacrity the new future with Iran.

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Just as one assassination in Sarajevo led to a chain of events which became the First World War, an unexpected breakthrough for peace between apparently implacable foes leads to a chain reaction.

A lasting peace is very much on the cards between Yemen and Saudi Arabia after an elaborate exchange of prisoners. The consolidation of this peace is because of the Saudi-Iran deal which is owed to Chinese diplomacy. The Houthis of Yemen will now have the time to attend to other details of the regional mosaic. Hashd al Shaabi and Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq, the original Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and, ofcourse Hamas in Gaza are now relatively free of their Saudi and other GCC anxieties and can focus on Israel and, ofcourse, US bases in the area.

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Some days ago Turkish, Syrian and Iranian officials were in Moscow. While a Syria-Turkish rapprochement suits Erdogan because of his elections due on May 14, Assad’s advisers do not wish to foreclose the option for an opening with the multiparty alliance in the opposition. As part of the frenetic activity the Syrian Foreign Minister was in Riyadh on the same day when the Iranian technical teams was negotiating details on exchange of Ambassadors.

So far so good, but Riyadh’s real nervousness is with the Akhwan or the Brothers who are simmering under Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s army repression in Egypt.

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The US was divided on the election of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in June, 2012. The White House and the State Department favoured a gamble on democratic openness but the Pentagon, where Israel is rather more influential, dug its heels in for Morsi’s ouster. The Saudis pleased as punch, turned up with $8 billion to stabilize Sisi. That was then. Radical changes have gripped the region since. In the midst of so much change, will the Sisi dictatorship survive? The possible reemergence of the Brothers will give them coherence with the Hamas in Gaza and much to Israel’s chagrin.

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These are stories the anchor at the outset of this column may like to mull over as she looks for victors in Ukraine.

French President Emanuel Macron’s visit to Beijing would by itself have been a breach in the Western façade, but the breach must be more pronounced because the EU President Ursula von der Leyen, a western hawk on Ukraine, also accompanied Macron’s peace mission. Macron’s persistent advice to Europe has been to disengage from US policies whether in Ukraine or in Taiwan.

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I hope this is a wide enough gap in the much touted western unity which the anchor of our narrative must begin to realize indicates success or a setback. She will justifiably complain I have not balanced the story. True. After all, the US has opened an embassy in far off Vanuatu to further encircle China.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer. He has interviewed world leaders and personalities in India and abroad, which appear in newspapers, magazines and on national television, remained editor of the World Report, a syndication service on foreign affairs, and has written for several publications, both global and Indian, including the BBC News, The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Indian Express, The Citizen and Outlook magazine. At the Indian Express, he started in 1977 as a Special Correspondent and eventually becoming, editor, Indian Express, Madras, (1979–1984), and Foreign Editor, The Indian Express, Delhi in 1984, and continues to writes columns and features for the paper.

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