Balance of Power Shifts in Kirkuk

Kirkuk- “Before we couldn’t proudly declare that we are Turkmen, now our flag is flying over Kirkuk’s citadel again,” Iraqi Omar Najat, 23, told Agence France Presse.

According to the agency, with the return of Kirkuk to Iraqi control, the balance of power appears to have shifted between the ethnic communities.

Three weeks before, the disputed city’s Kurds were gleefully taking part in the September 25 Kurdish independence referendum in open defiance of Baghdad.

Today, the election posters have been torn down. Huge Iraqi flags have been strung from palm trees and across buildings, although Kurdish flags have been left flying from lampposts.

AFP said that the election posters of referendum’s chief advocate, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, have also been torn down.

In the Kurdish neighbourhood of Rahimawa, business has been slow for the few shops that have reopened such as tyre salesman Abu Sima, 36, as he awaits a return to normality.

His nephews and nieces had to wait for schools to reopen in the wake of the upheaval on Sunday as Iraqi forces entered the city.

In three days and with barely any resistance from Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Iraqi forces took control of the whole of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

For fear of violence on Sunday, Abu Sima and his wife joined thousands of other families, mostly Kurds, in fleeing the city. But like most others, they have returned.

“We had to come back because we, the Kurds, are the majority, we were the original residents of Kirkuk,” he said.

In his fabrics store at the heart of the market in the shadow of the citadel, Omar Najat couldn’t agree less with that historical assessment.

“That there (the citadel) is Ottoman, Turkish, and Kirkuk is Iraqi Turkmen,” he insisted.

“Now that Baghdad is in charge, we have security, not like before when we had another power in place,” the young man told AFP.

He was referring to Kirkuk’s governor Najm Eddine Karim who brought the referendum to the province until Baghdad fired him.

He had previously gone on television to urge Kurdish residents to take up arms to resist the entry of Iraqi forces into the city.

AFP said that near a central square where a giant blue Turkmen flag has been hoisted, Abu Hussein is a firm believer in the coexistence of Kirkuk’s 800,000 residents.

The Kurds make up two-thirds of its population, 25 percent are Turkmen and the rest Arab Muslims and Christians.

“We know how to live alongside each ether,” said Abu Hussein. The Kurdish shopkeeper next door has an all-Arab workforce.

“It’s not just the past year or two, we’ve all been living together for decades,” said Abu Hussein, a 47-year Turkmen spice seller.

For Mohammed Hamdani, any blame lies on “politicians” in Baghdad, Irbil, which is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and other places.

“They can’t agree between themselves and it’s us, ordinary people, who pay the price,” he said.

Hamdani’s request is straightforward: “Whoever our leaders are, all we ask of them is one thing: that they give us security and the means to feed ourselves.”

Tears, Joy & Devastation Fill Raqqa’s Post-ISIS Air

SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed

Raqqa- Four months ago, Syria’s Raqqa found itself drenched in bloodshed as fierce and violent battles ripped through the former ISIS stronghold. When casually strolling down liberated areas, it becomes all the more evident how destructive the battles were.

Homes wrecked to the ground, debris, and a demolished infrastructure all spell out a devastating new reality left behind by ISIS.

For the few lucky neighborhoods which survived bombardment and stray bullets, the war still left its mark through shattered windows and broken doors taken down by blast waves.

Despite the destruction, joy prevailed as citizens and Syrian Democratic Forces celebrated smashing victory against ISIS on the liberated streets of Raqqa.

SDF fighters gathered at Raqqa’s center with a celebratory spirit, forming traditional dance rings, raising SDF flags and chanting slogans about victory and freedom.

Triumphant convoys and demonstrators paraded around Raqqa, as the former ISIS bastion is now under full control of the US-backed Syrian rebels.

Raqqa’s infamous “Al-Naim” square, dubbed ISIS’ square of hell, now is home to fluttering SDF flags waving in the near completion of military operations.

“Today we stand at Al-Naim square, which was once dubbed the circle of hell as it served as an arena for brutal executions carried out against anyone who opposed ISIS and the rule of its self-proclaimed caliphate,” Leader and Spokeswoman for the SDF “Euphrates Wrath” (Ghadab Al-Furrat) military campaign Rogada Flatt told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The capture of Al-Naim followed fighting since Sunday near the square, the Arab-Kurdish alliance said in a statement.

“We are left with only a few points, and combing operations are underway to eliminate the sleeper cells and cleanse the city of mines,” asserted Flatt on the continued liberation of Raqqa, the caliphate’s former ‘capital’.

“At least 22 ISIS members surrendered to our forces and were sent to detention centers for investigation, after which they will be referred to the adequate courts,” said SDF spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed.

Reviewing battles fought, Ahmed said that “a few foreign militiamen kept fighting until the last minute.”

“Our forces have started mop-up and sweeping operations considering the probability of ISIS cells hiding in some locations,” said Ahmed. “Mines planted by the cells need to be defused to make sure that the entire city has been cleared,” she added.

Since June, Raqqa residents have been held hostage by ISIS terrorists.

As the terror group lost more and more territory, it resorted to using these civilians as human shields.

Surviving civilians were trapped in hellfire as SDF troops carried out operations, US-led coalition staged airstrikes, and ISIS snipers infested the streets and prevented people from escaping.

Haitham al-Zaher, 48, was the last civilian to escape ISIS captivity.

Zaher managed to escape with his wife and three daughters.

“We could not escape until clashes were close to us— until then, my wife and I decided alongside 7 other families, to take shelter in an abandoned cellar, where we stayed 3 days in hiding, food and water were scarce and almost ran out,” said Zaher.

“We lived through very difficult moments, where we heard the thuds of heavy shelling and cracking of clashes,” he added.

Malika al-Zaher, aged 38, said that during September her family was moved 14 times to different locations.

“As the fighting progressed, ISIS ordered us to change the place, taking us as human shields,” said Zaher’s wife.

Today, Syrians in Raqqa sent out a cry for help to conduct extensive investigations in order to reveal the fate ISIS-held detainees and to restore the city once again to its people.

Trump’s Iran Strategy Sharpens Power Struggle in Tehran

London- Although it had been expected for months, US President Donald Trump’s unveiling of his new strategy on Iran seems to have taken the ruling elite in Tehran by surprise, intensifying the power struggle within it.

The radical faction close to “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had expected Trump to tear-up the so-called nuclear deal, depriving the rival faction known as Rafsanjani’s orphans led by President Hassan Rouhani, of their main propaganda plank.

That Rouhani is anxious to pretend that the nuke deal remains intact is a sign of his faction’s failure to work out any alternative policy. If he denounces the deal, he would be validating Trump’s claim that Tehran never intended to abide by the rules. Such move would, in turn, persuade the Europeans and perhaps even Russia and China to tone down their support for Tehran against Washington.

“We intend to remain committed to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said Friday night, “for as long as others continue to respect it.”

That was a strange position since one of those “others”, the US, had already announced it would not abide by the deal as it stands now.

“We hope that others will not follow Trump’s lead,” says Hessameddin Ashna, Rouhani’s chief political adviser. This means that Rafsanjani’s Orphans are determined to stick to the “deal” even when and if the US renders it meaningless.

For the deal to work in favor of Iran it is important that international banks and businesses resume treating the country as a normal partner.

Two years after the nuclear deal was announced, this hasn’t happened. The reason is that companies and banks are not sure that by doing business with Iran they would not risk running into trouble with US rules and regulations. Fear that the sanctions that were suspended under the nuclear deal could be snapped back at any time has prevented Iran from attracting any significant foreign investment.

For the same reason Iran has failed to regain access to world capital markets and banking services. Today, even Iranian embassies abroad are not allowed to open bank accounts and are forced to pay their staff in cash. Tehran is also forced to pay the militant groups it backs, notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen with suitcases filled with dollars.

However, Rouhani and his faction, which includes former President Muhammad Khatami, may not be totally unhappy with Trump’s move because the US president singled out the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is controlled by Khamenei, as the main culprit. The Rouhani faction is now harping on the theme that had it not been for the IRGC, the nuclear deal would have borne real fruits for Iran.

However, Trump, according to the daily Kayhan, believed to be a mouthpiece for Khamenei, chose a “more devious method” by not formally denouncing the deal while making it clear the US will intensify sanctions against Iran. This means that “Iran will continue to comply with the deal while the US refuses to abide by its pledges,” the paper says.

The IRGC is clearly happy that, despite months of rumors, Trump did not ask the US Congress to declare it a “terrorist organization”.

According to Kayhan, Trump “dared not” classify the IRGC as “terrorist.” The reason, Kayhan says, was “the stern warning” given by IRGC Commander General Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari.

IRGC spokesman Gen. Massoud Jazayeri has also highlighted IRGC’s message of defiance.

“We intend to intensify our support for suffering peoples fighting for their rights everywhere, most notably in the Middle East,” he said.

The message was further amplified by Quds Corps Commander General Qassem Soleimani. He ended weeks of seclusion with a lightning trip to Iraq after which he posted his “selfies” all over the official media. The message was that he remains very much in business.

The IRGC also tried to dismiss Trump’s order for imposing economic sanctions on the IRGC’s business wing. That business wing, known as the Khatam al-Anbia Conglomerate, controls over 100 companies with a presence in Dubai, Oman, Austria, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.

On Saturday, General Ibad-Allah Ibadi, the head of the conglomerate, inaugurated a new steel mill with a fiery speech about the IRGC’s determination to expand its business activities across the globe.

“Despite Trump’s forlorn attempts many around the world are keen to do business with us,” he claimed.

While Khamenei has maintained silence, at least at the time of this writing, spokesmen for the rival factions have tried to minimize the impact of Trump’s dramatic move in different ways.

Rouhani is beating the drums about a promise by French President Emmanuel macron to visit Tehran next year as a sign that Iran can ignore the US and “work with European and other partners.”

Rouhani’s rival in the recent presidential election, Ayatollah Ibrahim Raiisi, however, has called for a “full adoption of Resistance Economy” which means forgoing foreign trade and adopting a North Korean style system of self-sufficiency.

For the time being, the rival factions are jumping and gyrating much like angry cats meaning to spring at each other. Without knowing it, perhaps, under the surface, Trump may have sharpened the power struggle in Tehran.

Is Europe Able to Protect its Businesses from US Sanctions?

Berlin- In a decision that could deepen the transatlantic rift, President Trump announced his withdrawal of presidential “certification” of the Iran nuclear deal Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline. Trump previously called the 2015 agreement disastrous and has argued that it isn’t in the United States’ best interests, though he has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance in the past.

The deal’s decertification is expected to put Congress in charge of attaching new conditions that could either strengthen the deal or lead to its dismantlement. The latter scenario would probably result in the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran. Even within Trump’s administration, however, many top officials agree with European leaders and businesses that preserving the deal would be the smarter choice.

So why are European leaders — who unlike some top officials within the Trump administration are more easily able to argue their cases — in favor of upholding the deal?

Europe thinks that a flawed deal is better than no deal.

Even though there might be flaws, the current deal is better than no deal, European governments are arguing. “We have no indication of Iran violating its JCPoA commitments,” said an official in the German Federal Foreign Office, referring to the Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its abbreviation. French officials recently reached the same conclusion, and even US officials have made the case that Iran is in compliance.

“It is essential to maintain it to avoid proliferation. In this period when we see the risks with North Korea, we must maintain this line,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in mid-September. The UN watchdog tasked with monitoring compliance has reached a similar conclusion.

Intelligence agencies have recorded a decrease in Iranian proliferation efforts in Europe.

Germany’s intelligence service said that Iranian “proliferation efforts for its nuclear program” significantly decreased following the deal’s implementation. Officials did not respond to questions about the details of that decrease, but authorities in Germany’s most populous federal state, North-Rhine Westphalia, said that attempts to try to obtain resources that could be used to pursue its nuclear program had dropped from 141 in 2015 to 32 the following year. German officials argue that the slackening Iranian efforts are one indication that the 2015 deal is working.

The lifting of sanctions under the deal prompted a rush of European corporations to do business in Iran. These are now lobbying their governments to prevent the dismantlement of the deal and are hoping that Iran may continue to adhere to its conditions if Europe refrained from reimposing sanctions.

Theoretically, the deal’s non-US signatories, which include Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran, could agree to stick to the deal without US participation. Asked about such a possibility at a European-Iranian investment conference last week, Philippe Delleur, senior vice president of public affairs for transport company Alstom, said: “I suppose that they will not put again the European sanctions. [In that case], we should be able to continue to work.”

Such a decision could still have severe implications for transatlantic relations at a time when Trump has already faced open disagreement and anger from many of his allies there over defense spending, trade, climate change and other issues.

Existing trade connections and investments make the deal’s dismantling increasingly difficult.

Iranian exports to the European Union increased by 375 percent from 2015 to 2016, and European companies have already invested a significant amount of money in the country, raising the stakes of any decision that could result in the deal’s collapse.

The surge in trade volume has been facilitated by the reintroduction of banking connections between Iran and the West, although major European banks have so far refrained from directly dealing with Iranian institutions. European credit agencies have stepped in to provide export guarantees to companies willing to trade with Iran.

The Danish Export Credit Agency has so far approved eight Iranian banks for credit lines or guarantees. “If snapback [sanctions] make it illegal to transfer money out of Iran, we would cover their losses. We offer banks this risk,” said the agency’s director, Jørn Fredsgaard Sørensen.

Such a model to save the Iran deal could unravel, however, if the United States decided to punish European companies, banks or agencies cooperating with Iran. Officials are examining options to protect European companies and individuals from US sanctions.

Some European business leaders doubt whether such efforts would provide sufficient protection. “Our stance and the stance of international companies is that we need to be compliant with international law, applicable law. And if sanctions come back and that means we cannot do our work inside or outside Iran, then we will stop,” said one senior executive at a major multinational corporation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitivity of decertification.

“People have discussed the idea of protective legislation [EU blocking sanctions]. I think in practice, with real multinational companies, they wouldn’t want to rely on that to do Iran investment,” the executive said.

In any case, European governments would still face an awkward decision: Would they side with a regime they frequently accuse of human rights violations, or with the United States?

The Washington Post

Women and Terrorism … A Gender Reading

ISIS

Dubai – Every now and then the stories of female members of the ISIS terrorist group and of other extremist organizations emerge.

The latest of these stories is that of a 16-year old German ISIS member, who was persuaded to join the group by another member through the internet. She traveled to Turkey and later to Syria where she met with her new husband, “Abou Mohammed,” whom she had never met before. He was killed on the battlefield however soon after she married him,. The German ISIS member now finds herself on trial in Iraq.

Another example is the so-called “White Widow,” former British rapper Sally Jones, who joined ISIS and was killed in a US drone strike on the Syrian-Iraqi border in June. There are several other stories of women, who have joined extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia.

These stories, and many others, prompted Tunisians Dr. Amal Qourami and Monia al-Arfawi to write a book, “Women and Terrorism: A Gender Study.” Published by the Masciliana publishing house in Tunisia, the seven-chapter, over 500-page book covers a range of issues, such as terrorism and gender, jihad and gender, the role of women and girls in terrorist groups, the role of families in terrorism and terrorism and identity.

In explaining her reason for writing the book, Qourami explained that there are few studies that address the role of women in terrorist and extremist groups. The fact is that the participation of women and girls in such organizations is a truth that cannot be denied. Has this issue been avoided because people have been in denial? Or is it due to male-dominated societies?

This masculine perspective and blindness to gender roles was a motivation to dedicate a study on the relationship between girls and women with terrorism, she explained.

The book particularly focuses on Moroccan and Tunisian female members of terrorist groups.

Qourami believes that female members of terror groups has not yet become a phenomenon despite the large number of such recruits and the likelihood that it will rise.

The authors asked what pushes girls and women from all over the world to join extremist groups, especially ISIS. They wondered how they are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of jihad that contradicts, according to modern concepts, with women’s rights, seeing as organizations like ISIS advocate the establishment of patriarchal states that do not believe in equality and liberties.

Are they attracted by the idea of ISIS being able to accomplish all that it promised in establishing an Islamic “caliphate”?

The authors pose questions on why women would want to take part in terrorist activities that throughout history have been dominated by men. To answer this, they had to examine the rhetoric the terrorists used to lure the women. They also had to examine what role these women seek to play in these organizations.

Women and the dream of a male society

One of the ironies the book reveals is how Tunisian women are leading the list of female terrorists in Syria at a time when they rank the best among Arab women when it comes to enjoying their rights in Tunisia. This “mystery” has aroused anger, disappointment and condemnation, and yet it has also sparked curiosity.

Categories of women in the terrorist organization

Arfawi said that women in the Ansar al-Sharia group are divided into three categories:

The first are wives who have been forced to submit to their husbands, who are leaders of the organization.

The second are those who have voluntarily joined the group because they believe in its ideology.

The third are sympathizers of the organization and its ideology.

The majority of the Ansar al-Sharia female members sampled by Qourami and Arfawi were between the age of 16 and 35. They noted that 90 percent of them either sympathized with the terrorists or were blackmailed into joining them. Arfawi noted that many of them were also victims of the wave of religious fervor that pervaded Tunisia in 2011 and 2012. Many women who were suffering from an identity crisis or who were initially not very religious fell victim to this wave.

Furthermore, she said that the poor and illiterates did not make up the majority of the female terrorists, but many of them were educated and came from a range of economic classes. Most of the terrorist operations were carried out by educated women.

ISIS female members vs. Qaeda counterparts

The position a female occupies in ISIS differs than the one she may occupy in al-Qaeda. Hundreds of women have joined ISIS and they formed female brigades. International reports estimate their members at 1,000, most of them foreign. They gave the likes of al-Khansa brigade, one of the fiercest ISIS units, said Arfawi. She also gave the example of the “Umm Mohammed” brigade that was led by Pakistani Aqsa Mohammed, the “Umm Moqdad” group that was led by a Saudi Arabian woman and the “Umm al-Rayyan” brigade led by a Tunisian. The majority of these female leaders married ISIS military commanders.

ISIS has proven to be a bigger draw to women than al-Qaeda because it promises them with the establishment of stability and the virtuous city. Al-Qaeda on the other hand did not focus on the idea of the establishment of the state.

Long Thorny Road to Building a United Libyan Army

Libya

Tripoli – In 2014, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar reunited the Libyan military forces after they became fragmented in wake of their country’s NATO-backed armed uprising against leader Moammar al-Gadhadfi.

Under Gadhafi’s regime, the army included a little more than 140,000 officers and soldiers, said former officer Ahmed Gadhaf al-Damm. The number now lies at only 35,000, who are under Haftar’s command. So where has the rest of the military, with its weapons and equipment, gone?

Despite the difficulties the Libyan army has been enduring since Gadhafi’s death in 2011, Haftar has succeeded in first, expelling extremist groups from the eastern and southern regions, and second, introducing reforms to the military structure left over from the former regime.

This has led to the emergence of what Libyan military spokesman Ahmed al-Masmari calls the “security brigades.” These brigades, with their rocket-propelled grenades and Russian heavy tanks, have earned their negative reputation from their suppression of the armed uprising.

They did not have a united leadership, but Gadhaf al-Damm does not paint such a dark picture. The military man, who began his career under Gadhafi, explained that these fighters used to be subject to the armed forces and they used to defend the nation in 2011.

At any rate, the road to reaching a united army seems long.

Libyan military officials, like their counterparts all over the world, do not like to discuss divisions in the army and differences over its objective. This stance is shared by officers, who still back the former regime, and others, who took part in the uprising and now back Haftar.

Given this bleak reality, one despairingly has to ask: What is one to do if his questions do not receive definitive answers from the various military units spread throughout the country?

For example, how can we explain the position of General Mustafa al-Sharkasi, the former military commander of the Benghazi region, who has found himself at odds with Haftar. He is now the leader of the “Defense Brigades” that is accused of terrorism and collaborating with Qatar.

After a long discussion with Sharkasi, one realizes that some issues can be resolved through a mixture of dialogue, good intentions and some force.

In this regard, a military intelligence official demanded that “ties between high-ranking officers with any sectarian or local militias must be immediately severed.”

For instance, what is the stance of Ali Kanna, who used to be one of the strongmen of the deposed regime? Immediately in the aftermath of Gadhafi’s murder, he was eager to introduce reform to the military institution. Now, however, his role has been diminished to merely a defender of his Tuareg tribe. The Tuareg, a tribe of non-Arab roots, are mainly present in the southern province of Fezzan.

One of Kanna’s aides, who has Tuareg roots, said: “We are Libyans. Our role is to preserve Libya’s unity and this can only be achieved through the unity of the military institution. The problem is that communication between the commanders in the country has weakened from what it was in the past. At least this is what we are noticing in the South.”

There are other military commanders and their soldiers, who used to be the backbone of the army under the old regime. Nearly seven years after Gadhafi’s death, they have found themselves surrounded by political chaos given the absence of a central authority. They now operate as isolated islands in their regions or they are waiting in regional countries like so many thousands of others.

What about military commands that have joined the militias and which do not adhere to Haftar? Could this lead to Libya’s division?

Gadhaf al-Damm replied: “No, the majority of the military officials are now in their cities and villages. They are trying to join the army regardless of who is leading it, because the truth is, no one is really leading in Libya. Everything is made up of illusory structures.”

Despite the difficulties, the military forces that Haftar managed to bring together in challenging conditions have managed to impose themselves. They have shelled extremist groups in various regions in the east and south and they now have their sights set on the west.

One of the members of the political dialogue committee, which is affiliated with the United Nations delegation in Libya, said that “at least we can now say that the country now has a general that we can talk to.”

“This will help persuade the international community in lifting the 2011 ban against equipping the army with weapons,” he added.

On some Libyan calls for Haftar to run for president, one of his close aides said: “The real purpose of uniting the army is not political.”

“The truth is that Haftar is not seeking a political position. We are not defending politicians, but a country, which is on the verge of being lost,” he stressed.

The idea of uniting the army used to be only a dream, but Haftar’s determination, as some said, has taken it to the regional and international dialogue table. It has reached Egypt, which is leading Libyans in that direction.

The challenge now lies in how to merge the other commanders, with their officers and soldiers, in a single entity and around a single ideology.

Masmari remarked: “The Libyan army ideology is defensive and it seeks to defend Libya and the gains of its people.”

There remain attempts to steer officers away from Haftar, which some observers said would only push the country towards division, said Dr. Mohammed al-Warfali, former commander in the Libyan tribes conference.

Despite this gloomy outlook, opportunities remain and international pressure and Arab and Egyptian efforts are being exerted to save Libya. Only days ago, Haftar met with UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salameh at his office at the al-Rajma military base, some 40 kms away from the city of Benghazi. Haftar, who enjoys strong and significant ties with the leaderships in Cairo and Abu Dhabi, has also paid visits to Moscow, Paris and Rome.

At the end of September, Libyan military officials in Cairo agreed to form technical committees to study mechanisms to unite the Libyan military institution.

American political analyst Sharif al-Hilweh, who had toured several cities in western Libya, said the existence of several military commands outside of Haftar’s control will really affect the army.

“This is natural and such commands in the South and West could lead to the division of Libya into three countries or regions,” he warned.

He noted however that some of these military commanders enjoy good ties with the US Department of Defense, which means that they could yet play a role in the North African country’s future. Some leaders are also choosing not to get involved in the developments in the country at the moment to avoid being viewed as affiliated with the rival parties, Hilweh revealed.

“Regardless of what happens, I believe that the army will no longer remain divided. I know that communication exists between its commanders, because, ultimately, they are the products of a single institution and this will not change with political shifts,” he continued.

Sharkasi meanwhile, summed up his position by saying: “Our main problem is Haftar. We will not seek vengeance if he leaves the Libyan scene.”

“We want the rise of the state,” he declared, while completely rejecting any form of cooperation with the field marshal.

Afghan Newspaper Hunts Corruption, but First It Has to Pay the Rent

Zaki Daryabi, the founder of Etilaat e Roz, scrolling through the day’s news one evening at his office in Kabul.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The first time Zaki Daryabi started a small newspaper in Afghanistan, it shut down within months. Mr. Daryabi, who had just graduated from university in Kabul, lost most of the money lent to him by friends to start his business.

But soon after, he restarted the newspaper, Etilaat e Roz. And now, five years later, it has found itself in the middle of some of Afghanistan’s most important national conversations.

The publication remains on financial life support. Mr. Daryabi often finds himself writing desperate grant proposals, asking creditors for a little more patience or amplifying the paper’s online presence on days when he can’t afford the $250 required to publish in print.

At the same time, though, Mr. Daryabi’s journalists churn out investigative reports that stir what has become an increasingly chaotic Afghan democracy, with its warlords and ethnic factions often needing reminders of the rules of the new game and the role of the news media in it.

The growth of the free Afghan news media is one of the biggest achievements since the toppling of the Taliban by an international coalition in 2001.

Under the Taliban, there was only the regime’s state radio and newspaper. Today, there are more than 300 radio and 200 television channels, more than 70 newspapers, and hundreds of magazines across Afghanistan.

The numbers, however, often overshadow the draining work and risks these news organizations take.

Newspapers in particular, most of which have been subsidized by donor funding over the past 15 years, face not just financial worries, but also the nagging question of whether they can really bring about change in a country where power often lies less in the constitutional order and more at the hands of strongmen and their patronage.

Coping with the political pressures, and the financial challenges, is a daily struggle.

For publishers like Mr. Daryabi, newspaper work means living a life of debt, and often making life awkward for loved ones. As his paper has published reports critical of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, Mr. Daryabi’s relationship with his father, a Ghani supporter, has become strained. His father does not understand why his son keeps embarrassing him in front of his friends.

“When I am sometimes thinking about leaving it all, it’s not about myself — it’s about my twins, and their future,” said Mr. Daryabi, the father of twin boys.

Etilaat e Roz operates out of a third-floor apartment in western Kabul, where a team of 10 starts late in the morning and works late into the night. The operation is so small that for major investigations Mr. Daryabi and his chief editor become reporters.

The paper has several distributors, on bicycle, who deliver the 3,000 copies at dawn five days a week. It relies heavily on its colorful online presence, with 300,000 subscribers to its Facebook page.

Advertisements cover only about 30 percent of the paper’s costs. Mr. Daryabi recently obtained a grant from Open Society Foundation for about $50,000, which will cover another 30 percent for the coming year.

There have been weeks when the paper hasn’t printed, simply putting the content online. During one of those stretches last year, Mr. Daryabi admits, he came closest to the lure of political money — accepting a onetime payment of $3,000 from former President Hamid Karzai’s foundation, arranged by one of his editors, who had once worked in the president’s office and told him that the paper was shutting down.

Mr. Daryabi’s team, after much internal debate, accepted the money and put it toward the rent.

The paper has conducted detailed investigations of the family networks that have controlled much of the Afghan state resources, including Mr. Karzai’s family; it devoted an entire issue to how some of these networks joined up in a scheme that took out about $900 million in reckless loans that collapsed the country’s biggest bank.

It has also investigated the sale by Mr. Ghani’s administration of a large section of prime real estate in Kabul at a dirt-cheap price to an election supporter.

Last week, the paper published a series of articles about ethnic favoritism in the presidential palace, a sensitive issue in a country that has long struggled with equality.

For months, Mr. Daryabi’s team and others had reported that Pashtuns made up the circle of people closest to Mr. Ghani’s office, marginalizing other ethnic groups in the most important conversations.

His paper found a document that was a smoking gun of sorts.

A senior employee of Mr. Ghani’s administrative office had shared a memo on an internal Telegram channel, highlighting how members of other ethnicities should be sidelined in favor of Pashtuns. Within minutes, the employee had written in the group again: “wrong channel.”

It was too late. The memo was leaked to the news media, and Mr. Daryabi’s team picked on it, carefully documenting every step of their reporting, and knowing that the authenticity of a document on an explosive issue like ethnic prejudice would be questioned.

The articles set off a week of intense debates across Afghan television channels and newspapers, and particularly on social media, where many lashed out at Mr. Daryabi and his paper.

Daud Noorzai, the new head of Mr. Ghani’s administrative office, insisted that the memo was the work of one individual and did not reflect the deeper thinking of the office he was leading. But that did not ease concerns about rot in the system.

Mr. Ghani, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly at the time, ordered his attorney general to conduct an inquiry.

To Mr. Daryabi and his team, Mr. Noorzai’s acknowledgment of the problem and Mr. Ghani’s promise of accountability were a much needed victory during another difficult stretch when they had been contemplating shutting their enterprise down.

“In an environment where being branded and stamped as partisan is so common, we want our newspaper to stand for one thing: a newspaper,” said Khalil Pajhwok, the chief editor. “We are after earning trust as a professional media that doesn’t take sides, and that means we have to do trustworthy work, without censorship, that is factual.”

Mr. Daryabi was raised in a village in Jaghori, an enigma district of sorts that has a robust culture of books and ideas in an otherwise restive Ghazni Province. He is 31, based on the date his father scribbled on the back of the family’s copy of the Quran.

Or he is 28, based on how old the district governor thought he looked when he signed Mr. Daryabi’s ID card and officially registered his age when he began his university studies in Kabul.

As a student of political science, Mr. Daryabi started writing articles for a local newspaper, getting paid about $5 a piece. After graduation, he cobbled together about $16,000 from friends and family to start Etilaat e Roz, which in its first incarnation largely focused on entertainment.

After it closed, Mr. Daryabi, who does not speak much English, was called by a printing house to lead an English paper started primarily to make money from advertisements. Mr. Daryabi took the job on the condition that he could use the company’s resources to restart Etilaat e Roz. They had a deal.

After a year of running two newspapers, he could afford to work full-time on Etilaat e Roz, which now focused on politics.

Mr. Daryabi said that in those days, in 2012, there was more optimism about the country’s future and the media’s role in it.

But the difficult years since — with a messy election that threatened to break the country apart, a violent Taliban onslaught and his paper’s financial issues — have not beaten him down completely, he said.

“The raw material for a democracy is still there,” he said.

(The New York Times)

Trump’s New Strategy on Iran Takes the Bull by the Horns

London- After months of speculation and counter-speculation, US President Donald Trump has unveiled his long promised “new strategy on Iran.” The 1370-word text released by the White House on Friday morning is likely to surprise many, at times for opposite reasons.

The first to be surprised are those, especially in Europe, who feared Trump to behave like a bull in a china shop, bent on nothing but wanton destruction for the sake of making some noise. That hasn’t happened. Carefully crafted, the text avoids using diplomatic jargon for obfuscation and, instead, opts for clarity.

Next to be surprised are those who goaded Trump to beat the drums of war and send the Marines to Tehran. However, Trump’s new strategy aims at a sophisticated and measured use of American economic, diplomatic and, yes, military power in pursuit of carefully defined objectives rather than mere saber-rattling of the kind former President Barack Obama, remember his “all options are on the table”, specialized in.

Finally, there will also be surprise on the part of those, especially the “New York Boys” in Tehran who hoped and prayed that his efforts by their American apologists, led by Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, would prevent Trump from trying to tackle the totality of relations with the Tehran, an issue that has dogged seven US presidents since 1979.

The first feature of the Trump text is its avoidance of the syrupy jargon of diplomatic deception. Unlike Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush who spoke of “goodwill breeding goodwill” or President Bill Clinton who talked of “welcoming the aspirations of the Iranian people”, Trump states his objectives in stark terms: “The United States’ new Iran strategy focuses on neutralizing the Government of Iran’s de-stabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.”

This simple sentence throws out many shibboleths of US policy on Iran. It does not say it hopes to “moderate” Iran’s behavior, as Carter, George W Bush, Clinton and Obama did. It says the aim is to “neutralize” it. It also abandons the childish claim that Iran’s aggressive behavior is the work of “certain groups within the Iranian regime”, and not the totality of it, as President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif claim.

More importantly, it abandons the distinction that Obama and Kerry tried to portray between Tehran’s backing for outright terrorist groups and the so-called “militant” ones such as the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah and the Palestinian branch of Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas). Without openly saying so, Obama implied that some of the “militant” groups financed and armed by Iran may not be as bad as terrorist outfits that Tehran supported. Trump rejects that illusion.

Also surprised would be those who expected Trump to behave like the lone-ranger by acting alone. The text, however, makes it clear that in implementing the new strategy, Trump is seeking broad coalitions both inside the United States, Congress, and in the international arena. The text reads: “We will revitalize our traditional and regional partnerships as bulwark against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region.”

By highlighting the topic of “subversion” and the need to restore “a more stable balance of power” the new strategy offers a broader vision of relations with Iran, beyond the narrow and heavily fudge disuse of the nuclear deal which, put in context, is presented as no more than a part of a larger jigsaw.

The jigsaw also includes “gross violations of human rights” and “the unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on spurious charges.” In other words, Tehran must understand that taking foreign hostages is no longer risk-free.

Beyond regional and European allies, the text envisages putting American diplomacy in higher gear to garner support from “the international community”.

The new strategy also does something that previous US Presidents tried to ignore: the fact that a regime’s foreign policy is the continuation of its domestic policies. If a regime violates its own laws and oppresses its own people it is also likely to ignore international law and try to harm other nations.

A section dealing with the nature of the Khomeinist regime establishes a direct link between “exporting violence and terrorism” to “undermine the international system” and “oppressing the Iranian people and abusing their rights.”

All along the target in this new strategy is the “revolutionary” persona of the regime and not Iran as a nation-state. This is why the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is directly named and singled out for punitive measures while Iran’s national army, part of Iran as a nation-state, is not. Again, targeting Iran as “revolution” and not Iran as “state” the text names the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei as responsible for “exporting violence, and oppressing the Iranian people.” There is no mention of Rouhani and his Cabinet or even the Islamic Majlis , the parliament, which are supposed to represent Iran as a “state”.

All in all the Trump text cites nine major grievances against Iran that the US intends to address. These include Tehran’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus “against the Syrian people”, “unrelenting hostility towards Israel” and “threatening freedom of navigation” in the Strait of Hormuz.

This last point is of special importance because previous US administrations have tried to temporize with it as best as they could.

Even when Iran captured a number of US Marines in international waters in the Gulf, President Obama took no punitive action; instead he released $1.7 billion of Iran’s frozen assets as a sort of unacknowledged ransom.

The list of Tehran’s misdeeds also includes Iranian intervention in Yemen, the attempt to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and Iranian attempts at subversion against the United Arab Emirates.

The text asserts: “The previous Administration’s myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other activities allowed Iran’s influence in the region to reach a high water mark.”

This “holistic” approach to the “problem of Iran” could be seen as a challenge to both sides. But it could also be seen as an opportunity for both sides to abandon the incremental method and seek an all-encompassing dialogue covering all their mutual grievances.

If an opportunity could be cited it is because the new strategy does not call for a change of regime in Tehran, something the Khomeinist establishment has always feared. The text says the aim of the new strategy is “to bring about a change in the behavior of the Iranian regime.”

Advocates of a tough line on Iran might see that as a repetition of the pious hope expressed by all US administrations since 1979. However, if we go beyond the surface of that statement we would see that the detail measures required for Iran to change its behavior would, in time, transform the present regime into something quite different. In other words, the concept of “regime change” is not cited directly. But what is presented as “change within the regime” could be a huge step in that direction.

Apologists of the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA), or the nuclear deal, may find it difficult to pursue their policy of trying to isolate Trump if only because the US leader is not setting himself directly against the controversial agreement as such. Instead, he points to Iran’s repeated violation of its pledges, as most recently testified by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Director Yukio Amano with regard to inspection of certain military sites in Iran. Nor could the Europeans ignore the fact that Iran’s testing and deploying of medium and long-range missiles violates the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which is often cited to give some legal aura to the JCPOA.

Because JCPOA is not a treaty and has not been signed by anyone and not ratified by any legislature, there is no mechanism for leaving it in any formal way. Thus Trump didn’t need to say that he has denounced JCPOA. Yet, he has indicated that JCPOA must be amended so as to fill its loopholes. Iran is also required to fulfill its pledges, including the ratification of the Additional protocols to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Trump does not “leave” the CJPOA in a formal manner because there is no mechanism for doing so in a bizarre text that has no legal validity. It leaves it suspended in a fog of uncertainty, where it was born in the first place.

Trump’s text makes it hard for the leadership in Tehran to devise a strategy to counter it. Had he renounced the CJPOA in a formal way, Tehran leaders could have cast themselves as victims of “Imperialist bullying”, and deployed the Europeans, led by EU’s foreign policy tsarina Federica Mogherini to fight their corner. Now they cannot do that because all that Trump is demanding is a more strict application of the measures that the EU and others say they mean to defend.

That leaves Tehran with the choice of either unilaterally denouncing the CJPOA, for example by claiming that it cannot allow unrestricted inspection “suspect sites” in its territory, or trying to open a dialogue with the US through the EU or even regional mediation. However, first indications are that Tehran will not formally denounce the CJPOA, preferring to keep the fig-leaf behind which it can hide its true nuclear intentions.

Tehran would also find it hard to vilify the US because of the new strategy the bulk of which is devoted to highlighting the sufferings of the Iranian people. The reference to IRGC’s business activities and alleged networks of corruption and extortion will also be popular among Iranians who, rightly or wrongly, believe that the military has used its position for personal enrichment, something President Rouhani has even publicly mentioned.

The new US strategy is certain to dampen foreign, especially European enthusiasm, for investing in Iran because Trump could refuse to suspend sanctions or even ask the Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran. Iran will find itself in a limbo, never a comfortable place to be in, with all the hype that Rouhani made about the nuclear deal proving to be hollow.

The October 15 deadline for Trump to recertify or de-certify the JCPOA will end soon after the publication of the new strategy. But what matters in the longer run is the new strategy itself.

The worst case scenario after the publication of the new strategy is that Iran and the US will be put on a direct collision course with the risk of at least limited military clashes.

The best case scenario is that both sides admit that they cannot resolve the problems that have dogged them for four decades through incremental and, ultimately, superficial measures and that the only way ahead is the quest for a grand bargain which would require a redefinition of Iran’s place in international politics.

Both options, best and worst, have powerful advocates in Tehran and Washington, advocates who could sabotage either or both.

The ‘Autumn of Sorrows’ for Russia’s Muslims

London- “Set the East ablaze!” This was the brief order that the leader of the Bolshevik revolution Vladimir Ilycyh Ulianov, alias Lenin, gave to Zinoviev when he sent him on a mission to mobilize the Muslim subjects of the Russian Empire in support of the October Revolution.

Zinoviev was the party name of Ovseï-Gerchen Aronovitch Radomyslski-Apfelbaum, a Ukrainian Jewish intellectual who had spent years in exile in Europe and had almost no knowledge of the “wild frontiers” of Central Asia and the Caucasus where the Tsar’s Muslim subjects lived. Used to café discussions with Westernized intellectuals, Zinoviev failed to establish any rapport with Muslim tribes of the regions concerned and antagonized the religious leadership in Central Asia and the Caucasus by advancing the slogan: “You believe either in God or in Revolution!”

Having failed to set the Muslim East ablaze, Zinoviev was transferred back to the center to lead the Communist International (COMINTERN) with the task of seizing control of Socialist and Social-Democrat parties in Europe, a mission which he performed with great efficiency before Stalin, emerging as sole dictator after Lenin’s death, put Zinoviev and many other top Bolsheviks to death on charges of treason.

Having learned from Zinoviev’s experience with Muslims of Russia, Lenin decided that “education and persuasion” wouldn’t do the trick among people firmly attached to their religion and traditional way of life. His next emissary was Mikhail Frunze who was determined to win Russia’s Muslims over by force rather than persuasion. When Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Qarapakh and Uzbek tribes rebelled against the new Bolshevik regime, Frunze didn’t ask for more ideological instructors. He demanded more guns and aircraft to bomb the rebels. Lenin cabled him succinctly: “Shoot their men, seize their animals, drive their women and children across the border!”

Frunze did that with extra zeal, writing one of the darkest chapters of Soviet history, known by Central Asians as “The Autumn of Sorrows.” Frunze died a year after Lenin, before Stalin had a chance to also kill him.
However, the Bolshevik Revolution did have some genuine supporters among a small number of Westernized Muslim intellectuals in the Caucasus and central Asia.

The best known among them was Sultan Aliev, a Tatar who came to be known as “The Muslim Lenin”. A brilliant and charismatic propagandist Aliev, or in Russian Galiev, enjoyed much prestige with the Bolshevik leadership to the point that he was one of those who carried Lenin’s coffin. Aliev wanted a straight Communist revolution in the Muslim lands of the Russian Empire. His teachings inspired such events as “the burning of burqahs” and the mass shaving of beards in Tatar, Bashkir and Uzbek territories.

Other Muslim intellectuals searched for ways of producing a version of Communism that could be reconciled with at least some aspects of traditional Islamic teachings. They emphasised the importance of education, equality for men and woman, and acceptance of intellectual diversity. The most brilliant among them were Sadreddin Ayni, Ahmad Danesh and Abdul-Rauf Fitrat.

The Bolshevik Revolution’s full effect on the Muslim world took several decades to materialize with the creation of Communist parties in Iran, Turkey and several Arab countries. By the 1950s, Communism had become an important, and fashionable part of political and intellectual life in the Middle East and among the Muslims in the Indian Subcontinent and Indonesia.

The Communist word view in general and Leninist methods of organization and agitation, was adopted by many Islamist activists who regarded Communism as a form of “kufr”(infidelity). In Egypt, Hassan al-Banna, the teacher who founded the Muslim Brotherhood, admitted he had learned much from Lenin’s modus operandi. Sayyed Qutb, the chief theoretician of the Brotherhood, modelled his book “Signposts” on Lenin’s “What Is To be Done?” The Pakistani religious-political leader al-Maudoodi said he had no objection to being regarded as a pupil of Lenin “when it comes to the role of an organized vanguard to reshape society.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current Iranian “Supreme Guide” is also a not so secret admirer of Lenin. In a strange choice of timing, in a talk last month, Khamenei repeated Lenin’s parable of the mountain climbers almost word for word.

On a wide scale, however, the Muslim world proved inhospitable to Communism as governments crushed its adepts and people shunned them.

The Red October: 100 Years Later

London- This month marks the centenary of the 1917 Revolution in Russia which led to the foundation of the Soviet Union. Many in the Russian Federation will mark the occasion with special festivities. A majority of Russians have moved away from the Communist heritage. The remnant of the Communist Party receives no more than 10 to 15 per cent of the votes in elections. All over the world almost all Communist Parties have either disappeared or morphed into different identities. Nostalgics of Communism will also be in festive mood. However, it would also provide an occasion to remember the victims of the Bolshevik revolution and its child Stalinism. Here, we cast a glance at the origins of the Red October in its early phase.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin called it “the greatest tragedy in the history of Russian people.” To the French poet Louis Aragon it was “the event that redefined the modern world”. An American journalist labeled it “Ten days that Shook the World.”

The “it” in question was the October Revolution which led to the seizure of power in Russia by the Bolshevik Party 100 years ago. Well, seizure of power may not be the right phrase if only because when the Bolsheviks pushed themselves to the front of the stage there was no power in Russia to seize. The Tsarist edifice had collapsed and the provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky was acting like a headless chicken. On occasions, Prime Minister Kerensky had to find a horse-driven droshky to take him to the office because the driver of his limousine hadn’t turned up. Exhausted by three years of war and carnage the vast empire was on the edge of famine, its administration in taters and its agriculture almost wiped out.

When a group of armed sailors appeared at an open session of the Duma, the Russian parliament that had emerged from the country’s first and last free elections, the deputies had only one thought: how to flee into safety. Suddenly, Russia, the largest country in the world, was left without anyone in charge. The Bolsheviks pretended they could fill the vacuum but soon found out they couldn’t. They were a small party of middle class urban intellectuals, most of them just back from exile, with little contact with the Russian heartland. In the election for Duma the party had won around five per cent of the votes. But its leader Vladimir Illych Ulianov, better known by his nom de guerre of Lenin, believed that in war-torn Russia power was like a jewel box that had fallen in the street for anyone to pick up. He was determined to be the one who does it. What he didn’t realize was that in doing so he would not inherit a power that had ceased to exist but a responsibility that his party was in no position to assume.

Initially, Lenin, who was a master of tweets long before twitter was invented only hoped to win a propaganda battle thanks to his daily missives. Days after he was told that he was now in charge he “tweeted” that his aim was that the Bolsheviks, acting through what he called Soviets of Workers, Peasants, Soldiers and Sailors, would be able to hang on for at least 100 days so as to last longer than the Paris Commune, the model for the Communist Utopia, had lasted in 1871.

When the 100 days came and went, Lenin began to realize that triggering a revolution is far easier than building a new society. He saw Russia plunged into a civil war that lasted almost four years, claiming millions of victims. In 1921 he wrote: “The civil war has decimated our proletariat exactly when we want it to build the new Russia.”

Half regretting his own propaganda, Lenin shared his doubts with the 11th Congress of his party. “Because of my position, every day I hear a lot of sentimental Communist lies; and sometimes I get sick of them.”

Having mobilized his party‘s energy to destroy the cursed “bourgeoisie,” he realized that Russia needed that very same bourgeoisie to rebuild.

“The idea that Communists alone could build the Communist society is naïve, absolutely childish. We Communists are but a drop in the ocean of the people. We’ll be able to build Communism only if we make the vanquished bourgeoisie work for us”.

Marx had taught that every state belongs to one dominant class in different stages of history, starting with the primitive commune to capitalism and passing by feudalism. While casting himself as an arch-Marxist, however, Lenin rejected that linear analysis. He insisted that there could be a shortcut for direct passage from capitalism to Communism. During that shortcut the state would be controlled by “the vanguard of the proletariat”, that is to say the Communist Party.

Experience quickly showed that Lenin’s romantic optimism had been misplaced. The mass of Russians lived in starvation as Politburo members fought over whether or not to use the Tsarist gold reserves for importing canned food from France. Lenin decided to sue terror to fore peasants to share part of their meagre crops to feed the starving cities.

In a letter, his kind of “tweet”, to Lev Kamenev, who was in charge of the economy, Lenin said: “There is no evolution without terror: political terror and economic terror!”

To use terror systematically, Lenin created CHEKA, the secret police and precursor of the KGB headed by Polish Felix Dzezhinski.

However, the Bolsheviks were not numerous enough to provide the leadership, management and administration required by a huge country at a time of exceptional crisis. In 1924, as he was approaching his early death, Lenin estimated the number of Bolshevik cadres at around 4,700, many of them having jumped on the bandwagon after the victory of the Revolution.

That led Lenin and his party towards a new policy which he dubbed “one step backwards for two steps forward”. The label was the New Economic Policy or NEP which envisaged the creation of mixed public-private enterprises and the creation of state capitalism. When Preobrazhenski, a member of the party’s central committee, publicly took Lenin to task for pursuing a new version of capitalism, the father of the revolution opted for sophistry in response.

“In capitalist society the proletariat works for the bourgeoisie, “he said. “In Communist society, the bourgeoisie works for the proletariat.”

“Peasants ask us: The capitalist is able to supply things that we want, charging exorbitant prices and humiliated and robbed us. But he was, after all, able to supply things,“ Lenin said. “But what about you, Communists? Can you supply the things we need? You Communists may be saints destined for heavens. But can you get things done? Can you supply what we need?”

It took history almost 80 years to provide the answer, which was “no.”

Initially, Lenin wanted a talk-fest in which all Russians, used to silence for centuries, would air their grievances in public and make their views heard. Soon, however, he realized that freedom of speech and of press could be dangerous for the kind of centralized state he was trying to build.

Three years after “Red October”, the heavy Russian silence which Tolstoy had claimed was due to drunkenness, was back in force. Lenin told the party congress: “We can have free debates on weekends but absolute obedience to the Soviet leader, the dictator, the rest of the week. One wonders what would have happened today when every chat-room in cyberspace is a Soviet!

Having called for the abolition of censorship, Lenin soon returned to measures that the Tsarist regime would not have thought of. He described press freedom as deadly and dangerous. Freedom for whom, and for what?

He insisted that “all over the world wherever there are capitalists, press freedom means freedom to buy newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fabricate public opinion for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.”

His argument was that once “history” had chosen the path of Revolution, there could be no free choice that might harm or hamper the course of Revolution. Thus, freedom of choice belongs to pre-Revolutionary societies, a bourgeois value.

When faced with the inevitable failure of his Revolution to produce “positive improvement” in the material of the workers and peasants, Lenin blamed Russia’s “deep-rooted backwardness.”

“Facts and figures reveal the vast and urgent task we face to reach the level of an ordinary West European civilized country, bearing in mind the semi-Asiatic ignorance from which we have not been able to extricate ourselves,” he wrote in a message to the Central Committee.

“As long as our countryside lacks the material basis for Communism in the countryside, under no circumstances should we immediately advance purely and exclusively Communist ideas. (Doing that) would be harmful, I might say even fatal.”

At one point, Lenin suggested to send students to Britain, Germany, Canada and the United Sates to learn how to organize and manage modern industries and offices. The Central Committee took no action because the Soviet state had no money for that and there was no guarantee the Western “enemies” would issue the necessary visas.

Sometimes, Lenin’s proposed solutions for major problems were derisory. In one memo to the Central Committee he said the country’s educational system was on the verge of collapse. But the solution he suggested was increase bread ration for teachers!

In another memo he presented his parable of the mountain in which a group of climbers have gone far up a range but feel lost and unable to reach the summit. The way out of the situation is to climb down and cast a fresh look at what lies ahead on the way to the summit. The trouble is that human societies cannot be treated as blank pages on which one could doodle as one wishes in the hope of finding the right shape. You make a mistake on the path, people die. You correct the mistake, people die.

Isolated within its ideological cocoon, the Bolshevik leaders also spent much time on in-fighting and clan rivalries. Lenin wanted to promote Bukharin as the rising star, describing him as “the most valuable theoretician of our party.” That made Stalin jealous. In the end, Stalin could put Bukharin to death, after Lenin had died.

Lenin disliked Larin and did all he could to marginalize him. Zinoviev and Kamenev couldn’t stand each other. Lenin’s concubine, Nadezhda Krupskaya, had a quarrel with Stalin who had been rude to her on telephone. That led to Lenin writing to the Central Committee asking it to replace Stalin, which didn’t happen because Lenin died a few months later.

Lenin’s great genius was to realize that there is no standard model, no recipe fr revolutions.

“Every revolution,” he wrote, “is a leap into the unknown, and each time a different unknown.”