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An Interview with the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the Syrian conflict and its fallout

I spoke to Mr Sabit Subasic, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to India for Trans Asia News Service

Here’s the link to the interview published by TANS

As always, I’d welcome your feedback here.

Category: TOP NEWS

Published: Saturday, 12 December 2015 11:02

An Interview with the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

TRANS ASIA NEWS

BANGALORE: Of the many crises the world is facing today, one of the worst is in West Asia, centred in Syria. The fallout of the so-called Arab Spring which caused an upheaval across the energy rich region and unseated many a dictatorships, outside meddling and convergence of geo-political interests of many regional players in the Arab world’s ancient and most secular country has created the Syrian quagmire. 

Over the years the battle has acquired sectarian overtones, and turned into a global platform for political and military one-upmanship. As regional and global powers slug it out, amidst a complex array of terror outfits adding their agendas to the mix, Syria burns, forcing millions of its citizens to flee, seeking refuge far and wide. And as innumerable incidents of terror apparently motivated by Islamist extremism break out worldwide, it has started to set off a culture of suspicion, fear and xenophobia against entire Muslim populations, including refugees escaping chaos at home. On the sidelines of the “Peace For Economy” conference held in Bangalore, on 6 December, Sabit Subasic, the Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) expressed optimism in the “progressive powers”, which he said would ultimately “prevail, definitely.” 

Speaking exclusively to Elizabeth Jane for Trans Asia News Service, the dignitary said, he does not see the Syrian conflict as a Sunni-Shia sectarian problem. He admits that “There is that regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The rivalry between Shia and Sunni in the region.” But he says, “that’s one aspect of the regional crisis, but only one aspect. It’s not just about that.” He also takes the view that highlighting this particular aspect could just be a smokescreen. “See, it’s very sensitive, you know, Shia-Sunni differences, every time they can be used for promotion of some other goals.” 

A POWDER KEG

Many believe that the Middle East has been conditioned by outside forces into a powder keg that is ready to explode with the right trigger. As the Syrian war escalates, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that by the end of 2015, half of the population of Syria will be in need of aid. This includes an anticipated 3.45 million Syrian refugees and 6.8 million Syrians inside the country, many of whom will be displaced from their homes. 

The crisis in Syria has escalated manifold since Russia landed heavy weaponry and boots on the ground apparently to fill the vacuum created by the Western dithering in taking on an enemy like Islamic State group, head on.

Reflecting on the history of the Bosnian war, the Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina, while talking about the conflict brewing in Syria said, “Syria is a wonderful example of competition between different regional and global powers for their dominance, their spheres of interest. I mean Syria is a nice, beautiful country. It used to be very beautiful, with huge history, huge culture. But, at the moment, at the crossroads of different regional and global interests of some important powers. And people are competing. Powers are competing… Unfortunately many things in the world are a matter of national interest… and everything is messed up. That human aspect of the world is getting defeated nowadays. There’s a problem in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya and many other countries. People are mostly under the umbrella of fighting for some high level goals, very often its a matter of national interest.”

CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS?

Asked about whether he sees the unfolding chaos as representing a ‘clash of civilisations’ that even the Dalai Lama spoke about, a battle of Islam Vs. other religions, Ambassador Subasic said, “It was a long time ago, Samuel Huntington wrote that famous book called ‘The Clash of Civilisations’. The famous writer predicted the clash of civilisations. At that time it was neglected but I strongly believe… I’m academically a political scientist. And I’m a realist in international relations. What I want to say is, everything is a matter of national or international interest. Sometimes you see an action that looks like a high-level human action, but behind it, it is often something else. Some countries try to use so-called soft-power to dominate other countries. Everything is a matter of economic interests of countries. Some country is stronger, it tries to impose on other countries, that’s the logic of international relations, international markets, and the international system. Although there are some institutions in the world that are trying to harmonise, to give some spirit of humanity to the process, but it’s not enough.”

ISIS MYSTERY

Asked about the ISIS and its ideology, the recent trend of radicalisation of the youth, the diplomat said, “Frankly speaking, I have many questions about that and I simply don’t know. I don’t know who is actually financially behind ISIS, who’s paying the money? Financially they’re doing very well. Who’s behind that? who’s paying for it? What’s the purpose of that? 

Mr Subasic expressed shock and disbelief about the way individuals, apparently unconnected to the formal structure or operations of terror groups like the ISIS, are acting on their own to unleash terror. Talking about the recent shootings in San Bernardino, California, he said, “now look at the lady bomber in California. She was not formally part of any group. Some kind of social network they say, and they go. That’s something very deep and very dangerous.” 

Mr Subasic expressed concern about the growing Islamophobia in the West. “People say, these people are coming from Muslim countries. You see what’s happening in Paris and sometimes what’s happening somewhere else… sometimes they don’t say, but they think that…Sometimes those kind of feelings prevail in public opinion, which is also very dangerous. I don’t know what’s the end. We should be optimistic, but, nowadays we have a very very dangerous situation,” he said.  

But he expressed optimism that although the sporadic attacks attributed to religiously motivated violence has the tendency to polarise non-Muslims to the opposite extreme, “many people are not like that, so that’s the characteristic of democracy of the West.” 

SYRIAN TRAGEDY

What does he think of the massive humanitarian crisis in Syria. The millions of people displaced, especially children made homeless and left at everyone’s mercy? The Ambassador says, “It’s a tragedy. And you have some other aspect of the crisis in Europe. You have those terrorist incidents that are happening in the West, combined with the Refugee crisis, it brings some unbelievable feeling in the European countries and I don’t know what’s the end of that.” 

Mr Subasic believes a military response, of the kind we see today is the need of the hour in Syria. However, asked if a war isn’t actually in the interests of the participants, given that most of them are big arms manufacturers and suppliers, feeding the conflict, the diplomat admitted the irony of the situation. “That’s again the reality and we need much more time to discuss this. You’re right about that. But at this stage it’s very important to have that coalition of countries, to you know, bomb,” he said. 

The Ambassador of BiH maintains that a joint military exercise is necessary in Syria. “It’s important that key players come together to fight. They recognise the problem. Recently there were few big gatherings of important international players. They all accept the fact that we are in danger. We have to do something… As a result, many countries have decided to come together to fight. That’s the only solution,” he says.

Syria could well be setting the stage for the possible emergence of a new world order in this chaotic landscape, Mr Subasic says. “You know that Russia is getting stronger. It’s different, not the same as some years ago. And Russia is a serious military power. And it has military bases traditionally in Syria, and it wants to protect it. It can protect it with Assad in power. It’s the only place where they have a military/ naval base outside the former Soviet Union region- the Tartus. So, from that point of view, they’ll try to fight, use all the necessary means to protect their interests, although their interests are opposite to those of other countries. So, it’s really from that point of view a very chaotic situation.”

PROJECT NEW MIDDLE-EAST

In 2006, a process was reportedly set in motion called a project for a “New Middle East”. It was an Anglo-American sponsored Israeli siege of Lebanon, of which, the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice had informed the international media. It reportedly involved plans to create an arc of instability, chaos, and violence extending from Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria to Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Iran, and the borders of NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan. This “constructive chaos” was apparently supposed to generate conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region, which would in turn be used so that the United States, Britain, and Israel could redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their geo-strategic needs and objectives. 

The Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to India believes the emergence of Iran from the shadow of US sanctions, “is something good to happen recently. It’s a very positive thing. Imagine the situation now in the world, with Iran totally on the opposite side. Iran is an important regional power”, he said, which “also has their national interest in the region (Syria).” He described Iran as “a state you can count on, for the fight on terrorism.” Mr Subasic does not believe the violence in Syria has necessarily worsened since the US and other world powers struck a nuclear deal with Iran and lifted sanctions. 

But what about Saudi Arabia’s deep grievance with the US, regarding a nuclear capability? Is that not a factor fuelling the tensions? Mr Subasic says, Saudi Arabia remains “a strong US ally even now… It is not the only country in the region without nuclear power. Turkey is also a regional power without nuclear capability.” He believes there are lots of forces at play in Syria at the moment. “The position of Turkey is very interesting in the region. Turkey is also a serious regional power. And they have interests in the region also, because a part of the population that lives outside Turkey in Syria, or in Iraq, Iran, or because of the Kurdish population. And Israel is also a power. They have their own interests there. I read in the newspaper that Israel is also bombing some targets in Syria. I didn’t know that. But I read they are doing that. To protect their interests. So everybody is bombing Syria now. Beautiful, nice country, now everybody is coming and bombing. The Ambassador of Syria is a friend of mine, and sometimes I talk to him and the Deputy Ambassador, I feel really very pity in such a situation. I used to go to Syria. It was very beautiful. This Assad regime was autocratic. Not democratic. But what you have now, is the total destruction. Nobody is benefitting. At least no one from Syria.”  

OPTIMISM

Asked if he thought events like the ‘Peace for Economy Conference’, could actually contribute positively for change, Mr Subasic said, “Actually I don’t know in this turbulent world, what can work at all. I mean it’s getting dangerous. We shouldn’t be over-ambitious with this conference, because the situation in the world is very complicated. Lot of things are happening at the moment. But… it is a good intention. Probably, we can project some signs to change the situation.”

Despite the gloom, Ambassador Sabit Subasic is positive about the future and the possibility of peace. He said, “I’m optimistic. I think there are powers in the world. There are progressive powers. They will prevail, definitely. In the West and also in some other countries. I mean the capacities of progressive powers is much stronger than those of regressive powers in the long run. In the short run we are in a big crisis internationally, but, in the long run, any crisis produces something positive.”

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