Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Killings fields of Afghanistan and an assassination

 The New York Times and The Washington Post carry on their front pages global news mostly on the basis of their importance and American news has to compete for attention with news from elsewhere. Indian papers, in contrast, are extremely India-centric in their coverage and most foreign news is relegated to one or two of the inside pages.

So you may not have heard of the scandal in Australia over the killing of Afghan civilians by Australian special forces stationed in the country. It was cold-blooded killing, with junior soldiers often being asked to shoot prisoners to get a taste of killing.

An enquiry has been  held into these war crimes and 25 soldiers found to have been involved in unlawful killings. However, the report of the enquiry has been quick to exonerate the superiors of these soldiers for their conduct. The finding has evoked widespread ridicule and criticism. Australian PM Scott Morrison has been constrained to reject this finding. This has embarassed the chief of Australian Defence Forces, who had echoed the findings of the report.

A complication for Australia is a tweet from a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on the subject. The tweet carried the photo of an Australian soldier slitting a child's throat. Relations between Australia and China have been strained in recent months and the Chinese are making the most of this episode.

Here's a scorching commentary on this ugly episode in Russia Today. 

Then, there is the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Fakhrizadeh about a week ago. The scientist, who is said to have headed a covert nuclear weapons program, was killed just outside Tehran  in an encounter that could be straight out of Mission Impossible. The initial reports said he was killed by a commando squad that leapt out of a vehicle as his car, along with an escort of bodyguards, made his way to a town on the outskirts of Tehran.

Now, we are told he was killed by a remote-controlled machine gun that was operated through a satellite! Iranian fingers are pointed towards Israel. How any agency could have pulled off such a feat in the heart of Iran is a mystery. Clearly, there is logistical and other support provided by individuals or groups within Iran at a time when the country is reeling under sanctions. Whatever the methods used, the episode highlights Iran's vulnerability and the ability of its enemies to strike inside Iran at will. Hard questions are being asked of Iran's security establishment.

Iran has vowed revenge. It did likewise when Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone attack some months ago. At the time, Iran confined itself to a limited attack on US bases in Iraq. In the present instance, it faces a dilemma. If it retaliates, it will invite a massive response from the Israel and the US. That will put paid to Iran's hopes of a return to the nuclear agreement, signed during the term of President Obama, under the incoming Biden regime. (Trump has scrapped the agreement). If it lies low, it risks emboldening its enemies who will conclude that there are no costs to killing Iranian civilians in Iran.

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