Afghanistan: Give Peace a Chance

The NCF weeps for those students attacked at Kabul University this week, and appeals to all to give peace a chance to allow the next generation to build a prosperous future for all in Afghanistan.

This week’s attack at the University in Afghanistan’s capital, saw 19 killed and 22 injured when gunmen stormed the building in a siege that lasted over four hours. This attack adds to the escalation in violence seen in the country in the past month. On 24th October a roadside bomb killed 9 civilians on a bus that was travelling from Kabul to the Eastern city of Ghazani. The following day 30 students, some as young as 15, were killed by a suicide bomber, at the Kaswar-e Danish education centre in Kabul. These attacks ended a month of rampant attacks across the country. October had the highest civilian death toll in a single month since September 2019.

This surge in attacks comes against the backdrop of ongoing talks in Doha, between Afghan government negotiators and the Taliban, aimed to end decades of war through political settlement. These negotiations were initiated after the US signed a troop withdrawal deal in February, however in the six months since the deal was signed, 12,000 Afghans have been killed and as many as 15,000 injured, and today’s tragedy adds to these sorrowful statistics.

This week’s violent attacks target the youth of the country, those that are the backbone of the nations’ future; they target the confines of establishments in which minds and ideas are nourished to learn and develop a vision for the country’s future. These violent attacks attempt to disrupt dialogue that aims to pave the way to future peace. It is time to give peace a chance by ending this continual onslaught against Afghanistan’s future.

How best to Join a Meeting Online

The following notes were prepared for the Next Century Foundation by our senior member Mr Matthew Tomkinson. They may be helpful as a guide for the NCF’s Healing the Nations Conference attendees.

With the Covid 19 pandemic there has been a massive increase in online conferences, meeting and general chats.  This is made easy with current software and hardware.  Programmes such as Teams, Zoom, Skype etc. make the process of seeing and talking to a remote person or group quick and effective.  Computers, either laptops or desktops with a web cam or even a mobile phone and built in microphones make the transmission and reception of pictures and audio quick and easy.The downside to all this being so easy is that most people don’t think about how they look and sound to others.  There are a few simple tweaks that can be made.

Think of a newsreader in a studio.  With the newsreader is at least one camera, lights and a background.  Do they go to all that trouble just for fun?  No, of course not.  The reason they do it is to increase your engagement in the programme and hence the news.  No one expects you to go to this expense and care but by paying attention to what they do, you can do something very similar and engage your audience who is watching you talk and it doesn’t matter if this is as part of a meeting, a conference as a speaker or a webinar.  The principles are the same as you are wanting to keep the same effect of engagement.

Since you probably don’t have access to a television studio and all of its crew and equipment you need to provide this yourself to the best of your abilities.

How do you Sound to others?

Good sound that is clear and easy for others to hear and hence engage with what you are saying is vital.  Our concentration tends to be on pictures but I understand that the brain focusses more on the audio.  In any case I will get to the visual side later.

Phones, tablets and computers have very basic microphones that pick up sound from all around them.  Most of us don’t have quality microphones but if you do then please use it  The next best to use is earphones with a microphone or headset.  These have two advantages.  Firstly they place the microphone close to the mouth and hence the majority of the sound they are picking up is from you.  Secondly they send the audio you hear directly to your ears and hence avoid any issues of howlround or feedback.  You can turn up the audio level comfortable to you.

If you have earphones, headphones or a separate microphone then please use it.

Once you have decided what you want to use and have it plugged in please check the audio ‘level’.  This is how much the amplification of the microphone is set up to give a good audio level to listeners.  There can be up to three ways to achieve this which sounds a bit complicated but generally any one of them will work.

  • If you have a specialist microphone then this might well have its own software to set it up.  If you have gone to the trouble of buying your own mic then you will know how to set this up.
  • The second ways is on the computer operating system itself.  Mostly this is set up on the meeting software but if you have your own microphone it may well come with its own set up.
    • I use a Mac and I would go to System Preferences – Sound Icon – Input Tab and then adjust the Input level so that the grey markers peaked at about 80% (12th grey bar).  You can also select the input source, microphone, that you wish to use if you have more than one setup.
    • I’m not familiar with Windows operating system these days but I believe to adjust the microphone level you would select the Speaker Icon bottom right of your screen – Open Sound Settings – Select Input – Select Levels Tab – Microphone Level.  If this doesn’t make your microphone loud enough then you can also add some Microphone Boost but please don’t unless really necessary as this can increase the noise level as well but depends on what sort of microphone you are using.
  • Thirdly the conference or meeting software often has it’s own way to check for sound levels.  It’s always a good idea to check the audio levels, in and out, for any conference before you start especially if you share equipment with someone else.
    • Zoom – Full and detailed instructions are here –
    • Teams – Instructions, not quite so detailed, are here –
    • Skype – Click on More (three dots to the right of your name – Settings – Audio & Video then make sure you can see yourself in the camera image and do an audio test.

Please be very aware of noises around you disturbing the meeting or conference.  If you are not speaking it is best to mute your microphone.  Different programmes have differing ways of doing this but almost always on the main screen.  If your mic is live then please do not type on the keyboard, especially with a laptop as this will be heard very clearly by everyone.

How do you Look to others?

Think back to that newsreader we talked about at the beginning.  What is the angle of their face to the camera?  How is the lighting on their face?  What does the background look like?  We will now answer those questions.

  • Camera Angle – Does the newsreader look down or up at the camera?  No.  The camera is level with their face so you need to do this when you position your camera whether it’s a laptop, webcam, phone or video camera.  You will probably be sitting at a desk for your meeting or conference.  If so the normal camera position will be too low.  Tilting the screen back just gives you an under the nose or chin shot.  Never attractive.  So raise the laptop by putting it on a pile of books, have the screen at right angles to the desk and the camera in line with your eyes when you look straight ahead.
  • Camera position.  How should you sit in the frame?  Generally in the middle.  The conference arranger might want you to sit to one side if they are going to arrange a Powerpoint or similar, presentation so that it appears on your shoulder but this is probably rare.  So sit in the middle of the picture.
  • Lighting – The point of lighting is to make you look good so why wouldn’t you pay attention to it?  First of all lighting needs to be of a decent amount for the camera you are using.  Does your picture look grainy and dark?  If so you need more lighting.  This should be evenly across your face so two light sources, one either side of your face.  These can be table lamps or ‘anglepoise’ lights.  Does your face now look evenly lit and bright?  If so then you have achieved the right effect.  If it’s too bright then move one of the lights away.  Do you have any harsh shadows?  Then move the lights around.
  • Background – It has been said that there are two parts to a picture.  The foreground and the background.  Clearly you will be the foreground and so far we have managed to make you sound and look good.  But what is behind you?  If it’s a window or very bright background then that will affect how the camera sees the overall picture and will make you look too dark.  Ideally the background will be a bit darker than your face but I am getting quite picky with that!  It’s best not to have too fussy a background with bookshelves or a fancy painting as people might be distracted by that.  Definitely don’t have a moving background as that will mess with the image compression and probably deteriorate the image.
  • Some cameras (laptops, phones etc.) have a auto focus facility.  Make sure that the camera focusses on your face.  In a recent broadcast conference I saw one speaker give his whole presentation with him out of focus but his elegant bookcase perfectly in focus.  You would think they would know better!

There are two other areas to discuss, Browsers and Broadband.


This is what you access the internet via and it includes Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Tor.  These can limit access to your camera and microphone.  I did have a situation with Chrome where it couldn’t see my camera or hear my microphone.  I then had to change the browser settings.  On Chrome this is Click on More (three vertical dots to the right of the menu bar – Settings – Scroll down to Privacy and Security then select Site Settings – then Permissions for Camera and Audio.  Then change settings as required.  Chrome does this to protect you from malicious websites who might want remote access to your camera or microphone without your knowledge.

I’m not aware of the other browsers having such settings but it is possible.


Broadband connection is often referred to as ADSL.  The important part about this is the A for Asynchronous.  This means that your download speed is different to your upload speed.  You might have a download speed of 30 Mbps and an upload speed of 5Mbps stated in your contract.  Many times you won’t get that speed as your internet connection is shared amongst other houses or properties.  So if you measure your speed, using something like OOKLA ( you won’t see these speeds.  Often this doesn’t matter as the largest files you download are probably films and programmes.  However, in video conferencing you will want to share your pictures with others which means that the upload speed, because you are uploading your video to the internet, does matter.

So what can you do about this to improve it?  Generally you can’t change the time of the conference, so it’s when your neighbours aren’t online, and you can’t change your supplier or get faster at short notice.  Your options are limited but I would suggest that you connect your computer or device to the router via a cable and not use wireless if you can help it.  Wireless, unless you have a very good system, will generally slow you down.  If you want to check this do three tests with a wireless connection using OOKLA or similar, then plug in a cable and do three more tests.  See if there is any difference.


Audio –

  • Use an external microphone if possible for increased clarity.
  • Set up the microphone levels correctly.
  • Mute your microphone when not speaking.

Video –

  • Position your camera so that you are not looking up or down at it.
  • Light your face evenly and with enough so as to give a good picture.
  • Pay attention to your background and never in front of a window.
  • Make sure the camera focuses on your face and nowhere else.

Browser –

  • Make sure your browser is not inhibiting your mic or camera

Broadband –

  • Connect via a cable to your router whenever possible.


Covid-19 Pandemic; what language do we use?

This comes in from Rev Larry Wright, a Board Member of the Next Century Foundation:

What language do we use when speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic? Do we see it as a ‘battle’ to be fought, a ‘monster’ to be slain, an ‘invisible enemy’ to be defeated? Such terms may be helpful for evoking a sense of unity among those who are most at risk but it also perpetuates the questionable idea that human beings and nature are in a perpetual struggle for survival. Covid-19 is a viral mutation whose origins are obscure, but its effects are the same as any other viral mutation, it moves from host to host (human to human) to live and multiple. The fact that it multiples most effectively in human beings is tragic for us but it could have been a mutation which infected other species; remember the swine flu and foot and mouth epidemics? Mutations in nature are a natural phenomenon and will keep occuring as part of creation’s diversity. We as the human species are in a unique position to resist and overcome threats to our survival but it will always be at a cost to us in illness and lives lost. It may feel like an ‘enemy’ among us but it is nature being nature and we will adapt and overcome, until the next time . . .

Keep well, Keep safe, Keep praying

Revd Larry Wright
Team Rector
Kings Norton Team Ministry


Nigeria is battling to halt the spread of corona virus

By NCF Chief Research Officer in Nigeria, Jibrin Ado Abubakar

The novel virus with the code name Covid 19 has made it successful landing in Nigeria.

The virus has gained a foothold in Nigeria’s pretty dense population, with a total record of 42 cases as of yesterday Monday around the morning hour.

The virus has been found positive on Senator Bala Muhammad, the governor of Bauchi State in the north eastern part of the country. The news was announced in a press release by the governor’s media aid, on Monday.

The Nigeria Center for Control of Disease NCCD had confirmed the test. The governor contracted the virus on an air trip when he interacted with son of Atiku Abubakar, Vice President from 1999 to 2007, and former presidential aspirant of the People’s Democratic Party PDP in the last presidential race.

Mallam Abba Kyari, presidential villa Chief of Staff has also been tested positive and he is under quarantine alongside the Bauchi State Governor.

Another person, Suleiman Achimugu, who flew into the country recently was also found to have contracted the new virus and died immediately. The federal government has closed down all federal institutions. Only those that deal with emergencies are operational, like hospitals, police stations etc.

The level of austerity in the country will really put the campaign to combat the new virus under strain. This since a great percentage of the population depend on daily searching for basic needs, and keeping them at home will prove difficult, making it difficult in turn to battle the virus. But efforts are being made to meet with religious leaders, unions and NGOs in order to garner their help in educating the people on the need to stay behind closed doors.


Israel, the plot thickens

With Gantz’s declaration that he is unable to form a government, another election is the most probable outcome – but there are still other options on the table. Although a national-unity government seems utterly unlikely, a military tension could persuade Kahol Lavan to compromise with Likud. More importantly, a lot depends on the decision of the Attorney General whether to file indictments against Netanyahu. Charges being brought could incapacitate him to form a government – and in this scenario much more can happen.

When Lieberman announced on Wednesday afternoon that he will not be supporting any minority government, it became almost certain that the nomination would pass to the Knesset floor. His decision was not surprising. If Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu were to enter Gantz’s government, it would have to be either with the Joint List’s Arab lawmakers or the Haredi part of the right-wing block, two groups that Lieberman opposed in order to build his political capital.

There is no apparent reason why either the right-wing block or Kahol Lavan would now make concessions to form a national-unity government they rejected before; Netanyahu does not want to resign from a central position in the new government, nor to form a coalition without the religious-Messianic members of his block. This, on the other hand, is not acceptable, even if not to Gantz himself, then certainly to Yair Lapid.

There could be another game-changer in the current circumstances, however. The Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, should soon decide on whether to file indictments against Netanyahu. Even if this does not necessarily mean that a Netanyahu-led government cannot be formally established, it could cause all actors to reconsider their positions. Lieberman would then be able to enter a minority government with Gantz and still save his face, claiming that it is a necessary evil to keep a politician facing corruption charges from coming to power again. This would be extremely likely, especially if Netanyahu is indicted of bribery, in addition to fraud and breach of trust. Gantz and Lieberman could then avoid a coalition with the Joint List’s lawmakers, since Netanyahu indictments would probably persuade several MKs to defect from Likud.

Even if Netanyahu is indicted and a minority government with Lieberman is formed, it will probably only mean a change of personnel, and not of policy. The vision of a governing coalition with Kahol Lavan and Arabs in it, however brief and unlikely, sparked hope for change. Now, no matter what happens next, things will most likely stay the same in Israel. At least until the next election.

And do we really want peace with the Taliban?

Well it seems we have fallen into the pit as far as our failed Afghanistan project is concerned. It failed from the start really when we, the Western powers, put a gun to the head of the Afghan King that fateful evening to force him to step aside in favour of our pet Hamid Karzai. Then President Karzai empowered the ex-warlords and Afghanistan never got the liberation it deserved from years of brutal Taliban rule. And now, after the sacrifice of all that blood and treasure we are to let the Taliban rule again.

The following is the text of the peace agreement just reached in Qatar between the Afghan government and an assorted bunch of Talibanista who claim to represent the Taliban fighting on the ground. Whether they do is another issue. This document would be desperately depressing were it not for the fact that it is brought to our attention by one of the more senior Afghan members of the Next Century Foundation, HRH Prince Nadir Naim. If Prince Nadir thinks this document is a way forward then we trust him and will support it wholeheartedly. Sometimes, in the darkest hours, we have a duty to hope against hope. At this moment in Afghanistan’s history that is our duty. So we hope that this will work.

HRH Prince Nadir writes, “My dear friends, We are heading back to Kabul after 2 days of intense dialogue Intra-Afghan with the Taliban regarding the Afghan peace process. The participants in this dialogue consisted of 18 Taliban members and just over forty Afghans including some government officials. All the participants attended in their own personal capacity and were not representative of any political groups or organizations.

“This is the joint statement that all the participants agreed upon. We hope that this is a positive step in the right direction to a permanent and dignified peace in our beloved Afghanistan:

Resolution of Intra Afghan Peace Conference
Doha, Qatar
We, the participants of the Conference hereby appreciate, thank and value the
efforts of Qatar and German Government for organizing Intra Afghan Peace
Conference held on 7 and 8 July 2019 in Doha Qatar and express our deepest
gratitude accordingly.
We express our greatest gratitude from the United Nations, Regional Countries,
particularly, countries who have facilitated the negotiations for USA and intra
afghan peace conference and have taken necessary steps towards the conflict
resolution. We are hoping that these parties will continue their support in a way
that will benefit our country and the nation and result into a real and desirable
From our point of view, dialogue and agreement assists us to reach an
understanding concerning our present and future, be able to tackle the barriers
and obstacles as well as understand each other. Therefore, all participants insist
and emphasis on the continuation of the dialogue.
We the participants of the Doha conference hereby agree on the following points
to reach a sustainable peace.
1. All participants have full consensus that achieving sustainable, throughout
and a dignified peace which is the demand of the afghan people, is only
possible via afghan Inclusive negotiations
2. Afghanistan is a united, Islamic Country and home for all different
ethnicities. Islamic Sovereignty, social and political justice, national unity,
territorial sovereignty, which all Afghans are committed upon.
3. Throughout the history, particularly during the last 40 years, the Afghan
people have defended their religions, country, and culture and sacrificed
immensely for their independent. Afghanistan shall not be the witness of
another war in the country and intra Afghan agreement between different
levels of the society is vital and crucial. All International Community,
regional and internal elements shall respect out values accordingly.
4. Since our nation is suffering daily due to on going prolonged war and its
therefore, necessary that the following steps are needed to be taken so
that we can have an effective Intra Afghan negotiation.
a. The conflict parties shall avoid threats, revenges and conflicting
words, shall use soft terminologies and words during their official
gatherings, and shall not fuel the conflict and revenge.
b. The Doha peace conference participants strongly supports the
current peace talks in doha and believes that an effective and
positive outcome from the negotiations will be fruitful for
5. The following steps shall be taken to create trustable environment for
peace and in order to have our nation safe from the war and its
consequences, violence and devastation shall be decreased: the conflict
parties shall consider these measures.
a. unconditional release of elders, disables and sick inmates.
b. Ensuring the security of public institutions, such as schools,
Religious Madrassas, hospitals, markets, water dams and other
working locations.
c. In particular, respect educational institutions, like schools,
universities, and other educational institutions as well residential
d. Committed to respect and protect the dignity of people, their life
and property and to minimize the civilian casualties to Zero.
6. Assuring women rights in political, social, economic, educational, cultural
affairs as per within the Islamic framework of Islamic Values.
7. Assuring the rights of religious minorities.
8. The participants of Doha conference agrees on a roadmap for peace based
on the following conditions:
a. institutionalizing Islamic system in the country for the
implementation of comprehensive peace,
b. Start of the peace process simultaneously with the accomplishment
of all terms and conditions set forth.
c. monitoring and observation of the peace agreement,
d. Reform in the preservation of fundamental institutions, defensive
and other national entities which belongs to all Afghans,
e. repatriation of immigrants and return of IDPs,
f. support and assistance from donor countries post peace agreement
based on the new cooperation and relations,
g. Insist during international conferences regarding the assurance of
Afghanistan peace agreement.
h. Assurance on zero interference from the neighboring and regional
countries in Afghanistan.
9. We acknowledge and approve the recent resolution of intra Afghan
conference held on 5 and 6 Feb 2019 in Moscow and we urge the Islamic
Conference, UN, Security council, EU and our neighboring countries to
support the peace conferences held in Moscow and Doha.

More Concerns about Nigeria’s recent elections

Our intern Abubakar Ado Jibrin in Nigeria writes of the latest developments in his country as follows:

Democracies differ. The recent election in Nigeria gave the incumbent “Muhammadu Buhari” a second tenure, with a duration of four years. The election was full of uncertainty and a brilliantly conducted malpractice that is difficult to examine, but some sources have argued that those international observers that were present, including those affiliated to the British government, had not closely examined the real happenings in southern Nigeria during the presidential election exercise.

Military personnel disrupted the election in southern part and in the south western region, in Lagos in particular the home town of the vice president Yemi Osibanjo and the home town of ruling party top elite, such as Ahmed Bola Tinubu. Political thugs were seen carrying election boxes in the street and these factors have put a question mark with regard to organizing a free and fair transition which could only be obtain through a well manage and organised election exercise.

Also in Lagos, in areas that are believed to be Igbo majority, thugs were burning ballot papers to block the Igbo natives (where the running mate of PDP presidential candidate is from).

The election was so full of imbalance and unfair status that the PDP filed a case to the election tribunal to set the result aside, and the tribunal has called for scrutiny of the election result from the Independent electoral body data base so as to obtain the actual scores made by the two contestants.

In my opinion, the high level of illiteracy was a major factor in contributing to a lack of discernment as to who will best make Nigeria what she should be, no longer a paper giant in Africa but a realistic and visible rising economy.

The non participation of Next Century Foundation and other NGOs as election observers, has meant that there were vast areas uncovered which became election malpractice areas. This has resulted in the rebirth of a questionable government and we don’t know when our voice will be heard for free and fair elections. Elections should pave ways for transition and transition brings about social change for the betterment of the populace.

From Our Man in Nigeria

Our new intern Abubakar Ado Jibrin in Nigeria writes of the latest developments in his country as follows:

As we were just about entering zero hour, it was announced on both printed and non printed media outlets that yesterday’s 16th presidential and upper and lower Senate house has been postponed until next Saturday.

This was decision was aired after a joint stakeholders meeting held by the chairman of the independent electoral body at Abuja.

The president was interviewed by a white foreign journalist with regards to what has led to the postponement of the election.

The president lamented that election sensitive materials where delayed from reaching the polling station; he argued that the excuse was not worthy of the postponement.

But from the other perspective we heard from the pro Atiku, that it was clear that if the election had been held yesterday, the chances of the incumbent being the one to loose in the the race were obvious.

That they just held to an unworthy claim of not distributing electoral material in due time.

Having said which, it is important to point out that some decisions are taken without the consent of the president, possibly to promote the self centred interest of elites in the ruling party.

It could said that the independent electoral body does not have the technical know how to organize an election in a terrain that is so divided along so many ideological lines.
Conclusively, the common Nigerian will now have less or no trust in the credibility of the independent electoral body.

As regards the issues in this now postponed election, the nature of Nigeria’s political terrain makes it difficult to give a clear direction with regards to the possible outcome of the election between incumbent retired general Muhammadu Buhari of the APC ruling party and Alhaji Stiku Abubakar of the PDP.

It is good to understand that Buhari’s regime is dysfunctional, since does little more than cut down the rate of insurgency in the North Eastern Nigeria border with Niger, Cameron and Chad.

But the regime has an immense record of allowing for general insecurity amidst Nigerians, which has generated tension and fear.

This condition has dragged Nigeria to almost the state of nature which was proposed by John Hobbs. Where there is no art, no letter no maritime, no law, man chasing man.
The issue is one of human kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery on highways, massive corruption within top government officials, partially those associate to the ruling regime, political thuggery and many more irregularities and incompetence by the APC ruling party.

On the other hand, Atiku who is contesting with the incumbent, has been accused of corrupt practices from 1999 to 2007 when he served as a vice president to Olusegun Obasanjo.

The one million dollars question is that this is a race between the devil and the deep blue sea.

This current regime depends on the ignorance of people, particularly Northern people where Buhari hails from, and the support of the south west where Osibanjo the vice president comes from.

Turkey seeks Hegemony in Syria – but will it risk further invasion?

Mohamad Tawam, Director of Arab London Center for Political Studies and Middle Eastern Affairs, has authored this article. The views he expresses are his own and not necessarily those of the NCF: 

Turkey has supported armed groups opposed to the Syrian government since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, The perception of many is that the prime Turkish purpose in so doing has been the establishment of a new Ottoman Empire, with the Muslim Brotherhood as its centrepiece.

But Turkey’s attempt to enhance the authority of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria has failed. Turkey has rowed back on her ambitions. Turkey now claims its interventions in Syria are defensive, specifically to deal with Syria’s Kurdish separatists, the existence of which, Turkey claims, is threatening the territorial integrity of Turkey.

However, this Turkish claim is not in line with Turkish conduct in the field. Observe Turkish field movements and the Turkish positions in Syria and you cannot help but conclude that Turkey has its own project in Syria and is looking for opportunities to implement it regardless of any position it is publicly committed to it.

Turkey still has ambitions to redraw the borders separating it from Iraq and Syria. The Turks would like to redraw the maps of the three countries so as to allow Turkey to annex the area from southern Mosul to al-Raqqa to the south of Aleppo and to Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur. Turkey’s intention is to redistribute the population in this area and then establish a system of governance and control based on the concept of administrative decentralization and connect the region with the Turkish decision-makers in Ankara. Turkey is intensifying its intervention and is warning that it will not leave Syria until after the Syrian elections.

That is why we see the Turkish position fluctuating. Turkey’s real intention is merely to gain the time needed to implement its own project.

Which begs the question: Can Turkey implement its project and will it succeed in occupying the land to the North East of the Euphrates as it threatens?

There are three key players in the area Turkey now wishes to control: America and the Kurds and ISIS, whilst those affected by the Turkish project, other than of course the central Syrian state, are the Syrian people resident in that region, both Arabs and Kurds.

So what result can we expect of this Turkish project? And what are the ambitions of those affected?

We start with America, whose troops are currently still present on Syrian soil. Prior to President Trump’s recent hasty and perhaps rash announcement that he would withdraw those troops, they were implementing two goals for the eastern Euphrates region:

First they were supporting the Kurdish forces in their separatist project in Syria. Their stated strategy was that the presence of US troops and their support for the Kurds was largely to fight ISIS.

And the second strategic objective was to cut off the land link between the East, i.e. Iran, and the West, i.e. Syria and Lebanon.

However, this strategy undermined Turkish objectives, especially in the case of the Kurds, whose presence in Syria as a fighting force Turkey rejects, particularly on their borders and describes them as terrorists. This in part because Turkey views their  leadership as allied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is based in Turkey and Turkey sees as a threat to its security.

Had President Trump not decided to withdraw his troops, this conflict conflict of interest might have meant a confrontation between the US and Turkish forces if Turkey had invaded the remaining area of Syria under Kurdish control.

And yet Turkey has been and remains an ally of America before and after the Kurds. If America finds that the Turkish presence will secure its strategic interests in Syria, it will not need to protect the Kurds in the entire region, a problem of itself because the USA’s widespread deployment in the Middle East requires the use of military bases in Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and US support for the Kurds will not help to reassure the Arab population in the Euphrates region who reject Kurdish rule.

Therefore, the most the United States can do in the face of the threat of Turkish invasion is to put pressure on the Turks to prevent it, and prevent its success, and then to protect the withdrawal of the Kurds to their densely populated heartlands, which do not exceed 10% of the area they now control with American support. This would stop America sliding into war with Turkey.

America could then humour both the Kurdish and Turkish parties and maintain its alliance relations with them.

As for the position of the Kurds in the face of the potential Turkish invasion, they do not the capacity to protect the areas they now control. To do so they would need a military force ten times the strength of the one they possess today. If the Kurds think that America will fight Turkey for them, they are labour under an illusion.

The call of some Kurds to the Syrian government to intervene in order to save them may be a mistake. The Kurds are committed to a separatist project in Syria and therefore it makes no sense for the Syrian government to intervene to protect their project.

As regards ISIS, Turkey will not risk entering the rest of the small areas controlled by ISIS in the east of Syria on the border with Iraq. So Turkey, which from the beginning worked in secret with ISIS in Syria, will ensure that ISIS will not be affected by any Turkish invasion.

Therefore, Turkey may see this moment as an opportunity to implement its threat to take control of much of Northern Syria based on its perception that the three parties that control East Euphrates do not have the will to confront Turkey.

If there is an obstacle that prevents or delays Turkey’s attack, it may be that the EU has asked Turkey not to carry out the threat. Or, as both Iran and Russia confirm, that the Turkish operation, if implemented, would be contrary to the understandings reached in Astana.

But the big surprise is the decision of the United States of America to withdraw all its military forces stationed in Syria in a decision announced by President Donald Trump in his twitter.

The withdrawal of US military from Syria is expected to end within a period of 60 to 100 days. This decision was taken by US President Donald Trump, after his telephone conversations with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which took place amid Turkey’s readiness to launch a third military operation In Syria targeting Kurdish insurgents in the east of the Euphrates.

Which means that Turkey may go on a “limited” invasion of the north-east of the Euphrates in a process that will not embarrass the American forces, which will be re-positioned to serve the Turkish targets, while the Kurds will find themselves alone in the field and will return to areas determined by the Americans.

But what is the position of the Syrian government in this regard?

The Syrian government sees every unsanctioned military presence on Syrian soil as an illegal presence, if that presence is not in response to a request from Syria or with its consent. Therefore, the four mentioned above are considered, for the Syrian government, to be an aggressor, an occupier, an outlaw, a terrorist or a separatist.

I believe that the Syrian government is sticking to its list of priorities to liberate Idlib from the armed terrorist groups with Al- Nusra Front first, and to monitor what is going on in the north-east. Turkey will find that its occupation of additional territory will not make it a partner or a friend of Syrian people in the future, and therefore the Turkish invasion would be a reckless leap without practical outcome.

Will Turkey do it? Let’s wait and see.

The Political Economy of Sectarianism

The recent execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, among others, and the ‘predictable’ regional reaction risks enforcing ideas of primordial battle between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Shi’i dominated Iran. While the executions cannot be excused, condemnation without understanding the rationale behind the executions is ‘futile’. If we restrict our understanding of the executions to sectarian narratives we risk stereotyping a more complex political reality.

In order to understand why Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed in early January – a move which Saudi policy-makers must have known would aggravate regional tensions – analysts should try to understand Saudi Arabia’s behaviour in its wider and deeper context. Others have written of the wider context; of Saudi anxiety regarding terrorism, US withdrawal and Iranian re-integration into the international system. The deeper context, which seeks to understand the domestic policy pressures on foreign policy, has been less explored.

The Political Economy of Sectarianism

Over the past two weeks, the UK press has been increasingly interested with Saudi Arabia’s so-called National Transformation Plan. Driven by the Deputy Crown Prince, this is designed to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from over-reliance on the oil sector. Indeed, the Deputy Crown Prince was reported to have said that the recent IPO of ARAMCO (the Kingdom’s formerly nationally-owned oil company) was undertaken in order to encourage foreign investment and private sector development. This is needed; Saudi Arabia, like many other countries in the region, is struggling with a bloated public sector, mass youth unemployment and limited foreign investment. The centre-piece of the reforms is the reduction of subsidies on fuel and water, which have both been heavily subsidised in the past. As the government seeks to balance the budget and develop a sustainable economy, it has to increase its citizens’ expenses.

Without analysing (problematic) theories “rentier state mentalities”, it should be clear that removing subsidies and enacting sweeping economic reforms is difficult in the best of times. Given the recent memory of the 2011 protests in the Kingdom and further afield, the transition begins to look even more worrisome. Added to this, the pace of the reforms already undertaken is staggering. Some of the Prince’s critics (of which there are many) have labelled him ‘reckless’.

This ‘reckless’ Prince – a man the German foreign intelligence agency BND labelled as impulsive and overly-ambitious – is similarly linked to the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Intriguingly, the link between his position as a driver of economic reform and as a defender against “Iranian meddling” has often been overlooked.

Analysts overlook this connection at our peril. It is possible that the Deputy Crown Prince has stoked sectarian tensions to ease the passage of his own reforms. Saudi elites have built on a narrative of “security” in recent years. They have tried to provide security in a tumultuous region. Saudi citizens, in turn, are supposed to be grateful for this security, which, the logic goes, limits calls for popular protest against the ruling family. By executing a Shi’i cleric (who was relatively obscure before his execution), Saudi policy-makers sought to revive the Saudi-Iran rivalry as a way to enact economic reforms somewhat “under the radar”. Of course, the executions also served to send a message to any “would-be” dissidents that rebellion, in whatever guise, will not be tolerated. It is certainly a dangerous game to play.

The Danger of Sectarian Narratives

However, if we accept that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr – alongside Sunni dissidents, it should be remembered – was not driven by sectarian hatred, then perhaps we can move past overbearing religious narratives. The danger of these narratives is that they suggest that tensions in the Middle East are “primordial” and that there is no role for the international community in mediating humanitarian disasters and war.

This narrative should be challenged. Indeed, the current Saudi-Iran situation presents an opportunity for international – and perhaps EU – mediation between these two regional hegemons, both of which will be required at any diplomatic meeting over Syria or Yemen. By understanding Sheikh Nimr’s execution as part of a wider and deeper political context, policy-makers can create a non-sectarian space in which the UK can engage critically – but constructively – with Saudi Arabia and Iran.