By: Jafe Arnold and Paul Antonopoulos – CSS Project Director; MENA and Latin America Research Fellow.
CSS Research Fellow Paul Antonopoulos speaks at “Threats to Security in the 21st Century: Finding a Global Way Forward” in Lahore, Pakistan
he international conference, “Threats to Security in the 21st Century: Finding A Global Way Forward”, was held on May 5-6 and hosted by the School of Integrated Social Sciences at the University of Lahore, Pakistan. The Center of Syncretic Studies was represented at the conference, the first of its kind in Pakistan, by Research Fellow Paul Antonopoulos.
The speakers also included President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan; Former Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar; Former Foreign Secretary, Ambassador Najmuddin Shaikh; Former Indian Consul-General to Karachi and Former Cabinet Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer; and, Retired Sri Lankan Ambassador, Gamini Keerawella. With this impressive line-up, complemented by local academics and researchers, the conference also featured speakers from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, with Mr. Antonopoulos traveling from Australia where he is now based.
Antonopoulos’ presentation was on the consequences which the Syrian War could have for Pakistan. With Mr. Antonopoulos being the Center for Syncretic Studies’ designated expert on the Middle East, Latin America and Great Power Rivalry, and having experience speaking at other academic conferences, seminars and live television, it was no surprise that he was able to deliver his presentation full of confidence which clearly kept those in attendance engaged with most questions open to the 5-person panel directed to him.
Mr. Antonopoulos drew attendants’ attention to the fact that the ‘Arab Winter’ is usually incorrectly referred to as the ‘Arab Spring’, whereas in reality it saw the rise of Islamic extremism, wars, gross human right violations and dramatic economic decline, with the exception of Tunisia.
He then went on to highlight that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is far more popular in Syria then those who trust corporate media would expect. He pointed to a YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates and funded by the Qatar Foundation in January 2012, before the war became fully intensified. The poll found that at least 55% of Syrians supported Assad, and Mr. Antonopoulos stressed that this poll was funded and commissioned by Qatar, who has been one of the key anti-Assad players, and highlighted that their poll could be susceptible to bias because of the Qatari agenda, but despite this, the poll found that the majority of Syrians supported Assad.
Antonopoulos then also analyzed the Syrian Presidential election in 2014 where Assad won 88.7% of the votes with a turnout of 73.42%, a significant turnout considering the last time that the US had a higher percentage per capita was in 1896. Mr. Antonopoulos suggested that as the war has progressed and the jihadist elements involved have become more evident, an increasing number of people have come to recognize Assad as a source of stability and peace despite mainstream media efforts to demonize him. Although questions of electoral fraud have been raised, in Mr. Antonopoulos’ opinion this overlooks that the elections were overseen by observers from over 30 countries including from post-colonial states like Brazil, Venezuela and Uganda, and observers stressed in a joint statement that “the Syrian people participated in the elections in total freedom, contrary to Western and regional propaganda that tried to fabricate a false narrative.”
Mr. Antonopoulos then explained that with at least 650 Salafi-indoctrinated Pakistanis having joined ISIS in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and another 1,000 Shi’ite Pakistanis having joined pro-Syrian government militias in Syria, their return to Pakistan could potential pose a significant security threat to the stability of the state. He went into detail on why these fighters went to Syria and what impact they could have upon their return to Pakistan. His paper will be published at a later date in an edited volume that will include many of the other presentations from the conference.
The first day of the conference also saw the launch of Pakistan’s first strategic and foreign affairs magazine Pakistan Politico. Pakistan Politico is a monthly magazine by Jehan publications which has featured Mr. Antonopoulos’ article “Why is Syria a target to imperialist forces?”
Such conferences tie into the vision of the Center for Syncretic Studies as it establishes new connections, especially with post-colonial states such as Pakistan, whose elites appear to be increasingly breaking out of the unipolar Atlanticist power structure and seeking their own place in the new multipolar system. Pakistan is set to play a critical role in China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project, an initiative orchestrated by Beijing to drastically improve cooperation and connectivity in not only Eurasia, but also parts of Africa and Australasia. This initiative is set to break the Atlanticist monopoly on the global economy while simultaneously drastically improving the infrastructures and economies of numerous post-colonial, post-Soviet and developing states. The Center for Syncretic Studies supports such initiatives which improve global equity, contribute to the breaking of US Dollar hegemony, and promote peace through interconnectivity.