Sunday, June 9, 2013

Turkey: From victim to villain: Erdogan's unfinished transformation

Turkey is no Egypt and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan no Hosni Mubarak. This is not a "Turkish Spring," but a message to an elected leader to reign in his hubris and his divisive politics. These are some of the central messages, which both Turkish commentators (ourselves included), and the international media have brought across. Erdogan still has a choice, as the Financial Times reminds us, between rising to the highs of statesmanship of former French President Charles de Gaulle or spending his remaining political life as a Turkish likeness of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The question now being asked in Turkey's capital Ankara, on Istanbul's Taksim Square and in the occupied Gezi Park, where the initial protests started, is whether Erdogan has the political determination and the nerve to accept the demands of the initial protestors.That would mean giving up on his personal dream to build the Ottoman barracks on the park and turn it into a shopping mall. His track record would suggest otherwise. Probably the single most important trigger for the rapid spread of events was the prime minister's inability to listen to critique and disagreement, and the way in which this inability has manifested over the last few years. His rhetoric has been spiraling out of control and has ranged from lecturing women on how many children to bear to calling everyone who enjoys drinking a beer in a sidewalk cafe an alcoholic. READ MORE: Erdogan defends handling of protests Further, the country has used an excessively violent policing strategy, with which the government has oppressed almost all legitimate protest by trade unions, political movements and student groups. All this extreme use of force looks awkward in a country where the government was re-elected with almost 50% of the vote only two years ago and where its macro-economic development indicators tell a story of unfettered progress. One might wonder why a government that still enjoys such popular support is unable to tolerate a few protests here and there and is incapable of giving into what are often very reasonable demands against the excesses of environmental degradation and rent-based urban renewal policies.Why would an elected prime minister, who has, until now, been respected abroad and at home, use the force of his security apparatus to crush so brutally any popular dissent, which is far from threatening his place at the top of Turkey's political system?Part of the answer lies in Turkey's recent record of undemocratic manipulations to bring the government down. Kemalist elites, the military, the judiciary and the so-called "deep state" rogue elements acting within the visible state structures, conspired to terminate the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) government from the very moment of its first election in 2002. Ever since, the party had to face several attempts at power grab, from an ultra-nationalist conspiracy in the mid-2000s based on unresolved assassinations of Christian missionaries and the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink to the so-called Republican Marches against the election as President of Abdullah Gul to the Constitutional Court's only narrowly averted closure case against the ruling party in 2008.All of these experiences have led Erdogan and many members of the AKP government to look at Turkish politics through the prism of conspiracies, and the blame for this shift does not lie only with the AKP. More significantly though, the manipulations they faced from the judiciary and the military have led the AKP government to fill both institutions with sympathizers, thereby removing the already weak system of checks and balances in Turkey.The confluence of both the conspiratorial mind-set and a lack of checks and balances has created the ground for Erdogan's unhealthy mix of extreme self-confidence on the one side and his insecurity vis-à-vis criticism on the other. The shopping mall in Gezi Park, the third bridge over the Bosporus, the new airport and a canal project that is supposed to connect the Marmara and the Black Sea have been devised without any consultation and public debate. That the prime minister sees any criticism of these projects as manipulations by domestic and external enemies is a sign of his insecurity. That he failed to grasp that the Taksim protests were not started by undercover military agents, die-hard Kemalists, Iranian agents or Syrian provocateurs may yet mark the beginning of his undoing. Will Erdogan be able to arrive at a sober consideration of the situation and give in to the demands of the protestors in Gezi Park, call an impartial review of police brutality and reconsider the heavy policing strategies, which have turned Turkey into a police state?If he did, he would still have a chance to enter Turkish history as a statesman who carried his country into the 21st century, disassembled the military's tutelage, ended the Kurdish War and granted long-fought-for rights to the country's largest minority, the Kurds. If he fails, and drags the country towards polarization and political unrest, his government, the economy and hence the people of Turkey will lose.

Pakistan: Influential politicians are 'gas thieves'

Responding to petroleum minister, Khwaja Asif's allegations, Chairman All Pakistan CNG Association (APCNGA), Ghayas Paracha, Sunday said that influential politicians were in fact 'gas thieves' and not the CNG retailers, Geo News reported. "Khwaja Asif's declaring all CNG sellers as 'thieves' is highly deplorable", said he addressing a press conference here. Parachi further added that the minister used unparliamentary language against CNG sellers, which APCNGA condemned in the strongest of words. "Petroleum minister's statement betrays his immature, irrational, and childish approach", said Paracha. He lamented that it was really disappointing see those, who the nation had elected to solve country's problems especially energy crisis were, instead of doing their job, shifting the blame to other stakeholders.

Pakistan Short on vision: Foreign policy priorities

Nawaz Sharif’s initial despatch to Pakistani diplomatic missions mapping out his government’s foreign policy priorities is a document shorn of ambition and short on vision. Essentially, Mr Sharif has said that his focus will be on economic diplomacy and on stabilising the region on the security front — with a few words, platitudes really, thrown in about relations with the usual countries foreign policy tends to focus on. Perhaps the less-than-invigorating despatch is rooted in Mr Sharif’s decision to, for now, keep the foreign minister’s portfolio with himself and so he would prefer to unveil his major foreign policy initiatives himself at a later date. However, to the extent that the initial despatch is indicative of Mr Sharif and his team’s foreign policy thinking, it appears that a return to first principles is required. What does the world see first and foremost when it looks at Pakistan? In his note, Mr Sharif has talked about boosting trade, foreign investment and economic cooperation. He has also talked about promoting peace in the region, with specific mentions of the attempted reconciliation process in Afghanistan and the pursuit of “normalcy” in ties with India. All laudable goals, written in Foreign Office-speak, but they miss the point. When the world looks at Pakistan, rightly or wrongly, it tends to see a security threat emanating from this soil. China, the perennial ally, looks to some investment opportunities but always returns to the issue of Islamists traipsing up the Karakoram Highway and into western China, where the rising power’s Muslim population is located. Afghanistan sees a role for Pakistan in the Afghan reconciliation process — largely because it’s tied to its fundamental complaint of Afghan Taliban sanctuaries on this side of the border. India, the central focus of the security state here, worries about another Mumbai, in addition to the original rivalry over Kashmir. The US worries about another 9/11, this time traced back to our tribal areas; the UK fears another 7/7-type attack linked back to Pakistan. Russia worries about Islamist ingress into its zone of influence in Central Asia. The list goes on. The point is that Pakistan has a perception, reality and credibility problem: we have yet to convince the world that we are not a threat to ourselves and it. Until that changes, it will taint every aspect of Pakistan’s foreign policy. While Pakistanis fret over external violations of our sovereignty by external actors, the outside world wonders why we are unable to take on the threat within and re-establish the state’s writ.

Turkey's protesters proclaimed as true heirs of nation's founding father

Ataturk, the secular reformer, has become the symbol for young Turks defying what they see as Erdogan's reactionary reversion to the Ottoman past Among the tents, snoozing youth and pleasant shady trees of Istanbul's Gezi Park there are portraits of one man in a European suit. Wherever you look Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – founder of the Turkish Republic – gazes sternly at you. Photos of the first president hang from branches, have been affixed to tea stalls, and even encircle a giant banner showing Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, dressed as Hitler. "We really love Ataturk. He changed our state. He made it into a modern republic," explained Murat Bakirdoven, a 24-year-old biology student who has been camping in the park for a week. Someone had stuck another photo of Ataturk – this time in a lounge suit, sitting on a leather chair, cigarette in hand – on a nearby tree. Bakirdoven added: "Erdogan wants us to forget him. Instead we are trying to create an Ataturk renaissance." For the protesters who have taken part in Turkey's anti-government demonstrations, Ataturk is a hero. Dead for 75 years, he has become the reborn symbol of this student-driven anti-Erdogan movement. (The other motif is a penguin – a reference to the state media, which failed to report on the uprising for several days; one channel, CNN Turk, instead screened a nature documentary on Antarctica). The symbolism goes to the heart of what this unprecedented uprising is about: Turkey's modern identity. At issue is whether Turkey should be the progressive, secular European nation-state that Ataturk originally envisaged and shaped from the ruins of the Ottoman empire, or a more explicitly religious country, a sort of Muslim version of Christian democracy. The protesters want the former; Erdogan, and his ruling Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP), it appears, the latter. What has infuriated protesters is what they perceive as Erdogan's clunking attempts to impose his Islamic values on everyone else. Last month Turkey's government passed a new law banning the sale of alcohol between 10pm and 6am, and banishing it from the vicinity of schools and mosques. Two years ago it forbade access from Turkey to pornographic websites and temporarily shut down YouTube. Erdogan has spoken out against gay rights. "All this built up a wall of pressure," Bakirdoven said. Many also sense a creeping campaign to undermine Ataturk himself. Traditionally girls and boys would celebrate Ataturk day, 19 May, by dancing and singing in stadiums around the country. In 2012 Erdogan ditched the ceremony, saying no one wanted to see girls prance around in skimpy skirts. Then last week Erdogan defended his anti-alcohol legislation by obliquely calling Ataturk and his closest ally, Ismet Inonu, a couple of "drunkards". All of this has galvanised educated, middle-class Turks to defend their personal freedoms. It began as a small environmental protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, and Istanbul's adjoining Taksim Square. But over the past two weeks it has morphed into a countrywide revolt. Three people have been killed, 4,000 injured and 900 arrested. The demonstrations have spread to more than 70 Turkish cities, including the capital, Ankara, and the restive western city of Izmir. Erdogan has responded to this crisis in typically abrasive fashion. He dismissed the protesters as "looters". He denounced Twitter as a "curse" and laid into the New York Times. On Friday he accused the European Union of hypocrisy after it condemned the crackdown by Turkish riot police, who turned water cannon and teargas on peaceful demonstrators. He has also sought to blame the unrest on murky foreign forces and homegrown terrorists. In the meantime, Gezi Park has been transformed into Turkey's first ever hippy commune, home to a vibrant open-air democracy festival: volunteers plant flowers and collect rubbish; there is a bookshop; and free food for camp denizens. At night tens of thousands pack into the area to sing and dance – drumming until the early hours. The spirit of May 1968 hovers in the air. "Ataturk said that Turkey belonged to the youth. That's us," said Ayda Agaoglu, a 23-year-old architecture student. Analysts say that Erdogan's neo-Islamist legislative project has backfired. "He [Erdogan] will never manage to control civil society. It's completely empowered now," said Cengiz Aktar, professor of political science at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University. "To some extent this is re-Islamisation. Erdogan is a devout Muslim. But more than that he is a social engineer. He has a very high opinion of his own values, which happen to be Islamic values." According to Aktar, Erdogan decided to undermine the Ataturk reforms after winning a whopping majority in the 2011 parliamentary elections, his third election victory. "Political Islam always taught, and sometimes rightly so, that Muslims were a majority in this country, especially Sunni believers. Kemalist power de-legitimised them. That's the fundamental paradigm. They [Erdogan and his supporters] started to challenge that." Critics believe that the plans for the square amount to a further assault on Ataturk and his historical legacy. On Friday, Erdogan said he wanted to demolish the Ataturk cultural centre – a modernist building on Taksim's north side, which he says is not "earthquake-proof" – and replace it with a baroque opera house. Most controversially, Erdogan wants to raze Gezi Park and rebuild the Ottoman military barracks that used to be there. The barracks were the site of a 1909 attempt by the Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid II to stop the liberal reforms that eventually led to Ataturk's modern republic. Erdogan has also named Istanbul's "third bridge", linking Europe and Asia, after an Ottoman despot who slaughtered tens of thousands of Alevis, Kurds and Turkmens back in the 16th century. Critics say these decisions are part of a sinister policy, yearning for a kitsch version of the pre-Ataturk past. According to Murat Bakirdoven, there are few reasons to be nostalgic. "The Ottoman empire was religious, very strict, and ruled by Islamic law. Women didn't have rights and couldn't vote." Ataturk, by contrast, separated religion from government, and gave Turkish women the vote before their Swiss and German counterparts. "Ataturk wasn't a dictator. He believed in law. He was highly intelligent," he added. It is unclear how long Istanbul's summer of love will last. In the meantime, the young protesters are enjoying their own utopian moment: flirting, debating, drinking cans of Efes beer, and learning from each other. At first groups of students chanted: "We are the soldiers of Ataturk"; this died out after feminist protesters objected to its militaristic overtones. Bakirdoven said: "We used to sing 'Erdogan is the son of a whore'. But when the police teargassed us, one of the brothels on Taksim Square opened its doors, and the women gave us shelter and treated us with lemons. We don't sing that any more."

Women on the Front Lines of Turkey Protests

Two ladies, one in red, the other in blue – that two iconic early images of Turkey’s uprising flashed around the world were of women now seems no coincidence. Of the tens of thousands of anti-government protestors who daily throng Istanbul’s ‘Occupied’ central square—now on Day 12—about half are female. Women have been at the forefront of a movement against what demonstrators say is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s increasing attempts to shape personal freedoms. Dressed in a red cotton dress, academic Ceyda Sungur went to Istanbul’s Gezi Park in her lunch hour last week to support sit-in demonstrators protesting a government-backed redevelopment scheme that would destroy the trees. Bag slung over one arm, she was captured on film as a masked policeman doused her with pepper spray. The other image, dubbed ‘The Lady in Blue’, was of an unidentified young woman, arms outstretched, as she absorbed the full impact of a water cannon during street fighting that raged last weekend. Protests began last week over the violent police intervention in the park and soon turned into an outpouring of public frustration with Erdogan’s goverment. Fighting riot police, demonstrators in Istanbul last weekend seized the city’s central square, including the Park, and have set up a colorful ‘free zone’ that resembles the Paris Commune in spirit. Demonstrations have spread to 60 other cities. Women say they are concerned that the conservative policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government threatens their lifestyle. ”The reason there are so many women out here is that this government is anti-women,” says Sevi, a 28-year-old sociology student camping out in Gezi Park. “They don’t want to see women in public spaces. They want to see them in the home. And women have had enough.” Grievances include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repeated call for women to have three children, his attempts to pass abortion restrictions, turning the Ministry Responsible for Women into the Ministry for Family and Social Policy—the minister, Fatma Sahin, is the only female cabinet member—and not doing enough to tackle violence against women. (According to a 2011 UN report, 39 percent of women in Turkey have suffered some form of physical abuse, compared to 22 percent in the US, and between 3 and 35 percent in 20 European countries.) Prominent in business, social and academic life, Turkish women are under-represented in more traditional Ankara politics. “The Prime Minister’s rhetoric about women is simply humiliating,” says Sevi’s friend Zeynep. Standing up, Sevi proudly shows me her hand-printed neon green tank top: ‘Mr Prime Minister! Would you like 3 children just like this one?’ A new Turkish protest movement is being forged in Gezi Park, and where it differs from earlier ones is in its tolerance. Old faultlines seem to have shifted. The park is now home to several thousand encamped protestors, most under the age of 30, and most with no previous political affiliation. Secularists, Kurds, conservatives, gays and anarchists share the same space and miraculously, there have been no scuffles. “Women are ahead of the rest of the population on this one,” says Deniz, a university research assistant who wears a headscarf, symbol of Muslim piety. “We know how to co-exist.” She was part of a group of several dozen women—some headscarf-wearing, some not—who say religious differences don’t matter in their struggle against what they see as the government’s disregard for the environment. Even the sight of their mixed group is new to most people in the park. “There is alot of hope here in the park”, says Deniz. “But there is also the risk of deepening polarization among the broader population.” She says that since the protests began, she and her headscarf-wearing friends have been heckled and harassed in Istanbul’s strongly secularist neighbourhoods. On the other side, the protests have angered Erdogan supporters who amassed by the thousands to greet the Prime Minister at the airport on Thursday night and chanted slogans like ‘Say the word, lets go crush them’. Whether that rift is peacefully managed will determine how events unfold in the days to come.

Roadside bombs kill 2 soldiers in Pakistan

Two roadside bombs killed two soldiers in a restive northwestern region of Pakistan on Sunday while a gun attack in the country's south killed two more, officials said. Two intelligence officials said three soldiers sweeping the road ahead of a military convoy on the road between the towns of Miran Shah and Razmak in North Waziristan were hit Sunday by a bomb planted near an intersection. Two died and one was wounded. They spoke anonymously because they weren't authorized to speak to media. The same officials reported a second blast on the Mir Ali-Miran Shah road near a checkpoint, but that wounded only one soldier. The Pakistani army recently carried out several offensives in tribal regions along the Afghan border but is reluctant to conduct a massive sweep of the militant stronghold of North Waziristan, despite the US urging it to do so. Also on Sunday, four gunmen riding on motorcycles opened fire on a police patrol in the southern city of Karachi, killing two officers and wounding a third one, said Usman Bajwa, a senior police officer. Bajwa said the police patrol had deployed in a central neighborhood of Karachi, the country's main commercial hub, where two political workers were similarly gunned down by armed motorcycle riders yesterday. He said the gunmen fired 15 shots from their pistols into a police vehicle, killing two officers and leaving a third struggling for his life. The police officer said seven people were gunned down, including a police officer and two political workers, in different incidents in the city yesterday. He said the attacks appeared part of a "plot" to destabilize Karachi. The volatile megacity frequently witnesses deadly shootings linked to a range of groups, including Islamic militants, political parties, crime gangs, rival ethnic groups, and others. Read more here:

Pakistan: Legislators, bureaucrats spend lavishly on health in foreign Countires

During the last five years (2008-2013), the prime minister office spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the treatment of bureaucrats and politicians abroad. According to a Cabinet Division document available with Dawn, the beneficiaries got the treatment in countries like the US, UK, India and China. Most of the approvals for the treatment abroad were allowed under former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. An official of the Cabinet Division told Dawn: “We have paid the foreign hospital bills after getting an approval from the office of the prime minister because the premier had the prerogative to approve the health bills of those who could not get treatment in Pakistan.” Parliamentarians: According to the document, Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N was allowed £20,000 for the treatment of an ailment in the UK in 2013. The PTI’s second in command, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, was sanctioned £30,000 for a rehabilitation and speech therapy in the UK in 2010 by the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Mr Hashmi was in the PML-N at the time the finance division approved the amount. Makdhoom Shahabuddin of the PPP and a former health minister in Mr Gilani’s cabinet was provided $11,565. He underwent an emergency treatment of high grade fever during a visit to the US in 2010. Former railway minister Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi spent $46,968 for the treatment of bullet injuries he sustained during an attack by gunmen in September 2009. According to reports, he had received two bullets in the legs and was stable but was in a state of shock. Senator Haji Adeel of the ANP also received treatment in the UK for diabetes. He was paid $30,000 in 2010. A former PML-Q legislator, Begum Shahnaz Shaikh, also received treatment in the US for her backache at a cost of $30,000. When contacted, Makhdoom Shahabuddin told Dawn: “I was on an official visit to the US in 2010 and was due to meet my American counterpart when I fell sick and was admitted to a hospital,” he recalled. “On my return, I was informed by the secretary health that my bill would be paid by the government. I don’t know how much was the amount, but it was paid by the government,” he added. When Hamid Saeed Kazmi was asked to comment on his $46,000 bill paid by the government, he maintained: “I admit that my life was not in danger, but the bullet had crushed my leg.” He added: “Because of errors during the operation, my injured leg was left three inches shorter and I had no option but to go abroad for a better treatment.” Mr Kazmi said: “Had I got treatment here, it could have left me disfigured.” Asked whether he was aware that the bill for his treatment abroad was paid by the government, he said: “I have no knowledge at all but it was the job of the government to pay my bills.” Javed Hashmi’s personal staff officer Mohammad Ajmal told Dawn: “Mr Hashmi has never taken a single penny from the federal government for his treatment and the information is wrong.” Senator Mushahidullah Khan was approached multiple times and a text message was also sent on his mobile phone for his comment, but he did not return the call. Bureaucrats: According to the document, Khushnood Akhtar Lashari, a former principal secretary to the prime minister, was paid £40,000 for the treatment of a disease not even known to the prime minister office. “All we were asked is to issue the amount in pound sterling and the ministry of finance had to follow the orders of the prime minister office,” said an official of the Cabinet Division who did not want to be named.Mr Lashari is still in the UK, according to a source. He left Pakistan in July 2012 and did not return mainly because of his alleged involvement in the ephedrine scam. Mussadiq Mohammad Khan, a grade 21 officer, was given $65,000 for a liver transplant in the US in 2012. Mohammad Aslam Sanjarani was provided $16,328 for an angioplasty. According to the document, Mr Sanjarani underwent an emergency treatment during his visit to the US 2008. Mrs Shah Taj Farooqi, wife of Salman Farooqi, the secretary general to the president, was allowed to spend £25,000 for treatment in the UK in 2013 during the tenure of former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. Abbas Khan, a former inspector general of the PK police, was provided $95,000 for the treatment of a brain tumour in Germany. When Dr Bilal Khan, a physician working with a private hospital, was asked whether these diseases could be treated in Pakistan, he said: “The treatment of all the diseases mentioned in the document is possible in Pakistan.” He added: “We have some of the best hospitals of the world in Pakistan like for cancer we have the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nuclear Oncology and Radiology Institute in Islamabad, Shaukat Khanum in Lahore and the Aga Khan University Hospital Karachi.” He said even liver transplant was carried out at Shifa Hospital for the last one year. Regarding speech therapy, Dr Bilal said: “The federal government has one of the best speech therapy and physiotherapy institutes in the country – the National Institute of Rehabilitation and Medicine, Islamabad (NIRM).” He observed: “You don’t need to go outside until you don’t trust Pakistani doctors or your own institutions.”

The Wali of Swat remembered

The Express Tribune
The birthday of the last Wali of Swat – the late Miangul Jahanzeb Abdul – was marked at a modest ceremony organised by Suvastu Arts and Culture Association on Wednesday at Saidu Sharif. Born on June 5, 1908, Jahanzeb passed away on September 14, 1987. He is remembered with reverence across the world for his visionary rule. He became the ruler of the princely state of Swat on June 12, 1949, after his father abdicated in his favour. During his reign, Jahanzeb put Swat on the path of development by setting up educational, health and communication systems across the district. On the occasion, Svuastu Arts and Culture Association Chairman Usman Ulasyar said Jahanzeb had spread a network of schools, hospitals, roads and courts across Swat after coming into power. “Afghanistan and Swat were the only two states in the world where Pashto was the official language. Apart from education, health and communication, the late wali also gave importance to culture, art and music. He would personally encourage artists.” Unfortunately, no one from the wali’s family was present at the event. However, a large number of poets, artists and civil society members attended the function, vowing to commemorate the day regularly. “It is our collective duty to remember him and his visionary deeds, as we are all his intellectual heirs,” said Attaullah Jan, a poet and social activist. “It would have been better if his family members were present. But irrespective of their interest, we will mark the day and remember his services for the district.” Jamal Shah, a renowned Pakistani artist who was the chief guest at the ceremony, appreciated the organisers for commemorating the birthday of the great Pukhtun leader. “Commemorating the birthday of one of Swat’s great rulers is laudable,” he maintained. “We should remember our elders as they do not belong to a specific family, group or area. Rather, they belong to the entire Pukhtun nation. In addition to remembering them, we should also strive to follow in their footsteps.”