Saturday, April 25, 2015
Fighting between Yemen's warring factions raged in southern and central parts of the country and air strikes hit Houthi militia forces in Aden on Friday, but there were no fresh moves toward dialogue.
In an interview with DW, Baloch leader Brahamdagh Bugti says the recent multi-billion dollar economic corridor deal between Pakistan and China is aimed at colonizing the Balochistan province, and must be resisted.
In his maiden official visit to Pakistan - which ended on April 21 - Chinese President Xi Jinping signed 51 accords to inaugurate the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will create a network of roads, railways and pipelines linking China's restive west to the Arabian Sea through Balochistan's Gwadar port. The Pakistani government says the deals will boost Pakistan's underperforming economy and generate employment opportunities in the country.
But not everyone in Pakistan agrees with these claims. Some Pakistani politicians, mostly from Balochistan, said on Wednesday, April 22, that the $46 billion project had been launched for the benefit of the Punjab province - where the majority of Pakistan's ruling class as well as the military cadre come from.
Balochistan remains Pakistan's poorest and least populous province despite a number of development projects Islamabad initiated there in the past. Rebel groups have waged a separatist insurgency in the province for decades, complaining that the central government in Islamabad and the richer Punjab province unfairly exploit their resources. Islamabad reacted to the insurgency by launching a military operation in the province in 2005.
In the wake of the China-Pakistan deal, the Baloch separatists demand a share of the financial benefits for the impoverished province. Some Baloch leaders have also complained that Islamabad deliberately changed the corridor route in favor of the Punjab, avoiding Balochistan's key cities.
In a DW interview, Brahamdagh Bugti, leader of the Baloch Republican Party living in exile in Switzerland, and grandson of slain nationalist leader Akbar Bugti, talks about the separatists' stance on the Pakistani-Chinese deal.
DW: Pakistani officials say that the economic corridor deal with China would transform the country's economy and fortunes. Since Balochistan's Gwadar port is pivotal in the agreement, do you think the province will also get an economic uplift?
Brahamdagh Bugti: None of the previous development projects in Balochistan have ever been beneficial to the province or its people. I don't think it will be any different this time around.
We have been complaining for decades that Islamabad has never sought the consent of the Baloch people before initiating these projects. It is quite obvious that they are not launched to boost the province's economy or to help people out of poverty. They are started for the benefit of the rulers in Islamabad.
Balochistan's provincial government has expressed reservations against the CPEC, saying it was not taken into confidence over the project. What is your take on it?
Let me put it in simple words: it's not a deal between China and Pakistan; it is a deal between China and the Punjab province. We have no problem with that. The Punjab's rulers are free to do what they want. But we don't allow China and the Punjab to use Balochistan for their benefits.
Balochistan is facing a military operation. People are being killed. Journalists and rights activists cannot visit the province or go to Gwadar and report from there. How can you assure transparency of any project given these circumstances?
Rights groups accuse Pakistan's security forces and intelligence agencies of playing a part in kidnapping dissidents and separatist activists from the province on a regular basis. Some analysts now say that the China-Pakistan deal could spur rights abuses in Balochistan in the name of ensuring security. Do you agree?
I think there will be massive human rights abuses in Balochistan because of this deal. To secure their financial interests in the province, Islamabad is likely to intensify its military operation there. They will do so in the name of providing security to the multinational and Chinese companies that are investing in the project. They would not even allow peaceful demonstrations and protests against the CPEC.
Isn't there terrorism in the Punjab, in Karachi, and in other parts of Pakistan? But are there people attacked by helicopters like the residents of Balochistan? No. Do you discover the maimed bodies of missing people in other provinces on a daily basis? No. The Taliban have madrassahs in the Punjab Province. Does Islamabad take any action against them? The answer is again, no. There can't be two laws and two systems for the privileged and the underprivileged in the country.
We have no expectations from the provincial government that it will talk to Islamabad on behalf of the Baloch people. Everyone knows how the lawmakers get elected to Balochistan's provincial assembly. It's a sham process.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government in Islamabad decided to change the corridor route some time ago, diverting it away from some key cities in Balochistan. What was the reason behind the decision?
I think they did so to reduce perceived security threats to the project. It hardly matters to Balochistan. Even if they had kept the major Balochistan cities on the route, it would not have brought any prosperity to them, in my view. For instance, the Pakistani government claims it has started development projects in Dera Bugti to bring wealth to the town. But it is not the case. On the contrary, the paramilitary forces are bombing the area to crush dissent and protect Islamabad's interests.
But the Pakistani government says the Baloch leaders are blocking economic progress of the province and country?
I would ask this: What would our people have received from Islamabad had we remained silent? Some clerical jobs? We don't want to be the gatekeepers of gas pipelines; we demand a fair share of the wealth for our province. Because we are not giving up on our demands, the authorities are bringing in workers from the Punjab to work in our areas.
None of Pakistan's major political parties, including the liberal Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and the Awami National Party (ANP), have raised any major objection against the Chinese-Pakistani deals. It seems you have been isolated in your cause?
None of these parties have any interest in Balochistan. The only interest they have is in exploiting Balochistan's resources and conquering its land. The Punjabi elite want Balochistan's wealth minus the Baloch people.
Since you oppose the economic corridor project, how will you try to stop its implementation?
I have been advocating a political solution to the conflict since the time when my grandfather Akbar Bugti was killed by the Pakistani military. We will launch an international campaign against the exploitation of Balochistan. We won't allow our land and resources to be used for the benefit of another country.
Foreign ministry says deaths of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto have left country in state of ‘shock and sorrow’
The accidental killing of two western hostages by a US drone strike demonstrates “the risk and unintended consequences” of unmanned aircraft, Pakistan has said.
The revelation that aid workers Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were killed in a US counter-terrorism operation in January has been received with “shock and sorrow” by the country, its government said on Friday.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “The deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto in a drone strike demonstrates the risk and unintended consequences of the use of this technology that Pakistan has been highlighting for a long time.
“Having lost thousands of innocent civilians in the war against terrorism, Pakistan can fully understand this tragic loss and stands with the families of Weinstein and Lo Porto in this difficult time.”
Pakistan has long objected in public to the use of lethal drone strikes in its troubled north-west tribal region, despite strong evidence that it has consented and even cooperated with the CIA-led campaign at times. In the past, Pakistan has most strenuously objected to the infringement of its sovereignty rather than the risk of innocent civilians being killed as well as militants.
The two men died in a drone strike that targeted a militant compound on 15 January. The revelation came on Thursday when the White House took the unusual step of declassifying information about the top-secret programme.
US officials admitted they were unaware the two men were in the compound despite having had it under prolonged observation.
Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, faces a growing controversy at home over why he was unaware for months about the accidental killing of Lo Porto, an Italian, by the US, even after he met Barack Obama at the White House last week.
The White House and Palazzo Chigi said Obama personally informed Renzi of the fatal strike on Wednesday, a day before the information was made public by the US president.
The timing of the announcement was confirmed by Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, on Friday morning. Appearing before the parliament, he reiterated that Italy had only been informed of the accidental killing months after the strike occurred.
Gentiloni said it had taken US intelligence that long to verify Lo Porto’s death.
He said Italy took note of Obama’s “maximum transparency” in assuming responsibility for the deaths but that Italy wanted more information about what happened.
“We want to assure that Italy will find the way to honour the memory of Giovanni,” Gentiloni said. “And we will work to acquire the maximum additional information possible on the circumstances of the tragic error recognised yesterday by President Obama.”
The controversy underscored the periodic sentiment and frustration with the US that is sometimes apparent in the Italian political sphere: namely the view that Italy can sometimes be trampled on by its closest ally in matters involving terrorism.
“It is not possible that after months we were told of a fact that is so grave,” said Renato Brunetta, a member of the conservative Forza Italia party, who previously served as a minister under Silvio Berlusconi.
Lawmakers representing the anti-establishment Five Star Movement said in a statement: “This is an episode that discredits the actions of the executive on the international stage. This is their fight against terrorism? Renzi has to resign and with him all of his ministers. The country doesn’t deserve you.”
While bombastic demands for Renzi’s head are fairly routine in Italian politics, the prime minister was also criticised by an influential lawmaker on the left, Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, who said it was concerning that Italy did not know about the incident earlier.
At the time of his abduction in 2012, Lo Porto was working as a project manager in Pakistan to help sanitise drinking water following devastating floods in the country in 2010.
He was abducted with a German colleague, Bernd Mühlenbeck, who was released by his captors in 2014. Mühlenbeck has not discussed his ordeal and it is not clear why he was released or whether he remained in captivity with Lo Porto.
Renzi called Lo Porto “an Italian who dedicated his life to the service of others”.
Weinstein, a veteran US aid worker, had been held hostage since 2011 when militants stormed his heavily guarded house in Lahore.
Critics of the US drone programme have seized on the deaths as proof that the technology is not as accurate as some supporters of the strikes claim.
In recent years, Pakistan has actively been trying to develop its own armed drone technology and recently announced it had joined the small number of countriesto successfully launch a missile from a remotely-controlled aircraft.
The director of The Second Floor (T2F), Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Friday soon after she left a session on the Balochistan issue.
Sabeen and her mother left T2F after 9pm and was on their way home when the gunmen sprayed bullets on their vehicle. Sabeen was shot five times and died on her way to the hospital. Her mother also sustained bullet wounds and is said to be in a critical condition at National Medical Centre (NMC).
T2F had on Friday organised a talk on Balochistan: ‘Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch and Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur.’
Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the brutal murder of prominent civil and human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi and demanded that culprits involved in this heinous murder should be ferreted out and brought to book.
In a statement, he expressed sympathies with the victim’s family and eulogized her services for civil and human rights. PPP Chairman prayed Almighty Allah to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and grant courage to bereaved family to bear this irreparable lose with equanimity.
By Sophia Saifi and Ben Brumfield
Her second floor cafe on a dusty industrial road was painted with dashes of psychedelic colors. And Sabeen Mahmud surrounded herself there with books, people, and discussions on technology, human rights and women's entrepreneurship.
Introducing others to Jimi Hendrix, street art, and talking politics was not supposed to get her killed. But in Pakistan, free speech is dangerous, and Mahmud's exuberant exercise of it made her stick out nationwide.
Two gunman shot her dead at point-blank range late Friday after she locked up The Second Floor cafe in Karachi for the night, police said. Mahmud died from five bullet wounds.
The gunmen also shot her mother. She is in a hospital but is expected to be released on time for her daughter's funeral.
Mahmud's killing broke hearts beating for non-violence and progressive values across the country. She freely said what she thought in a place where many people are too afraid to and by doing so spoke for many more people than just herself.
She had become a Pakistani figurehead for humanism, love and tolerance.
"She took that torch into the dark forest and so many people followed. She really, truly was a success story of the heart," said close friend and BBC journalist Ziad Zafar.
Uncomfortable topic: disappearances
No one has claimed responsibility for her shooting, and police have not named any motive. But Mahmud had just finished leading a discussion group on a topic that many want silenced, when the shots fell.
In the province of Baluchistan, where separatists have fought a virulent insurgency for years, people have been disappearing regularly. There have been steady allegations of mass abduction. The Lahore University of Management Sciences planned to host the discussion on the topic, with human rights activist Mama Qadeer Baloch, but authorities shut it down.
Mahmud would not hear of it not going on.
"Despite the plurality of opinion, very little space seems to be given to the discussion in Pakistani mainstream media or academia; the debate seems to be shut down before it can even begin," she posted on Facebook. "What is the reality? Has the media been silenced on Balochistan? What makes it dangerous for us to talk about Pakistan's largest province at one of our most celebrated universities?"
She invited the discussion to The Second Floor, also known by the shorthand T2F. She said she knew it was a potentially dangerous move, and she had received death threats in the past when she handled the topic before.
"She was the bravest woman in the world, she really was, she was a brave heart; my God, she was a brave, brave girl," Zafar said.
A magnet of enlightenment
Even in its secluded, humble location, T2F was a magnet to those seeking secular wisdom. They found it in a homey setting, musingly decorated like a small town college bookstore. The walls outside its entrance are sprayed with socially critical graffiti -- dusky red hearts float across gray walls.
Mahmud waited to greet visitors, many of them young Pakistanis seeking freedom of thought, with a hug, a mug and encouragement for Pakistan's future. "She hoped the same thing we all hoped for, a place that is fair with liberty and justice for all," Zafar said.
Grief over her death and gratefulness for her work poured out on social media and via email.
"Thanks for giving us the room to breathe when fog pressed heavy on our shoulders. It's only been a few hours, Sabeen, and the city is already gasping for air," a group of illustrators called From Karachi with Love wrote.
An artist drew Mahmud puttering off on a Vespa scooter wearing pants, a blouse and sandals. Her tightly coiffed short hair and angular glasses framed her bright-eyed features. Missing was a head scarf.
On a wall in T2F is a spray painted Technicolor image of Marilyn Monroe from "the Seven Year Itch," her white dress replaced by a traditional outfit of mustard, ocher and green.
But it still flew up over her hips, revealing her alabaster legs, a daringly sexy and satirical image. The artistic expression sticks out and triggers passions, like many things Mahmud said and did.