Friday, February 19, 2016

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Post-war Iraq: 'Everybody is corrupt, from top to bottom. Including me'

Martin Chulov

Iraq's anti-corruption chief sat in his office, waving his hands in exasperation. “There is no solution,” he said. “Everybody is corrupt, from the top of society to the bottom. Everyone. Including me.”
Coming at the start of a conversation about Iraq’s ailing governance, and what was being done to turn things around, Mishan al-Jabouri’s admission was jarring. “At least I am honest about it,” he shrugged. “I was offered $5m by someone to stop investigating him. I took it, and continued prosecuting him anyway.”

Jabouri heads one of two anti-graft agencies tasked with protecting public monies in post-war Iraq. Both have more work than they can ever hope to deal with – even if they wanted to.
Now, with plunging oil prices leaving Iraq’s revenues in more jeopardy than at any time since the US invasion, attention is shifting to what the custodians of public funds have done over more than a decade with tens of billions of dollars that could otherwise be a buffer from such a budget shock.
If, as projected, global oil prices remain at historic lows, Iraq will be unable to pay some of its civil servants, or honour pledges to build roads and power stations in the next financial year. The gravity of the crisis has created uncomfortable reckonings for Iraq’s political class, military leaders and some senior religious figures, who have led a staggering 13-year pillage that has left Iraq consistently rated as one of the top five least transparent and most corrupt countries in the world.
“Believe me, most of the senior names in the country have been responsible for stealing nearly all its wealth,” said Jabouri. “There are names at the top of the tree who would kill me if I went after them. When people here steal, they steal openly. They brag about it. There is a virus here, like Ebola. It is called corruption. There is no hope, I am sorry to say.”
Across all levels of society, a realisation is sinking in that Iraq is now entering a phase that could prove every bit as destabilising – perhaps even more so – than the war against Islamic State. Jamal al-Bateekh, a senior tribal leader with the ear of the political class, said: “For 12 years we have gone through the process of opening the budget in the parliament. But we have never closed it. There has never been a reckoning. All that time, they have been dividing the carcass into pieces.”
“This is existential,” said former deputy president Ayad Allawi, whose office was abolished late last year in a cost-saving drive. “There are organised corruption syndicates running the country, let alone militias. I tell you very frankly, no Iraqi power can take action on this.”
Over the past four months, some of Iraq’s top office holders, led by prime minister Haider al-Abadi, have tried to do just that. Emboldened by Iraq’s highest religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Abadi has tried to launch an anti-corruption drive designed to weed out the most guilty and introduce meaningful accountability processes across all levels of business and politics.
Sistani, who has remained taciturn throughout most of his career, had been unusually strident during his Friday sermons, delivered through a spokesman until he stopped them in protest in January. “We spoke so much until our voices were hoarse, yet nobody listened,” he said at the time.
“He was more strong, more fierce and in-depth than he’d ever been,” said Allawi of Sistani’s increasingly forthright interventions. “He knows how serious this is.”
Across Baghdad, the finance minister, Hoshyar Zebari, has been tasked with finding ways around a profound budget shortfall that Sistani, Abadi and others fear could soon lead to civic unrest and even retribution.

“We are 93-95% dependent on oil revenues,” said Zebari. “This year, our situation is far more difficult than in any other year,” he said. “We have exhausted our domestic borrowing. We need to go through a soul-searching process. We need to lose our dependability on oil. We need to prepare the public for change; on things such as VATs and other new measures. It is a question of a change in attitude. Here people are not accustomed to this.”
Iraq’s budget is modelled on an oil price of about $45 per barrel. However, oil had been hovering at $27 per barrel in recent months, before rallying by 14% over the past week. Nevertheless, oil experts across the Middle East believe that the recent fall in prices is structural, not cyclical, with very serious consequences for economies that are largely driven by old energy.
Zebari said that in early February he took Iraq’s full financial accounts to Sistani in the Shia city of Najaf for the 85-year-old ayatollah to inspect. “He is very serious about turning things around,” he said. “But he is frustrated.”
Iraq has one of the biggest per capita public payrolls in the world, roughly 7 million people from a population of just over 21 million, and it is here that Zebari believes much of the systemic corruption is hidden. “Our biggest issue is ghost soldiers,” he said. “There are maybe $500-$600m in salaries being paid to soldiers who don’t exist. There are so many outlets for this money to go without any accountability.”
In such cases, the salaries are instead collected by officers. In other cases, soldiers pay officers half their salaries so they don’t have to show up for duty.
The former chief of staff of Iraq’s army, General Babakir Zebari, who retired last year, conceded that the issue of ghost soldiers had bedevilled the military, along with vastly inflated tenders for weapons. “I warned about this all the time,” he said. “Everybody knew my views.
“The tenders are an issue that needed a lot of focus. It is my understanding that a lot of money went missing there.”
Hoshyar Zebari estimates that there as many as 30,000 ghost soldiers in Iraq’s military and that corrupt officers are pocketing their salaries. The impact is even more significant than the bottom line. The fall of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, in mid-2014 was in part blamed on there being far fewer soldiers in position to defend the city than there were on the books. Generals and other senior officers accused of running the scam have yet to be brought to account.
“They were protected,” said Jabouri. “We only go after the easy targets here. Recently a Christian businessman was jailed for two years for stealing $200,000 to build his house. That is nothing. It doesn’t even register as a crime compared [with] what else is going on.”
“We have paid out $1bn for war planes that never arrived. In Tikrit there have been budgets paid for courthouses that have never been built. It is the same with road projects all over the country, the port at Umm Qasr near Basra. If I had 50 staff to help me, we could barely scratch the surface.
“The problems here are social as much as everything. You are seen as weak if you don’t steal. Everyone wants to claim power, because they know that nobody else is going to share power with them.”
Allawi said he had taken a plan to Abadi to invite forensic auditors to examine Iraq’s books. “I was met by silence and blank stares,” he said. “It was like a bomb went off in the room.”
Abadi has placed much of his political stock on his reform drive, which he sees as essential to holding the country together. Sistani’s full throated sponsorship has given his moves an impetus that they would not otherwise have had. However, so far he has been unable to slow a plunder that has crippled Iraq’s governance.
“He is a good guy,” said Jabouri. “He is cleaner than all people in the parliament. But he cannot do this. Nobody can.”
And what of the self-declared corrupt anti-corruption chief, Jabour? “I did it because I am daring people to come after me,” he said. “No one will dare to. I have files on them all.”


Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital on Friday, waving flags and chanting slogans against Saudi Arabia and the kingdom's mercenaries and al-Qaeda militants wreaking havoc across the country.
The protesters also chanted anti-US and anti-Israel slogans and called for the downfall of the Saudi monarchy.
Riyadh’s jet fighters bombed al-Mahrah region in Omran Province three times on Friday.
Saudi aircraft also struck Sarvah and Mojzar areas in Ma’rib Province.
Reprisal attacks
In retaliation for the Saudi acts of aggression, Yemeni forces backed by popular committees killed dozens of Saudi mercenaries in Midi desert in Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Province. Yemeni forces also destroyed several Saudi military vehicles in the operations.
Yemen has been under military attacks by Saudi Arabia since late March last year. The Saudi military strikes were launched in a failed effort to undermine the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement and bring the former fugitive president back to power.
More than 8,300 people, among them 2,236 children, have been killed and 16,015 others injured since the start of the attacks. The strikes have also taken a heavy toll on the impoverished country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.

The Saudi Slaughter in Yemen


Although the Saudis have promised a high-level committee to investigate civilian deaths from their airstrikes in Yemen, they continue to strike civilian targets with countless deaths and destructions.
For instance, among those recently killed in an airstrike on an abandon cement factory were “people in parked cars, a grocery store owner, a pharmacist and shoppers.” The nationalist insurgents, the Houthis, have also unfortunately contributed to the increased casualties as they try to repel the invaders and defeat the local groups opposed to them.
The civil war in Yemen, compounded by the Saudi invasion, has so far displaced 2.3 million people. It has left 5,700 dead, among them 2,500 civilians. Two thirds of the deaths have resulted from airstrikes. And 82% of the population requires assistance and medical supplies. The United States fears that 14.4 million Yemenis are at risk of “severe hunger.”
To add to the misery of the Yemeni people, the United States just approved the sale of weapons to the Saudis worth $1.3 billion. Among the weaponry are air-to-ground ordinances that included 22,000 bombs. From 2010 to 2014, the United States sold $90 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia. Initially, among the U.S. weapons sold to the Saudis were the internationally banned cluster bombs.
The Saudis have feared Yemen for a long time. They worry that the Houthis and their allies will destabilize the Saudi regime and export revolutionary zeal to the Saudi people. The fear of losing their power is why the Saudi royals, with the help of the majority Sunni regimes in the Gulf, launched an air and ground war against Yemen. Riyadh hopes to reinstate the former government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansoor Hadi and make Yemen a satellite country of Saudi Arabia. Facing an onslaught by the highly equipped Saudi forces with American help, the Houthis were obliged to ally with the unsavory former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to defend Yemen. Although calls for talks have gone nowhere, a new effort is underway to hold negotiations in Europe under the auspices of the UN.
The Saudis have made the poorly supported claim that they are fighting a proxy war with Iranin Yemen. Unfortunately, the Obama administration parrots these lies in its official statements, which the major media then repeat. The Saudis and the Gulf States have conjured up Iranian’s involvement in order to justify their war on Yemen. In the meantime, al-Qaeda is deepening its roots and widening its reach in and around the country.
US support for the Saudi regime has continued despite the invasion and the resulting humanitarian disaster. The United States provides the Saudis with intelligence and helps to enforce the current naval blockade. Moreover, in January, Secretary John Kerry said, “We have as solid a relationship, as clear an alliance, and as strong a friendship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as we ever had, and nothing has changed.” Kerry’s level of support for the Saudis contrasts sharply with the U.S. claims of supporting freedom, democracy, and human rights worldwide.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. The Saudis and the Gulf states are some of the richest countries in the world. And yet the Saudis, the Gulf States, and the United States are destroying Yemen, which had been a potential outpost of democracy in the region. Again, the United States derailed a potential democracy to serve a totalitarian regime, the Saudi Arabia.
The United States bears the moral and legal responsibility for facilitating a potential genocide in Yemen that results from the current war and the population’s lack of food, basic health, and sanitation. The United States keeps wondering why the people of the region continue to harbor the worst terrorists. The reason lies in part because the United States has chosen alliances with dictators for the sake of oil and the stability of corrupt regimes.

Saudi Arabia bombing civilian targets in Yemen is helping grow BAE Systems sales, says Amnesty International

James Cusick 

    UN says Saudi-led raids on schools, medical facilities, mosques and markets have violated international humanitarian laws.
    Saudi Arabia’s potentially illegal bombing of civilian targets in Yemen, currently being investigated by the United Nations, is helping to grow sales of fighter aircraft made by BAE Systems, according to Amnesty International. 
    Amnesty International says that that financial figures from the British-based multi-national defence contractor, reveal that a net gain of close to £1 billion over the last year in the company’s UK division is down to continuing sales and engineering support of its Eurofighter Typhoon jet to the Royal Saudi Air Force. 

    BAE stongly denied that sales to Saudi Arabia were helping fuel the conflict in Yemen, and that their improved sales were related to the bombing campaign.

    Details of fighter jet sales, and UK-manufactured missiles, both licenced by the UK government, are examined in a UN report currently being studied by the Security Council. 

    The Saudi-led coalition of nine Sunni states began its attacks on Houthi-controlled areas of neighbouring Yemen in March last year. The airstrike campaign and naval blockade has so far claimed the lives of over 6,000 civilians. 
    Bombing raids on schools, medical facilities, mosques and markets, according to the UN, have violated international humanitarian laws, with regions of Yemen facing acute levels of famine. 
    Amnesty International alleges that although BAE’s military-related sales contracted in recent years, the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, alongside plans for further Saudi involvement in bombing in Syria, helped improve operating profits last year from £1.3 billion to £1.5 billion. 
    According to the company’s own figures for 2015, the Saudi military market helped boost its overall performance. Sales increased by £1.3 billion to £17.9 bn. 
    In 2005 the Saudi government placed an order with BAE for 72 Eurofighter Typhoons. The company described 2015 sales as part of an “existing order”. 
    David Cameron recently told the Commons that the Saudis were being encouraged to abide by humanitarian laws. However Amnesty International said the new sales figures should act as warning to BAE’s shareholders. 
    Amnesty’s arms trade director, Oliver Sprague, told The Independent: “They [shareholders] need to realise that a large part of the company’s profits is coming from the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia at the very time Saudi’s military coalition in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians.”
    Warning the UK government to “stop cheerleading BAE’s lucrative arm sales”  and to suspend export licences for further arms  sales to Saudi Arabia, Mr Sprague added “There is strong evidence that that the present weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are not just ill-advised but actually illegal. 
    The Saudi-led operation claims to have targeted only Houthi military targets. However the UN report documents multiple attacks on civilian populations. 
    The company said:  "Deliveries of aircraft to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2015 were part of contract signed in 2007 and the delivery schedule is determined years in advance.  
    "We provide defence equipment and support to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under a Government to Government agreement. The export of any defence equipment is strictly regulated and the UK operates one of the most stringent arms control regimes in the world."

    China - Commentary: U.S. should bear healthy mindset when developing ties with ASEAN

    The curtain closed on a special meeting between U.S. and ASEAN leaders in California on Tuesday Pacific Time. It was the first such meeting on U.S. soil. Although some had been hyping up the meeting as an “ideal occasion” to provoke China,the following joint statement did not specifically mention China, or the South China Submissiveness the backdrop of China-ASEAN ties, such a result is not unexpected, but the unhealthy mindset of damaging China-ASEAN ties should evoke a cause for alarm. The ASEAN has been growing its vitality and strategic importance in the current global arena, especially after it announced the establishment of the ASEAN Community. In the future international and regional landscape, it will play a more significant role. Meanwhile, it can help deepen regional collaboration and promote the prosperity and stability of East Asia by forging equal and amicable ties which do not target any third party with its partners including the U.S. However, for quite a while, the road map drawn by some for U.S.-ASEAN relations has gone against the right track.

     The Philippines, for example, once tried to persuade other parties to write “South China Sea arbitration” into the agenda and the outcome document as an attempt to let theA SEAN “endorse” the unilaterally-filed arbitration. Washington, at the same time, also shared this motivation.In fact, similar diplomatic games over the South China Sea issue have appeared several times in the past years, but the results repeatedly proved that the ASEAN can properly balance the interests and concerns of all parties and won’t be “abducted” by the unilateral proposition of any one member state. Most ASEAN states are alert enough to acts that could harm its credibility and reputation,or undermine the leading role of cooperation in ASEAN and East Asia at large.

    They are also unwilling to see a community “led” by one single state.As a matter of fact, the active involvement of certain outside countries in the South China Sea is driven by ulterior motives. In the statement after the meeting, so-called “demilitarization” was hyped up again. But it is known to all that as an outside country, the U.S. has been flexing military muscle by frequently sending warships and aircraft into the South China Sea and plotting to conduct so-called joint patrols with other countries. Such behaviors have posed serious threats to the sovereignty and security of regional countries. What the U.S. has done is a major push to the militarization of the South China Sea. Hyping up the South China Sea issue is inconsistent with the interests of the ASEAN. Thecore of the issue lies in territorial and maritime right disputes, which is exclusively between China and some ASEAN members. The communication between China and ASEAN nations regarding the South China Sea issue is effective.

    China supports the dual-track notion proposed by ASEAN members,believing it as the most effective approach for addressing the issue. Derailing from the track will only cause interruption and damage to the efforts. That is why Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha noted in the meeting that all sides should ease the disputes through constructive dialogue.He also stressed that the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea(DOC) is a useful mechanism to win trust among the concerned parties and bring about peaceful solutions to the conflict. As the ASEAN is striding forward, many countries are striving to boost their ties with it.But only through sincere assistance, instead of self desires, can those attempts betranslated into win-win results.

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    NATO Warns Turkey It Won’t Support Ankara in Conflict With Russia

    As tensions escalate between Turkey and Russia, NATO has warned Ankara that it will not take part in a war provoked by the Turkish government.

    Last November, Turkey shot down a Russian jet flying through Syrian airspace. While many feared that the incident would plunge both countries into war, conflict was avoided, though relations between Moscow and Ankara have remained chilly.
    As Turkey pushes to deploy ground forces across its border to remove the legitimate government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Turkish government is, again, threatening the world with war.
    "The armed forces of the two states are both active in fierce fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border, in some cases just a few kilometers from each other," one NATO official told Der Spiegel.
    Ankara’s aggression seems partially based on the assumption that, should conflict erupt, Turkey will be supported by its NATO allies. According to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the collective defense clause would be invoked if any member state is attacked.

    But European leaders have made it abundantly clear that they have no interest in participating in a war of Turkey’s making.
    "NATO cannot allow itself to be pulled into a military escalation with Russia as a result of the recent tensions between Russia and Turkey," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told Der Spiegel.
    Of Article 5, Asselborn stressed that "the guarantee is only valid when a member state is clearly attacked."
    Germany appears to agree.
    "We are not going to pay the price for a war started by the Turks," said a German diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    NATO leadership made similar warnings soon after Turkey’s downing of the Russian bomber last year.

    "We have to avoid that situations, incidents, accidents spiral out of control," NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said at the time. "I think I’ve expressed very clearly that we are calling for calm and de-escalation. This is a serious situation."
    On Friday, French President Francois Hollande stressed the need to prevent conflict between Moscow and Ankara.
    "There is a risk of war between Turkey and Russia," he said in an interview with France Inter radio.
    As Turkey calls to escalate the violence in Syria, Russia has called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address its concerns over the rising tensions.
    "The situation is becoming more tense due to increased tensions on the Syrian-Turkish border and Turkey’s stated plans to send troops to northern Syria," reads a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

    Read more:

    Russia open for talks on its UN draft resolution on Syrian sovereignty

    Russia is open for talks on its proposed UN Security Council draft resolution in favor of the Syrian sovereignty, Russia’s deputy UN envoy Vladimir Safronkov said.

    "I told our partners that the Russian delegation will be ready for talks on the draft resolution and that we welcome all sorts of proposals in the coming days," the Russian diplomat said adding that the Russia-initiated draft resolution on Syria will be "a moment of truth for UN."
    The diplomat said he hoped the Russian document would be approved by the UN Security Council as soon as possible.

    "Everything stated in the document had been confirmed and reiterated by all members of the UN Security Council throughout the Syrian crisis," Safronkov said. "Thus, it is unimaginable how they would refuse all the principles stated in the Russian document even out of political reasons."

    A draft resolution of the United Nations Security Council that was initiated by Russia calls to stop shelling of the Syrian territory, respect its sovereignty and drop all plans and attempts at armed invasion of its territory.

    The document reiterates resolute commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and the principles of the United Nations Charter.

    The document contains no mentions of Turkey’s involvement, but condemns "ongoing shelling of the Syrian territory" and the flow of foreign terrorists and illegal arms supplies in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions with the connivance of certain states, including Syria’s neighbors.

    The one-page draft demands that Syria’s sovereignty be fully respected and urges to immediately stop any trans-border shelling and interference and to drop all attempts or plans of foreign military invasion of the Syrian territory.

    Before the draft resolution was submitted with the UN Security Council diplomats from the United States and France, Samantha Power and Francois Delattre respectively, announced that the Russia-initiated draft had no future.

    Turkey has been recently shelling positions of Syrian Kurds, who fight against terrorists on the side of Damascus. Earlier in the week, Russia initiated a meeting of the United Nations Security Council over Ankara’s actions. Following their February 16 meeting, the United Nations Security Council members expressed concern over the actions of the Turkish authorities and agreed to urge Ankara to respect international law.

    The Financial Times reported on Friday that Turkey was planning to deploy its troops in Syria’s northern provinces, while Saudi Arabia sought deployment of its troops in the south.
    The United States, according to the Financial Times, has been trying to keep Ankara and Riyadh from military activities in Syria as NATO is worried over the perspective of deploying Turkish troops in a country, where Russia is waging an Air Force military operation.


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    Rape victim,Kainat Soomro - The Pakistani women risking it all for their rights

    Rape victim, Kainat Soomro, who was kidnapped at the age of 13 by three men who held her for several days and repeatedly raped her, is still fighting for justice eight years later.
    Speaking to the Associated Press, Soomro narrated the horror of her captivity and the subsequent fight she has been waging. She has been to courts, held protests, rejected the rulings of the traditional jirga council, even taken on the powerful landlord and politician who she says are protecting her attackers.
    Despite all that, she has paid a high price for her standing up for herself. In 2010, her brother was killed because she wouldn’t stay quiet. As for her sister, one was divorced and another is still unmarried because people do not want to be associated with Soomro.
    Ghulam Nabi Soomro, father of the rape victim, is outraged at the lack of progress in the case. “They know about our troubles thousands of miles away but here in the next street no-one is helping us get justice,” he said.
    Soomro’s battle for justice has inspired an award-winning 2014 movie, “Outlawed in Pakistan.” Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner who was shot by the Taliban, invited Soomro to the Nobel award ceremony, and her fund has given Kainat financial help.
    The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded 423 rapes and 304 gang rapes last year. It also said that last year at least one woman a day was killed in the name of honour — murdered for allegedly bringing shame on the family. Attackers are rarely jailed with police often refusing to register a case.
    “Each year a gamut of promises is made for the protection and development of women, but (they) remain unfulfilled by the year-end,” the commission wrote in its 2014 annual report.
    Last month, the parliament refused to pass a law banning child marriage upon the advice of the Islamic Ideology Council, a religiously right-wing advisory group with no legal authority. The same body has also said that taking DNA tests to identify a suspected rapist is against Islam.
    “Women’s groups have been demanding that the Islamic Ideology Council be disbanded,” says Uzma Noorani, an activist who also operates a women’s shelter in Karachi.
    She added that the fight for women’s rights has reaped some success, with the Sindh Assembly having passed legislation aimed at protecting women and banning underage marriages. However, she says the war begins anew as victims fight to convince police and judges to register cases and implement laws.
    “When you have a law it is like a weapon, when you need it you can use it,” says one outspoken member of Sindh’s legislature, Mahtab Akbar Rashdi.
    She said that the national government is pandering to those who adhere to a narrow and restrictive view of Islam, which mostly targets women. “It’s as if women for them are the biggest problem in Islam,” she said of the Islamic Ideology Council.
    One women’s shelter in Karachi, surrounded by two walls and protected by guards, is home to around 40 women. Some have fled abusive husbands, some have been raped, others are being hunted down by families for choosing love.
    One such woman is Azra who was sold to an older man by her family when she was 18-years-old. She ran away after he began passing her around to strangers and is now fighting for a divorce. Now 20, Azra is waiting for the court to decide her case.
    Another such woman is Sidra Kanwal who left an abusive husband and moved back in with her mother. When another man proposed to her, she refused but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He threw acid on her face so no one could have her.
    Since she was so poor, doctors did not pay much attention to her. Her four-year-old son refused to come to her after her attack. “He didn’t recognise me. My face scared him,” she says, pulling her headscarf over her twisted mouth and nose.
    When she went to court, Noorani, the women’s rights activist, saw her and she received treatment. Her attacker is in jail now but society still hasn’t accepted her.
    According to the Human Rights Commission, 55 acid attacks took place in Pakistan last year. To date, only 17 arrests have been made.

    Baloch Students Protest against Attack on Students in Punjab by Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba

    Sami Parvez
    Quetta: Baloch Students held rallies and processions in Punjab, Quetta and Uthal against the attack and torture of number of Baloch students in Punjab University by Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, a students’ group of religious organization.
    According to the details, Baloch Students protested against a clash between Baloch students and the activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba in which number of Baloch students were injured and their belongings were burnt.
    It is worth mentioning, on Wednesday a clash broke out between the Baloch students and  members of Islami Jamiat-e-Taliba (IJT) studying at Punjab University, where a number of Baloch students were injured.  Prior to this incident, on Tuesday night, activists of IJT beat up a Baloch student, Jamil Ahmad Bugti, who was listening songs.  IJT activists attacked his room and set his belongings on fire.
    In result the Baloch students blocked the Canal Road for several hours, which created a massive traffic jam. Later on police settled down the matters between both the groups.
    On the occasion Baloch students chanted slogans against the IJT and demanded university administration and police to arrest those who attacked the hostel of Baloch student.
    Protest  in Lasbela
    On Thursday, Baloch Students Action Committee at Lasbela University, Uthal held a protest rally against the attack and torture of number of Baloch students in  Punjab University by Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba.
     Hundreds of students at Lasbela University of Balochistan, Uthal  chanted slogans against incident  and condemned the assault.
    Participants raised slogans against student’s wing of religious organization. They were holding placards and banners in the hands and chanted slogans against the violence.
    Addressing the participants, the Baloch Students Action Committee leaders said, “Such moves against Baloch Students are unacceptable and   if the issue is not taken seriously we would soon announce the series of protest.”
    12745674_1054117457942335_4177592783332473161_n (1)
    A rally held by Baloch Students Action Committee at Lasbela University, Uthal
    Protests in Quetta
    On 17 February, Baloch Students Action Committee held a protest in front of Quetta Press club against the assault on Baloch students in Punjab University.
    On 19 February, Baloch Students Organization (Pajar)   and Pashtun Students Organization (PSO) led a protesting rally against the violence and demanded the arrest of involved responsible activists of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba.
    Baloch students say that they have been attacked continuously by the IJT activists in last couple of years but the police have failed to arrest any attacker.

    Pakistan - The flying Prime Minister

    Making a joke of governance

    In two and a half years spread over about a thousand days, Nawaz Sharif spent nearly 200 days away from the country. These do not include his private but regular visits to Saudi Arabia during Ramazan and his private trips to UK. The travels cost the national exchequer a hefty sum of Rs638.276 million. The spending constitutes a drain on national exchequer in Pakistan which faces revenue crunch. The government owes it to people to clarify what Pakistan got out of so many trips by its Prime Minister. With no explanation offered for 17 visits to the United Kingdom, this has given rise to speculations of all sorts.
    The frequency of the visits speaks out about Sharif’s priorities at home. He has been criticised for not giving importance to Parliament. He was abroad for about 200 days and attended only 35 sittings of the House which elected him to office. The record of his presence in the Senate which represents the federation is even more dismal. His long absence encouraged Cabinet Members and PML-N MNAs to frequently absent themselves from the House, causing a lack of quorum and leading to inordinate delay in crucial legislation. The Electoral Reforms Committee, headed by an equally busy Ishaq Dar, has yet to come up with its recommendations despite their urgency.
    The Prime Minister has failed to fulfill the constitutional requirement of holding the CCI meeting for more than a year while it has to be convened every three months. The excuse was that Nawaz Sharif was too busy. The Prime Minister was required to create a national consensus over disputed issues like CPEC which has not been done. Sharif had no time to visit Jacobabad last year where nearly two dozen people were killed in a terrorist attack. He could not go to Bacha Khan University last month for the same reason. Acts of the sort have led to complaints of neglect from smaller provinces. It’s time the PM concentrates on domestic issues, handing over foreign affairs to someone else.

    Pakistan - NAB controversy

    For months, the federal government ignored charges made by Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) that federal institutions like the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were overstepping their bounds and conducting affairs in Sindh in a manner that suggests political partisanship. However, now it appears that the PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are finally converging. On February 16, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, sounding unusually irate, warned NAB against the wrongful persecution of many, including ‘honest’ government employees, stating that the watchdog had been descending on the offices and houses of innocent people, harassing and discrediting them under the guise of ensuring accountability. Instead, he urged them to take up cases after acquiring solid proofs through detailed investigation. For those wondering why the sudden shift in tone of the PM regarding the methodology adapted by NAB and assorted organisations after months of deflection, the answer lies in the fact that finally the eyes of NAB had started to peer into Punjab. NAB is pursuing cases against prominent members of PML-N, including the Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashhood. But perhaps what is truly motivating the PM’s ire is the fact that old cases against the PM and his brother, Punjab’s Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif, are about to be rescued from their long standing limbo by NAB. Furthermore, the ‘jewels in the crown’ of CM Shahbaz’s latest tenure, i.e. the Metro Bus and Orange Line Metro Train, are also reported to be in the crosshairs of NAB. Following on from the PM’s remarks, Irfan Siddiqui, special assistant to the PM, stated that the government is mulling the enactment of a new law to keep an eye on NAB’s activities. He dubbed NAB’s performance as “zero” and said the watchdog worked under and was answerable to the government. Given its emboldened activities of late, it is perhaps surprising to note how quickly NAB has folded in response to the PM’s warning, thereby making the quest to clip its wings almost redundant. In a press release, NAB seemed to be praising the government, suggesting that the government’s non-interference had helped strengthen the organisation. Taking a conciliatory tone, the NAB chairman stated the organisation respected the opinion of the PM and that NAB was working on improving its accountability process in line with the criticisms and directions of PM Nawaz Sharif. Moreover, regret was expressed about the investigation process, and blame was laid at the door of “inheritance”, but assurances were given that problems would be rectified.

    There are multiple layers to this ‘accountability’ controversy. On a principled level, there is no argument about the need for ‘accountability’ and there is merit in the opinion — most loudly voiced by stalwarts of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) – that a watchdog should be without political interference and independent in order to do its job effectively. However, a basic problem with the criticism of the PM’s rebuke is that it ignores exactly how accountability drives have panned out in the past. The fact remains, as we witnessed recently in Sindh, these drives are motivated by partisan interests and political opponents are targeted. Furthermore, the scope of accountability is limited only to politicians. For ‘accountability’ to be authentic it should encompass politicians, bureaucrats, judges and generals equally. The last three (in increasing order) mostly escape any scrutiny and it is only the politicians who are caricatured and targeted for being corrupt, which is a prevalent narrative harmful to the prospects of democracy. It is patently apparent that the manner in which NAB (and the FIA) conducts itself is not consistent with criminal investigation ethics and rules of procedure. Nonetheless, accepting this reality does not remove the problems inherent in having the executive branch exercising total control over a watchdog organisation. Indeed, seeing NAB fold so quickly in consequence of the PM’s anger shows the farce at the heart of these accountability drives. To solve this quandary, it is imperative under the given circumstances to have a parliamentary committee overseeing NAB’s affairs. This will go a long way in reducing the partisan nature of NAB and help reduce the perception that accountability drives are fundamentally politically motivated.

    Bilawal Bhutto - PM’s statement on NAB mere fallacy

    Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday called Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s statements regarding the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) a mere fallacy. Bilawal has demanded that all parties of the parliament be taken into confidence to rectify the shortcomings in accountability laws.

    According to the details, responding to the PM’s statements on NAB, the PPP chairman stated that NAB, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other departments of the Federal government were only targeting a single Province.

    Bilawal further stated that raids were conducted to paralyze Sindh government. He stated that the all authorities of PM Nawaz’s government were violating every regulation.

    Lambasting the Federal government, the PPP chairman stated that the subsidiaries of PM Nawaz’s Cabinet had exceeded their limits to conduct actions for paralyzing the government of Sindh while the PM had supported his Federal Ministers’ attacks against Sindh.

    Bilawal further added that the PPP demands that every department while working within its jurisdiction should not consider anybody as a holy cow.

    He stated that the accountability code had been used as a weapon for targeting PPP in the past whereas not a single hand was laid on PPP’s rivals.

    Bilawal further added that no honest and innocent individual should be targeted for vengeance just for their political affiliation.