Friday, March 3, 2017
At least four civilians have lost their lives and several others sustained injuries when Saudi fighter jets carried out fresh aerial attacks against residential areas in northern Yemen, using internationally-banned cluster bombs.
Local sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said three people were killed and four others injured when Saudi military aircraft struck the al-Barkah area of the northwestern Yemeni province of Sa'ada, located 240 kilometers north of the capital Sana'a, on Friday afternoon, Arabic-language al-Masirah television network reported.
Saudi jets also launched a morning raid in the Hayran district of the northwestern province of Hajjah, located approximately 130 kilometers northwest of Sana’a, killing at least one person and injuring seven others.
Cluster bombs are banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), an international treaty that addresses the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm caused to civilians by cluster munitions through a categorical prohibition and a framework for action.
Moreover, Saudi aircraft bombarded an area in the Mustaba district of the same Yemeni province, with no immediate reports of casualties and the extent of damage caused.
According to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based newspaper owned by Alibaba, Chinese construction in the South China Sea is "seen as a veiled attack on the United States."
In the wake of the US Navy’s Third Fleet Forward tour through the South China Sea, Wang Guoqing, spokesman for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said criticisms aimed at Beijing for building defense posts in the South China Sea are "much ado about nothing," without naming a particular country, the South China Morning Post reported.
"Building amenities on our land, including those for defense, is absolutely normal," the official said, noting that the "sovereign right" belonging to China is "recognized by international law."
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, during his confirmation hearing, stated that American foreign policy has been inadequate in the South China Sea, allowing the Chinese to "keep pushing the envelope" with the placement of "military assets" on regional islets. He declared Chinese construction of defense infrastructure "illegal," prompting a backlash from Beijing threatening a "military clash" if the US blocks Chinese access to islands in the South China Sea.
"As the world’s largest trader and the country with the most coastline along the South China Sea, we care about the safety and freedom of navigation more than any other country,” Wang said, reiterating that China’s military assets are solely for basic and necessary defense purposes. The spokesman noted that China has already "established a cooperative mechanism with many countries on safety [in the South China Sea,]" according the the Today Online report.
With Russian Ambassador to the USA Sergey Kislyak’s contacts with members of the Trump administration under scrutiny, Moscow won’t apply a tit-for-tat approach to US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov promised.
Lavrov said the whole situation resembled the days of McCarthyism.
Kislyak recently found himself under the US media spotlight with reports of his communications, first with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and then with Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.
After Wednesday reports saying Sessions had met Kislyak twice in 2016, but did not disclose the contacts during his Senate confirmation testimony, a CNN article said that “current and former US intelligence officials have described Kislyak as a top spy and recruiter of spies.”
According to Lavrov, the situation developing around Kislyak and his contacts is reminiscent of “witch hunt.”
“I can refer to a quote spread in the media today: all of this looks very much like a witch hunt or the days of McCarthyism, which we long thought have passed in the US, a civilized country," Lavrov said.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump described the scandal around Sessions as “a total witch hunt.”
“Kislyak is accused of talking to American politicians who were in opposition to the administration of then-President Barack Obama,” Lavrov said. “That is the essence of these accusations, to be honest.”
“We don't want to and we won’t ape” the American approach towards Kislyak, Lavrov said.
“If such a principle has been applied to scrutinize activity of John Tefft and his contacts, we could see quite an ‘amusing’ picture,” Lavrov said.
The minister noted that ambassadors are appointed to maintain relations with the host country.
“Relationships are maintained in the form of meetings, talks, contacts with both executive officials [from the current administration] and with politicians, public figures, non-governmental organizations. This practice has never been disputed,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s statement comes in response to the uproar in the US over a report in the Washington Post claiming that Sessions spoke to Kislyak twice in 2016. The report prompted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to demand Sessions’ resignation for “lying under oath” during the hearings.
Sessions denied any wrongdoing in meeting with the Russian ambassador, saying the two brief encounters had nothing to do with the presidential campaign. He recused himself from any investigations into the campaign, however.
The attorney-general is not the first official in the Trump administration who faces allegations of having contacts with Russian officials. Earlier, Flynn stepped down as national security advisor after being accused by the media of discussing sanctions on Russia with Kislyak. Both he and the Russian Embassy denied the discussion ever took place.
On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he is unaware of any such talks between Sessions and Kislyak, adding that establishing working contacts with host nation’s executive and legislative branches is an inherent part of an ambassador’s job.
“The more such meetings are being held by an ambassador, the more efficient he is. And this applies to every ambassador,” Peskov stressed, adding that Tefft “has plenty of contacts with Russian MPs and it is quite normal.”
The Democrat attack on the Attorney General is not accidental as he would be dealing with accusations against the administration of fraternizing with Russians - the latest US hysteria, says Gilbert Doctorow of the American Committee for East-West Accord.
The Trump administration is fighting off yet more allegations of improper contact with Moscow during the presidential race. Now it's the turn of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who met with Russia's ambassador to the US during Donald Trump's campaign, which was reported by the Washington Post.
Sessions was a senator at the time and didn't mention the meetings during his January confirmation hearing to become Attorney General. He denies allegations that he misled on purpose.
The Kremlin reacted to the allegations, saying it was not aware of any meetings between Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador, adding that the scandal was not “Moscow's headache.”
Meanwhile, both Republican and Democratic senators said meeting foreign diplomats is part of a senator's job.
"This is a political assassination under way,”Gilbert Doctorow of American Committee for East-West Accord, said commenting to RT.
“The point is the US is heading into a constitutional crisis. I think it is impossible for President Trump to avoid taking steps that otherwise he would hope to postpone, otherwise he would enjoy basking in his great success on Tuesday evening's address to the nation – the support that he had from the whole Republican side of the House, and from a good number of Democrats as well. All of that is vitiated by this latest round of a political assassination attempt on one of his close advisers. I think it is not accidental that precisely Jeff Sessions has come in the sights of those who want to neuter, to destroy the Trump presidency. He is as Attorney General in control of the FBI, he is the one, who would be acting, or not acting on all of the accusations being made against the administration and the entourage of Trump for collusion with Russians, or for simply fraternizing with Russians, which has become our present hysteria, our present McCarthyite atmosphere cause for bringing down the government.”
There’s nothing sinister about Sessions talking to the Russian ambassador, says Lew Rockwell, political analyst and author.
RT: We just heard US senators saying there's nothing wrong with meeting with a Russian ambassador, so why the controversy here?
Lew Rockwell: It is the deep state. American mainstream media has been showing since the Church hearings and many other investigations, might as well juts be a part of the CIA. So this is just the more of the campaign against Trump, against having a friendly relationship with Russia. It is all the baloney about Russia having intervened in the American elections. By the way, the way the US intervenes in every single Russian election and elections all around the world, I don’t think the Russians intervened in the American elections. Certainly Sessions talking to the Russian ambassador at a Heritage Foundation party – there is nothing sinister about it. No ambassador is ever that country’s top spy. I mean in some sense every diplomat is a spy. This is just a hysterical nonsense that is being peddled.
Even if the Russians did intervene, what did they want? Did they want atomic secrets, or that kind of stuff? No. What they wanted was – peace with the US, no more US aggression against Russia, and trade. Get rid of the sanctions, let’s have friendly relationship, exactly the relationship by the way that the US should have with every single country in the world, whether it is China, or Venezuela, or Iran, whomever. This is the proper foreign policies laid out by George Washington so many years ago. This hostility, this Cold War-esque, baloney is not having an effect on the American people. This is an entirely DC hysteria. Yes there were Republicans as well as Democrats who hate the guts of the Trump administration and would love Hillary back in chart.
RT: During a news conference on Thursday, Sessions was pretty adamant and direct that he is not stepping down, as he claims he has done nothing wrong. He said he has examined the rules of ethics and they have not been broken. What are your thoughts on his statement?
LR: I think pretty much everything he said was good. I don’t like the recusal business. After all he is not a judge. So for him to do this, when we know that the deep state wants a special prosecutor, who would be loyal to them, and who could make up all kinds of stuff, that part is unfortunate. We just have to see what develops. But let’s remember the Democrats used to be very pro-Russia, when there was Stalin. When Stalin and Lenin were in charge, they liked Russia. They set up the export and import bank to fund trade with Russia. Of course they were Russia’s ally in WWII. Now that Russia is …no longer Communist, it has much freer market and no Gulag, they hate its guts. Seems to me there is something wrong about that.
RT: The House speaker Paul Ryan commented on the scandal saying there's no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Why is there such hysteria about this?
LR: There’s hysteria because again it’s the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, or at least the elements within those intelligence organizations and other unnamed intelligence organizations that seek to overthrow the President. They seek to toss him out and to install a Hillaryite or neocon in the White House instead. They want Cold War, some of them want “hot war” with Russia. They want much more military spending, they want many horrible things. So this is all a generated hysteria. This people are all puppets. They’re like “Pravda” and “Izvestia” in the old days. There has been a switch here, a very unfortunate switch, I must say.
Ali Nobil Ahmad
The truth behind Zafar Lund’s assassination may never be known, but he tried to protect the poor and downtrodden against the powerful – which earned him enemies among landowners, politicians and sectarian extremists.
They came asking for help. “We’re extremely poor. We need work,” implored the two strangers. Rawal Lund told them his father, Zafar, was not currently in charge of any major projects and unlikely to be hiring. They had experience in the relevant sector, they pleaded, insisting on an audience with the 55-year-old political activist and NGO worker. Zafar Lund was admired for his campaigning work with the disenfranchised and downtrodden people of southern Punjab, and had a reputation for generosity. Rawal agreed to their request, rousing his father from an afternoon nap.
|Zafar Lund with two of his four children, Rawal (left), now 24, and Shahik. Photograph:|
A crudely crafted silencer muffled a single shot. Hearing cries, Rawal went back outside to be confronted with a scene that he sees vividly but hesitates to describe. The two assailants had shot his father in the face before fleeing on their motorcycle. Images of his father’s lifeless body, circulated on social media in the days after his murder last July, indicate an entry wound below the right eye.
To the Ahmadiyya minority into which Lund was born, the message of intimidation conveyed by his brazen execution is familiar. Declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani government in 1974 and prohibited from publicly professing their beliefs, Ahmadis in Pakistan are shunned within the mainstream and hounded by extremists. Hate crimes are rarely prosecuted. In August 2015, unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shot dead another Ahmadi, a 37-year-old pharmacy owner, in Taunsa, a town not far from Lund’s residence in the city of Kot Addu.
Lund’s murder is being investigated by Punjab police’s counter-terrorism department. He was probably targeted because he was an Ahmadi, although no militant group has claimed responsibility. A pragmatic eco-socialist who embraced the pluralism of pan-religious folk tradition, Lund was careful to avoid antagonising clerics and rarely discussed his private life. As a mobiliser of the poor, he ruffled feathers in the districts of Dera Ghazi Khan and Muzaffargarh. The range of reactionaries who might welcome his elimination include a wide array of landowner-politicians, venal politicians and ministers, corrupt bureaucrats and avaricious subcontractors.
Then there are elements of the state that, for decades, have exported jihadism against perceived enemies abroad. Within Pakistan itself, militant wings of religious organisations have been granted intermittent protection from police scrutiny given their useful role in deterring internal “subversion” by ethno-nationalists. Haunted by the loss of East Pakistan in 1971 (when it gained independence as Bangladesh), the military is particularly sensitive to the situation in Balochistan, viewing Islamist terrorism as a lesser evil than separatism. The abduction of outspoken critics of the religious and military establishment in recent weeks has traumatised the country’s beleaguered community of liberals and leftwing dissidents.
The truth behind Lund’s assassination – like so many others that have defined Pakistan’s troubled history, from that of its first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan to Benazir Bhutto and a slew of journalists and activists since – may never be known. A good deal, nonetheless, can be gleaned from the details of his remarkable life.
Lund cut his political teeth as a student organiser under General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law. A workshop by Bengali theatre director Badal Sarkar in Lahore during the mid-80s inspired him to develop street theatre as a tool of resistance. Guerrilla performances of plays critical of Zia’s tyrannical regime drew crowds that gathered and dispersed before the authorities could intervene.
Following the restoration of democracy in the 90s, Lund adapted to a post-ideological world. Like many progressives of his generation absorbed by civil society, he viewed development from the perspective of local “stakeholders”, empowering populations displaced by the state. The green revolution, Lund felt, was a continuation of the flawed colonial project that famously introduced perennial irrigation to the Punjab. If the British liked to brag of having “turned a desert into a bread basket”, they also disenfranchised the region’s farmers, awarding vast plots of land to tribal leaders whose kin still dominate southern Punjab’s dynastic politics. Continued transformation of the Indus basin through the building of infrastructure, mechanisation and commercialisation of agriculture after independence, Lund complained, had done little to change the political system or address inequality in land distribution.
His NGO, Hirrak, funded by Action Aid and other donors, was named after the sound made by descending hill torrents that irrigate lands adjacent to the Sulaiman range. Hirrak did much to protect the livelihoods of communities along the Indus.
Lund’s advocacy fed into cultural movements calling for his native tongue, Saraiki, to be recognised as an official language and demands for a Saraiki province to offset the dominance of Punjab within Pakistan’s volatile federation. His primary constituency consisted of Saraiki-speaking populations marginalised by the steady colonisation of their region by ethnic Punjabi and Urdu-speaking settlers who have been allotted land since independence.
Adapting folk tales about the mutual dependency of humans, animals and ecosystems into plays performed alongside politically conscious poetry by local bards, Lund and his comrades fused tradition and aesthetics in support of environmental justice. Working closely with a trusted circle of academics and activists in Pakistan and overseas, he contributed to an important innovation in legal resistance to the onslaught of capitalism. Lok Saths – people’s law tribunals – were adapted from traditional south-Asian village gatherings as a means of mobilising communities against a plethora of wasteful and damaging engineering initiatives. Communities across the Saraiki belt gathering to document rights abuses and indict the authorities in their own language, was not merely symbolic: numerous ill-conceived megaprojects to remodel barrages and construct power plants have been delayed, scrapped, relocated or modified to include compensation packages for those affected.
Among those he worked with closely, Lund is remembered with reverence. “My father died that day [of his murder],” says Khadim Hussein of Sindhu Bachao Tarla [Save the Indus], an organisation modeled on India’s famous movement to protect the Narmada valley river. Khadim credits Lund with imparting his community with knowledge about their rights and well-honed techniques of organised resistance, together with the mental strength to deploy these against land-grabbing eviction drives led by the police.
His knack for imbuing the vulnerable with courage and political wisdom is recalled with particular admiration by women, whose empowerment within staunchly patriarchal communities was accorded priority status. Raising awareness about the ills of child marriage and domestic violence, Lund set up adult literacy initiatives and helped many women get their first identity cards. Their transformation into active citizens within a misogynist conservative social order was an end in itself, but also a central pillar of his mobilisation strategy. “Women often outnumbered men in protests, hunger strikes and demonstrations,” says Kalsoom Bibi, current president of Sindhu Bachao’s women’s wing. “We used to run from the police,” she adds, before proudly recounting how she and a band of other women, emboldened by Lund’s interventions, punctured the tyres of a police vehicle sent to evict them from their homes.
Lund’s death went unreported in the international press and received little national coverage, a measure of southern Punjab’s marginal position within Pakistani politics. “If a man of his calibre from central or northern Punjab were assassinated, the story would have run for at least two weeks,” claims Nadeem Shah, a journalist in the ancient city of Multan. With the media dominated by elements of the Pakistani state whose distaste for the Saraiki movement and its sister struggles in Sindh and Baluchistan is well known, the circumstances of Lund’s murder have not been seriously investigated.
A couple of days before it took place, a local man with known connections to a Deobandi madrasa warned several of Lund’s friends to avoid socialising with him, maligning him in terms that suggest a combination of factors, some unrelated to religion, could have been at play in his murder. A source close to the police investigating team confirmed that the man had been released after questioning, playing down his warnings as random and coincidental. “We’re close to catching the culprits,” he said, engrossed in my business card. In exchange for this and other glib reassurances about leads not being followed, I was quizzed about my own movements; the whereabouts of my family; my Facebook user ID and more. A contact in Kot Addu was later asked if I was an Ahmadi.
I once confessed to Lund my squeamishness about the risks he and other Pakistani activists were subjected to during a visit to Muzaffargarh. “You’re wrong to think that way,” he admonished, brushing death aside as an irrelevance: “We live on in our children.”
Rawal ponders the future of a household without his father. His burden is heavy, but the young man’s poise gives strength to Lund’s bewildered father and brother, visibly still deep in grief. The shirt Rawal wore that day, drenched in his father’s blood as he frantically checked for a pulse, has been returned to the belly of the river that Lund spent so much of his life defending against modernist incursions.
An 11-year-old with dimples enters the room smiling. Two days before the strangers on a motorcycle arrived, Lund was coaxed into taking Shamir, his youngest son, for a swimming lesson. Rawal and his elder brother Shahik, currently studying abroad, had taught Shamir to float using a plastic tub in a nearby canal. The last hurdle remained. Much to the delight of friends who learned of this final act on Facebook, Lund was successful. Within minutes, he instilled the boy with the courage to let go.
The PCB's efforts to hold the PSL final in Lahore to convince the cricket world that it was safe to play international cricket in the country received a setback after the English T20 specialists refused additional bonus payments between USD 10,000 and USD 50,000.
All three English players are in the Quetta Gladiators franchise, which qualified for the final. Pietersen has in fact already returned to London and has tweeted about it.
Well-informed sources told PTI that chances of other leading foreign players in the three franchises which remain in contention to join Quetta in the final are also unlikely to agree to travel to Lahore.
"Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena who are representing Karachi Kings, David Malan and Chris Jordan who are with Peshawar Zalmi and Dwayne Smith, Samuel Badree, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson, Ben Duckett who are with Islamabad United have indicated to their franchises they are not interested in taking the risk of going to Lahore," one source said.
The source said the owner of Peshawar Zalmi, Javed Afridi was doing his best to convince West Indian, Darren Sammy who is the franchise captain to play in Lahore if their team qualifies for the final.
PSL chairman Najam Sethi has prepared a secondary list of foreign players many of them retired or not well known for an emergency players draft to be held for the two finalists if their main overseas players don't travel to Lahore.
Even the foreign commentators have backed out from travelling to Lahore for the final.
As a result, the PCB has been forced to sign an emergency deal with a Dubai based TV production company to produce the final in Lahore. The ones who were contracted during the Dubai leg – Sunset and Vine television have also pulled out.
Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that protection of wildlife was a collective human responsibility to the nature and called for more effective efforts to save the flora and fauna in Pakistan.
On the occasion of World Wildlife Day celebrated internationally today, the PPP Chairman said that every nation of any standing safeguards its wildlife to thrive to retain the natural beauty and pass on to the next generation.
He said creating more wildlife sanctuaries by Sindh government was continuity of the policies of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who declared Khirthar National Park in Sindh, Khunjerab National Park and Naltar Wildlife Sanctuary in Gilgit-Baltistan among several small and big sanctuaries across the country.
It may be recalled that Sindh government has declared 940 square kilometers area in Thar desert as Chinkara sanctuary area last month.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that his Party supports international, national and provincial measures to raise awareness for protecting the flora and fauna with special attention to those under threats of extinction.
پیپلزپارٹی کے رہنما فرحت اللہ بابر نے سابق صدر آصف علی زرداری سے پنجاب میں سکیورٹی و اپس لینے کی تصدیق کی ہے انہوں نے کہا کہ تعجب ہے حکومت پنجاب کے پاس سابق صدر کیلئے سکیورٹی نہیں حیرت ہے حکومت پنجاب کے پاس وزیراعلیٰ، وزیر داخلہ کے پروٹوکول کیلئے سکیورٹی ہے آصف علی زرداری کی سکیورٹی واپس لینے کی بھرپور مذمت کرتے ہیں۔