Saturday, June 17, 2017
Flights between Tel Aviv and Saudi Arabia are about to start signaling closer cooperation between the Israeli and Saudi regimes.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth daily, direct flights from the Israeli Ben Gurion Airport to Saudi Arabia with a stopover in Amman, Jordan are to kick off sometime soon. The daily noted that the flights will be a symbolic move aiming to normalize ties between the Tel Aviv and Riyadh.
Yedioth Ahronoth quoted an Israeli official as stating that talks have been in full swing to put the agreement into effect at the soonest time possible. The agreement is seen as part of efforts by the US to ensure there is close collaboration and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the Israeli regime.
Recently, Israeli regime's transport minister proposed linking its freight railway network with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and said he presented the idea to US President Donald Trump's West Asia envoy. Under the proposal, goods and passengers could travel by rail from the Mediterranean port of Haifa in occupied territories through Jordan to Saudi Arabia's Gulf port of Dammam via Jordan.
During his visit to the West Asia region last month Trump made a direct flight between Riyadh to Tel Aviv in what was termed as the first direct flight between the two cities.
The Saudi rulers claim to be the custodians of the two holy Islamic sites in Mecca and Medina but have moved ahead to establish ties with the Israeli regime which continues to occupy Palestinian territories especially the al-Aqsa mosque in al-Quds (Jerusalem), the third holiest site in Islam.
Israeli regime’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it is time for Tel Aviv make public its close ties with some Arab countries.
Speaking during the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in February 2016, Netanyahu said that the so-called moderate Arab countries see Israel as their ally, not their enemy, as they share a common struggle against Iran among others.
Netanyahu’s remarks came after the then Israeli War Minister Moshe Ya’alon said there were open channels between Israel and other Arab states, but the “sensitive” situation prevents him from shaking hands with Arab officials in public. He later publicly shook the hand of Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud.
Ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of Iran's staunchest enemies, would start small, The Times reports.
Saudi Arabia and Israel are negotiating the establishment of economic ties, The Times reported on Saturday. The British daily quoted Arab and American sources as saying that the first steps toward ties between two of Iran's staunchest enemies would start small, including allowing Israeli businesses to operate in the Gulf and letting Israel's El Al airline fly over Saudi airspace.
But it also cited sources close to Saudi Arabia as saying that improved relations between the two countries are nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the White House in the wake of President Trump's promise to reach the "ultimate" peace deal in the Middle East. The report said the prospect has caused discord in the Trump administration. Jared Kushner, Trump's adviser and son-in-law, has grown close to Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi deputy crown prince, and the two have reportedly discussed improved ties with Israel as a step toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. In contrast, Trump's envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, is favoring a more traditional approach to the peace process.
According to the report, the Palestinians are opposed to the idea, fearing it would normalize ties between Arab states and Israel without ensuring the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The report suggested that the prospect of relations with Israel may have played a role in Saudi Arabia and its allies' decision to cut ties with Qatar in an effort to pressure the Gulf state to stop supporting Hamas. In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Gulf states have compiled a proposal to take unprecedented steps toward normalization with Israel if the Netanyahu government makes gestures to the Palestinians, such as freezing settlement construction in parts of the West Bank and easing trade restrictions in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier this month, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the diplomatic rift between Qatar and fellow Arab countries in the region opens up opportunities for cooperation. But he also said that linking a solution conflict with the Palestinians and Israel's relations with other Middle East nations is a mistake.
"The Arab countries that cut off their diplomatic relations with Qatar did not do so because of Israel and not because of the Palestinian issue but because of their fear of radical Islamic terrorism," the defense chief said. "... Any attempt to link the Palestinian issue to Israel's bilateral relations with the moderate Arab states is simply a mistaken approach. The fact is that we signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan had nothing to do with the Palestinian issue. There was a connection, but without waiting for a solution. Here too, it is forbidden to condition the development of ties with the moderate Arab states on the resolution of the Palestinian issue."
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/1.796215
The decision last week by Gulf Arab states to sever ties and halt trade with the tiny, hydrocarbon-rich country of Qatar has focused attention on what critics call Qatar's funding of Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
U.S. investigators believe the crisis was sparked by hackers who transmitted fake, inflammatory messages appearing to come from Qatar's emir.
But the dispute is unfolding against a backdrop of long-standing irritation with Qatar among its larger Sunni Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf.
Saudi Arabia (which has also been accused of supporting terrorist groups), the United Arab Emirates and others have frequently complained about Qatar's state-backed media outlet Al-Jazeera and its equable working relationship with Saudi Arabia's main rival, Shiite power Iran.
To some, the current crisis is a simple tale of cracking down on one source of terror financing. To others, it's the latest effort to rein in a small country with a history of going its own way.
Tensions that date back decades
Long before it was an oil and gas power, Qatar was controlled by outsiders. In the late 19th century, the Ottoman Turks held sway. For much of the 20th century, until it gained independence in 1971, Qatar was a British protectorate.
The oil and gas age — the tiny peninsula controls the third-largest gas reserves in the world — made Qatar into one of the richest nations on Earth per capita.
But Qatar's leaders, all from the ruling Al Thani family – Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is currently in charge — chafed against the dominating, conservative influence of the behemoth next door, Saudi Arabia.
The tensions date back decades, but here are a few highlights:
In 1996, Qatar launched the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel and brought a new brand of news coverage to the region. Al-Jazeera disquieted Arab leaders with its reporting, in Arabic, on internal and regional controversies that previously went uncovered. It shocked some viewers by putting Israeli spokespeople on the air when it covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Hard-hitting coverage of Qatar itself was — and remains — off-limits.)
Qatar provoked the Saudis again as it cultivated ties with Iran, with which it shares vast natural gas resources. Qatar's North Dome gas field extends into Iranian waters, where it's known as the South Pars field. Qatar is the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, although it could lose that status to Australia soon. Gulf Arab annoyance at Qatar flared into open anger in 2011, when Qatar quickly embraced the Arab Spring uprisings, particularly in Egypt, Libya and Syria. Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which saw one of its own, Mohammed Morsi, briefly succeed long-ruling President Hosni Mubarak. For its part, Saudi Arabia went all in behind the Egyptian military, which ousted Morsi just over a year after he was elected.
A 2014 flare-up, followed by worse
The Saudi ruling family loathed the Arab Spring uprisings as destabilizing to the region and possibly a threat to its own rule. It stepped up its own activism in the region, both on the ground and diplomatically. In Libya and Syria, the Saudis and Qataris backed different fighting groups that were vying for influence. In 2014, Gulf states — led by Saudi Arabia — suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar for several months and threatened to do worse. Now, after a visit last month by President Trump to Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, they have done worse. They are demanding far greater concessions from Qatar than they ever did in the past — such as closing Al-Jazeera and expelling Hamas leaders — in return for restoring ties. "This is far more dramatic than the diplomatic row that occurred in 2014," says Mehran Kamrava, head of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University's outpost in the Qatari capital, Doha.
This time, the Saudis have closed Qatar's only land border, through which around 40 percent of its imports enter the country, and Gulf states have stopped air and sea shipments to Qatar. (Saudi Arabia has denied that there is a blockade against Qatar.) Qataris in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have been given two weeks to leave, and citizens of those three countries were given the same June 18 deadline to leave Qatar.
Beyond that, says Kamrava, the dispute feels more visceral.
"This time, the disagreement appears much more personal," he says, adding that Qataris are "a bit shell-shocked" by the hostility. Kuwait has tried to mediate. But Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the escalating tensions and tougher demands will make a diplomatic solution that much harder to reach.
"Some of what [Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are] asking for ... expelling members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and shutting down Al-Jazeera ... those are pretty big asks," he says — not to mention demands that Qatar cut ties with Iran.
But in the wake of Trump's visit to Riyadh — and his ensuing comments specifically targeting Qatar without mentioning complaints about Saudi Arabia's behavior in the region — the view among Gulf states is that they now have the leverage to force Qatar to be more cooperative.
Riad Kahwaji at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis says the "gray zone" Qatar has been operating in — pledging allegiance to its Sunni Muslim neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council while continuing to support Islamist militants and cooperate with Iran — is disappearing.
He says it's time for Qatar to choose.
"If you are a true ally, and a member of the GCC," he says, "you cannot be supporting extremist groups, you cannot be in the same trench with Iran."
A new alliance? The crisis has forced Qatar to seek help — including from Iran. Iranian media are reporting that the country will send "humanitarian aid" shipments to Doha. Russia has also voiced support, and Turkey has stepped in to send food.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says a "very grave mistake is being made in Qatar" and has decried the isolation of the country as "inhumane and against Islamic values."
Some wonder whether all this pressure on Qatar might backfire, driving the country into an alliance with Russia, Turkey and Iran — one with very different objectives from the U.S.
But Sinan Ulgen, director of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul, says he doesn't see a Qatar-Russia-Iran-Turkey alliance being forged — at least, not yet.
"There certainly is a risk, now that Turkey has firmly sided with Qatar, that this would lead to increased tension" with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, says Ulgen. But at the end of the day, Qatar "does not have the ability to withstand sustained pressure from its larger neighbors in the Gulf, especially if this strategy is indeed being backed by the U.S."
Thus far, Washington has sent mixed messages about the dispute, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling for calm and dialogue, and President Trump saying it's time to put an end to Qatar's "very high level" of terror financing.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, maintains the U.S. Central Command's regional forward operating base in Qatar and has just signed a deal reportedly worth $12 billion to sell F-15 fighter jets to Doha.
Efforts to resolve the dispute appear to be still in the early stages, with a number of questions unanswered, says Mideast analyst Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"How sustainable is the Turkish relief effort? How far are the Iranians willing to go to exploit this problem on the other side of the Gulf?" he asks — and wonders, for that matter, how far Qatar will be willing to go to satisfy the Saudis. "Can they really, truly expel members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and will that be enough?" says Cook. "We're still in the, kind of, opening bids here, so I think this is going to go on. This is going to occupy us for the better part of the summer — and well beyond, actually."
The deal could give the Gulf state the impression that it can defy its neighbors and remain a frenemy of the US.
You would be forgiven for thinking the U.S. backs Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their current standoff against Qatar. President Donald Trump himself has taken the Saudis' line against their fellow Gulf monarchy, tweeting last week that Arab leaders all pointed to Qatar as a serial financier of terrorism.
This was certainly the impression the Emirates' ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, gave to journalists this week. When asked about his meetings at the Pentagon and the State Department, the ambassador said: "I don't think we have a problem with the State Department. I don't think we have a problem with the Pentagon."
Earlier this week, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Saudi-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar would not affect military operations out of Qatar's Al-Udeid airbase.
This is why it's so strange that Defense Secretary James Mattis would sign a $12 billion deal to sell F-15 fighter jets to the Qataris on Wednesday.
To be sure, the deal was in the works well before the current crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors. And the sale is nowhere near as large as recent multi-billion arms packages negotiated between the U.S. and the Saudis or the Emiratis. Nonetheless, the symbolism matters.
At the moment the Saudis and Emiratis are compiling a list of demands for Qatar to meet as a condition for lifting the economic and diplomatic boycott. Otaiba on Tuesday told reporters this list would include things like expelling extremists; shutting down or reining in Qatari media operations that have been hostile to Gulf states; and implementing reforms to how the state tracks and counters terrorist financing. Otaiba expects the list of demands will be presented this week.
In other words, it's the worst possible moment to give the Qataris any reassurances. The kingdom will soon be asked to take dramatic steps to realign its foreign policy and no longer play both sides in the Arab's hot war on radical Islam and cold war against Iran. The F-15 deal could give Qatar the sense that it can defy its Gulf neighbors and still enjoy a good relationship with the U.S., despite Trump's own statements that he backs the Saudi position.
Reuters on Thursday quoted one Qatari official saying, "This is of course proof that U.S. institutions are with us, but we have never doubted that." Qatar's ambassador to the U.S. made sure to tweet out a photo of the signing ceremony Thursday, saying Qatar's purchase would create 60,000 new jobs in the U.S.
The U.S. relationship with Qatar has long been love-hate. The U.S. military relies on Qatar to host the al-Udeid Air Base, and in turn both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations have rarely criticized in public Qatar's hosting of extremists or lax regulations on terror financing. As I wrote this month, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Qatar briefed participants in a policy conference in Washington on progress Qatar has made in cracking down on terror financing, a view that is not shared by the Treasury Department or experts inside the intelligence community.
At the same time there is at least a chance to pressure the Qataris at this moment to make a course correction. That course correction could emulate the same kind of strategic decisions that the Saudis and Emiratis have made in the last decade with regards to groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida and other adherents to radical Islam. Today, the state at least has played a more active role in rolling up these networks and shutting down their financing than it did in the early 2000s.
Back then, the Saudis hosted telethons to support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood chapter that builds tunnels from Gaza into Israel for terror attacks and stockpiles crude rockets to launch into Jewish population centers. Today, the Saudis work closely in the shadows with Israel to fight against Iran and the Islamic State. Such a future is possible with Qatar as well -- with the right mix of sticks and carrots. That's why it's important at the moment for the U.S. to refrain from offering the Qataris any carrots when its neighbors have brandished sticks.
US allies including South Korea and Australia have recently complained that China is exerting pressure on them through economic means. China is the largest trading partner of South Korea and Australia, which have disputes with China over Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and the South China Sea issues, respectively.
Tillerson's remarks are surprising as the US is the very country that has openly used economic elements as a diplomatic weapon. The US is a typical country which has used the economic sanctions the most. A mere mention of economic sanctions will prompt people around the world to associate the concept with Washington.
The US has also forced other countries to align their actions with its economic sanctions against a certain target country or region. If a third country is lenient with that target economy, the US will threaten with sanctions on the third country. Currently, Washington and its allies have strongly urged China to enforce economic sanctions on North Korea and use the forcefulness of China's sanctions as a metric to judge Beijing morally.
Apart from frequent sanctions, the US has sought to legalize its economic sanctions on other countries. In other words, economic sanctions are the US' "standard weapons." Countries around the world that have faced economic sanctions by the US are numerous. Washington uses economic sanctions as freely as one fishes out small change from one's own pocket.
Despite being a trade and investment powerhouse, China has not developed a mode of diplomacy which seeks to use economic means to solve problems. First of all, China does not believe that economic sanctions can help resolve major diplomatic differences and we have seen many economic sanctions by the US prove to be futile. Furthermore, the principle of equality and reciprocity is deeply rooted among the Chinese people, and many Chinese people do not think that sanctions are options that can be put on table. Also, sanctions can always result in two-way losses, a fact which makes China wary of using sanctions as a weapon.
The Chinese government has never openly announced to impose economic sanctions on any country even if political conflicts cause damages to the economic and trade relations between China and a certain country. Beijing has never used the rhetoric of "sanction," which is hugely different from Washington. This reflects Beijing's restraint.
However, when major issues arise in political relations between countries, it is inevitable that the impact will spread to the economic arena. When South Korea decided to deploy THAAD, which invoked public outrage in China, it is natural that South Korea's tourism and entertainment industry would be impacted. It would be absurd if the Chinese government encourages Chinese tourists to travel to South Korea and Chinese viewers to watch South Korean TV soap operas at this moment. The ordinary people will not accept that.
The ordinary Chinese are both patriotic and practical. Market economy has advanced so much that China will not arbitrarily wage a trade war with another country. But if the actions of another country severely harm China's interest and spark public wrath, such wrath will become a catalyst for policy actions and economic revenge might ensue.
It is time for US allies in the Asia-Pacific region to take heed. Their alliance with the US cannot be used to harm China's core interest. If they accept China as their largest trading partner, they should show their due respect to their relations with China.
It is worth noting that China has never imposed "US-style sanctions" against any country. The actions China has taken are mostly aimed at expressing its discontent.
Washington's demand for Beijing to not "weaponize trade" is baffling and absurd. The double standard Washington applies to other countries can be well described by old Chinese sayings such as "The magistrates are free to burn down houses while the common people are forbidden even to light lamps," and "Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you."
Tillerson's remarks reflect the US' hypocrisy and arrogance as a country. Washington, please reflect on yourself!
Is the US still a model of democracy? That question, previously a far-fetched idea for many, is being asked more and more. It is the realization that Western democracy—even American democracy—can fall into chaos and undermine the international community’s goal of peace and development.
Even though China has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, the US has long been critical of China for its unique political system. China’s official argument is that the US elevates itself as a model of democracy in order to spread its interpretation of democracy to other countries in an attempt to make the world in its own image. Scholars who support the American narrative of exceptionalism have also called on China to be more like the West in terms of politics, arguing that China’s system is doomed to fail. “The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun,” US scholar David Shambaugh argued in a March 2015 article.
But what works in one country will not necessarily work in another. “Whether the shoes fit or not, only the wearer knows,” President Xi Jinping said on his first trip abroad as China’s top leader in March 2013. What Xi meant is that only the citizens of a country know if their country is on the right development path and the West has no right to force-feed its interpretation of democracy on other countries as a way to solve the world’s problems.
In reality, the so-called strength of Western democracy is a grand illusion. Research shows that Western democracy is always just one step away from tragedy. According to Yale University’s Timothy Snyder, the modern history of Western democracy is one of decline and fall and most democracies failed. There is also growing dissatisfaction with Western democracy itself, not just in America but around the world, according to published research by political scientists Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk. All this shows that Western democracy is not as secure as people may think and political chaos is the most likely outcome.
The chaos that ensued in the US presidential election of 2016 highlights the perils of Western democracy. In a People’s Daily commentary, Yuan Peng, vice president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, wrote that the election would be deemed the darkest and most chaotic in recent history. “It certainly will not be viewed as a victory of democracy,” Peng wrote. He then added: “The campaign has undeniably revealed the dark side of so-called democracy in the US.”
That chaos and uncertainty later became the norm in Washington. But whereas the presidential election revealed the dark side of Western democracy, growing political divisions under US President Donald Trump is perhaps evidence of something much more frightening: chaos in Washington is undermining US power and prestige in the eyes of people around the world.
Rising political chaos in the US has made people openly question the strength of Western democracy and the future role of the US. From the GOP's controversial plan to repeal and replace Obamacare which, if passed, would take away the right to health for 23 million Americans, mostly the poor and disabled; to mounting domestic scandals that could sap Washington’s ability to respond to challenges and opportunities alike; to the battle over Trump’s controversial Muslim travel ban; to the kidnapping of the global climate agenda, the selfish and irresponsible actions coming out of Washington make a solid case for why nations of the world should step up efforts to advance the democratization of international relations.
As Xi said in his speech, the fate of the world depends on all peoples and every single country has a responsible role to play. The importance of advancing democracy in international affairs is perhaps nowhere more evident than with global climate change, an issue that the former US president described as the kind of challenge that is big enough to remind us that we are all in this together, but which Trump threw under the bus. If there is a lesson to be learned from the chaos in Washington, it is that while Western democracy has its strengths, it also has its flaws, and a more balanced and equitable international order is much needed.
Germany and Austria criticized a US bill proposing new anti-Russian sanctions that target the energy sector. In an interview with Radio Sputnik, Russian economic expert Sergei Pravosudov noted that the new package of sanctions directly threatens the economic interests of European countries.
New sanctions imposed on Russia by the US will certainly make relations between the countries worse, but will hardly leave Russia hamstrung, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
“Of course, it remains to be seen what it leads to in the end. But whatever happens, whatever decisions they take across the ocean, it will not bring us to a dead end,” the president told Vesti on a Saturday program.
Putin was referring to the US Senate’s approval of an amendment to an anti-Iran bill that would prevent US President Donald Trump from lifting current anti-Russian sanctions without congressional authorization and also impose new broad ones.
If Washington does implement the new sanctions, the Russian government “will probably have to make some policy corrections and take some new measures,” Putin said, adding that this will in no way lead the country “to some sort of a collapse.”
“This will certainly make Russian-American relations more difficult. I believe it to be harmful,” he added.
Earlier, several European countries, including Germany, France and Austria, voiced concern over the newly proposed sanctions, which could potentially affect European companies working with Russia on joint energy projects, such as the NordStream 2 gas pipeline.
“We generally reject sanctions with extra-territorial effects, meaning an impact on third countries,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told the media on Friday.
The US is currently investing heavily into costly liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure, which would allow it to deliver natural gas to the European market more easily. The product would compete directly with Russian-supplied gas, so undermining construction of the pipeline would give American producers an advantage in fighting for a bigger share of the European market.
At least seven US troops were injured when an Afghan soldier opened fire at a military base in northern Afghanistan. The incident comes as the US is expected to deploy an additional 4,000 troops to the war-torn country.
US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan confirmed Saturday that American soldiers had been wounded in "an incident" at Camp Shaheen close to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in the Balkh province.
"At this time we can confirm there are no US or NATO Resolute Support fatalities," a coalition spokesman said in a brief statement. "US soldiers have been wounded. One Afghan soldier was killed and one was wounded in the incident."
Afghan officials also confirmed the attack and that the attacker had been shot dead.
The German military heads the multinational advising mission based in Mazar-i-Sharif. A German spokeswoman at the joint mission command in Potsdam said "according to what we know right now, no Germans were affected."
In a statement, the Taliban praised the "patriotic Afghan soldier" for the assault, but the group did not claim responsibility for the attack.
Additional US troops to Afghanistan
The so-called "green-on-blue" attacks, in which Afghan soldiers have turned their weapons on international forces training them, have been a major problem for NATO in Afghanistan.
The incident comes as the Pentagon is getting ready to send some 4,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan.
The latest wave of US troops will mainly be deployed to train and advise Afghan forces, following warnings by top US commanders in the region that the local military was facing a resurgent Taliban and a rising threat posed by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) jihadi group.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Friday said it was for the ‘first time’ that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been made accountable and presented before the court.
Bilawal was replying to a statement reportedly made by Sharif before the joint investigation team (JIT) on Thursday that it was not the first time he was being held accountable as in 1972 such an event had taken place.
“It was not accountability, only nationalisation,” said Bilawal, while addressing party workers at the residence of PPP Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa President Humayun Khan. “Nawaz Sharif is misleading the public by saying that he was also made accountable in 1972 because at that time he was not even in politics,” he said.
The PPP chairman accused the Sharif family of looting the country for years and never making themselves accountable to the public. “Mian Sahib you would consider it against your stature to present yourself before the court,” he said.
Calling the current leadership incapable of rescuing the country from the current ‘gigantic’ challenges, he said, “They only know how to expand their own wealth.”
He took the government to task for labelling the people protesting against power outages as thieves, and said, “Mian Sahib you are a thief as you are not even giving the people net hydel profit. Sindh is not getting its share in natural gas, the National Finance Commission Award is not being provided while small provinces still have reservations over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).” Bilawal claimed that it was his party that had envisioned the CPEC for the people of K-P and Balochistan “as they have sacrificed for the peace of the country”.
He supported a demand from the families of the Army Public School victims for a judicial commission to probe the tragedy in which 141 people, including 132 children, were killed by terrorists.
Criticising the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for not arresting the killers of Mashal Khan, he said, “Mashal’s father told me today [Friday] that his family is being threatened.”
He said his party would always stand by Mashal’s family and strive to provide them justice. The PPP would also arrange a seminar to discuss the brutal murder of Mashal, he added.
“I am really impressed by how the young doctors are struggling for their rights. They are struggling to stop the privatisation of national hospitals. They are struggling to provide best healthcare facilities to the public,” said the PPP chairman during his address to the gathering. “We are with you in your war for rights,” he assured the young doctors.
The Young Doctors Association, which has set up a protest camp, also met Bilawal and told him about their issues. He praised the young doctors for maintaining democratic norms.
Talking about Imran Khan, Bilawal said his change was limited to twitter. “There is no peace, no basic human rights and no justice for the poor … Imran Khan you are lying, you are misleading the public with false propaganda,” he said.
Regarding the next general election, he announced party conventions to be held at the divisional level to revive the party at the grass-root level. He also announced release of the PPP manifesto after Eidul Fitr.
“The PPP is united … we will stand and fight the election with full unity,” he declared, asking the party workers and leaders at the divisional level to prepare for mobilising the people for the next general elections.
And speaking in Karachi, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah said the government was mounting pressure on the judiciary to get a decision in favour of the prime minister and his family in the Panamagate case.
“Since the Panamagate case initiated and the JIT started its proceedings, a federal minister and the PML-N leadership started threatening judges, which is a condemnable act,” Khursheed told newsmen outside the Sindh Assembly on Friday.
“The prime minister should have resigned till the time the JIT had finalised its probe and the apex court had announced its decision,” he said.
When asked about the statement of Qatari prince, he said, “The Qatari prince should come to Pakistan to record his statement and it should not be the other way around.”
He reiterated that apparently the prime minister was no longer sadiq (truthful) and amin (trustworthy) because he had lost his credibility from day one when he, along with his family, was implicated in the Panamagate case. “The prime minister is talking about appearing in court. If he is trustworthy then I would suggest him to dissolve the assembly and present himself in the court of the people,” he said. “If I were the prime minister, I would tender my resignation till the investigation into the Panamagate case was completed.”
“If it had been the PPP government instead of PML-N’s, then its prime minister would have landed in jail. All actions are against the PPP,” he said.
Talking about the Sindh government’s performance, the opposition leader said that many development schemes had been initiated in various districts of Sindh, and the PPP had broken all past records in carrying out development work.
It has become almost a norm for Balochistan to make it to the headlines during every regional crises situation in the last so many decades. Afghanistan was accused by Pakistan for supporting Baloch nationalist uprisings that started in 1973 after the unconstitutional dissolution of the elected provincial government of Baloch nationalists by the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto led federal government of Pakistan at the behest of King Reza Shah of Iran.
In December 1980 the news of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was immediately followed by news commentaries and analysis about “Soviet designs” in Balochistan.
In 1981 Selig Harrison, the known US expert on Asian nationalist movements, wrote a book ‘In Afghanistan’s shadow: Baluch nationalism and Soviet temptations’. Many more news and comments appeared in the press on the subject throughout the 1980s.
This line of reasoning was used as one of the main justifications for supporting an armed Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion. Pakistan has been blaming Afghanistan and India for supporting Baloch nationalists fighting for separation from Pakistan while the western and eastern neighbours blame Pakistan for fighting undeclared wars against them. In fact the Narendra Modi government in India has taken a public position on supporting Baloch separatism after the deterioration of relations between the two neighboring countries.
Hostile intelligence agencies of the other states might be playing tit-for-tat games with Pakistan or following their own agendas for destabilising Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that all is not well inside Balochistan. Military action against the longest and most widespread Baloch nationalist insurgency (the fourth one during the last 70 years) has been going on since 2005 with some brief intervals. There are long lists of Baloch missing persons and dead bodies dumped in the streets. Efforts for a political solution during 2014-15 to end the bloodshed fizzled out.
As if this wasn’t enough the presence of the leadership of Afghan Taliban near Quetta, the capital of Balochistan is an open secret (Mulla Akhtar Mansoor was taken out by a US drone in 2015 in Balochistan). Sectarian terrorists, particularly LeJ, have been busy in indiscriminate killing of Shia Hazaras in the province for the last so many years and anti-Iran militant organisations like Jandullah and Jaishul Adl have been active in the border areas leading to deepening tensions between Pakistan and Iran.
Last but not the least, Balochistan is in the news for its significance in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as the proposed trade route links Gwadar seaport in Balochistan to Xinjiang in western China.
Now fast forward to the possible fall out of the current West Asian crisis for Baloch people in the region. When Saudi-led and US and Israeli supported anti-Iran coalition talk about taking the war into Iran, they may be thinking of opening three fronts.
The first front is sectarian that implies using the Shia-Sunni divide in a predominantly Shia country where the Sunni population faces discrimination at the hands of theocratic government dominated by Shia clergy. The second one is ethnic where alienation among non-Persian ethnic groups such as Arabs, Kurds, Baloch, Azeris, Turkamens and other minorities can be used for destabilizing Iran. The third one is using radical opposition political groups struggling against the system of oppressive theocracy. The last front may not be very effective because not many Iranians would be inclined to support a regime change in their own country with the help of hostile foreign countries. Moreover Saudi monarchy and other Arab sheikhdoms are equally oppressive and anti-democratic if not more than the Islamic Republic of Iran. So the focus is expected to remain on the sectarian and ethnic fronts that in many cases also overlap with each other.
The Baloch figure prominently as an ethnic factor in the region as like Kurds they are divided in many states and they have a history of fighting for autonomy/separation. There is consensus among experts that the majority of Baloch people live in Balochistan province of Pakistan, although they are there in Iranian Siestan-Balochistan and western provinces of Afghanistan like Neemroz, Farah and in some other areas. There are widespread Baloch communities in Gulf countries (many of them working in armies). There are also small pockets of Baloch population in some Central Asian Republics. Actually some Baloch nationalists challenge the name Persian Gulf or Arab Gulf because from Karachi to Chahbahar and beyond the coastline is mostly populated by Baloch.
So they claim that the proper name for the area would be Baloch Gulf!
If past experience is anything to go by, Saudi money is expected to go to hardcore Sunni extremists. As pointed out earlier there are anti-Shia Sunni extremist/anti-Iran organisations active in Balochistan. Even Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the new name of proscribed Lashkar-e-Taiba) is openly working in Balochistan for “safeguarding the country’s integrity”. Money pouring in from Gulf countries to religious seminaries and mosques has helped the expansion of Salfism and Wahabism among the aforementioned Sunni extremists.
Unfortunately promoting religious extremism and militancy has been regarded as a “nation building “ strategy in post Zia-ul-Haq Pakistan by the military dominated Punjabi ruling elites. This strategy is expected to weaken if not completely deconstruct ethnic and historical identities that are the basis for the demands for federalism and provincial autonomy.
Project Taliban focuses on Pashtuns. But there are also similar strategies for Baloch and Sindhis.
The Baloch youth from the Brahvi speaking belt who are recruited in LeJ are killing Shias but they can also be unleashed on Baloch nationalists on the pattern of Taliban’s anti-Pashtun nationalist drive. The combination of Saudi money with Pakistani “nation building” can be lethal not only for Balochistan but also for the entire region.
But then the Iranians will also not be sitting idle. They are capable of reaching out to Baloch separatists on the Pakistani side and they will not be alone in it. India is already publicly committed to support Baloch separatism. An antagonizsed Afghanistan can team up with them.
With the induction of so many players Balochistan, which is already bleeding, can become a hell. The ensuing bloodshed can take Baloch, a comparatively small population, to the verge of extinction. But what will be the future of CPEC in such a situation? Will Pakistan only depend on the policy of “ shooting our way through” ( as she did in East Pakistan) or adopt some political sophistication for finding political solutions? PM Nawaz Sharif has simply forgotten the promise he made on December 24, 2014 for convening an APC on Balochistan.
But at the moment he is in survival mode and has no time for devising national political strategies.