Sunday, November 12, 2017
Iona Craig in Aden, Sana’a, Taiz and Hodeidah
Iona Craig reports from Yemen where aid agencies cannot get vital shipments into the war-torn country already gripped by cholera outbreak.
Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition. Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the world’s worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows.
Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.
Less than 45% of the country’s medical facilities are still operating – most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015.
More than 200 miles away in the southern governorate of Lahij, territory under the control of the coalition, more emaciated children lie listless, gasping for every breath.
These scenes are replicated in therapeutic feeding centres in the capital, Sana’a, and at the heart of the conflict-ravaged city of Taiz. There in the shadows of a single incandescent bulb, what appears to be a blanket bundled into a dark corner is in fact three month-old Elias Basem, who has spent 20 days of his short life being treated for severe malnutrition.
Aid agencies are now warning that Yemen’s already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a “nightmare scenario” if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the country’s land, sea and air ports – a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh’s international airport this month.
United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country. More than 20 million Yemenis – over 70% of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked.
Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims”. The conflict in Yemen is between Houthi rebels controlling the capital Sana’a, who are allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to another president, the ousted Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a military intervention to counter the advance of the Iran-allied Houthis, with the ultimate aim of reinstating Hadi.
With regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia escalating, Yemen is trapped in the middle of a proxy war in addition to its own internal power struggle. The UK has also been criticised for selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite the high casualty rate of its US-backed airstrikes in Yemen.
In Aden, where Hadi and his government ostensibly rule, parents and children from surrounding governorates crowd the feeding centre in Al-Sadaqa hospital. Aisha was 21 months old but weighed just 7lbs – half the healthy weight of a baby her age – when she arrived at the hospital, her second admission in three months. Across the corridor, two year-old Shohud Hussein, weighing 11lbs, stares vacuously into the middle distance. “Hungry children don’t smile. She’s been here a whole month and hasn’t smiled,” said Dr Aida al-Sadeeq.
In Sana’a, Nor Rashid sold her family’s cow to pay for the transport costs to get her four year-old daughter, who weighs 16lbs, to the city’s feeding centre in Al-Sabaeen hospital. She has other children who are also sick but she cannot afford to pay for the medical care if she brings them in for treatment too. “It’s because of the lack of government wages,” she said. “Usually we go to the person in the village with a wage to ask for help and borrow money if someone needs to go to the hospital. But since the wages stopped we have no support.”
In Al-Thawra, employees grab the sleeve of the hospital’s director, Dr Khaled Suhail, begging him for money as he navigates the teeming therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children. Government salaries have gone unpaid for more than a year, and the hospital now runs on the goodwill of its doctors, nurses and administrative staff. Suhail clutches the hand of an elderly maintenance man in charge of the hospital’s oxygen tanks as he pleads for cash. “If I had anything to give you, you know I would. But there is nothing,” he says.
Saudi officials have repeatedly claimed that there is no hunger crisis in southern Yemen, where local forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, a coalition partner, largely hold power. According the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, however, Lahij is the most food-insecure governorate in the country. It is ranked at level four, while level five denotes full-blown famine.
In the markets of both Hodeidah and Lahij, food is plentiful. Stalls bulge with fresh fruit and vegetables and traders offer sacks of flour and beans. The only shortage is the customers, who cannot afford to eat. In Hodeidah, the price of a 50kg bag of flour has risen from a pre-war 5,500 Yemeni rial to 7,600 YR. “Fruit and vegetables are a luxury like meat used to be,” said Arafat Zayed, who came to buy three kilos of flour, when he would have bought 50 to feed his family of five children before the war.
In addition to the hunger crisis, Yemen has seen the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded, with more than 900,000 suspected cases and over 2,190 deaths. Although numbers keep rising, in September the rate of infection began to ease, largely due to the response by aid agencies who set up cholera treatment centres in towns and cities around the country. But the advances could be short-lived if restrictions on aid continue. “If the closure is not stopped in the coming days, we may see that the progress is stopped,” said the World Health Organisation’s spokeswoman in Geneva last week. A Red Cross shipment of chlorine tablets, used for the prevention of cholera, remained stuck for the fifth day on Sunday on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen. Without the free cholera treatment and essential humanitarian aid, international agencies warn that many more Yemeni children like Abdulaziz will suffer.
“We are weak, our children are weak and we have nothing left to give. We can’t even feed our animals anymore” said Nor Rashid as she cradled her daughter. “Only God can save us now.”
By Afrasiab Khattak
Extraordinary prolongation of the simmering coup against the PML (N) government has been painful for the entire country but it has been particularly excruciating for the capital city Islamabad. Characters change in this live and ruthless political drama serial but signature of the deep state as director remains constant. The latter is reflected in success of the demonstrators involved in many onslaughts on Capital in reaching D Chowk and Red Zone, the nerve center of the capital. More than once buildings regarded as monuments of state power including Parliament House, Supreme Court, President House, Prime Minister House and national radio and television centers have been threatened by the physical invasions of rebellious crowds. But ultimate price was payed by common citizens who had to live like prisoners during the siege for days ( in 2014 for many months). Yesterday’s siege, the latest one on the call of religious fanatics belonging to Sunni Tehreek and Labaika, was no exception. Actually day before yesterday a child Hassan Bilal died on the road as he couldn’t reach hospital in time due to roadblocks. By now the creeping coup is in such an advanced stage that the interior ministry seems to have lost control of the capital. Capitol police which is notorious for thrashing ordinary protesters like the ones belonging to slums, supporters of FATA Reforms or students of QAU, is in no mood to confront the putschists. During the last three days capital police was seen facilitating the march of fanatics on Islamabad. The only strategy that they are left with is containerization of Islamabad which again is a nuisance for ordinary citizens and is no way effective in blocking the path of religious extremists.
It all started in the middle of 2014. The completion of constitutional term by elected assemblies in 2013 for the first time in the country’s political history and smooth and peaceful transfer of power after general elections was regarded by all and sundry as an important milestone in democratic development. But the anti democratic forces were ready with a plan to arrest and reverse the aforementioned development. Putting Islamabad under siege has been an important element of this strategy. I vividly remember the opening episode of the series that was to continue and to be repeated again and again. On May 23 2014 three opposition Senators ( Ietezaz Ahsan, Raza Rabani and myself) were addressing a press conference inside the Parliament House about anti terrorism legislation when a few hundreds Sikh demonstrators forced their way into Parliament House with sticks in their hands and slogans on their lips. They were apparently protesting against an alleged sacrilege of their holy book in Karachi a few days ago. Some Parliamentarians engaged the Sikh demonstrators and assured them of their full support in demanding an investigation into the incident which was focus of their protest. Mysteriously and all of a sudden the police aggressively stepped ahead to beat the Sikh protestors inside the Parliament House but the Parliamentarians determinedly intervened to block the police action. After a few days of investigation it became clear that the Sikh march on Parliament was scripted by invisible forces with two aims. One, after three days ( on May 26) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to visit India for participating in the swearing in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narindra Modi. The beating of Sikh protesters inside Pakistani Parliament was expected to lead to a public controversy between the two countries with potential for vitiating political atmosphere ending in the cancellation of the visit. Two, the Sikh march on the read zone and Parliament in Islamabad was a full dress rehearsal for another scripted march ( led by Imran Khan and TuQ) in the third week of of August 2014. It is interesting to recall that after entering the Red Zone Imran Khan had publicly claimed that since the son of Inspector General of Islamabad police was a member of his party, his father ( IGP Islamabad) had to allow entry to his rally into the sensitive area. Was he so naive to say such a thing or was it a camouflage for the “ umpire” ? After that Imran Khan led PTI and religious extremists have been taking turns in laying siege to Islamabad. Every siege has been leading to the weakening of civilian control over state system and shifting of the decision making powers from Islamabad to Rawalpindi. The open retreat by the interior minister in a confrontation with an officer of Rangers very recently is a vivid manifestation of this fact.
Unfortunately the ruling party hasn’t been able to develop any political strategy to meet this challenge beyond putting up some passive resistance. It has failed to rectify its blunder of sidelining and weakening the Parliament. PML ( N) could have gone back to Parliament recognizing its status as heart of the system along with mass mobilization in the Punjab. It has also waited for the political polarization to be be completed before reaching out to other political parties. But even then nothing can be more ironical than blaming Nawaz Sharif for confrontation with security establishment. His party has been quite meek and docile in the face of an unfolding coup. They thought their docility will enable them to complete the term and go for general elections in next year’s summer after reelecting half of the Senate in second week of March 2018. But the fresh onslaught on Islamabad indicates aggressive mood of the putschists who are hell bent on dissolution of assemblies before the expiry of the constitutional term.
This time round there is a wide net thrown for the success of the creeping coup. Apparently corruption charges is the main front that is magnified by two instruments, first by twenty four hours propaganda of the electronic media and second by the supersonic speed and clearly biased attitude of the Supreme Court. This aggressive propaganda also comes handy in keeping real issue such as the challenges of extremism, terrorism and growing international isolation of the country out of political discourse. There is almost no political debate about appeasement of “ good Taliban”. Than there is weaponized religious card. Extremist militant organizations are attacking government in bye elections and protest marches. They are also effective in taking care of independent critics of military’s policies. The so called mainstreaming of militant organizations epitomizes reverse progression of NAP. Paralysis of Islamabad may be aimed at overthrowing the sitting government but it can have unintended consequences for Pakistan. Some lessons can be learnt from recent examples in the Middle East and North Africa.
For three days a few hundred supporters from hardline religious groups – led by the Tehreek-e-Labaik Yah Rasool Allah Pakistan and Sunni Tehreek Pakistan – have been at the Faizabad Interchange, bringing the cities to a standstill. While the right to congregate and protest is one given to each citizen, the words and actions of these men have been a litany of crimes and lawlessness which should draw swift and strong condemnation from every corner of the political spectrum – but only silence rings from the halls of the civil-military leadership.
Let’s start with the words; the objective of the “protest” is to remove Law Minister Zahid Hamid for allegedly being responsible for the change in the Nabuwat clauses. However the message is far more dangerous; these clerics openly preach hatred against minorities, propagate incidents of vigilante murder based of their own twisted interpretation of Islam and perhaps most despicably; have threated the children of state ministers with violence if their demands are not met. These men claim to love the Prophet, but they love his message of peace a lot less.
If there violent vitriol wasn’t enough to convince us that these men are mere hooligans with a trumped up religio-political cause, there actions leave very little to the imagination. In the three days they have been here – in willful violation of the government’s law, which only allow mass protests in limited places - the clerics have kidnapped and held policemen hostage, attacked media teams, harassed local residents, clashed with security, blocked an ambulance leading to the death of a child, and have been involved in some good old fashioned vandalism.
Where are the condemnations? Where is the action? It is plain to see that this gaggle of men want to provoke a clash that feeds publicity, and the government has done well to avoid engaging with them on violent terms. However a time must come when this travesty must be forcibly stopped.
Furthermore, nothing prevents them from speaking out against this appalling behavior and the toxic cause that is being propagated. The military and government have very vocal about their commitment to tackle religious extremism and protect minorities, but when the time to act comes; both slip away into the night.
While these clerics were openly threatening children, the Chief of Army Staff and the Prime Minister stood for photo-ops at the Line of Control, pledging to defend the country from foreign aggression and terrorists – yet not a word against the terrorists sitting inside the capital.
Pakistan - PPP to stage sit-in outside victim girl’s house, teenage girl was forced to walk naked in the streets
Pakistan People’s Party Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Women Wing slammed the shocking incident of Dera Ismail Khan where a teenage girl was forced to walk naked in the streets, and announced to stage a sit-in outside the residence of the victim until Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan visits her house .
The PPP KP Women Wing President and Member KP Assembly Nighat Orakzai said while speaking at a news conference at Peshawar Press Club on Saturday that the dignity of women was not protected in D.I. Khan. She alleged that influential elements and lawmakers were supporting such disgraceful and inhuman incidents in the far-flung areas of the country.
She said that a 14-year old girl was forced to walk naked in the streets of a D.I. Khan village at the behest of influential people on account of family feud, but unfortunately the law did not come into action against the perpetrators and central actors of the gory incident.
Orakzai criticised the KP Assembly women caucus, KP Commission on the Status of Women and women rights’ organisations for their failure to reacting to the incident. She said that it was ironical that the influential people had lodged an FIR against the victim’s brother so that the family could be pressurised.
The MPA further said that local police also skirted the requests by the aggrieved family; however, she added, when the report surfaced on mainstream and social media, only then an FIR was lodged against five suspects. The PPP legislator said that the arrest of seven suspects involved in the incident was not sufficient to give justice to the affected family.
She demanded the arrest of main actors, including PTI local leader Ali Amin Gandapur for his alleged involvement in protecting the perpetrators. Media reports said that the PPP MPA also stressed for immediately arresting Gandapur for allegedly patronising the suspects.
Orakzai also termed the KP Assembly as a rubber stump, wherein, she said, laws were only passed while their implementation was next to nil.
She said that such incidents would not happen if relevant laws were enforced as per its true spirit in the province. She asked the PTI Chairman Imran Khan to spare some time from his luxurious life and visit the affected family.
Orakzai also criticised JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rahman over his ‘criminal’ silence on the incident that took place in his native district. Similarly, she also came hard on Jamaat-e-Islami cheif Senator Sirajul Haq for not giving any reaction over the shocking incident. The PPP lawmaker said that Imran used abusive language while his team was involved in immoral and inhuman activities in the province, adding that the incumbent PTI-led KP government had ruined the province wherein, she said, no facility of health and education was available to the poor masses.
Orakzai said that PPP Women Wing had decided to visit the victim’s family in DI Khan and stage a protest sit-in outside the residence of the girl .
The Germanwatch think tank says in its latest climate risk report that Pakistan is the world's seventh most vulnerable country to climate change. In a DW interview, expert Tariq Banuri explains the reasons behind this.
DW: Experts link Pakistan's water shortage to mismanagement, but is there also a connection between the country's water crisis and climate change?
Tariq Banuri: Pakistan has witnessed a number of floods in the past several years, and long spells of drought which, experts believe, are a result of climate change. Pakistan's rain pattern is already that of high magnitude and low frequency, which means we have more rain but for a shorter time, which does not help percolation and raise the ground water level. So, climate change is causing longer spells of drought, which is complicating our water scarcity problem.
But climate change is not the sole cause of water scarcity; exponential population growth is also contributing to this crisis. For instance, at the time of Pakistan's independence in 1947, the population was low, and therefore the per capita water availability was more than 5,000 cubic meters per person per day, which made Pakistan a water-abundant country at the time. But today, it has fallen below 1,000 cubic meters per person, which is why we say that Pakistan is a water-scarce country.
In future, though, climate change will make matters worse in a number of ways. First, as mentioned above, the total quantity of water is likely to decline, thus increasing the scarcity level. Second, the water availability will become more erratic, thus increasing uncertainty and seasonal stresses and strains. Third, the increased temperatures will reduce water availability further because of higher evaporation rates while increasing crop water requirements and other water demands.
Does that mean that climate change is triggering droughts in some parts of the country?
Pakistan has already experienced severe droughts in its southern region (especially Tharparkar in Sindh province) in 1998-2002 and 2014-17. It will most likely intensify because of the climate change, which threatens the situation in a number of ways.
First, if glaciers continue to decline, the contribution of snow and glacier melt will ultimately decrease. Second, climate change will also affect the monsoon patterns (although current projections do not show systematic changes in this regard). Third, the higher temperatures throughout the country will increase water demand as well as evaporation. All three factors are likely to contribute to an increased frequency of droughts.
But there are contradictory reports about the melting of glaciers in Pakistan. What is your take on this?
The Indus Basin System is fed by glaciers from three interconnected mountain ranges, namely the Himalayas, the Karakorum and the Hindukush. Of the three (also known as the HKH region), the glaciers in the Himalayas and the Hindukush are melting, similar to those in the rest of the world. The Karakorum, however, appears to be behaving in an anomalous manner; for example, some glaciers are stable, others are melting, and some even appear to be increasing. This has puzzled scientists because no one expects glaciers to remain stable when temperatures rise.
Experts say that climate change is also changing the rain pattern in Pakistan. How will it impact the water crisis in Pakistan in the coming years?
This is a rather complex question. There will be lower rainfall in some areas and higher in others. Also, rainfall may become more concentrated, more intense for a short period.
Some experts say that Pakistan is likely to "dry up" by 2025. Do you agree with this assessment?
"Dry up" is a sensational phrase that scientists prefer not to use. As I said earlier, the recent trends suggest that aggregate water flows may have declined a little bit, but we are not sure whether this is temporary or permanent. In future, most projections show a declining trend and an increased variability of the flows. Most projections look at the next 50 or 75 years, rather than the next 10 years. The most urgent problem in Pakistan in this regard is population growth, which reduces the average water availability every day.
Climate change will make it much worse. So, we advise that the authorities control population growth, carry out forestation and vegetation that helps percolation and in-filling of natural aquifer that serves as our water storage facility.
Does Pakistan's development policy take climate change into account?
Pakistan needs to have a development strategy that draws benefits from the direction in which the world economy is moving, so that we are not left behind while everyone else makes a successful transition to a low carbon economy.
At least three security personnel and two civilian were injured in a blast in Bannu, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Express News on Sunday.
According to initial reports, the bomb was planted in a motorcycle parked along the road which went off as soon as the vehicle of the security personnel approached it.
According to sources, the security forces’ convoy was coming from North Waziristan Agency which came under attack near Noral area. Security forces have thrown a cordon around the area while rescue services have also reached the scene.
Last month, two security personnel suffered minor wounds when their vehicle was targeted using two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the Shorko area of Lower Kurram Agency.
The vehicle was carrying supplies for a check-post in Kurram Agency.
By Madeeha Anwar
Mansoor was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province in May 2016 when he was reportedly returning from a visit to neighboring Iran.
Both his Pakistani passport and ID card were recovered near his car, which was destroyed in the drone strike. Mansoor was using the alias Wali Muhammad to avoid being tracked by authorities.
Screenshots taken of his documents went viral on social media and raised questions in the local and international media as to how the Afghan insurgent leader managed to get a legitimate Pakistani passport.
Source of official passport
Critics at the time were arguing that there must have been people within the Pakistani establishment who helped Mansoor get the official document.
Pakistan Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal recently acknowledged in a letter to the country’s parliament that Mansoor was using a genuine Pakistani passport provided by the country’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), a government entity responsible for issuing identification documents to Pakistani citizens. “NADRA has conducted a departmental inquiry to unearth involvement of its officials in the issuance of fake CNIC (Computerized National ID Card) to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor with the name of Wali Muhammad s/o Shah Muhammad,” Iqbal wrote to the parliament.
The government said it dismissed at least three NADRA employees after an investigation established their involvement in issuing travel documents to the Afghan insurgent leader.
Some in Pakistan have likened Mansoor’s passport issue to an administrative glitch or a corruption case.
“Until and unless the government will take strong measurements against corruption and those involved in it, these incidents will remain unavoidable,” Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based analyst, told VOA.
Farhat Ullah Babar, a prominent lawmaker and member of the Pakistan Peoples Party, cited the government’s incompetence in Mansoor getting a Pakistani passport.
Babar said the government’s response to parliament is inadequate.
“It is our absolute right to know about the loopholes that allowed a national security organization to issue Pakistani documents to a terror chief,” he told VOA.
“The nation needs to know what has been done to the culprits involved in this heinous crime. Let me tell you, nothing, absolutely nothing,” Babar said.
Some critics argue that NADRA follows a very strict verification procedure, and no one can be issued a fake national identity card without an insider’s help.
Taliban safe haven
Afghan officials said that Mansoor’s ability to get a Pakistani passport points to ties the insurgent group has with elements inside Pakistan’s military establishment.
Pakistani officials have rejected the Afghan government’s allegations and said Taliban neither have support nor safe havens inside Pakistan. They said Taliban control large swaths of areas inside Afghanistan and operate from there.
While Taliban do control certain districts in Afghanistan, according to a new report published by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Kabul and Washington maintain Taliban leadership still enjoys safe havens in Pakistan.
Talking to VOA this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells reiterated U.S. calls for Pakistan to crack down on militants and avoid selective actions against militants in the country.
“We would like to see the same commitment that Pakistan brought in 2014 to the fight against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan; that same strategic commitment to the other militant proxy groups who take advantage of Pakistan territory,” Wells told VOA.
U.S. Army General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, said Thursday that Pakistan has not changed its behaviors since August, when U.S. President Donald Trump announced his new U.S. strategy that called on Pakistan to do more to stop militant sanctuaries in the country.
“No, I haven’t seen any change yet in their [Pakistan] behavior,” Nicholson told reporters following a meeting of the NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
“They could put pressure on the enemy, but if they allow the enemy to regenerate and allow their safe havens in Pakistan, then we will have another tough year ahead of us,” Nicholson warned, while talking to VOA at the end of the NATO meeting in Brussels.