Friday, December 8, 2017

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Saudi Arabia’s Leader Spent $450 Million On A Painting. Here’s What That Could Do For Victims Of His War In Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman, secretly spent $450.3 million on a Leonardo da Vinci painting last month, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Thursday based on U.S. government intelligence and an interview with a top Middle East figure in the art world.
The Journal noted that news of the prince’s purchase ― the highest ever in an art-world auction ― damages his claim that he will impose more transparency on the money accumulated by various members of the sprawling Saudi royal family. It suggests a huge amount of hidden wealth and, damningly for a man whose supporters paint him as a populist, excess.
Above all, it throws into stark relief the way the oil-rich monarchy continues to spend on luxuries while it pummels neighboring Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world.
The New York Times corroborated the Journal story independently on Thursday. While the Saudi Embassy in Washington and the government of Abu Dhabi ― where the painting is to be displayed ― disputed that the crown prince was behind the purchase, and said a friend of his bought the piece on behalf of Abu Dhabi, the Financial Times later reported that the Saudi leadership bought the artwork as a gift for the Abu Dhabi government, a close regional partner.
The Yemen intervention is the chief product of the bond between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Pioneered by Mohammed in his capacity as defense minister, the U.S.-backed and Saudi-led campaign has now lasted more than two-and-a-half years and claimed thousands of civilian lives, many of them children, while causing the some of the worst starvation and disease crises in the world.
The Saudi-UAE coalition has caused significantly more pain there since Nov. 4, with the tightening of the blockade on the entry of shipments to Yemen. That action was taken in response to a missile strike over Riyadh launched by the Iranian-aligned Yemeni Houthi rebels they’re fighting, which Saudi officials say was a result of Iranian weapons transfers.
World leaders and humanitarian groups have urged the kingdom to ease the restrictions so food, fuel, medicine and other aid can get in ― so far to no avail. President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of the Saudi leadership, joined the chorus on Wednesday with a surprise statement calling for complete aid access “immediately.”
“The past month’s escalation has killed thousands and condemned thousands more to die in the near future,” Oxfam America said in a statement Wednesday. “Millions will die in a historic famine and public health crisis if President Trump’s call is not heeded.”
Given the unprecedented suffering in Yemen ― and the failure of countries involved like Saudi Arabia, the U.S., the U.A.E. and Iran to fully supply the close to 21 million people there who are in need ― the hundreds of millions of Saudi dollars spent on the painting could perhaps have been put to better use. Here’s a few examples of the impact that money could have had:
Every single one of those people in need could be fed for more than 5 weeks. (Oxfam told HuffPost it estimates that the cost of feeding one person in Yemen for one week is $4.)
Every single family in need in Yemen could receive a sanitation kit that would help protect them from the huge outbreak of cholera, a vicious waterborne disease that was far less common before the outbreak of the war. (One kit to help a family costs $23, Oxfam said; around 3.5 million families are in need, so the total cost would be $80.5 million.) $450,000 spent over a year in a United Nations-managed project helped more than 12,800 people receive mattresses, blankets, gas stoves, buckets and emergency food rations. Those provisions could be supplied many times over. For the price of the painting and a yacht the prince bought last year, he could have filled the gap in the U.N.’s emergency plan for Yemen, journalist Samuel Oakford noted on Twitter. Saudi Arabia does fund significant relief for Yemen, and its officials note that it has accepted hundreds of Yemenis displaced by the fighting.
But experts say peace is nowhere in sight and that there’s little sign of any serious talks to end the conflict between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed international government.
In the meantime, as the Saudi-led campaign continues to drop bombs and block access to sea and airports, Yemen’s desperation continues to grow.

Israel TV: Saudi Arabia, Egypt gave Trump green light regarding Jerusalem

Israel’s News 10 said Saudi Arabia and Egypt gave US President Donald Trump the go ahead to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.
The channel said the Arab parties’ reactions and condemnations are not genuine and are misleading.
Israeli journalist and head of the Arab desk at the news channel, Zvi Yehezkeli stressed that the announcement could not have been made without coordination between Trump and his regional allies.
“I am not sure about the Arab countries’ reactions to this resolution,” Yehezkeli said, adding that the responses issued so far were not serious.
On Wednesday, the US President Donald Trump announced his decision to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s new capital adding that the American embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
World leaders, from Europe to the Middle East to Australia, slammed the decision as a “unilateral and outside the vision of a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” warning of “heightened tensions or even violence across the Middle East.”

Pashto Music - Sok Yam | Rahman Baba | Sardar Ali Takkar | څوک يم؟ | رحمان بابا | سردار علي ټکر

‘We Must Protect Our Girls.’ Will #Pakistan Finally Vote to End Child Marriage?


 Aisha was 14 years old when she married a man almost a decade older in a match arranged by her parents. “I was just thinking I would have the opportunity to wear good clothes and high heels,” Aisha, now 35, tells TIME.
Living in Pakistan’s northwest Mianwali district, the marriage festivities made her feel glamorous, even though she would no longer attend school and her elders had forged a marriage certificate saying she was 18. Soon after the marriage was solemnized, however, the abuse from her husband began: Age 16, Aisha’s pregnant body was hurled against a cupboard, leaving her covered in bruises. Her husband later burned his daughter’s hand on a heater and dropped icy water over his wife’s head as she slept. “He was torturing me in small, cruel ways,” says Aisha, who asked TIME not to use her real name for safety reasons. Her husband sought a second wife, but ordered Aisha to initiate a divorce first, fearing the risk to his reputation in the family.
Pakistan has one of the highest numbers of child brides in the world. Almost a quarter of girls marry before the age of 18, according to a recent poll by Gallup. Although the minimum age limit for marriage is set at 18 for men, women can legally marry at 16 in the South Asian country of more than 200 million. However, some lawmakers are taking action following longtime lobbying efforts of women’s and child rights groups, and have proposed amending the legal age of marriage for women to 18. On Dec. 11, parliament will vote to end child marriages nationwide under the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Bill 2017.
“In a country where people are not allowed to drive or vote before the age of 18, why should marriage be the exception?” Senator Sehar Kamran, one of the main supporters of the bill, tells TIME. “Similarly, why protect only our boys and not our girls under the guise of “values” or “culture?”
However, the bill faces opposition from conservative religious groups who contend that girls as young as 15 can wed. In October, the Council of Islamic Ideology, an advisory body that judges whether certain bills are compliant with Islamic religious law, characterized raising the age from 16 to 18 as “anti-Islamic,” on the grounds that girls who have undergone puberty are of marriageable age. Three years ago, the same Council advocated allowing girls as young as nine to marry if signs of puberty were evident, drawing the ire of rights’ activists around the country.
“The argument that it is un-Islamic is invalid,” counters Anbreen Ajaib, executive director of Bedari, a nonprofit working on combating child marriages in Pakistan. “The Council of Islamic Ideology never gets involved in anything to do with Islam, it just becomes active when it comes to women,” she says. While the Council’s recommendations to lawmakers are not legally binding, the 55-year-old body serves a barometer for potential backlash by religious conservatives in the Islamic republic.
In Pakistan, like its South Asian neighbors Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, early marriage is prevalent, especially in rural communities. Women who enter wedlock before the age of 18 have a higher risk of maternal or infant death or health complications: Eight percent of Pakistani women aged 20 to 24 delivered a baby before the age of 18, and every 20 minutes, a Pakistani woman dies from childbirth or complications in pregnancy. “The children of young mothers are more likely to die at an early age because their bodies are not ready, nor are they psychologically ready,” Ajaib says. In Pakistan, 64 infants die per 1,000 births — the highest rate of infant mortality in Asia, and worse than war-ravaged Afghanistan or Yemen, according to figures from the World Bank. The high maternal and infant death rates in Pakistan have a close link to early pregnancy and marriage, says Sadia Hussain, the executive director of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.
For child brides, the risk of domestic violence, early pregnancy, and marital rape increases significantly, while many drop out of school and have little employment opportunities, according to UNICEF. Aisha, who faced heavy bleeding during her second pregnancy, regrets the physical and emotional toll the early marriage took on her. “It should have been with someone the same age, so that I could have shared my life with them,” she says. “I wanted to grow old together with this person, and be at the same mental level as them. At least then I could have had a chance at a happy marriage.” Multiple factors, including poverty, lack of education, and deeply entrenched patriarchal customs, can impel families to arrange early marriages. In 1929, the British passed a law restraining underage marriage in colonial-era Pakistan, raising the legal age to 14 for girls and imposing a 1,000 rupee fine (around $10) for violations. Since this period, lawmakers have sought to institute checks on child marriage through amendments to both the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 and the Penal Code, which was updated in February 2017 to criminalize forced marriages of underage brides. A punishment of five to ten years was imposed, along with fines of up to one million rupees ($9,500). However, these strict penalties only apply when a marriage is classified as “forced” and the bride is under the current marriageable age of sixteen. For this reason, activists have pushed for an update to the Child Marriage Restraint Act itself, to widen the scope of the law.
Pakistan has already achieved some successes in fighting early marriage: the southeast province of Sindh proscribed child marriages in 2014, levying prison terms of up to three years, along with a 45,000-rupee (around $427) fine. And in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, a six-month jail sentence and $475 fine was approved under a 2015 bill. However, a lack of enforcement has done little to stop early marriage in rural Pakistan, where it is most commonly practiced. The new bill would revise the marriageable age of women to 18, and increase punishment to a minimum 100,000 rupee fine (around $950) and a two-year jail term. Those who would face punishment under the law include the adult husband, the child’s parents or guardians, and the person who solemnizes the wedding. In a country where underage marriage is sometimes used as a means to reduce the burden of childcare on destitute families, the stiff financial penalty might dissuade some from arranging early unions, activists say. Previous attempts to raise the national minimum marriage age for women to 18 have failed. In October, parliamentarians scuppered a draft bill, pointing to Muslim theologians who argued that Islam’s lack of an explicit age for marriage indicated that early unions could be approved. Likewise, last year, another proposal was derailed by clerics who labeled it “blasphemous.” Despite these setbacks, a few weeks ago, the Child Marriage Restraint Bill was approved by a Senate committee, paving the way for this month’s upcoming vote. If the bill passes the Senate floor, it will head to the National Assembly for approval. If it’s rejected, activists and lawmakers will return to the drawing board, Kamran says. “We must protect our girls,” the senator tells TIME.
“A 16-year-old girl cannot have property, open a bank account, or travel alone without a national ID card,” says Bedari’s Ajaib. “She can’t even buy a small mobile SIM card without a national ID card, so how can she take responsibility for a family as a wife?” Senator Kamran is optimistic about the prospects ahead for reform. “We are keeping our fingers crossed,” she says, but cautions “Changes don’t come overnight.”
For Pakistani women like Aisha, whose education was cut short by a failed early marriage, the legal change would prevent the setbacks faced by young brides like herself. Now divorced, she is determined not to allow the same fate to befall her young daughter: “A 14-year-old child can’t make a decision about marriage,” Aisha says. “We don’t understand what a husband or marriage is.”

#Pakistani who called for warmer ties with India goes missing

A Pakistani human rights activist who has campaigned for friendly ties with India has gone missing in the eastern city of Lahore, his family said Friday.
Raza Mahmood’s brother said the family suspects he was abducted and does not know who is holding him. The brother, Hamid Nasir, said he alerted police after Mahmood went missing earlier this week.
Mahmood may have been detained by Pakistan’s intelligence service, which often targets people suspected of links to India.
The two nuclear-armed rivals have a long history of bitter relations, and have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

What’s behind the Islamist protests in Pakistan?

By Niloufer Siddiqui
Three weeks of protests ended in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on Nov. 26, with the resignation of the country’s federal law minister — a demand of the hard-line Islamist protesters. The country’s major English-language newspaper termed the deal a “capitulation” and “a devastating blow to the legitimacy and moral standing of the government and all state institutions.”
The protests, which had effectively paralyzed the city after blocking a major highway, resulted in the loss of at least six lives and 200 injured. They were sparked by a minor change to the oath taken by election candidates, which slightly altered the language declaring the prophet Muhammad as the final prophet — a central belief of the Islamic faith. The change was dismissed by the government as a “clerical error” and quickly reversed. However, the protests continued, calling, among other things, for the law minister to resign for his alleged blasphemy in overseeing this change. At the root of the issue was whether this tweak was intended to benefit the widely ostracized Ahmadi sect.
Further underlying the protests, and the state’s response to them, are a number of key, recurrent issues in Pakistani politics: the troubling use of the blasphemy law, the street power of Islamists, the gray zone between political parties and militant actors — and of course, when it comes to Pakistan, civil-military relations aren’t too far beneath the surface.
Here are the main things to understand about the protests — and the trends to watch for.
Who were the protesters?
The protests were spearheaded by a newly formed political party, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLP). The party adheres to a sub-sect of Sunni Islam which emphasizes personal devotion to the prophet Muhammad, engages in such practices as the veneration of saints, and has typically been considered moderate and tolerant. As a result of some of these practices, the sub-sect has been a victim of extremist outfits in Pakistan, such as the Pakistan Taliban.
But the TLP itself has violent origins. It was formed in large part to express support of Mumtaz Qadri, who killed the governor of Punjab for defending the rights of a woman accused of blasphemy in 2011.
As the TLP seeks to establish itself as a relevant political force, the already fuzzy boundary between traditional Islamist electoral parties and explicitly militant — but not political — groups such as the Taliban is becoming increasingly blurred. While the country’s largest Islamist parties are no stranger to the art of street protests and vigilante action, the TLP’s open incitement to violence and its avowedly sectarian nature are more emblematic of anti-Shiite movements in the country.
These movements have been responsible for the killings of thousands of Shiites, at the same time as political wings affiliated with them contest elections. Individual clerics associated with such sectarian groups are also increasingly becoming important local actors, controlling vital vote banks, and proving to be valuable electoral allies for mainstream political parties.
What led to the protests?
The protests last month were related to the status of Ahmadis, a minority group that identifies as Muslim but diverges from other Islamic sects over the belief that the founder of their faith is the last messiah. For their beliefs, Ahmadis have long suffered mob violence and targeted attacks by Islamist groups.
Street protests have played a central role in the Ahmadi issue, with protesters demanding, and state authorities largely acceding to, a steady erosion of Ahmadi rights. The Pakistani state resisted anti-Ahmadi street agitation in 1953, but since then, it has frequently capitulated to Islamist demands, including adding a 1974 constitutional provision that Ahmadis were non-Muslim. The alleged change in the election act in 2017, which precipitated the most recent crisis, was perceived as softening this constitutional amendment.
The protests’ success threatens to embolden those who seek to use blasphemy accusations — a capital offense — as a tool in personal or political disputes. The law minister who resigned as a result of the protests was forced to apologize and, to counter these accusations of blasphemy, assure the nation that he believed in the finality of the prophet.
Civil-military relations: a perpetual challenge
The manner in which the protests ultimately disbanded demonstrates the outsized role of the military in Pakistani politics. The protest’s leader made clear that he would negotiate with the army and not the civilian government, and the list of demands to which the government ultimately agreed includes a note of gratitude to the chief of army staff for “saving the nation from a big catastrophe.” The army’s role was such that an Islamabad high justice released a scathing order criticizing it for extra-constitutional meddling.
A video showing a member of an army-controlled paramilitary force distributing money to the protesters further raises questions about the army’s motivations. Coupled with the army calling for nonviolence on both sides, which was seen as equating the civilian government with the hard-line protesters, journalists and political analysts have asked whether the army is seeking to — once again — influence upcoming national elections.
In particular, the entry of the TLP and other newly formed religious parties into Punjabi electoral politics can make a dent in the vote bank of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), whose support base stems largely from a right-leaning religious electorate. The power of Islamists — who have historically failed at the polls — emanates primarily from their ability to get people out on the streets. However, their ability to weaken the vote share of mainstream parties is proving increasingly important. The recent release of a militant leader thought to be responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks is being interpreted in a similar vein.
The army’s role aside, parties such as the PML-N know that they must ally with such religious actors — or, at the very least, avoid antagonizing them — or risk losing voters. Opposition political parties were quick to capitalize on the PML-N’s failure to manage the situation, publicly siding with the protesters. These electoral considerations encourage appeasement of militant actors by strengthening and entrenching them in politics. The state’s most recent capitulation to the protesters remains a continuation of a dangerous trend of ceding space to militant actors.

#Pakistan - Twin surrenders

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi

THE Nov 26, 2017, six-point agreement between the Faizabad protesters and the government/military was a major setback for the reputation and image of Pakistan. There are still unanswered questions. Was it the disqualified boss of the ruling party who engineered this episode to target the military boss? Or was it the other way around? Whatever the answer, the government finally surrendered its constitutional authority to the military.
The military in turn transgressed its constitutional limits and ‘saved the country’ by conceding the unconstitutional demands of foul-mouthed religious politicians who threatened chaos throughout the country. The twin messages sent by these twin surrenders are clear: at home Pakistan is for the taking by extremists; abroad it has made a laughing stock of itself. What more could India ask for?
Pakistan’s national and foreign policy are now without a coherent governmental base. Accordingly, they have no credibility. Every ideal and value the Quaid’s Pakistan embodied has been betrayed. Those who think the country has been saved need only consider: Saved from what? For whom? For how long? At what cost? Firm and just governance has been rendered impossible by corruption, fear and treachery.
The ousted prime minister; his brother in Lahore; the irrelevant current prime minister who cannot even address the nation; the bewildered remnants of the elected government; the opposition parties and their bickering and quarrelling leaders; the pathetic parliament which only produces rupee billionaires and dollar millionaires; the military and its intelligence establishment who wield unauthorised political power without knowledge or wisdom; the police who have been used, abused, discredited and finally betrayed; the bureaucrats — with honourable exceptions; some would also include the judiciary; and those violent opportunists who politically exploit the people’s passionate love for the Prophet (PBUH,) have all brought about this anti-Pakistan farce.
Why should India try to destroy Pakistan when the country’s rulers are doing it themselves?
Why should India try to destroy Pakistan when the country’s rulers are doing it themselves? Last June, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia referred to Pakistan as ‘a slave country’. He can summon the prime minister and the army chief at a moment’s notice — even in the midst of a major domestic crisis. This same crown prince is supposedly embarking on the path of ‘moderate Islam’ and clean government for his country to enter the 21st century while Pakistan chooses to sink ever deeper into the morass of religious extremism and criminally corrupt governance to stay far away from the 21st century!
Leave India and the US aside. They are unfriendly countries. What about China? What must it think as it beholds the endlessly silly and scary spectacle in Pakistan? What future can it envisage for CPEC and its strategic partnership with Pakistan? At the very least, it will feel compelled to have alternative plans. With religious extremism rampant in Pakistan, what assurances can Pakistan credibly extend to China or any other country with regard to stopping extremists from using its territory against them?
What are the implications of these surrenders for Pakistan’s constitutional, democratic and counterterrorism credentials? How will an imploding Pakistan elicit support for its promotion of a just and stabilising settlement process in India-held Kashmir, or effectively call out India for its many documented atrocities?
Learned analyses of Pakistan’s political, security, economic, social and external challenges, and discussions about road maps and timelines for their possible resolution, are all rendered irrelevant by the tragic state it has been reduced to by its rulers and guardians. Moreover, the country’s elites, who rule without conscience or pity, readily plead their inability to address this situation while doing everything to ensure that it remains unaddressed. They deliberately rob the people of faith in themselves.
The world sees the situation in Pakistan as not merely ridiculous, but dangerous, since it has a nuclear arsenal, which India and the US will argue has an even higher risk now of falling into the hands of extremists. They will refer to the latest victory of the extremists over the government and security establishment. What will Pakistan’s diplomacy — even at its best — avail in the face of such perceptions? Simple dismissals of obvious realities cut no ice at home or abroad.
Given the triumph of religious obscurantism, the politically motivated security establishment, and utterly corrupt and therefore cowardly governance, what can another election achieve even if it is held fairly and leads to a change of faces? The parameters will still confine any elected government to tinkering on a ship that is sinking. No amount of charisma, flamboyant rhetoric and heroic posturing will change anything. What needs to be done is very well known. It is nonsense to suggest it cannot be done because the powers that be are too powerful and the people are imprisoned in low self-esteem and low expectations.
A mobilised, organised, informed and empowered people can get any task done. They can defeat their indifferent and callous rulers. All they need is the assistance, advice and participation of concerned Pakistanis. They do not need anybody’s ‘leadership’ which sooner or later turns out to be just another betrayal. They need devoted servants.
Pakistan is a poor country with horrible inequality and social indices. Yet there are no significant pro-poor or progressive parties. There are only religious, nationalist and populist leaders who are all right-wing, conservative and pro-establishment. They all talk in the name of the poor and the weak but they walk with the mighty. Only one national leader, within his limitations and despite his mistakes, has sincerely tried to serve the people. Most of the rest are corrupt and all of them pander to religious and power centres. They do not develop sustainable grass-roots movements and mobilisation programmes relevant to emancipating and empowering the people.
Accordingly, most “leaders” are not worth addressing. Only ordinary Pakistanis who still believe in the country that the Pakistan Movement envisaged are worth consulting. Their varied talents and collective power need to be harnessed for a historic struggle to rid Pakistan of rulers without a cause, other than to escape accountability.

#Pakistan - After #Faizabad – what is to be done ?

By Ammar Rashid

There has been a tangible sense of despair among liberal and progressive commentators in the wake of the state’s capitulation to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) at Faizabad.
It has been said that the state’s writ has been forfeited, mobs now dictate policy, and extremism has permeated deep into society’s roots.
While there is truth to such lamentations, there is also an urgent need to move beyond such cathartic grieving, to learn from what this moment signified, and strategise affirmatively for the future.
Fascism unbound
It is important to remember that the forfeiture of the state’s writ in Faizabad has not occurred without its own complicity. This is true both in a historical and a current sense.
The blasphemy and anti-Ahmedi laws, whose protection has animated the new surge of fanaticism, were strengthened and weaponised by the Pakistani state.
More recently, the spate of enforced disappearances of progressive bloggers, and the orchestrated campaign of vilification against them earlier in the year, had insidiously conflated political dissent against the establishment with blasphemy.
In this context, the public affirmation of Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s demands by the state at Faizabad was the logical culmination of the anti-blasphemy hysteria collusively fomented by the state and the right.
Nearly all political or religious dissent against the majoritarian consensus was now deemed a legitimate target for lethal violence.
Yet, even if the state is complicit in the rise of fascism, that does not imply it is in control of the passions that have been aroused.
Among the most chilling aspects of Faizabad was that it took us a step closer to public sanction for mass murder.
As the TLYRA leaders demanded the publication of an Ahmadi registry and the creation of state commissions dedicated to the persecution of the minority group, the state’s acquiescence signified its nod to steps that, historically speaking, have foreshadowed genocide.
The mesmerised mob-like euphoria that would greet Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s onstage invocation of rhetorical violence against religious ‘enemies’ also provided a legible blueprint for how such mass violence could easily be made to occur.

Fascist movements are not an uncommon sight in the world today – across the globe, movements have resurfaced that have transformed the economic and cultural anxieties of ordinary people into political projects that scapegoat racial and religious minorities.

Just months ago, American Nazis openly marched in Charlottesville, Virginia with torches in hand, chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’ and calling for the establishment of a white ethno-state in the US.
European streets from Greece to Poland have witnessed fascist marches seething with anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic hatred in the past year alone.
The crucial difference is that across the democratic world, such public displays of bigotry are usually met with organised resistance.
The Nazis at Charlottesville were met by larger numbers of anti-fascist and leftist activists, one of whom paid for her defiance with her life.
From anarchists in Greece to communists in India, the forward march of the organised far right has been opposed and defied on the streets, usually by political workers of a progressive disposition.
The fascist frenzy that lasted for three weeks at Faizabad however, saw no such street challenge, allowing for an impression that it represented majority sentiment.
Pakistani progressives – insufficient or ineffective?
Quite often, the explanation offered for such inaction in Pakistan revolves around a widely-prevalent idea that liberals and progressives in Pakistan are simply too minuscule a minority to exert any influence in an overwhelmingly conservative polity.
Articles abound in the international press about Pakistan’s permanently ‘beleaguered’ liberal minority while jokes habitually crop up on social media about how liberal and left Pakistanis can be counted on two hands.
This perception is understandable. But it is also something of a careless underestimation.
There is of course little doubt that the predominant political disposition in the Islamic republic is one that is conservative and authoritarian.
Yet, after a decade of deadly fundamentalist violence, with often visible links to state institutions and laws; frustration from the senseless bloodshed, and lost lives and opportunities has crystallised in a significant progressive minority, which is severely disenchanted with the destructive character of the state and its proxies.
Until now, the bulk of this minority is visible largely on social media.
If the content and volume of engagement on liberal and progressive social media platforms is anything to go by, Pakistanis who believe in a greater degree of individual religious liberty, democratic continuity, political freedoms, socio-economic justice, and liberties for women and minorities, number in at least the hundreds of thousands, if not more.
Yet one rarely sees even a fraction of such numbers amassed for these causes in the streets.
As Aasim Sajjad notes in his recent column, it is this inability of most progressives to consciously act as members of a political community that constitutes a stiffer challenge than the supposed smallness of their numbers.
The TLYRA’s cadres too were not present in enormous numbers at Faizabad – there were a couple thousand of them at best at the height of the sit-in – yet they managed to cultivate the impression of representing popular sentiment.
Even if one accounts for the support of the deep state, they were simply much more organised than Pakistani progressives are today.
Why is this so? Popular opinion dictates that Pakistan’s descent into madness is the product of an ideological shift – one in which progressives have simply been marginalised by the rightward drift of political convictions.
But there is also a practical, material dimension to this shift – it has also been a consequence of the loss of the left’s organisational forms and spaces, which has greatly weakened and diminished progressive politics over time.
In the 20th century, political Islamism, while still a force, was kept in check by the presence of formidable progressive political and social forces.
Parties like the National Awami Party (NAP), social movements like the Khudai Khidmatgar, and the once-powerful left-wing labour, farmer, and student organisations, not only used to provide an ideological counterweight to the far right, but also channelled working people’s class and nationalistic grievances against an unrepresentative and exploitative economic and political systemAs decades of both military and civilian authoritarianism destroyed those class-based organisations through violent repression and bans, they also undermined the organic reproduction of political subjects who self-identified and acted primarily through the secular categories of class and regional nationalisms.
The loss of these organisational spaces amid a global decline of left-wing politics after the Cold War was catastrophic for progressive politics in Pakistan.
Shorn of both their shared clout and interactive spaces, progressives split up into disparate Marxist, liberal, and ethno-nationalist camps, each seeking their own form of accommodation with the state.
This often resulted in dubious political positions, from tacit support by some for the Musharraf coup to backing non-transparent military operations.
At the same time, the loss of progressive class-based organisations also meant a withering of the close relationships between progressive intellectuals and working classes that had fuelled the left-wing struggles of the 20th century.
Increasingly, it was the ideologues of the right that filled the space progressives had vacated. As the state and its American and Gulf benefactors patronised extremist mosques and seminaries, class grievances began to be morphed and politically mobilised through increasingly exclusionary and reactionary expressions of religious identity.
The earlier struggles against class exploitation by feudal, capitalist and imperialist elites were replaced with crude fundamentalist formulations about ‘Western cultural invasion’, often defined to mean anything remotely progressive as coming from the ‘West’, from women’s freedoms to music and dance.
Rizvi’s TLYRA is merely the latest iteration in this process of class contradictions being cynically mobilised in the service of totalitarian ideology.
Rebuilding progressive organisations and collective spaces – be it through joining existing ones, forming new ones, or overturning senseless legal restrictions like the 33-year-old student union ban – is critical if fascism is to be fought.
Agonising over the need for ‘counter-narratives’ is pointless if the social and political collectives that will popularise and enact these narratives are weak or non-existent.
As such collectives are rebuilt, so too will the possibilities of both class and inter-ethnic solidarity and indigenous cultural resistance that were the mainstay of the progressive politics of our past.
A return to a constructive class politics
However, even as progressives reorganise, it is also clear that they cannot simply do so under the banner of secularism and tolerance alone.
For a disaffected young generation whose subjectivity was forged by the post-Zia Pakistani state and the imperialist invasions of the 9-11 era, there is an overwhelming suspicion of such labels as being a cover for more sinister motivations.
While secular pluralism must remain central to the foundations of any progressive political project, progressives cannot rely solely on symbols of an ideological milieu that has not been experienced by a majority of the population, and that hence, carries few positive connotations for them.
To render such ideals palatable to a conservative majority, they have to be tied to and synonymised with political demands aimed at the redistribution of wealth and power.
This is not just important because Pakistan is one of the most obscenely unequal societies in the world, where millions of under-employed and poorly educated young men, living alienated lives with bleak prospects, become useful fodder for fundamentalist entrepreneurs, who convince them of the possibility of finding purpose in fighting imaginary threats to religious honour.
It is also important because in a populist era, in which the legitimacy of the political and economic status quo is crumbling, a progressive project can only succeed in blocking the right-wing onslaught with popular support if it actively seeks to transform existing relationships of power (rather than seek accommodation and ‘reconciliation’ with the status quo, as most formerly liberal-left parties have done).
There are two principal ways in which this political project can be constructed. The first has to do with undertaking conscious and collective resistance against excesses of political and economic power.
Anyone who stakes a claim to progressive politics must work to support those engaged in struggles for a more just distribution of resources – and there are many.
This includes, among others, workers protesting for living wages and formal contracts, katchi abadi residents struggling for dignified housing, farmers demanding rights to the land they till, womenfighting against patriarchal violence, ethno-nationalist political workers protesting for the right to freely express their beliefs, and indigenous communities protesting the destruction of their local ecology by the state and private capital.
If such disparate struggles can be brought together as a collective movement for people’s rights, they can create the critical mass needed to revive the political clout of the left.
However, a politics of redistribution cannot solely be confrontational, be it on the question of the civil-military imbalance, extremism , or resource distribution.

In order to be effective, our politics must also be constructive. It must seek to mobilise and deploy common resources to meet people’s collective needs.

This is critical, in part, because the madrassahs and charity networks have exploited the survival needs of the poor to great effect.
Constructive programmes rooted in an ethic of participatory and cooperative labour for the collective good are also part of both the progressive traditions from our region’s past, as well as contemporary revivals in progressive socio-economic movements on the left from Cuba to Nepal.
Such work is easier said than done and will require years to build. But the political worth of constructive forms of productive and redistributive work is undeniable.
Even in our recent context, the example of Edhi is instructive – till his death, Edhi remained an unapologetic humanist and avowed follower of Marx, speaking out for the liberation of the poor, women and minorities, while often taking unorthodox theological positions that could easily have landed others in the dock for blasphemy.
Yet, the peerless example he established through his constructive humanitarian work ensured that he could openly speak truth to power without fear.
Of course, not everyone can be Edhi, nor is the suggestion that all progressives should rush to establish charitable institutions. The forms such interventions may take depends on the context, resources and capacity.
What is important is the principle of creating cooperative models of fulfilling people’s needs that can become vehicles for the transmission of egalitarian ideas and practices, and reflect the society progressives wish to see in the future.
If even small numbers of people around the country begin to engage in such forms of conscious collective practice over the next few years, it will help create the sense of purpose, community and identity required for the popular rejuvenation of progressive politics.
Perhaps more than anything, progressives must become conscious of the legitimacy and urgency of their cause.
There are a great many people who can sense things are going awry, and that violence and injustice in the name of religion, national security and petty political interests have gone on far too long.
Yet, there remains a certain timidity in thought and action, remnants of a political culture long afflicted with defeatism, and wracked by self-doubt and fears, about the reactions of a society that never fails to punish the mildest of critical thought and speech.
We are now at the point where we no longer have a choice. The state, the extremists, and their enablers in political society have pushed this society to the brink of collapse.
Faced with this realisation, their only answer is to further divert people’s frustrations toward imaginary foreign and domestic enemies.
The progressive agenda; of the democratisation of the state, of the redistribution of resources to meet ordinary people’s basic needs, of an end to the doctrine of national security and strategic depth, of the celebration of ethnic, national, religious and ideological difference and diversity, of the dismantling of patriarchal oppression, of the rejuvenation of the ecology; is a decisively better one.
More than anyone else, progressives themselves need to overcome their doubts to realise this and consciously act upon it.
Otherwise, our descent into barbarism is inevitable.

Pakistan - Identifying extremism in the media

Reporting on religion is one thing, reporting religiously is another, but it is totally different to be a religious extremist journalist. Extremism, like racism, has many facets. It creeps into our skins through known avenues of culture and stays there unnoticed. The moment others notice it, is often too late. It is even later that we ourselves recognise our extreme face in our own mirrors of consciousness. Is it possible to be a balanced journalist in a country where being a zealot is rewarded while moderation might land you in trouble? The least one could expect is being disliked, seen as incompetent. It could get worse. One might lose the job, life, or live in insecurity. Even if the person is not a moderate but belongs to an organisation that tries (or claims) to be, the dangers are imminent.
This poses an existentialist ethical question. What should the professional do? Side with the extremists to reap the immediate benefits of fame, security, acceptance and career promotion? Or fight the onslaught, losing career, job, life, or security? The two extremes are unwanted and unprofessional. There is no story worth dying for. We need to live another day to fulfill our social and professional responsibility as journalists. But this doesn’t mean siding with the wrong side of the history. The life of a society is much longer than the generations we know or work for. Ensuring physical and moral survival is a tricky question to answer in the middle of the havoc we are living through.
The first golden rule is to develop a deeper understanding of our own world and the world around us. Individual reading habits and critical self evaluation are really good tools for professionalisation. But this is not all. These traits need to get institutionalised. Media organisations, be it the owners or the journalist unions, need to understand and debate the current crises of professionalism. Being self righteous would not help us. If all are right, where does the wrong come from?
Before devising any strategies to deal with the problem, we need to understand the problem first. Extremism is not simply rewarded due to it being attractive. We didn’t have it in the present shape before the war in Afghanistan. International media attention in this God forsaken part of the world has drawn young men (mostly) into covering war and violence. It gave them international fame and recognition besides illustrious careers, never even imagined by any of their predecessors.
Extremism and violence doesn’t depend on media to begin or end. But it is complemented by our naivety, gullibility and uncritical nonchalance. Media persons give space to hatred due to our zealous activism in favour of any cause that heralds the ownership of a single truth
Like a war economy, conflict and war journalism also became an industry. Every new entrant into the field aspired to become a conflict reporter. It was during these troubled times that local journalism, social sector reporting and development and solution journalism never got a chance into this industry. They were not worthy competitors. The battle for modern and responsible journalism was lost before it even began.
The warring parties, parties to conflict, did develop ideological basis in the society. This also gave the then weaker dogmas of conflict and hatred a chance to prosper. Together, they attracted the youth and many of those entered the profession of journalism with the new zeal to transform the transformer. This mindset brought the illusion of the sacred into journalism. Serving a higher purpose spread like jungle fire and many espoused it as a moral value. The problem with abstractions is that once you begin following these, you do it uncritically.
This is what we call a leap of faith. This leap in the void cost the professionals their fair judgment, the inner daemon, the voice of conscience that says no to the inhuman while lauds the humane. And this is the point where we got famous and glamorous extremists. The ones donning the celebrity mantle in the media industry. They unknowingly (and knowingly) helped extremism grow to the limit of a juggernaut, an unstoppable monster.  But as it happens in all such cases, they were amongst the worst victims of their own creature.
Extremism and violence doesn’t depend on media to begin or end. But it is complemented by our naivety, gullibility and uncritical nonchalance. Media persons give space to hatred due to our zealous activism in favour of any cause that heralds the ownership of a single truth. We represent the uncompromising opinion in our media, thus supporting radicaliation of all sorts. This lands us in a life where the radical ideas with most physical force trample us under their feet. The point we fail to understand is that we have lost our right to the profession because of our active promotion of creeds in a profession that is responsible for giving enough information to make informed decision making. Instead of informing people through investigating, the real reasons behind happenings, we have decided to mold the investigation in favour of our presupposed truth. Imagine a world where each and everyone in the media tries to force the audience in favour of a half truth they support. This doesn’t land us in problem. We, indeed, become the problem.

#Pakistan - #Lahore - Model Town Massacre Report

The inquiry report of the Model Town massacre prepared by Justice Ali Baqar Najfi has been made public. The Punjab government made the report public by the website of its public relations directorate. The report has been divided into two parts; one highlights the statements and positions that each party has taken, and the other comprises of the order sheet. The Judicial Commission which was formed earlier based its result on the statements of government functionaries, police officials, administrative officials, and the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif himself.
The report does not blatantly accuse any party of being responsible for the incident. However, it does point out instances where the situation could have been handled in a better manner. One such instance is the decision by Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to not let the political objectives of Tahir ul Qadri materialise. This urge led to the authorities questioning the placement of barriers around Minhaaj ul Quran. Although their placement was illegal but it had remained such for over three years. They wanted to disperse the crowd with immediate effect, which then resulted in the needless loss of lives.
The government feared that making the report public would result in sectarian violence, as several people who were being thrashed were calling out Hazrat Ali (RA) to save them from the wrath of the police force. Even though the report has no legal value but it will go on to damage the political position of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, has been clearly pointed out as the obvious reason behind the clash. Had the report been made public earlier, it would have lessened the pain of those families who were waiting for justice and hoping that someone would listen to their demands, and a lot of damage would have been prevented.
At this point, accommodating the dissenting voices should be of top priority. Families of the victims are demanding certified copies of the report. Such demands and the allegations of tempering the report should be dealt with seriously. The time to make amends is now and there should be no delay in ensuring that the families are satisfied with whatever action the authorities decide to take. Even if the authorities are not at fault, shying away from the victims and their families is not an intelligent option.

#PPP expresses concern over US Embassy move to #Jerusalem

Vice-President PPP, Senator Sherry Rehman voiced concern over the possible decision by the Trump administration to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Rehman said, “If the Trump administration moves the US embassy to Jerusalem it will send a costly signal to the entire Muslim world”.
“Moving the capital to Jerusalem will fuel fires of extremism and exacerbate faultlines in an already volatile Middle East and strain the relationship of the US with its Muslim allies. This move will minimize any possibility of the two state solution becoming a reality, as Jerusalem lies at the heart of the two-state solution, which presently is the only viable solution to the conflict,” continued the Senator.
Rehman concluded by saying, “The PPP has always stood for and by the Palestinian people. The government of Pakistan must therefore make its stance loud and clear on this alarming development. Pakistan should not wait to convey its due concern”.

#Pakistan - اسکولوں سے زیادہ مدرسے بنے، تعلیم ناقص نظرثانی کی ضرورت - چیف آف آرمی اسٹاف جنرل قمر جاوید باجوہ

کوئٹہ (رائٹرز؍این این آئی ) چیف آف آرمی اسٹاف جنرل قمر جاوید باجوہ نے کہا ہے کہ حکومت کرنا فوج کا کام نہیں، فوج سیاستدان سب نے غلطیاں کیں، اب وقت آگیاہے کہ سب اپنا کام کریں، جمہورت پسند ہوں اور ووٹ کی طاقت اہم ہے، پاکستان کی ترقی کیلئے میرٹ کی بالادستی،تعلیم، انتظامی امور میں بہتری کی ضرورت ہے۔ آرمی چیف نے کہا کہ اسکولوں سے زیادہ مدارس بنے، ملک بھر میں پھیلے مدارس زیادہ تر دینی تعلیم دے رہے ہیں تاہم اب اس پر نظرثانی کی ضرورت ہے، ملک میں مدارس کی تعلیم ناکافی ہے کیونکہ یہاں جدید دور کے لحاظ سے طلبا کی تربیت نہیں ہوپارہی ہے۔ جنرل قمر جاوید باجوہ نے کہا کہ وہ مدارس کے خلاف نہیں لیکن ہم مدارس کا اصل مقصد بھول چکے ہیں، حال ہی میں انہیں بتایا گیا ہے کہ ایک مکتبہ فکر کے مدارس میں 25لاکھ طلبا زیرتعلیم ہیں۔ انہوں نے سوال کیا کہ تو وہ کیا بنیں گے، یہاں سے نکلنے والے کیا مولوی بنیں گے یا دہشت گرد؟ ۔ انہوں نے مزید کہا کہ اتنی مساجد نہیں جتنے مدارس ہیں اور یہ بھی ممکن نہیں کہ اتنی بڑی مدارس کے طلبا کی تعداد کو روزگار کی فراہمی کیلئے مساجد تعمیر کی جائیں۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ ہمیں ان طلبا کو جدید تعلیم دینے کی ضرورت ہے۔ جنرل قمر جاوید باجوہ نے کہا کہ ناقص تعلیم خصوصی طور پر مدارس قوم کو پیچھے لے جارہے ہیں۔ انہوں نے یہ بات جمعرات کو کوئٹہ کے مقامی ہوٹل میں وائس آف بلوچستان کے زیراہتمام بلوچستان کے نوجوانوں میں افرادی قوت کی بہتری کے حوالے سے منعقدہ انٹرنیشنل سیمینار سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے کہی۔ آرمی چیف جنر ل قمر جاوید باجوہ نے کہا کہ پاکستان صرف جمہوری عمل کے ذریعے ہی ترقی کرسکتا ہے میں جمہوریت پسند انسان ہوں لیکن جمہوریت کا ہر گز یہ مطلب نہیں کہ ہم عوام کے ووٹوں سے منتخب ہونے کے بعد ان کی خدمت کرنے کے بجائے اپنے مفاد کو ترجیح دیں۔ انہوں نے کہاکہ سیاستدان کے پاس عوام کے ووٹوں کی طاقت ہوتی ہے جو کہ کسی بھی طاقت سے زیادہ اہم ہے۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ بلوچستان کی سرزمین زرخیز ہے یہاں کے نوجوانوںمیں بے پناہ صلاحیتیں موجود ہیں ، صوبے کے نوجوانوں کو صحیح سمت دکھانے کی ضرورت ہے ہمیں اپنی ترجیحات کو طویل المدت کرنے کی ضرورت ہے کیونکہ اسی طریقے سے قومی ترقی ممکن ہے۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ بلوچستان کی پسماندگی کی اہم وجہ یہاں معیاری تعلیم کا فقدان ہے، 1960کی دہائی میں کوئٹہ میں پاکستان کے بہترین اسکول ہوا کرتے تھے لیکن یکایک 10ہزار اساتذہ جب یہاں سے گئے تو تعلیمی معیاری خراب ہوا ،گزشتہ 40 برسوں میں اسکولوں سے زیادہ مدرسے تعمیر ہوئے یہاں مدرسوں میں صرف دینی تعلیم دی جارہی ہے جس کی وجہ سے مدرسوں میں تعلیم حاصل کرنیوالے طلباء دوسرے بچوں کی نسبت پیچھے رہ جاتے ہیں اور ملک کی ترقی میں اپنا کردار ادا نہیں کرپاتے۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ امن وامان کی مخدوش صورتحا ل اور افغانستان کی جنگ نے ہمیں بری طرح متاثر کیا ہے بلوچستان کی ترقی میں بھی امن وامان رکاوٹ رہا ہے۔ انہوں نے کہاکہ ہمارے پاس اچھے بیورکریٹس کی کمی ہوتی جارہی ہے کوئی بھی بلوچستان آکر فرائض سرانجام نہیں دینا چاہتا سابق وزیراعظم میاں محمد نواز شریف کوتجویز دی تھی کہ بلوچستان اچھے بیوروکریٹس بجھوائیں لیکن بلوچستان سے ہی تعلق رکھنے والے افراد یہاں آکر کام نہیں کرنا چاہتے اگر ہم نے نوجوان نسل میں سے بہترین بیوروکریٹس نہیں بنائے تو مسائل مزید بڑھ سکتے ہیں۔ آرمی چیف نے کہا کہ پاکستان بلوچستان کے بغیر ادھورا ہے، بلوچستان کی ترقی پاکستان کی ترقی ہے، پاک فوج نے بلوچستان میں 6کیڈٹ کالج تعمیر کئے ہیں جبکہ مزید تین کیڈٹ کالج بنائے جائینگے، نسٹ کوئٹہ کیلئے زمین مختص کرلی گئی ہے جبکہ استحکام اگلے سال شروع ہوجائیگا ۔ انہوں نے کہا کہ صوبے میں ٹیکنیکل تعلیم کا انسٹیٹیوٹ بھی تعمیر کیا جائیگا جبکہ پاک فوج کی جانب سے تربت کو ایم آر آئی مشین بھی فراہم کی جائیگی، ایک وقت تھا جب بلوچستان سے تعلق رکھنے والے گنے چنے افسران فوج میں ہوتے تھے لیکن آج میں فخر سے کہتاہوں کہ بلوچستان کے 600 افسران، 20ہزار سے زائد اہلکار اور 232 کیڈٹس اس وقت پاک فوج میں فرائض سرانجا م دے رہے ہیں ۔انہوں نے کہاکہ پاک فوج میں میرٹ کا خصوصی خیال رکھا جاتاہے یہی وجہ ہے کہ میں عام شخص سے جنرل بنا اور پاک فوج کی کمان کررہاہوں ، انہوں نے کہا کہ اسی طرح ہمیں ملک کے ہر ادارے میں میرٹ کی بالادستی لانی ہوگی کیونکہ اسی سے ترقی ممکن ہے ۔انہوں نے کہاکہ میڈیا کو بھی بلوچستان کو مزید کوریج دینی چاہئے پاکستان میں 93فیصد ان ڈائریکٹ ٹیکسوں کا براہ راست اثر غریب عوام پر پڑتاہے جبکہ ٹیکس کلیکشن بھی انتہائی کم ہے ، انہوں نے کہا کہ ہر سال 32بلین ڈالر خرچ کئے بغیر ضائع ہوجاتے ہیں ان معاملات پر ہمیں توجہ مرکوز کرنی ہوگی ۔ اس موقع پر وزیراعلی بلوچستان نواب ثناء اللہ خان زہری ،کمانڈر سدرن کمانڈ لیفٹیننٹ جنرل عاصم سلیم باجوہ ،آئی جی ایف سی بلوچستان میجر جنرل ندیم انجم ،ڈپٹی چیئرمین سینیٹ مولانا عبدالغفوری حیدری ،وفاقی وزراء میر حاصل بزنجو ،میر جام کمال،اراکین قومی اسمبلی سردار کمال بنگلزئی ،جہانگیر خان ترین ،سینیٹر آغا شاہزیب درانی،صوبائی وزراء اور دیگر رہنمائوں سمیت طلباء وطالبات کی بڑی تعداد نے شرکت کی۔