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China eyes progress against major risks, poverty, pollution in 2018

China will seek solid progress on preventing major risks, and on targeted poverty alleviation and pollution control in 2018, according to the central authorities Friday.
An overall plan should be made to "ensure the winning of the three tough battles," said a document released after a Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee meeting.
The meeting, which focused on analyzing and studying the economic work in 2018, was chaired by Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee.
"China should contain the overall leverage ratio and raise the financial sector's capability of serving the real economy to prevent and defuse major risks," it said.
The document outlined details on several key areas.
For targeted poverty relief, the country must provide precise support for special impoverished groups, and intensify efforts in regions of abject poverty.
Efforts should be made to help impoverished people increase confidence in their ability to lift themselves out of poverty and ensure they can access the education they need.
For pollution control, the country should continue to reduce the emission of major pollutants to improve environment quality.
The document said the country would adhere to "seeking progress while maintaining stability" as the underlying principle of the work.
"Pushing for high-quality development is the fundamental requirement for determining the development path, making economic policies and conducting macro-economic regulation at present and in a period to come," the document said.
In 2018, China will also strive for marked results in major tasks, including deepening supply-side structural reform, accelerating housing system reform and forming a housing mechanism with lasting effects, and providing more quality ecological products, according to the document.
Next year is the first year after the 19th CPC National Congress, and the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening up policy. It is also an important year in working towards becoming a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020, and implementing the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020).
"The country should implement the spirit of the 19th CPC national congress in an all-round way, follow the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and strengthen the CPC leadership over economic work," the document said.
China will coordinate efforts on stabilizing growth, pushing reform, restructuring, improving livelihoods and preventing risk.
"Work must also be done to drive ahead reform and opening up and develop new methods to improve macroeconomic regulation," the document said.
"[We should] guide and stabilize expectations, improve people's lives and secure continuous and healthy socio-economic development," it said.
"Near the end of this year, local authorities should make earnest efforts to ensure work safety, public security and social stability," said the document.

China Focus: Xi's "world view" offers Chinese wisdom to global governance

In the first nine days of December, four international events held in China caught President Xi Jinping's eye -- he either attended or wrote congratulation letters to them.
Although the topics of the events varied from economic globalization to cooperation among political parties, the messages in Xi's speech and letters radiated a China vision of global governance that is best summarized as "a community with a shared future for mankind."
In his keynote speech at the opening of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting on Dec. 1, Xi described four pictures of the future: a world that is safe and free of fear, a world that is prosperous and free of poverty, a world that is open, inclusive and free of isolation, as well as a world that is environmentally clean and beautiful.
His letters, to the Fourth World Internet Conference on Dec. 3, the 2017 Fortune Global Forum on Dec. 6 and the South-South Human Rights Forum on Dec. 7, contained a common commitment to openness and cooperativeness.
Xi promoted building a community of common future in cyberspace, pledged to push for economic globalization that is "more open and inclusive, more balanced, more equitable and beneficial to all," and called on developing countries to uphold both the universality and particularity of human rights and steadily raise the level of human rights protection.
"China has been more willing and confident in proposing ideas and solutions to problems facing all mankind," said Zhang Shuhua, head of the Institute of Information Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Since first raised by Xi in 2013, the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind has been gradually crystallized, supported by practical initiatives and concrete actions.
In his Dec. 1 speech, Xi defined "building a community with a shared future for mankind" as, in essence, connecting the prospects and destinies of every nation and country closely together, sharing good days and bad, and turning Earth into a harmonious family.
"The concept of a community with a shared future for mankind overrides differences of ideologies, values, civilization models and political systems, while offering an alternative for realizing fair and reasonable global governance," Zhang said.
As an attempt to realize this vision, China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa via land and maritime routes.
The Belt and Road Initiative links China's development potential with other countries and aims to maintain international order through development, which embodies a perspective different from the West, Zhang said.
When protectionism and isolationism has gained momentum in some developed countries after the 2008 global financial crisis, China reiterated its commitment to opening-up and cooperation with other countries.
In his letters to the Fourth World Internet Conference and the 2017 Fortune Global Forum, Xi promised that China's door to the world will never close but open wider.
President Xi's vision of an open and inclusive world is deeply rooted in China's development trajectory, said Liu Junhong, research fellow at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.
Having benefited from opening-up and globalization, China is not only aware of the importance of sharing opportunities and drawing on each other's merit but also the necessity of coordinated effort to cope with global challenges, such as environmental issues, Liu said.
At the 19th CPC National Congress, Xi pronounced that socialism with Chinese characteristics has now entered a "new era."
"Since China has made remarkable progress in its own governance, it is understandable that the country would like to share its experience with others and that others are willing to listen," said Zheng Changzhong, from School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Shanghai-based Fudan University.
The CPC set a two-step approach to realize the goal of becoming a great modern socialists country in the middle of this century, after building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020.
The country also feel the need to work with and learn from other countries when addressing challenges it faces in the course of realizing these goals, Zheng said.

‘Black Hole of Confrontation’: China Seeks Diplomacy in DPRK, with Moscow Help

A Saturday assessment of the possibility of war - including the use of nuclear weapons - between North Korea and the United States has been described as a “strong and vicious cycle of confrontation,” according to remarks made by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
While diplomatic observers — and Chinese officials — have welcomed an offer by Moscow to host direct negotiations between the US and North Korea, many observe that the move is another example of how Pyongyang continues to drift away from Beijing, increasing the threat of a military confrontation on the peninsula.
"The prospect is not optimistic," Wang asserted, cited by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
The Chinese top diplomat observed that major military exercises by Washington and Seoul must cease, as Pyongyang continues to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) required to drop atom bombs on the mainland US.
"The situation on the Korean peninsula is still plunged into a strong and vicious cycle of confrontation, and the prospect is not optimistic," Wang pointed out, cited by SCMP.
In comments made on Saturday, the Chinese foreign minister urged for calm, while the United Nations scrambled in efforts to diffuse increasingly strident threats made equally by both Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong-un and the US President Donald Trump.
"We should pull the Korean peninsula back from the black hole of confrontation to create the necessary conditions for resuming talks," Wang added.
Wang pointed out that actions taken by Pyongyang or Washington that are outside of the framework of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will damage UN unity, as well as the sovereign rights of nations.
Washington and Pyongyang have continued to threaten each other over the past two weeks, as US nuclear-capable B-1B bombers participate in large-scale war exercises following closely on the heels of another DPRK ICBM test launch.
The UN has in recent days upped attempts to settle the increasingly heated ongoing standoff.
On Saturday, UN undersecretary general Jeffrey Feltman traveled to Beijing after spending five days in Pyongyang, during which time he met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and DPRK vice-foreign minister Pak Myong-kuk, according to the North Korean state news agency KCNA.
During the five day junket Pyongyang asserted that the joint military drills by Washington and Seoul amounted to a provocation and clearly indicated "an intention to mount a surprise nuclear preemptive strike [against DPRK]."
Ties between Beijing and Pyongyang have deteriorated, as DPRK brass are infuriated by Chinese support for ongoing UN sanctions. A special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping was not permitted to meet with Kim Jong-un last month as a result of ongoing tensions.

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Saudi Arabia pushes Palestinians to consider nascent U.S. peace plan

Saudi Arabia pulled no punches when it condemned President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But Palestinian officials say Riyadh has also been working for weeks behind the scenes to press them to support a nascent U.S. peace plan.
Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday with his announcement and instructions to begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite warnings that it will drive the wedge between Israel and the Palestinians even deeper.
The Saudi royal court described the decision as “unjustified and irresponsible” and “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process.”
But Arab officials privately say that Riyadh appears to be on board with a broader U.S. strategy for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan still in its early phases of development.
Four Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition they not be named, said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed in detail a grand bargain that Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, are expected to unveil in the first half of next year.
One official said Mohammed asked Abbas to show support for the U.S. administration’s peace efforts when the two met in Riyadh in November.
Another Palestinian official said Mohammed told Abbas: “Be patient, you will hear good news. This peace process will go ahead.”
The U.S.-Saudi relationship has improved dramatically under Trump, partly because the leaders share a vision of confronting Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran more aggressively in the region.
Kushner, 36, whose father knew Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, has also nurtured strong personal ties with the 32-year-old crown prince as he asserts Saudi influence internationally and amasses power for himself at home.
The Saudi royal court did not respond to requests for comment. A White House official said Kushner did not ask the crown prince to talk to Abbas about the plan.
Ultimate deal
Palestinian officials fear, and many Arab officials suspect, that by closing the door on east Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state, Trump will align with Israel in offering the Palestinians limited self-government inside disconnected patches of the occupied West Bank, with no right of return for refugees displaced by the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967.
The Palestinian officials said they are concerned that the proposal that Mohammed communicated to Abbas, which purportedly came from Kushner, presents exactly that scenario.
As told to Abbas, the proposal included establishing “a Palestinian entity” in Gaza as well as the West Bank administrative areas A and B and 10 percent of area C, which contains Jewish settlements, a third Palestinian official said.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank will stay, there will be no right of return, and Israel will remain responsible for the borders, he said.
The proposal appears to differ little from existing arrangements in the West Bank, widening Palestinian control but falling far short of their minimum national demands. “This is rejected by Palestinians. Abu Mazen (Abbas) explained the position and its danger to the Palestinian cause and Saudi Arabia understood that,” the official said.
The White House official denied that Kushner communicated those details to Mohammed: “It does not accurately reflect any part of the conversation.”
Trump sought to temper the blow from his Jerusalem announcement with a phone call to Abbas on Tuesday, stressing that the Palestinians stand to gain from the plan being drawn up by Kushner and U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt.
“President Trump in a phone call told Abu Mazen: ‘I will have some proposals for you that you would like.’ When Abu Mazen pressed him on details, Trump didn’t give any,” the first Palestinian official said.
A Saudi source said he believes an understanding on Israeli-Palestinian peace will nonetheless begin to emerge in the coming weeks.
“Do not underestimate the businessman in (Trump). He has always called it the ultimate deal,” the source said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“I don’t think our government is going to accept that unless it has something sweetened in the pipeline which (King Salman and the crown prince) could sell to the Arab world — that the Palestinians would have their own state.”
Red line
Trump’s decision on Jerusalem is seen almost uniformly in Arab capitals as a sharp tilt toward Israel, which has only signed peace deals with Egypt and Jordan.
Jordan, a U.S. ally which has played a key role in the peace process since inking its bilateral deal with Israel in 1994, insists that no peace can be achieved without Jerusalem.
Jordanian political analyst Oraib Rantawi, who spoke with King Abdullah after the monarch met with top U.S. administration officials recently, said Amman is worried about being bypassed in favor of Saudi Arabia. “There are direct dealings and a desire to present a deal that is unfair to the Palestinians in return for securing U.S. backing and paving the way for Gulf-Israeli cooperation to confront Iran,” he said.
Most Arab states are unlikely to object to Trump’s announcement because they find themselves more aligned with Israel than ever, particularly on countering Iran, said Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at Brookings Institution in Washington,
“If Saudi officials, including the crown prince himself, were particularly concerned with Jerusalem’s status, they would presumably have used their privileged status as a top Trump ally and lobbied the administration to hold off on such a needlessly toxic move,” he wrote in an article published in The Atlantic.
“It’s unlikely Trump would have followed through if the Saudis had drawn something resembling a red line.”
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of the Security Cabinet, told Army Radio in November that Israel has had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia, a disclosure of long-rumored secret dealings between the two countries which have no official ties.
Saudi Arabia denied the reports. It maintains that normalizing relations hinges on Israeli withdrawal from Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war, territory Palestinians seek for a future state. But with both Saudi Arabia and Israel viewing Iran as a major main threat in the Middle East, shared interests may push them to work together.
Under Mohammed, the kingdom is pushing back at what it sees as growing Iranian influence in and around its borders.
“They’ve got an unprecedented level of support from Washington right now and seem to be making the most of it,” said a diplomat in the region. “They’re not willing to jeopardize that. They’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

The Mad Saudi Prince : Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Is Pushing His Country To The Brink. Will It Hold Together?

By Akbar Shahid Ahmed

The nightmare scenario is the loud, messy collapse of a society full of weapons, money, frustrated young people and extremist tendencies.

Saudi Arabia in free fall would make the other crises in the Middle East look puny.
The hugely wealthy kingdom is key to U.S. efforts to combat America’s most urgent threats. It has stockpiled thousands of ready-to-launch missiles, tens of thousands of bombs, uncounted reserves of small arms, hundreds of tanks and fighter jets and some of the most aggressive spyware available in the world. Through Saudi Arabia’s supply lines to Asia and its sway over the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, it wields vast power over the oil production that fuels global trade.
And its population of nearly 30 million is largely young and often vulnerable to terrorist recruitment, as striking levels of volunteering and fundraising for the self-described Islamic State and al Qaeda have shown. Despite the risks, Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old Saudi king-to-be, has spent close to three years pushing the kingdom to change in unprecedented ways — to forcefully intervene abroad, as it has to brutal effect in neighboring Yemen, to open up its state-dominated economy to entrepreneurs and foreign capital, and above all, to embrace rule by one near-omnipotent leader.
The crown prince is likely to see at least some success. But officials and experts monitoring the kingdom are increasingly worried about his methods. If Mohammed bin Salman pushes too hard, he could shatter his society ― and unleash a nightmare.
Since Nov. 4, the prince has accelerated his campaign. His new anti-corruption agency has arrested hundreds of prominent Saudis ― including royal family members like recently released Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, the son of the previous king and former head of the powerful National Guard, and noted billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal ― as well as dozens of military officers and private businessmen like construction magnate Bakr Binladin.
At least 17 detainees have needed medical attention because of abuse, according to The New York Times, and Saudi authorities say they seek to confiscate much of the wealth these figures accumulated — securing hundreds of billions of dollars to fund Mohammed bin Salman’s agenda.
The prince is aware of international anxiety about Saudi stability. In interviews with important Westerners like Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, he suggests that he shares that concern. Mohammed bin Salman’s argument is that collapse would be likely ― even inevitable ― without his plans. He cites goals reformist Saudis and outsiders have long said Riyadh must adopt: ending endemic corruption, encouraging Saudis to be less dependent on the state with his Vision 2030 economic strategy, and discouraging ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam.
“Changing Saudi Arabia for the better means helping the region and changing the world. So this is what we are trying to do here. And we hope we get support from everyone,” the prince told The Guardian in October. But he’s also fundamentally changing the methods his country has relied on to avert catastrophe.
[Mohammed bin Salman] has consolidated power in a way unknown to the kingdom since the age of his grandfather in the 1930s and ’40s. “The [Saudi] system itself is in many ways built around trying to ensure stability,” Derek Chollet, who has served in top positions at the White House, Pentagon and State Department since the 1990s, told HuffPost.
Consider the last time Saudi Arabia had a hostile army on its borders. It didn’t announce a response for six days.
“You had King Fahd, but you had Crown Prince Abdullah, the head of the National Guard; Prince Sultan, the head of the defense ministry; Prince Nayef, head of the interior ministry; and Prince Saud Al-Faisal at the foreign ministry,” said F. Gregory Gause, an expert on the Persian Gulf at Texas A&M University.
“These were all senior members of the family. They all had a voice in what went on,” Gause continued, adding, “the king had to, if not get a consensus, at least consult around with various people. So if we look at 1990, which is relatively well-documented from the American side, we know that the Saudis for days didn’t acknowledge that the Iraqis had invaded Kuwait because they hadn’t come to a decision on how to handle it.”
That consensus-based system — which King Salman, the crown prince’s father, once described to American interviewer Karen Elliott House as Saudi Arabia’s answer to democracy — dominated the kingdom’s politics for decades.
Saudi Arabians do not choose representatives who can truly influence the policies of their king. Saudi courts have little judicial independence. And the regime’s domestic critics have never wielded real power. Sons of the founder of the modern Saudi state, including King Salman, have ruled in succession since 1953, and various brothers, sons and cousins have developed independent power centers by running various aspects of the sprawling government. The chief checks and balances on any rulers of the kingdom were traditionally within the top tier of the thousands-strong royal family.
With last month’s arrests, Mohammed bin Salman signaled that the old system is dead. The prince had already slashed the power of the kingdom’s religious establishment, the one institution in the country that can claim as central a role in Saudi history as the royal family, and jailed more than 30 clerics, intellectuals and activists. Now high-ranking sources in the kingdom say they are afraid of growing surveillance.
The prince has consolidated power in a way unknown to the kingdom since the the age of his grandfather in the 1930s and ’40s. Experts say his goal is to show the only way to thrive in Saudi Arabia is to be loyal to his agenda and to him personally. But it’s unclear what comes next, and why there should be any confidence that it will work.
“If you think you can change Saudi society without the religious types enthusiastically behind you, without the rich people supporting you and by marginalizing this huge network of regime support that the ruling family represented, that’s a risky path,” Gause, the Texas A&M professor, told HuffPost.
The Saudi government’s response to those doubts is firm: We know what we’re doing. “The pace of change has changed due to the young and dynamic leadership in addition to the young and educated population,” Fatimah Baeshen, the spokeswoman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, told HuffPost in a recent email.
“Vision 2030 set long-term aims and also creates a platform for everyone to contribute, both of which ensure the country’s sustainability,” she added. “There is a symbiotic relationship between public sentiment and ongoing public discourse which informs policy development. This helps set the pace and ensures stability.”

Mohammed bin Salman can rely on significant support.
His anti-corruption rhetoric resonates with millions of Saudis who feel that the elite have fleeced state oil revenues, as well as with businesspeople around the world who are frustrated with unaccountable Saudi partners. “It would be a mistake to dismiss all authoritarian efforts to clean up government as little more than ‘political theater,’” analysts Andrew Leber and Christopher Carothers wrote of the crackdown in Saudi Arabia, suggesting it might lead to long-lasting and positive reforms.
The prince’s decision to allow Saudi women to drive and to defang the kingdom’s long-feared religious police will likely also pay dividends. “He gets lots of people because of these cards, [like the] social liberalism card,” said Hala Aldosari, a Saudi rights activist and current fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. “For Saudis, this is a gain, even if it means this is a gain being made for political reasons, to present himself as the visionary leader more appropriate for relations with the West.” 
Mohammed bin Salman’s approach of strategically reducing global oil supplies (and even Saudi market share) to keep prices high recently helped boost Saudi foreign reserves for the first time in months, and there are high expectations for the anticipated payouts to the treasury, courtesy of his anti-corruption drive and the income Riyadh can gain from publicly listing part of its state-owned oil company. The same month as the crackdown, Saudi Arabia’s non-oil private sector grew at its quickest pace in two years, a recent economic survey showed.
But blunders are inevitable. The question is how big they’ll be.
One possibility is that the prince won’t be able to pull off most of the change he’s gunning for, will decide that it’s impossible, and will fall into old, self-destructive Saudi habits. There are already signs he will have to slow-roll attempted cuts to public benefits.
To Aldosari, a former government consultant, Mohammed bin Salman’s challenges to the old system don’t even seem as sweeping as many have suggested. “It’s not a change of structure, it’s a change of approach: how to distribute power,” she told HuffPost.
She envisages the prince setting up his own new (if smaller) club of inevitably corrupt elites to replace the old guard, and believes he’ll ultimately be seen as more personally linked to Saudi government policy than previous kings ― and therefore, more likely to be blamed when things go wrong. 
Saudis have blasted Mohamad bin Salman’s response to recent floods in Jeddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city, noting that he’d promised accountability measures that would force corrupt officials to actually spend government money on infrastructure to prevent such flooding.
His anti-corruption credentials have also suffered because of The Wall Street Journal’s revelation that he spent close to half a billion dollars on a Leonardo da Vinci painting in October. It remains unclear how much money he and his branch of the royal family have made over the years.
If Mohammed bin Salman chooses to mostly follow the path of previous kings, simply modifying it to accommodate his desire to have more personal control, the system could become even more repressive, Aldosari said, with the human rights community losing one potential check on the king’s prerogative. In the past, she explained, royals with influence sometimes intervened on activists’ behalf, as Prince Alwaleed did when he urged lighter prison sentences for women arrested for challenging the driving restrictions.
Wealthy Saudis have long been willing to fund men with guns ― including extremists. It’s not hard to imagine some turning to that tactic again.
An even darker future may come to pass if Mohammed bin Salman’s plans backfire dramatically. The lack of due process in the targeting of notable Saudis has already spookedthe international investors he’s hoping to court and the powerful figures at home who are now exploring ways to protect their assets because they think they might be next. There’s a chance the decisive boom in non-oil Saudi business he’s waiting for just won’t come ― and the country will be left with shrunken government reserves from his surrendering of Saudi market share in the oil trade, as well as a population angry about failed promises and slashed benefits. 
Unlike previous Saudi monarchs, Mohammed bin Salman also won’t be able to rely on a system historically proven to manage dissent when he is king. He’s scared off potential challengers for now, but experts believe anger might linger, particularly in agencies like the interior ministry that have long been controlled by branches of the royal family that he has sidelined. That resentment could fuel private scheming to thwart the king-to-be, perhaps after he loses his father’s protection and lays his own claim to the throne. It could even inspire direct assaults, like the assassination attempt that claimed King Faisal’s life in 1975, or the violent takeover of the holy complex in Mecca in 1979 by ultraconservative militants.
Wealthy Saudis have long been willing to fund men with guns ― including extremists, as in the cases of al Qaeda and ISIS, which have both pledged to overthrow the Saudi regime. It’s not hard to imagine some turning to that tactic again, perhaps even boosting internal pockets of resistance like the persecuted Shiite community in the oil-rich Eastern Province.
A Saudi civil war would be a brutal affair ― one directly implicating and endangering the West, given how much American and European weaponry is in the kingdom and how Middle East security vacuums have proven to shelter militants planning attacks thousands of miles away.
Internal fissures could also lead Mohammed bin Salman to wreak havoc beyond the kingdom’s borders. His efforts against regional rival Iran have already brought millions to the brink of famine in Yemen and proven “haphazard, unsettling and counterproductive,” according to International Institute for Strategic Studies analyst Emile Hokayem. The bitterness he’s inspired among traditionally Saudi-friendly Sunni Muslims in Lebanon by forcing the televised humiliation of their leader ― in Saudi Arabia, no less ― is a potent example.
But using foreign interventions to stoke Saudi nationalism is one of the prince’s favored tactics to shore up support, Aldosari told HuffPost. The kingdom may embark on more messy, internationally condemned adventures abroad ― and it’s unclear how they will end. Well-connected former CIA official Bruce Riedel recently told a Washington audience that the prince’s foreign policy has failed to account for any way out of the crises he has created so far.
The widely held view among observers of the region, including some fierce critics of the kingdom and the prince, is that it would be best for the kingdom and the world if Mohammed bin Salman’s big gamble were to work out.
The expectation of relative stability has been part of the foundation of U.S.-Saudi relations, analysts Michael Stephens and Thomas Juneau wrote in 2016. Chollet, the former U.S. official now at the German Marshall Fund think tank, told HuffPost he recalled anxiety among Obama aides in 2011 and 2012 when then-King Abdullah’s health began to falter and it appeared that the Saudi succession might become problematic. He counts himself as one of many in Washington rooting for Mohammed bin Salman to succeed, but unsure if he can.
When Riyadh errs, Chollet said, Washington has some leverage to spur better judgment, but sometimes not enough. And under President Donald Trump, who has loudly praised Mohammed bin Salman’s purges and whose son-in-law Jared Kushner is enamored with the prince, even limited cautioning seems unlikely. A U.S. official working on the region recently described the White House as unwilling to hear criticism of Mohammed bin Salman’s choices, and said the only prospect of a change is if the famously fickle U.S. president one day simply changes his mind on his own.
“In many ways, [Trump and the Saudi royals] feel very familiar to one another,” Chollet said, joking, “They have the same interior decorator.” 
Some seasoned Saudi watchers say the young king-in-waiting is adjusting course. Official Washington was very pleased with a report last month from Washington Post grandee David Ignatius that suggested Mohammed bin Salman seeks calm resolutions to his November surprises ― the corruption arrests and the Lebanese prime minister’s since-reversed resignation announcement ― by settling with detainees out of court and reiterating Saudi support for the U.S.-backed national army of Lebanon.
But there’s still anxiety in the air.
“Regime stability is an enduring concern,” Chollet said. “Instability in Saudi Arabia does not stay in Saudi Arabia.”

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#Pakistan #CapitalTV - Was #SaudiArabia likely to recognize #Israel?


Security officials raided a house in Layyah district and took two innocent Shia Muslims into custody without any charge against them from there. However, later they released one and subjected the other one to enforced disappearance.

The raid was conducted at the house of Jameel Khan in Chak Sahu Wala in Layyah district where the owner was not present hence the cops whisked away Akhtar Hussain and Nazim Khan. Later, they reportedly released Akhtar Hussain.
Innocent Shia Muslims are being subjected to enforced disappearance in all over Pakistan although there is no criminal charge against them. Their relatives and Shia parties have voiced their protest against the violation of the fundamental human rights of Shia citizens of Pakistan who were illegally detained and not being produced in the courts for trial if there is any charge against them.

#Pakistan - #Polio virus: 69,389 children remain unvaccinated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

By Umer Farooq
As officials involved in anti-polio campaigns struggle to prevent the spread of virus, some 69,389 children in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) remain unvaccinated even after the repeated campaigns launched during National Immunisation Drive (NID) across the province.
The campaign was launched on November 20 where around 5.8 million children below the age of five were administered the polio vaccine, with 69,383 left unvaccinated.
The figure was higher initially but dropped down to 69,383 by Tuesday.
“We have always been saying that the virus can be eliminated in a single campaign if all the children are vaccinated leaving not even a single one behind. Even if one child is left unvaccinated, it harms the entire programme,” a senior health official said.
An official, on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that despite repeated awareness campaigns launched across the province, some parents still refuse to get their children vaccinated which was the main problem the officials faced in carrying out the campaign successfully.
According to Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) report, out of the total of 69,389 children who remained unvaccinated, 63,270 were not available in their homes during the visit of the polio teams while the parents of 6,119 children refused to get their children vaccinated.
“We call them ‘not available’ when they are not at their homes but they are available somewhere else for instance in schools, grandparents’ home, uncles’ or anywhere else and may have received the vaccination. However, the main problem is when parents refuse polio workers to vaccinate their children,” the official said.
“If you don’t vaccinate 22,138 children, sitting right under your nose, you will not be able to root this virus out of the province,” the official said.
In Peshawar alone, some 18,324 children were not available at home during the polio teams’ visit while parents of 3,814 children refused to get their children inoculated.
Peshawar was followed by Charsadda district where parents of 555 children refused polio vaccine for their children, while 1,720 children were not available for vaccination.
According to the official data, parents of some 497 from Nowshera, 381 from Lakki Marwat, 307 from Swabi, 289 from Bannu, 136 from Mardan and 42 each from Mansehra and Tank also refused polio vaccine.
Poliovirus cases have dropped sharply from 306 in 2014 to only five in 2017. Only one case each was confirmed from K-P, Sindh, Punjab, Gilgit-Baltistan and Baluchistan in 2017.
On the other hand, not even a single case surfaced from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for over a year.

#Pakistan - Zardari, Qadri didn't discuss toppling of govt, says PPP leader

Opposition Leader in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah has said that former president Asif Ali Zardari in his meeting with Tahirul Qadri did not discuss any plan to overthrow the incumbent government.
Speaking to reporters in Sukkur on Saturday, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader reiterated his party position of not supporting any extra-constitutional step, saying the PPP wanted the elected government to complete its five-year tenure, Express News reported.
“We will not be a part of any attempt to overthrow the government… we want this government to complete its constitutional term,” he said. The PPP co-chairman visited the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) head office on Thursday to discuss the political situation against the backdrop of the Justice Baqar Najafi commission report about the 2014 Model Town clash between police and protesters that claimed several lives.
Talking to media persons after their meeting, Qadri and Zardari said they had agreed to start a movement against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government in Punjab if the chief minister did not step down.
Commenting over criticism hurled at the party leadership, Shah said Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan was alarmed by PPP’s latest power show in Islamabad, and therefore was resorting to attacks aimed at party leadership.

Pakistan - Bilawal Bhutto welcomes Aga Khan, appreciates his efforts in health, education sectors

Pakistan People's Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has extended warm welcome to H. H. Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini Aga Khan IV on his visit to Pakistan.
It is part of a series of visits that coincides with the commemoration of his Diamond Jubilee, beginning earlier this year on July 11.
The PPP chairman appreciated the contributions of Aga Khan Foundation’s in the development of health, education and welfare sectors, which have left positive and progressive impact in the respective fields.
Bilawal said that Prince Karim Aga Khan is always accorded warm welcome whenever he visits Pakistan and the people of Pakistan, especially the PPP hold him in highest esteem.
Earlier,  Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had lauded the role of Prince Karim Aga Khan for promotion of peace and interfaith harmony and his valuable contribution towards social, economic and cultural development of Pakistan.
He expressed these views on Friday at the Prime Minister House when Aga Khan called on him. 

Prince Karim Aga Khan was accompanied by his daughter Princess Zahra Aga Khan as well as senior representatives of Aga Khan’s welfare organisations including Hafiz Sherali, President Council for Pakistan, Sultan Allana, ambassador Arif Lalani, head of the diplomatic department, seat of the Ismaili Imamat, Firoz Rasul, President Aga Khan University, and Iqbal Walji, Chairman National Committee Aga Khan Foundation, Pakistan.

#Pakistan - Battle for #Lahore

Afrasiab Khattak
After politically almost choking Islamabad to death through a sit in by a violent band of religious zealots in November, the action of the unfolding coup has shifted to Lahore in December to demolish the provincial government which is the actual base of PML-N rule over the country. By stopping Mian Nawaz Sharif from mobilizing masses, the Trojan horses of establishment in the ruling party are making it easier for the “umpire” to raise his finger and to send everyone packing. The arrival of TuQ from Canada is as sure a sign of the beginning of a new stage of the coup as the appearance of Siberian cranes in early October signalling the arrival of autumn in Pakistan. By using one card after the other, from corruption card to religious card and then the criminal (murder cases) card, the putschists want to impress upon the so called electable horses that they better disassociate themselves from PML-N as it is going to be at the receiving end of the repression by the deep state. Bruised and battered, the ruling political party has cracked up at some points under pressure, but it has proved to be far more resilient than many would have expected it to be and it may be down but is certainly not out. PML-N remains to be a formidable challenge in electoral arena to the pro establishment political players who had pinned high hopes on quick fragmentation of the ruling party. But the horrible Faizabad drama in Islamabad followed by manoeuvres in Lahore makes it clear that this government will not be allowed to survive till March and gain majority in the Senate.
This is surely not for the first time that an elected political government is being removed by a back room intrigue. This has become almost a rule in the post Zia martial law Pakistan with very few exceptions. After the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010 that strengthened Article 6 of the Constitution, sacking of the elected Prime Minister through the Supreme Court has become the dominant trend. But there are few characteristics of the current creeping coup that distinguishes it from the past operations for the regime change. One, the Apex Court of the country in its wisdom disqualified the elected Prime Minister without a proper trail. The legal grounds of the disqualification order were so shaky that most of the sane legal experts questioned its propriety. Common people could also see through the legal charade. Two, by allowing retired General Musharraf to leave the country and subsequently refuse to turn up in the high treason case, the higher judiciary has exposed its weakness in prosecution of a man in uniform, even if he is a retired one. The contrast in their handling of cases against Nawaz Sharif and General Musharraf is not lost on the general public. Slow paddling on money laundering cases against Imran Khan and Jehangir Tareen has further added to the perception of double standards. Three, Nawaz Sharif refused to accept the court order as a fiat accompli and demonstrated defiance bordering at mild resistance. Particularly his GT Road march and huge mass mobilization had unnerved the putschists. Four, the current creeping coup has been for more messy and ugly as there is no united and organised opposition to challenge the government on genuine issues and to provide leadership for steering the country out of the prevailing crises. PTI has behaved like a typical king’s party refraining from addressing extremist/terrorist challenge, foreign policy or civil-military relations. Apart from timidly and meekly following establishment’s line it has also acted as cheer leader for the creeping coup, hardly being able to hide its impatience to jump at the spoils of power.
But some of the recent positions of PPP are also unfortunate. No clear reasons were given by PPP for the withdrawal of the bill from Parliament that envisaged across the board accountability by bringing generals and judges under the accountability net along with politicians, civil bureaucrats and other sections of society. Similarly by joining or supporting TuQ’s latest sit in, in Lahore , which by all manifestations is the final push by the putschists, PPP has damaged its democratic credentials. It’s true that PML-N had supported putschist gimmicks like the so called Memogate against the PPP government. It is also true that by sidelining the Parliament and by not reaching out to democratic forces the current ruling party has weakened the democratic system. It is particularly true after 2014 sit in when most of the opposition political parties did stand by the Parliament and the Constitution in the face of threats at the hands of anti-democratic forces. All the criticism on these grounds against PML-N is valid. But after all politics is not a tribal feud. Democratic culture can’t be developed by settling scores of the past political feuds. The vicious cycle of political polarisation which is systematically exploited by anti-democratic forces has to come to an end.
Unfortunately most of the political parties are more interested in their individual quest for power than developing a genuine democratic culture in the country. For the latter they will have to first reform themselves before reforming the state system because only a political culture based on democracy, transparency, accountability and meritocracy can give political parties the type of moral strength that can enable them to push through the reforms agenda. But it should also be made clear that criticising political parties to put pressure on them for reforms is one thing and systematically demonising them for doing away with democracy is something totally different. Lots of resources and manipulations have gone into campaigns on electronic media for discrediting democracy through demonising politics and political parties.
But if the recent trend on social media is anything to go by many people of the country have been able to recognize the real rulers of the country as facade of the civilian rule is constantly eroding. The mentors of the banned outfits are well known. The growing harsh criticism of the policies of the security establishment for patronizing religious extremism is a clear indication of this fact. The country can’t be left at the mercy of myopic and adventurist policies that have already damaged the country. Whatever is the result of the battle for Lahore , the battle for Pakistan is expected to continue.