Friday, January 19, 2018
President Donald Trump once was skeptical of the totalitarian dictatorship commonly known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He complained, correctly, that Saudis had funded terrorism against America and wondered why the U.S. subsidized protection of a wealthy petro-state.
However, after taking office the president, perhaps affected by abundant flattery judiciously employed by people highly skilled in the art, acted like just another Westerner hired by the Saudi royals to do their bidding. After his visit Riyadh’s wish seemingly became Washington’s command. The result has been a steady assault on American interests and values.
The West’s relationship with the Kingdom always has been transactional. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud forged the new Saudi nation after the fortuitous collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. The Kingdom mattered little until the discovery of oil in 1938. Abundant petroleum won America’s “friendship.”
Successive presidents have celebrated the bilateral relationship, sometimes with unseemly faux intimacy, even though the two countries shared little other than a desire to keep the oil flowing one way and dollars the other. The KSA belongs in another age. The country is an absolute, not constitutional, monarchy. Nor is rule based on primogeniture. Rather, until a couple years ago the crown was passed among an ever-aging set of brothers who were sons of ibn Saud. That tended to result in short and decrepit reigns, as well as collegial rule. The benefits of a royal pedigree were substantial; by one count around 7000 princes shared the nation’s bounty.
The royals long ago made a deal with fundamentalist Wahhabist clergy: the former would enforce social totalitarianism at home in return for the latter teaching obedience to the royals. One result was to create a state perhaps more hostile to Christianity and other non-Muslim faiths than even North Korea. At least the latter hosts a few official churches, presenting a thin veneer of religious diversity.
However, low oil prices and youthful population created increasing strain in the KSA. But hope for reform never was satisfied. Elderly and infirm kings came and died, only to be replaced by even more elderly and infirm rulers. Now the U.S. is dealing with a very different personality, the 32-year-old crown prince (and de facto sovereign) Mohammed bin Salman. In 2015 King Salman assumed the thrown and anointed his favorite son as deputy crown prince, then appointed MbS as heir apparent last year, as the current crown prince is known. The Saudi regime once was cautious and measured, unwilling to let anything disturb the good life enjoyed by royals with few skills other than maneuvering amidst the complex al-Saud family. However, King Salman almost immediately put MbS in charge of the Kingdom’s affairs. The latter immediately took his nation in conflicting directions. His government promoted economic opportunity and social modernity, while deepening political repression and seeking military hegemony.
It is a toxic mix that threatens America’s interests in the Middle East.
MbS won a reputation as a reformer by relaxing some of the KSA’s most archaic restrictions, especially on women. These were welcome, long-overdue steps. However, liberty, such as it is, remains limited to personal life. Islam may become looser, but it remains the only acceptable faith. Although the young are invited to choose a more liberal lifestyle, they may not intrude in politics, and certainly not criticize the Saudi “Decider,” as President George W. Bush once anointed himself. Indeed, MbS turned a rather ramshackle, collegial authoritarian aristocracy into a more traditional personal dictatorship. It is to speed the process of reform, insist the crown prince’s overseas admirers. Yet the ruthless seizure of power, calculated centralization of authority, and brutal shakedown of wealthy princes bode ill for the future. Repackaging what would be viewed as shocking abuses elsewhere cannot sanitize MbS’s rule. Particularly striking is the ongoing use of the security agencies to arrest and torture high profile members of the hyper-moneyed class to force them to disgorge their assets. This supposed crackdown on “corruption” looks more like the better-armed gang members changing how the loot gets divvied up once the criminal heist is completed. After all, the al-Sauds have no moral claim to their people’s wealth. Which of the elite gets to spend most of it—MBS recently acquired a luxury yacht, French estate, and DaVinci painting—is a practical issue of little consequence for average Saudis.
Riyadh’s new foreign policy has been even more problematic. Before MbS claimed kingly authority, Saudi Arabia intervened in Syria on behalf of radical jihadists who pose a far greater threat to the West than ever did the repressive but secular Assad regime. Riyadh also intervened militarily to back Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy against the majority Shia population. However, the crown prince is responsible for Saudi Arabia’s worst blunder, launching a brutal, bloody war in neighboring Yemen to reinstall a puppet regime. The long-running domestic Yemeni conflict has turned into an international sectarian war in which at little cost to itself Iran has been able to bleed Saudi Arabia.
MbS also launched last year’s de facto blockade of Qatar, which divided the Gulf—the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain joined Riyadh, while Oman and Kuwait remained neutral—and pushed Doha toward both Iran and Turkey. Although the KSA claimed to be targeting terrorism, historically it has been one of the most important sources of money and people for terrorists, especially those targeting America. President Trump tweeted his support for Riyadh, but the Departments of State and Defense tilted toward Qatar. More recently MbS invited the Lebanese prime minister to Saudi Arabia, then effectively kidnapped him and forced him to proclaim his resignation. International pressure forced the Kingdom to release Saad Hariri, after which he recanted his resignation. The KSA threatened to destroy that nation’s fragile peace in an attempt to weaken the Shia Hezbollah movement, backed by Iran, but ended up strengthening Riyadh’s opponents.
MbS’ pursuit of Mideast hegemony would be antithetical to U.S. interests at most any time. Adding to his recklessness is the fact his primary target is Iran. Admittedly, the latter poses an existential threat to a royal form of government which makes no sense in the modern age. Although Tehran’s Islamic dictatorship begs for a popular revolution, at least the existing Iranian government is based on principle, though highly flawed. People are willing to die for Islam. But for a pampered royal elite which believes itself to be entitled to power, position, wealth, and more? Not so much.
So the crown prince hopes to convince—or, more likely, manipulate—the Trump administration to do Riyadh’s dirty work and attack Iran. Indeed, MbS’s government charged Tehran with alleged committing an act of war by allegedly arming Yemen with missiles which were being fired at Riyadh. The claim was unproved. Moreover, Saudi Arabia was routinely bombing Yemen, including the capital of Sanaa, and had killed thousands of civilians. Contending that Yemenis had no right to fight back was, well, obscene. Such is the Saudi code of war. The U.S. needs to put distance between it and a regime that undermines both U.S. values and interests. Best for America would be rough parity between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Despite fear-mongering promoted by both the Saudi and Israeli governments, Tehran so far poses little threat to anyone, especially the U.S. Iran’s military forces and outlays dramatically trail those of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Although Republican politicians routinely tar Tehran as a terrorist regime, Riyadh has done far more to underwrite terrorist movements, which almost always are Sunni rather than Shiite. Before President Trump foolishly treated Iranians as the enemy by impeding contacts with the West, President Barack Obama’s outreach and nuclear agreement had created the possibility of a better future, encouraging a long-term political battle between younger, professional, and urban Iranians and discredited if still powerful Islamic fundamentalists. As for Iran’s alleged geopolitical gains, none impress: greater influence in the political wreckage known as the Assad government; temporary increase in clout with one Yemeni faction in a nation riven by civil war which has never known peace and stability; and maintenance of an indirect role in Lebanon’s badly fractured society through Hezbollah, but with little practical international effect. Most significant may be Iran’s increased clout in Iraq, which, of course, was a gift from George W. Bush, who removed Saddam Hussein from power. That predictably enhanced the role of Iraq’s majority Shia neighbor, in which many of today’s Iraqi elite sheltered during Hussein’s dictatorship. Still, most Iraqis have no interest in being governed from Tehran.
The Trump administration would well start by ending U.S. support for the KSA’s murderous and purposeless war in Yemen. The president should indicate that Saudi Arabia’s efforts would better be directed against any remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters in the region. He also should back Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson by criticizing Riyadh’s foolish attempt to turn Qatar into a puppet state. Assuming MbS is serious about battling Islamic extremism, Washington should suggest that the crown prince end his nation’s support for intolerant Wahhabism abroad while doing more to clean up textbooks and sermons at home.
Rather than inadvertently aid Iran’s radicals by legitimizing their meme of eternal American hostility, the U.S. should expand prospective opportunities for a reformed Iran, encouraging political struggle within. And Washington should push the Kingdom and UAE to do the same, essentially following the softer line offered by Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman. If MbS wants to start a war with Iran, he should know he will be on his own.
During the Cold War Washington’s close embrace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made a certain strategic sense, though the enthusiasm exhibited by American policymakers never did. Today a far more limited, arms-length relationship is needed. Despite acclaim for MbS as a far-sighted reformer, his chief talents appear to be accumulating and abusing power. Perhaps he will mature over time, but American policy should not be dependent on such a transformation.
By Nicolas Niarchos
The conflict has killed at least ten thousand civilians, and the country faces famine. Why are we still involved?
Funerals in Yemen are traditionally large affairs. When prominent figures die, hundreds or even thousands of people come to pay their respects and to pray for them. Abdulqader Hilal Al-Dabab, the mayor of Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, could expect such treatment. But Hilal used to ask for a simple burial. “If I get killed when I’m in office, I don’t want a state funeral,” he told his sons. He wanted to be buried in a grave he’d reserved next to his father’s.
Hilal had seen enough devastation to know to make plans for his demise. In the past three decades, Yemen has had nine wars, two insurgencies, and a revolution; Hilal governed a region with strong ties to Al Qaeda, and had survived an assassination attempt. A father of eleven, he was a former marathon runner who won North Yemen’s inter-university challenge three times. In Sana’a, Hilal kept a garden with a gazebo, where he received guests. Stephen Seche, the former United States Ambassador to Yemen, recalled sitting there while Hilal explained Yemeni politics. Other diplomats saw him as a moderating force, someone who could negotiate the intricate mesh of tribal, business, and political affiliations that make up Yemeni society.
Yemen’s most recent conflict began in early 2015, when Houthi rebels, from the country’s northern highlands, overran Sana’a and a Saudi-led coalition began bombing them. The Houthis allied with a former President and co-opted tribal networks in an effort to solidify and expand their power. Now they control much of the northwest of the country, while the internationally recognized government holds the south and the east. The Saudi coalition is made up of nine Middle Eastern and African countries, and is supported by the United States. Sana’a has been in Houthi hands since the start of the war, but Hilal was neutral. “He had a lot of the right characteristics of somebody who you easily could have seen as being the person that would have been a consensus figure to emerge as a new transition President or Vice-President or Prime Minister,” Matthew Tueller, the current U.S. Ambassador, told me.
In early October, 2016, the father of Hilal’s close friend Jalal al-Ruwayshan died. Ruwayshan, the Minister of the Interior, was working with Hilal in negotiating between Yemen’s various factions to end the war. The Ruwayshan family announced that it would receive condolences at the Al-Sala Al-Kubra Community Hall, in Sana’a. On the night before the funeral, Hilal’s son Hussein called his father and asked him to urge the Ruwayshan family to consider postponing the event. Since the beginning of the war, the Saudi coalition’s air strikes have hit large civilian gatherings. Hilal replied that the Saudi Air Force would not bomb the funeral. “Even war has morals,” he said. As Hilal left for the funeral, Ammar Yahiya al-Hebari was preparing his d.j. mixing board at the community hall. Hebari is a solid-looking forty-year-old, with a white stripe in his hair. He is famous across northern Yemen as a funeral chanter. Like Hilal, Hebari thought there would not be a strike. The rebels and the Saudi government had just agreed to a U.N.-brokered truce, and the funeral “was not a political or political-party gathering,” he told me.
In the early afternoon, the hall began to fill with men wearing white head scarves and the traditional curved daggers, called janbiyas, in their belts. Many were chewing high-quality khat, a mild stimulant leaf, which had been brought from Khawlan, the seat of the Ruwayshan family. At around one-thirty, Hebari started to chant. He estimated that some three thousand people had crowded into the hall. A rumor spread that the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Houthi ally, would soon arrive. Documents given to Nawal Al-Maghafi, a journalist who made a documentary about the day’s events for the BBC, show that informants were providing the Saudi coalition with updates on who was there. When Hilal arrived, Hebari noticed how relaxed he appeared. At one point, a beggar approached Hilal. His guards tried to shoo the man away, but Hilal reached into his shirt pocket and gave the beggar all his cash. “This was his last act,” Hebari told me. A little after three o’clock, one of Hilal’s guards heard a noise. It was a coalition jet, crashing eastward through the hot afternoon sky. “Boss, I heard a jet,” he said. Hilal looked at him and shook his head. The hall rumbled with the noise of an aircraft a second time, louder, lower. The guard turned nervously to Hilal. The Mayor grinned and said, “Son, I’m not going to leave.” The third time that the hall shook, Hilal’s guard heard the sound of air whistling against the tail fins of a bomb as it zigzagged toward them, its guidance system making corrections to its trajectory. “Sir, it’s a missile!” he shouted. Hilal was smiling. The floor erupted in flames. As the guard lost consciousness, he saw a wall collapse and crush Hilal.
More than a hundred and forty mourners were killed and five hundred were wounded in the strike. Afterward, Yemeni investigators unearthed a tail fin of one of the bombs. The serial number indicates that the bomb, a Mark-82—a sleek steel case eighty-seven inches long, twelve inches in diameter, and filled with five hundred pounds of explosive—was produced by Raytheon, the third-largest defense company in the United States. The bomb had been modified with a laser guidance system, made in factories in Arizona and Texas, called a Paveway-II. The weapons are sometimes referred to as “dumb bombs with graduate degrees.” “They had been sold to the Saudis on the understanding that they would make their targeting more accurate,” Mark Hiznay, the associate arms director at Human Rights Watch, told me. “It turned out that the Saudis were failing to take all the feasible precautions in attacks that were killing civilians accurately.” Many who died had been negotiating between the warring factions. “It was such a foolish strike, because even the Saudis recognized that more people who were sympathetic to the Saudi position than the Houthi position were killed,” a senior State Department official told me. I asked a senior Arab diplomat from the Saudi coalition whom he could envisage in a transition government. “Who would you hand Yemen to? Who would be part of that?” he asked. “There is nobody.” Since the war began, at least ten thousand Yemeni civilians have been killed, though the number is potentially much higher, because few organizations on the ground have the resources to count the dead. Some three million people have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands have left the country. Before the war, Yemen was the Middle East’s poorest state, relying on imports to feed the population. Now, after effectively being blockaded by the coalition for more than two and a half years, it faces famine. More than a million people have cholera, and thousands have died from the disease. unicef, the World Food Program, and the World Health Organization have called the situation in Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Yet the U.S. and Great Britain have continued to support the coalition, mainly with weapons sales and logistical help. (A small contingent of U.S. Special Forces fights Al Qaeda militants in the south of the country.) Without foreign assistance, it would be very difficult for the Saudis to wage war. As casualties mount, legislators in the U.S. have begun to question support for the Saudis. Nonetheless, the Administration of Donald Trump has refused to criticize the kingdom.
“Maybe he’s not leading us back to his parking space.”
Yemen’s history is marked by foreign interventions that have failed to reckon with the complexity of the country’s politics. In the nineteen-seventies, the country was divided into South Yemen and North Yemen. In 1978, Saleh, a young colonel, took power in the North, after his predecessor was killed by a Communist agent with a suitcase bomb. Saleh was little known, and not from the Yemeni élite, but he was skilled at manipulating the country’s mixture of tribes, religious groups, and interested foreign parties—a feat he called “dancing on the heads of snakes.” When the two Yemens unified, in 1990, it was under Saleh’s leadership. The Saudis saw Saleh as an effective but unreliable ally, and they began to influence Yemen by going around him. Flush with money donated by sheikhs from the Gulf states, Yemenis who had been living in Saudi Arabia came home and founded schools that promoted Salafi Islam, an austere Sunni doctrine that is closely linked to the Wahhabism practiced in Saudi Arabia. The Salafis soon became a powerful religious and political constituency, and they preached against Zaydism, the branch of Islam that the Houthis practice.
The Houthi movement takes its name from the Houthi family, whose home province, Saada, in the north of Yemen, has always enjoyed a degree of autonomy. (A long-serving State Department employee remembers visiting an open-air arms market there soon after Saleh came to power. He was told that he could order a Polish tank.) In a photograph of the family taken in the nineteen-nineties, Badreddin al-Houthi, a small man with dark eyes and the traditional white turban of an imam, is dwarfed by his sons, who surround him. At the beginning of the nineties, Badreddin began to organize the Houthi clan to counter the Salafi movement around Saada.
Badreddin had four wives and at least thirteen sons, who set up popular summer camps, which, by the mid-nineties, had attracted some twenty thousand people. The camps, using rhetoric borrowed from Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and its Iranian backers, promoted Zaydi Islam. They also embraced the causes of Shiites, whom they saw as being oppressed by Sunnis around the Middle East and North Africa. Badreddin’s sons screened videos of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. In the mid-nineties, Badreddin’s eldest son, Hussein, travelled to Qom, a Shiite center of learning in Iran, where he reportedly began developing ties to the Iranian regime. When he returned to Yemen, he started denouncing the U.S. and Israel. He founded Ansar Allah, the political movement that came to be known as the Houthis. In January, 2002, he delivered “A Scream in the Face of the Arrogant,” a speech that ended with a slogan that is now chanted by Houthis, and which, in red and green Arabic letters, adorns fighters’ assault rifles:
God is great!
Death to America!
Death to Israel!
A curse on the Jews!
Victory for Islam!
Saleh, who had begun receiving weapons and equipment from the U.S., in exchange for promising to oppose terrorism, found this anti-Americanism untenable, and sent troops to the north. In June, 2004, Hussein took refuge in the mountains and began a guerrilla war. Saleh’s troops found the cave in which he was hiding, poured gasoline inside, and set it on fire. Hussein was soon captured and, in September, Saleh’s government announced that he had been killed, and hung posters of his corpse around Saada. In the following decade, the Houthis fought six wars with Saleh’s government. “Those wars really were brutal,” Bernard Haykel, a scholar of the Middle East who visited Saada at the time, told me. They “pushed the Houthis to the edge of despair: huge numbers of casualties, lots of generally displaced people.” During this period, the Saudis largely ignored Yemen. “I think that a vacuum was created that was filled by Iran and Hezbollah,” Haykel said. “Lots of Houthis and Zaydis were going back and forth to Beirut and also to Iran.” Still, Iranian investment was limited. As Gregory Gause, an expert on Saudi Arabia who teaches at Texas A. & M., said, “The Houthis wanted to be affiliated with the Iranians much more than the Iranians wanted to be affiliated with them.” In 2009, at Saleh’s request, the Saudis began attacking the Houthis. Abdulqader Hilal had led efforts at mediation with the Houthis, but he had resigned after he was accused of sending a sweet cake to a rebel leader. The Houthis were more useful to Saleh as enemies: a leaked State Department cable shows that he tried to kill one of his generals, who he thought posed a threat to his power, by telling the Royal Saudi Air Force that his headquarters was a Houthi target; multiple reports from soldiers indicate that Saleh allowed the Houthis to rearm, and even left them weaponry.
At the same time, Saleh told the U.S. that he was being undermined by the Iranians, and he requested more funding. “The Houthis are your enemies, too,” Saleh told John Brennan, President Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, when he visited that year. “Iran is trying to settle old scores against the U.S.” Seche noted that, since 2002, the U.S. had spent more than a hundred and fifteen million dollars equipping Saleh’s forces. These days, Hezbollah’s and Iran’s relationship with the Houthis is no secret. Hassan Nasrallah and Abdelmalik al-Houthi, the current head of the movement, praise each other in videos posted online. Iran has not admitted to arming the Houthis, but I recently asked a senior Iranian diplomat whether his country was supporting the Houthis. “Iran has its own self-interest in the region,” he told me. When I pressed him, he smiled and replied, “Iran is no saint.” In early 2011, April Alley, a researcher for the International Crisis Group, was sitting with Abdulqader Hilal at a friend’s house, where he was hosting a khat-chewing gathering. On TV, protesters in Tunisia were demanding that their President step down. It was the beginning of the Arab Spring. “We were all debating what it would mean for Yemen, exactly,” Alley said. “And I remember him saying it wouldn’t be the same.” Yemen’s situation differed from that of countries like Tunisia and Egypt, where authority was centralized, and most of the weapons were held by the military. Yemen had the second-highest level of civilian gun ownership in the world, and the armed forces had divided loyalties. “Yemen is different going into all these things,” Hilal said.
Protesters gathered in Sana’a, and a violent year followed, in which government troops shot demonstrators and Saleh was wounded in a bomb attack. In February, 2012, he stepped down. Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, a diminutive bureaucrat who had served as Vice-President, began a two-year term. But the Houthis, who had participated in the uprising against Saleh, argued that power-sharing reforms endorsed by Hadi unfairly removed the northern regions’ access to the sea. They started pushing southward, out of their traditional homeland. After Saleh left office, Abdulqader Hilal was appointed mayor of Sana’a. In 2014, when the Houthis began fighting Sunni Islamists on the outskirts of the capital, he led a negotiating team to enforce a truce that both sides had signed. “We just climbed the mountain to talk to them, and reminded them of what the agreement had been,” his son Hussein told me. “We were successful to stop this round of the war.” A couple of months later, Saleh resurfaced, having performed a remarkable feat of political acrobatics: after leaving office, he had begun secretly collaborating with the Houthis. With his help, the Houthis invaded Sana’a, where, under the guise of fighting corruption, they began to install their leaders in key positions. After the Houthis took Sana’a, Hilal complained that their forces were stealing municipal equipment. When his car was stolen at a checkpoint, he briefly resigned. Hadi, who, though under house arrest, was still technically the head of state, refused his resignation. Hilal used his position to negotiate the release of high-profile officials who were being held by the Houthis. “We were expecting at any time that the Houthis might also keep my father from going outside his home,” Hussein said. “But that didn’t happen.”
In March, 2015, Hadi managed to escape, fleeing south. The Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, and seven other Arab and African countries, began bombing Yemen, with the stated aim of restoring Hadi to the Presidency. In Washington and Riyadh, Saudi diplomats and soldiers assured their U.S. counterparts that the war would be over within six weeks. A U.N. Security Council resolution legitimatized their intervention. Some officials in Washington were skeptical of the Saudis’ plans, however. “I think they had a slightly rosier interpretation of how quickly the military effort would be successful,” Nitin Chadda, who was an adviser on national security to the White House, told me. The Saudis had been “choreographing” their desire to take steps against the Houthis, because they were uncomfortable with the idea of an Iranian proxy on their border, he said. But the specific plans to attack Yemen were not communicated to the U.S. Within D.C. circles, Chadda said, “there was certainly frustration” that the Saudis had acted so quickly, without clearly defining their long-term objectives. In May, Andrew Exum was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy. “When I arrived, I sensed a lot of frustration,” he told me. The Administration was unsure about whether it wanted to be involved in the war. “Are we supposed to help the Saudis win or not? I don’t think we ever made our mind up there.”
Hilal decided to remain mayor of Sana’a, because he was concerned for the inhabitants, Hussein told me. “We’re talking about four million lives, we’re talking about people from everywhere in Yemen,” he said. “If he left office, things would be under the control of Houthis,” who had no experience running large metropolitan areas. In speeches to citizens, Hilal urged a kind of Blitz spirit: “Keep going for the glory of Yemen, for the ascendance of Yemen, for the stability of Yemen, for the revival of Yemen.” The Saudis pounded Saada day and night, using bombs and cluster munitions, but they didn’t manage to dislodge the Houthis. Exum told me, “It was always going to be exceptionally difficult for the Saudis and the Emiratis to achieve a desired political outcome through the use of primarily air forces.” Apart from a couple of skirmishes, the Saudis used no ground troops. On May 8th, a spokesperson for the Saudi Army declared the entire city of Saada and a nearby area to be “military targets.” Within two months, air strikes had destroyed two hundred and twenty-six buildings in the city. In November, 2015, despite American skepticism toward the Saudi war plan and evidence of heavy civilian casualties, the Obama Administration agreed to a giant weapons sale totalling $1.29 billion. The Saudis were authorized to buy seven thousand and twenty Paveway-II bombs. By the end of Obama’s Presidency, the U.S. had offered more than a hundred and fifteen billion dollars’ worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, the largest amount under any President, including warships, air-defense systems, and tanks.
The history of large-scale arms sales to Saudi Arabia dates to the late sixties, when U.S. weapons manufacturers realized that the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the era were being fought with Soviet and French arms. “For our defense companies, it was very frustrating,” Rachel Bronson, the author of “Thicker Than Oil,” a 2006 book on U.S.-Saudi relations, told me. The arms manufacturers lobbied the U.S. government, contending that arms sales were good policy. After all, U.S. experts would have to assemble and maintain the weapons, which could theoretically be dismantled if the Saudis were pursuing anti-U.S. policies. It was also good business: in 2016, the maintenance contract for the Royal Saudi Air Force’s two hundred and thirty F-15 fighter jets alone was worth $2.5 billion.
The Obama Administration saw Saudi Arabia both as a bulwark against terrorism and as a counterbalance to Iran. In “Kings and Presidents,” a book on the history of U.S.-Saudi relations, the former C.I.A. officer Bruce Riedel writes that “no president since Franklin Roosevelt courted Saudi Arabia as zealously as did Obama.” Not only did Obama authorize more arms sales than any other U.S. President; he visited Saudi Arabia more frequently than any of his predecessors. On his first trip to the Middle East, Riyadh was his first stop. But, during the Arab Spring, the Saudis became angered by Obama’s failure to support their allies in Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain. The nuclear deal with Iran, signed in mid-2015, upset them further. “The Obama Administration was legitimately worried that a major fissure between the United States and Saudi Arabia could weaken the Iran deal,” Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, who has opposed the U.S. government’s policy in Yemen, told me. “I think these arms sales were a way to placate the Saudis.” The Obama Administration found itself entangled in the complexities of a war that involved so many regional players. The confusion extended to humanitarian concerns. Jeremy Konyndyk, at the time the director of usaid’s office of U.S. foreign-disaster assistance, told me that it often seemed as if the Saudis were thwarting efforts to get food to Yemen’s starving populace. Another former senior Administration official told me that the U.S. government spent four million dollars on cranes to unload relief ships at the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, but the coalition, which had blockaded Yemen, did not allow the cranes into the country.
U.S. officials tried to help the Saudis improve their targeting. They eventually expanded a “no strike” list to include thirty-three thousand targets. “We broadened and broadened and broadened that list over time as the Saudis kept striking things that we would have thought they wouldn’t strike,” Konyndyk told me. The State Department sent an expert, Larry Lewis, to Saudi Arabia. When a civilian target was hit, Lewis wanted to help the Saudis implement ways of investigating the incident, to “avoid the same kind of thing happening again,” he said. Lower-ranking Saudis seemed pained by the casualties. “There was definitely a feeling that, of course we want to protect civilians, you know, we’re good Muslims,” Lewis said. The Saudi leadership was less concerned; as Lewis put it, from the rank of lieutenant colonel upward “there was less pressure for change.”
In the last months of the Obama Administration, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to mediate between the Houthi-Saleh alliance and the Saudi-backed government. Hilal and Ruwayshan were involved in efforts to negotiate peace. But the meetings collapsed, owing first to Houthi intransigence and then to Hadi’s resistance to a U.N. road map to the negotiations. As Peter Salisbury, a fellow of Chatham House, the British policy institute, told me, the Houthis have few incentives to negotiate, because, “from their perspective, they’re doing the best they’ve ever done.” U.S. officials also noted Iran’s open support for the Houthis. “They were basically waving at our surveillance aircraft,” one official told me. In retrospect, this seems to have been a calculated move. “Remember that the Iranians in Yemen will always get a phenomenally high return on investments,” Salisbury said. “Let’s say they’re spending ten, twenty, thirty million dollars a year on Yemen. The Saudis are spending billions of dollars a year.” The funeral-hall strike that killed Hilal appalled the U.S. officials who had been working with the coalition to reduce civilian casualties. The Saudi government initially denied responsibility for the bombing. On October 9th, a U.S. spokesman made an unusually harsh statement, saying, “U.S. security coöperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check.” A few days later, the coalition admitted that it had dropped the bombs, but blamed bad intelligence from its Yemeni partners. The informants had erroneously indicated that Saleh was in the hall: the leader’s security detail had entered, but Saleh had remained outside. The U.S. saw the Saudi explanation as insufficient. The strike “so clearly symbolized much of what was wrong” with U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia, Robert Malley, a special assistant to the President at the time, told me. At the end of 2016, the U.S. halted the sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia. “It got to the point where the Saudi intervention was going so off the rails it was destroying the country,” Max Bergmann, a former State Department official, said. Opposition to the Saudi-led coalition grew in Congress. Ted Lieu, a Democratic representative from California, had served as a judge advocate general in the Air Force. “These look like war crimes to me,” Lieu told me. “I decided to try to help those who don’t have a voice. There were really no lobbyists out there championing civilians in Yemen.” In July, the House had passed the Lieu Amendment, which increased the obligation for the State Department and the Department of Defense to report whether the Saudi-led coalition was prosecuting the war in a way that abided by their humanitarian commitments.
A month after the funeral-hall strike, Donald Trump was elected President. In January, when he was inaugurated, he promised a review of Obama’s foreign policy. “Their objective is a strong relationship with the Saudis, a strong relationship with the Emiratis,” Bruce Riedel told me. “Yemen is just not a priority.” The Saudis lobbied Trump’s National Security Council for the cranes purchased by usaid for Hodeidah to be returned. The National Security Council acceded, and the cranes have been sent to storage, at the U.S.’s expense. The former senior Administration official told me, “Since January, you’ve seen the humanitarian situation in Yemen fall off a cliff, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence.” According to Rajat Madhok, of unicef, the cholera crisis and the malnutrition are unprecedented. “ ‘Bad’ would be an understatement,” Madhok told me. “You’re looking at a health collapse, a systemic collapse.” Trump’s connections to Saudi Arabia are hardly hidden. During the 2016 election, his organization opened eight companies there, which he subsequently closed after their existence was made public. Shortly after his Inauguration, in January of last year, as Isaac Arnsdorf reported for Politico, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia checked into a Trump hotel and ended up spending more than a quarter of a million dollars. In April, Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, signed on to a partnership with a law and lobbying firm retained by Saudi Arabia. In May, Trump travelled to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip. Amid great pageantry, he posed for a strange photograph with the King, their hands atop a glowing orb, and performed a traditional sword dance. According to documents obtained by the Daily Beast, the Saudis presented Trump with lavish gifts, including robes lined with tiger and cheetah fur. While there, Trump announced a hundred-and-ten-billion-dollar arms deal. Reversing Obama’s decision, precision-guided missiles were included in the package. Trump said that the deal would see “hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Since the election, Saudi Arabia has increased its lobbying presence in Washington. Some of the lobbyists have even found their way into Trump’s government: soon after being hired as a commissioner for White House fellowships, Rick Hohlt, a Republican political consultant from Indiana, filed forms indicating that he had received nearly half a million dollars from the government of Saudi Arabia. Hohlt declined to speak with me, but he told the Center for Public Integrity that he was involved in lobbying congressional officials about weapons sales. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is also associated with the Saudis. He has flown to the kingdom repeatedly for secret talks. In a relationship fostered by the Emiratis and by the Lebanese-American businessman Thomas Barrack, who is a friend of Trump’s, Kushner has grown close to King Salman’s thirty-two-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a chief proponent of the war in Yemen. (Gause, the professor at Texas A. & M. University, told me, “This is his war, it was his idea, he owns it.”) Kushner negotiated the new arms deal. As initially reported by the Times, he called Marillyn Hewson, the chair of Lockheed Martin, and asked her to lower the price of a radar system. According to a number of current and former government officials and weapons experts, Kushner’s action was irregular. It was also bad dealmaking. “Usually, a U.S. official would be lobbying a foreign government on behalf of U.S. industry, not vice versa,” Andrew Exum told me. “That just struck me as odd.”
As Riedel and others pointed out, however, the deal isn’t all that it appears to be. Riedel said that the agreement doesn’t actually commit the Saudis to purchasing arms. With falling oil prices, he said, “where is Saudi Arabia going to get a hundred and ten billion dollars these days to buy more weapons?”
Still, a parsing of Trump’s words is terrifying; when he visited Riyadh, he made no mention of human rights. As the senior State Department official told me, “The Trump Administration has decided to de-link the human-rights dialogue from the security-support dialogue.” Senator Murphy told me that the U.S.’s support for the coalition will prove detrimental to the country’s interests. “Our first job is to protect our citizenry, and, to me, these arms sales put U.S. lives in jeopardy,” he said. Dafna H. Rand, a Middle East expert who covered Yemen for the State Department under Obama, said, “The longer this war goes on, the longer there’s a risk of deep resentment against the United States that will be radicalizing and lead to full-strain extremism.” The Yemenis I spoke to expressed frustration with the U.S.’s role in the war. “We used to love and appreciate the U.S., because a large number of Yemenis live there,” Hebari, the chanter, told me. The war has now changed that calculus. “What appears to me is that the U.S. is funding and Saudi Arabia is the implementer.” In August, the alliance between the Houthis and Saleh began to show cracks. The Houthis murdered a top Saleh aide at a checkpoint; in response, to prove his popularity, Saleh threw a huge celebration in Sana’a, with giant banners and blaring music. Sixteen hundred poems were composed in his honor for the event. But his power had been diminished by the conflict. “President Saleh used to say that ruling Yemen was like dancing on the heads of snakes,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni expert in conflict resolution, told me. “Well, now one of the snakes—the Houthis—has bitten him.” On the morning of December 4th, a group of Houthi soldiers raided Saleh’s house in Sana’a; later that day, a video was released showing his dead body in the bed of a pickup truck.
The State Department insists that it is doing everything it can to bring an end to the war and to reduce civilian casualties. “Everybody, including the Saudi leadership, agrees the war has gone on too long, proved too costly, killed too many lives, caused too much humanitarian damage, too much infrastructure damage,” Timothy Lenderking, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State who oversees Yemen policy, told me. “The Saudis are not going to get everything that they want, nor are the Houthis.” But since President Trump’s visit to Riyadh, and the new precision-guided-munitions sale, the pace of the coalition’s bombing raids has increased. In May, the Saudi foreign minister committed to expanding the no-strike list in Yemen and promised to abide by the laws of armed conflict. But, in a single week this past summer, some sixty civilians were killed in Saudi-led strikes. On August 23rd, coalition bombs killed around fifty farmers who were staying at a hotel. A journalist who visited the site said that the ceiling of the building turned black with charred blood.
Two days later, a Saudi strike, aimed at what the spokesman for the coalition later said was a Houthi command-and-control center, hit an apartment building in Sana’a. Mohamed Abdullah Sabrah, a forty-two-year-old sales supervisor at a food-importing company, lives in an apartment about thirty yards from the building that was struck. He said that the area had housed a missile-storage depot on a nearby mountain before the Houthis came to Sana’a. Since the beginning of the war, he told me, the Saudis had frequently bombed the neighborhood. Yet he hadn’t seen trucks or soldiers arriving for a long time. “It would be impossible for Ansar Allah”—the name for the Houthis—“to be stupid enough to keep weapons inside that place,” Sabrah said. On the night of the bombing, at around 2 a.m., he heard the thud of ordnance on the mountain. “We went to a corridor in my apartment that has no windows or doors, for fear of glass and shrapnel,” he told me. “We hid there. I was holding my granddaughter, and my wife was holding my daughter.” Another blast followed. “Suddenly, the whole world turned upside down, the building was shaking beneath us, and shrapnel came to us,” Sabrah went on. It was as if some malevolent spirit had rushed through the room. “Nothing was left. My furniture, the cabinets—every wooden thing was broken.”
In the rubble outside, Sabrah saw what he described as “bits and parts” of human beings. “A woman used to live with her children in one floor of the building. They used to get up in the morning and sell boiled eggs,” Sabrah told me, his anger rising. “What danger did these children pose to the coalition? What danger did they pose by selling eggs in the street?” When I asked Sabrah how he felt about U.S. involvement in the war, he replied, “America is the main sponsor of all that is happening to us.” He had reached this conclusion only recently. “The Gulf countries are merely tools in its hands.”
Intensified hostilities in Yemen have forced more than 32,000 people to flee their homes in the past two months, according to the UN’s refugee agency.
They join some two million Yemenis already displaced by the war, AFP reported Friday, citing the UNHCR.
The arrival of winter in Yemen has added to the hardship of many, particularly those displaced and living in informal settlements exposed to the elements with little protection against the cold, the agency said.
Flare-ups in fighting in the rebel-held capital Sanaa, as well as the provinces of Hodeida on the Red Sea and oil-rich Shabwa in the south, had driven the displacements, UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said.
Published on Jan 6, 2016
By Arthur Delaney, Elise Foley, and Paul Blumenthal
“The Democrats in the Senate are opposing a bill that they don’t oppose,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Friday. “This is purely an attempt by the Senate Democrats... to try and get a shutdown that they think this president gets blamed for.”
But apportioning blame for the shutdown drama is not so simple.
The policy problem began on Sept. 5, with President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. President Barack Obama had implemented DACA to give deportation relief to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, often referred to as Dreamers.
Trump told Congress they had until March to find a solution, and structured the end of the program so most recipients would maintain their protections at least until then. “I have a love for these people and hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly,” Trump said in September. He added that if Congress could not pass legislation to restore the legal status the DACA program provided, “I will revisit this issue!” Days later, with lawmakers having been unable to pass a regular budget for years, Congress passed a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government through December.
On Sept. 13, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they had struck a deal with Trump on a bill to provide permanent legal status for Dreamers. This supposed deal would establish those protections and include money for border security, excluding funds for Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border (which Mexico is supposed to pay for anyway, according to the president’s campaign promises). Less than a month later, Trump shot down this supposed deal. He declared that no bill granting Dreamers legal status could pass unless it funded the wall and made money available to hire far more immigration and border enforcement officers. By rescinding DACA, Trump had taken a hostage to force Democrats to vote for his wall.
Recognizing that Republican leaders might not support standalone immigration legislation ― Senate Republicans filibustered such legislation in 2010, and former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) simply refused to allow a House vote on a bill the Senate passed in 2013 ― Dreamers lobbied lawmakers to include them as part of a must-pass funding bill. Dreamers and their allies also stressed that the situation is more urgent than Trump and Republicans imply. They estimate that about 122 DACA recipients lose protections each day, putting them at risk of being detained and deported. Plus, former government officials have warned that it will take time to actually put a deal in place.
Some Democrats promised they would oppose government funding bills that omitted DACA protections, but 18 members of the caucus caved in December when the matter actually came up.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers were working to find a legislative fix. A bipartisan group led by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) began work soon after Trump rescinded DACA to find a plan that could pass the Senate. A separate bipartisan group, led by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), sprang up in the House. And Republicans put forward strictly partisan bills of their own in each chamber, both of which went far beyond the Dreamer issue and were immediately ruled dead on arrival with Democrats.
Earlier this month, Trump held a televised negotiation with congressional leaders at the White House. During the meeting, Trump said he’d support a deal if it included the following four things: protections for Dreamers; funding for a border wall; restrictions on immigration by family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents; and the elimination of a visa program designed to increase the diversity of the immigrant population.
But then, during a subsequent closed-door meeting where Durbin and Graham laid out their group’s proposed DACA deal, Trump lashed out at proposals related to the diversity visa program.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to Washington Post reporting that has been confirmed by senators who attended the meeting. Trump was referring to African countries and said he would rather see more immigrants from Norway, a very white country in northern Europe. The president’s “shithole” comment drew widespread condemnation, and the next day he announced there would be no deal. “The so-called bipartisan DACA deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards,” Trump said in a tweet last Saturday.
This week, Republican leaders in Congress have pushed a funding bill that omits any immigration provisions.
In the House, Republican leaders tried to craft a bill as attractive to Democrats as any bill without DACA could be. What they came up with was yet another continuing resolution that would keep the government running for four weeks while also supplying six years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which lapsed last year. But GOP leaders had to deal with a mutiny from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, many of whom wanted to fund the military for the rest of the fiscal year. After Democrats indicated they wouldn’t support a Republican bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) cut a deal with Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows (R-S.C.) that gave Republicans enough support to pass the continuing resolution in exchange for future votes on a conservative immigration bill and a defense-only spending measure. With that agreement in hand, the House passed the four-week resolution, 230-197, with just six Democrats supporting the bill.
“I think the Democrats ought to be real careful,” Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), a Freedom Caucus member, told the HuffPost Politics Podcast this week. “They’re putting people that are here illegally over our troops.” Republicans control only 51 seats in the Senate, and the funding bill needs 60 votes to pass, so Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will need at least nine Democrats to vote for the bill ― and probably more, since several Republicans, including Graham, have said they oppose the House bill on the grounds that it only funds the government for four weeks.
In other words, it’s not just Senate Democrats who don’t support the Republican bill to keep the government from shutting down.
Republicans argue that Democratic DACA demands are extraneous to the continuing resolution to fund the government, which is true in the sense that the immigration policy is unrelated to spending levels. But along with tax reform and military spending, immigration has easily been one of the top policy debates on Capitol Hill for months ― and it is ostensibly a shared priority of both parties. It didn’t come out of nowhere.
Another reason Republicans say the DACA provision is unnecessary is that most Dreamers won’t lose their protected status for another month and a half. (The government is currently accepting DACA renewal applications because of a court order, but the Trump administration is fighting that ruling in court.)
“DACA does not expire until March 5th,” Mulvaney said. “So there’s absolutely no reason to tie these two things together right now.” Dreamers themselves disagree, since they’re already losing protections and are aware that Republican promises to act later on immigration aren’t always kept.
“Anyone who says that we have more time for this insane Congressional gridlock is lying,” Greisa Martinez Rosas, a Dreamer activist with United We Dream, said in a statement. “Delay means deportations.”
By Arif Ali—AFP
ANGER AND DESPAIR ARE NOT CONDUCIVE TO FINDING EFFECTIVE CURES FOR SOCIETY’S ILLS
The raped body of 7-year-old Zainab, found dumped in a rubbish heap in Kasur on Jan. 11, has had a traumatic effect on Pakistan. There are a number of aspects to this trauma that must be analyzed before a cure is put together.
The first devastating effect is despair. The details of the rape-murder tend to switch off the normal problem-solving capacity of the collective mind. There is an upsurge of anger, which promises a radical and conclusive “solution” under the current conditions of justice. Because of the “unfamiliar” details of the crime, what dominates is not so much anger as despair, which is not a good collective feeling for problem-solving.
Passive despair triggers another reaction: self-hatred. At the collective level it means a serious blow to the normal levels of self-approval keeping the collective identity intact to get rid of the problem. Self-hatred also tends to isolate the individual and alienate him from the socio-political conditions he lives under. It also constitutes a break with the democratic political order leading to submission to a non-democratic one.
The flawed administration of the state that allowed the tragedy of little Zainab to unfold triggers the rage for change, as if the pulling down of the government would lead to radical overnight improvement. Political parties, sensing the collective mood, propose violent solutions and are able to get the support of the gravely offended citizen. This is the phase where the despairing and self-hating citizen succumbs to violence.
In Kasur, powerful men and their families have adopted abnormal ways of expressing their dominance. The ruling party makes concessions to them because of their support to its leaders. The outraged citizen in his despair supports the pulling down of the government with violent politics. The state is thus destabilized, leading to a further undermining of its capacity to apply solutions to prevent children from being violated with impunity.
The US firmly believes Pakistan needs to prosecute terrorist Hafiz Saeed and it has made this "very clear" to Islamabad, which recently said there is no case against 26/11 Mumbai terror mastermind.
A US state department spokeswoman today reiterated and underlined Washington's view on Saeed, saying she's aware that Pakistan's prime minister said two days ago that Saeed can't be prosecuted+ because there is no case against him. "We have made our points and our concerns to the Pakistani Government very clear. We believe that this individual should be prosecuted.... We believe that he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman at the US State Department. Two days ago, Pakistan's prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi referred to Saeed as 'sahib', or 'sir', and said there is no case against him in Pakistan, therefore no action can be taken against him. However, earlier in the month, Pakistan's interior ministry 'blacklisted' Saeed and his group the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).
Pakistan may be confused about Saeed, but the US is not. To make it very clear what Washington's view is, Nauert further said todat the US regards Saeed a terrorist and part of a foreign terror group. The US has a $10 million reward for information on Saeed. "He was the mastermind, we believe, of the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed many people, including Americans as well," said Nauert of Saeed. Not only the US, the United Nations (UN) too considers him a terrorist, Nauert said. And the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a terror group Saeed's affiliated too, is also designated a foreign terror organisation by the UN.
"He (Saeed) is listed by the UN Security Council 1267, the al-Qaida Sanctions Committee for targeted sanctions due to his affiliation with Lashkar-e Taiba, which is a designated foreign terror organization. So, I just want to remind people of that, of who this individual is, and make it clear that we have addressed our concerns with the Pakistani Government," said Nauert.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry has ordered the closure of the offices of RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal in Islamabad after Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency accused the broadcaster of airing programs “against the interest of Pakistan” and “in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.”
The director of Radio Mashaal, Mohammad Amin Mudaqiq, said Interior Ministry officers arrived at the broadcaster’s Islamabad bureau on January 19 and were meeting with the bureau chief and administrator to discuss the closure order.
The ministry’s order accused Radio Mashaal of “portraying Pakistan [as] a hub of terrorism and [a] safe haven for different militant groups.”
It said Radio Mashaal programming presented Pakistan as a “failed state in terms of providing security to its people,” in particular minorities and ethnic Pashtuns.
It said Radio Mashaal showed ethnic Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Balochistan Province, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan as “disenchanted with the state.”
It also accused the broadcaster of “distorting facts [to] incite the target population against the state and its institutions.”
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said he was “extraordinarily concerned by the closure” and was “urgently seeking more information about the Pakistani authorities’ intentions.”
Kent said Radio Mashaal, which broadcasts from Prague and has both radio and digital operations, is a “private news organization supported by the U.S. Congress with no connection to the intelligence agencies of any country.”
“Radio Mashaal is an essential source of reliable, balanced information for our Pakistani audience,” Kent said. “We hope this situation will be resolved without delay.”
The closure order was issued after Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said on January 12 that Pakistan feels “betrayed” by U.S. criticism that it is not doing enough to fight terrorism and by Washington’s decision to suspend military aid for Islamabad.
U.S. President Donald Trump on January 1 accused Pakistan of "lies and deceit" and said the United States would suspend up to $1.9 billion a year in military aid until Islamabad moves decisively against Afghan Taliban fighters and Haqqani network militants who he said have found safe haven within Pakistan's borders.
Yet another polio team has come under attack.
On Thursday, two anti-polio workers were shot and killed by unidentified attackers in Quetta.
Anti-polio workers across the country have been continuously attacked by militants to impede vaccination drives. Last year in November, members of a polio team were beaten up in Multan. In October, those looking after a polio team’s security were attacked in Bajaur Agency. Three levy personnel died in the attack.
Stricter security measures need to be ensured for protection of anti-polio teams across the country.
The incident that took place in Quetta must be interrogated to track down those responsible for the attack. Lip service alone will no longer do if we want the campaign against the Polio virus to succeed in all parts of the country. Claims regarding security measures were made by the authorities in the past as well but they were not followed by action.
For effective security arrangements, the authorities will need to take the public on board as well, especially in remote areas. Electronic and print media campaigns could be considered for the purpose, but most importantly, the officials need to reach out to communities through elected leaders and civil society networks. The public needs to be made aware of the harms of the disease and the necessity of vaccination. The public at large must also be informed about the international isolation that the country stands to face if it cannot eliminate the virus completely this year.
Once the public has full trust and confidence in the efficacy of the anti-polio campaign, it will be easier for the authorities to launch immunisation drives. With the public on their side, the authorities will also be able to identify miscreants and proceed against them effectively.
In the last four years, these same politicians have been enjoying the perks as members of the parliament, and they have drawn salaries as members of the parliament. This is a huge question mark on their judgement of the parliament. It took them four years, after enjoying the privileges of the tax payers money, to discern that the setup is not working. This very much makes this more of a political gimmick rather an accusation based on facts. Had they believed, in the last four years, that the parliament is what they claim it to be; as honest politicians they should have resigned there and then.
Another aspect which is to be considered here is that if the assumption is being made that the parliament was not able to deliver anything substantial and does not have people of merit sitting on those seats, then the democratic way to go about it - as members of the parliament - would have been to take part in the proceedings and push for betterment. However, in the case of Sheikh Rasheed and Imran Khan both, their absenteeism from the parliament is no secret at all. In fact, when the National Assembly (NA) rightfully adopted the resolution presented by Federal Minister Baleegh-ur-Rehman condemning Sheikh Rashid and Pakistan Imran Khan for openly cursing the parliament at a rally in Lahore, both of them were absent during the proceedings.
This goes to show their commitment towards upholding the democratic principles of the country and respecting the institutions that make up the core of the state. As politicians it is very important to understand that the system one aims to change can only be changed by respecting its institutions and following the patterns laid out by the laws of the country to work towards betterment.