Thursday, March 15, 2018

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Why Mohammed bin Salman's visit to London was a fiasco

Nabil Ennasri

The Saudi crown prince's eagerly awaited visit to London did not go off as well as was hoped. The visit was supposed to lend credibility to the international stature of a crown prince aspiring to one day rule the world's leading oil power.
It turned out instead to be a fierce attack on Saudi Arabia's brutal and amateurish foreign policy in the Gulf state region. The three-day state visit to the UK, which began on 6 March, was organised to both bolster the image of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), as head of state, and to reinforce the strategic UK-Saudi partnership.

Strategic partners

A long-standing ally, London is seen as one of the Wahhabi kingdom's key strategic partners, second only to the United States and far ahead of France.
The Saudi ruler's visit was quickly derailed, however, as he came under fierce attack for his role in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which began in March 2015 and has since killed thousands of civilians.
Indeed, three years after the launching of Operation Decisive Storm, the situation is no less than catastrophic. Not only has the Saudi army failed to subdue the Houthi rebels, perceived by the Saudis as the armed extension of Iran in the Arabian Peninsula, but the rebels have put up an incredible fight.
A long-standing ally, London is seen as one of the Wahhabi kingdom's key strategic partners, second only to the United States and far ahead of France
On several occasions they successfully launched missile attacks on the outskirts of Riyadh, and they continue to inflict heavy losses on an increasingly discredited and dispirited Saudi army. And for Riyadh, the war has turned into a financial quagmire as well.
Every month, hundreds of millions of dollars – or even billions according to the most alarming estimates – are squandered, while domestic spending remains in the red. In a country plagued by endemic youth unemployment, social unrest is growing.
A Typhoon jet manufactured by BAE Systems and operated by the Saudi air force (Creative Commons)
But the greatest losses are unquestionably humanitarian. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, and the wounded and refugees now number in the millions.
Furthermore, Yemen's catastrophic food supply situation and dilapidated public services have triggered epidemics like cholera. The combination of devastating disease with famine and water shortages has alarmed humanitarian partners and led UN officials to call the Yemen humanitarian crisis the "worst in the world".

The visit of a 'war criminal'

MBS's problems in London were largely due to the fiasco of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. Numerous human rights organisations have called for protest marches, forums and other symbolic gatherings to denounce the visit of a "war criminal".
Activists have also rallied near Westminster, the home of the UK parliament.
Seventeen MPs published an op-ed piece criticising Saudi Arabia for its record on human rights and demanding a moratorium on UK arms sales to the Gulf state monarchy. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sharply condemned Theresa May's misguided support for the crown prince's policies.
According to the opposition leader, the values of the nation should not be sacrificed to the prime minister's desire to offset the spiralling consequences of Brexit by developing a privileged relationship with the Saudi oil power.
Demonstrators protest the visit of Mohammed bin Salman, Wednesday, 7 March (AFP)
Because this is indeed one of the unavowed reasons for the crown prince's UK visit: Britain hopes to capture a share of the juicy investments the Saudi authorities are getting ready to move forward on.
But discreet discussions on the forthcoming public listing of the all-powerful state oil firm, Saudi Aramco, were a particularly important part of the trip. Aside from this, it was about selling arms.

Vision 2030

The European consortium that manufactures Typhoon fighter jets, of which the British group BAE Systems is a partner company, has welcomed a memorandum of intent signed with Riyadh for the purchase of 48 fighter aircraft.
The announcement came at the end of the Saudi prince's visit to the UK and could lead to an order worth over $10bn.
MBS and his advisors are also seeking foreign investment as part of Vision 2030, an ambitious plan to liberalise the kingdom's economy through the privatisation of state-held concerns.
Scheduled for later this year or early 2019, the public listing of the Saudi oil giant is expected to value it at $2000bn with 5 percent of the company's stock, worth $100bn, floated. Among the few details that remain to be settled - the stock exchange where Aramco will be listed.
One thing we do know is that the British government was hoping to convince the Saudi royal to choose London over New York, a city he will soon be visiting as part of an extensive tour of the United States.
Given the less than warm welcome he received in the UK, it is highly unlikely the Saudi crown prince will have many fond memories of the heavy weather in London.

End the US Enabling of Saudi War Crimes in Yemen

Daniel Larison

Zaid Jilani reports that the U.S. military has no idea what missions are carried out in Yemen by the coalition planes that they refuel:
In a surprising admission on Tuesday, the head of U.S. Central Command – which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia – admitted that the Pentagon doesn’t know a whole lot about the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen that the United States is supporting through intelligence, munitions, and refueling.

U.S. CENTCOM Cmdr. Gen. Joseph Votel made the admission in response to questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“General Votel, does CENTCOM track the purpose of the missions it is refueling? In other words, where a U.S.-refueled aircraft is going, what targets it strikes, and the result of the mission?” Warren asked.
“Senator, we do not,” Votel replied.

If the U.S. military doesn’t track what the coalition planes do after they are refueled, it can’t honestly claim that it isn’t aiding and abetting coalition violations of international law. They don’t know what the coalition planes they refuel do later on, and perhaps they don’t want to know. If the U.S. isn’t tracking how our assistance is used, it isn’t credible to say that our government is using that assistance to change the coalition’s conduct of the war for the better. The U.S. is blindly enabling indiscriminate coalition bombing without making any effort to understand the effects of our support.

Gen. Votel also stated that the U.S. is not a party to the conflict. This is the lie that U.S. officials have been hiding behind for the last three years. When our military refuels planes that go on to bomb targets in another country, our military has joined that war on the side of the governments it is aiding. That should be an uncontroversial statement of fact, but supporters of U.S. involvement in the war are desperate to deny it. If the U.S. weren’t a party to the conflict, there would be no need to debate the extensive assistance that the U.S. provides to the governments wrecking and starving Yemen for the last three years.

U.S. support has been essential to the Saudi-led war, and it would be much harder for the Saudis and their allies to continue waging that war without our military assistance. That is why those in favor of continuing the war don’t want to cut off that support. They wish to keep the war going, but they want to dodge the responsibility our government has for aiding and abetting the coalition’s crimes. Americans that want to end U.S. involvement and help bring an end to the war on Yemen should urge their senators to vote for S.J.Res. 54.

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#Pakistan - Punjab dance ban

THE project of dismantling arts and culture by a 1,000 cuts continues this week in the form of a ban on dance announced by the Punjab School Education Department.
When a similar attempt was floated in Sindh in 2016, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah reacted swiftly to quash it. The provincial government, he said, believed in preserving and promoting culture. “It will not be dictated [to] by isolated extremist elements and will not allow its progressive agenda to be hijacked at any cost. Dance and music are integral parts of a liberal society.”
Over the decades, similar attempts to narrowly redefine our identity have been made. None have fully succeeded because, inevitably, we show our true stripes: diverse, tolerant and defiantly joyous. This is reflected in our shared kinetic energy, whether through the boisterous bhangra, the elegant Kathak or the transcendental Sufi raqs. Yet, each time, the habitually out-of-step fringe concocts a new straw man, such as the selective fear of ‘alien culture’, to exploit society’s existential anxieties.
While not explicitly stated, it seems that the proscription du jour is a cynical, misguided appropriation of a pressing issue, recently foregrounded by the rape-murder of little Zainab and all the abuse allegations that have since followed: how do we keep our children safe?
As is regrettably the case with systemic violence, a particularly unproductive response emerges. Sexual abuse, it is argued, is something that can be rationalised and avoided provided a potential victim behaves appropriately — dress and act just right, and you won’t be a target, the logic goes — stopping just short of suggesting that victims, even children, are morally responsible for being abused.
Such thinking should be resisted at all costs. Surrounded by poverty and violence, Pakistani children are already forced to grow up too soon. They won’t be better off, or safer, for being forced to forgo simple, earnest displays of expression. We should be holding perpetrators accountable, not abetting in the broader crime of stealing childhoods.

The Talibanization of #Punjab - School dance, anyone? Pakistan lawmakers in Punjab seek ban

By Zaheer Babar and Munir Ahmed

Pakistani lawmakers in a provincial assembly voted in favor of a recommendation to ban dance parties at schools and other educational institutions, saying they promote Western culture, officials said Thursday. The move drew criticism from students and activists, who vowed to oppose the decision.

Proposed by Shaikh Ijaz, a lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party in Punjab, the non-binding resolution was quickly adopted.
“This resolution was passed to stop vulgarity and the promotion of Western culture among youths,” he said.
Ijaz said the resolution passed the Punjab Assembly on Wednesday with no opposition from secular, moderate or Islamic parties.
The resolutionis considered a recommendation to the government, which is being asked to “stop the vulgarity” in the province. Ijaz said the motion followed parents’ complaints that some schools organized mix-gender gatherings, which are prohibited in Islam.
Angered over the motion, students said they would resist it.
Aman Batool, 22, a university student said they had the right to dance and sing at campuses.
Mahwash Ajaz, a Dubai-based Pakistani psychologist, opposed the motion, saying it was not only ridiculous but also a violation of civil liberties of individuals.
“It is up to parents to decide what their underage children can and cannot do in schools. It is not the business of politicians or state to interfere in such matters,” she told The Associated Press from Dubai.
“Don’t we have more pressing concerns to consider such as physical abuse of children, sexual abuse and quality of education rather than kids having some function or dancing once or twice a year,” she asked.
Sahir Ali Bagga, a Pakistani singer, said the best response to violence at campuses was to promote performing art.
It was not the first time that a provincial legislature recommended a ban on school dance.
A similar attempt was made in the southern Sindh province in 2016, but it was rejected by majority of the lawmakers.
Pakistan’s English-language newspaper The Dawn opposed the ban, saying it should be resisted.
In an editorial, the paper said “over the decades, similar attempts to narrowly redefine our identity have been made. None have fully succeeded because, inevitably, we show our true stripes: diverse, tolerant and defiantly joyous. This is reflected in our shared kinetic energy, whether through the boisterous bhangra, the elegant Kathak or the transcendental Sufi raqs.”

Women In Pakistan Dared To March — And Didn't Care What Men Thought

We were hundreds of women, marching on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan.
We shouted slogans. '"Aurat aiee, aurat aiee, tharki teri shaamath aiee!" (Women are here, harassers must fear!)
We raised our fists in the air, smiling, laughing.
We wore what we wanted to wear: burqas, jeans and designer shades, brightly embroidered skirts, the traditional tunic and baggy trousers called shalwar kameez.
Men gaped, shook their heads, filmed us from passing cars as we walked by, disrupting traffic.
We did not care what the men thought of us.
We were free to stand, walk, dance, with nobody to tell us to sit down, be quiet, be good.
It was the first time in my life that I saw women gathering in public, in strength, in numbers. This was the Aurat (Urdu for "women") March, the first of its kind in the conservative Muslim country of Pakistan. There were actually three marches — in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad – all held on March 8, International Women's Day.
Word spread through Facebook and Twitter posts among the various networks of women involved in grassroots work — in education, health, microfinance, women's shelters, workers' rights. Objectives were ambitious: a demand for the recognition of women's rights and gender equality, and an end to the hideous scourge of gender violence, among other aims.
But the overriding intent was to raise the morale of Pakistani women. The constant drip of misogyny can turn life into a misery, where you are considered a lucky woman if you have a husband who doesn't beat you. The Aurat March wanted to remind women that the bar doesn't need to be set that low.
Before the march began, activists took to the stage and spoke of their struggles and triumphs. Veeru Kohli, a member of the Dalit community in the Thar Desert (low-caste Hindus known by the epithet of "untouchables") related how she escaped a life of slave labor to become a political activist. Kainat Soomro, a victim of gang rape at 13 who is trying to take her rapists to court, described her as yet unsuccessful 11-year fight for justice. An activist from the Christian community excoriated the government for ignoring the scourge of forced conversions, where Muslim men kidnap minority women, force them to convert to Islam and marry them against their consent. The March brought together women across class, ethnic, and religious lines. University students cheered on older feminist icons. Placards in English and Urdu read "Patriarchy is Fitna (sedition)", "Kebab Rolls not Gender Roles", "Woman is King" and "Stop Killing Women." Children waved orange and yellow flags with the Aurat March logo, and 97-year-old folk singer Mai Dhai sang and banged enthusiastically on a dhol, the traditional Pakistani drum played at weddings, stirring women and men to dance together in a spirit of festivity and celebration.
For the first time, I felt as though the invisible ties that held me back, those hundreds of written and unwritten rules about Pakistani women's behavior in public, had been cut through with a blowtorch.
A small group of trans women watched from the edges, nervous and scared, but they soon joined in, along with the procession of nuns bearing giant crosses and the Dalit women from the desert. We marched behind women in red, members of the working women's union, bussed in from Hyderabad. We marched, hair bare or covered, to the beat of the drums and the pounding of our hearts. We were accompanied by women on motorcycles, girls on pink bikes. Tens of men and boys joined us. We walked next to women wearing masks portraying the face of Qandeel Baloch, the social media star who was murdered by her brother two years ago because he could not stand her bold, risqué public persona. They bore a symbolic coffin containing a body shrouded in white, calling it "patriarchy's funeral."
It's been three decades since members of the Women's Action Forum were beaten on the streets for protesting the Islamization laws of dictator General Zia in the early 1980s. Pakistani women in 2018 still find themselves trampled under decades of discrimination and oppression. But the Aurat March has motivated them to demand equality and justice. The Aurat March has uncovered an undeniable truth: The revolution has arrived in Pakistan — and it is a women's revolution.

#PashtunTahafuzMovement - A portrait of Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen, a missing voice

Last year, in March, I was in Dera Ismail Khan, a southern city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to attend a friend’s wedding. Later that night, as the festivities ended a few of us – mostly reporters - headed to a local hotel for tea. There I met him for the first time. The young man walked over to our table and introduced himself as the head of the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement — I’ll be honest, I had no idea what it was.
We listened, politely, and then returned to our conversations. But the 23-year-old Manzoor Ahmed Pashteen was relentless. Journalists need to do more, he pleaded. They need to give more coverage to the everyday ordeals that Pashtun men and women face in Pakistan. Mehsuds, a Pashtun tribe, “are still struggling to be heard,” he continued breathlessly. “Men from the Wazir and Dawar tribes have used social media platforms to their advantage. Why haven’t we done the same?” Pashteen was convinced if the Mehsuds can come together and present their demands audibly and indistinguishably in one voice, only then will they be taken seriously by the state. “You journalists are lucky,” he said, “You have access to Facebook and Twitter, we don’t.”
He was not wrong. South Waziristan, one of the seven tribal agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, where a large number of Mehsuds live, has remained deprived of the internet. Even after the Pakistan Army launched Operation Rah-e-Nijat in 2009, a ground and air offensive to rid the area of militants, the coverage of broadband and mobile 3G is still patchy. Tribesmen have to walk great distances to catch signals from towers installed in neighbouring areas. If they had open access, insisted Pashteen, the Mehsud tribes would be able to communicate seamlessly and a movement for their rights could be initiated.
Yet, internet or no internet, there was no stopping this ambitious man. When he spoke, it was difficult not to hang on to his each and every word. Pashteen was determined. He was passionate. He was the voice that had long been missing in Pakistan.
The eldest of seven siblings, the boy grew up in the Sarokai district of South Waziristan.
His father was a teacher at a local school. Even from a young age, it seems, Pashteen always had a flair for activism. In 2014, he joined the Tribal Students Society and was made its president for two years. Then two years ago, he began raising awareness about landmines and unexploded ordinances littering their mountainous hometown. Occasionally, he would compile the list of those hurt in landmine explosions and Whatsapp them to all reporters, including me. Some of these reports would make it on-air, many wouldn’t. He would also share pictures of children killed and disabled by landmines on social media. When local news networks did not pay attention, a frustrated Pashteen then turned to the international media for help.
Young men like him would gather at the Haq Nawaz Park in Dera Ismail Khan or in Tank to draw attention to their demands. In the process, many would be arrested. Pashteen has also spent two days behind bars.
In the meantime, anger amongst the Mehsuds kept simmering and boiled over into a 10-day protest outside the National Press Club in Islamabad in February. The protest was also propelled after the killing of an aspiring model from South Waziristan, Naqeebullah Mehsud, who was allegedly killed extra-judicially by a notorious cop in Karachi.
After the murder, there was palpable fear in South Waziristan. Some Mehsud elders were of the view that the man be quietly buried, like so many other Pashtun men who have been killed in fake police encounters. But others wanted justice and accountability. Enough was enough, it was decided that the Mehsuds will take their nonviolent protest to the country's capital. The word spread quickly through Facebook. Within hours, dozens of young men reached the morgue to claim Naqeeb’s remains. Then dozens turned into hundreds in the Sohrab Goth area of Karachi.
Pashteen and his friends took the 27-year-old’s body to his ancestral village, under the protection of the paramilitary Levies and police. Once he was laid to rest, Pashteen took Naqeeb’s father back to Karachi, where they decided on a date for the 'long march'.
Finally, on January 26, Pashteen and many Pashtun men and women made history. They set off, undeterred, from Dera Ismail Khan to Islamabad, collecting people from all parts of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The demands were simple:
· Bring Naqeeb’s murderers to trial
· Clear landmines in the tribal areas
· Reduce the curfews that people of FATA are subjected to after every bombing in Pakistan
· Produce the missing people in court
· Form a judicial commission to investigate staged encounters
With these demands, the Mehsud Tahafuz Movement turned into the All Pashtoon National Jirga and Pashteen became a household name.

PPP is ready to make history; Sherry to be the first woman to lead the opposition in the senate: Bilawal Bhutto

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that PPP is ready to make history again by nominating Senator Sherry Rehman for the position of Leader of Opposition in Senate. In his twitter message today he further said that InshAllah she would be the first woman to lead the opposition in the senate.

PPP always leading with our women in front: Bakhtawar Bhutto

Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari, the daughter of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has said that PPP always leading with our women in front. Commenting over the nomination of Senator Sherry Rehman as leader of opposition in Senate she in her twitter message said,” Senator @sherryrehman nominated as leader of opposition! #PPP always leading with our women in front – from first female Prime Minister, to Speaker of National Assembly to Foreign Minister & more #PPP 😍🙌🏻💪 #Pakistan”