Saturday, August 11, 2018

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Video Report - Omarosa claims President Trump is racist in new book


The Washington Post tackled on Wednesday the diplomatic row between Canada and Saudi resulting from the former’s complaint about the latter’s decision to arrest two prominent female activists, Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah, citing the statement made by KSA foreign ministry which described that the Canadian move as a “blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs” and an “unacceptable affront to the Kingdom’s laws and judicial process.”
The US paper noted that Saudi wants the whole world to view its practices in a different way, adding that the Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland “fortunately refused.”
“On Aug. 2, she wrote on Twitter that Canada was ‘very alarmed’ about the detention of the two women. Ms. Badawi is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger serving a 10-year jail sentence for running a website that was critical of Saudi’s strict religious authorities.”
The Washington Post also pointed out that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been intolerant of dissent and jailed dozens of critics, including intellectuals, journalists and advocates of women’s right to drive, adding that most have been thrown in jail for long periods without any semblance of due process.
“When Ms. Freeland called for the Badawis to be freed, the crown prince answered by expelling Canada’s ambassador and severing trade, travel and student exchange links. The intended message: Other countries should mind their own business, or else.”
According to The Washington Post, what Ms. Freeland and Canada correctly understand is that human rights and basic liberty are universal values, not the property of kings and dictators to arbitrarily grant and remove on a whim.
“Saudi Arabia’s long-standing practice of denying basic rights to citizens, especially women — and its particularly cruel treatment of some dissidents, such as the public lashes meted out to Mr. Badawi — are matters of legitimate concern to all democracies and free societies.”
The Washington Post regretted the US administration’s stance which called on Canada and Saudi to resolve their differences without “championing freedom and human rights abroad”, considering that Canada should not hold the human rights banner alone.
‘It is the traditional role of the United States to defend universal values everywhere they are trampled upon and to show bullying autocrats they cannot get away with hiding their dirty work behind closed doors.”
Finally, The Washington Post called on the US and the rest of the G7 nations to support Canada in face of the Saudi “autocrats.”
“Every leading democracy — let’s start with the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations — should retweet Ms. Freeland’s post about the imprisoned Badawis. Basic rights are everybody’s business.”

EU calls on Saudis to clarify women rights activists' detentions

The EU has called on Saudi Arabia to clarify on the circumstances concerning the detentions of women rights activists.
"The EU has been engaging constructively with the Saudi authorities seeking clarification on the circumstances surrounding the arrests of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, notably with regard to the specific accusations brought against them," said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini's stockwoman on Saturday.
"We have been emphasizing the relevance of the role of human rights defenders and civil society groups in the process of reform which the Kingdom is pursuing as well as the importance of respecting the rules of due process for all those arrested," she added.
The detention of several rights activists has triggered an escalating diplomatic row between the Saudi Arabia and Canada.
Earlier on Saturday, Mogherini and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland agreed to strengthen their cooperation in human rights as well as other areas during a phone conversation.
On Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his country will not withdraw its criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, rebuffing a call by the kingdom’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir.  
The Riyadh-Ottawa diplomatic brawl has already led to the expulsion of the Canadian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and recalling of the Saudi envoy from Canada.

Is Saudi Arabia Doing America’s Bidding by Sanctioning Canada?

Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty-supporting sanctions against Canada in response to Ottawa’s criticism of the Kingdom’s internal affairs are grossly hypocritical but nevertheless in defense of objectively valid principles, though it needs to be considered whether Riyadh’s acting independently in this respect or doing so at Washington’s urging in order to pile economic pressure on Canada during Trudeau’s NAFTA renegotiations with Trump.
Background Basics
Saudi Arabia surprised most observers by reacting in a disproportionately fierce manner to Canada’s criticism of its recent arrest of a women’s rights activist last week. The latest developments in this fast-moving spat are that the Kingdom expelled the Canadian Ambassador and ordered all of its students in the North American country to leave as soon as possible, announcing that the government will no longer fund their studies there. It will also stop its medical treatment programs in the country and freeze all trade and investment deals with it as well. Furthermore, Riyadh will halt its purchase of wheat and barley products from the agricultural powerhouse and will suspend all flights to and from Toronto next week. There’s also a looming chance that Saudi Arabia might stop selling oil to Canada, too, and that a massive $11,5 billion arms deal between the two will also be jeopardized.
Sovereignty Double Standards
Riyadh justified its moves in an uncharacteristically harsh response that slammed Canada’s ”blatant interference in the Kingdom’s domestic affairs, against basic international norms and all international protocol” that attempts to “meddle with Saudi sovereignty”. The official condemnation of Ottawa’s actions also said that Saudi Arabia “categorically rejects any intervention in its domestic affairs and internal relations with its citizens”.
On the surface, the Saudis should be applauded for their valiant defense of state sovereignty in such strong language that one would be forgiven for thinking that it came from a Russian diplomat had they only read the abovementioned passages, but the fact of the matter is that the Kingdom’s principled defense of sovereignty is grossly hypocritical because it’s guilty of everything that it accuses Canada of.
Saudi sponsorship of countless Mideast militant groups over the decades is well known, as are Riyadh’s rants against the democratically elected and legitimate government in Syria, so it’s the highest degree of chutzpah for the Kingdom to talk so valiantly about its defense of state sovereignty when it’s criticized by Canada.
Even so, overlooking the messenger’s hypocrisy, the message itself is a valid one and the Saudis do indeed have a point that would certainly find them common ground with their newfound Russian partners, even if they’re selectively applying their sovereignty-related standards in this case. Accordingly, the Kingdom has the right to react however it pleases to Canada’s interference in its domestic affairs. What’s surprising, though, is that they chose this trigger event to do so and not any previous others.
Timing Is Everything
Governments across the world have voiced criticism of Saudi Arabia’s internal policies all throughout the years and to varying extents, though it’s only now that the Kingdom sought to make an example out of one of them.
While it can’t be discounted that the Saudis simply felt insulted that such an internationally insignificant country like Canada sought to go on a social justice warrior crusade against this Mideast Great Power by virtue signaling its liberal opposition to their sharia law, it also can’t be excluded that larger strategic considerations were also at play, such as those relating to their top ally’s NAFTA renegotiation talks with Ottawa. The US is already putting a lot of pressure on Canada as it is, and Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty-supporting sanctions are poised to hit it even harder.
Trump made it no secret that he personally detests Trudeau and considers him to be what popular parlance would describe as a “snowflake”, and the American leader has been trying to very aggressively twist his counterpart’s arms during this sensitive time. It doesn’t seem to have worked, though, or at least not yet, but that might change with the unexpected introduction of the Saudi economic factor, which still hasn’t reached its full potential.
Despite their discrete differences in some respects such as concerning Saudi Arabia’s strategic relations with multipolar Great Powers Russia and China, America and the Kingdom are pretty much marching in lockstep with one another when it comes to most other issues, so it wouldn’t be a startling revelation if Riyadh conspired with Washington to undermine Ottawa using the latest sovereignty-supporting pretext.
Concluding Thoughts
Canada can’t exactly back down from its criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights situation because it would deal an irreparable blow to its liberal soft power across the world and delegitimize Trudeau’s government, especially among its base, so it’s unlikely that it’ll reverse its position in order to receive sanctions relief from Saudi Arabia.
Instead, the most likely outcome is that the sanctions spat between the two continues in parallel with Trump twisting the screws on Trudeau in order to force him into complying with the US’ envisioned outcome of the NAFTA renegotiation talks. Given that Canada’s EU allies capitulated to Trump’s trade terms last month, Ottawa is now all alone and will probably end up giving in sooner or later as well, with this defeat – no matter how it’s euphemistically framed– being in due part to Saudi Arabia. 

Airstrike by U.S.-backed Saudi coalition on bus kills dozens of Yemeni children

By Ali Al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan
Dozens of civilians, mostly children, were killed or injured in an airstrike on Thursday by U.S. allies on a bus in a crowded market in northern Yemen, according to health officials and international aid agencies.
In a tweet, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the attack struck a bus carrying children in Dahyan market in Saada province, which borders Saudi Arabia. A hospital supported by the aid group has received “dozens of dead and wounded,” it said, adding that “under international humanitarian law, civilians must be protected during conflict.”
“Body parts were scattered all over the area, and the sounds of moaning and crying were everywhere,” said Hassan Muwlef, executive director of the Red Crescent office in Saada, who arrived an hour after the attack Thursday morning. “The school bus was totally burned and destroyed.”
Bodies were burned beyond recognition, while many of the injured were riddled with shrapnel, he added.
Most of the children were under the age of 10, tweeted Johannes Bruwer, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Yemen.
The assault was the latest airstrike against civilians carried out by an American-backed regional coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The coalition entered Yemen’s civil war more than three years ago to fight northern Houthi rebels, who seized power from Yemen’s internationally recognized government. The conflict has also turned into a proxy war for regional dominance between the Sunni Muslim coalition and Iran’s Shiite theocracy, which is widely believed to be backing the rebels.
Aid agencies on Thursday demanded an independent and thorough investigation into the airstrike and other recent attacks on civilians.
“We have seen a worrying rise in these incidents and no action has been taken to hold the perpetrators to account,” the aid group Save the Children said in a statement. The group’s Yemen director of advocacy, Sylvia Ghaly, said Thursday’s attack was “yet another example of the blatant violations of international humanitarian law that we have seen in Yemen over the past three years.” “It’s the people of Yemen, not the warring parties, who are paying the ultimate price,” she said.
According to the U.N. human rights office, more than 16,000 civilians have been killed or injured since the war began, the vast majority by airstrikes.
Yusuf Alhadheri, a rebel Health Ministry spokesman, said the death toll had reached 50 by the afternoon. With more than 77 injured, including some in critical condition, the death toll is expected to rise, he added. The ICRC reported that it was scrambling to send more medical supplies and other assistance to the hospital.
The bus was carrying about 60 students, between the ages of 8 and 14, as well as teachers, said Alhadheri. The group, all part of a summer camp, was en route to visit a mosque in the center of the province, a three-decade-long tradition to celebrate the end of summer vacation, he said. The airstrike occurred around 9 a.m. as the bus neared the market, he said.
In a statement Thursday, the Saudi-led coalition said the strike was a “legitimate military action to target elements that planned and carried out” an attack that targeted civilians in Jizan, a border city in southwestern Saudi Arabia.
On Wednesday, Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the kingdom’s air defense had intercepted a ballistic missile fired by the Houthi rebels at a densely populated civilian area in Jizan, according to the Saudi Press Agency. The alleged attack left one Yemeni resident dead and 11 civilians wounded, Maliki said.
But others disputed that the area of Thursday’s attack posed a military threat.
“I am really shocked because there is no military base or troops in that area,” said Muwlef, the Red Crescent director. “Why would they carry out such an action?”
The United States is helping the coalition, the only party in the conflict to use warplanes, with refueling, intelligence and billions in weapons sales. The coalition mostly uses U.S.- and British-made fighter jets. Human rights groups and Washington Post journalists have seen remnants of U.S.-made bombs at attack sites where civilians were struck. The U.S. assistance has come under sharp criticism from some members of Congress and the international community as civilian deaths have continued to multiply, even as the coalition promises not to target civilians.
Last week, Yemeni rebel health officials accused the coalition of launching airstrikes in the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, killing at least 28 people and wounding scores. But Maliki denied it had done so, declaring to a Saudi-owned television network that the coalition “follows a strict and transparent approach based on the rules of international law.”
Hodeida has been under siege since June, despite U.N. peace efforts. The coalition is seeking to push the Houthis out of the strategic city, whose port is an essential gateway for supplies that fuel the rebels’ ability to dominate the capital, Sanaa, and the north.
Hodeida is also a key entry point for food, medicine and other aid for more than 22 million Yemenis — three-quarters of the population — in need of assistance in what the United Nations describes as the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis.
Mohammed Ali Ganesh, 52, drove all day Thursday from the capital to Saada. Three of his sons were injured in the airstrike. The two older ones had shrapnel wounds, but the youngest one, Yahya, was in the intensive care unit being treated for injuries to his head, face and lungs.
“I don’t know if he will make it,” said Ganesh, his voice audibly choking over the telephone. “When I went in to see him, he did not recognize me.”
“What have those innocent children done to face such a fate and punishment?”

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Op-Ed: Western system of alliances is nothing more than a Cold War relic

By Curtis Stone 

Scholars of international relations are worried that the United States under President Donald Trump is creating a dangerous place for America. In The New York Times, 35 scholars of international relations signed a statement titled “Why We Should Preserve International Institutions and Order” (later an online petition titled “Preserving Alliances"), calling on scholars in the field to defend the US-led alliance system, but ignoring the fact that alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are Cold War relics and should be relegated to the dustbin of history.
The signatories of the statement argue that the post-World War II world—defined largely by the Western system of military and political alliances, provides important benefits to the United States and its allies, and they warn that Trump’s recklessness poses a threat to the future security and prosperity of America and its allies.
The statement warns that Trump is hurling a wrecking ball at the strategic alliances that underpin American influence, but it also acknowledges that the international system needs reform. “We should reform but not destroy the system that has served the United States and its allies well for over seven decades,” the statement reads. “The global order is certainly in need of major changes,” it adds.
It goes on to say that institutions—the rules that govern cooperative behavior—are much harder to build up than they are to destroy. “Almost nobody benefits from a descent into the chaos of a world without effective institutions that encourage and organize cooperation,” the statement reads.
Without question, it is much easier to undermine trust and cooperation among countries and regions than it is to build up partnerships and institutions for cooperation. Take for example the Paris Agreement. For the first time in history, almost every country in the world joined together to combat climate change. It was a history-making agreement that took years to negotiate and a great achievement in international politics, and the world was shocked and angered when America undermined it.
Trump’s assaults on multilateralism are indeed reckless, and countries should push back against his attempts to kill multilateralism and weaken cooperation. Not only did he pull out of the historic Paris Agreement, but he also abandoned the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran, among other things, and his trade policies are a menace to the global economy. Utter disdain for the mechanisms and principles of multilateralism, as enshrined in the UN-based international order, will not keep the world safe or create a more prosperous future for all.
Nevertheless, Trump’s disdain for, or at least his questioning of whether it is worth preserving the US-led alliance system—a relic of the Cold War, is a positive development, because it shines a spotlight on the need for reform of the international system. We should move beyond the traditional theories of international relations and build on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter to make the world a better place for all countries and not just for America.
Preserving US alliances is not the best way to encourage and organize cooperation among countries and regions. What is needed is a new type of international relations that better reflects the interests of all countries and that values partnerships over alliances and win-win cooperation over zero-sum competition.

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#PakistanElections2018 - If religious parties were not elected into power, is the Pakistani voter thus “moderate”?

By Raza Habib Raja
The 2018 Elections are over, giving a healthy but controversial victory to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). These elections were, according to many independent correspondents, one of the “dirtiest” in living memory, mainly due to the tactics employed by mainstream parties and the extreme political polarisation in the electorate.
Besides other things, one crucial aspect that truly distinguished these elections from previous ones was the intense whipping up of religious sensitivities – like bringing up the Finality of Prophethood (pbuh) – by several parties. Although this issue had been raised earlier as well, it took centre stage during the elections.
Due to the nature of these religion-infused campaigns, people were expecting religious parties to gain some ground, as the battle was being fought around their typical slogans and they were better equipped to capitalise on it. Some were even expecting them to win more seats this time. However, the results have apparently shown that, by and large, Pakistan does not vote Islamist, as religious parties have collectively not been able to even cross the threshold of 10% of the total seats. Despite its revival, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) could only win 12 seats, whereas the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) could not even win a single seat in the National Assembly. Despite a highly charged campaign, it could only win two seats in the Sindh Assembly.
This result has apparently allayed the fears of moderates and reassured the world that in Pakistan, religious extremism is only at the fringe.
However, would it be true to infer that since Pakistan does not vote for religious parties, its voter is thus more “moderate”? I have often seen overzealous Pakistanis taunting Indians on social media over how their country is more “extreme” as it voted for a “religious” party like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whereas Pakistanis never vote in overwhelming numbers for similar kinds of extremist parties. By this logic, for them, Pakistan is more religiously “tolerant’ than India.
I wish this was true. The problem is that these aggregate numbers hide a far more complex story. Yes, religious parties do not get seats, but that does not mean the Pakistani electorate does not give weight to religious sloganeering and is immune to the weaponisation of sensitive religious matters.
If anything, this election actually saw mainstream parties like the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) actively whipping up religion for electoral gains. If religion was not a factor, then these parties would not have spent so much effort in pandering to it. Both Imran and Shehbaz Sharif courted influential pirs, with the former going to the Khatam-e-Nabuwat conference and alleging that Nawaz Sharif had deliberately changed the oath-taking to appease some western powers!
There is a reason as to why both mainstream parties played so hard on this wicket. In Pakistan, an ordinary voter may not be voting for religious parties, but religion nevertheless is a critical factor in his or her decision-making calculus. In other words, while religion may not be the only factor, it is definitely a very critical factor.
This is why mainstream conservative parties like the PML-N and PTI constantly use religious sloganeering. In fact, one reason as to why religious parties don’t get that many votes is that religion is not their exclusive domain, as all parties are using it.

Secondly, another fact which many are overlooking is that while religious parties did not get too many seats, they nevertheless did take a good number of votes in certain pockets of the country. It should be remembered that Pakistan follows the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system, in which the candidate with the most votes in a constituency wins. This system has often worked to the disadvantage of religious parties, whose vote is substantial but thinly spread across the country.
For example, despite being a new party, TLP still got more than 2.2 million votes in this election. However, since this vote was spread all across the country, it could not translate into many seats. If Pakistan was following the proportional representation system, then TLP would have ended with more than 10 seats in the National Assembly.
TLP’s performance in some urban areas of Punjab and in Karachi is an indicator that their message resonates with millions. This is a cause for worry, as their entire campaign was based on a single issue upon which they incited hate and violence against other parties, particularly the PML-N. In Punjab, TLP has dented the PML-N’s vote bank considerably, resulting in PTI winning some closely fought seats. Moreover, the presence of TLP forced both PTI and PML-N to also adopt a more hard-line stance.

 This election is a grim reminder that in Pakistan, religious parties always end up affecting the political discourse more than their actual electoral strength. Further, the way this election was fought, I fear this will become a permanent template for the future as well. Yes, the religious groups may not have won many seats, but there is nothing to take comfort from within these results.

#PakistanElections2018 - #PTI loses two-third majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has lost its two-third majority in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly following the changes in the results of some seats. 

However, the Imran Khan-led party still has a simple majority, so it can form the government. Combining general seats, reserved seats and independent candidates, PTI had 83 members in the assembly – they needed 82 for a two-third majority.
After the recount in PK-70 Peshawar, PTI’s Shah Farman lost the election. In PK-23 Shangla, where PTI’s Shaukat Yusufzai won, the election has been declared null and void since only 5% of the voters were women. The Election Act 2017 says that the number of female voters has to be at least 10% of the total votes in the area.
The party also lost a reserved seat for women – they now have 14. The party also has two minority seats. The KP Assembly has been summoned on August 13 where the newly elected MPAs will take oath.

#PAKISTAN - Silencing of academia

Daily Times has received a copy of the written orders restricting University of Peshawar faculty members from talking to the media; seemingly in accordance with the regulations of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Establishment Department. Bluntly put, this is akin to crushing academic freedom. In other words, outright censorship is the order of the day.
Higher education institutes are meant to be the epicentres of critical learning and self-reflection. Without commitment to the aforementioned no nation can hope to sufficiently progress to realise its true potential. And knowledge has no currency unless it is shared beyond the realms of academia. The University’s actions are therefore extremely alarming. For even if academics are governed by civil service rules, such antiquated constraints need to be done way with.
Indeed, when the breathing space shrinks to the point whereby critical thinking itself becomes an act of rebellion — the fallout can be devastating. As the tragedy of university student Mashal Khan chillingly reminds. In fact, earlier this year the then PTI government filed an appeal with the Peshawar High Court (PHC) to challenge the acquittal of 26 people in connection with the murder. The move was just. It was also a bold one given that trumped up blasphemy charges had been used to justify the killing.
The last five years have been tough for Pakistanis. Against the backdrop of the country’s first-ever transfer of civilian power, freedom of expression is under threat. Over past years, journalists and civil society activists have been routinely picked up and/or intimidated. Government departments have encouraged the citizenry to snoop on each and report ‘blasphemous’ rumours with intended consequences. Much of the fourth estate has accepted the path of self-censorship as a means of not falling foul of the ‘blacklist’ ball.

Pakistani Soldiers To Receive Russian Military Training Under New Deal

By Pamir Sahill
Pakistan and Russia have reached a military cooperation deal that includes sending Pakistani soldiers to Russia for training, the countries’ defense ministries have announced.
The agreement was reached during Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin’s two-day visit to Pakistan this week, and was discussed during a meeting of Russia’s and Pakistan’s top military brass in Moscow on August 9.
At the meeting between the chief of the Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, and Pakistan’s General Zubair Hayat, the military leaders “confirmed a bid to deepen the dialogue and develop contacts in the defense sector,” the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The ministry said a key focus of the agreement is for Pakistani servicemen to receive training at military schools and institutions of higher education in Russia.
The agreement comes at a time of tension between Pakistan and its traditional military ally, the United States, which recently suspended security aid to Pakistan, charging that it has not done enough to help defeat militants that have been waging a long war against the government in neighboring Afghanistan.
It also comes after Washington this year imposed sanctions on Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors that are aimed at curbing its military’s exports and influence around the world.

Disinformation Warfare

While the agreement for both Russia and Pakistan may serve to show they are distancing themselves from the United States and its demands, Amil Khan, a South Asia researcher at Chatham House, a London think-tank, said it is “more about the signaling and political messaging than it is about actual military reality.”
“Pakistani equipment, Pakistani doctrine, and Pakistani resupply, all of that stuff is on a Western model,” he said. Because of Islamabad’s past alliances with the United States and Britain, it cannot easily or quickly switch to relying on Russia’s military for its needs, he said.
“The big equipment needs it has [are] all American, with British legacy. So, it’s not actually feasible to take a moment of time and say that right now it will be Russia,” Khan said.
Pakistan, besides acquiring military expertise from Russia through the training program, may also be seeking to learn more about Russia’s disinformation warfare tactics, which Khan said have gained attention and respect in the Middle East and South Asia.
“A lot of countries in the region…are very impressed by the Russian ability to wage international competition on a low budget, essentially using disinformation,” he said.
For Russia, the cooperation deal enables it to show that it is still expanding its military influence and presence around the world despite the U.S. sanctions, he said.
“The Russian government wants to say to who it sees as its competitors — and first among those is the U.S. — that we are on a level playing field with you on the global stage,” he said.
After losing influence in some parts of the world in recent years, “it is very important for the Russian system to want to be able to say to its own people: look, we also take back influence where Western powers are stepping away or are being seen to be less effective.”

#Pakistan: How Long Will Imran Khan’s Honeymoon With Army Continue? – Analysis

By Harsha Kakar
The recently concluded general elections in Pakistan almost went according to the script as determined by the deep state. The two reigning political parties which have shared power over decades were pushed into the sidelines and an almost obscure playboy politician, with no experience in governance, has been brought to power. Denying level playing fields to political parties other than Imran Khan’s PTI, curbing the press, pressurising powerful opposition politicians to either join the PTI or stand as independent candidates dominated the proceedings. International observers from the European Union also stated that there was no level playing field in the weeks preceding the elections.
The return of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam from London to face the jail terms, just prior to the final election dates, almost put a spoke in the plans of the deep state. They had expected them to remain abroad like the former general and President, Pervez Musharraf. Their return could have led to immense emotional support and severely impacted its well thought through plan. Therefore, it resorted to two simultaneous actions. First, Nawaz was moved straight to jail, preventing him from meeting even his mother and supporters and second, rigging was now essential for ensuring the army got the government it desired at the centre.
Handling Nawaz was the easier of the two, as he was given no choice. For formal rigging, the Election Commission had to be manipulated. It was done, and the Pakistan army was granted magisterial powers and was directly involved with the complete election process from the movement of election stores to its presence, both inside and outside polling booths. Videos presently doing rounds on Pakistan’s social media indicate almost open rigging, marking votes cast to other parties being counted on the name of PTI, army personnel in uniform being involved in counting of votes as well as in celebrating the victory of Imran Khan.
Equally important was to ensure a favourable government in Punjab, the largest and richest province, covering almost half the country and providing the largest seats to the senate.
Imran Khan had almost no hold in the state. Punjab was Nawaz’s stronghold. His vote banks had to be dented and split, while other actions continued unabated. The stumbling block could have come in the form of international observers, which could damage the reputation of the state. Their numbers were kept low and their movement was restricted. Juggling was possible in the counting process.
The participation of a multitude of religious and extremist groups, including those considered as global terrorists, into the poll process, supported and created by the deep state was intentional and part of the deep state’s strategy. The groups included Hafiz Saeed, a known global terrorist, led Milli Muslim League, standing on the platform of the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, the political wing of the TTLY, which had launched an agitation at the behest of the army in Islamabad in November last year and the Ludhianvi led Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jammat, the ban on whom was lifted only days before the election. Amongst the religious groups was the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a group of five religious parties.
These groups fielded a total of 1500 candidates for both the national assembly and provincial assembly seats, with the MMA alone fielding 460 candidates. Historically, Imran Khan only had a grip on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with almost no presence in other provinces. Thus, these parties were pushed into the electoral process, mainly in the regions where he lacked a political base, for multiple reasons.
While these parties did manage to eat into the vote bank, they ultimately drew a blank in the elections, except the MMA which did win a handful of seats. For once, despite all their appeal and backing of the army, the nation rejected them en-masse. This was a major setback to the deep state.
Does this action send a message that Pakistan as a nation rejects terrorist groups or the population has a growing resentment against the diktats of the deep state?
The common Pakistani may have faced enough bloodshed to lose interest in the beliefs of terrorist groups, but the desire to regain Kashmir remains deep within him. Further, the belief that terrorist groups may not solve the problems of the nation led to their complete rejection.
More importantly, the mass rejection projects local anger against the dominant power of the army, which has unilaterally taken away most civil rights of the populace and treated them as second-class citizens in their own country. Therefore, it rejected terrorist groups backed by the army. Imran Khan succeeded because he was seen to be clean and a change from other prominent parties which have dominated the political landscape for decades. Further, the manipulated press conveyed Imran Khan to be the right man for the nation, which did influence votes, alongside known rigging. The army dominated press projected corruption angles of other political parties versus the clean image of Imran.
In the coming days, the army would re-evaluate the reasons for the public’s rejection of its sponsored terrorist groups converted to political parties and possibly bring about changes to ensure that it does not happen in future elections.
After all, these are early days and once Imran gets the feel of power, he too may seek to curtail the authority of the army and may need to be elbowed out.
The rejection of ‘terrorist groups turned political parties’ by the local populace has compelled Imran Khan to seek support of other individuals or parties to form the government. He is, however, assured of the backing of the deep state and its supported terrorist and religious groups and hence for the present, he would neither be criticised nor agitations be launched against his government. For the army, while it did push Imran Khan through as the next PM, the rejection of its supported terrorist and religious groups was a major setback and an indicator of the national anger.

Reporting Pakistan election under the military's shadow

DW's Shamil Shams, who was in Pakistan to cover the July 25 general election, explains why reporting freely and independently from the South Asian country was not an easy task despite no direct threat from authorities.
Let's be clear that there were no direct threats, or warnings, to foreign journalists on what not to report during last month's general elections, either from Pakistan's caretaker government or the country's powerful military and its ubiquitous security agencies. But there was an indescribable feeling that journalists must be careful in what they report about the polls.
The informal discussions with security analysts, who mostly toe the military's line, and sources close to Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) party, almost always conveyed the message that Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was jailed for ten years on corruption charges, is a problem for Pakistan, and that the military only wants to clear the mess created by Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N)-ruled former government.
There were some explicit complaints too. I was told that foreign media only presents a mono-dimensional picture of Pakistan, where the military is maligned and "corrupt politicians" praised. "We are here to put across the military's point of view also," I told a retired military officer, who is now a defense analyst. "But please keep in mind that our reference point is democratic supremacy," I added.
"Democracy" is not a popular word in Pakistan. The common people I met with in the cities of Lahore and Islamabad during the July 25 election coverage associate parliamentary democracy with three decades of incompetence, bad governance, unemployment, inflation, corruption and nepotism. To many, Sharif's PML-N and Former PM Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which is now headed by her son Bilawal, are responsible for Pakistan's "misfortune" at the governance level. An increasing number of working class Pakistanis are looking to Islamist parties for relief.
The educated urban middle-class also blames the PML-N and the PPP for the country's ailing economy, a lack of security, and Pakistan's "negative image" abroad. For these people, Khan, who is on course to become next prime minister after securing most seats in the next parliament, is an "outsider," who can put things in order. And the military is still a "holy cow" that not many — barring some civil society activists and intellectuals — dare to criticize.
'Controlled election'
Sharif's "defiance" to the military generals, that they should perform their constitutional role and do not get involved in politics, was a core issue not only for DW but also for other international media organizations. The other major topic was the pre-poll crackdown on media and rights activists that supported Sharif's narrative, or were at least sympathetic to it. IA Rahman, one of Pakistan's most respected human rights campaigners, told DW that the fairness of an election can't be judged by voting but by the run up to the election. In his opinion, Sharif's party was not given a level-playing field by the military establishment, which obviously affected the PML-N's performance in the election. The European Union's election observers also noted the same in their preliminary findings a day after the polls.
Although the military's deployment on polling stations was massive, and local and foreign media didn't get any proper access to the voting centers, the establishment, through its propaganda machinery, made sure that people only focused on voting mechanisms. We were told repeatedly that the polling went smooth, that Khan's party won the election fair and square.
Now as journalists, we are not supposed to take sides. The voting was largely fair, but it would be a big mistake to take it on its face value. It was a "controlled election." From who can contest the election to last-minute PML-N disqualifications to "discarded votes" on the polling day, the 2018 election was arguably the best "managed" election in Pakistan's history.
We, as journalists working for international media, could only point to it in our reports; it would be violating journalistic rules had we said that the 2018 election was "rigged." So we hoped that if we presented all facts clearly, our readers could see the "big picture."
Military's point of view
There is no escape for journalists from the invisible shadows of the military, as my former media colleagues and journalist friends told me time and again during my brief stay in the country. We tried to reach out to the military to get their point of view, but to no avail. Only the military's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) department talks to media on such issues. The ISPR higher-ups are not easily accessible although DW tried to contact them. We still hope that they would like to share their views with our audience.
But by talking to retired military generals, who have found a new and lucrative profession as "security/defense analysts," one can get an idea about the military's thinking. And the military's mindset is very clear on certain issues. Firstly, Pakistan is facing a number of security challenges and it cannot afford "corrupt politicians" demonizing the army, which is the only institution that can tackle these issues. Secondly, the country needs stability — both political and economic — and the military wants to safeguard these interests.
Good luck, democracy!
Khan's aides and supporters share this view, as they conveyed to me during interviews. They also complain that Western media have a grudge against their leader.
"Western media do not like Imran Khan, but we don't care about them. Our leader will make Pakistan great again," they say.
I told them that I wish PM-elect Khan best of luck and hope that under his leadership the country progresses by leaps and bounds.
"But if he ever fell out with the military, independent media — both local and foreign — will continue to be the strongest voice in his favor and also in favor of democracy and constitutional supremacy in Pakistan," I said.

Pakistan’s Economic Crisis

With a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led National Assembly set to take the oath next week, following the party’s triumph in the July 25 election, the next government will inherit an economy facing multi-pronged crises.
A minor recovery at the end of July notwithstanding, the Pakistani rupee has sunk by over 20 percent in the past seven months owing to a balance of payment quagmire. The rupee touched 130 against the U.S. dollar before election day, recovering to around 122 in the week after, as Beijing agreed to give Islamabad a $2 billion loan.
During the previous calendar year the Pakistan stock exchange had gone from being Asia’s best performing market to the world’s worst. The stock exchange hit this year’s low point in July, two weeks before the elections.
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The last fiscal year ended with a current account deficit of $18 billion, 5.7 percent of the GDP. The budget deficit has crossed 2 trillion rupees. The government owes another trillion rupees in circular debt.
Given the magnitude of these numbers, Pakistan has few options but to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for another bailout package – the 13th for the country since the 1980s.
Asad Umar, expected to be the next finance minister, has reiterated that the decision over the source of loans worth at least $12 billion will be taken within six weeks after he takes charge.
“IMF is the only institution that gives a monetary program, not Asian Development Bank [ADB], Islamic Development Bank [IDB], China or Saudi Arabia,” economic theorist and political analyst Farrukh Saleem told The Diplomat.
“With Rs4 trillion worth of T-bills set to expire in four months – and in need of a roll over – in addition to $8 billion worth of foreign debt servicing over the next 12 months, Pakistan will have to go for the IMF bailout,” he reiterated.
Speaking to The Diplomat, former caretaker Finance Minister of Pakistan Salman Shah argued that not only is seeking an IMF bailout “the only option” for Pakistan, if implemented properly, it can fix a lot of economic problems in the country.
“Even though we are getting [financial] support from China and Saudi Arabia, the IMF program is important for Pakistan, because it will help create the discipline that the country requires and will help govern the economic institutions in the country,” he said.
“It will also improve the flows with other major financial institutions like the World Bank, ADB, and IDB, because they trade with you if you have the IMF’s support.”
In April, the then-advisor to the prime minister on finance and revenue, Miftah Ismail, went to the United States for meetings over countering terror financing. Reports had emerged that Ismail also met with IMF officials at the time to discuss conditions for a potential bailout.
While Ismail has denied having any discussions related to a loan from the IMF while in the United States, speaking exclusively to The Diplomat, outgoing Finance Minister Rana Afzal Khan confirmed that talks had indeed been held.
“The IMF sets certain monitoring conditions. With the IMF, our discussions were limited to what we had agreed with them and about the deviations we had to make because of the changing scenarios [over the previous year],” Khan said.
“When [the then] PM Nawaz [Sharif] was removed, financial indicators in Pakistan changed, the perception of the developing economy changed, [and] the foreign companies went shy because they thought this country is going into another political crisis,” he added.
Rana Afzal Khan also conceded that his predecessor Ishaq Dar’s policy of creating an artificial price of the rupee against the dollar, which hovered around the 100 mark for much of his tenure, was flawed. It is this artificial pricing that eventually saw a sudden nosedive in the rupee’s value.
“The price of the currency depends on market sentiments, which in turn are linked to political sentiments. I had always felt the price between 115 and 120. So that’s where it is, but now it will depend on how the finance ministry manages it,” he said.
While critics argue that the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government could have gone to the IMF earlier to prevent the economic crisis in the first half of the ongoing year, Khan conceded it wasn’t politically feasible.
“Yes, for political reasons we could not have gone to the IMF. But also, why should we book the next government for five years against their wishes? We have passed a budget to give a direction. Imagine if the PTI government also had the responsibility of drafting the budget; imagine the chaos it would have created,” the former finance minister said.
With the ministry now eyeing the bailout, it is the conditions that IMF imposes that will be crucial for Pakistan. First of all, it’s expected that there will be a debt sustainability analysis under IMF instructions to determine whether Pakistan can sustain the loan.
“It will be first such analysis carried out by the country,” said Farukh Saleem. “In addition to the debt sustainability analysis, and the usual demand to increase energy prices and taxes, the IMF is also likely to demand transparency for transactions related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),” Saleem believes.
Pakistan’s balance of payment crisis stems from a rising trade deficit, which in turn results from rising imports, which touched a record $60.898 billion at the end of the previous fiscal year.
“China is playing a huge role in Pakistan’s trade deficit – Pakistan’s imports from China are significantly higher compared to its exports to the country – which is one reason why Pakistan has been trying to revise its free trade agreement with China,” said Salman Shah.
It is Islamabad’s reliance on Beijing, and the CPEC inflow, which prompted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue a warning to the IMF against a bailout package that could aid China.
“There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with that American dollars that are part of the IMF funding, for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself,” Pompeo said.
Salman Shah believes that Pompeo has “embarrassed” the IMF.
“He is implying that they work on U.S. dictation, which might push the IMF to show its independence. [Pompeo] feels that the IMF loan would further increase the cooperation between Pakistan and China and will give better results to Pakistan.”
While Shah doesn’t think the IMF would set any conditions that could bar Pakistan from trading with China, he concedes that a “diplomatic predicament” has been created.
“Of course there is a conflict of interest because in the broader scale it is a fight between the U.S. and China, which Pakistan is now stuck in” Farrukh Saleem said. “That’s what happens when you have the begging bowl in your hand.”