Friday, October 12, 2018

Video Report - #JamalKhashoggi: The world demands answers - UpFront

Video Report - Turkey has evidence of Saudi journalist's torture, murder – reports

Video - Michelle Obama On Current Political Climate: ‘Fear Is Not A Proper Motivator’

Video - Kanye West and Taylor Swift Pick Political Sides | The Daily Show

Video - Nikki Haley’s Surprise Resignation | The Daily Show

Blasphemy ruling could signal strength of hardliners in Pakistan

On Monday, Pakistan's Supreme Court heard the final appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in November 2010.
The verdict, not yet issued, could well signal if the hardline Islamists, who seek to create a full-blown theocracy, are gaining influence throughout the country and helping to shape its future.
Bibi's case began on June 14, 2009, when an ordinary altercation between women working in a field in an area north of Lahore turned into a feud over their faiths. Three women did not want to share a cup of water with Bibi because she was Christian and they were Muslim. After a heated argument, the three women trooped off to complain to the village cleric, claiming she had sullied the name of the Prophet Mohammed.
As Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, argued on Monday, the legal case against her is weak at best, featuring blatant contradictions between witness statements. The cleric, who actually registered the case and made the allegations against Bibi, was not even present when the altercation between the women took place, and he did not have permission from the appropriate officials to register the case. These legal and evidentiary issues would likely be determinative in any other case, but in this one, they may have little impact on the outcome.
    The murky facts of Bibi's case may make it hard to discern whether the case, filed at a time when the region was seeing an increase in recruitment by hardline Islamists, was filed at the behest of a particular group. It is known that in the decade since then, hardline groups -- the Tehreek-e-Labbaik in particular -- have gunned down politicians and lawyers who have dared question the validity of the blasphemy law or championed the cause of blasphemy defendants.
    In January 2011, a little over a month after the trial court sentenced Asia Bibi to death, Salman Taseer, a Punjab governor, was gunned down by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, because he had visited Bibi in prison and questioned her conviction. Qadri, a member of Tehreek-e-Labbaik, said he had been protecting the honor of the prophet and that he had killed Taseer because of his support for Bibi. Qadri himself was executed in 2016, an event which brought out thousands of mourners affiliated with various hardline groups to the street.
    These are not the only deaths. In March 2011, Pakistan's Federal Minister of Minority Affairs, a Christian man named Shahbaz Bhatti, was gunned down after calling for reform of Pakistan's blasphemy law. In 2014, gunmen barged into the office of Rashid Rehman, a human rights lawyer who had been representing another blasphemy suspect, and killed him.
    Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy. Until very recently, Pakistan was not executing many people at all. But a moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 2015, reflecting Pakistan's rightward political swing.
    According to Amnesty International, though there was a 31% decrease in executions from the previous year, Pakistan still executed 60 people in 2017, while nearly 7,000 people languished on death row. When this inclination to execute is combined with the pressures of groups like Tehreek-e-Labbaik, and the fact that Bibi is a Christian woman in an increasingly misogynistic and xenophobic atmosphere, there seems almost no cause for hope.
    But it doesn't have to be this way. The three justices who heard Bibi's final appeal could do the right thing, take note of the many holes in the case, the baselessness of the allegations themselves, the contradictions between witness accounts and exonerate a poor woman who has been wrongfully accused and imprisoned.
    The military, which has worked so diligently to eradicate terrorism in Pakistan, could crack down on groups like Tehreek-e-Labbaik that make ordinary Pakistanis pawns in their game of blood and terror. They could promise added protection to all involved in the case and deploy forces in sensitive areas of the country, such that Tehreek-e-Labbaik and their threats of violence cannot materialize.
    Pakistan's new administration, led by the swashbuckling former cricketer Prime Minister Imran Khan, could also take a stance against the intimidation of Tehreek-e-Labbaik, whose leaders have demanded that Khan fulfill his promises to make Pakistan an "Islamic state" and that "Asia Bibi should be hanged keeping international pressure aside." Khan could respond to this by noting that Pakistan is already an Islamic Republic and that, according to the Quran, Pakistan cannot execute an innocent woman for any crime.
    Instead of snubbing the international community, one that Islamists see as impinging on Pakistan's move toward a full theocracy, Khan could emphasize the need to embrace it and to work with it. In other words, Khan could choose to stand with the innocent woman instead of the rabid and bloodthirsty extremists.
    Saving Bibi need not only be a Pakistani campaign. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, likely fearing violence by hardliners, has instructed Pakistani media to refrain from discussions of Bibi's case until the verdict is issued. This places responsibility on international media and human rights groups to step up their efforts and fill the vacuum.
      The Supreme Court of Pakistan would never admit to being permeable to international campaigns for a particular accused, but judges exist in the same larger political context as all the rest of us. A groundswell of international protest and attention, via media and social media, could drown out the venal voices of hardliners demanding death and replace them with activists insisting on life.
      The verdict is not in yet on Bibi's case; there is time still to write and tweet and petition. Global attention may well add up to the difference between life and death for a woman sitting alone in a cell in a Pakistani prison.

      For Pakistan's 13th IMF Bailout, Expect Tougher Conditions

      A regular client of the International Monetary Fund, investors are asking whether Pakistan’s 13th loan program since the late 1980s will finally break a cycle of financial crashes and bailouts.
      Pakistan’s history of taking the lender’s money while dragging its heels on economic reforms suggest otherwise. With Islamabad now formally requesting IMF aid -- seeking to raise anywhere between $6 billion to more than $12 billion -- it will also face more scrutiny over debt owed to China. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he will oppose any use of IMF funding to repay loans to Beijing. “Their conditions will be tougher and we’ll have to pay the price,” said Nadeem Ul Haque, the ex-deputy chairman of Pakistan’s Planning Commission and a former economist at the IMF. “We’ve kept postponing solutions and not taking bold steps -- the cancer has been in the body since the 1960s.”
      Pakistan has regularly failed to meet conditions attached to its previous IMF loans -- for example trimming spending and privatizing bloated state-owned corporations. The nation has only ever managed to successfully complete one IMF program, meaning it received all the disbursements as planned, on a $6.6 billion three-year facility that ended in 2016. Even then, a number of requirements, were relaxed.
      IMF Bond
      Pakistan does not withdraw the entire amount in most loans with IMF.
      Economists have pointed to decades of inaction against widespread tax dodging across all levels of society handing the country one of the lowest tax-to-GDP ratios in Asia. In addition, the country has failed to revamp key export industries, such as textiles -- which have lost out to regional neighbors like Bangladesh -- or fix an energy system straining under more than 1 trillion rupees ($7.6 billion) of debt.“Pakistan needs to work on structural problems now so they can avoid another IMF program,” said Kimihide Ando, the chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Corp.’s Pakistan unit. “It’s just sheer will. The solutions are known including industrialization that has been declining in Pakistan.”The current crisis has been exacerbated by China’s Belt and Road initiative. Beijing has been criticized by some for pushing countries like Pakistan -- which has taken opaque Chinese financing for road and power plants projects of more than $60 billion -- into a debt trap. Welfare State
      The projects have meant imports to South Asia’s second-largest economy have surged. In turn Pakistan’s current-account and budget gaps have swelled to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product and foreign-currency reserves have plunged to the lowest in almost four years. In response authorities have devalued the rupee five times since December and hiked interest rates the most in Asia. The U.S. is also watching. “Part of the reason that Pakistan found itself in this situation is Chinese debt,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington on Thursday. “This is something that we’ve been tracking fairly closely.” Elected in July and promising to roll out an “Islamic welfare state,” Prime Minister Imran Khan was reluctant to turn to the IMF. He criticized previous administrations for going to the lender and promised to break the “begging bowl” habit. Instead, the former cricket legend has been seeking funds from China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but with little success. Muhammad Aurangzeb, the chief executive officer of Habib Bank Ltd., said IMF aid will provide some “breathing space” but the tough part will be narrowing the twin deficits.
      Rupee Devalued
      “We see all the signals coming from the new government, including the pronouncements that’s been made by the finance minister, that they are going to make some very, very tough political choices,” he said in an interview in Bali on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank annual meeting. “And if that is done, then we do have a sustainable path to not get back into an IMF program.” There are signs Khan’s government will take a reform program more seriously after making early concessions. This week monetary authorities devalued the rupee the most in two decades after long-standing IMF observations that the currency was overvalued. Finance Minister Asad Umar told Bloomberg in August he will publish the terms of the Chinese loans. “Getting the house in order is painful, but I assure you we will see better days,” Khan told businessmen in Islamabad on Tuesday.
      Military Pressure
      The government is also being pressured by a domineering military that has made unprecedented statements about Pakistan’s economic quandary in the past year. Having directly governed the country for almost half its 71-year existence, the armed forces continue to control foreign policy and has been accused of engineering Khan’s rise to power through political and press repression. Along with debt servicing, it also takes more than half the federal budget.At a Karachi business conference last month, Major General Muhammad Samrez Salik said Pakistan’s economy had suffered from “negligence and incompetence” and highlighted that the country was “lagging behind in developing our economic cooperation” with Asia. Salik compared Pakistan’s $6 billion regional trade with arch-rival India’s $72 billion and added he believed Khan’s administration would drive commerce with Asia as relations with the West sour.The army’s worries have increased after U.S. President Donald Trump cut military aid to Pakistan earlier this year. Trump raged that Pakistan was continuing to support terrorist groups.
      “Trump is no fan of Pakistan,” Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital in London, said in a report on Tuesday. “We heard in the summer that the IMF had already warned in 2016 that -- after being fairly generous to Pakistan during the last program –- if it was invited back, it would have to go hardcore with Pakistan.”

      Pakistan’s fortunes can’t be rescued by celebrity PM and recycled foreign minister


      India and US’ concerns over Pakistan are old but now China and Saudi Arabia too are indicating wariness over unfulfilled promises.
      Few friends or presumed enemies seem willing to trust Pakistan’s promises even under a new leader. Reluctance of ‘friends’ Saudi Arabia and China to pump in billions of dollars in a faltering economy forced Prime Minister Imran Khan to turn to the IMF for a bailout. Ironically, he had said at one time that he would “rather commit suicide than go round the world begging for money”.
      The offer of a ‘reset’ in relations by the United States is also not panning out. The US wants Pakistan to help with the peace process in Afghanistan and remains concerned about terrorism. Washington refuses to restore suspended economic and security assistance until it sees signs of change in Pakistan’s conduct.
      India, often painted as Pakistan’s ‘eternal enemy’, has refused to hold high-level talks unless Pakistan stops supporting Kashmiri militants and other terrorists. Pakistan, it seems, has a credibility problem with most countries that matter in its foreign policy. American and Indian concerns about Pakistan are quite old but now even China and Saudi Arabia are indicating wariness over unfulfilled promises.
      China is concerned that Pakistan is trying to revise the terms of the approximately $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). From the Chinese perspective, a nation must honour its contracts and the Pakistani penchant for revisiting international business deals with every change of government in Islamabad is unacceptable.
      Saudi Arabia is also unwilling to continue giving cash first and making requests later – something it has done as a friend of Pakistan in the past. Its current leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud, wants Pakistan to shed ambiguity and stand by the Kingdom against Iran, in addition to providing troops or other material support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen.
      The Saudis say they are willing to invest in Pakistan but, like the Chinese, would want security and a good return for their investments. Pakistan has a poor track record in cancelling projects and using engineered judicial verdicts and criminal cases to deprive foreign investors of promised returns.
      Independent Power Producers (IPPs) learnt the lesson on Pakistan’s unreliable investment environment in the 1990s. Over the years, several foreign investors have won hefty international arbitration awards against Pakistan because of allegedly unfair cancellation of contracts.
      Tethyan Copper Company Pvt Ltd, a joint venture between Chilean mining giant Antofagasta and Canada’s Barrick Gold Corporation, is claiming more than $11 billion in compensation in the Reko Diq project after proving to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) that Pakistan’s decision to cancel its mining contract in Balochistan was unlawful and unfair.
      To be fair to Khan, many of these problems are the result of policies that have persisted for decades. But Khan still supports the hyper-nationalist Pakistani narrative that has given rise to Pakistan’s lack of international credibility. It persists with myths about Pakistan’s external friendships and animosities that are at the heart of the country’s global isolation.
      The entrenched establishment that brought Khan to office had hoped that a new government, led by a fresh face, would be enough to convince the world that a new Pakistan had been born. In this view, renewed national pride and a celebrity prime minister was all that was needed to make other countries see Pakistan differently than they had in the past.
      But a new prime minister and a recycled foreign minister do not change harsh realities. Pakistan does not honour United Nations’ terrorist designations nor does it abide by commercial contracts and agreements considered sacrosanct by the rest of the world. Such attitudes have consequences. Appointment of a new top management cannot help sell the old, bad product.
      India was the first to burst Khan’s bubble. Khan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought talks between Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. India initially agreed, leading to premature euphoria in Islamabad.
      For years, Pakistan’s leaders have defined the ability to keep India engaged diplomatically as an accomplishment in itself, even when no substantive progress is made in India-Pakistan talks.
      As nuclear-armed neighbours, it makes sense for both sides to continue talking. But after terrorist attacks in India following Modi’s trip to Lahore in 2015, Indians had decided to stop talking.
      There has been much speculation over why the Modi government initially agreed to the foreign ministers meeting in New York and subsequently changed its mind. The language of the statement by the Indian ministry of external affairs announcing the cancellation was definitely undiplomatic and provocative. But the argument that Pakistan must act against anti-India terrorists operating from its soil before there can be meaningful talks was certainly not new.
      As if to prove India’s point that the Pakistani side only wanted talks to score a point, not to solve any outstanding problems, Khan’s response to the cancellation of talks was worse. He tweeted about Modi being among “small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture”.
      Those familiar with Pakistani hawks’ characterisation of Indian leaders in the past could see the pattern in Khan’s egomaniacal bravado. Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s propagandists had described Lal Bahadur Shastri as “a little man” during the 1965 war and General Yahya Khan had been dismissive about Indira Gandhi being “that woman”.
      Of course, the outcome of the anti-India bombast in 1965 and 1971 was not favourable for Pakistan and, notwithstanding the Modi government’s purported mishandling of ties with Pakistan, nor will the current swagger. But in the Pakistani establishment’s worldview – which is shared by Khan and his hyper-nationalist supporters – that is beside the point.
      While India’s refusal to talk could be chalked up to the historic India-Pakistan dynamic, the lukewarm response of China, Saudi Arabia, and the United States to Khan’s diplomatic initiatives represents greater challenges. It seems that major partners around the world want Pakistan to change its policies, not just its prime ministers and that change in policy does not seem to be on the cards.
      If anything, the Khan government, backed by the establishment, has doubled down on the failed policies of the past. Foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, insisted recently that there can be no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan, implying that Pakistan must be given a veto on the future of Afghanistan. This defies the notion of a peace process that is owned and led by Afghanistan’s government.
      Similarly, Pakistan’s UN ambassador recently called on the international community to differentiate between ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters’ – an argument that was effectively buried by UN Security Council Resolution 1566 of 2004. That resolution defined terrorist acts and declared that they are “under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature”.
      Instead of insisting on an ideologically driven, unrealistic agenda for engagement with the rest of the world, Pakistan needs to see itself from others’ eyes and embrace some humility. Whether it’s the issue of terrorism or the question of abiding by international contracts, Pakistan must change its policy direction.
      Until that happens, Pakistanis can express to each other as much optimism as they like about their future, based on the ‘dynamism’ and ‘incorruptibility’ of their new leadership. The rest of the world will not be swayed by such rhetoric.

      Imran Khan can sell buffaloes and choppers, but Pakistan’s economy is still crashing

      By Gul Bukhari 

      Before coming to power, Imran Khan said Pakistan market will be flooded with money. It crashed this week.
      Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to talk down the country and its economy. He was finally successful in causing the market to crash on 8 October, after a series of faux pas, U-turns and zero-policy statements. He continues to assure the world that Pakistan is bankrupt because of the previous government. To show for Khan’s performance, his government sells eight buffalos in the PM House, which had been gifted to former PM Nawaz Sharif, in a highly publicized auction. They also tried to sell four old helicopters and auctions old cars.
      Economists have been saying that given the current condition, Pakistan will have to seek an IMF bailout soon. But Imran Khan and the PTI’s repetitive accusations of beggary on Nawaz Sharif perhaps prevented him from taking a timely decision on this and introduced further uncertainty into the market. Khan had also been asserting that once he is in power the international community and offshore Pakistanis would flood the country with money because of their confidence in an ‘honest’ leader.
      The Imran Khan government even announced that Saudi Arabia would be giving – no, this is not made up – $10 billion to Pakistan and followed this up with a trip to Saudi Arabia. He came back and announced that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been invited to be a strategic partner in CPEC.
      This was refuted by the Chinese authorities. As per the agreements between China and Pakistan, only with mutual agreement can a third party become a part of CPEC. Before this, government advisor Razzak Dawood had given a shocking statement to the Financial Times saying that the government will suspend all CPEC projects for a year and review them thoroughly. Pakistan refuted this. Observers believe army chief General Bajwa’s  trip to China after Dawood’s statement was essentially a damage control exercise.
      The government then took a U-turn and announced that Saudi Arabia will not be a partner in CPEC. Finance minister Asad Umar stated that Pakistan will be looking to ‘friends’ (read China, Saudi Arabia etc) instead of the IMF. However, nothing was forthcoming from China either. Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had reacted angrily to the second suspension of Coalition Support Funds by the US and made defiant statements at the time.
      However, during his UN General Assembly trip he ended up pleading the US for money for the armed forces. Clearly, he was snubbed. He was even willing to consider offering jailed Shakil Afridi, of the Osama Bin Laden operation fame, in return for some money. But the US is not budging – various statements show that the US will not settle for anything less than safe havens of terror groups being destroyed and their financing being squeezed. Nor is the US will to work on promises. It wants evidence.
      As all of this unfolded, investors became jittery seeing no viable plan on the horizon. Then, former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was suddenly arrested in a stunning move. The arrest came after the stock market had closed for the day. Perhaps the government was hoping the weekend would serve as a shock absorber for this horrifying move. The arrest is shocking because the case on Sharif is probably fictional: A housing scheme that never happened and for which no monies were exchanged.
      The outrage then spurred Khan to make an address in which he said himself that one of the reasons he is addressing the nation is because he wants to dispel the images of Shahbaz Sharif becoming a Nelson Mandela because of his arrest. He further presented the completely unqualified chief minister, Usman Buzdar, he has appointed in Punjab as the ‘tabdeeli’ (change). And then proceeded to introduce a toilet cleaning scheme. The nation was in shock. Here they wanted clarity on policy, and the man was talking corruption, bankruptcy, toilets and Buzdar tabdeeli. The result, obviously, was the crash in the Karachi stock exchange which fell by over 1,300 points in a single day causing wealth destruction of over Rs 110 billion in a single day.
      This was accompanied by a 7 percent devaluation of the rupee and the decision to approach the IMF was announced. Earlier, huge price increases in gas, electricity, petrol, and urea were announced. Consumers, investors, traders continue to reel in horror at the steep economic decline within a mere 50 days or so.
      As I write, the stock market continues to fall. Sentiments in Pakistan remain negative because the PM continues to sell incredibly stupid and half-baked schemes to the public. He recently launched his housing scheme to build – this is not made up either – 5 million homes that would cost $180 billion. To put the scale in perspective, there are a total of 4.9 million pucca houses in all of Pakistan’s urban areas; 5 million houses in five years means constructing more than 2,700 houses per day; $180 billion can construct almost 13 Diamer Bhasha dams for which he has joined the chief justice in his appeal for charity funds. They have thus far collected about $3.7 million only for the dam – that too mostly via forced ‘charity’ by cutting salaries of employees without their consent.
      It is now abundantly clear that the vortex Pakistan’s economy is in right now will not disappear till a regime change.


      Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Tuesday stated that difficulties of the masses have been on rising against the backdrop of recent economic developments.
      He was talking to media in Karachi.
      “Tsunami of inflation has arrived in Pakistan due to policies of the incumbent government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). This isn’t the way to run a country”, Bilawal was quoted as saying. On a question about Shehbaz Sharif, Bilawal made it overtly clear that PPP does not have sympathies for president of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) as he had used foul language against PPP.
      However, he stressed on serving justice to the arrested leader.