Friday, October 19, 2018
The journalist thought that, wherever he was, it was his duty to speak out and call for reform in Saudi Arabia. He paid with his life.
This is the darkest day of my time as editor of Middle East Eye. It should not be. Jamal Khashoggi is not the first Saudi exile to be killed. No one today remembers Nassir al-Sa'id, who disappeared from Beirut in 1979 and has never been seen since.
Prince Sultan bin Turki was kidnapped from Geneva in 2003. Prince Turki bin Bandar Al Saud, who applied for asylum in France, disappeared in 2015. Maj Gen Ali al-Qahtani, an officer in the Saudi National Guard, who died while still in custody, showed signs of abuse including a neck that appeared twisted and a badly swollen body. And there are many, many others.Thousands languish in jail. Human rights activists branded as terrorists are on death row on charges that Human Rights Watch says "do not resemble recognised crimes". I know of one business leader who was strung upside down, naked and tortured. Nothing has been heard of him since. In Saudi, you are one social media post away from death.
A Saudi plane dropped a US-made bomb on a school bus in Yemen killing 40 boys and 11 adults on a school trip. Death is delivered by remote control, but no Western ally or arms supplier of Saudi demands an explanation. No contracts are lost. No stock market will decline the mouth-watering prospect of the largest initial public offering in history. What difference does one more dead Saudi make? As a journalist he hated humbug. The motto in Arabic on his Twitter page roughly translates as: "Say what you have to say and walk away."
And yet Khashoggi's death is different. It's right up close. One minute he is sitting across the table at breakfast, in a creased shirt, apologising in his mumbled, staccato English for giving you his cold. The next minute, a Turkish government contact tells you what they did to his body inside the consulate in Istanbul. Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consolate were not recording at the time.
Last Saturday, Khashoggi told a Memo (Middle East Monitor) conference in London's Euston Road that the kingdom realised it had gone too far in promoting President Donald Trump's "Deal of the Century" by promoting Abu Dis as the future capital of a Palestinian state, and backed away from what is proving to be a burning issue in Saudi.
The outrage by western governments is in stark contrast to their silence and, in the case of the US and UK, their active support of Saudi Arabia's bloody war in Yemen.
I share the general outrage at the apparent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi but cannot help feeling that the response from western governments is selective.The outrage by western governments is in stark contrast to their silence and, in the case of the US and UK, active support of Saudi Arabia's bloody war in Yemen that has left "as many as 10,000 dead and 8.4 million people facing devastating famine".
A legitimate outrage
If indeed Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, either deliberately or as the result of interrogation by "rogue" elements from the Saudi authorities, then it is a legitimate source of outrage. This would be murder, by a state - or the organs of a state - of an unarmed journalist, without judicial process, on diplomatic ground outside the territory of the perpetrators' country.
It is this dreadful cocktail of circumstances that explains the general outrage that it has sparked.
It is the state-sponsored, extrajudicial, extraterritorial nature of the apparent murder that is the source of greatest outrage, and this is where the outrage appears most selective.
The media rightly seeks to protect their own, and Khashoggi was a writer for the Washington Post and a career journalist, even if he had also been a close confidante and advisor to prominent Saudi princes. Media globally feels under siege. All too many journalists have died for their profession, often the result of deliberate targeting.
The profession is under attack, as individual journalists are denied access due to unfavourable reporting or newspapers blacklisted in the barrage of attacks on "fake news".
The international community generally - and Turkey in particular - is understandably concerned at the abuse of diplomatic immunity, even if diplomatic missions have long been home for dubious activities. The reciprocal nature of diplomacy dictates that individual diplomats, their embassies, consulates and even their "bags" are inviolable. This reciprocity is under attack, as abuses exceed their tacit limits and tit-for-tat expulsions abound. Yet it is the state-sponsored, extrajudicial, extraterritorial nature of the apparent murder that is the source of greatest outrage, and this is where the outrage appears most selective.
The West is rightly proud of its rule of law. As a writer and academic, it is what I value most highly. Freedom of speech is the life-blood of democracy. And the assurance that my freedom cannot be denied, other than through due legal process, is at the core of why exiles flock to the West. The extrajudicial nature of Khashoggi’s apparent killing should, however, be no surprise. There is neither an effective rule of law nor freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, and there never has been. So, why the outrage at yet another extrajudicial murder? While NGO after NGO has condemned the kingdom's human rights record, Western governments have been conspicuously silent.
Targeted killings, that is to say the state-sponsored extrajudicial murder of individuals, is on the rise and has become as much a weapon-of-choice of the West as undemocratic regimes.
State-sponsored murder is hardly new. Whether "democide" or "targeted killing", the idea that the state - or its agents - target and kill certain individuals or groups is not new. Mass killings, such as those of the "death squads" of Latin American dictators, were frequently tolerated by their Western sponsors, even if they were subsequently condemned.Yet targeted killings, that is to say the state-sponsored extrajudicial murder of individuals, is on the rise and has become as much a weapon of choice of the West as undemocratic regimes. The hit-squad with an ice-pick may have been replaced by high-tech drones but this does not fundamentally change the nature of the activity.
When state-sponsored extrajudicial killing is outside that state’s territory then the outrage is particularly vehement. It is one thing to murder your own people within your territory but don’t violate the territory of another state, especially a NATO member, by doing that abroad. The outrage felt by the UK and its allies over the Salisbury attack was a case in point.
They simply can’t tolerate GRU hitmen wandering the streets of England brandishing lethal nerve agents, threatening the lives of not only defectors but the police and the public at large. Even where that territory is strictly sovereign to the perpetrators, as with a consulate, it is considered unacceptable for a state, in this case Saudi Arabia, to do its dirty work in another country.
The outrage is undeniable but highly selective. When it is an ally of the West accused of committing such extraterritorial crimes, the response is muted or non-existent.
None of us watching the recent film, Operation Finale, about Mossad’s 1960 abduction of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, felt any sympathy for the subject of the abduction or the host state. That was because history was clearly on the side of Israel, and rather than simply murder him as several of the team sought to, he was brought back to Israel for a public and well-documented trial.
The extraterritorial activities of Mossad were also immortalised in Steven Spielberg’s Munich, where retaliation was sought against the perpetrators of the 1972 Summer Olympic murders by the PLO. Israel has mostly had a free pass from Western governments to carry out assassinations across the Middle East and beyond, and has even gone on the record to boast about it. Khashoggi's case is outrageous, and it is entirely appropriate that the West should roundly condemn Saudi Arabia for the apparent murder and demand justice for Khashoggi and his family.
Yet this response should also be within a context of a wider condemnation of the Saudis' internal human rights abuses and their own murderous war in Yemen.
By Philip Bump and Justin Wm. Moyer
One of the quieter revelations of the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is the murky world of foreign lobbying. Among the charges faced by President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was that he failed to report income earned from his lobbying efforts on behalf of Ukrainian officials. What was unusual about this wasn’t that Manafort didn’t file the proper Foreign Agents Registration Act reports but, as journalist Ken Silverstein wrote at Politico, that he got busted for it.
If you’re interested, you can peruse FARA reports yourself. The Department of Justice publishes them on its website. They’re filed as PDFs and it takes a bit of digging to suss out who’s reporting what, but it’s generally doable — assuming that the parties who are supposed to do the filing actually do so. The Center for Responsive Politics makes it a bit easier to see where and how foreign entities try to influence the government with an interactive tool detailing FARA filings and reports on spending, but the tool can work only with the information given to the government.
“The filings are only as good as the people making them,” the CRP’s Anna Massoglia said in a phone conversation with The Washington Post this week. Having tracked the filings over time, she’d seen all sorts of ways in which lobbying efforts are kept out of sight, intentionally or not: people not reporting, people not fully reporting, people reporting only years after the fact (as Manafort eventually did).
This issue of influence is nonetheless often important. This week, attention has turned to Saudi Arabia, which has enjoyed a robust relationship with the United States over the years — a relationship that would seem to be at risk given the apparent slaying of Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Turkey. The country, like many others, spends heavily to influence U.S. elected officials and members of the media, to the tune of $6 million this year, according to the CRP’s data. That puts Saudi Arabia among the 10 most heavily spending countries.
Over the past several years, dozens of consulting and lobbying firms have drawn income from work for a variety of Saudi governmental agencies, including the country’s embassy to the United States, Ministry of Energy, sovereign wealth fund and national oil company. To get a sense of that influence effort, we perused FARA reports and reports to Congress on spending to develop a map of the Saudi network.
One firm, Capitol Media Group, filed a report last year showing how that line can be blurry. It showed work it did for the Saudi Embassy: bringing veterans of the U.S. armed forces to Capitol Hill to talk about the Justice Against Supporters of Terrorism Act, legislation that allows, among other things, those affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for any possible involvement in the attacks.The influence of these organizations can be subtle. In addition to references to sitting elected officials targeted by the firms, the names of former elected officials also crop up in the reports. Former California representative Buck McKeon’s firm, McKeon Group, filed a report on work for the embassy. Former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman is the signatory to an agreement between Hogan Lovells and the Embassy of Saudi Arabia.
It’s certainly the case that many other countries have broader, more expensive networks of influence. (The Center for Responsive Politics, for example, estimates that the South Korean government has spent $55 million over the past two years.) But the breadth of outreach by entities affiliated with the Saudi government is nonetheless sweeping in scope.
And that doesn’t include any relationships that might not yet have been reported.
By JON GAMBRELL
October 9, 2018
October 9, 2018
Accompanied by senior party leaders, including Khursheed Shah, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and PPP Sindh President Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, Sindh Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani and Barrister Murtaza Wahab, Bilawal said that the economy of the country has suffered a big blow in the last two months and people have been crushed under the weight of inflation. Criticising the federal government for taking action against its political rivals, he said, “PTI has become “Tehreek-e-Intiqaam” [movement for revenge]. According to PPP chairman, the actions of the National Accountability Bureau are politically motivated to victimise the opponents. “The arrest of Shahbaz Sharif before by-elections shows it’s not accountability, but vengeance,” he said.
On the Karsaz incident, which took place when terrorists attacked Benazir Bhutto’s home-coming rally on October 18, 2007, he called it a big tragedy where workers rendered their lives for democracy. “After this incident, the terrorists killed my mother. Soon after the blast, they washed the crime scene to eliminate evidence. Despite this, the assassins can be arrested,” he remarked.
Earlier, PPP leaders and workers visited the memorial of Karsaz martyrs, where they lit candles and laid floral wreaths.
The decision comes a day after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior ministers from Europe announced plans to skip the conference.
The move by the White House intensified the kingdom's mounting isolation amid an uproar over the mysterious disappearance of Khashoggi after he entered a Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.
Khan's visit comes as Pakistan continues to court "friendly" nations in search of billions of dollars to shore up its deteriorating finances as it faces a balance of payment crisis and upcoming talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a potential bailout. Khan's participation in the conference "signifies our solidarity with the kingdom in its efforts to become an emerging hub of international business and investment", the foreign ministry said in the statement. "The conference provides an opportunity to interact with important business leaders who are interested in investing in Pakistan."
The conference is being touted as a high-powered showcase for the economic reforms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - who has been widely accused of having links to Khashoggi's disappearance. Pakistan briefly weighed in on the incident earlier this month, calling on Turkey and Saudi Arabia "to jointly address the matter". Khan made his maiden foreign visit as premier to Saudi Arabia in September as Islamabad explored alternative avenues to financing before approaching the IMF.
Since taking power in August Khan has sought loans from allies such as China and Saudi Arabia, promised to recover funds stolen by corrupt officials, and embarked on a series of high-profile populist austerity measures.
But help has been in short supply and economists' warnings have grown increasingly urgent.The visit also comes as Pakistan's central bank warned this week that inflation would likely double in the coming year - hitting 7.5 per cent - while the country's growth target rate of 6.2 per cent would likely be missed.
Two senior journalists who’ve been critical of the government and the establishment’s interference in the political affairs have resigned in less than 24 hours from their respective channels. Matiullah Jan, who hosted the show ‘Apna Apna Gireban’ on Waqt TV, and Murtaza Solangi, the host of program ‘Awaam’ on Capital TV, left their TV channels.
Although the reasons of the resignations are not yet clear, or at least not public, Matiullah Jan tweeted about ‘marching orders’. He was one of the few prominent journalists whose social media account was accused of spreading ‘negative propaganda’ against state institutions.
On the other hand, Murtaza Solangi came under a verbal attack from Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry who accused the People’s Party government of having appointed ‘a taxi driver from New York’ as the Director General of Radio Pakistan. Solangi defended himself on Twitter and also announced moving court against the minister for slander but, for now, has ended up losing his job at a private TV channel.
The unceremonious removal of two respected journalists from their TV channels is so far the harshest punishment we’ve witnessed under the current government for journalists who wouldn’t toe the line. But this could well be a sign of things to come. Journalists and freedom of speech have become the primary casualty of the current wave of authoritarianism across the globe. While the US president Donald Trump has repeatedly slammed media outlets reporting against his administration, cautioned Facebook and Twitter to ‘be careful’ and blamed Google of prioritizing the news reports unfavorable towards his government, the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week was something quite shocking, even by Saudi standards.
And in Pakistan we have journalists being pressurised for speaking their minds. While this is not the first time in country’s history that media organizations are under fire, this is most definitely a first since the return of democracy to Pakistan in 2008. The totalitarian style in which this country is being governed right now is something we all thought we had left far behind us.
The incumbent government should remember that curbing media freedoms ultimately will harm democracy and its tenure. It is time that the parliament and political parties took notice of this situation and protect the vital democratic freedoms.
No one expected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to ‘launch’ this Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds housing scheme. But he did.
Karachi stock market has been on a roller coaster. It crashes one day and recovers to an extent the next, lurching from negative sentiment to opportunity-buying the next day, but is essentially on a downward spiral.
One would not be off the mark in saying that investors are confused and frightened by the ineptness and cluelessness of the new PTI government. There are daily negative signals of confusion and a display of vindictiveness, instead of a focus on the future.
The colossal stupidity was exhibited in just one interview that the government’s newly appointed spokesperson on economy, Dr Farrukh Saleem, gave on the housing project worth $180 billion, under which five million units will be built. The response was a study in ignorance, cronyism and impending disaster.
No one actually expected Prime Minister Imran Khan to ‘launch’ this Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds housing scheme. But he did. It’s not fleshed out, there is no clear financing plan for low-cost housing for the poor. But it’s billed as a project that will kickstart and form the backbone of Pakistan’s economic future, stimulating 35-40 ancillary industrial sectors and providing millions of jobs to the country’s youth.
His adviser on this scheme, Cheshire-based tycoon Aneel Mussarrat, has been reticent on the details but ordinary Pakistanis are asking some very basic questions about Khan’s grandiose vision.
The yearly cost of this project is $36 billion, almost the same as Pakistan’s annual tax revenue (approx. $36.8 billion at the current exchange rate). The scale is so huge that if you forget about hospitals, defence expenditure, schools, roads, metros, administrative government expenditure, you’d barely manage to build the ‘promised land’ of 2,739. 7 homes per day, and even then it cannot be done.
But wait. Dr Farrukh Saleem tells us that the government does NOT plan to provide low-cost housing to the poor on its expense or to subsidise it in any way. The government will merely be a ‘facilitator’, the money will come from the private sector (mortgage lending by commercial banks), and the beneficiaries of the scheme will be those with an income of Pakistani rupees 100, 000 or less.
Imran Khan had said only the land will be provided by the government, but it isn’t clear if that will come at market price, or free of cost, or somewhere in between. No one knows what’s cooking or how big a scam this could turn out to be, given it’s his buddies who (the likes of Aneel Mussarat) have been entrusted with executing the scheme.
Imran Khan had claimed that while mortgage financed housing was high in the West, it stood at 0.25 per cent in Pakistan, and that the new scheme will attract foreign investment of at least $20 billion. Meanwhile, it’s not even clear whether the $180 billion total cost includes the cost of the land or not.
Meanwhile, housing wizard Mussarat said the scheme has houses under various brackets, costing $10,000, $20,000, $50,000, $75,000 and $100,000. There is no information on what discount rate will apply, the magnitude of monthly repayments, among other details.
With the current discount rate at 8.5 per cent, and that is expected to rise to at least 14 per cent by the middle of next year (to avoid negative real interest rates if IMF prediction of inflation rising to 14 per cent is taken as a base), which commercial banks will lend to those with incomes of say Rs 30,000 or even Rs 100, 000 for these homes?
Even if by some magic, banks were to start lending $180 billion to a single sector and crowd out all others, they don’t actually have that kind of money in their deposits. The current total gross national savings stand at $17.19 billion (5.5 per cent of $304.95 billion). These are the simple numbers this government hasn’t crunched.
A great critic of corrupt politicians and the in-house economic wizard of the PTI, Dr Farrukh Saleem has long been derided for coming up not only with cooked-up numbers, but also cooked-up economics. But the cringe-worthy moment came when he was massacred by TV show host Shahzeb Khanzada who asked him where the money will come from.
Was the scheme realistic, given the size of the project was nearly half of the economy itself?
“There is a dearth of 10 million houses, and if nothing is done, this number will double in the next five years. Five per cent live in pucca homes, 95 per cent in kaccha or are homeless. The average cost of a unit is Rs 15 lakh, to be financed with 90 per cent mortgage and 10 per cent equity. In developed countries, the housing sector leads the economy. Thirty five to forty ancillary industries like steel, cement, labour, fabric (for curtains) will take off,” he replied.
Khanzada reminded him of the size of the economy, and that the average cost of a house is actually Rs 50 lakh, not 15 lakh. And, that Pakistani banks have total deposits of Rs 13, 032 billion and 57 per cent of that is already loaned out in advances, and the rest in investments. So, where would he find Rs 24,000 billion? Instead of answering this very basic question, Farrukh Saleem began to waffle about the rich and the poor, the West and the politics of change. Then he said: “This has nothing to do with the size of the economy. World over, profitable business of mortgage lending happens”. To which Khanzada hilariously replied, “If there’s no linkage with the size of the economy, at least there is a linkage with the money in the economy, no?”
This was the gaslighting moment. The adviser suddenly started talking about corruption, citing a US State Department Study on International Narcotics Control, which states that $10 billion is laundered out of Pakistan every year. And multiplied by 10, that makes $100 billion, which can be brought back, and the current and future savings of $10 billion a year could be made and “extra capital created”.
It is an entirely different matter that the report mentions no such thing, but the PTI government never allows facts to interfere with its plans.
The adviser also added another $30 billion of corruption in government contracts that the PTI could stop, and create “extra capital” for the housing project. Gone was all talk of bank deposits, national savings, tax revenues. But the savage Khanzada politely reminded him that the $30 billion saving from ending corruption would be government money. And the government doesn’t plan to fund the project, right? He ended with: “Ye hai hukoomat ki tayyari?”
The future of Pakistan under this Government-by-Claims doesn’t look pretty.