Wednesday, July 31, 2019

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Pakistan’s euphoria from Trump’s talks with Imran Khan may not last – thanks to terrorism, the Taliban and economics

  • Can Pakistan help the US tame the Taliban so that Trump can withdraw US forces from Afghanistan? That’s the price the US demands in exchange for aid for Pakistan’s floundering economy, but success is far from assured.
  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan received a hero’s welcome as he returned home from his recent visit to Washington, with jubilant supporters greeting him at the airport. A friendly and cowed domestic media hyperventilated about his successful visit. Apart from a renewal of high-level political engagement, the visit has raised hopes of resumption in economic and military aid, in return for Pakistan’s cooperation on easing an Afghanistan peace deal. Trump’s abortive offer of mediation on Kashmir was the icing on the cake. The visit ended five years of estrangement. But Pakistan’s euphoria may need to be tempered by the harsh realities of Afghanistan, terrorism and economic distress.
Khan’s visit was to “reset” bilateral ties. US President Donald Trump had cancelled US$1.3 billion in economic and military aid, blaming Pakistan for deceit and treachery in promoting terrorism and playing the spoiler in Afghanistan. Pakistan was also worried about its potential inclusion on the Financial Action Task Force’s blacklist on terrorism financing charges and unnerved by India’s cross-border military strikes against terrorist camps. Pakistan’s current patron, China, failed to provide 100 per cent protection, leaving the country feeling uncomfortable with its growing reliance on Beijing.America had made it clear that it expected Pakistan to take irreversible and irrevocable steps against terrorist groups. Before the visit, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Saeed, internationally declared terrorist and chief of the jihadi terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament and Mumbai. Pakistan has arrested this terrorist several times before, only to release him when international pressure eased.
Pakistan’s floundering economy, kept barely afloat by loans from friendly countries and a promised IMF bailout worth US$6 billion, was another reason to seek American help. Pakistan’s currency is losing value, foreign exchange reserves are dangerously low and annual exports have stagnated at US$25.5 billion, far below Bangladesh’s exports of around US$41 billion.Pakistan is the breeding ground for scores of Islamist terrorist outfits, nurtured and used by the Pakistan Army in launching terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India. In Washington, Khan made the surprising public admission that over 40 terrorist groups and up to 40,000 terrorists were operating in his country, and that Pakistan was trying hard to neutralise them. He also acknowledged that these groups were operating in Afghanistan and India. The White House statement said, inter alia, that “it is vital that Pakistan take action to shut down all [terrorist] groups once and for all”.
Pakistan has sought to leverage its control over the Taliban in helping to extricate America from the 18-year-old Afghanistan quagmire, a denouement Trump wants badly for his re-election campaign in 2020. For Pakistan’s military, American aid is crucial for upgrading and maintaining American military hardware in its inventory and sourcing new weaponry. Khan was accompanied by the army chief and military intelligence chief to Washington, reinforcing the belief that he is a “selected” rather than elected prime minister.
All Pakistani prime ministers invariably raise the Kashmir issue and solicit international mediation. Choreographed questions by Pakistani journalists and Khan’s flattery led Trump to come up with a fantastic story that, at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir. India promptly rejected Trump’s assertion, reiterating its long-held position that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and no mediation is acceptable. But Trump’s ill-considered remarks gave Khan bragging rights and a propaganda point.
Pakistan, an American ally during the cold war, was showered with military and economic aid worth billions of dollars by several US administrations. Pakistan was also viewed as a proxy against India, because India chose non-alignment, with a tilt towards the Soviet Union. Leveraging relations with Pakistan to pressure India remains a recurring feature of American policy in South Asia. Pakistan’s useful role as a proxy against India also led to the China-Pakistan strategic nexus, soon after the Sino-Indian conflict in 1962.
The China-Pakistan nexus has matured into a strategic alliance, resulting in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Islamabad as a client state of China. The Afghan jihad to oust the Soviet Union started another American gravy train, feeding generations of Pakistan’s military and civilian elite and their progeny. America and China also helped Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and missile development programmes during this period.
America needs Pakistan, particularly its army, to tame the Taliban and make it cooperate to reach an all-party peace deal in Afghanistan. While America seeks a face-saving retreat, Pakistan seeks a government in Afghanistan that is subservient to its interest and eliminating Indian influence. Though America describes India as a strategic partner, with an eye towards balancing an expansionist and aggressive China, exit from Afghanistan is Trump’s first priority. Both Russia and China also want America out of Afghanistan but are wary of the consequences of instability and Islamist extremism taking root again in this sensitive southern flank of China and Central Asia. All countries are hedging their ties with one another in pursuit of their respective interests. Can “Taliban Khan” (as he has been dubbed by his opponents) deliver on the promises made in Washington? The final outcome lies in the realm of the unknown.

MASTER OF U-TURNS - PM Imran approves Rs5.15 price hike, petrol reaches Rs117.83 per litre

Prime Minister Imran Khan late Wednesday approved a summary of the Oil and Gas Development Authority's (OGRA) recommendation to hike the price of petrol by Rs5.15.

Per-litre prices of all petroleum products were jacked up, with petrol, diesel, kerosene oil, and light diesel now costlier by Rs5.15, Rs5.65, Rs5.38, and Rs8.90, respectively.
The new prices for a litre of petrol, diesel, kerosene oil, and light diesel were Rs117.83, Rs132.47, Rs103.84, and Rs90.52, respectively.
The new prices were set to come into effect starting Thursday, 0000 hours.
Earlier, the regulatory authority had recommended that the respective per-litre prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene oil, and light diesel be bumped up to Rs117.83, Rs135.72, Rs103.84, and Rs94.27.

After a year of press freedom violations, RSF writes to Pakistan’s premier

In an open letter to Imran Khan a year after he took office as Pakistan’s prime minister, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on him to recognize the alarming decline in the state of press freedom in his country and to take urgent measures to address this.
 Constitution Avenue
Islamabad, Pakistan

Paris, 31 July 2019

Dear Prime Minister Khan,

When asked, during an official visit to the United States last week, about recent press freedom violations in your country, you replied: “Pakistan has one of the freest presses in the world (...) To say there are curbs on the Pakistan press is a joke.”

There is nothing funny about this “joke” for journalists in your country. You claim that the Pakistani press is one of the freest in the world. “The Pakistani media is even freer than the British media,” you added at another point during your visit.

It is clear that either you are very poorly informed, in which case you should urgently replace the people around you, or you are knowingly concealing the facts, which is very serious, given your responsibilities.

Just a few hours after you landed in the United States, the leading Pakistani TV news channel, Geo News, was censored yet again. Your fellow citizens found a blank screen when they tried to obtain independent, public interest reporting about your trip from this channel.

A month ago, a live Geo News interview with former President Asif Ali Zardari by the well-known journalist Hamid Mir was cut short after just a few minutes without any explanation. When contacted by RSF, the interviewer blamed you for this sudden and completely arbitrary act of censorship.

The signals of three other Pakistani TV news channels, AbbTakk TV24 News and Capital TV, were suddenly suspended from cable TV services on 8 July without any warning to their management, and remained suspended for several days. Najam Sethi, a well-known journalist who often works with 24 News, confirmed to RSF that the suspension was a reprisal for their coverage of a press conference by Maryam Nawaz Sharif, another opposition figure.

These brazen cases of censorship, which seriously threaten journalistic independence and pluralism, are characteristic of non-democratic regimes. You won the general elections a year ago by repeating the slogans “Tabdeeli!” (Change) and “Naya Pakistan!” (a “New Pakistan”) during the campaign.

It is nonetheless clear that, as far as press freedom goes, the change has been for the worse. Ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, your country has fallen three places in the past year. And the events of recent months offer no grounds for optimism about the “new Pakistan.”

Ali Sher Rajpar, the president of the press club in Padidan, in southeastern Sindh province, was fatally shot five times at point blank range on 4 May, shortly after unsuccessfully requesting police protection because he had been threatened in connection with his coverage of local corruption.

Just four days before that, after another Pakistani journalist, Malik Amanullah Khanwas gunned down in the Parowa area of Dera Ismail Khan district, in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He too was the president of the local press club.

Muhammad Bilal Khan, a journalist and blogger whose YouTube channel had more than 50,000 followers, was hacked to death in an Islamabad suburb in June. One of his latest videos was about one of your speeches and, in one of his last tweets, he criticized your intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The police have made no arrests in any of these three cases.

When not targeted physically, journalists who cross certain red lines are subjected to judicial harassment. They include Shahzeb Jillani, an investigative journalist who was charged with “cyber-terrorism” in April in connection with a tweet referring to an ISI officer.

Even the prestigious daily Dawn – founded in 1941 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the Pakistani nation, as part of the fight against British colonialism – is being subjected to harsh economic harassment. Your government has denied it any income from state advertising since 24 April. According to RSF’s sources, this arbitrary decision was a reprisal for an article published the previous day about a press conference you gave in Tehran in which you recognized that Pakistan-based militants had been involved in attacks inside Iran. In other words, your government does not tolerate your country’s media repeating what you say while abroad.

In the light of this recent surge in press freedom violations, of which this list is not exhaustive, you will appreciate that to talk of “one of the freest presses in the world” is clearly tantamount to an obscenity.

We therefore urge your government to allow Pakistan’s journalists to exercise their profession in complete safety and with complete independence, as envisaged in article 19 of the 1973 constitution.

The credibility of the Pakistani state and democracy is at stake.


Christophe Deloire

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

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Pakistan has a domestic abuse problem – but there’s a way to turn the outrage into action

Saba Karim Khan
After a TV host in Pakistan made light of the issue days after the wife of Pakistani actor Mohsin Abbas Haider accused him of violence, it’s clear a cultural shift is needed to de-normalise this behaviour.
Several years ago, at my uncle’s funeral, a distant relative next to me, whispered: “Good riddance. His poor wife is finally free.” Struck by newly palpable grief, her words choked me. How could someone be callous enough to curse the dead even before they were buried? My uncle – as it turned out – was a chronic wife-beater and my aunt, a brave yet convention-bound woman.
More than a decade later, as #saynotodomesticviolence gains virality in Pakistan, I recalled those words. Should my aunt have confided in someone? Is there something we had missed? Would I offer newfound advice to my daughters? But first, what even comprises domestic violence? Is the “see what you made me do” alibi legitimate? And beyond the blame-game, how do we fix things? These questions are complex, unsettling, and Pakistani society has mostly shirked them.
Back then, the words at the funeral offered relief – the knowledge that for my aunt, the worst was finally over. Today, I realise that a trusted member of our extended family, intimidating his partner, signalled a graver dilemma: that domestic violence is normalised and the price for whistle-blowing, often too rancorous for victims to speak up.
As I sifted through my university years and entered the job market, stories from workmates, house-help and one time even a stranger on a flight, surfaced, signalling how domestic violence permeates society in a privileged, agnostic fashion in Pakistan, cutting across race, class and religion. The elderly lady who cooks in my mother’s home and the fashion celebrity earning a six-figure salary are both susceptible to abuse. Accounts ranged from evident coercion to invisible bruises, both equally harrowing.
In 2018, a United Nations report cut to the bottom-line: The most dangerous place for a woman is her home. According to the World Bank, almost one in three married Pakistani women report facing physical violence. So every time a victim is shamed for speaking up, or a court refuses to convict a perpetrator, or a TV show jokes about domestic violence, we are lowering the stakes and emboldening home-grown terrorism, literally.
Commonly understood reasons for domestic violence often fuel confusion: a stroke of bad luck; wrong place, wrong time; substance abuse; financial stress; laudable possessiveness; a sex game gone wrong; a man hard-wired to hurt; and the false guarantee that with time it will vanish. These myths must be dismantled. Toxic masculinity, cultivated in male upbringing across South Asia, is largely responsible for normalising, even applauding an imbalance of power between the sexes. By privileging typically “masculine” traits of aggression, control and a natural killer instinct, domestic violence offers an ego-boost, buttressing the belief that it is, after all, a man’s world. When this gets augmented with society’s blind-eye, abuse blossoms; by remaining tongue-tied, we are all complicit.
However, before judging victims for suffering, we must examine the cost of speaking up. From the outside, silence appears synonymous with cowardice but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Often, victims are rippled by prospects of shame, fatigued with fear, yet wondering when to take the plunge. They are planning a careful exit, calculating risks, devising strategies that don’t place their children in jeopardy – none of it is simple, especially not in Pakistan – where even affluent women are labelled troublemakers for casting the die against men.
A year ago, an ex-colleague broke down mid-conversation at our dining-table – her husband would throw furniture at her in front of their six-year-old son and had recently begun choking her during role-play. Her cry was a water-shed; it stoked within me, the deepest revulsion, but I disallowed the fury to curdle into bitterness. It was an invitation to reflect on how to make the leap from outrage to action.
I realise that Pakistan needs its own revolution to stir things up but how might such a movement be ignited? The answer can be found via a two-pronged approach.
First, domestic violence must occupy a higher seat on every agenda: global, national, political and personal. Words come cheap so instead of what we’re used to, from our partners to the president, practical, life-saving solutions must emerge – policies, helplines, accountability bureaus, rapid court case resolutions, therapy units, funding for shelters. Only then can the benefits of unsilencing outweigh the costs. But foremost, what must accompany curative measures is conversation – a cultural shift that de-normalises domestic violence. So that mothers stop admiring sons for abusing wives because they suffered similarly or because “she must have asked for it”. So that we stop relying on post market failure fixes but instead, offer proactive support, which makes perpetrators rethink violent acts before they occur.
When I look back, in an ideal world, my advice to my aunt and colleague would’ve been: “Don’t walk, run”. Nothing about our world, though, is ideal. So, I’ve made their stories come alive to show that domestic violence is non-negotiable, that nothing about abuse is funny and that all of us are responsible to pick up the pieces. Only with collaborative will can we hope for bells to chime and ring in change, for a world where no one has to wait for a partner’s death to set themselves free.

Al Qaeda still resilient, closely works with Pakistani LeT, Afghani Haqqani Network: UN


A UN report said al Qaeda still considers Afghanistan a safe haven but the health of its leadership was uncertain. It also said the Islamic State remains much stronger than al Qaeda.

United Nations: Al Qaeda “remains resilient” and continues to cooperate closely with Pakistan-based terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani Network, but the health of its leader Aiman Muhammed al-Zawahiri and how the succession will work are in doubt, according to a UN report.
The 24th report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team was submitted to the UN Security Council Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee here this month.
The sanctions monitoring team submits independent reports every six months to the Security Council on the Islamic State, al Qaeda and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities.Al Qaeda remains resilient, although the health and longevity of its leader, Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri, and how the succession will work are in doubt, it said.Al Qaeda considers Afghanistan a continuing safe haven for its leadership, relying on its long-standing and strong relationship with the Taliban, it said.
Under Taliban patronage, al Qaeda is keen to strengthen its presence in Badakhshan Province, in particular in the Shighnan area bordering Tajikistan, as well as in Barmal, in Paktika Province, it added.
“Al Qaeda continues to cooperate closely with Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network. Al Qaeda members continue to function routinely as military and religious instructors for the Taliban, the report said.
It further noted that the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) is reported to be moving towards a hub-and-spoke network in its remote provinces, a logical extension of the dispersed, delegated leadership approach.Better established affiliates are taking on elements of responsibility for lesser ones, channelling funds and assisting with propaganda. Over time, this may have the effect of regionalising the agendas of these networks,” the report said.This has already happened in the case of al Qaeda, which has long embedded itself in local issues and politics, bringing the group some successes but also some problems, as in Idlib, it stated.Further, groups aligned with al Qaeda are stronger than their ISIL counterparts in Idlib, Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, Somalia and much of West Africa. The largest concentrations of active foreign terrorist fighters are in Idlib and Afghanistan, the majority of whom are aligned with Al-Qaeda.
The report, however, noted that ISIL remains much stronger than Al-Qaeda in terms of finances, media profile, current combat experience and terrorist expertise and remains the more immediate threat to global security.
It also stressed that the ability of local authorities to cope with terrorist challenges in Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia remains limited.
Referring to the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka that killed 258 people, the report said that despite the claim of responsibility by ISIL, member state investigations revealed that the ISIL core did not direct or facilitate the attacks, nor did it know about them in advance.”
“It was a locally instigated and led attack inspired by ISIL ideology. The bombings aimed to boost the global image of ISIL after its military defeat in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic,” it said.
Regional Member States expressed concern about dynamics in the region, in particular in Sri Lanka, southern India and the Maldives, that could contribute to internal threats. Since 2013, approximately 170 Maldivians have travelled to Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, and more than 70 have unsuccessfully attempted to travel, it said.
The report noted that as ISIL continues its evolution from a pseudo-state to a global network inspiring and directing terrorism, it may aim to build platforms for operations in areas in which it has not been active before.
The Easter Sunday attacks may serve as a blueprint for future ISIL terrorism in other unexpected locations. The return of foreign terrorist fighters to their home countries from Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic may combine with indigenous radicalization in South Asia or elsewhere.
The Lanka attacks show the “continuing appeal of ISIL propaganda and the risk that indigenous cells may incubate in unexpected locations and generate a significant terrorist capability.
“These and other ISIL attacks on places of worship, alongside the attacks in Christchurch in New Zealand in March offer a troubling narrative of escalating interfaith conflict, it said. The report also noted that outside the core conflict zone, ISIL and Al-Qaeda are both contending for dominance and international relevance. Some Member States describe the existence of a number of local conflict zones, each of which has its own gravitational pull, drawing foreign terrorist fighters who either come from the region or have ethnic or linguistic ties to it,” it said. Afghanistan remains the most established of these, and concerns remain about the short and long-term threats posed by ISIL and Al-Qaeda-aligned groups and foreign terrorist fighters who have established themselves on Afghan territory, the report said. There are also growing concerns about West Africa and the Sahel, where ISIL and al Qaeda are both active and deconflict with each other in favour of destabilizing the more fragile regional States.

Pakistani military plane that crashed was used for surveillance after Balakot strikes


Pakistan military's media wing draws flak for not naming civilian victims and for referring to killed soldiers as martyrs.

The aircraft that crashed in Pakistan Tuesday killing 18 people, including five military personnel, was a surveillance aircraft that the country’s army deployed to maintain a vigil on Indian military movement — both in air and land — following the Balakot strikes, defence sources told ThePrint.
The crashed aircraft was a King Air 350 turboprop of the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps and was inducted for surveillance around 2012.
The accident killed 18 people, including two pilots and three military personnel, and injured 12 others when the aircraft went down in a residential area in the garrison city of Rawalpindi early Tuesday.

Pak army statement draws flak

A Pakistan Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement said the two pilots and three military personnel killed had embraced “Shahadat” or martyrdom. The statement also mentioned that two high-ranking officials in the Pakistani Army were among the dead.
It, however, drew flak for leaving out the names of the 12 civilian casualties and for using the term Shahadat. The term martyr or martyrdom is generally used when a person is killed because of his religious or political beliefs.
The Indian military doesn’t officially use this term in case of soldier casualties and instead relies on killed in action.
Lahore-based journalist and rights activist Gul Bukhari tweeted, “The army crashes a plane in a residential area. And ISPR statement reads, “12 fatal civilian casualties… crew members embraced Shahadat. “And names each ‘shaheed’ and bloody civilians killed don’t merit being named.”

The army crashes a plane in a residential area. And ISPR statement reads, “12 fatal civilian casualties... crew members embraced shahadat.”
And names each ‘shaheed’ and bloody civilians killed don’t merit being named.

View image on Twitter

Plane was on a training mission

According to media reports, the Rawalpindi district commissioner Ali Randhawa said the incident occurred between 2:30 am and 2:40 am when the small military plane was on a training mission.
He added that the dead and injured were shifted to various hospitals of Rawalpindi, where paramedics said most of the victims were badly burnt. The cause of the crash is yet to be ascertained and the rescue operation was completed by the morning, according to authorities.

#QuettaBlast #Blast in #Pakistani city #Quetta kills five: police

Five people including two policemen were killed and 27 injured in a blast near a police station in southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Tuesday evening, a week after a similar blast that killed two people, police said.An explosive rigged motorcycle was detonated to target a police van parked outside the police station in the heart of Quetta’s busy shopping area, the city police chief said.
“Five people have been killed, including two policemen,” Abdul Razzaq Cheema, Quetta police chief told Reuters. Two women and a child are among the 27 injured in the blast, he added. In a similar blast last Tuesday two people were killed and 16 were injured when an explosive-rigged motorcycle went off outside a store in Quetta.
Violence in the Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, has fueled concern about the security of investments, in particular an energy link planned to run from western China to Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar.

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#Pakistan - Bias in education

A REPORT prepared by two NGOs reconfirms the worst fears of how the system is played against Pakistan’s religious minorities at all levels and in all areas. The report by the Institute of Development Research and Corresponding Capabilities and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan focuses on education. The findings reflect the country’s depressing record on the treatment of its minorities, indicating the great distance between us and other nations that can justifiably claim to be civilised. The survey sketches an embarrassing picture of the deeply ingrained intolerance in the most basic unit — the classroom. The report describes how non-Muslims are seen as “enemies of Islam by Muslim students and teachers”. Some 60pc of the non-Muslim students interviewed for this study had “experienced discrimination or felt they were being discriminated against and disrespected”. With such foundations, it is no surprise that the survey found that some 70pc of (non-Muslim) teachers had been discriminated against on the basis of their faith, with parents experiencing a similar faith-based bias. Given that there is great reluctance among those routinely discriminated against for their religious beliefs to come forward, the actual figures are probably much higher. That means that ‘only’ 60 out of 100 students, or 70 out of 100 parents alleging they were victims of the long-cultivated intolerance in the country could, ironically, be seen as a positive. The truth is, there are very few non-Muslims who escape discrimination at the hands of those who belong to the majority faith — so ingrained is prejudice in society.
Ways have been constantly suggested on how to tackle the issue, and there have been some efforts to deal with the discrimination that plagues education in the country. However, the task at the outset has been complicated, as even innocuous terminology such as ‘secular’ can lead to trouble. Consequently, the work aimed at combating faith-based intolerance in all spheres has to be very subtle, but without losing sight of the main purpose. The difficulties along the way must never be an excuse for slackening or refusing to challenge existing societal attitudes that threaten to further divide a country in desperate need of basic lessons in pluralism. There are individuals who have taken a stand and those who must step forward to set an example. But it is the state that must lead the way carefully. If it fails to do its duty by all its citizens it will only sharpen societal divisions.

Helpless Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia

Earlier this year, when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman visited Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan won a huge public approval when he raised the issue of thousands of Pakistanis detained in Saudi jails. The prince also promised to look into the matter. Since then, there has been no or a very little progress on this front. Side by side, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has failed to watch the interests of our people around the world, especially in Saudi Arabia. The ministry runs 114 missions across the globe. This is a big number, which involves huge money to run these missions. Nations run foreign missions to counter enemies and develop friendships with foreign powers. According to our foreign policy, Saudi Arabia is our great friend and there is a treaty of friendship between the two countries to testify it.
Despite this great friendship, Saudi Arabia shows no respect for the rights of Pakistani citizens working in Saudi Arabia. The Justice Project Pakistan and Human Rights Watch has recently released ‘Caught in a Web’, a research which documented the treatment of Pakistani prisoners by the Saudi criminal justice system. The report says trials, punctuated with rampant due process violations, have marked the executions of 66 Pakistanis, while 2,795 Pakistanis have been languishing in jails, subject to abuse and poor jail conditions.
The highest number of foreign nationals gone to the Saudi gallows has been Pakistanis. This is not the case with any other nation. In October 2015, then Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj reacted harshly to the ordeal of an Indian domestic worker by her Saudi employer who chopped her arm off. The Indian embassy extended her consular and legal help to pursue charges against the employer. Similarly, in 2014, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia reached a deal under which around 500,000 Sir Lankans working in the kingdom were entitled to protections under the labour laws. This deal was signed after a 24-year-old maid was beheaded in Saudi Arabia. Now, the Sri Lankan embassy in Saudi Arabia runs a dedicated 24/7 hotline where workers in trouble can call for help. On the contrary, many detained Pakistanis and their families are not even sure which government agency to reach out to in the hour of need.
Pakistan must work to launch a consular protection policy for the Pakistanis in the kingdom and other Gulf countries. The other possible option is negotiating a prisoner transfer agreement with Saudi Arabia, and arranging legal cells to the aid of prisoners on death row. Helping prisoners in foreign jails is never impossible.

#Kashmir: A Battleground For Middle Eastern Rivals – Analysis

Thought that sectarianism was a pillar of the Saud Iranian rivalry? Think again, think Kashmir where the two countries’ geopolitical rivalry and Turkish ambitions cross sectarian lines.
With Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey competing for Indian Kashmiri hearts and minds, Iran and Turkey’s embrace of Kashmiri nationalism is winning them sympathy among both Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
The two countries’ perception of Kashmiri aspirations as nationalist rather than religious gives them a fighting chance to counter long-standing Saudi influence in the troubled South Asian region.
The Kashmiri competition, like Kazakhstan where a Saudi-inspired apolitical and loyalist strand of ultra-conservative Islam has gained popularity, suggests that crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has not given up on religion as a soft power too despite who seeking to root his legitimacy in newly found Saudi nationalismrather than the kingdom’s ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam.
Prince Mohammed, since coming to office in 2015, has significantly cut back on funding and converted the kingdom’s major funding vehicle, the World Muslim League, into a group that sings his praises and propagates tolerance and inter-faith dialogue.
Nevertheless, the crown prince  views the promotion of Madkhalism, a particular Saudi strand of ultra-conservatism that preaches absolute obedience to the ruler and sees the kingdom as the model of Islamic governance as a way of countering Iranian activism and the notion of an Islamic republic that recognizes a degree of popular sovereignty.
Saudi Arabia invested an estimated US$100 billion in funding of religious seminaries, cultural and higher educational institutions, media organizations and in a handful of countries militant groups as part of a more than 40-year religiously cloaked, globally waged covert war with Iran.
More recently, Turkey has sought to lay claim to leadership of the Muslim world by funding mosques and other institutions across the globe and seizing up Islamic causes like Jerusalem.
The funding, coupled with diplomatic pressure, also aims to counter the far-flung, embattled empire of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and whom Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of having staged a 2016 failed military coup.
Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey’s identification of Kashmir as a battleground points to the increased importance they attribute to South and by extension Central Asia.
In a twist of irony, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to be embracing the Sufi Menzil sect, one of the largest and most powerful Sufi orders in Turkey, that is far more liberal than Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservatism but shares with Madkhalism a rejection of politics.
Menzil Sufis have filled vacancies in the government bureaucracy and security services created by Mr. Erdogan’s mass purge in the wake of the failed coup of alleged followers of Mr. Gulen, according to journalist Timur Soykan, who recently published a book on a more controversial Sufi order.
Like Madkhalis, Menzils, with a history of support for the Turkish state and its military, potentially could serve as anti-dotes to Iranian Shiites’ activism in places like Kashmir where Iran is targeting the Shiite minority who account for 15 percent of the region’s population.
Iran and Turkey’s emphasis on nationalism rather than religion compensates to some degree for Saudi Arabia’s first starter advantage, allowing Iran in particular to make significant inroads in Kashmir.
Portraits of Iran’s late spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, loom large on billboards in Shiite neighbourhoods whose streets are named after Shiite martyrs. Saudi Arabia’s execution in 2016 of a prominent Shiite cleric sparked anti-Saudi protests in Kashmir.
Unlike Iran, Turkey, eager to expand economic cooperation with India, has restricted its focus in Kashmir to verbal support in international fora rather than the funding of mosques and/or schools. That has not stopped separatist groups from embracing Mr. Erdogan even if that doesn’t challenge Saudi influence on the ground.
Ahl-e-Hadith, South Asia’s oldest Saudi-backed religious group, is believed to have funded some 150 schools, colleges, orphanages, clinics and medical diagnostic centres in Kashmir.
“Practically every village along the picturesque, poplar-lined, 60-km stretch northwest of Srinagar towards Gulmarg has one or more Ahl-e-Hadith-funded mosques. The new mosques and their attendant madrassas make for a contrasting picture with the hundreds of dilapidated mosques built over centuries in the age-old Sufi tradition,” Mr Jolly reported.
“The Wahhabi influence is not new to Kashmir as followers of this Islamic practice have been there since the last 100 years. But the phenomenal growth in their influence and their far and wide reach now can be attributed only to the funding the local ‘Ahle Hadith’ have got from Saudi Arabia in the last 30 years,” said an Indian intelligence official more recently.
Added analyst Abhinav Pandya: “Kashmir is becoming the ground zero for a new geopolitical race for influence: Iran and Turkey have deep, sometimes overlapping interests, Saudi Arabia wants to ensure a return on its financial and ideological investment… The question is whether these states…will weaponize those supporters in a future proxy conflict between themselves, or between separatists and India itself.”