Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Legislators say the war was never approved by US Congress, argue US should halt its support for Saudi-UAE offensive.A bipartisan group of US politicians pledged to advance legislation in Congress that would block further support by the American military for the Saudi-UAE war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The measure enjoys broad support among Democrats and a number of key Republicans, but would face a likely veto by President Donald Trump suggesting delays and high-level negotiations with the White House ahead.Public opinion in the US has turned against the war because of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as well as the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.Politicians supporting the measure believe they can generate enough support in Congress to overturn a presidential veto which would force Trump to apply pressure on Riyadh.
"When Yemenis see 'Made in USA' on the bombs that are killing them, it tells them the United States of America is responsible for this war," Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference.
"This is not a message the United States should be sending to the world. The United States should not be supporting a catastrophic war led by a despotic Saudi regime with a dangerous and irresponsible military policy."
A similar anti-war measure passed the Senate by a 56-41 margin in December as the prior session of Congress was winding down.
Advocates now plan to push the bill in the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives to generate momentum for action in the Senate, where it must be approved again over likely opposition from Republican leaders."The preference is to start this in the House, get a big vote in the House and then bring it over to the Senate," Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who has been a critic of the US role in Yemen, told Al Jazeera.
US military had provided crucial aerial refueling for Saudi-UAE jets that were also using US-made weapons to inflict devastating attacks on Yemen.On November 10, the US Defense Department said it was suspending aerial refueling and the US pressed Saudi Arabia to agree to a UN-brokered ceasefire.A US-based humanitarian group, International Rescue Committee, warned on January 30 that the ceasefire is breaking down as clashes between Houthi rebels and government forces increase.
By Benazir Jatoi
Children are dying in Yemen, one of the poorest of all Middle Eastern countries, not due to a natural tragedy, but because of a manmade civil war between a coalition led by powerhouse, Saudi Arabia, against Houthi rebels, who are said to be backed by Iran. Many analysts see this as Saudi Arabia at war with its arch-rival, Iran. A proxy war between the two regional powers, whose animosity with each other goes back decades. Saudi Arabia is carrying out this economic warfare in Yemen, with the express backing of the Yemeni government. Yemen is being attacked by air and sea, courtesy of Saudi Arabia, with the aim of destroying its economy and stifling every point of entry into the country. This includes the blockade of the major port on the Red Sea, which is the main route used for aid and humanitarian assistance into Yemen.
The obvious question is why has Saudi Arabia involved itself in a conflict that began as an internal Yemeni dispute? Saudi Arabia’s justifies its involvement in the conflict by saying Houthi rebels attacked them and they are responding to this aggression, while at the same time providing assistance to which they see as the legitimate government of Yemen. The Saudis have also said, and have been saying, that victory for them is around the corner. So far victory has been seen for neither the Saudis nor the Houthi rebels. The United States, Saudi Arabia’s longstanding allay, is the provider of most of the heavy machinery and weapons used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. America, however, has up until late last year said and done nothing about Saudi Arabia’s disproportionate response to Houthi rebels in its proxy war in Yemen. Whether it was Obama in power or now Trump, the Saudis have carried out their war in Yemen with impunity. And in that Saudi Arabia is literally getting away with murder. In fact, not just America’s but the world’s attention has been everywhere else but on Yemen. America and other Western countries have kept silent and allowed the Saudis to do as they please — damn the human rights violations and the dying children. Why then has it taken so long for Western powers to talk about Yemen? Because to talk about Saudi Arabia and its royal family’s actions does not suit anyone’s interest. However, the recent brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has led to increased scrutiny on the foreign policy action of Saudi Arabia. Since Jamal Khashoggi’s death, Washington’s lawmakers have been keen to increase the pressure on Saudi Arabia and have begun talking about the need for a ceasefire in Yemen. They have also begun discussing the possible halting to arms sales to the Saudis. There has also been a shift in Western media reporting of the conflict — more of it, more focused, more critical of the Saudis. And of the Americans for their silence. This deserved increased media attention on Yemen has shown us the extent of the misery of Yemen’s children; the children’s sunken faces, bodies that look like x-rays, so pronounced are the rib cages and bones — it is as if the children’s facial expression are consumed with concentration on the arduous task of simply surviving.
However, even though the conflict has been in the limelight recently, with superpowers like America and regional powers like Saudi Arabia involved — not to mention the arms industry and its vast profits — the war in Yemen is much bigger than us. We are removed from it for far greater reasons then just geography. It is also difficult to see that countries, particularly Western countries, who profess to be beacons of human rights, will actually demand an end to the war or to go as far as hold Saudi Arabia accountable. With the veto power at the UN, it is difficult to see even the UN being able to hold powerful nations to account on this. I recently posed, to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) President at a lecture in Islamabad, the question of whether it is time to re-assess the role of UNGA if conflicts like Sudan, Palestine and Yemen carry on without any foreseeable resolution. Her Excellency Ms Garces’s answer included that despite a difficult situation, progress was being made in Yemen.
Progress then is certainly a relative word for onlookers and laypersons. For those of us not in positions of power or influence, for the sake of the children of Yemen, we must ask ourselves whether we really are too insignificant to say or do anything? People power, which has shown to be effective in many parts of the world, should demand the end of this horrific conflict. Everyone must have a way to register their protest and use social media as a collective, global voice to protest. People everywhere must speak truth to power and put pressure on their elected representatives that the war, even when far away from their shores and daily lives, must end, and end now. Nations, no matter how small, also have a moral consciousness and they must exercise it — in bilateral discussions and at larger multilateral forums. This year must be dedicated to the dying children of Yemen.
By Ahmed Rashid
On Thursday, the Taliban appointed Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who founded the movement with Mullah Mohammad Omar in 1993, as the chief negotiator in the peace talks with the United States, being held in Qatar.
Mr. Baradar, who was also appointed as deputy to the Taliban chief Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to travel soon to Doha to join the peace talks with the American peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad.Mr. Baradar is revered among the Taliban as a charismatic military leader and a deeply religious figure who still reflects the origins of the Taliban movement, when it was founded to end the Afghan civil war and warlordism in the mid-1990s.He was the first senior Taliban leader to see the futility and waste of war and held secret peace talks in 2009 with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and indirectly with the United States and the NATO forces.
Pakistan, then the principal backer of the Taliban, brought these tentative negotiations to an end by arresting Mr. Baradar in February 2010 in Karachi and exposing the interlocutors. In arresting him, Islamabad sent out a harsh message to the Taliban and the Afghan government not to engage in political processes that contradicted its policy in Afghanistan. Mr. Baradar’s arrest created intense antagonism between Kabul and Islamabad and was deeply resented by the Taliban, which revered Mr. Baradar as one of their founder leaders.
After pressure from the United States and Qatar, Pakistan released Mr. Baradar in October after eight and a half years. He stayed in the country for medical treatment. Mr. Baradar’s release and his subsequent elevation as the chief negotiator have raised hopes that Pakistan’s attitude to the peace process and its military’s antipathy to the Taliban leaders seeking peace has clearly changed.
Pakistan has been politically isolated in the region for its unwillingness to help end the Afghan war. And the damage done by the Pakistani Taliban, a collective of jihadist groups, which attacks targets in Pakistan and then retreats into Afghanistan, has changed Islamabad’s calculus. The ongoing talks between the Americans and the Taliban have made it clear that the Taliban will no longer support or give sanctuary to terrorist groups from outside Afghanistan.Western diplomats in Islamabad now praise the military for facilitating rather than hindering Mr. Khalilzad’s mission. Whether Pakistan’s support for the peace process is a strategic change of direction that will affect the broader region remains to be seen, but Pakistan’s military has reached out to Indian military and civilian leaders to restart talks on the disputed territory of Kashmir.
Apart from Pakistan’s support for Mr. Khalilzad’s mission, the stature of Mr. Baradar within the Taliban movement does bolster the chances of peace. I met Mr. Baradar in the late 1990s after the Taliban had captured Kabul. He had been governor of Herat province and was the deputy minister of defense for the Taliban when the group fell in 2001.Mr. Baradar was a moderate on social issues and argued for maintaining relationships with the West and Afghanistan’s neighbors. The hard-liners among the Taliban under the influence of Osama bin Laden had forced Western aid agencies to leave Afghanistan, and the country faced a severe famine and economic crisis. Mr. Baradar argued against isolating Afghanistan and cutting off all aid. He was aware of his country’s dependence on financial aid from the West.
Although he had opposed the presence of bin Laden in Afghanistan after Mullah Omar gave him sanctuary in 1996, Mr. Baradar stayed close to Mullah Omar in Kandahar after their regime fell.
Owing to his impeccable record of service to the Taliban cause, no other Taliban leader will be able to contradict Mr. Baradar if and when he takes steps toward peace. He is also the most likely figure to sell peace to the more militant Taliban commanders, who are inclined to continue fighting and want to claim total victory and impose a Shariah system on the country as they did in the 1990s.
The United States will benefit from his presence in the Qatar talks, as Mr. Khalilzad and his colleagues will be speaking to a prominent and decisive Taliban leader who can make decisions.
Mr. Khalilzad’s team has made significant headway, and American and Taliban officials have “agreed in principle to the framework” of a peace deal in which the Taliban promise not to host terrorist groups in the future and to help the United States rid Afghanistan of the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The deal could lead to a full pullout of American troops in return for a cease-fire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.
Major questions remain to be resolved. The Taliban want an American troop withdrawal announced and their prisoners freed from Afghan jails as an immediate first step. The Americans have won a pledge from the Taliban that Afghan soil will never be used again by terrorist groups. The United States is also insisting on a Taliban cease-fire with both American and Afghan forces and an agreement to start talks on the future political setup with President Ashraf Ghani and the Kabul government.
So far the Taliban have refused to meet with Mr. Ghani and his government, describing them as mere stooges. Such a political position is unsustainable if the Taliban are really serious about ending the war. Mr. Baradar has a history of speaking to all Afghan leaders and he might be able to persuade the Taliban to reconsider the position.
And the promise of continued economic aid from the United States and NATO countries once a peace agreement is reached could be an important factor in persuading the Taliban to conclude a peace agreement.Despite the acute differences among the regional players — Iran and the Gulf States, India and Pakistan, and Pakistan and Afghanistan — there is now a growing consensus on seeking an end to the war in Afghanistan. The long war has proved devastating to the neighboring states as terrorist groups find sanctuary in an increasingly lawless Afghanistan and the implementation of economic infrastructure projects is hindered.Mr. Khalilzad’s experience with his country of birth, which stretches back to the Reagan administration during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, has undeniably helped. The Afghan people are now hopeful for the first time in decades that the 40-year-long war may just possibly be coming to an end.
By Shamil Shams
Pakistan's top court has upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges, but the grave injustice that kept the Christian woman in prison for almost a decade demands introspection, says DW's Shamil Shams.
The Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday to dismiss an appeal against Asia Bibi's acquittal is commendable. The top court judges have shown immense courage in their decision to uphold their October 31, 2018, verdict that freed the impoverished Christian woman from a decade-long incarceration.
It was not an easy decision, let's be fair. We are aware of the sensitivity surrounding the blasphemy issue in Pakistan. Two top politicians in Pakistan had been murdered in broad daylight for speaking in Bibi's favor. There are many examples of violent mobs lynching alleged blasphemers. Lawyers and judges supporting blasphemy victims are openly threatened by extremists. Then there are religious groups that use blasphemy laws to gain more political clout. Therefore, the credit for Bibi's "freedom" definitely goes to the judiciary.
We must also not forget that the nature of the blasphemy case against Bibi was not just legal; it involved a number of political issues, mainly the executive's incapacity to rein in Islamists and deviate from the state's ultra-Islamic narrative. Pakistani lawmakers have shied away from tackling the controversial blasphemy laws that have resulted in brutal murders and countless imprisonments in the past two decades. Politicians have always tried not to confront Islamists, who have immense street power to paralyze the country, as we have seen in the past.
Prime Minister Imran Khan's six-month-old government will be maligned by the religious right for the court's decision, but the cricket star-turned-politician has shown a great deal of commitment in upholding the rule of law. It surely clears some stains from his government's November 2018 deal with Islamists that allowed the review petition against Bibi's acquittal.
Just delayed is justice denied
But the decision should not conceal the sordid fact that Bibi, a mother of five, lost her 10 prime years behind bars. It shows that Pakistan's legal system must be reformed, and that blasphemy laws should be debated in parliament without any fear of Islamists.
The landmark decision has definitely paved the way for Bibi's exit from Pakistan, a country where religious hardliners bay for her blood. But we must not turn a blind eye to the fact that the court freed Bibi by using the same blasphemy laws that put her in jail in the first place. The Supreme Court acquitted Bibi — and then rejected the appeal against her acquittal — on the basis of a lack of witnesses. In a country like Pakistan, false accusations and witnesses are not hard to come by.
Pakistan, thus, must make sure that no person should simply be arrested on the basis of accusations and claims. Therefore, while we must respect that most Pakistanis are sensitive about blasphemy, legal loopholes must be removed to ensure that an innocent person doesn't have to suffer the way Bibi did.
The way forward
Many Western countries have offered Bibi asylum, hence it is highly likely that she will leave the country very soon. Her daughters are reportedly in Canada, and that's the place where Bibi could end up. She could possibly take refuge in Europe, where she has many supporters.
It is time for Bibi to start a new life. Both Christian and Islamic traditions greatly value forgiveness, and it would not be surprising that Bibi would forgive her tormentors — both people and the state. But Pakistan definitely owes an apology to Bibi. And the best way to do so would be to make sure that no other person falls victim to the blasphemy laws ever again.