Monday, February 11, 2019

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Saudi Arabia is heinously torturing female activists and must face consequences

Amnesty International has identified a dozen female activists who were arrested beginning last May and are still being held.

It has gradually become clear that one of the most heinous recent cases of torture of political prisoners occurred last year in Saudi Arabia — and may still be ongoing. The victims are women who were arrested for advocating basic civil rights, such as the right to drive. For months after their initial detentions, a number of the women were held in solitary confinement and subjected to beatings, electric shocks, waterboarding and sexual harassment. Senior Saudi officials are alleged to have been directly involved in the abuse. As in the case of the slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it is essential that they face consequences.
Amnesty International has identified a dozen female activists and several men who were arrested beginning last May and are still being held. None has been officially charged with a crime or put on trial. Last month, Amnesty said it had testimonies that 10 had been tortured during their first three months of detention, when they were held in a secret prison. In addition to physical abuse, Amnesty said two activists were forced to kiss each other while interrogators watched. At least one of the women, Loujain al-Hathloul, was threatened with rape by Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who watched her torture, according to family members.
Most of those arrested are, like Hathloul, well-known for their participation in peaceful protests, such as driving cars before that right was granted to women. Several, such as Hatoon al-Fassi and Aziza al-Yousef, are noted scholars who have taught at universities. Samar Badawi was awarded a prize by the State Department in 2012 after she sought an end to the guardianship system for women and the right to vote. Others, including Eman al-Nafjan and Nour Abdel Aziz, are journalists or bloggers. This week, a new report by a panel of British parliamentarians underlined the seriousness of the offenses against them. It concluded that the women had been subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," including assault, sleep deprivation, threats to their lives and solitary confinement, and meeting "the threshold for the crime of torture under both Saudi and international law."
Crispin Blunt, a Conservative member of Parliament who is known as a defender of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, told reporters in London that "our conclusions are stark. The Saudi women activist detainees have been treated so badly as to sustain an international investigation for torture." He added: "The supervisory chain of command up to the highest levels of Saudi authority would be responsible for this."
The parliamentarians are requesting that the United Nations' special rapporteur on torture and its working group on arbitrary detention investigate the treatment of the women. But that shouldn't be the only action that is taken. Saudi officials who participated in the torture should be prosecuted — if not in Saudi Arabia itself, then by courts elsewhere under the international Convention Against Torture.
Qahtani, who is accused of joining in the torture of Hathloul, also played a key role in the killing of Khashoggi, according to Saudi investigators and U.S. officials. The question every democratic government, would-be investor and celebrity guest ought to address to the Saudi regime is this: Why are these women still in prison while their torturer roams the royal court?

Why can't we talk about the UK sending arms to Yemen?

Anna Stavrianakis
A Commons committee is scrutinising UK arms export controls – yet the Yemen conflict isn’t even on the agenda.

Seated in front of a tapestry embroidered with words from the lexicon of “British values” – freedom, equality, tolerance, liberty – ten MPs spent an hour last week taking evidence from NGOs on an issue that calls these values into question: UK arms export policy.
This is the Parliamentary committees on arms export controls (CAEC) in action: a body responsible for scrutinising government policy and holding it to account.
Their current inquiry, into UK arms export policy in 2017, covers both the technicalities of policy – different types of arms export licences and how they are reported on, for example – and larger political questions, such as what happens in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Nowhere on the agenda is the issue of arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition or the war in Yemen.
The country’s conflict has killed more than 57,000 people since March 2015 and created a cholera epidemic as well as leading the country to the brink of an entirely preventable famine. The Saudi-led coalition is causing twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces fighting in Yemen – including the Houthis, who are also responsible for attacks on civilians and humanitarians. All parties are committing what are likely to be war crimes – and the UK is supplying weapons to one side. How is it that committees responsible for scrutinising government actions are not talking about Yemen?
Inevitably, part of the answer lies in the backstory to this parliamentary reticence. The previous CAEC dissolved in disarray after the committees couldn’t agree on whether to recommend a suspension of exports to Saudi Arabia in 2016.
The CAEC was reformed in October 2017, with Labour MP Graham Jones in the chair – whose apparent partiality is the immediate reason for the current contretemps. Jones went on the parliamentary record attacking what he calls “the dishonesty of non-governmental organisations in this country”, a week before he was to lead the committees in taking evidence from some of those same organisations. Accusing them of “gross exaggeration” in their reporting of civilian deaths in Yemen, and being part of a “bandwagon” of “NGOs and loony leftwing organisations”, his words have backfired, with some media coverage seeing this as bringing his neutrality into question.
As an avid supporter of the Saudi-led coalition, vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Saudi Arabia, MP for an arms-producing constituency and recipient of an expenses-paid trip to the UAE, Jones would do well to remember the edict that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones when castigating others. Despite the best efforts of pro-control MPs such as Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Stephen Twigg to get the issue of arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition on the agenda, there is a deathly inertia as Conservative MPs quietly throw their weight behind the convenience of a Labour MP more keen on arms exports than the most arch of Tories.
Whether you agree or disagree with the government’s support of the Saudi-led coalition, there are still rules that govern arms export policy and include things like respect for international humanitarian law. One of the charges levelled by Jones is that the Houthis use human shields, which contributes to increased civilian deaths. Yes, the use of human shields is a war crime.
That doesn’t absolve the Saudi-led coalition of responsibility to engage the humanitarian principles of distinction and proportionality in the protection of civilian objects. Not only is the coalition failing to observe these responsibilities, its military strategy appears to revolve around targeting and pressuring the civilian population.
Discussion of the war in Yemen frequently dissolves swiftly into an argument about Saudi-Iranian rivalry and western fears – amply stoked by the Saudis – of Iranian regional hegemony. There is a wider foreign policy debate about the UK’s role in the Middle East and relationship with friendly states such as Saudi. But the incessant focus on Saudi-Iranian rivalry detracts attention from Yemen itself and the effects of the war on the population and the country’s infrastructure, as well as from the UK’s international obligations – which it was at the forefront of championing.
Given that the UK’s own rules state that it won’t sell weapons to countries where there is a clear risk they might be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law, the slew of evidence from Yemeni and international activists about attacks on medical facilities and schoolchildren should have led to restrictions on weapons transfers to the coalition – not least because the UK government is clear that there is no military solution to the conflict.
Yet in nearly four years of war, weapons exports to Saudi have sky-rocketed, now accounting for almost half of UK arms exports. Since March 2015, more than £4.7bnin arms exports have been licensed to the kingdom, and that’s just the weapons we know about: government statistics significantly under-report on the likely value of exports.
This is a perverse outcome: the UK operates a policy that includes explicit protection of international humanitarian law and that the government incessantly claims is one of the most robust regimes in the world. Yet we see growing levels of harm that come from exponentially increased weapons transfers. The Oxford dictionary defines “reckless” as “heedless of danger or the consequences of one’s actions”. This is a truer characterisation of government arms export policy: replete with bureaucratic process and political rhetoric, but indifferent to consequences.

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Afghanistan Backlash: What to Expect in the Aftermath of the West's Departure

By Michael Rubin
Washington's exodus will create blessings and curses for Kabul.
The fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan is now America’s longest war, and it is not going well. The Taliban controls a greater portion of Afghanistan than at any point since the war began. On January 31, 2019, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction ( SIGAR) released its quarterly report to Congress. He reported that, “as of October 31, 2018, 63.5 percent of the population lived in areas under Afghan government control or influence, down 1.7 percent from the previous quarter,” and that “The insurgency slightly increased its control or influence over areas where 10.8 percent of the population lives. The population living in contested areas increased to 25.6 percent of the population.” That hardly bodes well for a war in which the United States has literally invested hundreds of billions of dollars .
As President Donald Trump said at the State of the Union, the Trump administration appears ready to cut a deal with the Taliban to exit the country. “The hour has come to at least try for peace,” he declared. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad may try to put a diplomatic face on the deal but it is hard to spin his framework as anything other than surrender. Not only has he allowed the Taliban to cut out the elected government of Afghanistan from negotiations over a final settlement, but he also appears after months of negotiations to accept the Taliban’s promise that it will not harbor terrorists after the U.S. withdrawal. The Trump team is so desperate to leave Afghanistan that it does not acknowledge that this was the same deal the Clinton administration accepted during the late 1990s, which is when Madeleine Albright’s State Department accepted a Taliban pledge to close terror training camps and keep Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden quarantined. Nor does the Trump team seem to recall that just prior to the Taliban’s 1996 march into Kabul, the Taliban had promised to negotiate power-sharing rather than impose a fait accompli . The Taliban lied then and there is no evidence that the group’s assurances are any more meaningful now, especially as the Taliban and the United States do not accept a common definition of terrorism.
When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, the Najibullah government hung on for three years in Kabul, but that was largely because Moscow continued to supply them with resources redirected from Eastern Europe. Once the money ran out, so too did Najibullah’s ability to dispense patronage. His collapse then was quick. If the United States departs, then it is likely that the Taliban will consolidate control over the majority of Afghanistan. Prior to 9/11, it controlled approximately 90 percent of the country. While the Afghan government has legitimacy from popular and contested elections, the United States appears willing to leave Kabul high and dry; it is unlikely that outside powers will provide the Afghan government with the billions of dollar the World Bank says it needs to stay afloat. The Taliban, meanwhile, can rely on Pakistani support.
So, if the Taliban are victorious, what it mean for Afghans, Afghanistan, and the region?
A Disaster for Afghans
For Afghans, a Taliban government would be an unmitigated disaster. Many Afghans who now support the Taliban do so out of frustration with the corruption and inefficiency of the Afghan government in Kabul. As aid organizations build roads, for example, Afghan security forces grab land from farmers along them. The farmers, then, have no one to turn to but the Taliban. The problem is that when the Taliban are in power, the extremist group is just as corrupt as the Afghan government. This is the main reason why the group so quickly lost the hearts and minds of Afghans who embraced them in the 1994–1996 timeframe and were never able to consolidate control over Afghanistan. Throw into the mix Pakistan’s use of religion to infuse the Taliban with Punjabis who despite Afghan Pashtuns let alone minority Hazaras, and the writing is on the wall: instability and insurrection. Then, of course, there is the Taliban’s war on women. Make no mistake, while the Taliban are misogynistic by both Western and Afghan standards, the abuses of women which made headlines in the 1990s were more symptomatic of a broader cultural war. Like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Taliban were country bumpkins. The group’s sudden rule over Kabul was the Afghan equivalent of the backwoods men from “ Deliverance” suddenly finding themselves rulers of Berkeley, California. Taliban members cracked down on women in more cosmopolitan, urban areas like Kabul and Herat in ways they never did in the countryside where women worked in the fields and were never completely covered. One legacy of the 2001 ouster of Taliban rule has been a generation of educated girls and women who have grown accustomed to work. Internet and smartphone penetration also make a return to the golden ages of the Taliban’s imagination more difficult to achieve.
Get Ready for the Deluge of Drugs
There is a widespread myth that the Taliban cracked down on opium production. While the Taliban ceased planting for a year , the group did not destroy its warehoused opium, but rather simply distributed as the rules of supply and demand increased the worth of that opium. As the Taliban have reconquered huge swathes of Afghanistan, it has again increased opium cultivation to finance its insurgency. Should the United States and its allies depart Afghanistan, the Taliban will again finance its operations with opium. After all, opium provides more per hectare than any legal crop, can be stored without refrigeration, and easy to transport. Afghan opium may not impact the United States directly, but it will finance organized crime in both Russia and Europe and lead to renewed heroin, hepatitis, and HIV across Eurasia.
Expect Greater Terrorism in Pakistan
American historical consciousness about Afghanistan is episodic. For older Americans, awareness of Afghanistan, its politics, and its struggles only started in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded the country. Younger generations know Afghanistan from hunt for Osama bin Laden and the post–9/11 intervention. During these periods, Pakistan largely provided safe-haven for the insurgency, in the 1980s in cooperation with the United States and, after 2001, largely in opposition to the Washington. In the 1950s and 1960s, however, it was Afghanistan which was hosting —if not supporting—Pashtun nationalists who infiltrated into the North-West Frontier Province in order to stake their claim to its inclusion in Greater Pashtunistan. While those incidents were more symbolic than lethal—hoisting flags and so forth, they did show that infiltration can go both ways.
Fast forward to 2013, which is when suicide bombers attacked the Indian consulate in the Afghan city of Jalalabad. When the attack happened, I was with an Afghan security official who complained that the United States did not understand counterterrorism. I asked what he meant and he said, “A bomb goes off in Kabul, then a bomb should go off in Islamabad,” the capital city of Pakistan. A bomb goes off in Kandahar, “then a bomb should go off in Karachi,” and he added that such direct consequences for its meddling in Afghanistan would be the only language Pakistani officials would understand. I asked what was stopping Afghans from undertaking such a strategy and he said, “The United States.” With the Americans gone, however, there will be no restraint upon Afghans who see no other way than to take the fight directly into Pakistan and to fight fire with fire. That may not be an American national interest now, but policymakers should be aware that, even as Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service celebrates its defeat over the America that it despises, the U.S. withdrawal could have second-order effects on Pakistan that will weaken the already decaying nuclear-armed state.
Expect Trouble for Russia
When it comes to the post–9/11 U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been played the role of Machiavelli. Putin pressured former Soviet states like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to close their bases to U.S. forces, but facilitated logistical transit of equipment across Russia, at least for a time. While Moscow pays rhetorical heed to counter terrorism and combat radicalism, it simultaneously supplied the Taliban to hamper any outright U.S. victory and to tie the Afghan government down in a morass. Putin did not want the Taliban to win, but he also did not want the United States to succeed where the Soviet Union has failed.
Putin may rue the success of his strategy. The Taliban, energized by its victory, may establish a radical state on the southern frontier of the former Soviet Union and could even destabilize states like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Russia, however, could be the ultimate target. While the ethnic Russian population declines, Russia’s native Muslim population expands rapidly. Within just a decade or two, demographers privately estimate that 30 percent of the Russian army could be Muslim. Perhaps one reason why Putin relies increasingly on private contractors is he is not confidant in the loyalty of his army, especially if the targets are Islamists. The Taliban may only catalyze such internal conflicts.
ISIS May Give the Taliban a Run for Their Money
The Taliban claim to be Afghan nationalists but, more often than not, the group acts as Pakistani pawns and often turns its back on centuries of Afghan history and culture. The Taliban is a poor manager: it is easier to be in opposition than to serve the people and develop jobs and provide security. Indeed, between 1996 and 2001 when the Taliban ran the Kabul government, the extremist group fumbled its administration and failed to keep its promises. That provides openings for others who can talk a good game and grow while in opposition. The biggest difference between now and then is that the Taliban have competition. As the Iraqi military, Syrian Kurds, and U.S. forces have largely ended the Islamic State’s ability to control territory in Iraq and Syria, elements of the group have sought to establish themselves inside Afghanistan. It will likely succeed as the United States withdraws.
None of this is to suggest that the United States must fight in perpetuity in Afghanistan. But, while realism now reigns supreme in Washington, there is nothing realistic about Washington deluding itself with its own spin. There may be no clear path to victory in Afghanistan—at least none that politicians and the American public wish to pursue—and there certainly is no magic formula that will resolve the problems faced in Afghanistan and across the region. Still, the United States cannot pretend that the second order threats from a U.S. departure will not be great. The consequences of remaining in Afghanistan may be great, but as Trump and Khalilzad prepare to exit Afghanistan, it pays to realize that so too are the consequences of withdrawal.



Russian, Iranian media said Israeli troops are collecting intelligence on Iranian military movements around the Persian Gulf.

Sputnik quoted an expert on Israel as saying that the Israeli troops were operating under the framework of American forces stationed there and that the activity was carried out with the knowledge and approval of the Afghan government.
“Of course the proximity to an enemy state is the principle reason for carrying out such an operation and also provides legitimacy,” Semyon Tsipis was quoted by the Sputnik’s Urdu language site. “But beyond that, another objective of the mission is to acquire experience in combat in the local ground conditions and activity against the local population.”
“The second objective of the military presence is to gain combat experience in rugged terrain. The military presence in these areas, where military operations are ongoing, is a great opportunity to gain new experience in a rugged environment,” Tsipis continued, adding that the troops deployed to Afghanistan were Israeli special forces.
Israel, he added, is “already cooperating” with other central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well as gulf countries like Oman, Qatar and Bahrain against Iran.
Israel has been operating against Iran as part of its war between wars – code for a constellation of covert operations that continue below the radar against Israel’s enemies.
While Israel has been carrying out hundreds of strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, according to foreign reports, Israel has also operated in other countries to thwart Tehran from entrenching itself across the region.Israeli troops have also carried out several drills on the rugged mountainous island of Cyprus simulating war against Hezbollah.
In December, Israeli jets took part in a drill with personnel from the Cypriot National Guard and in June Israeli commandos held a large scale three-day exercise in Cyprus sending close to 500 combat soldiers from the Egoz special forces unit as well as Super Hercules transport planes and 10 Black Hawk helicopters. The commandos trained on high altitude terrain of over also drilled on both urban combat (in abandoned and semi-abandoned Cypriot villages) as well as underground inside tunnels. A year earlier the IDF held another large-scale commando drill on the island, simulating warfare in urban and mountainous regions which is similar to the terrain of southern Lebanon, the stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group.
The terrain in Afghanistan’s Herat province is also similar to the terrain in southern Lebanon.

Countering the Asia-Pacific Quad Military Alliance: China-Pakistan Relations

By Ulson Gunnar
The US recently included India in its shifting Asia Pacific policy, as part of its Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (often referred to as the “Quad”). The Quad also includes Australia and Japan along with the United States itself.
The nascent alliance is openly arrayed against China, with member states openly declaring their intent to contribute toward containing Beijing’s activities in the region and compete against Chinese efforts to establish greater ties with its immediate neighbors. This includes Japan and Australia pledging to more aggressively patrol the South and East China Seas.
For India’s part, it seeks to become a greater power within the Indian Ocean. Additionally, New Delhi has increasingly postured its military against China against the backdrop of greater tensions along the Chinese-Indian border.
China appears to be pursuing its own strategy to break out of the Quad’s containment policy, including measures to place India in check.
Beijing’s Pakistan to Washington’s India  
Part of this strategy includes growing ties between Beijing and Islamabad. This includes a number of major joint infrastructure projects across Pakistan. Collectively known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the ambitious network of projects connects Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Arabian Sea with the Pakistani-Chinese border near the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Railways and roads provide China with access to the Arabian Sea, eliminating the need to move certain goods past Singapore and through the Strait of Malacca.
CPEC also includes a gas pipeline from Gwadar to Nawabshah which will eventually enable gas imports from Iran.
Beyond CPEC, China is also building power plants across Pakistan, developing stronger ties between various Chinese and Pakistani industries and institutions and developing closer Chinese-Pakistani military ties.
Chinese-Pakistani military ties provide the ideal answer to Washington’s intentions to use India against China. Pakistan and India have maintained contentious relations for decades, but the fact that both nations possess formidable nuclear arsenals and large conventional armies means that any conflict is short-lived with both sides attempting to avoid major escalations.
China has ensured that Pakistan has maintained military parity with neighboring India, including through the joint-development of both conventional weapons systems and its nuclear program.
Together, these ties will significantly enhance Pakistan’s economy, providing long-term jobs both in constructing and maintaining infrastructure projects, as well as adding to national economic growth. They will also ensure that Pakistan maintains military parity with neighboring India, maintaining a balance of power in South Asia.
For Beijing, these ties provide China with access not only to the Arabian Sea, but also with a means of further connecting its western Xinjiang province, allowing for additional economic development there. With a strong ally bordering India, ties with Pakistan also grants Beijing more leverage when maneuvering diplomatically vis-à-vis New Delhi.
Attacking China’s Pakistan Flank 
For both nations, these ties represent an answer to pressure they both face from Washington. In China’s Xinjiang province, the United States has leveraged socioeconomic disparity there to stoke separatist movements and even terrorism aimed at destabilizing Beijing.
Likewise, Pakistan’s Balochistan province hosts violent extremists accompanying a separatist movement also sponsored by Washington.
The US National Endowment for Democracy, an increasingly notorious front used by Washington and Wall Street to influence the internal politics of nations around the globe, has pumped in millions of dollars year-to-year for decades to build up networks in Xinjiang and Balochistan to not only contest control over these regions by their respective central governments, but to also disrupt ambitious economic development in both provinces.
The separatist movement in Balochistan, for example, has targeted Chinese construction projects in a bid to impede the region’s development and complicate Chinese-Pakistani ties. The US-sponsored conflict illustrates the true face of Washington’s campaign to more widely contain China’s political and economic rise in the region.
In 2017, terrorists attacked a laborers’ camp at the port of Gwadar, wounding 26. Media outlets like Reuters would specifically mention the likelihood of such attacks upsetting China’s One Belt, One Road initiative of which CPEC projects fall under. Disrupting this ambitious project has become the primary objective of US and European policymakers focused on Asia.
Politico in its article, “China’s plans to rule the seas hit trouble in Pakistan,” would claim:
China’s strategic ambition to extend its maritime power across the Indian Ocean is hitting severe obstacles in the giant, volatile Pakistani province of Balochistan. 
Beijing’s priority is to develop the sleepy Baloch fishing port of Gwadar, 300 miles west of Karachi, to project its commercial and naval influence further west. But kidnappings, drive-by shootings and bomb attacks in the past few weeks and months offer a chilling warning that China will have to pay a high price for a deep-water harbor near the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Politico’s article notes how Chinese-Pakistani ties put India directly in check. But in a much wider sense, they also put US efforts to contain China in check as well. The article also notes that both China and Pakistan remain unswayed by the violence plaguing Balochistan and are committed to completing CPEC projects in the troubled province.
While the Politico article never mentions the US government and its support of separatists in Balochistan, a local government representative did cite the US military’s ongoing occupation of neighboring Afghanistan as being partially responsible for Balochistan’s security situation.
More recently it has been reported that China is seeking to establish a military base in Balochistan. This is in addition to an increase in Pakistani military assets in the province.
The Washington Times in its article, “China Building Military Base in Pakistan,” would report:
China is constructing its second overseas military base in Pakistan as part of a push for greater power projection capabilities along strategic sea routes. 
The facility will be built at Jiwani, a port close to the Iranian border on the Gulf of Oman, according to two people familiar with deal. 
Plans call for the Jiwani base to be a joint naval and air facility for Chinese forces, located a short distance up the coast from the Chinese-built commercial port facility at Gwadar, Pakistan. Both Gwadar and Jiwani are part of Pakistan’s western Baluchistan province.
The move further cements joint Chinese-Pakistani plans for Balochistan and raises the bar for US-backed efforts to foment conflict in the region. China’s invited presence in the region versus America’s uninvited covertly-backed separatist movement is a microcosm of America’s overall unsustainable policy to contain China.
Hard Choices for Quad Members 
US dominance in Asia has for decades been built upon immense economic disparity between itself and nations across the region plagued by war, large populations and lopsided deals dealt to them by supposedly international institutions. With the rise of China and other regional states, this disparity is diminishing and with it America’s dominance of the region.
At one time, a covertly-backed separatist movement would have (and did) confound development in Pakistan. Today, it was the pretext China needed to further expand its reach and definitively answer US efforts with a permanent solution the US has no answer to.
America’s attempt to compete against China’s economic development with unsustainable military threats and equally unsustainable covertly-backed conflict is a losing battle. The US-led Quad alliance will bring only hardship to its Australian, Japanese and Indian members who will be tasked with picking up the slack and made to pay steep prices economically and diplomatically to do so. In the end, the conflict the Quad seeks to create to foil China and the rest of Asia’s ambitions will only hurt the entire region as a whole, including three of the four Quad members themselves, as other analysts have pointed out.
This leaves only one question: how long will it be before America’s Quad partners realize cooperating with rather than competing against the rest of Asia is in their best interests, and leave America searching for new partners in even further flung reaches of Asia? The answer will be provided by Beijing’s own diplomatic efforts to convince them, including old enemies like Japan and fierce competitors like India, that there is a place in this new Asia for them.

#Pakistan - #Balochistan: Military aggression in Kech, a woman abducted, detained and tortured

Pakistan military have been carrying out offensives in Zamuran area of district Kech from past three days – since 7 February 2019.
According to details, the ground troops backed by gunship helicopters have flocked in Zamuran and Abdoi regions from different directions and started grand scale offensive operations.
BalochWarna correspondent reported that more than 60 military vehicles have entered the restive regions from Parom and Buleda areas of Panjgur Balochistan.
On the first day of operation, Pakistan military has abducted Bibi Mehr Jan daughter of Abdul Karim along with her brother Fida.
Both brother and sister were shifted to an undisclosed location. However, on Saturday Bibi Mehr Jan was handed over to locals at Kasoi Bazar in Zamuran.
According to the residents and eye-witnesses, she has been taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition with a broken hand due to the torture she was subjected to in military custody.
Her brother Fida’s whereabouts remained unknown till filing of this report.
Sources informed Balochwarna News that the Pakistani forces have blocked the exit and entrance routes and also erected new checkpoints in Ashoni, Jalagi, Sheraz-e-Dan and Dashtuk.
The residents of the region have been ordered to vacate the area. It is pertinent to mention that the military has been forcibly evicting people from their native homes and villages in the name of protecting CPEC.
However, the Baloch Human Rights organisations and pro-freedom parties regard the evacuations as Pakistan’s appeasement policy to please China and lure investor that the area is ‘safe’ for them.
On Sunday, the military expanded its offensive to other regions of district Kech including Mazan mountainous region in Tump Balochistan.
Locals have reported sounds of gunfire and explosions, however, no casualties have been reported so far as the offensives continue and the area is under military siege.

#Pakistan - #PPP demands deal with #IMF to be brought before parliament

Pakistan People’s Party leader and Opposition leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman said on Monday that the details of the government’s deal with the International Monetary Fund should be presented before the parliament.
Senator Sherry Rehman said that the deal with the international financial body should not be kept hidden and the conditions behind the agreement should be revealed.
“The deal means this time the budget will be from the IMF headquarters,” remarked the senior PPP leader.
The opposition leader in the Senate said that the government went to the IMF after taking 100 u-turns and the country’s economy is being put at peril through this agreement.
“The people should brace themselves for a Tsunami of inflation,” said Sherry Rehman.
The government should address the reservations regarding this agreement and ensure transparency, said the veteran politician.
Finance Minister Asad Umar today said Pakistan is close to striking a deal to secure financial support from the IMF, a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan met IMF chief Christine Lagarde on the sidelines of the World Government Summit in Dubai.
Umar said a deal with the IMF looks imminent and that there was a convergence of views between the two parties on the need to implement structural reforms in the country, reiterating the prime minister’s remarks in the aftermath of the meeting.

#Pakistan - The Military Says #Pashtuns Are Traitors. We Just Want Our Rights.

By Manzoor Ahmad Pashteen

Pakistan’s powerful military is trying to crush a nonviolent movement for civil rights.
I lost my home in 2009 when a major operation by the Pakistan military forced us to leave our village in South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the border with Afghanistan.
Around 37 million Pashtuns live in this region that includes the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas — which have now been merged with the province — and parts of southwestern Baluchistan province. Our impoverished region has been desolated by the long war on terrorism.When I was in high school, we moved to Dera Ismail Khan, a city around 100 miles away. Ours was yet another family among six million people who have been displaced from the region since Pakistan joined the war on terror in 2001. Tens of thousands of Pashtuns have been killed in terror attacks and military operations since.
But our economic and political rights, and our suffering have remained invisible to most of Pakistan and the world because the region was seen as a dangerous frontier after numerous militants moved there after the fall of the Taliban.
The government ignored us when these militants terrorized and murdered the residents. Pakistan’s military operations against the militants brought further misery: civilian killings, displacements, enforced disappearances, humiliation and the destruction of our livelihoods and way of life. No journalists were allowed into the tribal areas while the military operations were going on.
Pashtuns who fled the region in hopes of rebuilding their lives in Pakistani cities were greeted with suspicion and hostility. We were stereotyped as terrorist sympathizers. I was studying to become a veterinarian, but the plight of my people forced me and several friends to become activists.
In January 2018 Naqeebullah Mehsud, an aspiring model and businessman from Waziristan who was working in Karachi was killed by a police team led by a notorious officer named Rao Anwar. Mr. Anwar, who is accused of more than 400 extrajudicial murders, was granted bail and roams free.Along with 20 friends, I set out on a protest march from Dera Ismail Khan to Islamabad, the capital. Word spread, and by the time we reached Islamabad, several thousand people had joined the protest. We called our movement the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, or the Pashtun Protection Movement.Ours is a peaceful movement that seeks security and political rights for Pashtuns. Apart from justice for Mr. Mehsud, we demand investigations into the killings of thousands of other Pashtuns by security forces and militants. We seek an end to enforced disappearances.
As loyal, taxpaying citizens, we demand that Pakistani security forces act as our protectors and stop the harassment of Pashtuns at checkpoints and during raids. We demand that Islamabad cleanse Waziristan of land mines and other unexploded ordinances.
We had several meetings with the military leadership. Some generals publicly acknowledged our grievances but they never moved to address our concerns. We held numerous sit-ins and protests and continued to hope that Pakistan’s leaders would try to address our concerns. Instead, they responded with intimidation and violence.
After every major protest, police arrests and charges P.T.M. activists and supporters with rioting, treason or terrorism. Some of our activists are still being incarcerated under a colonial-era discriminatory law, which is no longer on the books.
When we soldiered on, they unleashed the Taliban. In July, four P.T.M. protesters were killed and dozens injured after Taliban fighters fired at them. A military spokesman declared these Taliban fighters to be members of a peace committee and praised them for fighting terrorism and doing their part for “stabilization.”More recently, on Feb. 2, Arman Luni, a leader of our movement, who taught at a college, died after he was beaten up by the police for protesting against a terrorist attack in Balochistan province. My fellow activists and I were barred from joining his funeral. We participated anyway but were forced to leave the province after midnight. As we were driving out, the security forces fired at our car.Our demands and actions are underwritten by the Constitution of our country but the military is trying to portray us as traitors and enemy agents.While vile propaganda against our movement is reported as news, the security establishment has ensured that almost nothing is reported about our movement in the mainstream Pakistani newspapers and television networks.
The military unleashed thousands of trolls to run a disinformation campaign against the P.T.M., accusing us of starting a “hybrid war.” Almost every day they accuse us of conspiring with Indian, Afghan or American intelligence services. Most of our activists, especially women, face relentless online harassment. A social media post expressing support for our campaign leads to a knock from the intelligence services.
Scores of our supporters have been fired from their jobs. Many activists are held under terrorism laws. Alamzaib Khan Mehsud, an activist who was gathering data and advocating on behalf of victims of land mines and enforced disappearances, was arrested in January. Hayat Preghal, another activist, was imprisoned for months for expressing support from our movement on social media. He was released in October but barred from leaving the country and lost his pharmacist job in Dubai, his sole source of income.
Gulalai Ismail, a celebrated activist, has been barred from leaving Pakistan. On Feb. 5, while protesting against the death of Mr. Luni, the college teacher and P.T.M. leader, she was detained and held incommunicado in an unknown place for 30 hours before being released. Seventeen other activists are still being detained in Islamabad.
Imran Khan, who once boasted of his Pashtun origins, took office as the new prime minister of Pakistan in August, but his government has chosen to do little to change the state’s attitude toward our demands for justice and civil rights.The military is keen to ensure absolute control. We are not seeking a violent revolution, but we are determined to push Pakistan back toward a constitutional order. We are drawing some consolation from the recent judgment by Pakistan’s Supreme Court telling the military and the intelligence agencies to stay out of politics and media.
To heal and reform our country, we seek a truth and reconciliation commission to evaluate, investigate and address our grievances. Since our movement emerged, public opinion in Pakistan has turned against extrajudicial killings. Most major political parties maintain that enforced disappearances have no place in the country.
The legal and structural changes will take time, but breaking the silence and reducing the fear sustained for decades by the security apparatus is a measure of our success, even if the P.T.M.’s leaders are imprisoned or eliminated.

Year after Pashtun protests, Pakistan military is on arrest spree as civilians fight back

Media is largely silent on arrests and abductions while political class switches between showing acceptance and accusing India and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s powerful Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement is no longer just about the Pashtuns. In the past year, this extraordinarily brave and non-violent movement has brought into its fold the support of disaffected Sindhis, Mohajirs and the Baloch, who have also suffered enforced disappearances for decades.
And they are all intrepidly staring down an oppressive state in Pakistan.
The intelligence agencies have set-off a chain reaction of protests and abductions in what appears to be an unending cycle.
On February 5, Pakistani media beamed live Jamat-ud-Dawa led Kashmir Day protest outside the press club in Islamabad against Indian security forces’ human rights abuses in Indian administered Kashmir, while the police was cracking down on a peaceful PTM protest in the same area. They were protesting the murder of Professor Arman Loni, a core PTM member, at the hands of a police officer three days ago.
“Dozens of television and newspaper photographers raced from one end to another trying to capture each arrest on camera. But it was just their journalistic instincts kicking in – not a race to be first to actually cover the drama. Because, while their TV channels thoroughly covered Kashmir Day events… none of the videos of the arrests of the activists made it to the TV screens. Nor did they make headlines in the morning newspapers,” wrote BBC’s Mohammad Ilyas Khan.
The arrests included that of internationally renowned activist Gulalai Ismail, whose whereabouts had remained unknown for over forty hours. This triggered a backlash on Twitter, and announcement of further protests. Gulalai was set free as a result of the outcry, but the others remain incarcerated. Politicians and experts kept delivering traditional statements on Kashmir, but none spoke of the human rights abuse happening under their noses by their own government.
On February 9, the police arrested Lahore-based academic Ammar Ali Jan for what the professor described was “for participating at the protest… against the killing of Professor Arman Loni”, while TV host Rizwanur Razi ‘Dada’ was booked by the Federal Investigation Agency for his “defamatory and obnoxious” posts on social media. Both have since been released on bail.
But the more the atrocities have grown, the more the PTM has drawn supporters.
Yet none of this is reported in Pakistan’s media. As Ilyas Khan wrote, it’s “a protest Pakistan wants to hide from the world.”
In February 2018, when it burst onto Islamabad in the form of a ten-day ‘dharna’ (sit-in) to protest the extrajudicial killing of a 27-year-old man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, no one could have fathomed that the PTM would evolve into a popular and resilient mass movement that it has.
A year on, the target of the PTM’s grievances remains the Pakistani military, since the military remains in control of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), despite its legal merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa via an Act of parliament in May last year.
And the military reacts in the only manner it knows.
The state’s response has been abysmal in its nervous and confused approach: tyrannical and conflicting in turns. From attempting to physically prevent the protests, to imposing a complete blackout of the PTM on the media, jamming mobile and internet signals, registering fake cases of terrorism, to harassment and threats, abduction of members and supporters, murder of organisers, internal and foreign travel bans, to bullying and abusing supporters on social media, vacillating between veiled accusations of waging a “fifth generation war”/ being foreign controlled and funded.
Yet, on different occasions, the military’s spokesperson, the DG-ISPR, has acknowledged the justness of the PTM’s demands and the peaceful nature of the movement, even acknowledging the suffering of Pashtuns of erstwhile FATA and delivering warnings not to cross the line.
Moreover, and in a rather farcical twist from the crackdown on February 5, many politicians and talking heads suddenly acknowledged the existence of the PTM and owned it as Pakistani. This, as Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted to express “serious concerns about the violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters and civil activists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan” and lectured Pakistan on its moral responsibility.
The reaction from Pakistan ranged from accusing Ghani of gross interference in its “internal matter”, taunting him about not being included in the US-Taliban talks, and calling it “proof” that the PTM was Afghan/NDS/India/RAW sponsored. The usual suspects even trended #PTMAfghanNexus. None saw the irony in suddenly talking about a year old movement after ignoring it for so long.
Even as the PTM’s demands remain largely unmet, its support, voice, and influence grow.
It was the PTM protests that encouraged a tribal Wazir woman to speak up about sexual harassment at the hands of the Pakistani military. This is unprecedented because honour prevents men and women of the tribal areas from speaking of dishonour of womenfolk. A video of a Wazir child from Mir Ali, North Waziristan, alleging repeated sexual harassment of the female members of his household at the hands of army officers (all elder males had been taken away by the security forces) had gone viral a couple of weeks earlier that provoked national outrage and PTM protests.
When the usual suspects denied the claims, the woman, encouraged by the PTM’s support, repeated her son’s claims in a video statement, from behind the traditional burqa.
The movement is rooted in the long-simmering anger and despair in Pakistan’s erstwhile FATA. The people have been crushed between the militants and the military for decades. Naqeebullah’s tragic murder at the hands of a notorious police officer gave birth to the PTM a year ago, before which its young, charismatic leader Manzoor Pashteen had been leading its forerunner, the Mehsood Tahafuzz Movement for South Waziristan.
It evolved into the PTM, and swiftly expanded its demands from getting justice for Naqueebullah to recovery of missing persons, ending the humiliation at hundreds of checkposts dotting FATA, the clearance of landmines, an end to the practice of collective punishment against the Pashtuns of FATA, and the formation of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
But the movement remains just that: a movement. The question that looms large is whether it should now structure itself into a political party and formally participate in parliamentary politics. Two of its top leaders, Ali Wazir and Mohsin Dawar, won in the general election last year and entered parliament, but as independents. This, in itself, has raised the PTM’s profile and amplified its voice: these two have raised in the national assembly those thorny issues that were rarely spoken of before, not only effectively countering the censorship otherwise imposed on PTM leaders, but also helping to bring hitherto unspoken of deeply problematic fault lines to the national conversation.
Things will have to change. The chaos is simply unsustainable in the long term. The only workable way forward is for the state to begin to abide by the social contract it supposedly has with its citizens.