Monday, February 11, 2019
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?
Anna StavrianakisA 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.
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.
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.