Wednesday, February 20, 2019

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Save the Children demands immediate ban of weapons exports to war crime-accused Saudi Arabia

Report reveals $36m taxpayer funded weapons system deal destined for Saudi Arabia
Defence officials have today confirmed reports that the Australian Government has spent taxpayer funds to support the development of a weapons systems bound for Saudi Arabia – a country which has been accused of committing war crimes against civilians in Yemen.
$36 million to one weapons systems manufacturer in Canberra stands in stark contrast to the Australian Government’s contribution to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen which stands at just $23 million in direct funding over almost 4 years of the conflict.In August 2018, the UN found that actions taken by the Saudi and UAE led coalition in Yemen – including rape, torture and using child soldiers as young as eight – may amount to war crimes. Save the Children is demanding an immediate ban of Australian defence export licenses to Saudi Arabia and other parties to the Yemen conflict which has seen 85,000 children die since 2015.Save the Children Director of Policy and International Programs Mat Tinkler said that Australia’s exportation of weapons to countries engaged in warfare that violates international law is leaving us globally isolated.
“Australia is becoming increasingly isolated in our support for the Saudi led coalition in this way,” said Mr Tinkler.
“The world over, nations have taken steps to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in light of the UN’s finding of possible war crimes.”
In addition to the Belgian, Dutch, and Norwegian governments, in recent days both the UK Parliament and the US Congress have taken moves to stop arms sales and other military supplies to parties to the Yemen conflict.
The Department of Defence today confirmed in Senate Estimates that the Australian Government has granted export permits to an Australian company that sold 500 weapons mounting systems to Saudi Arabia.“The fact we’re still exporting defence equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE raises serious questions about what role we’re playing in prolonging this war, in prolonging the suffering of children in Yemen.”“Many Australians would be rightly be shocked to learn that Australia could potentially be contributing to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
“Unfortunately, the secrecy has continued in Senate Estimates this morning, with the Government refusing to disclose what has been sold to Saudi Arabia and what safeguards exist to ensure Australian exports are not being used in support of the war Yemen.”
The Australian Government announced in January 2018 its ambition to become a top 10 defence exporter in the world.
“The Australia Government is clearly pursuing big defence export deals with countries engaged in warfare around the world.
“The question for the Australian Government to answer today is at what cost to taxpayers, and at what cost for children. Because every war is a war against children.”
This month Save the Children released a flagship report, Stop the War on Children, which revealed that almost 1 in 5 children are living in conflict zones around the world and for every 1 fighter killed, 5 children are killed in war. In 2019, it’s Centenary year, Save the Children will be calling on the Australian Government to do more to stop the war on children, including an end to defence exports to parties to the war in Yemen.

Desperate and alone, Saudi sisters risk everything to flee oppression

 By Hilary Whiteman, with Ivan Watson and Sandi Sidhu
The night they fled, Reem and Rawan didn't dare sleep.
It was September 6, 2018. The two Saudi sisters were on a family vacation in Colombo, Sri Lanka. For weeks, they had helped their mother organize the trip, feigning excitement at the possibility of two weeks away from Riyadh, but knowing that if all went to plan, they'd never go back. Failure was not an option. Every step of their escape from Saudi Arabia carried the threat of severe punishment or death.
"We knew the first time, if it's not perfect, it will be the last time," Reem says.
CNN has changed the sisters' names and is not showing their faces, at their request for their safety.
The sisters say years of strict Islamic teaching and physical abuse at home had convinced them that they had no future in a society that places women under the enforced guardianship of men, and limits their aspirations.
"It's slavery, because whatever the woman will do it's the business of the male," Rawan says.
That's why they say they renounced Islam.
And that's why aged 18 and 20, they stole back their own passports, hid their abayas under the bedcovers, snuck out of their holiday home and boarded a flight from Colombo to Melbourne, via Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong stopover was supposed to take less than two hours.
Two hours has turned into five months.

Why they fled

"Good girls" do what they're told, are quiet, don't argue or risk embarrassing their families. Reem and Rawan say they had turned being "good girls" into a fine art.
"In our house, we (were) always the good girls they wanted us to be. So, if they want us to clean, we will clean. If they want us to cook, then we will cook," 18-year-old Rawan says.
"The last two years it was really bad, because I just forget who I am, I am just pretending (to be) like an Islamic girl," says her 20-year-old sister, Reem.
They went to school, studied hard and avoided confrontation. Of course, the same rules didn't apply to their brothers. Beat your sisters, the siblings say their brothers were told, it'll make you better men.
Reem and Rawan are reluctant to talk about the abuse at the hands of their family. They say it didn't happen all the time, just enough to remind them of the rules. And enough to fill them with terror about what might happen if anyone found out about their plan or, worse still, caught them carrying it out.

The escape

Leaving Saudi Arabia is not a simple undertaking for women who rebel against the system. Permission is needed from a male guardian for many basic activities, including international travel.
Reem and Rawan say they had been planning their escape in secret for two years. They didn't dare discuss it in case they were overheard, so, instead, they swapped WhatsApp messages, even while alone at night in their shared room.
Before they fled, the Sri Lanka vacation was just like any other. They wore their niqabs to the beach and sat away from the surf while their brothers swam and joked. They cooked the meals, and spent most of their days inside. It was humid. Their niqabs stuck to their skin and made it hard to see.
"We travel to move from a box to another box. From home to hotel, nothing will change," Rawan says. "They will go out, they will live freely, the men, of course we will sit away, watching them doing what they want."
Their five-year-old sister played in the sand, but their 12-year-old sister, like them, didn't. She too was learning that it's OK to be a girl in Saudi Arabia -- until you grow up.
During the trip, Rawan turned 18. The timing was no accident. The vacation was planned with gentle persuasion to coincide with a birthday that, unbeknown to their mother, allowed Rawan to apply for an Australian tourist visa.
On the last night of the trip, the sisters launched into action. Reem pre-booked the taxi. It was Rawan's job to retrieve their passports from a bag stored in their parents' bedroom. Around 2 a.m., she tip-toed past them as they slept, took the bag with their passports, then snuck back in again to return the bag so as not to raise suspicion.
"It's a really great memory, exciting," Rawan tells CNN, smiling. Of the two sisters, she's the more talkative, taking the lead and occasionally looking to her sister for advice on the right word in English. Reem is more reserved. She's careful about what she says and who to trust. They both have dark, short, curly hair and being small in stature seem much younger than their years.
When the cab driver arrived at 5 a.m., the sisters say they did something they'd never done before. They pulled on jeans they'd bought in secret and walked out of the house without their abayas.
It was only after they arrived at Colombo Airport that the sisters booked the flight they'd meticulously researched online: SriLankan Airlines flight UL892 departing Colombo at 9 a.m., arriving Hong Kong at 5:10 p.m. local time. From there, they'd take Cathay Pacific flight CX135 departing at 7:10 p.m. for Melbourne, Australia.
They had no trouble boarding the plane for the roughly six-hour flight to Hong Kong.
It was after they arrived in at Hong Kong International Airport that things started to go wrong.

Arriving in Hong Kong

What happened in the transit area was something the sisters might have anticipated had they known their uncle had connections to the Saudi Interior Ministry or had realized the power Saudi officials could have over local airport staff.
As soon as the women stepped off the plane, they say two men approached them and asked if they were going to Melbourne. The women say the men asked for their passports and boarding passes, first saying they might miss their flight, then suggesting there was something wrong with their Australian visas.
In a letter to the sisters' lawyer obtained by CNN, SriLankan Airlines has identified the men as Naeem Khan, SriLankan Airlines station manager, and Noman Shah, a staff member for ground handling agent, Jardine Aviation Services.
The sisters say the men led them to another area of the airport, where their lawyer Michael Vidler says they canceled the women's Cathay Pacific flight to Melbourne and booked them, without their knowledge, on an Emirates flight to Riyadh, via Dubai.
Cathay Pacific tells CNN that the sisters' flight was canceled by representatives of SriLankan Airlines.
SriLankan Airlines told CNN its staff members canceled the flight at the "explicit request" of the Saudi Consulate, which had already booked the sisters on the flight to Riyadh.
The airline said consular officials told its staff the women's father had phoned and said the sisters needed to go back to Saudi Arabia "as soon as possible" as their mother was terminally ill.
The women knew their mother wasn't ill and were quite sure there was nothing wrong with their visas.
"We allege that they were the subject of an attempted kidnapping in an international airport in a restricted area," Vidler tells CNN. "The Saudi Consulate was actively trying to deceive them."
CNN has approached the Saudi Consulate in Hong Kong and the Saudi Foreign Ministry for comment on the sisters' claims and has not received a response. Hong Kong Police have confirmed that they're investigating the allegations.
SriLankan Airlines says at no time did the sisters indicate there was a problem. The women disagree.
Vidler says that closed circuit television seen by his team appears to confirm that Saudi Consul General Omar Al Bunayan and Vice Consul Abdullah Hussain A. Al Sharif were at the airport, speaking to the women and airline staff.
The presence of senior Saudi officials at the airport filled the women with dread. They'd heard about Dina Ali Lasloom, the 24-year-old Saudi woman who was forced onto a plane to Riyadh at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila in April 2017. Her hands, feet and mouth had been bound with duct tape, one witness told Human Rights Watch.
Reem and Rawan feared the same could happen to them.
They excused themselves to go to the bathroom where they made the decision to flee. As they emerged, they said they saw one of their passports on the table. Rawan tried to grab it.
The teenager says one of the men immediately slapped her hand, prompting the sisters to scream in Arabic, "You kidnap us!"
The sisters say they caused such a scene that the Consul General suggested they move to a quieter area where he presented them with their passports and new boarding passes -- for Dubai.
They ran. First to the Cathay desk where counter staff told them their flights had been canceled. Then to the Qantas desk, where they'd hurriedly booked the next flight to Melbourne, QF30, departing at 7:00 p.m.
Soon after they were issued boarding passes, the women say Shah, the ground handling staff member, tried to snatch them.
Jardine Aviation Services, whose staff member carry out a number of tasks within the airport, says its employees didn't tell the women their mother was ill or that was there was an issue with their Australia visas. It denies its staff members slapped Hawan's hand or tried to grab the sisters' boarding passes.
Hong Kong's Airport Authority has refused to give CNN a closed-circuit recording of the events that unfolded due to privacy concerns.
For the second time in two hours, the sisters say senior Saudi officials stopped them from flying. The sisters say Saudi Vice Consul Al Sharif told staff at the Qantas check-in desk they were running away, had stolen money, and weren't tourists.
Australian immigration officials were summoned on the phone and after a conversation with the women, Canberra canceled their visas.
"The only issues with the visa occurred when the Vice Consul made what we believe to be false representations to the Australian authorities at the boarding gate of Qantas airlines," Vidler says.
A spokesperson from Australia's Home Affairs department declined to comment on individual cases. Qantas also declined to comment but a spokesman pointed out that the airline does not make visa assessments.
The sisters say they stayed at the airport for three hours before asking Cathay Pacific counter staff for permission to leave. They wrote their names and a fake Hong Kong contact address then caught a train to the city.

Khashoggi case puts Saudi Arabia under scrutiny

Reem and Rawan escaped Saudi Arabia weeks before the world's attention turned to the kingdom and the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. They watched from Hong Kong as gruesome details emerged of Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, allegedly by a team of hitmen who cut up his body with a bone saw.
In November, a source told CNN that the CIA had determined that Khashoggi was killed on the instruction of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, known as MBS, a claim the kingdom denies.
The Saudi sisters shrug when asked if they are surprised by Khashoggi's murder and the allegation that their country's de facto leader ordered it.
"We know that Saudi Arabia can do stuff like this," Reem says. "They are chasing innocent girls, not even important girls," Rawan agrees. "We're just normal young women trying to find a life far away from violence."
Soon after the women arrived in Hong Kong, their father and uncle came to the city to find them. Hong Kong police confirmed to CNN that a missing persons report had been filed.
Using a passport tracking system linked to hotel check-ins, Hong Kong police officers located the sisters on Monday, September 10 and took them into custody for questioning.
The women say they were held in a room in the imposing Wan Chai police headquarters for six hours, where they repeatedly refused requests from their father and their uncle to see them.
Police eventually drove them back to their hotel. By that time, it was after midnight and the women hurriedly packed their bags and fled.
In the five months since, they've moved from shelter to shelter, hotel to hotel, to evade detection and their potential forced return to Riyadh.
The sisters have not sought asylum in Hong Kong, however. Doing so would have put them at the end of a long queue of claimants caught in Hong Kong's Unified Screening Mechanism (USM), a system used by the government to process asylum claims. The UNHCR doesn't assess claims in Hong Kong.
Through their lawyer, Reem and Rawan are seeking a visa in a safe country. Vidler says they have few options. Their Saudi passports have been canceled and they don't have formal permission to stay in Hong Kong.

Life in Saudi Arabia

At home in Riyadh, the sisters say they were beaten by their father and brothers "for a reason and no reason."
One day when she was 14, Reem says her brother started hitting her for talking and laughing with Rawan. "He said that people will hear my voice and it will bring shame," she says.
The sisters knew it was likely there would be an arranged marriage. There was talk of Rawan marrying her younger cousin, a boy still in high school.
Reem was the first to renounce Islam in October 2016, followed by Rawan in May 2017. They didn't dare tell anyone but say they announced it under fake names on Twitter.
"I knew If I told my family they will hurt me and I'll be killed. Because that what we studied in schools, that whoever left Islam should be killed. I knew no one will protect me because all my family are so religious and none of them will support me. I was afraid of them finding out," Reem says.
There are no firm figures on how many Saudi women have escaped the country -- or how many have failed in their attempt to leave -- but the total number of Saudi asylum seekers is rising.
According to the United Nations, 575 Saudi nationals applied for asylum in 2015. Two years later, that figure had more than doubled to over 1,200.
The period coincides with the rising influence of MBS who in June 2017 was appointed heir to the Saudi throne by his father King Salman.
Since then, MBS has made it clear that dissent won't be tolerated, even as the kingdom has earned international plaudits for new female-focused policies, including lifting the ban on women drivers.
Rana Ahmad, a 33-year-old Saudi national who runs the Atheist Refugee Relief agency in Germany, says the jailing and torture of the same women who campaigned for the right to drive had sent a message to some Saudi women that they have no future in the country.
"They look at these women, they're trying to do something and the government puts them in jail. So they see no hope anymore, they want to leave," she said.
Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), says women whose escape plans are thwarted are at serious risk of abuse.
Punishments range from being locked in their room for months on end or banned from using a mobile phone, to criminal prosecution by the state for disobeying their parents or harming the kingdom's reputation. The women themselves say they fear they'll be killed by their own families.
Coogle says there are few safe corridors for women to leave, because of political pressure the Saudi government applies to some foreign countries to return "runaways" without giving them the opportunity to claim asylum or put their case forward.
"Anywhere you go that doesn't have some sort of respect for refugee law or a strong record of rule of law is a problem because they're the countries where Saudi Arabia can apply its diplomatic pressure to get countries to cooperate," he says.

Few regrets

Reem and Rawan say they could see signs of change in Saudi Arabia, but it wasn't moving fast enough for them. They laugh at the suggestion that progress was made by giving Saudi women the right to drive.
"Driving cars is not something to celebrate," Reem says. "There is a woman abused in the house, and no one hears their voice, and they want us to celebrate a car?" Rawan adds.
In Hong Kong, the sisters watch Netflix to pass the time. Wearing jeans and trainers, they could easily be mistaken for one of the millions of tourists that come through the city each year.
Sometimes Reem wears lipstick. She seems relaxed but has a habit of picking at the skin on her fingers when she's nervous. Sometimes, she does it so much that they start to bleed.
The sisters are anxious about what comes next. But even after five months of uncertainty and fear, they have few regrets.
"I regret not waiting, but not leaving," Reem says. "From my childhood, I knew this is not my home. I always knew my rights would be taken."
Rawan says she too knew there was no life for her in Saudi Arabia.
    "When I was growing up I saw my brothers do whatever they want, have whatever they want. But for me, I should be a good girl, a good woman, to marry someone, my cousin, because I should not even dream to choose my husband, to choose my partner.
    "I want to study what I want, I want to work what I want, I want to choose the day I marry. To choose the man I marry. Even if I don't want to marry, I want the right to choose."

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    Imran Khan is sitting on a Jihadi time bomb, demanding evidence over Pulwama a mere excuse

    Most countries now recognise the Pakistani pattern of behaviour, which explains the almost-universal demand for action against Masood Azhar.

    Rather than immediately reassuring India and an increasingly upset international community that Pakistan means business in confronting its terrorist demons, Prime Minister Imran Khan took several days to respond to the Pulwama attack. When he spoke Tuesday, he only repeated the mantra of investigation and the promise of action if India shares “actionable intelligence with Pakistan”.
    That the attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) should have been enough for Pakistan to act against the outfit. After all, Pakistan condemned the attack and has said over the years that it is part of the international community effort to eliminate terrorism.
    The enormous destructive capability of nuclear weapons has often been seen as a deterrent to war. But in the Indian subcontinent, politicians and television personalities routinely invoke the possession of nukes in reckless rhetoric of the type that is now on display in both India and Pakistan following last week’s terrorist suicide bombing in Pulwama.
    Promises of investigation and demands for actionable intelligence have become a routine Pakistani response in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, especially against India. They were invoked after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, the Mumbai attacks of November 2008, and all the attacks in between and subsequently.
    Considering that groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which was responsible for the Mumbai attacks, and JeM, which has claimed responsibility for the latest tragedy as well as other operations, operate openly and in full view in Pakistan, the calls for investigation and actionable intelligence are nothing more than excuses.
    By now most countries of the world recognise the Pakistani pattern of behaviour, which explains the almost-universal demand for action against JeM and its founder, Maulana Masood Azhar.
    The assumption on the Pakistani side, probably correct, is that its possession of nuclear weapons limits the likelihood of a kinetic response by India to attacks by Pakistan-based terrorists.
    There is outrage and anger in India but the thinking in Rawalpindi-Islamabad is that a defiant Pakistan has dealt with it before and can get through it again. The frequency of such brinkmanship, however, only produces diminishing returns.
    It is true that the demand for use of force on the Indian side is increasing but, in the end, New Delhi will act on calculations, not the pronouncements of evening talk-show warmongers.
    It is easier to talk about breaking up or punishing Pakistan than to do it or even to think through consequences of every action and reaction.
    Although it is based in Pakistan and operates from a massive headquarters in Bahawalpur, JeM managed to use a radicalised young Kashmiri this time to kill Indian troops.
    Once the passions of the moment subside, Indians will have to figure out how and why that happened and what needs to be done to deal with such unfortunate circumstances. But India’s Kashmir problem neither justifies nor mitigates Pakistan’s Jihadi problem.
    If Imran Khan and his militarist mentors cared to think beyond their hyper-nationalist fervour, they would realise that terrorist attacks by Pakistan-based Jihadi groups and the response of their target countries cannot be calibrated forever.
    Around the same time that JeM orchestrated the Pulwama attack against Indian troops, Iran’s government held another Pakistan-based group Jaish al-Adl responsible for attacks in Iran.
    One need not be a supporter of Iran’s clerical regime or ignorant of Iran’s own support to extremism and terror elsewhere to point out the danger to Pakistan of a consensus among its neighbours – and the rest of the world – against Pakistan-based Jihadism.
    The United States was unequivocal in its condemnation of the Pulwama incident, describing it as a “heinous terrorist attack by a Pakistan-based terrorist group” and calling upon Pakistan “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil”.
    It is rare for the US and Iran to agree on most things, but they clearly agree that Pakistan serves as a safe haven and base for terrorist groups.
    The United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and a friend of Pakistan, also designatedJaish-e-Mohammed as a terrorist organisation a couple of years ago, just as the US and India had done earlier.
    France is said to be planning to lead the charge for listing of Jaish’s Masood Azhar as a ‘global terrorist’ at the United Nations Security Council and China has not been outspoken in its support for Pakistan after the Pulwama massacre either. Sanctions by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over failure to limit terrorist financing continue to loom.
    But Imran Khan’s government and Pakistan’s military leadership seem unfazed by the coming storm. The hubris in Rawalpindi-Islamabad is based on Pakistan’s nuclear status and the country being ‘the key to the resolution of the Afghan dispute’.
    Its railways minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed – sponsor of Jihadi groups himself, who is known by the nickname ‘Sheedi Tulli’ (‘Sheeda the Bell’ in Punjabi), and who also served in General Musharraf’s military regime – invoked the nukes when he threatened that “bells will forever stop ringing in Hindu temples” if India acts against Pakistan.
    And Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Zahid Nasrullah, played the Afghan card when he said that peace talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban militants would be affected if India retaliated to the Pulwama bombing.
    Beyond the posturing and bombast, Pakistan’s decision-makers must still consider the long-term outcome of their unending Jihad.
    The flaws in India’s handling of Jammu and Kashmir notwithstanding, the intermittent terrorist attacks since 1989 have done nothing to improve the lives of Kashmiri Muslims nor have they advanced the resolution of what Pakistan considers to be the Kashmir dispute.
    Groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed might be playing nice within Pakistan while carrying out attacks in Indian territory right now, but they do have a track record of attacks on Pakistani soil as well.
    Jaish members conducted suicide attacks on Pakistani officials in Islamabad, Karachi, Murree, Taxila and Bahawalpur to protest General Musharraf’s alliance with the US after 9/11. The group was also involved in attacks on Christian churches, Shia mosques, and diplomatic missions inside Pakistan soon after the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
    Those who have allowed Masood Azhar to recruit, organise, and train terrorists even after formally banning Jaish in 2002 might find his anti-India and anti-Hindu zeal useful. But as Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out, “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”
    If Pakistan is to have a national purpose other than periodically whipping up frenzy against India, a pastime that is unfortunately being imitated in India with increasing frequency, it would act against Jaish and work with India and the international community to prevent future terrorist attacks.
    If it does not, its ‘success’ in avoiding serious consequences because of India’s relatively limited choices of retaliatory action will only be a pyrrhic victory. Being viewed as a threat by almost all your neighbours and sitting on the Jihadi time bomb is not a strategy for progress and prosperity. 

    Video - Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Press Conference in London | 20 February 2019

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    Interview = Bilawal Bhutto: 'Pakistan needs to tackle extremism for its own sake'

    In an interview with DW at the Munich Security Conference, Bilawal Bhutto, Pakistani politician and son of the late PM Benazir Bhutto, urged more engagement between Islamabad and New Delhi to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

    Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the 30-year-old chairman of one of Pakistan's oldest and most popular political parties, is trying to make a mark on Pakistani politics.
    Eleven years ago, on December 27, 2007, his mother Benazir Bhutto, a two-time premier, was assassinated in the city of Rawalpindi during an election rally. She was allegedly targeted by Islamists that are active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    After Benazir's death, Bilawal took over the reins of the party, but from 2008 to 2013 his father Asia Ali Zardari played a more active part in leading the party, also becoming president after the 2008 general elections.
    Bilawal is now a member of parliament and a vocal opponent of PM Imran Khan and his policies. An Oxford graduate, Bilawal often speaks for the rights of religious minorities and women. Many in Pakistan believe he could be the future prime minister of the South Asian country.
    DW spoke with him at this year's Munich Security Conference, where he was a guest. Bilawal Bhutto shared his views on a number of issues, including the Kashmir conflict and the ongoing Afghan peace talks.
    DW: Mr. Bhutto, India and Pakistan are once again on a war-footing after the deadly Kashmir attack on February 14. What in your opinion should be done to calm the nerves?
    Bilawal Bhutto: I'd like to start by condemning the attack. Our party does not believe in violence and we condemn violence in all forms. It is understandable that the people of India are very emotional right now. They are aggrieved, they are upset and angry. But it is very important for politicians and leaders not to be played by non-state actors and terrorists, who want to divide the people of India and Pakistan. They don't want the people of India and Pakistan to have peaceful relations.
    At the same time, we believe that there should be a plebiscite in Kashmir, so that the people there have a democratic outlet. If that takes place, I am sure the terrorism will end there.
    India and Pakistan should have more engagement. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the past few years, particularly under PM Narendra Modi's government. It means that it is all the more important for peace-loving Pakistanis and peace-loving Indians to emphasize peace and condemn terrorism in all forms.
    But what is the biggest obstacle to peace between India and Pakistan? There has been so many attempts in the past few years but nothing seems to be working.
    There are many issues, terrorism being one of them. There is also the Kashmir dispute. I feel that PM Modi has led India away from its secular roots towards a more nationalist government. There hasn't been any genuine attempt to make peace with Pakistan. Perhaps it is more aimed at a domestic audience. There will be elections in India this year and perhaps that is the reason why PM Modi is pursing an aggressive policy.
    But there isn't a very liberal government in Pakistan at the moment as well…
    That's true. But India is known for its secularism, for its tolerance. India is a bigger and a richer country. It is a bigger democracy and should act like the bigger brother and extend a hand of friendship. Pakistan is willing to reach out.
    What are your views on the ongoing talks between Washington and the Taliban? Islamabad is trying to broker a deal between the two parties, but it seems that the Afghan government is being sidelined. Do you think that the exclusion of Kabul from these talks could create a problem in the future?
    Absolutely. It is vital that the solution to the Afghan conflict is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Without that it will be difficult to achieve positive and sustainable results. US President Donald Trump's efforts for unilateral talks with the Taliban came as a surprise not only for the Afghan government and Pakistan but also for members of Mr. Trump's own cabinet. But I think this is once again aimed at the domestic audience. Trump wants to be seen as a president who is trying to get out of Afghanistan.
    But that's not how conflicts are resolved. Afghanistan needs a plan for reconciliation, but reconciliation should not be capitulation. You can't just cut and run. Mr. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, put it very well: "You break it, you fix it." Washington should look at it as an opportunity to enhance its economic cooperation in the region, and also looks for a plan for reconstruction in the region. The US should not leave the region in a mess – the one we saw in Iraq with the emergence of "Islamic State" (IS).
    There's lot of fatigue around the long Afghan conflict. It is there for the Afghan government, for the Taliban, for Pakistan, and also for the NATO and the US. We are looking at these developments with hope that here will be an exit strategy.
    You are quite a liberal politician and perhaps you should be able to answer this question in a better way than others. There is a lack of trust in the West regarding Pakistan. The international community does not buy the narrative about extremism that Pakistan gives out. Why is there a lack of understanding about how to define terrorism?
    We have a bad PR, I believe, particularly post Osama bin Laden assassination in Abbottabad. It comes down to a trust deficit. We can't get away from the accusations, of course. But my mother used to say that the time is running with the hare and hunting with the hound. Unfortunately, previous dictators damaged Pakistan's reputation, and obviously now the world demands proof of what we claim.
    We have to walk the walk, not for the West but for the sake of Pakistan. We have to confront violent extremism if we want all Pakistanis to get along rather than fighting among ourselves. These are own issues that we need to tackle for our own future. I believe that when we genuinely start tackling these issues and start seeing progress in Pakistan, the world will also see the difference. Then we can also see eye to eye to the international community.
    But that requires vigorous engagement with the world. Unfortunately, under Former PM Nawaz Sharif's tenure, we saw a dip in our engagement with the rest of the world. Mr. Khan has only been in government for six months but his approach to foreign policy is quite partisan as he has not taken parliament onboard. He did not visit the United Nations to put across Pakistan's point of view to the world. He has only visited countries in a very transactional manner where he is looking for financial aid. That is not how foreign policy and relations are built.