Friday, April 19, 2019

Video Report - Two Saudi sisters seek asylum in Georgia out of fear for their own family

Video Report - Tens of thousands of people protest against military rule in Sudan

Video Report - Kellyanne Conway's husband calls for Trump's impeachment

Comedy Video - Colbert Gets His Copy Of The Mueller Report

An interview with an Iraqi scholar has led me to think very differently about Brexit and extremism in Europe

By Robert Fisk
In Shiasm,’ the great man, Sayed Hakeem, reminds me, ‘the more knowledge a scholar has, the more humble he must be – otherwise he will become a dictator’.

Sayed Mohamed-Hussain el-Hakeem is one of the most prominent Shia scholars in Iraq. When Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani eventually dies, Hakeem’s father Mohamed Sayeed is likely to inherit his role as the principal cleric in the land – and then, so they say, the mantle will fall to Hakeem’s brother, Riyadh. So this discreet man “speaketh of what he knoweth” and, in his precise way, he comes across as a supporter of humanism rather than mere theology. When you sit opposite him, you know you are listening to a voice that matters in the battered land of Iraq.
Dozens of Sayeds and turbaned students push out of the iron door to his lecture hall only a few hundred metres from the golden-domed shrine of the Imam Ali, cousin of the Prophet Mohamed. But Sayed Hakeem does not mince his words – neither political nor spiritual. No, you realise, Iran does not govern the minds of Iraq’s Shia. Nor does any fear of Isis. Or the west. Saddam haunts our conversation – as he does still all of Iraq – but so does the Shah, even the Ottoman Empire.
We start with the Ottomans. “They did not have any scientific achievement. They governed their people by force. They kept their people in darkness – they made them distant from science. When the west came with its science, its strategy was to divide countries so they could control them more easily. The First and Second World Wars left these internal conflicts to continue and the west looked after their own interests, not the UN or human rights. But wars are not just in this region – the conflict between Germany and France was like that between Iraq and Iran [during Saddam’s 1980-1988 invasion of Iran].”
So far so good, and all familiar stuff. “Then in Europe, political interests succeeded personal interests. They created the EU and tried to develop it. But if Europe gives way to rightest extremism, the conflict [here] will return back to Europe. If [the Europeans] allow this, they will not have a common basis to work on. We don’t wish this to happen. We hope that the conflict does not develop – and that the US does not feed right-wing extremists so that they prevail. They are already doing this – with Brexit!”
Smiles all round in the Sayed’s little office. I had not expected Brexit would make its appearance, not here, so close to the great shrine of Ali, the Prophet’s successor – and to the poor house in which Khomeini himself stayed in his Iraqi exile until 1979. “In Shiasm,” the great man reminds me, “the more knowledge a scholar has, the more humble he must be – otherwise he will become a dictator.” Shiasm understands the Western world more than we think, perhaps, and it is certainly independent. Of Iran for example, whose Farsi language the Sayed speaks only a little. When I ask if perhaps Iran can eventually dominate Shia Iraq – where Shias comprise 65 per cent of the population – I am treated to a lecture on the principles of regional theology.
“We follow the school of Najaf [in Iraq], which is different from other schools,” he says. “Scientifically, all the Shia schools are the same. But we don’t interfere with politics. We Shia are like our Grand Ayatollahs – they are free in their thoughts as to how they understand the Prophet and the 12 Imams. Different views are respected.”
Here the little lecture narrows its focus. “We had different views from the ‘marjaiya’ [superior scholars] of Qom [in Iran]. We don’t think there should be a supreme leader – this is different from what Khomeini taught. Here we should not be involved in politics.” The message is obvious. Khomeini’s concept of a supreme clerical leader – at present, it is the ageing Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei – has no meaning in Najaf. Indeed, though Sayed Hakeem does not say this, the idea of a supreme leader had no historical precedence in Iran itself.
And we turn swiftly to recent Middle Eastern history. The Shah of Iran was called “the policeman” of the Gulf. “He had strong ties with the west. When the regime changed in Iran, the country came out of that axis. The new revolution in Iran had problems with the west, especially after the siege of the US embassy. Iran is a strong country and other nations feared the new government. Look at history – three strong nations, Turkey, Iraq and Palestine [Israel] surrounded Iran with powerful armies. The Gulf played a good role in that. Every war needs men and money. The west was generous in providing guns.”
There is a brief historical intermission here, the arrival in our talk of the post-Renaissance. “In the west, 300 years ago, there was conflict between the church and scientists. Scientists prevailed because they were raised on scientific facts. The people backed up the scientists. Our faith does not conflict with this science.”
Was this, I wondered, a subtle alignment with western thought, maybe a touch of Martin Luther amid Muslim theology? Sayed Hakeem has more to say on another, more recent phenomenon with darker roots: Isis. He speaks with more vigour now, of an organisation “that tried to feed hatred into people – so they raised people to believe in black and white, whom they used against us. Isis, when they go into society, they isolate some people from the outside world.”
This is a different interpretation of the Isis death cult which our western “experts” define. “They are trying to use people who are hopeless – to give them a false hope. They approach ‘hopeless’ people, they try to give them a window of hope that ‘this is the only chance you have’. They are trying to make an internal conflict inside these people to pull them towards their false ideology. Bin Laden once said that they should focus on the ages between 18 and 25… During their teens, human beings are in self-conflict, with high hopes but few resources – and Isis use this conflict to capture their minds, those who did not enjoy the end of their childhood. So Isis gave them big responsibility and said ‘you are not a child any more’.”
This violent ideology must be changed, the Sayed says. “Isis was not born in Iraq – in Mosul, Tikrit or Ramadi. It is a result of outside ideology, planning and funding ... There is a political hand which is feeding the ideology of the [Sunni] Wahabis. We have to convince them that violence will bring more violence. They have to coexist. There are factors that can reduce this ‘internal hatred’: knowledge and culture, productive work, coexistence and humanitarian values.” These are interesting words from a man whose people fought a long and bitter war against Isis. For Wahabis, I suspect, read Saudis. 
Saddam’s horrors – not unconnected in the Sayed’s mind from Isis, I suspect – proved the resilience of Shias. And Hakeem repeats that Shia Muslims are “balanced between life and the other life, so at the peak of a crisis we take [to help us] hope and great patience – this is our step to the future”. Was this how they endured the torture chambers and death pits of Saddam, the decades of imprisonment, the mass murders of Shias by Isis? Humanism wins. Is that what this means? Theology is a dangerous subject for journalists to explain.
Maybe that’s why, when for a few moments I meet his elderly father – the next great Ayatollah of Iraq – he holds out his ancient hand to me and says: “There are two kinds of journalists, the ones who tell lies. And the ones who try to tell the truth – I hope you are one of the second.” We shall find out the answer when his son Sayed Mohamed-Hussain el-Hakeem reads these words.

#Pakistan - #Shiagenocide #Hazara Holocaust

“Mark my words, if you let an innocent die and it doesn’t bother you, You, my friend are worse than the killer
Pakistan is famous around the world for its natural beauty and sightseeing. One beautiful sight is located in Hazara, Quetta. “Bahisht e Zainab” is the place that gives goosebumps to the viewers because of the colors, flags and hanging bells. When the wind blows it casts a spell on people. But it’s not the beauty that makes it a distinct place. It’s the story. Bahisht e Zainab is a graveyard. A graveyard is full of Hazara community’s people who lost their lives to suicide bombs and target killings.
The people of Hazara have been there in Quetta for the past two centuries. Their mass migration occurred during the Anglo-Afghan wars. Since then they have set up their beautiful, organised and educated community in the mountains. Hazara people are known for their excellence in various fields of life especially sports like judo, karate, and boxing. They have provided the country with international recognition in these fields. Women in Hazara are equal in their social, political and economic statuses. The community is distinctively well educated and civilised as compared to many others in the country.
But the life of these beautiful and lively people have been turned into a living hell. They are an open target of genocide and murder by their fellow countrymen. It all started during  the regime of Zia ul Haq when bigotry and radicalism reached its peak and there were posters on the walls of Quetta calling the Shia community as infidels or “Kafir”. In 1999 the car of the provincial minister Sardar Nisar Ali Hazara was attacked along with his driver and bodyguard. Though he survived it marked the beginning of the targeted killing of Hazaras.
The worst phase of target killing started in 2003 when they were attacked by a radical Sunni sect. There were massive attacks especially targeted on Imam bargah. The recent attack on Firday 12th April 2019 marked the death of another 20 citizens adding up to the mark of almost 650 people who lost their lives. The mastermind behind these attacks Ahl e Sunnatwal Jamaat (ASWJ) is a banned organisation formerly known as Sipah e Sahaba and is actively and openly working against the Shia community in Pakistan. They had distributed pamphlets to people highlighting their agenda of Shia genocide and asking for contributions.
ASWJ is a religious and active political party as well. They had their Minister Mawiya Azam Tariq in Jhang who was later arrested over charges of a failed attempt of launching terror attacks. However, he was released. Ramzan Mengal who openly accepted the responsibility of Shia genocide in Hazara was also released two days before the recent attack. A fallacy is propagated by ASWJ that killing a Shia would open 7 doors of paradise for the killer.
Despite the efforts of law enforcement authorities, no fruitful advancement could be gained regarding the security of the people. The people of Hazara community are so accustomed to the deaths and burial rituals that the graveyards are no longer the sight of horror for them as these people have found their lives within the dismay. Their graveyards now represent their culture, life, and vigor. Markets are formed near them, children play while elders walk around the graves as if nothing tragic the dead bodies have seen.Bahisht e Zainab is not just a graveyard. It’s a scar that marks the horrific bloodshed of these humans that were seen as a threat to some supernatural religious powers. It’s a symbol of the undeserved misery. This community is reminiscent of an ongoing holocaust. And for generations, they will have tales of how beautiful souls were subjected to brutality and the state and its authority remained a silent spectator.Hazara is bleeding. And it will continue to bleed unless the last soul is diminished or if miraculously the Islamic Republic of Pakistan decides to come to the aid of its citizen. It seems impossible since the perpetrators are under the kind umbrella of the state itself. But it’s inevitable. If not now then when? Should we wait for the verdict to be given against our religious thoughts as well or should we take action? Should we ignore the increasing death tolls or should we voice our protest? Our answer will be our future sooner or later. Let’s choose wisely!

ARGUMENT- #Pakistan - Poor Nation, Rich Army


This Republic Day, Pakistan should consider why it remains underdeveloped as its military booms.

On March 23, Pakistan will celebrate its Republic Day with the same “zeal and fervor” as it does every year. As usual, the Pakistani military will come out in full force, with joint parades by the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy. The ostentatious marches will include a display of Pakistan’s nuclear-capable missile system, an air show, and gun salutes to local and international dignitaries present for the occasion.
The extravaganza is always broadcast live on local television channels, set to the fanfare of new propaganda songs produced especially for the event by the military’s media wing. It is rare for the public to question these theatrics—but doing so is more urgent than ever.

Pakistan is going through some serious financial turmoil. Over the last few months, Prime Minister Imran Khan has crisscrossed the globe in search of aid to shore up the economy. Before one recent trip, he even acknowledged the country’s desperation for foreign money. Meanwhile, the country’s finance minister, Asad Umar, has been busy negotiating a new bailout package with the International Monetary Fund—Pakistan has been in the care of the IMF for 22 years out of the last 30. Inflation is at a four-year high, reaching over 8 percent, and Islamabad believes that it could tick even higher.

One-third of Pakistan’s population lives under the poverty line, and the country is ranked at 150 out of 189 countries in the latest United Nations Human Development Index.

 Although Pakistan’s recent economic woes are troubling, the country has faced similar pressures for years. One-third of its population lives under the poverty line, and the country is ranked at 150 out of 189 countries in the latest United Nations Human Development Index. The national debt stands at around $100 billion, while its foreign exchange reserves are a meager $15 billion. The value of the Pakistani rupee, one of the worst-performing currencies in Asia, has dropped 31 percent since 2017.
Yet anyone watching the parade on March 23 may believe that all is well. And they certainly won’t get the impression that the military is, in fact, behind many of the country’s economic problems. But after debt servicing, the military is Pakistan’s biggest economic burden. Already, over 20 percent of the annual budget officially goes to the military, but the armed forces have been pushing for more every year. Just in the last budget cycle, it won a 20 percent hike in its yearly allocation. The actual expense of the military is even higher, but it is hidden by moving some of the expenses to other budget lines. The parliament neither seriously debates the military budget nor subjects its spending to audit. By contrast, the country spends less than 5 percent of GDP on social services like education and health care, well below the regional average.

The military mainly protects itself by keeping the threat of India alive. The two nuclear-armed neighbors have been in conflict since the partition of South Asia in 1947. The militaries have fought four wars, with three of them over Kashmir valley. Even though Pakistan initiated these conflicts, it has told the public that it was only countering Indian aggression. In recent years, Pakistan has avoided a direct war, perhaps because it lost all previous ones. But it relies on militant groups based in Pakistan to keep tensions alive. This February offered a glimpse of such dynamics at play. In turn, the Pakistani Army gets the perfect excuse for its oversized burden on the country’s economy. Like a mafia protection racket, the military creates its own demand.

But it is not just the military’s budget that is eating away at the resources of a country that it has directly ruled for half of Pakistan’s 72 years of existence. Today, the armed forces’ empire has expanded well beyond its traditional role in security. It runs about 50 commercial entities. The military’s main business arm, the Fauji Foundation, has seen enormous growth. According to Bloomberg, its assets grew 78 percent between 2011 and 2015, and it has annual income over $1.5 billion. The military-backed organization has stakes in real estate, food, and the communications industry.

It appears that the business wing of the military is expanding even more under the Khan government. Khan’s critics allege that the military backed his candidacy and now, in return, enjoys relative freedom to do what it wants. There is plenty of evidence to back those claims.
Reuters recently reported that the Pakistani Army is moving into another lucrative industry: mining and oil exploration. Khan’s government is reportedly facilitating the arrangements by giving the military preferential treatment during negotiations.

Pakistan’s economy to weigh on region’s growth: IMF official

Pakistan’s economy is projected to slow down significantly and weigh on the region’s aggregate growth rate, says Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia department at the International Monetary Fund.
At a recent talk on the economic outlook for the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (MENAP) region, Azour argued that global economic headwinds were making policy efforts more urgent and challenging for MENAP.
For oil importers in this region, growth is expected to ease to 3.6 per cent this, from 4.2pc in 2018, in part due to weaker global economic environment.
Azour noted that in many oil-importing countries, rising debt levels were becoming a more urgent challenge for macroeconomic stability and high debt was also limiting fiscal space for critical investments in health, education, infrastructure, and social programmes.
These budget pressures underscored the urgency of lifting medium-term growth with structural reforms such as measures to improve business environment and governance, enhance labour market flexibility, and strengthen market competition, the IMF argued.
In MENAP, “slowing global growth and trade, as well as geopolitical tensions and other potential external shocks, will pose economic challenges,” the director said, adding “These trends heighten the urgency of implementing reforms that bolster economic resilience and secure inclusive growth.”
In a related report, the IMF also sounded alarm on global debt. Noting that global debt had now reached $164 trillion or 225pc of global GDP, the Fund warned that the world’s public and private sectors were more in debt now than at the 2008 financial crisis, when global debt/GDP peaked at 213pc.
While advanced economies were responsible for most global debt, in the last 10 years emerging markets have been responsible for most of the increase with China alone having contributed 43pc to the rise in total global debt since 2007.
The report stressed the need to reduce the burden of debt in both private and public sectors to improve the resilience of global economy and urged countries with high debt to increase revenues or curb excessive spending.
“This is especially relevant where current economic growth exceeds long-run potential growth,” it added, while also stressing the need for governments to maintain investments in education, health, and infrastructure, either by “re-prioritising spending or broadening the tax base.”
Acknowledging that to achieve sustainable growth, these countries will require additional public spending, the report urged them to “pursue smarter and more agile policies to facilitate change.”

Ex-Dictator's Aide Named Pakistan Finance Chief Amid IMF Talks

Shaikh will now take on the role of lead negotiator for what would be Pakistan’s 13th IMF support program since the late 1980s. His predecessor, the former chief executive officer of Pakistani conglomerate Engro Corp., had been subjected to a campaign of negative media coverage from unnamed government sources that fueled speculation he would be moved as the economy continued to falter.
The new finance adviser has been thrown “in the middle of a storm as IMF talks are on,” Asad Sayeed, director at the Karachi-based Collective for Social Science Research consultancy, said by phone. “The economy is in a kind of crunch and important structural reforms wouldn’t be easy to implement.”
At least two Pakistani local newspaper columnists recently said Umar had displeased the powerful military, which is alleged to have backed Khan during the elections and continues to hold an over-sized influence over the economy and foreign policy. Pakistan’s credit score was downgraded by S&P Global Ratings last month, citing deterioration in the economic outlook and delay in securing an IMF program.
“In the eight months, there were some decisions that gave good results and some that didn’t,” Umar said in a press conference just after announcing his resignation on Twitter. “I request that whoever becomes the new finance minister and makes difficult decisions, support them and don’t think everything will be fixed within three months.”
Discussions with the IMF have twice stalled over various disagreements, such as exchange rate policy. Yet an agreement seemed closer recently and Umar was in Washington for talks with the lender last week, ahead of an IMF delegation visit to Islamabad at the end of April. A deal is now likely to be delayed again.
IMF Delay
“It will most likely get prolonged as the new finance minister will take time to understand, grasp things,” Vaqar Ahmed, the executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad, said before Shaikh’s appointment was announced. Since coming to power in August, Khan’s government has faced a balance-of-payments crisis and a depleted treasury that has thwarted the former cricket legend’s plans to expand social welfare support across the South Asian nation.
However, Islamabad secured a temporary reprieve thanks to loans and funding from friendly countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

#Pakistan #PPP - Ms. Christine Chung called on Chairman PPP

Representative of United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights for South Asia, Ms. Christine Chung called on Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at Zardari House Islamabad and congratulated him for being elected as the Chairman Human Rights Committee of National Assembly.
Senator Farhatullah Babar, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, and Ms. Malaika Raza were also present at the meeting. During this meeting Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said PPP has always raised its voice for human rights. He said that he has always supported human rights and will continue to do so.