Friday, May 24, 2019

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'What they did to me was so horrific': brutal silencing of a Saudi feminist

Ruth Michaelson
To the outside world, Loujain al-Hathloul is regarded as one of the most influential women on the planet – but in her own country, she is seen as a threat who must be stopped.
 Loujain al-Hathloul always likes to ask questions, her brother Walid says. “Growing up, she always pointed out the hypocrisy around driving in Saudi Arabia, trying to understand why women were banned from driving. She kept questioning.”

But when Hathloul, now 29, was pulled over while driving in neighbouring United Arab Emirates last April before being deported back to Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s rulers began the latest in a series of increasingly brutal efforts to silence her.
Hathloul says she was detained for three days, freed and then seized again from her family home in Riyadh. She says she was blindfolded, thrown into the boot of a car and taken to a detention centre she has called a “palace of terror” and has been tortured, and threatened with rape and death. Hathloul has now been held for more than a year.
Hathloul was arrested with 10 other women in a sweep targeting outspoken women who had campaigned for the right to drive. The arrests included veteran campaigners like Aziza al-Yousef and blogger Eman al-Nafjan. It marked a crescendo in what human rights groups have branded Saudi’s “year of shame”. Clerics, activists, journalists and writers have been targeted.

Eleven women were put on trial for “coordinated activity to undermine the security, stability and social peace of the kingdom” amid accusations of contact with foreign diplomats and journalists. Seven were bailed earlier this year, but Hathloul’s brother says the family do not expect the same for her. Observers say Hathloul has received particularly poor treatment in prison because of her role as a leading feminist campaigner, her activism seen as a slap in the face to the kingdom’s narrative that change for women should come from the top. As the trial drags on, no one is clear just how long her imprisonment could be.

Amnesty International mark International Women’s Day with a protest outside the Saudi embassy in Paris urging the release of jailed women’s rights activists
 Amnesty International mark International Women’s Day with a protest outside the Saudi embassy in Paris urging the release of jailed activists. Photograph: Benoît Tessier/Reuters

Hathloul remains more concerned about the fate of women outside the prison walls than herself, said her brother.
“Even when she was in jail, although she didn’t witness women being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, she kept asking me how women there were feeling, whether they were enjoying their right to drive,” Walid said. “She was thinking about them even though she was in jail, and it wasn’t a time to think about others.
“She never gives up. She believes in fundamental rights. She’s there to think about other people. That’s who she is as a person, she cares about others more than she cares about herself.”
Rauza Khan, a friend since they met at Vancover’s University of British Columbia, said Hathloul was “always an outspoken person with this intoxicating laugh that makes heads turn. She would always be very confident, very knowledgeable. She never feared to speak her mind. It was always mesmerising to be friends with someone like that.”
Urooba Jamal, who along with Khan has campaigned as part of the group “Friends of Loujain,” to push for her release, tweeted a photo of her from 2012 at a UBC event. “Characteristically, she is in the centre,” she wrote.
Khan said Hathloul would drive everywhere she could while in Canada, often offering rides to friends. “For everyone [else] I suppose this is a basic necessity, but I guess coming from Saudi, it was a kind of luxury to be able to drive,” she said.
Hathloul continued to grow her online presence, cementing her reputation as a critic of the restrictive rules around male guardianship, which prohibit women from travelling or undertaking other independent activities without male permission. “As much as she’s an outspoken, modern woman, she’s also very patriotic. You would never hear her bashing her culture or government in any way,” said Khan. “Saudi and its culture was a part of her. The only thing she wanted were basically minor improvements that would lead them into the modern world.”
Walid said his sister would never be content to campaign for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia from afar.
Hathloul first made headlines in 2013, when her father recorded a video of her driving from the airport to their house as part of the “Women to Drive” movement, a campaign that prompted a police crackdown. A year later, while living in the UAE, she was detained after driving her car to the Saudi border. She spent 73 days behind bars, an experience she later described as “enriching”.
Dosari said she was immediately impressed by Hathloul when they met at a conference in the US. “I felt this was someone to be supported as an icon and an agent of change,” she said. “For me, I felt she is an amazing example of someone privileged, with all the potential to live a very prosperous life, but one willing to take a risk for people.”
Dosari, who repeatedly referred to Hathloul as an “icon”, said she has sparked fear from the ruling powers because “she has a voice not empowered by the state”.
The Hathloul family now await Loujain’s regular phone call every Sunday to know that she is surviving what has become solitary confinement, after her cellmates were bailed. Her supporters fear that she may have been subject to torture once more, but that she won’t worry her family.
“Because she’s been traumatised and isn’t thinking properly, she said: ‘Because they damaged my reputation, it’s better for me to stay in jail as what they did to me was so horrific,’” said Walid. But his sister’s reputation is anything but damaged. Along with Eman al-Nafjan and Nouf Abdulaziz, she was awarded the PEN America/Barbey freedom to write award in March this year. In April, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential figures of 2019.
Hathloul’s growing international reputation as an inspirational feminist has fulfilled an ambition of her mother’s. Khan recounted how her friend told her about her mother seeing a magazine with a woman on the cover. She was presented as a smart and confident business woman, and it made an impact.
“She said that she gathered [Loujain] and her sisters, and told them she wanted them to be like that woman in the magazine. To know what they were doing, to have a clear path. She told them not to be afraid to take charge, and do whatever it takes to achieve results,” she said.

‘Nothing Has Been Done’: #Khashoggi’s Fiancée Urges Action Against Saudi Arabia

By Catie Edmondson

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancée of the slain columnist Jamal Khashoggi, implored lawmakers in wrenching testimony on Thursday to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for his death.
Mr. Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who lived in Virginia and wrote for The Washington Post, disappeared in October after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents needed for his impending marriage to Ms. Cengiz. Turkish intelligence later concluded that Saudi agents quickly strangled Mr. Khashoggi and dismembered his body with a bone saw.
“In the early days, President Trump said it would be solved. Ms. Pelosi said how unacceptable it was,” Ms. Cengiz, 37, an Istanbul-based graduate student, said through a translator. “Seven or eight months later, we see that nothing has been done.”
Ms. Cengiz’s testimony before a House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee was part of a broader hearing to explore the dangers of reporting on human rights. It underscored the continuing outrage of lawmakers, not only at the killing but also at the White House’s unflagging support of Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Speaking sometimes breathlessly and with tightly clasped hands, Ms. Cengiz testified that she had nightmares every night “thinking of Jamal’s suffering,” and she chronicled how their dream of building a life together was cut short. “This was my destiny,” she said, “to stand beside him in his life and his work, and for him to stand behind me in mine.”
“If Jamal’s murder passes with impunity, then me speaking here today puts me in danger,” Ms. Cengiz said. “It places everyone who shares these universal values in danger.”
Mr. Khashoggi’s killing unleashed a bipartisan furor on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers calling for action. “I fully realize we have to deal with bad actors and imperfect situations on the international stage,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a longtime proponent of the United States’ alliance with the kingdom. “However, when we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset.”
But the White House remained cool to the killing. While the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis accused of being involved, President Trump issued an equivocal statement about Mr. Khashoggi’s death, ignoring the C.I.A.’s conclusion that the crown prince was directly responsible.
“We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” the president said in an extraordinary official statement in November. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Lawmakers were further enraged when the White House defied a legal deadline to provide Congress with a report determining whether the crown prince was personally responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death.
In a rare invocation of the War Powers Act, Congress passed a bipartisan resolution that would have forced an end to American military involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, sending Mr. Trump a pointed rebuke over his continued defense of the kingdom. But the president vetoed the resolution in April, and supporters could not muster the votes to override it.
This year, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, introduced legislation that would impose sanctions on those responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death and prohibit some arms sales to Saudi Arabia. That legislation has yet to be taken up by the committee’s chairman, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, a Trump loyalist.
At Thursday’s hearing, however, lawmakers again vowed to hold the kingdom accountable.
“There is a time now to draw a bright line in the sand,” said Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, upbraiding the kingdom’s “arrogance” as Ms. Cengiz nodded in agreement.
Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said Thursday that until those responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death are brought to justice, “journalists around the world, particularly those covering human rights, will continue to work in an environment of uncertainty and vulnerability.”
But he cautioned that Mr. Khashoggi’s death was part of a larger trend of threats facing reporters around the world, with at least 54 journalists killed last year — an 88 percent jump from 2017.
“Murder,” Mr. Simon said, “is the ultimate form of censorship.”

Trump declares emergency to expedite arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

By Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne
The Trump administration has declared an emergency to bypass Congress and expedite billions of dollars in arms sales to various countries -- including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- citing the need to deter what it called "the malign influence" of Iran throughout the Middle East.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally told lawmakers Friday of the administration's plans.
"These sales will support our allies, enhance Middle East stability, and help these nations to deter and defend themselves from the Islamic Republic of Iran," Pompeo said in a statement that put the value of the sales at $8.1 billion.In a Friday letter to congressional lawmakers, Pompeo said that he "determined that an emergency exists, which requires the immediate sale of the defense articles and defense services" to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan "in order to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran throughout the Middle East region," according to a copy obtained by CNN.The notification comes on the same day as President Donald Trump's announcement that he is sending an additional 1,500 US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran. Pompeo noted in his statement that "today's action will quickly augment our partners' capacity to provide for their own self-defense and reinforce recent changes to US posture in the region to deter Iran." Overall, the State Department listed more than 20 proposed sales, according to a congressional source.
CNN reported earlier Friday that the Trump administration was planning to announce its decision to use a pre-existing rule that would allow it to expedite arms sales to allies in the Middle East. The move drew bipartisan condemnation, with lawmakers decrying the precedent it sets, questioning the administration's claims of an emergency and raising the issue of Saudi Arabia's human rights record and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.Pompeo directly addressed lawmakers' unhappiness in his statement, saying, "I intend for this determination to be a one-time event." He noted that the provision has been used by at least four previous administrations since 1979, and said "this specific measure does not alter our long-standing arms transfer review process with Congress." But he cast blame at Congress as well.
'Congressional delay'
"Delaying this shipment could cause degraded systems and a lack of necessary parts and maintenance that could create severe airworthiness and interoperability concerns for our key partners, during a time of increasing regional volatility," Pompeo said. "These national security concerns have been exacerbated by many months of Congressional delay in addressing these critical requirements, and have called into doubt our reliability as a provider of defense capabilities, opening opportunities for U.S. adversaries to exploit." A US official tells CNN that the arms packages for UAE and Saudi Arabia will include surveillance aircraft and maintenance, as well as training programs, advanced precision kill weapon guidance systems and Javelin missiles. "The Trump Administration formally informed Congress that it is invoking an obscure provision of the Arms Export Control Act to eliminate the statutorily-required Congressional review of the sales of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others, but failed to explain its legal or practical basis for doing so," New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.
'Disappointed, but not surprised'
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia," he added. The committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Jim Risch, told CNN that he has "received formal notification of the administration's intent to move forward with a number of arms sales" and is reviewing the legal justification for this action.Section 36 of the Arms Control Act allows the White House to forgo the traditional 30-day congressional notification period for arms sales of the President declares an emergency, thereby preventing Congress from being able to put a hold on any arms deals.
"President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale," Murphy said in a statement. "There is no new 'emergency' reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there. This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.""We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests. If we don't stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to," Murphy added.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Trump's decision to sell arms outside the standard review process "is unacceptable" and that Khashoggi's murder changed her view of Riyadh."My whole view of Saudi Arabia changed with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi," Feinstein said."I will not support another Saudi arms sale, and I urge all of my Senate colleagues to stand up for congressional prerogative and block the President's end-run around the law."

اسپتالوں کے ٹیک اوور کا نوٹیفکیشن واپس لیا جائے، وزیراعلیٰ سندھ

وزیراعلیٰ سندھ سید مراد علی شاہ نے کہا ہے کہ وفاقی حکومت کی جانب سے
سندھ کی تین صحت کی سہولیات جے پی ایم سی، این آئی سی وی ڈی اور این آئی سی ایچ کو ٹیک اوور کرنے کے حوالے سے جاری کردہ نوٹیفکیشن کے باعث غیر یقینی صورتحال پیدا ہوگئی ہے، لہٰذا ان اداروں میں فراہم کی جانے والی صحت کی خدمات کے وسیع تر مفاد میں نوٹیفکیشن واپس لیا جائے۔
انہوں نے یہ بات جمعہ کو وزیر اعلیٰ ہاؤس میں ایک اجلااس کی صدارت کرتے ہوئے کہی۔
اجلاس میں صوبائی وزیر صحت ڈاکٹرعذرا پیچوہو ، وزیراعلیٰ سندھ کے مشیر مرتضیٰ وہاب، چیف سیکریٹری ممتاز شاہ، وزیراعلیٰ سندھ کے پرنسپل سیکریٹری ساجد جمال ابڑو، سیکریٹری فنانس نجم شاہ، اسپیشل سیکریٹری ہیلتھ اصغر میمن، ایگزیکٹیو ڈائریکٹر این آئی سی وی ڈی ڈاکٹر ندیم قمر، ایگزیکٹیو ڈائریکٹر جے پی ایم سی سیمی جمالی، ڈائریکٹر این آئی سی ایچ ڈاکٹر جمال رضا، اسپیشل سیکریٹری ہیلتھ ڈاکٹردبیر اور دیگر متعلقہ افسران نے شرکت کی۔
وزیراعلیٰ سندھ نے کہا کہ نیشنل ہیلتھ سروسزکی وزرات کو چاہیے تھا کہ وہ صوبائی حکومت کے ساتھ سپریم کورٹ کی ہدایات کی روشنی میں طریقے کار وضع کرنے کے لیے تیاری کرنے کے حوالے سے اجلاس منعقد کرتی مگر افسوس کے ساتھ کہنا پڑ رہا ہے کہ ایسا کوئی بھی اجلاس منعقد نہیں کیاگیا۔
انہوں نے کہا کہ میں حیران ہوں کہ صحت کی سہولیات واپس لینے کے حوالے سے اسپتالوں کی انتظامیہ کو کسی بھی قسم کی کوئی اطلاع نہیں دی گئی۔
مراد علی شاہ نے کہا کہ صوبائی حکومت نے سپریم کورٹ میں نظر ثانی کی پٹیشن دائر کی ہے اور وفاقی حکومت کو چاہیے کہ وہ عدالت کے حتمی فیصلے تک انتظا ر کرے، مگر انہوں (وفاقی حکومت) نے غیر متوقع طورپر نوٹیفکیشن جاری کرکے غیر یقینی صورتحال پیدا کردی ہے۔
وزیراعلیٰ سندھ نے ایڈووکیٹ جنرل سندھ کو ہدایت کی کہ وہ سپریم کورٹ میں نظر ثانی کی پٹیشن کی سماعت کے لیے ارجنٹ درخواست دا ئر کریں۔
انہوں نے کہا کہ ان تینوں اداروں میں ہمارے مختلف اہم منصوبے جاری ہیں اور دیگر مختلف پائپ لائن میں ہیں لہٰذا ہم یہ بھی چاہتے ہیں کہ یہ ایشوز حل ہوں تاکہ صوبائی حکومت ان کے مطابق آگے بڑھ سکے۔
مراد علی شاہ نے کہا کہ صوبائی حکومت اپنی سخت محنت ، توجہ اور تندہی سے ان تین صحت کی سہولیات فراہم کرنے والے اداروں جے پی ایم سی، این آئی سی وی ڈی ، اور این آئی سی ایچ کو مثالی ادارے بنانے کا کام شروع کیا اور اس حوالے سے ان میں توسیع کرنے کے لیےبجٹ بھی مختص کیے تھے۔
انہوں نے کہا کہ صوبائی حکومت نےصوبے کے مختلف اضلاع میں این آئی سی وی ڈی کے 8 سیٹلائٹ مراکز بھی قائم کیے ہیں ۔این آئی سی ایچ کے سیٹلائٹ بھی دیگر اضلاع میں قائم کرنے کی منصوبہ بندی کی ہے اور جے پی ایم سی ایمرجنسی اور سائبر نائف پروجیکٹ بھی شروع ہونے والے ہیں۔
وزیراعلیٰ نے کہا کہ ہم محسوس کرتے ہیں کہ صوبائی حکومت ان تین اداروں کو بہتر طریقے سے چلا سکتی ہے کیونکہ ہم ان کے بہت قریب ہیں لہٰذا صوبائی حکومت کو ان اداروں کو مزیدترقی دینے کے لیے اس کےانتظامی کنٹرول میں رہنے کی اجازت دی جانی چاہیے۔

Ten-year-old girl raped and murdered in ‘increasingly brutal’ Pakistan

The murder of a 10-year-old Pakistani girl who was allegedly raped has sparked public outrage in the country, with police under fire for inaction and authorities accused of failing to protect children.
Farishta Mohmand's body was found in woodlands near her home in the capital Islamabad, five days after her father first raised the alarm.
Gul Nabi reported her disappearance the night she went missing, but police said officers waited four days to file a missing person's report.
Farishta Mohmand, 10, went missing on 16 May and her body was found on 20 May.
Farishta Mohmand, 10, went missing on 16 May and her body was found on 20 May. (EPA/AAP)
Mr Nabi said that when he made his report, police said she had likely run away with someone.
His daughter's body showed signs of rape and torture, Mr Nabi told CNN.
"The body was in bad condition, it felt as if someone had thrown acid on her," he said.

Farishta's death has become a lightning rod in a country where there is widespread violence against children and women.
Many have seized on the delay in police action as proof of institutionalized gender discrimination.
Earlier this week, the hashtags #FarishtaMohmand and #JusticeForFarishta became top trending terms on Pakistani Twitter, with many users calling for the resignation of the police responsible for handling the case.
With anger continuing to build, on Tuesday Interior Minister Ejaz Shah ordered an inquiry into the case.
Islamabad's inspector-general of police suspended the station house officer in Shahzad Town, a district of Islamabad where Farishta's father reported her missing.
By Tuesday evening, police said they had arrested three suspects, including a 14-year-old relative who is the main suspect.
Members of a civil society group, Volunteer Force Pakistan, hold a demonstration to condemn the rape and killing of Farishta Monmand, whose case triggered widespread condemnation and outrage, including on social media.
Members of a civil society group, Volunteer Force Pakistan, hold a demonstration to condemn the rape and killing of Farishta Monmand, whose case triggered widespread condemnation and outrage, including on social media. (AP/AAP)
Increasingly brutal society
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the latest case bore a "chilling resemblance" to the 2018 killing of seven-year-old Zainab Ansari, whose body was found dumped on a garbage pile in the eastern province of Punjab.
Following Zainab's death, protesters took to the streets complaining that authorities were failing to keep their children safe after a series of similar killings.
A man called Imran Ali was arrested over her death, and hanged last October after being found guilty of murder, rape, abduction and sodomy of a minor.
Rights commission chairperson Mehdi Hasan said Farishta's death suggested Pakistan was becoming "an increasingly brutal society in which children are abused and discarded at whim."
"It is critical that stronger, more vigilant mechanisms be enforced to protect young children -- and young girls in particular -- who are among the most vulnerable members of our society," Hasan said.
"No society can afford to be this callous where its children are concerned."
People rally to protest against the murder and alleged rape of a 10-year-old girl, Farishta, in Islamabad, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 21 May 2019.
People rally to protest against the murder and alleged rape of a 10-year-old girl, Farishta, in Islamabad, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 21 May 2019. (EPA/AAP)
Rise in child abuse reports
Reports of child abuse in Pakistan are on the rise.
Over 3,830 cases of child abuse were reported in newspapers in 2018, an increase of 11 per cent on the year before, according to a Pakistan NGO called Sahil that campaigns against child sexual abuse.
Some 55 per cent of the victims were girls.
The most common reported crimes against children were abduction, sodomy and rape.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in its annual report that the country had failed to protect children, "with nearly all their fundamental rights and freedoms infringed on or put at serious risk of violation."
Very few victims of physical or sexual violence received protection, counselling or legal services.
Mumtaz Gohar, lead coordinator for a group called Child Right's Movement Pakistan, said Farishta's death was one of the rare cases that trended on social media. Most never got public attention.

Driven out of Mideast, ISIS sets up shop in India, Pakistan

Kaswar Klasra
Amaq news agency says Pakistan stronghold already caused casualties among Indian soldiers in Kashmir; India police also confirm presence of ISIS fighters in contested border area.
The Islamic State is creating a presence in South Asia after recent defeats in Iraq and Syria, where it ruled thousands of square miles of territory.
Considered a terrorist group by the Western world, ISIS announced the formation of bases in nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, two arch-rivals that fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
According to the ISIS-affiliated Amaq News Agency, the terror organization on May 11 officially proclaimed the existence of “Waliyah of Hind,” or India Province. Shortly afterward, on May 15, ISIS said it had established an additional stronghold called “Wilayah Pakistan.” Amaq claimed that Wilayah Pakistan had already inflicted casualties on Indian army soldiers in the village of Amshipora in the Shopian district of India-administered Kashmir. Indian police confirmed the presence of ISIS fighters in the contested area and noted that security forces recently killed Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi, an alleged ISIS operative in the region.According to local media reports, Sofi had been associated for more than a decade with several armed groups in Kashmir before joining Islamic State.The establishment of Wilayah Pakistan sent shock waves through local law enforcement agencies, and on May 16, Islamabad’s security forces raided suspected terrorist locales in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.
The forces killed nine ISIS members during a three-hour long operation, a spokesperson for the chief of the Baluchistan police told the Media Line. Four Pakistanis wounded during the assault were rushed to a hospital.
Though this was the first direct face-off between Pakistani forces and ISIS, the latter has been carrying out attacks in Pakistan for years. As far back as February 2016, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau had warned the government that ISIS was emerging as a threat. Concern over the extent of ISIS’s power resurfaced a year later following a suicide bombing at the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar – located in Pakistan’s historic city of Sehwan – which killed scores of people and injured some 300 others.
A recent UN Security Council counter-terrorism report revealed that ISIS has been using Pakistan-based organizations such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar to carry out terror attacks on its behalf.Analysts believe that ISIS is desperate to establish new strongholds, including in Afghanistan, where it has repeatedly clashed with the Taliban.
“ISIS has been looking for new ventures after it was defeated in Iraq and Syria. Even in Afghanistan, things are not in ISIS’s favor,” says Rashid Hussain, a Rawalpindi-based security expert.“It is now trying its luck in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, where it already has been outsourcing attacks.”Alarmed by ISIS’s growing influence in the region, Pakistan and Russia are working together to curb the group’s activities. “Since ISIS has challenged both nations… Islamabad and Moscow are working together to counter the group,” a senior official in Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Department told The Media Line on condition of anonymity.The official said the two countries have been cooperating since 2016, adding that a “major shift in Russia’s policy… (came) after it expressed concerns about the possibility of Afghanistan turning into a refuge for Islamic State militants fleeing from Iraq and Syria. This is why it has extended (assistance) to Pakistan and the Taliban.”
A source from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Moscow was committed to denying ISIS a sanctuary in Afghanistan, especially if and when international forces are sent home. In Sri Lanka, ISIS claimed responsibility for last month’s series of Easter Sunday bombings in the capital Colombo that killed 290 people and wounded 500 others.,7340,L-5513748,00.html

#Pakistan: Ethnic Backlash In #Balochistan – Analysis

By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Unidentified militants opened indiscriminate fire on labourers working in an agriculture field in the Manjho Shori area of Naseerabad District in Balochistan on May 15, 2019, killing three of them and injuring one. The deceased had come from Tando Adam area of the Nawab Shah District in Sindh, and were daily-wage labourers. The attackers managed to escape. Though no group has so far claimed responsibility for the killing, Baloch insurgent groups have a history of killing non-Baloch labourers.
In the intervening night of April 17 and 18, 2019, unidentified assailants shot dead at least 14 passengers after forcibly offloading them from a bus plying on the Makran Coastal Highway in the Ormara area of Gwadar District. Reports indicate that around 15 to 20 armed assailants wearing Security Forces’ (SF) uniforms stopped five or six buses travelling between Karachi (Sindh) and Gwadar (Balochistan), checked the identity cards of passengers, and offloaded 16 of the passengers from just one bus. Two of the offloaded passengers managed to escape despite sustaining injuries. Balochistan Inspector General of Police Mohsin Hassan Butt described the incident as a “targeted killing”. Baloch Raji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS, Baloch National Freedom Front) claimed responsibility for the killing.
On March 24, 2019, Police recovered three bullet-riddled bodies in the Zadin area under Rakhni tehsil(revenue unit) in Barkhan District. All the three deceased were residents of the Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). No group claimed responsibility for the killings.
According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 229 ‘outsiders’ have been killed in Balochistan since the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, leader of the Bugti tribe and President of the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), on August 26, 2006, (data till May 19, 2019). Bugti was killed in a military operation in the Chalgri area of the Bhamboor Hills in Dera Bugti District.
Baloch insurgents have essentially targeted people from other provinces. However, out of the 229 ‘outsiders’ killed, at least 178 were Punjabis alone. Eight Punjabis were killed in 2018; 23 in 2017. There were no such fatalities among Punjabis in 2016. The number of Punjabi fatalities in the Province stood at 22 in 2015; 17 in 2014; 29 in 2013; 26 in 2012; 13 in 2011; 21 in 2010; 18 in 2009; and one in 2008. No such fatalities were recorded in 2007 and 2006. While Punjabis have been the main targets, other non-native persons also fell to the ethnic collateral damage. Out of 51 non-Punjabi ‘outsiders’, 33 were Sindhis, while the ethnic identity of the remaining 18 is unascertained.
A series of attacks on ‘outsiders’ in Balochistan, as well as the destruction of national infrastructure followed the killing of Akbar Bugti. These killings have been orchestrated by Baloch insurgent groups such as the BLA, Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), among others, who began to voice anti-Punjabi sentiments in their campaigns in the wake of the military action against Bugti. A media report published on June 28, 2011, noted, “Almost all non-Baloch are on their hit-list.” Muhammad Khalid of Balochistan-Punjabi Ittehad stated, “The militants began to target the Punjabi settlers after Nawab Bugti was taken out by the military (in August, 2006). Before that there were occasional incidents in which Punjabis were targeted.”
Significantly, most of the Punjabi settler killings were recorded in South Balochistan, which accounts for 156 killings out of the total of 178, (principally in Bolan, Kech, Gwadar, Panjgur, Khuzdar, Sibi and Lasbela Districts); and 27 in North Balochistan (mostly in Nushki, Quetta and Mustang Districts). The overwhelming concentration of such killings in the South is because of the presence and dominance of Baloch insurgent groups in this region, while the North is dominated by Islamist extremist formations such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who engage principally in sectarian killings.
Forced disappearances engineered by Pakistani SFs are another reason behind the targeted killings of non-Baloch persons in the region. According to partial data compiled by the SATP, of the 4,317 civilian fatalities recorded in Balochistan since 2004 (data till May 19, 2019), at least 1,378 have been attributable to one or other terrorist/insurgent outfit. Of these, 435 civilian killings (263 in the South and 172 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations, while Islamist and sectarian extremist formations – primarily Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), TTP and Ahrar-ul-Hind (Liberators of India) – claimed responsibility for another 943 civilian killings, 860 in the North (mostly in and around Quetta) and 83 in the South. The remaining 2,939 civilian fatalities – 1,708 in the South and 1,231 in the North – remain ‘unattributed’. It is widely believed that Security Agencies are busy with “kill and dump” operations, particularly in the Southern region, against local Baloch dissidents, a reality that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has clearly recognized.
Irked, by such killings the Baloch insurgent groups target non-Baloch people or even some Baloch whom they suspect to be spying for the SFs. At least two labourers (ethnicity not known) were killed when unidentified militants opened fire on a coal mine in the Khosat area of Harnai District on May 9, 2019. After the incident, Frontier Corps (FC) personnel rushed to the spot and a vehicle carrying the FC personnel hit a landmine, resulting in three FC fatalities. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack in an emailed statement from Jeehand Baloch, a BLA spokesperson: “We want to make it clear to the local spies and death squad groups of Pakistan Army that they will not be forgiven for their crimes.”
‘Outsiders’ are also targeted as the Baloch groups believe that they are helping Islamabad push forward its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. The Project according to Baloch nationalists, brings no benefit to the Baloch, but constitutes just another tool for their exploitation. Not surprisingly, since its inception in Pakistan on April 20, 2015, CPEC has been under attack from Baloch insurgents. According to official figures 44 people had died and over 100 wounded in “attacks targeting CPEC projects mainly road construction in Balochistan, which began in 2014” till September 8, 2016. Since September 9, 2016, according to partial data compiled by SATP, at least another 31 persons have been killed in attacks targeting CPEC-related projects across the Province (data till May 19, 2019), including the most recent attack on May 11, 2019, in which four terrorists stormed the luxury Zaver Pearl-Continental Hotel, in Gwadar in Balochistan. The Hotel had around 70 guests at the time, including 40 Chinese nationals. Nine persons, including four hotel employees, one Pakistan Navy soldier and all four attackers, were killed during the eight-hour long siege.
Amidst all this, overall fatalities in the province are on the rise. Between January 1 and May 19, 2019, a total of 127 fatalities (58 civilians, 39 SF personnel, and 30 terrorists) have been recorded. During the corresponding period of 2018, the number of fatalities stood at 108 (39 civilians, 39 SF personnel, and 30 terrorists). Through 2018, there were a total of 381 fatalities (239 civilians, 79 SF personnel, and 63 terrorists). There were 343 total fatalities in 2017. Fatalities had registered declining trends between 2014 and 2017. 
Baloch insurgents have been fighting continuously against Islamabad’s coercion for more than a decade – and, indeed, intermittently for over seven decades – demanding independence for the ethnic Baloch areas of the country. They argue that the Province has been neglected by the Pakistani state and exploited for its mineral resources, and that the ‘outsiders’ that are being targeted by the insurgents are agents of Islamabad. Islamabad has done little to alleviate conditions in Balochistan, or to address the grievances of its people.

Lights out: ‘Circular debt’ cripples Pakistan’s power sector


Pakistani craftsmen work by candle light during a power outageDespite more than adequate electricity generating capacity, many Pakistanis still face blackouts.
Ashiq Mahmood sits at his desk in his marble wholesale showroom, feeling the temperature rise, wondering when the blackouts will come.
"Everything comes to a standstill when the load shedding starts," he says, referring to power outages that have plagued Pakistan for years, crippling industries and small businesses such as his.
The power cuts are not, as has been the case in the past, due to a lack of generation capacity. Instead, they're the result of a vicious cycle of unpaid debts of more than $10 billion and breakdowns in critical transmission and other infrastructure. The issue is another headache for the government, which is struggling with a large fiscal deficit and slowing economy.
Mahmood's marble manufacturing and retail business earns him and his family about 1 million Pakistani rupees ($6,600) a month, but as demand for electricity grows in Pakistan's searing summer heat, electricity outages mean he can hardly ever run at full capacity.
"If I'm not able to deliver an order on time [due to outages], then the customers just aren't going to come back, are they?" he says.
Last year, when power cuts lasted more than six hours a day in the main I-9 industrial area of Pakistan's capital Islamabad, Mahmood says sales dropped by at least 50 percent.

Enough power for the people?

Today, Pakistan's 207 million people and its industries need 15,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity generation capacity, according to power ministry data.
That number will increase as demand rises in the peak summer months. But the ministry says that demand could easily be met using the country's installed generation capacity of roughly 20,000MW from plants running on coal, oil, gas, hydroelectric and nuclear power.
But users across the country still experience a shortfall of roughly 2,000MW, the ministry says, resulting in outages of up to eight hours a day in some areas.
That is because, while the capacity to generate the required electricity exists, there is no money to pay for it, officials told Al Jazeera.
"As of today, we don't have any issue with availability of supply," said Nadeem Babar, head of the Prime Minister's Task Force on Energy Reforms. "Our issues are transmission and distribution constraints, and the high [revenue] losses in certain areas."
At the heart of the problem is a phenomenon referred to in Pakistan as 'circular debt' – a cascade of unpaid bills and government subsidies, coupled with transmission line losses.
A major component of this debt, according to a 2018 World Bank report, is unpaid subsidies from the government to power distributing companies, compensating them for the below-market tariffs these firms have to charge consumers.
As a result, distributors are often unable to pay power producers, who then find it difficult to pay for fuel and are forced to keep plants idle.
Many users do not pay their bills because they do not get the electricity they need, making it harder for distribution companies to upgrade their ageing transmission lines, leading to even more losses. Pakistan's power regulator says more than a quarter of the power generated never reaches consumers.
Smaller parts of the debt are composed of discrepancies between the government-notified tariff and market rates caused by delays in government adjustments to the tariff and fluctuating international fuel prices.
The end result: hours of load shedding. And as of April 10, Pakistan's circular debt in the power sector stood at roughly $10.6 billion, Babar told Al Jazeera. That number is increasing by $6.4 million every day, he said.
The government is having to deal with the power sector's debts while struggling under the weight of a spiralling fiscal deficit amounting to five percent of the size of the economy, according to central bank data, and slowing growth.
On Monday, the country's central bank raised interest rates by 1.5 percentage points to 12.25 percent, citing underlying inflationary pressures, and elevated fiscal and current account deficits.

Multiple fronts

The government is planning a multi-pronged approach to tackle its power issues.
First, it wants to raise tariffs so that they are closer to market rates.
"We have to change our tariffs to at least recover the costs," said Babar. "It is clear that customers should not be paying for theft of others … or inefficiencies of the system. But it is equally clear that customers should be paying for the cost of delivery of services."
Babar foresees an increase in power tariffs by at least 2 Pakistani rupees ($0.01) per unit (a 100 percent rise for the lowest consumer tariff, and 15 percent of the average tariff) over the next 18 months. But the government is still likely to maintain some subsidies.
The government will also be working on reducing transmission and distribution losses – long cited as a structural obstacle by analysts – in order to stem the financial losses in the sector.
Last fiscal year, losses due to theft or transmission system inefficiency stood at 29 percent of power generated, according to Babar, amounting to roughly 140 billion Pakistani rupees ($990 million) in electricity that was generated but never paid for because it never reached consumers.
The government is targeting these losses through both arrests of those found to be stealing electricity and by attempting to address the infrastructure problems that lead to transmission losses in the first place.
Asad Umar, Pakistan's recently fired finance minister, said the brunt of the immediate push was coming in the form of targeting those who steal electricity.
"This includes filing 21,000 cases [for non-payment of dues], arrests of 13,000 people, and connections being cut," he told Al Jazeera at a media briefing while he was still in office.
In addition, the government is investing in a $100 million pilot project to install 'smart' meters – which would make theft more difficult - in the northern city of Rawalpindi, with a view to expanding the project to cover the entire country. The total cost of the countrywide replacement of meters would stand at roughly $3.5 billion, said Babar.
Transmission line infrastructure overhaul – long a demand of power sector analysts - will be the next step. For an illustration of the extent of the problem on that front, consider this: in June 2018, power ministry data shows that there was a day when the system faced 3,700MW in transmission constraints.
"We had the demand, we had the supply, but we could not move 3,700MW," says Babar.
The government has now identified 19 major transmission constraint issues, and says it will address all of them – including the building of new transmission lines and overhauling old systems and transformers – by January 2020.
Finally, longer term, the government says it will be aiming to reduce the cost of generation of electricity by shifting the fuel mix from the current reliance on imported fuels such as furnace oil, LNG and imported coal towards domestic sources.

Hurting those most in need

This summer, the ministry expects a shortfall of roughly 2,500MW between demand and supply. This will result, Babar says, in load shedding of eight hours in areas where cost recoveries from consumers are below 40 percent.
"Recovery-based load shedding does punish users who are not paying their bills, or those who are outright stealing electricity. But it is also punishing their neighbors who may be paying bills on time and reducing consumption, but are 'stuck' in a high defaulter neighborhood," says Erum Haider, a political scientist at Georgetown University who is studying the sector.Analysts warn that the current system of load shedding disproportionately targets low-income neighbourhoods, and imposes a form of collective punishment, even on those paying their bills.
Haider says that according to data from a survey conducted across Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, individuals are using up to 12 percent of their monthly budget to pay utility bills.
"This seems a relatively high price to keep the lights on so your kids can do their homework, or get a full night's sleep," Haider told Al Jazeera.
For marble seller Mahmood's household, that rings true.
"They shouldn't be doing this injustice with us, when we pay our bills," says Farooq, Mahmood's nephew, who just spent a sleepless night without electricity. "We can't force [others in the neighborhood] to pay their bills, we can only speak to them."