Monday, August 12, 2019

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Central government spokesperson strongly condemns HK rioters' petrol bomb attacks on police

A spokesperson for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council on Monday strongly condemned the acts of a very small number of rioters in Hong Kong who on Sunday hurled petrol bombs at the police, causing injuries.
"We express extreme anger and strong condemnation against such atrocious and reckless acts of severe crime," said spokesperson Yang Guang.
The spokesperson also expressed solicitude for the police injured.
Identifying the police as the backbone of the force safeguarding public security and rule of law in Hong Kong, Yang said for more than two months, Hong Kong police officers have performed their duties with dedication and in accordance with the law, and have shown professionalism and restraint, and made important contributions at the frontline to end violence and chaos.
They have won praise and high esteem from all peace-loving people, including the majority of people in Hong Kong, said Yang.
The radicals, who repeatedly attacked police officers with extremely dangerous tools, showed a tendency of resorting to terrorism, he said, calling it a gross trampling on rule of law and order in Hong Kong, a serious threat to residents' life and safety, and a serious challenge to Hong Kong's prosperity and stability.
Such violent crimes should be cracked down upon in accordance with the law and without mercy, he said, stressing that the central government supports Hong Kong law enforcement and judicial agencies to enforce the law and bring offenders to justice as quickly as possible.
"Hong Kong has stood at a critical point. Here I call on all people who care about the future of Hong Kong to step out and say no to all criminal acts and to all violent attackers," Yang said.
The overriding and most pressing task of Hong Kong at present is to stop violence, end the chaos and restore order, he added.

Hong Kong riots have 'signs of terrorism': official

By Chen Qingqing and Wang Wenwen

Hong Kong police vowed on Monday to push efforts to fight illegal protesters who use more dangerous weapons and endanger the public, with the mobs' violent actions have shown "signs of terrorism."

Following days of guerrilla-style and flash mob protests in the city, central government officials and Hong Kong police have strongly condemned escalating violence across the city, disrupting public order and putting ordinary Hongkongers in danger.  

The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council also said that attacking police officers with dangerous weapons is a crime, which showed signs of terrorism, and such crimes must be dealt with resolutely and in accordance with the law, according to a press briefing on Monday. 

This past weekend, illegal protesters besieged several police stations in various districts, including Kwai Chung, Tsim Sha Tsui, Sham Shui Po, using bricks, stones, steel balls, daggers, hammers and other lethal weapons to attack police offers. They also threw gasoline bombs in Sham Shui Po and Tsim Sha Tsui, injuring police officers. 

"No matter how hard protesters disguise violence, they can't get away with the nature of the violence," Tang Ping-keung, deputy commissioner of police (operations), said at a press conference in the police headquarters on Monday. 

Compared to previous dispersal work, the Hong Kong police acted in a more efficient way, as law enforcement was much faster than before, and police officers, particularly the Special Tactical Squad - an elite paramilitary task force of the Hong Kong Police Force - accurately grasped the information about the movements of black-clad protesters assisted by undercover police tactics. 

"Because they were illegal assemblies, the protesters violated the law. It's right for the police to use undercover tactics. It's like undercover police cracking down on gangsters," Joe Chan Cho-kwong, former chairman of the Junior Police Officers' Association, told the Global Times on Monday. 

The police conducted dispersal work with minimum force, which was also strictly in line with the law, officials said. 

The police have used undercover officers in accordance with the intelligence acquired, a senior police officer said.

"Undercover officers will not trigger any unrest or engage in any unlawful actions," Tang said.

Weapons seized by police from illegal protesters on Sunday, including a dagger and hammer, are shown at the headquarters of the Hong Kong police on Monday. Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT


Signs of terrorism 

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee said the police are trying to carry out actions that cause the minimum degree of injuries, and that only non-lethal weapons have been used.

"That is why they have to use tear gas and that is to maintain a safe distance so that there is no large-scale confrontation, and the amount of force they use are non-lethal weapons," said Lee. 

Lee said there is a particular group of people carrying out serious violent acts, such as throwing petrol bombs. 

"This is sowing the seed of terror, which I think the Police must deal with."

The police also said 149 rioters armed with offensive weapons such as petrol bombs were arrested from Friday to Sunday. And thanks to accurate information, it also arrested some of the core members of recent illegal assemblies.  

Illegal protesters are now using lethal weapons, including explosives, bows and arrows, grenade launchers to shoot projectiles at the police. They even hurled petrol bombs at police officers, causing one police officer's legs seriously burned.

A former police officer, who preferred not to be named, told the Global Times that some protesters were carrying folding military knives. 

Yang Guang, spokesperson of the office, slammed rioters for undermining the city's "rule of law and social order."

A Beijing-based law expert told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that "Violent protests matter to public security from the angle of law, while terrorism touches on national security.

"If the situation spirals to the level of terrorism, the central government has the responsibility to urge the Hong Kong government to secure both public security and national security," the expert said.

The Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong also condemned the violence. 

"Such heinous terrorist actions will never be tolerated in any part of the world. If such actions are allowed to spread, Hong Kong will slide into a bottomless pit," the office said in an official statement issued on Monday. 

At recent illegal assemblies, protesters ignored police warnings and constantly provoked the police through insults, dog barks, and flashing laser pens at police officers. But the police force responded to such illegal activities in a very restrained and professional way. 

Western media and some local press blamed Hong Kong police for using tear gas on Sunday night inside the Kwai Fong station, where another clash between violent protesters and the police occurred. 

The police on Monday defended their actions and confirmed that they only fired one tear gas canister.  

Kong Wing-cheung, senior superintendent at the Police Public Relations Branch, said at the press conference that it was for the sake of public security as the violent protesters used bullet forks and steel balls against the police, which may hurt people inside the subway station as well. 

"We will use tear gas when violence needs to be stopped, and we do so after considering the environment and the people involved," said Mak Chin-ho, assistant commissioner of police (operations).

Op-Ed: Hong Kong is not and shall not be the frontline of US and China

By Curtis Stone 

Hong Kong has been rocked by chaos and violence for weeks and the violence is getting more and more intense. What is going on in Hong Kong? There is already evidence of interference by foreign forces. As Chinese officials have pointed out, the situation in Hong Kong bears the features of a "color revolution."
US politicians have openly supported the unrest and anti-China forces are working behind the scenes. In fact, the US government often uses democracy promotion to attack other countries, and China has always been a major target.
In recent years, there have been warnings that color revolutions are emerging as a new form of warfare employed by the West to destabilize certain countries. According to a Defense News article that was published in 2014, officials at a conference in Moscow accused the US and its allies of engineering revolutions and uprisings in key areas around the world to destabilize governments and replace existing regimes to gain power and resources.
Promoting Western-style democracy has long been a US foreign policy aim. For those who subscribe to this thinking, the best way to guarantee long-term security and prosperity in the Western world is to make the world look and act more like the West. For this reason, there is always funding for democracy promotion in US foreign policy.
US institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy play a key role in this strategy. They fund, train, and equip leaders and groups who serve the American interest. In fact, the congressionally funded NED exists solely to promote Western-style democracy abroad. Last year, for example, NED provided the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs with $200,000 “to facilitate engagement on Hong Kong’s growing threats to guaranteed rights.”
When it comes to color revolutions, failure is the most likely result. To understand the failure of Western-backed efforts to turn people against their governments, look no further than the Arab world. In 2011, the “Arab Spring” opened a door for the US government to spread the long tentacles of Western-style democracy. Seeing an opportunity to expand Western power and influence under the guise of mass protests, the US government expanded efforts to undermine certain Arab governments in the name of democracy.
The unrest that swept the Arab world resulted in increased violence and instability rather than peace and prosperity for the people. In Libya, where the United States led an intervention that resulted in the violent and gruesome overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, a civil war is raging, and the people of Libya are suffering. The truth is, the turmoil caused by color revolutions is long lasting and America’s obsession with fanning the flames of color revolutions simply makes it look nasty in the eyes of the world.
There is plenty of evidence to show that not only are color revolutions ineffective, but there are unintended consequences, as the mess in the Arab world highlights. It would be a disaster to expand this strategy of warfare to the world’s second largest economy with a population of 1.4 billion people.
Some US politicians dream of making China look and act more like the United States. One reason we are seeing increased pressure on China is because those who have tried to change China over the years via other methods have failed and there is growing fear that China is getting too powerful, so the Uncle Sam will never miss any opportunity to undermine China. 
However, Hong Kong is Chinese territory. This means that the city is not and shall not be a playground for anti-China forces. China is no longer a poor and weak country that cannot stand up to foreign interference. The country has enough methods and strength to quickly quell the unrest and smash foreign plots when such actions are deemed necessary to protect national sovereignty and the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.

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Pakistan: Muslim Employers Accused of Raping, Killing Christian Boy for Demanding Salary

A ten-year-old Christian boy in Pakistan was allegedly raped, tortured, and killed by his Muslim employers at a dangerous scrap metal factory for demanding full pay to help support his mother, brother, and drug-addict father, a media outlet reported over the weekend.

The U.S. government has designated Pakistan a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)”  for engaging and tolerating “particularly severe religious freedom violations, meaning those that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious” against Christians and other minorities.
Mohammad Akram and Irfan, nicknamed Kalo, were both arrested in Sarghoda on the 14th July, for the murder of Badil Shahzad, from the village of Rasheedabad in Essa Nagri, Faisalabad.
A post-mortem conducted on the corpse of Badil while at the Allied hospital revealed that he had been subjected to a sustained ferocious attack to the head and had received multiple injuries over his body. Moon has been traumatized following his brother’s death and hasn’t left his house since and often screams in terror thinking the men responsible will take him too.
Badil was pronounced dead on July 11 after he succumbed to injuries sustained the previous day.
Mehwish Bhatti, the national executive for the British Asian Christian Association (BACA), reportedly declared:
Badil lived a life of poverty and has been killed simply for working [too] hard and asking for [a] just reward. His tormentors and exploiters knew he was a Christian and used that to treat Badil as they wanted, but his vulnerability in life will be his strength in heaven, as this church-attending young child always retained his love for Christ gaining him entry to heaven. The evil men who beat this young child must be brought to justice so that they cannot deliver their evil actions on any more innocent children.
Juliet Chowdhry, a BACA trustee, added:
That child labour still exists, is immensely profuse and is so brutal is a blight on the reputation of Pakistan. Employers for decades have exploited young children in Pakistan – none more so than Christian children who are targeted as they live in the most impoverished and isolated communities.
The Pakistani constitution prohibits child labor, but breaches of the law are ignored and penalized lightly in the rare chance of prosecution, the Pakistan Christian Post reported, adding:
Badil, the son of a drug addict Shahzad Masih (42 yrs) took a job working for Mr. Akram at his scrap metal dealership for 100 rupees [63 U.S. cents] a day … to help with his family meet their daily living demands.
Mr. Masih became a burden on the family finances trying to feed his drug habit as the boys’ mother, Sharifa Bibi (40 yrs) was working as a maid earning only 3500 Pak rupees ($22) per month.
Two days before his death, the boy came home later than usual with only half of his wage, infuriating his mother who scolded the child and allegedly urged him to quit his job and focus on his education instead.
The boy’s brother reportedly witnessed the factory’s Muslim employers attack Badil on July 10 but did not intervene out of fear for his safety.
Moon, the victim’s brother, reportedly told BACA:
They took Badil inside the store which is full of scrap. For half an hour I was completely unaware of what was happening with Badil inside. Eventually both men came outside and pretended as if nothing had happened inside.I thought my brother had also left the store from another exit so I went to look for him. I searched vigorously for 15 minutes and then saw my mother, so I rushed to her to tell her what had happened.
The mother reportedly found her son unconscious and barely alive.
In its annual report issued in June, USCIRF urged the State Department to re-designate Pakistan as a country of particular concern, arguing, “Extremist groups and societal actors continued to discriminate against and attack religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims.”
“The government of Pakistan failed to adequately protect these groups, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations,” it added.

Boys With Brides: Afghanistan's Untold Dilemma Of Underage Marriages

Mohammad Wali was just 12 years old when his widowed mother began arranging his marriage to a 24-year-old woman from their village in Ghazni Province.
"I don't want to be married," the young Afghan boy is said to have pleaded with his mother. "I just want to play soccer and cricket. I want to go to school."
But his mother insisted on the marriage to ensure that she and Mohammad Wali's two teenage sisters would not become street beggars -- a possibility she feared because of local inheritance customs for widows who don't have any male heir.
"Your father is dead and you are my only son," she explained to him. "If you are killed or something happens to you, all of our property will be divided up by your uncles. Your sisters will get nothing."
"You must get married," she is said to have begged her son. "You must marry soon and you must have a son of your own or we could become destitute, without any property, and your sisters will have no say about anything that happens to them."
Reluctantly, after his mother also promised he could marry a second wife of his own choosing when he was older, young Mohammad agreed to the wedding -- consent required from him for the marriage to be valid under Islamic law.
The impoverished family scrimped and saved to gather the double dowry the bride's father demanded to marry off his daughter to a boy who was too young to support his own family.
Mohammad Wali was married on December 8, 2017, at the age of 13. Within a year, the couple's first child was born -- but to the disappointment of Wali's mother, it was a baby girl.
Now, shortly after turning 15 and finishing his 10th-grade exams, Wali is expecting his 27-year-old wife to give birth to their first son in October.
His mother is ecstatic.
What About The Boys?
Farzan Hussaini, UNICEF's child-protection chief for western Afghanistan, says there is no accurate data on how many boys across the country marry before they reach 18. He says that's because research and public debate about underage marriage in Afghanistan has focused almost exclusively on the plight of child brides.
"It is a fact that it is underreported," Hussaini says about Afghan boys with brides. "The research that has been conducted does not highlight the situation for boys. This is now a point for us that we definitely will consider as we design future studies on child marriage."
UNICEF's available data suggests at least 15 percent of all Afghan girls are married off by their families before they are 16. About one-third of all Afghan girls are married by the time they turn 18 -- the legal definition of a child under the Child Protection Act signed into law by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in March.
It's a situation that undermines girls' participation in decision making, their educational opportunities, and their employment prospects -- leaving them vulnerable to health risks and the threat of domestic violence.
Hussaini says there is no doubt that underage Afghan brides are more common than child grooms. But in a country where 42 percent of surveyed households have at least one family member who was married before the age of 18, he says the plight of Afghan child grooms remains a painful and largely untold story.
Afghan boys in rural areas are often impelled to marry because of long-held local or tribal traditions -- customs on the inheritance rights of widows, the settlement of blood feuds, or prearranged agreements between families to exchange their children for marriage.
Poverty and the displacement of families in war-ravaged regions contribute to the dilemma, Hussaini says.
UNICEF's latest research on the issue, a 2018 study funded by the UN child-protection agency, found that many Afghans have a "deeply economic and transactional view of marriage." It says this attitude "provides ongoing impetus to use child marriage as a coping mechanism" for poverty and the devastation of war.
"We know that Afghan boys are also being married below the age of 18," Hussaini tells RFE/RL. "Unfortunately, people do not talk about it in Afghanistan. This is the reality."
He says he has seen indications in drought-stricken western Afghanistan that many underaged boys are obliged by their families to agree to arranged marriages.
Hussaini says UNICEF has recently been registering about 200 Afghan boys each month, aged 11 to 17, as they return to Herat Province from Iran where they've being working to help support their families.
Nearly half say they've already been engaged for an arranged marriage and have been working in Iran to earn the dowry their family must pay to their bride's father.
Meanwhile, out of 188 child marriages recently documented by UNICEF among displaced families in western Afghanistan, Hussaini says 82 involved boys under the age of 18.
UNICEF's 2018 study on child marriage in Afghanistan recognizes that its negative impacts "do not stop with young girls, but extend to child grooms and to the families and communities who perpetuate and participate in the practice."
"Young men and their families are compelled to meet the demands of high bride prices," it concludes. "Husbands who marry young are often ill-equipped to provide for their new family or understand their wife's needs."
War Groom
One well-known Afghan who has spoken out publicly about early marriage in the country is Rahmatullah Nabil, the former head of the National Directorate of Security who is now running for president in Afghanistan's September 28 election. "Particularly in rural areas, it is very common and it should be changed," he tells RFE/RL.
Born in a rural district of Wardak Province in 1968, Nabil says his own widowed mother married at the age of 15 and compelled him to marry at a "very young age" after the Soviet-Afghan war began.
"When my father passed away, I was the only remaining son of my mom," explains Nabil, who was 11 years old in 1979 when Soviet forces invaded the country. "After the Russian invasion in Afghanistan and there was fighting everywhere -- particularly in rural areas -- my mom said: 'OK, since the situation is bad, I do not want [it] be the end of the family. It means, if something happens to you then nobody will remain.'
"The situation was very tense. A lot of people were killed," Nabil says. "That was the only worry of my mom, that I should get married earlier and that I should have some kids [so that] if something happened to me, there would be a continuation of the family."
Contradictory Laws
Afghanistan's Civil Code sets the marriage age at 18 for males and 16 for girls. It says a father can agree to allow his daughter to marry at 15. There are no circumstances under Afghanistan's national laws in which a child under 15 can be legally married.
But the Afghan Civil Code is not the only source of law regarding child marriage in Afghanistan. Islamic law and customary rules or local tribal traditions also govern child marriage and sometimes contradict the national laws.
Hussaini notes that the Shari'a and customary laws hold sway across rural Afghanistan, where the majority of Afghans live.
According to Islamic law, a marriage is not valid if the individuals are either unwilling or too young to understand the implications that marriage entails. But Islamic law is vague about a specific age that is considered old enough for "understanding," leaving the question up to different interpretations by local religious leaders.
Hussaini says pronouncements by various local mullahs across Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas with high illiteracy rates, have been used to justify the marriage of children as young as nine.
Customary laws and local tribal traditions also allow marriage at ages younger than the Afghan Civil Code. Such rules are not officially recognized by the Afghan government in Kabul. But out of political necessity, Afghan government officials often speak in general terms about the need to preserve tribal customs and traditional "Afghan values."
According to UNICEF, research shows that the judicial system in rural areas of Afghanistan tends to emphasize the "preservation of social order" under customary laws rather than the protection of individual rights under the Civil Code -- including child-protection laws.
UNICEF concludes that these shortcomings to the implementation and enforcement of the country's Civil Code mean the practice of child marriage continues to be prevalent across the country -- including the practice of arranged marriages for boys who are younger than 18.
UNICEF's latest research on Afghan attitudes about child marriage also challenges narratives that suggest decision making about the practice is dominated by Afghan elders. It says decisions are "firmly centered within the family unit" and that male household members are "likely to have greater or final say." But it finds that women and other family members are also involved in the process.
"It was common to report that children ought to have a say in their marriage, even if they were not allowed to make the final decision, representing a more collective decision-making process," the 2018 UNICEF study says.
"As such, solutions cannot be simply girl-focused, but must also consider households, communities, and the role of government in providing the necessary structures to support change," it concludes.

#Pakistani Media - Keeping a people informed - Undue interventions by government and authorities

Undue interventions by government and authorities undermine the foundations of a state
Together, freedom of information, freedom of speech and freedom of the press form one of the most important pillars of modern democratic state that believes in rule of law. Freedom of speech, in particular has been key to integrity of all countries, irrespective of the form of government or recent history.
Every modern democracy has provisions enshrined in its constitution that unequivocally protect citizens’ rights relating to freedom of thought and speech. Rights relating to free speech, press and information are today integral and inalienable. Without these, a modern democratic state is inconceivable.
The UN Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, declared that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The level of freedom to communicate freely within the society has a significant impact on societal development, strength of the democracy and the society per se. History has proved, beyond any doubt, that a society in which everyone can speak freely is better in most respects than one in which freedom to speak is restricted. In the political context, freedom of speech is essentially the inalienable right of the citizens to communicate about all sorts of political issues. This, in practical terms, means that any communication that has relevance for the public, such as commentary on actions of the government or authorities, criticism of public officials or demands for rights, is protected.
The Constitution of Pakistan, adopted unopposed and reflecting the collective wisdom of the nation, guarantees basic freedom of speech to the citizens of Pakistan in Article19. It only allows some restrictions that are ‘imposed by law’. The Constitution recognises and gives sanctity to freedom of thought and expression not only in the preamble, but also through over-arching provisions of Article 8. The restricted areas have been identified in Article 19 but it is worth recalling here that all laws have to have a reason. Laws without reason cannot be justified, and always prove counter-productive in the long run. Free speech allows us to say what we think, including when we dissent or object. Terrorists and dictators, unlike democracies, aim to curb free speech and voices of dissent so that their voice/narrative should, to innocent minds, appear to be the voice of consensus. Silencing voices of dissent is the biggest victory terrorists can achieve – recent history, especially in our part of the world, is a testimony to this.
Established democracies make it a point not to interfere in the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and expression.
This is also the reason why dictators try to limit, manipulate, discredit, demonise, or otherwise control free speech, and to prevent dissemination of ideas or opinions that might threaten their narrative. In short, control of the flow of information is a favourite tool of dictatorships and the essence of tyranny. Free speech destroys despotism in all its forms. No wonder, suppression of free speech is the trademark of dictatorships and terrorists. Modern dictators and leaders of totalitarian states have realised that freedom of speech is their worst enemy and will eventually destroy them. They are afraid of words and of thoughts – words that may be spoken abroad, thoughts that may be stirring at home. A spark of free thought can throw into panic a dictator feared by many.
Reputed social scientists believe that the main reason why democracies have outperformed dictatorships in post-World War era is that democracies are better at processing information. Democracy diffuses the power to process information and makes its key decisions among a large number of people. It encourages consultative processes among its institutions. A dictatorship, on the other hand concentrates information and power in one place or institution. This is part of the reason why the former Soviet Union ended up making poorer decisions than the United States, and also why the Soviet economy lagged behind the American economy.
It is now beyond the capacity of any government to keep its citizens in dark and permanently deny them access to information. Sooner or later citizens will become aware of the facts. A delay is all they can hope for. The delay will only destroy the credibility of the government and its institutions. There is no option for modern states but to have efficient, competitive and responsible media so as to be able to channelise free flow of information to their citizens, and provide them with choices.
In developing countries like Pakistan policies are frequently seen in a single dimension. So much so that at times, policy is considered another name for controls and regulations. The age of media control in the traditional sense is over. No democratic country worth naming has a strict media policy in place any longer. Established democracies make it a point not to interfere in the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and expression. There is hardly a comprehensive law in any country that regulates all sectors of media; however, there are regulations that govern public sector players in the industry.
Simultaneously there are, indeed, expectations of responsible conduct from service providers. Governments and powerful institutions in some countries, even in this day and age, have not learnt to respect the important concepts of access to information and freedom of speech. Pressures are still exerted on the media to report in a way that is biased in favour of the government. Certain content requirements are enforced, mostly through informal means, and in violation of the governing laws.  Informal ‘advisories’ are the worst forms of regulation. They are dangerous for the country and for democracy. Transparency of governance is the beauty of a democratic set-up. Informal advisories are against the very spirit of transparency and contradict with the vision of a civilised society. Undue intervention by government and authorities undermine the foundations of a state. These authorities forget the basic rule: in the face of oppression, silence is never golden.
In Pakistan, too, we have experienced deployment of invisible tools that either try to deny information to citizens or manipulate freedom of speech. Tools used for information control in our society range from informal ‘advisories’ to instructions to cable operators to show or not to show select information. There are, at times, direct ‘instructions’ to opinion makers in the media to behave in a specified manner. Owners of media houses are either financially squeezed or bribed to achieve such manipulation.
Pakistan will have to move forward and bring sanity to the information sector. This will happen as soon as national institutions truly recognise the importance of democracy and development for the country.

Rattling the Nuclear Cage: India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and the US

We like our anniversaries in blocks of 50 or 100 – at a push we’ll tolerate a 25. The 100th anniversary of the Somme (2016), the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (2015). Next year, we’ll remember the end of the Second World War, the first – and so far the only – nuclear war in history.
This week marks only the 74th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It doesn’t fit in to our journalistic scorecards and “timelines”. Over the past few days, I’ve had to look hard to find a headline about the two Japanese cities.
But, especially in the Middle East and what we like to call southeast Asia, we should be remembering these gruesome anniversaries every month. Hiroshima was atomic-bombed 74 years ago on Tuesday, Nagasaki 74 years ago on Friday. Given the extent of the casualty figures, you’d think they’d be unforgettable. But we don’t quite know (nor ever will) what they were.
The bombing of the two cities, we are told, left between 129,000 and 226,000 dead. The first US statistics suggested only 66,000 dead in Hiroshima, 39,000 in Nagasaki. But in later years, the Hiroshima authorities estimated their dead alone at 202,118 – taking account of those who later died of radiation sickness, rather than just the incinerated corpses and human shadows left in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.In the Middle East, where Aleppo and Mosul and Raqqa count the dead from conventional bombs – American, Russian, Syrian – in the tens of thousands, you might think the 1945 statistics would leave the folk who live there pretty cold. But the book of crises unfolding in the region – by the chapter, almost every month – is of critical importance to every soul who lives between the Mediterranean and India.For India itself is a nuclear power. So is Pakistan. And so, of course, is Israel. None of them have signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT). All are threatening war, over Kashmir, or over Iran, the only nation under threat which has not (yet) got nuclear weapons.Ayatollah Khomeini originally seized on America’s refusal to express its remorse at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings: “They’ve killed hundreds of thousands of people … many years have passed and they can’t even bring themselves to apologise,” he said, and the current Iranian leadership has continued Khomeini’s theme. The “only nuclear criminal in the world”, according to the “supreme leader’s” successor, Ali Khamanei, “is falsely claiming to fight the proliferation of nuclear weapons”.
Iran, it should be added, did sign the NPT, but was later found in non-compliance of the safeguard agreement. And Iran, of course, is the non-nuclear power now being constantly threatened with war by two nuclear powers – America and Israel – the first of which, under Donald Trump, tore up his country’s commitment to the only international agreement that ever existed to limit Iran’s nuclear programme.
As the US applies new sanctions to Iran – miserably supported by the ever-compliant banks and big businesses of Europe – Iran marginally breaks its side of the nuclear control agreement. And thus becomes the recipient of even more ferocious threats from Washington and Israel.The word “nuclear” is not just a harmless adjective. Look at the old photographs of the blisters on the dying Japanese of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Iran itself suffered the horrors of gas warfare when Iraq – supported at the time by the US – used chemicals on Iranian soldiers and civilians. I saw their gas-gangrene wounds with my own eyes in the late 1980s and they reminded me of the Hiroshima snapshots. The Iranians really do know the effects of “weapons of mass destruction”.Yet they, we are supposed to believe, are the nuclear “threat” in the Middle East. The Islamic republic is no saints’ paradise. Its corruption (within the government), its cruelty towards its own dissenters, its hangman’s noose justice against its own people and its prim disgust at even the most innocent demand for freedom scarcely qualify the immensely wealthy Revolutionary Guards Corps – “heroes” of a new “tanker war” and masters of Houthi drone technology – to give lectures on morality. And if we thought that the Iranians held in reserve – let us say – 200 nuclear warheads, we should be trembling in our boots. But they don’t. It’s Israel that conceals – but will not say so – perhaps 200 nuclear warheads.
Not only do we not complain about this. We regard any suggestion of their existence as akin to interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Israel has never confirmed that their nuclear weapons exist: therefore we must not say that they do. Enquire about their exact number and you are treated by Israel’s supporters with deep suspicion. It’s a private matter, we are led to understand. Anyway the Israelis can be trusted with such vile weapons. Can’t they?
Which brings us to Saudi Arabia. Every nation in the Middle East which seeks nuclear power – and the list includes Egypt, by the way – insists, like Iran, that the technology is needed to build power plants.Yet when Reuters – whose investigations of human rights and secret criminal activities in the region are first-class in both courage and detail – reports on the accurate leaks that US energy secretary Rick Perry approved six secret authorisations to give nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia, few outside congress issued a murmur of concern. Not even Israel – which always rages when America’s arms manufacturers hoover up billions of dollars from Arab arms buyers, especially from Saudi Arabia.South Koreans – those endangered people always under nuclear threat from the Rocket Man turned good guy further north – are also bidding for the Saudi nuclear deal. So are the Russians. So how come, now that the Saudi regime has talked of “cutting off the head of the snake” in Iran, we don’t regard Riyadh as a potential nuclear threat?How soon will it be before we wonder if the Saudis aren’t going a bit too far down the nuclear path and we suggest a nuclear control agreement along the lines of Obama’s Iran deal? After all, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – and let’s not bring up the little matter of the Saudi evisceration and chopping up of poor Jamal Khashoggi at this point – told CBS last year that his kingdom would develop nuclear weapons if Iran did.
And as we digest all this – although we really are not talking about it at all, are we? – India decides to tear up its own legal arrangements in Jammu and Kashmir. As the only Muslim-majority state in India, it is now to be split into two union territories, diminishing Muslim power and allowing non-Muslim Indians from other regions to move into this dangerous remnant of the old Raj. The Hindu-led government used a presidential order to revoke the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan, which holds the other bit of Kashmir – both claim the whole area as their own – is understandably infuriated by this change in the status quo.
And both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. Indeed, there was nothing more pathetic, after Pakistan’s first nuclear tests in 1998, than to travel around this other “Islamic republic” and, amid the abject poverty of its villages, gaze at the awful commemorative papier-mache recreations of the granite mountains in which the explosions took place. There is, I suppose, no point in adding that there are more armed extremist Islamists on Islamabad’s payroll in both Pakistan and Afghanistan – coddled by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency – than there are in the whole of Iran.
So this is a very good week, as we typically ignore the commemoration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for us to remember the nuclear threat in the Middle East. At least one nation in every potential conflict in the region is a nuclear power or a prospective one. India against Pakistan and vice versa, the US with Iran, the Israelis with Iran – or just about any other Levantine power – and the Saudis versus Iran, and Iran against almost anyone else except Syria.
Oh yes, and Donald Trump has just pulled out of the Cold War Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia – blaming Russia for violating the ban on missiles ranging up to 3,400 miles. All Russia’s fault, says Mike Pompeo. The treaty is now “dead”, the Russian foreign ministry confirms. So it’s time, perhaps, to rewatch those old documentaries of the the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay and the bomb codenamed “Little Boy” and the brilliant mushroom cloud and all those scorched corpses at Hiroshima.