Thursday, January 9, 2020

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Video Report - Bernie Sanders on Iran, health care and Democratic electability

The U.S. is weakened by Soleimani’s killing

Vijay Prashad
Trump’s recklessness has isolated the U.S. further and deepened anxieties in Israel and Saudi Arabia On January 3 , Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the powerful Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, arrived in Baghdad from Damascus. He had been invited to the country by Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who had been asked by the Trump administration to mediate between Iran and the U.S. after the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was nearly overrun. Tensions between the two countries have been at a fever pitch ever since U.S. President Donald Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign forced Iran to withdraw its ‘strategic patience’ approach. Soleimani was met at the airport by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella organisation of several Iraqi Shia militias formed in 2014. Soleimani and al-Muhandis were partners in the fight against the Islamic State. As they drove out of the airport, a U.S. Reaper drone fired a missile, which killed them instantly.
Escalating tensions
The Trump administration realised quickly that it had made a strategic mistake. Even U.S. allies were shocked to see Mr. Trump brazenly kill a senior Iranian official, who has a diplomatic passport, and an Iraqi political leader who commands a militia which is understood to be part of the Iraqi army. These assassinations were seen in Iraq and Iran as a declaration of war. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei warned that “a harsh retaliation is waiting”, and President Hassan Rouhani told Soleimani’s family that the U.S. would “feel the impact” of its criminal act for “years ahead”. Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi said that the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis was an “act of aggression against Iraq” that would “light the fuse of war”. He called for an emergency session of the Iraqi parliament, which on January 5th night voted to expel the thousands of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and deny them access to its airspace, land or water. The parliament also called upon the Prime Minister to make a formal complaint to the UN against the U.S. for “serious violations and breaches of Iraqi sovereignty”.
If President Trump thought that this was an attack on Iran, he miscalculated; it was already being seen as an attack on Iraq and on the pro-Iranian movements from Lebanon (Hezbollah) to Afghanistan (Liwa Fatemiyoun). It is not an Iranian retaliation that should scare the U.S., but attacks by pro-Iranian groups across the region where thousands of U.S. troops and official personnel are stationed.
The Iraqi and Iranian governments did not hasten to bury Soleimani and al-Muhandis. Their remains travelled from town to town, memorial services broadcast on TV, tens of thousands of people gathering on the streets to protest the killing and to vow revenge. Soleimani will be buried in his hometown, Kerman, after large funeral mobilisations in Mashhad, Tehran, and Qom. In Iran, officials say that this funeral cavalcade has brought more people to the streets than the funeral of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
Soleimani’s assassination has awakened the deep strain of Iranian patriotism. Last year, Iran was struck by protests over the rise of fuel prices. Now there is a tidal wave of patriotism washing across Iran; people are asking for revenge. In the holy city of Qom, a red flag was flown on the dome of Jamkaran Mosque signifying that Iran is prepared for a long war.
And Iran is not alone. In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called Soleimani the “glue that held the Resistance Axis together”. The Resistance Axis is a concept that refers to the pro-Iranian groups in the region. Mr. Nasrallah said Soleimani’s assassination “is a turning point in the history of the region, not just for Iran or Iraq”. It is “the start of a new U.S. war in the region,” he said.
It did not help the U.S.’s cause that its political leaders made dangerous statements after the assassination. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence falsely linked Soleimani to the 9/11 attacks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo posted a video that showed Iraqis running down the street “thankful that General Soleimani is no more”. The video seemed to be part of an information war — only a handful of people on the street were running away from the tens of thousands protesting the killing. Finally, Mr. Trump tweeted saying that the U.S. would target and strike “52 Iranian sites”, including cultural ones, a flagrant war crime. None of this won the U.S. any support on the international stage.
Even the Europeans, otherwise steadfast with the U.S. in these sorts of adventures, hesitated. Mr. Pompeo criticised France, Germany, and the U.K. for not being “as helpful as I wish that they could be”. It is telling that the Arab League’s Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed concern over the situation and asked for calm. This is the same man who had, only a few weeks ago, accused Iran of sowing chaos in the region, and was forced to adopt a less belligerent position under pressure from the Arab capitals.
A few hours after the assassination, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, wrote to the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, and the UN Security Council president to condemn the assassination. Mr. Guterres said that he is “deeply concerned” about the U.S. attack but went no further. It is likely that China and Russia will table a resolution at the UN that calls for calm as well as criticises the U.S.; this will certainly be vetoed by the U.S.
Desperate and irrational policy
Till now the U.S. has not been able to extricate itself from its illegal war against Iraq that began in 2003. That war provided a massive advantage to Iran not only in Iraq, but also across the region. This is what terrified two of the U.S.’s allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of whom pressured Washington to increase its threats against Iran. Not only did the U.S. create the conditions for the rise of the worst kind of violence in Iraq, and later Syria, but also weakened the strategic position of its allies. No attempt by the U.S. to regain its authority has worked — neither the attempt to overthrow the government in Syria nor the sanctions against Iran. U.S. policy against Iran and Iraq appear desperate and irrational.
As the U.S. edges towards the end of two decades in Iraq, its military appears vulnerable. A handful of rockets fired into a military base in Kirkuk in Iraq killed a military contractor, whose death was avenged through U.S. air strikes against a pro-Iranian militia. This, in turn, saw thousands of Iraqis overrun the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. This attack showed the weakness of the U.S. position, which is why President Trump felt the need to retaliate in a dramatic way. Mr. Trump’s recklessness has isolated the U.S. further and deepened anxieties amongst its increasingly isolated regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Pashto Music - ساقي | اجمل خټک | سردارعلي ټکر

Sardar Ali Takkar | زما نه مه بېلېږه | حسينه ګل تنها | سردار علي ټکر

Nashenas _ زه خو شرابي یم شیخه څه را سره جنګ کړې

Opinion - How Pakistan Plans to Cash in on Conflict in the Middle East

Pakistan constantly touts its neutrality in the Iran - Saudi Arabia proxy wars. The reality, especially after the drone strike on Soleimani, is quite different.
For five days after the most far-reaching crisis of Imran Khan's tenure had struck the wider region - the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani by a U.S. drone strike – the prime minister's response was conspicuous silence.
The reasons for his strangely delayed reaction reveal much about who really holds the reins of power in Pakistan – both within its borders and outside of them, and how that could impact the proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The country's first official response came not from the executive branch or any civilian political leader, but, unsurprisingly, from the military: in a call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa "emphasized the need for maximum restraint.

In the days that followed, the Army spokesperson hyperactively trotted out rhetorical flourishes backing the claim that in the fight between Iran and the U.S., Pakistan chose both neutrality, and clichés: We "won’t allow our soil to be used against anyone," "We’re on the side of peace," and "We will not take any sides." 
Khan finally found his voice Wednesday, as the immediate crisis was already subsiding, tweeting that he'd "asked" Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to "visit Iran, KSA [Saudi Arabia] & USA to meet with respective foreign ministers," and for army chief Gen Bajwa to "contact relevant military leaders to convey a clear message: Pakistan is ready to play it's [sic] role for peace but it can never again be part of any war."
"Neutral" is the go-to word Pakistan uses – with equal measures of populist instinct and real-world deceit – to describe its position in the Saudi-Iran conflict. Having now spent four decades training Saudi troops, and supplying its own to Riyadh and its proxies, there's already no need to explain the Middle Eastern adage, "Saudi Arabia will fight until the last Pakistani."

Over the years, Pakistan-backed Saudi proxies in the Middle East have directly confronted their Iranian counterparts orchestrated Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), lately commanded by Qasem Soleimani. Over the last decade, the battlefields have extended ever further - into Syria, Bahrain and Yemen

Iran's proxies, too, have found recruits from within Pakistan’s Shia population, with the Syria-based Liwa Zainabiyoun claiming to have "thousands" of Pakistani volunteers, trained by the Qods Force in Mashhad. The Shia recruits largely come from the border area of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where Iran-bound Salafi military groups like Jundallah, and its reincarnation Jaish ul-Adl, maintain their presence.
Camped on the opposite end of the Middle East's proxy warfare from Pakistan, Soleimani was a harsh critic of his Pakistani counterparts’ allegiance to Tehran's enemies. As recently as February 2019, he had accused Pakistan of "taking Saudi cash" to "stir insecurity" in Iran.
In 2017, Tehran had threatened to strike "terrorist safe havens" in Pakistan after Jaish ul-Adl – based in Pakistani territory - killed 10 Iranian soldiers. In February 2019, a suicide bomber killed 27 Revolutionary Guards just over the Pakistani border; Tehran announces that Iran would "take revenge for the blood of the martyrs of this incident." 
Despite Pakistan’s support for Saudi-backed Middle East militia - which enjoys popular support within the country as well - Islamabad has had to be careful how it voices its allegiances, owing to a sizeable Shia population, estimated to be around 40-45 million – the second largest Shia community in the Muslim world.

On the Sunday after the Soleimani strike, there were nationwide protests led by Shia organizations against his killing, with banners echoing holy Shia slogans, chants against the U.S. and Israel – customary targets for protests in Pakistan, across ideological and sectarian divides.
Even though, like any other religious group, the Shia Muslims in Pakistan aren’t a monolith, they’re still perceived as "Iran-sympathizers," just as their Sunni counterparts are supposed to instinctually back the Saudis. While radicals from both sects have been recruited on either side of the Saudi-Iran military conflict, the proxy warfare of the 1980s has gradually evolved into the mass killings of Pakistani Shia Muslims, resulting in the local Shia querying whether it can survive in safety in Pakistan.
Khan has traditionally enjoyed the support of large sections of the Shia population, mostly thanks to the contrast with his predecessor Nawaz Sharif, whose party formed alliances with groups calling for the genocide of Shia, and who is still considered a stooge of Saudi Arabia, where he has spent many years in exile.
However, in his year and a half as premier, Khan’s cozying up to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has evolved from a position of geopolitical acquiescence to the virtual establishment of Pakistan as a Saudi client state
Not only was Khan in Riyadh to provide diplomatic support to MBS amid global outcry over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he recently backed out from attending an international Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur last month, after Saudi Arabia complained that the Malaysian conference was intended to rival the Saudi-friendly Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
But there's another reason why Khan, who has largely reduced himself to trolling the Indian government’s abuses against minorities – often amidst parallel violations in his own country – took so long to respond in public to the Soleimani crisis, and it's the same reason that both Pompeo and the U.S. defense secretary Mark Esper spoke with Army Chief Bajwa without any need for the façade of a diplomatic channel with the civilian leadership.

During that five-day period, Khan had been busy spearheading amendments to the Army Act, For many, the controversially worded bills have formalized a "controlled democracy" managed entirely by the military establishment, with even the self-avowed custodians of civilian supremacy among opposition parties falling completely in line
The recent escalation of the perpetual conflict with India had bizarrely been used as a rationale to extend Gen Bajwa’s tenure, one key part of the legislation. But then the killing of Soleimani and the ensuing "new regional situation" was cited as additional justification on the day the bill was bulldozed through the National Assembly.
With that formality out of the way, the country's real – military – rulers can shout "neutrality" and "Pakistan first" as much as they want at home, while negotiating rates for Pakistani troops to serve Saudi Arabia. The same two-faced tactics were used by former military dictators Gen Zia-ul-Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf, who signed up for lucrative U.S.-sponsored assignments in Afghanistan in 1979 and 2001 respectively.   
Khan’s subservience to MBS is the consequence of a skewed policy carved out by Pakistan's military rulers, not its elected leaders, based on what they see as a perfect symbiosis between Pakistan’s economic needs and Saudi military requirements. A similar correlation is permanently scribbled on the drawing board at Pakistan's army HQ in Rawalpindi, with regards to the U.S. and its ambitions in the region.
And Pakistan's real rulers are keen to cash in on the post-Soleimani turmoil. Its ex-Army Chief General Raheel Sharif commands the so-called Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) –formed to counter precisely the kind of threats that Tehran has been making in the aftermath of Soleimani’s killing. Washington resumed military training with Pakistani troops this week.
Pakistan indeed has boots on the ground and expertise to offer the Saudis. It can offer intelligence sharing – despite its duplicitous past – and swathes of territory near its western border, to the U.S. for any period of deployment.
Pakistan needs the payback. In addition to funds earmarked for military assistance, Pakistan would expect bailouts and investments from Saudi Arabia, and U.S. backing for consolidating financial support from the International Monetary Fund and to relax its fiscal crackdown on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. 
The Soleimani aftermath provided a very clear reminder that Pakistan's military is the country's undisputed hegemon – and now its first-amongst-unequals is enshrined in law, the army has no qualms about how publicly that status is confirmed.
And for both Washington and Riyadh, a military-run Pakistan, with the window-dressing of a democratically-elected prime minister, is their preference: it facilitates direct coordination with those who are actually in charge of the country.
What remains of Imran Khan’s remaining credibility – if not his seat in the PM's office – is the ultimate victim of the military's power-grab and its particular view of geopolitics, given that almost the entirety of his political career has been founded on the now-quixotic and fantastical idea of an autonomous Pakistan that would no longer be a mercenary for the U.S. or for Saudi Arabia.

How blackmail, harassment forced Pakistani women from university


Many parents pull out their daughters from Balochistan University after CCTV footage was used to blackmail students.
Rahila* had missed the deadline to submit her application for admission to the University of Balochistan, and feared she would now have to wait for months before being able to apply again.
A teacher at the pharmacy department, however, offered to help her submit her forms and gain admission to the university, the main institute for higher education in the southwestern Pakistani province after which it is named.
After she filled out the forms, however, she alleges the same teacher began to harass her by sending her text messages, mostly at night, and threatened to cancel her admission when she did not reply to him.
"From his words, I could tell his intentions were not good," Rahila, 20, said. "I felt so strange about it. I used to call him 'sir' with so much respect to his face, and he turned out to be this creepy, inappropriate person. At that point, I lost confidence in myself."
Rahila's experience is just one of many cases of alleged sexual harassment at this government-run university, where allegations have been made that its officials used security camera footage of male and female students mingling to extort and blackmail them.
Balochistan has a female literacy rate of 33.5 percent, and the danger of harassment is often cited by parents who refuse to send their daughters to school. Only 5.07 percent of Pakistan's roughly 102 million women ever complete university, according to the country's bureau of statistics.
In October last year, the Balochistan High Court directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the allegations against university officials, directing officials to submit a full report on the blackmail allegations.
News of the scandal led Javed Iqbal, the university's vice-chancellor, to step down, and many parents pulled their daughters out of the university.
"All the struggle people did for women's education has suffered a setback of 20 or 30 years because of this scandal," said Shain Taj Raisani, 26, an MPhil student at the university.
"Girls who were coming into the education field with their opinions now feel threatened."

Education a key battleground

Balochistan, Pakistan's largest but least populated province, is rich in mineral resources and is home to a port at the heart of China's $60bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project that runs through the country.
The province is, however, one of the least developed parts of the country, with its vast, rugged terrain only sparsely populated by small towns and villages.
Education is a key battleground. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, less than 12 percent women in Balochistan made it past primary school.
Many say the recent scandal has led to even more parents pulling their daughters out of higher education.
"A [university] hostel is like a home ... if your daughter isn't safe at school, then her parents won't let her study at the university," Mahrang Baloch, 25, a student at Bolan Medical College located in the provincial capital Quetta, added.

Security on campus

Home to about 10,000 students, the University of Balochistan is not a typical university campus. Located on Sariab Road in the southern quarter of Quetta, the area has often been the site of suicide bombings or targeted attacks against security forces or, on occasion, university officials.
"Many professors have fallen victim to this terrorism in the past 12 years," said a senior FIA official investigating the video scandal case. "Both professors and students have been martyred. We've lost too many people," the officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera.
All the struggle people did for women's education has suffered a setback of 20 or 30 years because of this scandal
Security cameras have been installed all over the campus to safeguard students and faculty against that threat, and both police and paramilitary soldiers are stationed across the university.
Students, however, fear that the pervasive security on campus had undermined their learning experience. Others say it has contributed to the atmosphere of harassment at the university.
"When I was at university, [the paramilitary Frontier Corps] had made its checkpoints everywhere. They would harass and throw their numbers [written on pieces of paper] at women," Yassir Baloch, 27, who graduated from the university in 2017, said.
"And they'd sexually harass and blackmail young men, who had just come from college and were 20 or 21 years old. Sometimes, [security and university officials] would catch couples too. They'd tell them we'll show this video to your parents. If you give us Rs 50,000 [roughly $320], we'll delete the video."
Wali Rehman, the registrar of the university, however, said paramilitary soldiers do not interfere in the "academic blocks", but pass through "university-regulated areas, grounds, sports area and colony".
"Frontier Corps isn't there to tell students what to do or not to do. They only come if there's danger," he told Al Jazeera.
In November, security forces agreed to vacate the university after a parliamentary committee recommended universities re-evaluate the deployment of security forces amid public pressure in the wake of the security camera scandal.

Misuse of cameras

The university currently has 56 security cameras in operation, down from 94 cameras, three of which did not work. According to the registrar, the university disconnected "unnecessary" cameras, referring to the installation of in "unauthorised" places.
"At the direction of the court, we disconnected 37 cameras. Cameras that were in places where they were not needed were uninstalled," Rehman, the registrar, told Al Jazeera.
During the investigation into the video scandal, the FIA obtained university and security officials' laptops and mobile phones, and Saifullah Langove, the head of the security control room, was removed from his post.
The senior FIA official investigating the case said there was no standard operating procedure for how the data collected on them would be used.
"Cameras wouldn't have been misused if the protocol was defined," he said.
The university said it is now developing a new policy for how the cameras will be used and who controls them.
There is, however, scepticism among digital rights activists on the effectiveness of such surveillance systems and their effects.
"Technology will enable universities to see their students on all corners and regulate them. When you feel you are being watched, you'll start to behave how authority wants you to," said Shmyla Khan, a project manager for advocacy NGO Digital Rights Foundation.
Meanwhile, a sexual harassment committee has been set up in the university, headed by Sobiah Ramzan of the Institute of Management Sciences. The local provincial committee is also investigating the affair.

Continuing investigation

Women who have faced harassment at the university may be too scared to come forward because of the shame associated with sexual assault in a tribal society.
"If something happened to me, even if I wanted to come forward, I wouldn't be able to confess because we live in a tribal society," Sadia Baloch, a 19-year-old student at the university's law college, said. "On account of our families, we can't even talk about it."
The FIA officer said he had been investigating the case for months, and the media had, in fact, frightened away victims, who may have otherwise come forward to assist with the investigation.
"We live in a very conservative society [in Balochistan]. If there are victims, they don't want to come forward any more," he said.
Students who claim to be in contact with sexual harassment victims confirmed to Al Jazeera that many "girls are scared" and do not trust that their privacy would be protected through the investigation process.
"Who can guarantee if a girl comes forward, her information won't be leaked?" Mahrang Baloch told Al Jazeera.