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The mind of a neo-Nazi

Salman Ahmed

The year 2015 saw Germany faced with a crushing identity crisis. It continues to play out in various German towns and cities. This was the third one in a matter of seven decades and greatly risks dividing the country. The first two came post Second World War, after the reunification of East and West Germany.

But what happened following the great migration, when nearly a million people walked into Europe as a direct result of political instability or war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, forcing a question to an unassuming host – who are we? On both sides of the ensuing debate were strong personalities. Some backed German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call of ‘wir schafen das’ or more simply ‘we can do this’ – while some others said, well maybe let’s not do this.

Right-wing and counter right-wing marches became a weekly, sometimes daily, affair across Germany; they might not have always violently clashed, but the placards made interesting reading – pointing to a deep social chasm.  On one side of the debate was Gunter, not his real name, a 35-year-old father of two, unemployed – supported by social welfare, living in a working class neighbourhood of Berlin.

Ideologically, Gunter recently attended a Rudolph Hess death anniversary march. Hess, was Adolf Hitler’s deputy, who was captured in 1941 and committed suicide in a prison outside Berlin in 1987. It was only natural for Gunter to answer Merkel’s call with a ‘no’ and join a new political party that rose out of the ashes of her political legacy, the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD). The AfD easily qualifies as a right-wing political party with strong far-right elements, depending on who you speak to.

“Merkel shouldn’t have let all these people in the country, they’re not from here, it will change our country, our culture,” says Gunter. The AfD is currently the largest opposition party in the German Bundestag, campaigning often on a single point agenda of anti-immigration, and often too, slipping into controversy.

One of its founding members, Alexander Gauland, in 2016, while being interviewed by a national newspaper commented about German national footballer Jerome Boateng, who is of African descent, “people like him as a footballer, but they don’t want to have a Boateng as a neighbour.” The remarks were recorded by two journalists, but Gauland later denied it.

In September 2017, a video emerged of Gauland saying Germany should be proud of its soldiers in the two world wars, he was quoted, “if the French are rightly proud of their emperor and the Britons of Nelson and Churchill, we have the right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars.” As much as comments like these make much of Germany hang their heads in shame, for someone like Gunter they are meant to reinstate a sense of national pride and identity.

And it worked, the AfD, in a short period, amassed enough political leverage to force traditional political parties, like the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, into reviewing the open door immigration policy. Unfortunate as it may be, Gunter isn’t an anomaly – he fears prolonged joblessness, is often faced with increased difficulty in dealing with Germany’s shrinking welfare system. He also possesses a healthy fear of the million new faces who walked into the country looking for a safe space to live.

In a recent poll conducted by the Infra-test Dimap, a polling institute, which conducts electoral research for Germany’s public broadcaster and several governmental agencies, nearly 64 percent of Germans think that the country faces either a very big problem or a big problem with racism in everyday life. If Gunter isn’t an anomaly, according to this research, Gunter would be an ordinary man of Germany’s forgotten underbelly – someone who has found his voice along with many others facing the same fears.

Its the money, honey: The reason for the underbelly wanting to make itself heard might lie first with the German economy. On the face of it, Germany is one of the strongest economies of the world, perhaps even single-handedly stabilising the euro’s global standing. But at the very heart of Germany, there’s a boiling social discord.

Berlin is the second poorest urban centre in Germany, where nearly 23 percent of the people live in poverty. This means they earn less than 60 percent of the national median income. At least 150,000 single parents survive along with children on less than 1,500 euros per month.

Berlin also has around 20,000 homeless people, which is a record in Germany. No other urban centre in the country has that many shelterless people. Beyond all this, the capital is faced with a severe housing crisis and shortage of schools. Only a small part of which is due to the arrival of refugees in the country, and much of it is due to delayed development funds.

But this goes back to the reunification of Germany in 1989-1990, when a very poor half of Berlin, joined a relatively affluent other half. Sensationalist headlines in local tabloids too, keep the fear of migrants alive with Gunter. He sees many of the ‘flucthlinge’ or refugees as intruders, who have come to usurp jobs and opportunities.

He routinely laments the difficulties he faces in convincing Germany’s strict welfare system to keep supporting him. “Every month, they send me letters, asking me to explain how much money I earned from small jobs – this is ridiculous, every month I have to account for every penny I earn, they always make it difficult for me to have just a normal life. Sometimes they cut out money from my child welfare payments,” its almost insulting, he adds. Germany’s welfare system is generous but strict, the government routinely reviews welfare applicants and vigorously helps and encourages them in finding regular employment. Gunter, instead blames strain on the system on refugees.

He says, “look at all these refugees, they came here just two years ago, and the government gave them houses and jobs and now their children are going to kindergartens and schools.” His rhetoric sounds like regurgitated political speak, but the idea that refugees and migrants will take a large chunk of an already shrinking social welfare pie, has become a rallying cry for many who oppose the current migration trends.

While Donald Trump was rallying ‘Build the Wall’ mantra, a little known politician in Germany was encouraging authorities to shoot at immigrants illegally crossing into the country. That little known politician in early 2016, was the co-founder of the AfD Frauke Petry. According to a regional newspaper, Petry said, “I don’t want this either. But the use of armed force is there as a last resort.” That year saw more than 3,500 registered cases of attacks on refugees and refugee shelters across Germany.

In 2017, registered attacks on refugees dropped to 2,200 but saw the AfD break all records in national and regional elections and become the largest opposition party in Germany with a right-wing agenda since the 1960s. In the first half of 2018, there have already been over 700 registered attacks on refugees or refugee shelters. Whether Petry’s comments incited violence or not, it set a disturbing trend which was to see renewed right-wing political discourse and troubled social cohesion across Germany. German society risks being more divided now, than ever before in history.

For the government, these attacks were to soon become a political and foreign policy eyesore. Rumours abounded in 2016 of the government asking national and local media outlets to refrain from reporting these attacks, fearing further copycat attacks and a dent to the German reputation around the world. Gunter is dismissive of the statistics, describing them as left-wing propaganda to malign people like him. He has faith in the AfD, which was born out of opposition to the Greek economic bailout before finding its feet in the anti-immigration debate.

Method of teh madness: Politically manipulating Gunter wouldn’t have been that easy, had he not grown up in former East Germany. Today, much of far-right support base and that of the AfD’s lies in what was former East Germany (GDR). Many, former citizens of the GDR, who continue to live in today’s eastern Germany, form what is the heartland of far-right politics in the country.

It is no coincidence that an overwhelming majority still fondly remembers the days of the GDR – and there is a word to describe this particular sentiment. ‘Ostalgie’ or ‘East’algie derived from ‘nostalgie’ or ‘nostalgia’ – means to fondly remember life and times in East Germany before German reunification in 1989. The reason for their nostalgia is clear, upon reunification many East Germans felt alienated.

Gunter says his parents still complain how their East German values were being discarded by the larger state of Germany after 1989-1990. Gunter’s parents felt change was forced onto them, by way of capitalistic economic ideas and cultural values of West Germany, mainland Europe and the US. “The people of GDR were always left behind, we were ignored, second class citizens, the people from West Germany looked down at us like filth, they wanted us to be more like them,” says Gunter. According to social commentators, this fear of constant social, political, economic and cultural change attracted many in eastern Germany to the call of the far right.

Gunter, who comes from the town of Chemnitz, which lay at the heart of the former GDR, and was recently the scene of widespread violent race riots, is ripe for this kind of anti-immigration debate. He’s been exposed to victim mentality, societal prejudice, economic deprivation, and enforced cultural and social change from a young age.

There’s nothing new about his arguments, which are well worn talking points teetering on the edge of racism and xenophobia. He’s clearly not the brains behind a revolution, if anything he’s a foot soldier, or even cannon fodder – easily malleable by politicians.

While he understands that many Syrians and Iraqis don’t have much of a homeland left to live in, Gunter argues, “Why don’t they go live in other Muslim countries? Why do they have to come here? Their culture is different to ours; their food is different, and they pose a risk to our society and our culture.” But Gunter too is looking to belong, his current socio-economic strata coupled with the politics of fear and a presumed threat to Christian values have pushed him and hundreds of thousands more into the arms of the right-wing. If he had a decent job, a more refined friends circle, perhaps even a slightly healthier lifestyle, he’d probably vote for someone else.

 

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As Saudi-US relations hit rock bottom, could Saudi turn to Russia or China?

Rupert Stone

The Khashoggi affair could result in a dramatic rift between America and Saudi Arabia. But it would not isolate the kingdom as Russia and China wait to pick up the pieces. The US’ partnership with Saudi Arabia is old and close, based on an understanding that Riyadh supplies oil and Washington provides security in return.

The two countries teamed up to fight communism during the Cold War and jointly oppose the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. America fought the 1991 Gulf War in part to protect the kingdom from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Cooperation continued into the 2000s, with Riyadh backing the US’ “war on terror” and receiving vast supplies of arms. True, there have been tensions, such as the 1973 oil embargo, led by Riyadh to protest Western backing for Israel, and the 9/11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. But relations survived intact.

Until now, that is. The disappearance and alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a renowned journalist and Washington Post contributor, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul could place unprecedented strain on a relationship already showing signs of weakness. Khashoggi, a Saudi national, had entered the consulate on October 2 to obtain paperwork for his wedding, but he never came out. According to media reports, Khashoggi was tortured and killed in the consulate by a hit squad of 15 Saudis acting on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Sultan, known as “MBS.” Turkish authorities reportedly possess audio and video recordings of the incident. Riyadh has denied the allegations.

The apparent murder of a US resident and writer for one of America’s most prestigious newspapers sent shockwaves through Washington. President Trump, who has developed a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, responded cautiously at first. But leading senators have been more outspoken. Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reviewed intelligence on the case and said there was “no question” the Saudis killed Khashoggi. Lindsey Graham, another high-profile Republican senator, warned there would be “hell to pay” if Riyadh was found culpable. Democrat Chris Murphy tweeted that, if Khashoggi was murdered, it should “represent a fundamental break” in US-Saudi ties.

Congress has already taken action. Last week, all but one member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signed a letter triggering, for the first time ever, a provision of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act requiring the administration to investigate allegations of human rights violations against Khashoggi and consider imposing sanctions, specifically mentioning “the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia.” Even if the US government declines to apply sanctions, Congress might act independently. Last year it passed a law sanctioning Russia, for instance, despite opposition from Trump. There is already serious talk of suspending arms sales to Riyadh.

In recent years, Congress has become increasingly hostile to the kingdom. As Bob Corker said, support in the Senate is “the lowest ever” and the Khashoggi affair threatens to throw it “off a cliff.” Part of this animosity stems from allegations that Saudi Arabia promotes extremism, and that some minor Saudi officials might have facilitated the 9/11 attacks. In 2016 Congress passed a law permitting claims against Saudi Arabia to be heard in US court, thus allowing a lawsuit brought by relatives of 9/11 victims to proceed. Riyadh reacted furiously to the bill, and President Obama vetoed it. But, for the first and only time during Obama’s presidency, Congress overrode his veto.

There has also been growing congressional opposition to the Saudi military intervention in Yemen, which the US supports. More than 6,500 civilians have been killed in the war, according to the UN, and most of those as a result of Saudi-led actions. Congress almost blocked US arms sales to Riyadh in 2017, and deliveries have been delayed since then.

The Senate almost voted in March to end US involvement in the conflict. Such efforts may now succeed. Moreover, the Saudi-led blockade of Gulf rival Qatar in 2017 for its alleged support of terrorism has backfired, with the US government eventually siding with Doha and even strengthening their security cooperation. This is fast becoming the deepest ever crisis in US-Saudi relations; 9/11 might have involved Saudi citizens, but it was not planned by the government, unlike Khashoggi’s alleged murder, and Congress did not consider imposing sanctions.

The consequences of this episode have already been far-reaching. An array of top media outlets, including CNN, Bloomberg, and the New York Times, and some businessmen have withdrawn from a major investment conference in Riyadh, part of the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 project to lure foreign investment. The Saudi stock exchange has nosedived. Trump is now threatening Riyadh with “severe punishment.” The Saudis hit back, vowing to retaliate with even tougher measures. As US-Saudi ties have weakened in recent years, the kingdom has started looking elsewhere for support. With Congress jeopardising arms sales, the Saudis have found an unlikely new partner in Russia, its former Cold War adversary.

King Salman visited Moscow in 2017, the first ever trip there by a reigning Saudi monarch, in which $3 billion worth of arms deals were signed. Saudi and Russia also agreed, in 2016, to limit oil production and boost prices. There has been Russian interest in bidding for the planned but delayed public offering of Saudi Aramco, and signs of nuclear cooperation. Riyadh also has decent relations with China, the main customer for its oil and, increasingly, a supplier of weapons.

US influence in the region is waning, while Russia’s and China’s has grown. A number of countries are therefore cultivating ties with Moscow and Beijing to recalibrate their foreign relations away from Washington. Turkey and Pakistan, long-standing US allies, have both strengthened their links with Russia.

Like Saudi Arabia, they have had US arms sales restricted by Congress. The Khashoggi affair may therefore deepen existing rifts between Saudi Arabia and the West, accelerating a split that was already underway. The journalist’s murder, if it is proven, could cause permanent damage to the US-Saudi relationship and dramatically reshape the geopolitical landscape.

 

 

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Does Britain want to turn back time on Brexit?

Nagihan Haliloglu

As anyone who has had any exposure to British popular culture will know, Britain’s best-loved TV hero is Dr. Who: a time-travelling “doctor” who helps smooth out not only disputes among galaxies and warring alien tribes, but also reveals extraterrestrial goings-on that have secretly shaped human history. On Oct. 7, the time-travelling doctor graced the screens again in his, well, her, 13th embodiment – yes, this time as a woman. When Jodie Whittaker was announced as the 13th doctor, there was uproar and jubilation of equal measure, with some male fans saying they would no longer watch the series. And it was then that Steven Moffat of “Sherlock Holmes” fame, the series producer since 2010, said that the show was “not exclusively for liberals; this is also for people who voted Brexit.”

However, given that there is a nebulous campaign to have a second referendum about leaving the EU, the show’s central time-travelling conceit seems to cater especially for the “Dr. Who”-loving liberals of Moffat’s description who want to “channel” their favorite hero’s powers of going back in time. Clearly, 2018 has seen several news stories that demonstrate the potentially rather debilitating effects of Brexit, particularly in the health services and academia, both sectors, but especially health, being reliant on non-British EU citizens.

The alarms sounded by the liberal-leaning media have created an atmosphere in which the same liberals believe that many Brexit-voting folk must have seen their wrong ways and given half a chance, they would now vote remain. The idea of a second referendum has been voiced by certain celebrities, journalists and politicians for a while, but at the end of September, London Mayor Sadiq Khan explicitly called for a second referendum, followed by Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, a part of the union that voted overwhelming to remain.

It’s very strange to be watching Brexit from where I am standing. I do not know any British citizen who has voted to leave –in many ways I guess that disqualifies me as a “Britain expert.” But I still feel implicated by the way the Brexit campaign was run, warning of “12 Million Turks” that would flock to Britain when Turkey joined the EU.

The problem was not so much that the Leavers claimed this; I know Brexiters (a tweet by @petertimmins3 said we should stop calling them Brexiteers, which “sounds swashbuckling,” just as calling Boris Johnson simply Boris makes him sound like a lovable fool) are not my friends. It was the way Remainers responded by reassuring the Brexiters that “Turkey will never join the EU, silly.” It seemed, and still seems, that while Brexiters want fortress U.K., Remainers seem to campaign for fortress Europe. People have been talking across purposes, and indeed have been talking about completely different things when seemingly they have been talking about Brexit. People from different sides of the political spectrum voted the same way for very different reasons, but that’s referendums for you, hardly the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to democratic exercises.

I have been to the U.K. a number of times since the Brexit vote and can happily report that I have not noticed a change in the way people treat me. But I keep hearing from friends how their European colleagues feel insecure about their jobs. An American acquaintance that lives and works in the U.K. has been waiting for months for the renewal of her residency, while it took only weeks before Brexit, preventing her from travelling for her job. Such inconveniences, when added up together, create the “hostile environment” that current PM Theresa May promised to deliver as home secretary back in 2012. So far, Brexit remains an “atmosphere,” and the real “leaving” is scheduled to happen in March 2019. Till then, Theresa May is trying to get the best exit deal possible; it seems with not much success. In August, when I suppose March 2019 still seemed far away to her, May was declaiming the slogan “No deal is better than a bad deal,” but now she is finding it hard to garner support for her hard Brexit plans. After several meetings between British and EU negotiators it appears that no deal is a probable reality rather than a rhetorical device.

The most contentious matter in the negotiations, it turns out, is not EU citizens’ rights to live and work in the U.K., but a border within the British Isles themselves. With Brexit in place, the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would become a hard border again, a division no one wants to revive. To that end, Donald Tusk has suggested that Northern Ireland stay in the EU, which then, in effect, would mean a hard border within the United Kingdom, which May has already said is unacceptable. Still trying to put a brave face concerning the difficulties the country will face cutting ties with European partners, May announced that now the country would allow in “skilled immigrants,” not just from the EU but from the world at large. I would want to rejoice at this news as it would mean job opportunities for several of my friends in the sceptered isle, but May’s “hostile environment” started working well before Brexit, and I have seen non-EU friends being refused visas repeatedly. So there really can’t be an easing of entry for qualified friends, but am looking forward to chatting with German tourists at the non-U.K. visa queue at Heathrow.

In her Brexit speech last week, Sturgeon said, “Never has so much been lost by so many to satisfy so few.” As a spectator of British politics, my experience has been that once they start quoting Churchill, the gloves are off. My Facebook time line tells me there will be a “March for a Final Say” on Oct. 20. It will be interesting to see what other resources the “second vote” campaign will draw upon before March 2019.

 

 

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CPEC corridor must be a win/win

Gul Khan

China’s strategic initiative for opening the Silk Road route is a brilliant and strategic move on many fronts. By opening the western corridor, China will rely less upon its currently exclusive Eastern Pacific Sea route, from which she exports most of her industrial goods.

Through CPEC China can bring prosperity to the agrarian population by providing jobs in the area of transportation and also boost the agricultural sector in western Chinese provinces. The excess Chinese agricultural products produced in mass quantities can be exported to its western neighbors who have large populations. The Silk Road Initiative will accelerate Chinese trade into nearly 64 countries, further strengthening the Chinese economy. And finally, through the northern route of Pakistan side Kashmir, China can monitor India from the northwest. China, as a result of CPEC, will gain both economically and militarily.

What is more difficult to ascertain, however, are the benefits Pakistan will gain by offering China a route through its arterial system from the northeast to the southwest.

The new PTI government is correct in its assessment: if the purpose of the road is only to facilitate the movement of goods while incurring enormous debt, it doesn’t make any sense.

With the massive influx of Chinese products, Pakistan’s domestic production, especially manufacturing (whatever is left), will be devastated. By importing cheaper Chinese agricultural products, Pakistan agriculture will also suffer tremendously, as the country shall be entirely dependent on Chinese imports. Furthermore, Chinese food production supply doesn’t follow the same safety standards as observed in the West, hence much of the cheaper food will pose a myriad of risks, be it insecticides, pesticides, or other dangerous chemicals. An increase in imports will increase Pakistan’s trade deficit with China, and as a result Pakistan’s foreign reserve will further deplete. As a consequence, Pakistan may have to borrow loans from China to, in a sense, support the Chinese economy. As Pakistan and China have strong military ties, Pakistan will be in no position to even protest let alone serve its people and protect sovereign national interests.

Many CPEC projects are both financed and engineered by Chinese companies. Though this is disputed, if it proves to be true then Pakistani construction and engineering companies are at an even more significant loss because they have been shut down from projects within Pakistan. Some Chinese companies have complained that Pakistani companies are corrupt and incompetent, but this claim is easily countered if the Pakistan government certifies companies who are credible.

We must be involved in the development and construction of this initiative so our economy is not at a loss from this significant project. Chinese companies will not only benefit from building the infrastructure but shall also build power plants whose revenues shall also be reaped by the Chinese government. While the cost of CPEC is nearly 46 Billion Dollars, China will move goods worth 460 Billion dollars through Pakistan. Pakistani will watch Chinese mass-produced products travel through its roads and reach global markets with little to no benefit to the host of the One Belt One Road, an initiative touted to be a panacea for a flagging Pakistan economy. Additionally, it is a known fact that the Chinese government is buying significant lands along the CPEC route. Once the route is operational, the Chinese government shall have ownership of all such infrastructure in Pakistan. China can claim sovereignty over

A: Pakistani lands and buildings under its jurisdiction.

Before we cut out our hands and feet and make an offering to the Chinese, we need to go back to the drawing board and re-negotiate such an agreement. Now is the time! Frankly, the previous governments of Pakistan should be held responsible for selling out Pakistan’s strategic interest and jeopardizing its future that may indeed result in conflict should our relations with China sour for any reason.

Whether it was done deliberately or with sheer ignorance, it is undoubtedly treason in my humble opinion. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration should put its best effort to renegotiate this agreement. If this means taking a loss, so be it, but we can’t lose Pakistan’s sovereignty at any cost.

If we merely take a look at how Pakistan’s environment will fare in front of the Chinese onslaught of manufactured goods, we will find that when this project is completed, massive movement of goods by road will create pollution of epic proportions, causing havoc not only on the pristine northern beauty of Pakistan, but the entirety of her lands as greenhouse gasses accumulate and adversely affect the climate. Pakistani cities already have an alarming amount of pollution, and this additional pollution will further cause more health problems such as asthma, allergy, cancer, heart disease, and kidney failure.

As far as Pakistan’s economy is concerned, the country’s unborn industrial revolution and potential exports will never see the light of the day if cheaper and/or subsidized products flood the market, which already seems the case. Cheaper Chinese goods will leave no incentive for Pakistani domestic manufacturers, industrialists, or exporters to do any business, especially when Pakistan has high import duties on the primary raw material of any type.

Pakistan industry lacks modern machinery, its labor force is underqualified, and its primitive production practices are no match to Chinese industrial manufacturing capabilities.

As we have seen in case of the USA, where the greedy industrialists exploited cheap labor by moving their plants and equipment lock stock and barrel to China in the nineties and the first decade of new millennium. As a result, the US lower middle class suffered a tremendous blow. Millions of ordinary American workers lost their jobs as the factories moved to China, resulting in resentment amongst the ordinary American workers who could no longer maintain a decent standard of living doing menial tasks. This resentment was one reason Donald Trump was elected – to curb Chinese imports; as a result, we see the current trade war with China, and the protectionists within the United States are now poised to reduce the balance of trade with China. In case of United States, it can put tariffs on Chinese government as it wishes with no regard to GATT or other international trade regulatory bodies, but how can a country like Pakistan fight back with a superpower like China, especially when we would owe them a colossal debt, and be dependent on them for everything?

It is correct that Pakistan and China had a great history of friendship, militarily alliance and a shared border. However, Pakistani must understand that for the past two decades China is not the same as China of 60’s and 70’s. Both PML-N and PPP leadership have failed to realize that China has transformed into an economic dragon, and the bigger it grows, the more it demands. Soon this dragon will be the number one industrial and commercial power, and both

B: its needs and strategic goals vis a vis’ it’s politics and economy could change at any time. It’s already exercising its near-hegemonic power in many parts of the world, and as soon as it military power grows it will not hesitate to use it for its vested interest. Unfortunately, the West and Russia have not left a good example of unilaterally invading and destroying countries that refuse to toe their line.

This subtle point has not registered in the minds of the selfish political junta in Pakistan; if it has, they looked the other way as their personal coffers are being filled due to corrupt deals.

Some years back during a meeting with a Chinese engineering company which specialized in manufacturing power plants, I was told by one of their engineers that the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, openly demanded the percentage on power projects.

With this kind of reputation, who will respect us and adhere to our demands? One can only wonder if there was some deal between Chinese companies and PLM-N leadership; perhaps that is why they sold Pakistan’s interest and touted the advantages Pakistan would gain with CPEC. The time has come that PTI government takes a detailed look at all aspects of this project and ensures that both parties can equally benefit from this project.

I had a chance to discuss with one of Pakistan’s key bureaucrats about the effects of pollution with CPEC, and he was trying to convince me that pollution would actually decrease, though he failed to cite any numbers or hard data. Indeed, experts in the field, rather than those who blatantly toe the line of their political masters, should handle such serious issues.

We need to explain to China that Pakistan, as her friend, shall be happy to facilitate her goods through her arterial system, only without clogging her own arteries and going into cardiac arrest. PM Imran has built a cancer hospital. However, if we don’t check the pollution generated through CPEC, he may have to open a cancer hospital in every small and large city.

In the initial phase, 7,000 trucks will move per day, and this number is only bound to increase due to high demand for cheaper Chinese products.

While I have rung the alarm bells, let me be clear: I am not against CPEC. I am against how we managed to get such a raw deal. I believe in moving forward by making this initiative a mutual success for both Pakistan and China.

I sincerely believe that China will not accept harm to its own environment or citizens, and so they must extend the same courtesy and respect to Pakistan, especially when they consider us their good friends; hence I posit the following recommendations, built upon the necessity for mutual benefit and reciprocity, for the government of Pakistan as we move forward:

  1. All infrastructure, roads, land properties, and assets in Pakistan shall be under complete Pakistani sovereignty; there should be no question about it. All lands should be leased, and the lease can be terminated as per international contract negotiations.
  2. Pakistan must levy a surcharge of minimum $ 200.00 per container for a regular and $ 300.00 for a hazardous container. Another option is to charge 1% of the Invoice cost of the container.

With this minimum surcharge Pakistan can earn revenues of up to half billion dollars annually.

  1. Containers must be clearly marked if they are hazardous or non-hazardous. Furthermore, they should follow all the same rules as the Department of Transportation in the United States.

There should be complete facilities within every 20 miles to deal with any eventual spill from hazardous cargo.

  1. An inspection agency should be implemented strictly to ensure strict accordance to code for all vessels moving through Pakistani roads. All cargo must be roadworthy and safe passing strict certification from this agency. No vehicle that is overloaded or unsafe should enter Pakistan from any entry point.

5- All trucks if diesel should go through strict European Emission Standards. There should be a provision that such trucks should be allowed only for a period of 2 -3 years, after that only Electrical Vehicles should travel on the road. Dubai has already introduced Electric Trucks produced by Tesla. If this option is not feasible, then Pakistan should run an electric train to move a majority of the containers for most of the way.

6- Pakistan can create green power through windmills or solar to support charging stations.

Both countries can jointly agree on power production, and Pakistan must have equal benefit from this arrangement.

7- Goods moving through the CPEC route for Chinese export should travel through the external routes. If goods exiting the CPEC route for the purpose of sales must go through proper import channels and adequate import duties and taxes should be levied.

Also, if Pakistan is offering China this extraordinary opportunity to enhance her trade, then China should offer Pakistan same reciprocity and reduce duties and tariffs on Pakistani products compared to other countries. A friend of mine who travels to China for business has informed me that his room was raided at the middle of the night for no reason although he is senior executive of a company.

Other Pakistani businessmen have informed me that “Green Passport” is like a sore thumb to Chinese immigration. If we treat Chinese people with respect, we expect Chinese to extend the same courtesy to our citizens.

8- China should abide by all international dumping practices to avoid any negative impact on Pakistan domestic manufacturing.

9- Only a section of Gawadar Port should be used for CPEC purposes. Pakistan must reserve the right to utilize its port for its own exports in any way it deems suitable.

10- China and Pakistan need to develop institutes for promoting industrial manufacturing, aerospace technology, telecommunications and information technology. As the United States is putting extra tariffs on Chinese goods, there is an excellent opportunity for Pakistan to enhance its manufacturing in those sectors under US scrutiny. It’s not only China’s but also India’s steel products that have been targeted for additional tariffs. The topic of enhancing Pakistan manufacturing and improving domestic productivity both for domestic use and export requires extensive analysis that is beyond the scope of this article, and I hope address those subject in coming weeks.

11- To the intelligent reader I must request the understanding that while we have thoroughly studied the pros of CPEC and worked ourselves into a frenzy, we must also look into the downsides to make sure long-term interest of Pakistan is not in jeopardy. I certainly hope PM Imran Khan’s government can thoroughly review all aspects of CPEC so that neither Pakistan’s sovereignty nor its GDP is negatively affected by this agreement that may last for decades.

Yes, there is a potential for Pakistan to move goods through the vast road infrastructure, but the more significant opportunity we have now is how to enhance our domestic manufacturing as well as improve our agricultural output and enhance the skills of our workforce.

Chinese friendship is always appreciated – my father was a crucial figure in negotiating Pakistan and China boundary – I am acutely aware of its necessity. I am happy we have excellent relations with China but it cannot be at the expense of Pakistan. As good friends Pakistanis are delighted to see China prosper. We only ask that China acts with respect and mutuality towards Pakistan and makes CPEC a win/win for both nations.

 

 

 

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The Green Revolution and Saudi-Iran tensions

Kerem Alkin

Whether you call it the struggle for leadership in the Middle East or sectarian tension or the sovereignty race, Turkey is closely following the consistently increasing competition and tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran – a process highly beneficial for the US and Russia, allowing the US and Russia to penetrate and settle deeper into the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It also offers them significant opportunities to control the global fossil fuel market because the Green Revolution – the tremendous progress in renewable energy, intelligent energy and non-carbon energy technologies – will trigger and accelerate significant breaks in terms of demand and price for global carbon and fossil fuel-based energy markets from 2030 onward.

Thus, the US and Russia want a world where, all important fossil energy derivative producers in the Middle East are weakened, the arms and wings of Iran and Saudi Arabia are broken, and China and India cannot meet the energy demand from the Strait of Hormuz; thus, large energy consumer countries and regions (Europe, China, India, and Africa) will depend on them. The main point:

The world will invest $10.2 trillion from 2020 to 2040 in intelligent energy technologies – renewable energy technologies and non-carbon energy technologies for subsequent demand. In 20 years, half of the world’s annual energy needs will be produced in power plants and facilities based on renewable energy technologies. By 2050, the number of electric cars in the world will exceed 1 billion.

To maximize profit on a global scale from oil and natural gas, from now to 2040, the US and Russia want to keep a large portion of the fossil fuel earnings of the next 20 years bypassing all competitors. As a threat to Iran and Russia, the US merely provoked, sometimes threatened Saudi Arabia; similarly, Russia seeks to use Iran as a threat against the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statements that it will greatly reduce its production, even if it will not completely disappear as China’s oil producer over the next five years, Russia’s responses are that its oil production will rapidly decrease in 19 years and that it is taking steps to increase non-oil revenues for the country; and US President Trump’s remarks on Saudi Arabia are its comeback. We must be very aware at this point that if a war – some are struggling to make it happen – breaks out between Saudi Arabia and Iran, this will hurt the diplomatic efforts in Turkey’s region.

Central banks must protect the real sector: For the global economy, the last quarter of 2018 and 2019 point to a five-quarter period in which the primary and secondary effects of the trade and currency wars being waged by the US and during which the danger of the US escalating geopolitical risks with Russia, China, the EU and Turkey remain high.

In this period, topics that will be carefully followed for the global economy will focus on the possible hike in global commodity and petroleum prices fueled by global demand and geopolitical tensions and on prominent central banks’ management of pressure that might arise from global inflation.

At this point, we observe a process in which Mr. Trump’s strong objections to the Fed’s stance in raising interest rates are getting a reaction. Central banks’ perceptions of “priority” missions for the fight against inflation, for price stability, with the risk of global inflation, has the potential to lead to new points of compression for the world economy, especially for 2019.

In particular, a considerable number of economists are worried that the Fed’s determination to reduce its balance sheet and sustain the rise in interest rates, will increase the cost of financing in the US economy, negatively affecting the profitability and investment appetite of the real sector, in particular, and that this will drag the US into a deep recession.

The possibility that the Fed’s stance would seriously raise the value of the US dollar will disrupt the Trump Administration’s operation to compel rival countries with trade wars. The financial tightening steps that the Fed will join, along with the European Central Bank (ECB) as well in 2019 autumn possibly, will increase borrowing costs for dollars and euros.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest Global Financial Stability Report points out that with regards to increasing compression in global financial conditions, risks are increasing at the aspect of transforming or managing the global debt stock, the probability that the real sector’s profitability will be negatively affected from this situation, and if the profitability of both the real sector and the financial system is negatively affected, significant value losses may happen in capital markets at the global scale. However, one of the preliminary conditions for sustainable growth for countries and the global economy is a satisfactory profit environment for the real sector.

Thus, we are entering a conjuncture where central banks, by re-evaluating their traditional or conventional attitudes, must concentrate on a set of monetary policies that protect real sector profitability. I want to remind readers that discussions are being made about the possibility of a loss of between 10 percent and 15 percent in the real sector in Europe if no consensus is established on the issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Idlib breakthrough may spread to wider Middle East

Ozer Khalid

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin achieved a diplomatic breakthrough in Sochi, potentially carving out a more promising and peaceful future for 3.5 million deserving Syrians, diplomatically inching ever closer to world peace and averting yet another humanitarian crisis in the blazing political tinderbox that is the Middle East.

Idlib province, nestled in northwestern Syria, is the biggest bastion of the opposition, and neighboring Turkey is understandably keen to prevent an offensive there to prevent a “spillover effect.” Idlib is a bastion for violence yet it might now become a blueprint for peace and a beacon for existential hope. If Ankara and Moscow’s joint Idlib efforts evolve into a harbinger of humanitarian goodwill, this model can and should urgently be scaled and replicated across Syria, and geostrategically in the wider Middle East.

Idlib has since long been a protracted political quagmire but Ankara and Moscow’s bilateral negotiations finally cast encouraging light on it. Turkey and Russia’s memorandum of understanding now calls for a much needed politically negotiated settlement and stability in Idlib’s “de-escalation” zone, whereby acts of aggression are soon to be outlawed.

The Sochi talks exhibit Ankara and Moscow’s avowed political commitment to “walk the talk” reaffirming their mutually beneficial determination to combat terrorism in Syria, in all its shadowy, murky hues and stripes. Erdogan and Putin’s diplomatic triumph includes momentous milestones such as a 20-square-kilometer demilitarized zone in Syria’s smoldering cauldron of Idlib, bifurcating Syrian “Assadist” troops from opposition forces, with Turkish and Russian soldiers patrolling and monitoring the zone to ensure that demilitarization is adhered to.

Bilateral joint patrols along the demilitarized zone will come into effect on Oct. 15. Ankara and Moscow will send reinforcements to its troops monitoring Idlib, a timely tactical maneuver intended to ward off a ground assault, at least for the foreseeable future.

All heavy artillery and ammunition such as rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), tanks, guns and mortars will be withdrawn by Oct. 10.  This promising diplomatic feat also deals a significant blow to the radicalized militants of the Nusra Front/Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – part and parcel of Syria’s extremist al-Qaida network that has been more lethal since the demise of Daesh – by making them withdraw. HTS militants were (mis)using Idlib and other areas as breeding grounds for militancy, insurgency, recruitment, support, financing and logistical reinforcement.

The agreement in practice: The pragmatic implementation of the Sochi agreement renders impetus to the process of a political settlement of the Syrian conflict, opening the doors to added diplomacy via the Geneva platform and potentially catalyzing peace in Syria, which has been in the toxic throes of unconscionable social and sectarian uncertainty and violence for years. Russia deems Idlib a hotbed of radical extremism and affirms that the Syrian regime has the right to retake control of it. Idlib and its nearby area are home to more than three million Syrians, with an alarming estimate of 60,000 opposition fighters.

Erdogan met with Putin for the second time in less than 10 days after Russia and Iran emphatically expressed support for an Idlib offensive. Erdogan encouragingly affirmed, “I believe our joint statement following the Sochi meeting will give the region a new hope.” Putin told Erdogan in opening remarks carried by Russian news agencies that they will be “looking for solutions where there are none right now.”

Turkey’s diplomatic overture in Sochi positively appeals to the better judgment of Moscow and Tehran for a long-term decisive diplomatic resolution to what was a ticking time bomb. In Sochi, Erdogan and Putin affirmed added cooperation in the economic and energy sectors, as well as regional and international issues.

The Sochi diplomatic talks further cemented Turkey-Russia relations, strengthening economic, trade and regional security and intelligence ties especially between Turkey’s National Intelligence Service (MIT) and the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation (SVR RF). The positive momentum achieved in Sochi must now be carried forward and fully implemented by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov along with the eventual cooperation and goodwill of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, opening up more opportunities for future trilateral peace talks over Syria and the wider region.

 

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Saudi Arabia is in big trouble

Burhanettin Duran

For more than one week, the House of Saud has been under fire for its ties to the United States and its crackdown on dissidents. First, US President Donald Trump shared details of his most recent conversation with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to a group of his supporters in Mississippi, where Trump told him that he could not survive for more than two weeks without Washington’s support.

The US president’s remarks were crude enough to hurt the Saudi monarch’s pride. At the same time, the situation was grave enough to take stock of US-Saudi relations, which had been steadily improving since World War II. Again, Trump’s statement was remarkable enough that Riyadh had to think long and hard about its joint plans with the Trump administration in the Middle East.

It would seem that the Saudis won’t just spend money to pay for forming alliances with the US next to the infamous orb in Riyadh and trying to form an anti-Iran bloc in the region.

The decision by regional powers to have an asymmetrical relationship with the United States often results in fragility and a violation of their national interests.

The security services that countries with no autonomy purchase with cash tends to be a nuisance and, if necessary, a threat against their employer. Trump’s crude words must not be viewed independently of his address to the United Nations, where he warned the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members not to raise oil prices. After all, Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s largest oil producers. In other words, the Trump administration doesn’t want the Saudis to raise oil prices in order to pay the United States.

In response to Trump’s statement, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave an interview to Bloomberg, where he attempted to defend his country’s pride. The crown prince told reporters that Riyadh had already paid for the weapons that it purchased from the United States. He added that Saudi Arabia had been around since 1744 – three decades earlier than the United States.

To be clear, those words weren’t intended as a criticism of Donald Trump. Riyadh works very hard to irreversibly align its policies with Washington’s priorities. For this purpose, the Saudis have ended up adopting the Israeli position on Palestine and Jerusalem. Having taken huge risks to make concessions that amounted to a break with traditional Saudi foreign policy, the House of Saud appears to think that it has no choice but to embrace Trump. Hence the crown prince’s efforts to downplay the US president’s remarks: A friend, he argues, can say good or bad things.

Another incident that captured the world’s attention was the disappearance of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Last week, he entered the Saudi Consulate to obtain official papers necessary to get married in Turkey, and never came back. Turkish police are concerned that Khashoggi was murdered, dismembered and carried out of the Saudi mission in multiple bags. Riyadh has a long history of abductions and enforced disappearances when it comes to dissidents.

The 1979 disappearance of Nassir al-Sa’id in Beirut, the 2003 abduction of Prince Sultan bin Turki in Geneva immediately come to mind. So does the suspicious disappearance of Saud bin Saif al Nasr. Again, the detention and forced resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri wasn’t too long ago. The Khashoggi scandal could deal a serious blow to Turkey-Saudi relations. If the authorities are right about what happened, it will be difficult for Riyadh to explain why it decided to kill a dissident at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. At this point, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he is “very sorry” and pledged to “closely monitor” the investigation. Going forward, Turkish and Saudi officials need to work together to shed light on this incident.

Moreover, we must point out that this affair amounts to a scandal with serious international repercussions for the Saudis. Having spent millions of dollars over several weeks to portray himself as a “reformist” in Washington, the Saudi crown prince now faces fierce criticism there. There is talk about the US Congress moving to “punish” Saudi Arabia – which could derail ongoing efforts to create the Middle East Strategic Alliance that is intended to bring together Egypt, Jordan and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Riyadh must understand the limits and dangers of collaborating with Donald Trump. It has no choice but to engage Turkey on the basis of cooperation. Greed must be brought under control. Covert operations only serve to ruin friendships.

 

 

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Pakistani Diaspora can help Pakistan achieve its full potential

By: Frank F. Islam

Realizing the importance of overseas diaspora, Prime Minister Imran Khan has made passionate appeal to Pakistani’s living abroad to donate at least US $1000 for the construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam. Responding to the call, a prominent Pakistani-American entrepreneur Tahir Javed pledged to generate over US$200 million for the project. Many others from all over the world have also come forward to support this cause. However, regardless of the success or failure of this particular project, the fact remains that overseas Pakistanis have a key role in building Pakistan’s progress and prosperity.  They are vital resource contributing to the economic, political, and social developments of Pakistan. The current government of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) enjoys a massive support in this segment and the policy makers are hopeful that this group would join them in realizing the vision of a new Pakistan.

Although Pakistani diaspora is spread across the world, the government in Islamabad always accords special importance to Pakistani Americans owing to their contribution towards the country and their influence over policy makers of the United States. The PakistaniAmericans are generally well educated and affluent. According to state department, United States is home to about 500,000 Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans. During last fiscal year alone, Pakistan received remittances worth US $2.71 billion from the United States. A 2015 Migration Policy Institute study of Pakistani-Americans revealed that nearly a fifth of diaspora households report annual incomes over $140,000. The median household income of Pakistani-American families is $60,000 – a full $10,000 higher than the figure for American families overall. It is not just that Pakistani Americans are doing well. They are also inclined to stay connected with Pakistan through investments, philanthropy, and personal involvement. The Pakistani Diaspora can bring broad economic benefits to Pakistan.

According to Michael Kugelman, South Asia expert at Washington-based think tank Woodrow Wilson Centre, US-based diaspora is highly philanthropic and spends generously on causes in Pakistan. In his article for the book “Pakistani Diaspora, Corridors of Opportunity and Uncertainty”, Kugelman details higher education level and status of Pakistani Americans. According to him most common occupation of Pakistani Americans include the affluent careers of medicine, accounting and financial analysis. Over all, 32% of the Pakistani diaspora in the US holds professional or managerial jobs including fields such as engineering, law, science, education, finance and human resources.

These figures illustrate the amazing potential of thePakistani Americans to help Pakistan and its 200 million people. This help could be materialized in a variety of ways but in my view, there are five key areas where the attention should be focused.

Education:

More than half of the population of Pakistan is illiterate. The country needs dire help in education sector. US-based Pakistani diaspora is already helping the country improve its access to education through small basic education projects. But there is a need for an organized effort on this front. The PTI government should devise a mechanism under which overseas Pakistanis are encouraged to own and manage certain public sector schools in Pakistan that could serve as model institutions to be replicated locally. This will help the PTI government implement its vision on human resource development.

In addition, Pakistani Americans educationist based in America should also volunteer to share their knowledge and experience with Pakistani universities and educational institutions. Joint research projects could be initiated with Pakistani universities and faculty/student exchange programs should also be organized with the help of Pakistani professors serving in US universities and colleges. In addition, wealthy Pakistanis should sponsor talented Pakistani students for study in US educational institutions. Because of the difference that education can make, higher education is one of my personal priorities forphilanthropic investment. In February 2017, my wife, Debbie, and I were in India to dedicate the Frank and Debbie Islam Management Complex at Aligarh Muslim University. We have also pledged to support development of a technical college for women in India. I hope affluent Pakistani Americans would also start similar initiative in Pakistan. One final thought is that while higher education is important for all, higher education for those

in the weaker sections in Pakistan is most critical because they are most disadvantaged in terms of educational empowerment.

Health:

Health sector in Pakistan is also in dire need of help as crowded public sector hospitals are under-resourced and basic health facilities are scarce. Given the fact that aconsiderable number of Pakistani-Americans are involved in health care profession, this sector needs more attention. Pakistani doctors in the United States have already set-up a prestigious body called Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA). This organization is involved in a number of welfare projects inside Pakistan in the areas of health, education and poverty alleviation. However Pakistan needs more help in health sector. Pakistani American can help establish centers of excellence in various Pakistani cities to help improve quality of health care in the country. Basic health is also an area that could be improved significantly through the help of organizations like APPNA.  Pakistan can also learn from US experience in controlling infectious diseases and the initiation of programs on vaccines for TB, dengue, and respiratory syncytial virus through public-private partnerships.

Energy and water shortage:

Pakistan is an energy-starved country. Some would argue that electricity shortage has caused more harm to Pakistan’s industry than the menace of terrorism. Although the previous government claimed that the country had managed to produce over 10000 megawatt of electricity during last five years with significant help from China, Pakistan still needs more energy to cater to the needs of its growing economy. The country is also facing an acute water shortage.

Experts have called for construction of more dams to save water and generate energy. Pakistani-Americans can help Pakistan not only through their donations for Diamer-Bhasha dam but also through their investment in renewable energy projects in the country. Their investment in energy related projects could be critical for Pakistan’s industry and its overall economy.

Innovation and entrepreneurship:

As the US based diaspora is well educated and affluent, it can help Pakistan in innovations and entrepreneurship.With the introduction of 3G and 4G services in Pakistan and increase in the internet penetration, the country is ready for further development of its IT sector. US-based IT specialists can help Pakistan prepare IT solutions as well as train local IT experts. In addition, US investments in small Pakistani startups can give a significant boost to entrepreneurships in the country, which in turn will help in creating jobs and in creating companies across Pakistan

Improving bilateral relations

Pakistan and United States have been historically enjoying very strong relationships. But at times these relations have suffered setbacks. Currently the bilateral ties are experiencing a difficult time. Pakistan cannot afford further deterioration of its ties with the United States.

This is the time that influential Pakistani-Americans should accelerate efforts to bridge the gap between the policy makers of the two countries. Increased people to people engagements are necessary to remove misunderstandings and build confidence. The Pakistani Americans can play a key role in strengthening U.S Pakistan Partnership.

Pakistani Americans have the character, capacity, competence and responsibility to be leaders in addressing the pivotal areas I have identified and in many other areas as well. In fact, many are already doing so. However, Pakistani government should also come up with incentives for Pakistani-Americans. A recent move to grant voting rights to overseas Pakistanis is a welcome step. The Pakistani government should also create a friendly environment for investment in the country and grant more facilities to Pakistani diaspora so that they feel encouraged to start business and other initiatives back home.

On the issue of Diamer-Basha Dam, one wonders how the government will reward the overseas Pakistani for their contribution. In my view the contribution should not be limited to charity. It should be an investment with clear goals and return mechanism.

I know numerous Pakistan-American groups and individuals who are extending a

hand to help Pakistan achieve its full potential. I urge more Pakistani-Americans to join them as allies in this most important joint venture between Pakistani-Americans and their counterparts in Pakistan.

(Frank F. Islam is an Entrepreneur, Civic Leader, and Thought Leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

 

 

 

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Khashoggi is a victim of a wider war against truth

Sam Hamad

Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance isn’t just another hit by a rogue state – it’s the symptom of a world where the actions of rogue states are rapidly becoming the new normal.

If Saudi Arabia is indeed to blame for the murder of the Saudi journalist and critic of the ruling Al Saud dynasty, its message is mercilessly simple: no Saudi citizen critical of the regime anywhere will be tolerated

There have been a few other instances of Saudi murdering dissidents and perceived subversives outside its borders, but the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death are far from normal. Khashoggi had gone to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document necessary for his impending marriage to his Turkish fiancee – he has not been seen since. According to the Turkish police, Khashoggi was tortured and murdered by a 15-man ‘death squad’ sent from Riyadh. Though Saudi officially denies any involvement in his death, its mouthpieces took to twitter to boastfully taunt other Saudi dissidents. Prince Khalid bin Abdullah tweeted at one, ‘’Don’t you want to pass by the embassy? They want to talk with you face to face’.  To use consulates as murder traps for journalists in other countries is unprecedented, but this kind of action has not emerged from a clear blue sky.

New world disorder: Over the past two decades, the world order has become severely degraded. While many thought the ‘war on terror’ was a mere culmination of US supremacy around the world, the reality was more complex. The US under George W. Bush, with all its imperialist hubris, began a process that hugely weakened not simply vague concepts such as ‘international law’ and ‘human rights’, but it provided the nails in the coffin for the institutions that are supposed to uphold these things, most notably the UN.

Its mass criminality in Iraq put the smell of blood in the air – it was only a matter of time before other predators picked up the scent. But if the ‘war on terror’ provided a huge lunge backwards in terms of the degradation of world order, the so-called ‘Arab spring’ was a moment of redemption and progress. The revolutions came just as the Bush administration slunk off with blood on their hands, shocking those who were previously thought omnipotent and untouchable, and providing the greatest test of our generation. Only the worst considered these revolutions, these huge movements of objective progress against vast systems of tyranny, to be parochial events whose success and failure were not of world-historic importance.

The worst, as ever, seem to have triumphed and so did counter-revolution in almost every national front of the Arab spring. This counter-revolution, in Syria, took the form of the 21st Century’s first genocide and the implications of the world’s indifference and appeasement of these genocidal forces. Despite numerous opportunities to support those resisting them and ending or mitigating the catastrophes, it fast-tracked what was an already decaying world order.

Every authoritarian on earth saw in Syria the reality that there was no force in the world willing to do what was necessary to stand up for the principles of democracy, liberty and human rights. Without going into extreme detail, one can see a grimly vicious pattern moving from the large to the local in all this: if nobody who can is willing to stop the mass cleansing, torture and extermination of Syrians, why would they care about the Rohingya people? Why would the self-determination and lives of Ukrainians matter? Why would Russia blatantly carrying out a fatal chemical weapons attack on the streets of an English town matter?

And why would the lives and liberties of journalists matter? Why, indeed, does truth matter at all when you can kill, torture and imprison those who try to tell it and pay millions to PR companies to simply invent it?

Jamal’s place in this world: Which brings us back to the seemingly lonesome death of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Khashoggi is a victim of a state terror but he’s also victim of a wider war against truth. The degradation of world order in favour of an abode of monstrous authoritarians has brought with it a necessary war on information and a cultivated will to pollute, degrade and control information.

This can be glimpsed in ‘soft’ form, which can be seen in the Russian sabotaging of the democracies of its enemies, as well as in ‘hard’ form, such as the murder, torture and imprisonment of critical journalists, as well as the use of PR firms to flood the media with ‘positive’ stories and ‘bots’ that swarm every negative story with obscurantism and trolling. 

In more stark terms, we see this deliberate obscurantism used to justify genocide. But the war against truth is something that has spread like wild fire in recent years, well beyond the killing fields of the counter-revolutions in the Arab world, which has seen an untold amount of journalists imprisoned and targeted for murder.

Putin’s Russia has become a vanguard of persecuting and assassinating critical journalists both within and without Russian borders. We see the consistent persecution of journalists and critics in Sisi’s Egypt, Modi’s India, as well as in PSUV-ruled Venezuela and, of course, in China, which has just recently abducted the head of Interpol in deeply dubious circumstances. Increasingly, there is no safe haven for anyone who challenges power.

And it’s spreading right to the heart of the so-called ‘free world’. Counter-revolution might be most immediately destructive locally, but when an entire country is destroyed, its ramifications expand across the world. Donald Trump has undertaken a thus-far soft war on critical journalists, reacting to every ounce of criticism with hysterical denunciations and tacit or overt incitement against critical journalists.

This is the context within which Saudi would feel confident enough to use its consulate in an economically turbulent Turkey to murder Khashoggi. The so-called ‘free world’ is not immune from this either – as authoritarian forces arise within and around it, we see similarly disturbing trends against dissent and criticism.

We’ve seen the fascist regime of Viktor Orban in Hungary crackdown on NGOs tied to George Soros – NGOs that aid the refugees that Orban wants to eradicate from Europe – while the far-right in Italy seek to follow suit, with fatal consequences for migrants. Most recently, and horrifically, the investigative journalist Viktoria Marinova was recently found raped and murdered in Bulgaria after she had undertaken an investigation into the imprisonment of two of her colleagues for their work uncovering a vast fraud involving EU funds and Bulgarian oligarchs.

All of this savagery occurs under the same haze of the global rise of authoritarianism and degradation of world order. Jamal Khashoggi was murdered because he constantly chipped away at the veneer of the image of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, who projects the image of himself as a ‘reformer’, but is in reality Saudi’s very own totalitarian strongman fit for the ages. He has disappeared because he strived to tell the truth – the most dangerous weapons against those who deal solely in skulduggery. If he is indeed dead, than Jamal was a martyr for the truth. Around the world, he will be one of many similar martyrs – and I fear there will be many more.

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Gas price hikes and IMF

Adil Zia

Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf’s stance over price hike change with every passing moment, before coming into power, PTI vehemently opposed inflation. On 22 December, 2013, Imran Khan was leading a rally; one of the banners hung on Imran Khan’s container contained the words:

“Hakumrano! Gharebo ko jeenay ka haq do, Mehngai kay khilaf awam ka ihtijaj”. Furthermore, Asad Umer castigated the rise of petroleum and gas prices in National Assembly as well as in his political meetings. Beside this, Pakistan Tehreek Insaf’s official twitter account stated that PTI will not increase prices of gas and petroleum once it came into power. Then right after coming into power, PTI changed its stance with a sudden U-turn as far as rise in prices are concerned.

In the first week of September, the news in the national media circulated regarding the increase in prices of various fuel commodities i.e. oil and gas. Pakistan’s Finance Minister Asad Umer categorically denied such reports saying that the news has been misreported in the media as no such decision has been taken. Same statement came from Information Minister Fawad Chaudary that government would not increase prices of gas and petroleum.

After few days, PTI government changed their stance and announced the increase of gas price upto 143%. This hike will generate a myriad of problems for common man in Naya-Pakistan. It will seriously affect the price of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) per kilogram. First time in the history of Pakistan, CNG prices will cross the century figure; the price of CNG to increase upto 22 PKR. CNG has been largely used in transport vehicles thus increasing burden on poor. PTI led government should take special care of poor class because it is already in their motto to give full relief to this class.

Adding to this, such a hike in gas prices will affect the prices of related commodities. Take for example electricity. Its price is reported to increase by almost12% after gas hike. This will further contribute to the cause of unemployment. The poor must make his mind for coming financial jolts. At least, someone did appreciate the developments of the PTI government and that is International Monitory Fund (IMF). The financial institution further noted that such measures are not enough. IMF stressed the need for a further increase in gas and power tariffs. As PTI led government is moving towards taking loans from IMF, they will readily accept institution’s suggestions.

The premises of the IMF is to eliminate world’s poverty. But after the introduction of Bretton Woods system, and especially right after the Cold War, there is no such record of any state taking loans from IMF and becoming self-sufficient in a matter of time thus eliminating poverty from its territory. Moreover, there is no example of any state whose economy started developing in an upward direction after taking loans. IMF and other creditors like World Bank and Asian Infrastructure Development bank forecast the economic growth which is primarily based on decisiveness. This statement has been supported by John Perkins, one of the leading 25 economists in the world in the 1980s. Another major point of IMF is that the governments should illustrate austerity, and that, at the expense of its citizens.

The Government of Pakistan must be cautioned while taking loans from IMF. By the way, in past, Imran Khan criticised previous governments for taking loans from IMF but this time PTI led government is looking forward to take loans from IMF. In order to save itself from taking loans from IMF, PTI led government must look at other policy options like the launch sovereign bonds and taking steps towards initiating investments schemes for overseas Pakistanis. Moreover, the government must strictly adhere to the path of austerity in the real sense. Such steps will definitely result in boosting Pakistan’s economy in an upward direction and accomplishing the goal of self-sufficiency in the realm of financial management.