By Prabasi Nepali
The civil war between the North and South in Yemen rages on and now even a cholera epidemic has broken out ravaging the war-torn country.
Over the past two years, more than 10,000 people have been killed and three million displaced amid the Saudi-led coalition’s relentless air campaign against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi Shi’ite rebels. The Saudi-led campaign is seeking to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government back to power. Unfortunately, civilian casualties have been horrendous because air bombings have been indiscriminate and no care has been taken to limit collateral damage.US President Trump gave the green signal to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman to intensify the conflict, and the US and other Western countries have been supplying deadly weapons and munitions to the Saudi-led coalition. Another Saudi-led coalition (Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) have also started a conflict with the small Emirate of Qatar in the Persian Gulf.
On Friday, Saudi-led coalition’s fighter-jets rained bombs over the Yemini capital, Sana’a, leveling houses packed with civilians and killing at least 14 people, including 8 members of a single family, relatives and witnesses said. The family’s one-year-old baby was among those killed. The bombing was the latestin a significant escalation in the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign in Yemen. Just last Wednesday, at least 41 people died when airstrikes bombed a small hotel in the town of Arhab, north of Sana’a.
Thailand: New Political Development with Flight of Ex-PM Yingluck
According to the Agence France Presse (AFP), Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has fled Thailand, after she absented herself from a court appearance that could have seen her jailed up to 10 years and a life ban from active politics – at the same time that would have made her a martyr and a rallying point with glamorous star power at home and abroad, just as the legendary Aung San Suu Kyi in neighbouring Myanmar. Thailand’s generals could hardly have planned it better. There will now be no awkward questions over why the military overthrew her in 2014. Neither can she rally support for her party at elections the army has promised for next year.
In a day of high drama, thousands of supporters – outnumbered by security forces – waited from dawn before the court for a glimpse of the ex-PM, but she did not show up. A senior party source of her Pheu Thai party (backed by the “Red Shirts Movement”) told AFP: “she is definitely no longer here, she is likely in Singapore now.” Yingluck joins her billionaire brother Thaksin in self-exile – a technical knockout for the family and their political ambitions. This leaves the populist movement that has dominated Thai politics for a generation leaderless and in despair.
Thailand’s political scene is deeply divided. On one side are the Shinawatras and their political base, which is mainly drawn from the rural poor from the North and North-East of the country. On the other, the royalist army-aligned Bangkok elite loathe the Shinawatra clan for their political machinations and pseudo-democratic posture. Yingluck’s brother Thaksin, also a former PM fled Thailand in 2008 before he was convicted of corruption and handed a two-year jail term. The former telecoms tycoon, who once owned Manchester City football club, has not returned to Thailand since and his Thai passport has been revoked. It is surmised that he has a Montenegro (a small country in the Balkans on the Adriatic Sea between Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania) passport to travel between homes in Dubai, London, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Yingluck herself evaded her court hearing for grave negligence over a greatly hyped rice subsidy scheme started by her brother, which in fact resulted in a major loss for the state (US Dollar 8 billion in losses). A senior leader of Shinawatras’ Pheu Thai party told AFP that Yingluck left Thailand (to join her brother), adding “it’s impossible she left without the military green light”, as she was closely monitored. The clan had held on to Thailand’s precarious political stage for more than a decade despite two coups, dangerous protests, a surge of legal cases and confiscation of assets. Even during exile, Thaksin had remained a galvanizing force for his party and a cunning political operator, and his sister a crafty proxy. However, experts on Thai politics say now that both siblings are absent from the scene, their time in Thailand’s fast-moving political arena is at an end. Puangthong Pawakpan, an analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University said definitively: “It is the end of the Shinawatras and the Pheu Thai party in politics.”
Afghanistan/Pakistan: A New American Strategy?
Last week, US President Donald Trump unveiled his policy for Afghanistan, committing to an open-ended conflict there and singling out Pakistan for harbouring Afghan Taliban insurgents and other militants like the Haqqani network. As part of the ‘new’ policy, US officials warned that military/development aid to Pakistan might be cut and Washington
might downgrade nuclear-rmed Pakistan’s status as a ‘major non-NATO ally’ to pressure it do more to help bring about an end to America’s longest-running war of nearly sixteen years.
Trump said: “The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable” and hit out at Pakistan, for providing safe havens to “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan. Furthermore: “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting.” The Taliban reacted: “If the US does not pull all its forces out of Afghanistan, we will make this country the 21st century graveyard for the American empire.”
Immediately, there was a chorus of indignation in Pakistan over the US criticism. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif added his voice: “They should not make Pakistan a scapegoat for their failures in Afghanistan . . . . Our commitment to war against terrorism is unmatched and unshaken.” Pakistan has been been battling militants who are seeking to over throw the state with bomb attacks and assassinations for years. Asif said Pakistan had suffered great losses from militancy. The government estimates 70,000 people have been killed since Pakistan joined the US “War on Terrorism” after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda (under the leadership of Osama bin Laden) in New York and Washing ton, D.C. Asif regretted Pakistan’s efforts to fight terrorism were being taken for granted and dismissed the notion the United States could “win war on terror by threatening us or cornering us.” Furthermore, “Our contributions, sacrifices and our role as a coalition country have been disregarded and disrespected.”
The bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States has endured periods of extreme strain during the past decade especially after Al Queda militant leader Osama bin Laden was traced near to the military base in Abbottabad and killed by US special forces (Navy Seals) in Pakistan in 2011. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is due to meet Asif soon, has outlined a range of options to change Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan, but conceded that there were concerns about putting too much pressure on Pakistan.
Asif, as well as the entire civilian/military elite, was also angered by Trump’s appeal to India to do more in Afghanistan. In effect, the Trump administration has broadened and converted the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus into a regional South Asian strategic conundrum. The Pakistan military will fight this development tooth and nail.
Sherry Rehman, a senior opposition politician and former Pakistani ambassador to the United States said: “Attempting to isolate Pakistan will not yield anything but a dangerous sharpening of strategic fault lines.” Former international cricket star turned opposition
leader Imran Khan (of the “Pakistan Tehreeke Insaaf” party) said Pakistan should finally learn a valuable lesson: “Never to fight others’ wars for the lure of dollars.”
Escalation of the Sino-Indian Stand-off in Bhutan ?
Last week, India’s Minister of the Interior Rajnath Singh predicted: “A deadlock is going on between India and China in Doklam [plateau, which India says is Bhutanese territory, but which China also claims, and where they are building a strategic road]. But I think a solution will come out soon.” Furthermore: “We want to maintain good relations with our neighbours. We don’t want conflict, we want peace.”
However, China viewed with concern India’s own road-building activity in Ladakh in an area close to the Pangong Lake, near the disputed border. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: “It seems that the Indian side is slapping its own face.” There are indications that the ministry has come under pressure from hawkish elements in the Communist Party. The General-Secretary of the party [and President] Xi Jinping may be forced to act. The window of opportunity to act still exists before the onset of winter. The Indian military is mistaken to think (and plan) that the logistics, the lines of communication and supply are too formidable for the Chinese. The Indian armed forces could be overrun in a two-pronged action, first through Arunachal Pradesh (as in October 1962), and second, from the Chumbi Valley in Tibet through Sikkim and Darjeeling District into the plains of the “Siliguri Corridor”/”Chicken’s Neck”. The Indian heartland would be, first, (temporarily) bifurcated from the North-Eastern states. And more importantly, a chunk of Indian territory would be (temporarily) occupied by Chinese forces and lie between Tibet and Bangladesh in a north-south axis, and between Nepal and Bhutan in a west-east axis – of great geo-political import!
Yemen: Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis
By Prabasi Nepali