BY SHASHI MALLA
New Pakistani PM
Pakistan’s cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan was sworn in as the 22nd prime minister last Saturday. Khan was born in Lahore in 1952, the son of a civil engineer. He grew up with his four sisters in an affluent part of the city. He received a privileged education, first in his hometown and then in Worcester, England. It was there that Khan’s love for the gentleman’s game of cricket became evident. In 1972, he enrolled at Oxford University to study politics and economics. Khan acquired a reputation as a playboy during his cricketing years – captaining his national team to world cup victory in 1992 – but embraced conservative Islam after entering politics.
Khan’s “Tehreek-e-Insaf” party (PTI/Movement for Justice) won the most seats in the July 25 parliamentary elections but fell short of an outright majority. It allied with some small parties and independents to form a coalition, and Khan was elected by the National Assembly (lower house) on Friday. Khan had campaigned on promises to combat Pakistan’s rampant corruption (common to the whole region of South Asia), ensure social justice for all, focus on health, education and development, and break the powerful landowners’ monopoly on political power.
Khan secured 176 votes in the assembly on Friday, defeating the opposition’s candidate, the former PM Shahbaz Sharif of the “Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz” (PML-N) who received 96 votes. Sharif and his party’s MPs disrupted Khan’s inaugural speech by chanting slogans against him. Khan responded by saying no one could blackmail him through such protests. Khan has promised “ruthless accountability” to combat corruption, and has said he will move to a small house in the capital Islamabad rather than live in the lavish prime minister’s residence.
Khan emerged as a critic of the so-called American ‘War on Terror’ after the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda in New York and Washington, accusing the United States of fueling extremism by carrying out drone strikes in Pakistan that killed many civilians. His critics in Pakistan have
branded him “Taliban Khan”, accusing him of sympathizing with Islamist militants. However, militancy and terrorism are not the least of his problems.
The new prime minister faces a multitude of domestic and external issues and complications that need his immediate attention. He has above all inherited an economy that is not at all healthy. The economy is in such bad shape that the trade deficit is running into tens of billions of US dollars and there is even the risk of an immediate financial crisis.
According to Imtiaz Gul, a strategic analyst, Pakistan’s fight against militancy and terrorism is linked to its foreign policy, which focuses on its nuclear-armed neighbor India and war-torn neighbor Afghanistan: “Afghanistan, India and Pakistan are all facing proxy wars. These countries will have to tell their institutions to stop hurting one another’s interests.”
Qatar Helps Turkey
Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was the first foreign head of state to visit Turkey since new tensions arose between Washington and Ankara. In his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the finance ministers of the two countries were also present. The Al Jazeera network reported that Qatar has pledged US Dollar 15 billion worth of investment in Turkey to curb the impact of the new US sanctions on Turkey. The Emir said the move was his way of standing by “brothers in Turkey”.
Oil- and gas-rich Qatar hosts a US military base and has invested heavily in the US economy, recently pledging billions more. US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had reportedly told Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani last June: “You have been a great friend to the United States.”
Nevertheless, relations between Washington and Qatar have appeared more unstable [and more one-sided] under the ‘leadership’ of Donald J. Trump than under previous administrations. After Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt suddenly cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar last year, and imposed a unilateral land-, sea- and air-blockade, falsely accusing the country of funding terrorism and destabilizing the region. President Trump tweeted his support of the said blockade – definitely under the influence of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson broke ranks with Trump over the crisis, encouraging a speedy and peaceful resolution among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC/ Egypt is not a member). Reports have suggested that Saudi and UAE leaders then moved to lobby the Trump administration [and above all Trump himself] to force Tillerson out of office. For this and other reasons, he was then fired by the president in early March. The
Gulf crisis has since not been rectified. In fact, another unnecessary conflict in the region has been fired up by
Trump — against Iran!
According to Richard N. Haass, president at the “Council on Foreign Relations”, the “structural crisis” in US-Turkish relations is evident – “the gradual but steady demise of a relationship that is already an alliance in name only”. Also: “Though the Trump administration is right to have confronted Turkey, it chose not only the wrong response [sanctions], but also the wrong issue [release of the American pastor Andrew Brunson]. Consequently, the US-Turkish partnership is not only “in jeopardy”, Erdogan has already “begun the process of looking for new friends and allies” [Erdogan quotes from an opinion piece in “The New York Times”].
Yemen Victim of War Crimes
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 29 children have been killed and 30 wounded in a Saudi-led coalition air strike in Yemen. The children were travelling on a bus that was hit at a market in Dahyan, in the northern province of Saada. The health ministry led by the rebel Shia Houthi movement puts the death toll even higher at 43 (and wounded at 61).
The Saudi-led coalition, which is backing Yemen’s government [the president resides in Riyadh and is beholden to the Saudi government] in a war with the Houthi rebels, said its actions were “legitimate”. It insists it never deliberately targets civilians, but international human rights groups have accused it of bombing markets, schools, hospitals and residential areas.
Meanwhile, the new UN special envoy to Yemen, former British diplomat Martin Griffiths, is planning to invite the warring parties to Geneva in September to discuss a framework for negotiations. He told the BBC’ Lyse Doucet that if the conflict is left unresolved, Yemen could collapse and the international community could be looking at “Syria-plus” in the years to come. He also predicted: “The war in Yemen will get more complicated the longer it goes on. There will be more international interest and polarization in terms of the parties, it will fragment further, it will be more difficult to resolve – even more than it is now.” However, it can be expected that the Saudi-led Sunni coalition [including the UAE] will do everything in its power to torpedo these negotiations. It will never accept the Houthis as an equal conference partner and in this it will have the support of Trump who is under the thumb of the Saudi crown prince – both deadly opposed to the Shia regime in Iran which supports the Houthis.
There is slight hope that the United States might disengage from the Yemen conflict, especially after CNN working with munitions experts established that the weapon that left dozens of children dead on August 9 was a 227-kilogram laser-guided MK 82 bomb made by Lockheed Martin, one of the top US defense contractors. US lawmakers are now demanding answers from the Trump administration after this horrific incident targeting innocent children and civilians. The dead and wounded cannot be passed off as ‘collateral damage’.
The United States, the United Kingdom and France provide logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led campaign, which includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Democratic House and Senate members have written letters to US defense officials demanding answers about US involvement in the civil war which has been raging for more than three years. House Democrats have written to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Intelligence Director Daniel Coats requesting a briefing about US entanglement in the conflict. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote to US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel for details about how the US supports the Saudi-led bombing campaign.
Last Monday, Trump signed a US Dollar 716 billion defense bill into law that included a measure requiring his administration to determine whether the US or its partners violated US law or policy while assisting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Trump has raised objections to 52 provisions of the new law, including that measure. Regarding the Yemen war, US Democratic lawmakers will definitely put the heat on Trump, if [and when] they win control of the House [and perhaps the Senate] in the coming Congressional mid-term elections in November!
The writer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org