Saturday, June 8, 2013

Erdogan's mishandling of protests has exposed the myth of a stable Turkey

There is something almost comic in the way the missteps of the Turkish government turned a small demonstration aimed at preserving sycamore trees in Taksim Square from the developers' bulldozers into the biggest and most widespread popular protest ever seen in Turkey. The Turkish security forces made the classic mistake of being pictured on television and social media publicly assaulting peaceable protesters with water cannon and pepper spray. Just enough violence was used to enrage and provoke while wholly failing to intimidate. There was a time when brutality by the security forces was easier to keep off TV screens by censorship or frightening journalists and media-owners. But these mechanisms no longer work when people have a multitude of TV channels inside and outside the country to choose from. Running documentaries on penguins, as CNN Turkey notoriously did, simply creates a vacuum of information which is rapidly filled by protesters. The government's version of what is happening becomes self-marginalised and is ignored. It is astonishing that skilled politicians such as the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and those around him should make so many mistakes in such a short time. It is easy to why Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt should have miscalculated popular reaction to repression at the start of the Arab uprisings in 2011, because as rulers of police states their approach to public opinion was to ignore it. But how did Erdogan fall into the same trap? An obvious explanation is simply the arrogance of those who have held power for too long. They ignore advice and demonise and underrate their critics. There is nothing very Turkish in this. The same was true of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair who, like Erdogan, had each won three election victories and were facing an electorate that blamed them for anything that went wrong. The parallel should be between Turkey and Western Europe, not between Turkey and Middle East states. One of the many reasons why foreigners find Turkey so difficult to understand is that they imagine that its politics have similarities with other Muslim states in the region, which are not there. It is true that Turkey has had four military coups since 1960, which vie with anything that happened in Iraq or Argentina for the cruelty of the repression. In the 1980 military coup 450 people died under torture, 50 were executed and many others disappeared. At least 178,000 people were arrested and almost all tortured, while 64,000 were jailed. This makes Turkish politics sound like Iraq under the Ba'ath Party or Argentina under the junta. But Turkey never ceased to have elections that, unlike in Latin American and Middle Eastern police states, mattered in the distribution of power. Even at the height of military rule, Turkey never wholly ceased to be a democratic state in which powerful parties stood for election and the outcome was not fixed from above as in Mubarak's Egypt or Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Foreign commentary on the Taksim Square protests over the last week speaks of the competition between "secularism" and "Islam" in Turkey. But in almost all cases it is evident that the writers have not taken on board what these words mean in a Turkish context. "Secularism" in Turkey brings with it the same intensity of belief as a religious cult, attracting at one time the officer class, the professionals, the civil service, the security service and many of the well educated. But at the heart of Kemal Ataturk's legacy is not secularism, which appealed primarily to the elite, but a super-heated nationalism that had an appeal to all Turkish social classes, though not to all ethnic communities. Hence the great difficulty Erdogan may have in bringing to an end to the 30-year guerrilla war with the Kurds of south-east Turkey despite the ceasefire agreement that was reached in March. The Taksim Square protests and Turkey's draining entanglement in the Syrian civil war have brought to an end for the moment talk of a resurgent Turkey emulating the old Ottoman empire in terms of influence in the Middle East and even in the Balkans and around the Black Sea. This always seemed to me to exaggerate the political, military and economic strength of Erdogan's Turkey. The idea of "the new Ottomans" carried hidden dangers that Ankara was slow to understand. First, what was the region where Turkey was going to exercise its enhanced influence? It was primarily among countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran, notoriously the most dangerous places in the world for interfering foreign states. The US, at the height of its power, suffered two of its biggest defeats here: the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and its calamitous occupation of Iraq in 2003-11. But now Turkey was confidently lurching into the same quagmire in the expectation of swift enhancement of its influence. There is not much talk of "the new Ottomans" these days. Erdogan's gamble that Bashar al-Assad and his government would swiftly collapse has not paid off. Instead Turkey has a raging war beginning to spill across its 500-mile southern frontier with Syria. Syrian leaders have been enjoying themselves by applying Erdogan's criticisms of the Syrian regime to Turkey and demanding that he resign. Turkey has ended up acting as proxy for the US in Syria, something that is highly unpopular in Turkey. Erdogan may feel good about his easy access to the White House, but he has made some serious enemies in Tehran and Damascus. There is no reason to suppose that they have anything to do with the current protests, but Turkey will have difficulty reaching an accommodation with its own Kurds and the Kurds in Iraq in the face of Iranian opposition. Turkey is peculiarly ill equipped to get entangled in sectarian and ethnic conflicts now exploding in Syria and Iraq. It has been unable to resolve its own Kurdish issue at home and is unlikely to be able to deal with inter-ethnic and sectarian conflicts abroad. It may not have started out intending to be part of a Sunni Muslim offensive against the Shia or allied to the Sunni monarchs of the Gulf, but it has ended up that way. Its wooing of the Iraqi Kurds and their oil and gas will be forcefully opposed by the Shia in Baghdad and Tehran. Erdogan's mistakes in dealing with the Taksim Square protests and the failures of Turkish foreign policy are not irretrievable ones. But the weaknesses of the Turkish state and the depth of the political divisions within Turkey are becoming more apparent. The demonstrations are also highlighting failings that had previously been masked by Turkey's economic success at a time when much of Europe is mired in recession. Such impressions are important because the flow of foreign capital into Turkey depends on a sense that the country is stable compared to its neighbours. Nightly riots in western Turkey, bombs exploding in the south of the country and the possibility of renewed Kurdish unrest in the east is sapping the belief inside and outside Turkey that the country is still one of the world's success stories.

Xi, Obama hold second meeting on economic ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama held the second meeting here on Saturday to exchange views on economic ties. The two leaders informed each other of their domestic economic situation and discussed the economic relations between China and the United States. Before heading into the meeting, Xi and Obama took a walk at the picturesque Sunnylands, a 200-acre (81-hectare) Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage, California. At their first meeting on Friday afternoon, the two leaders agreed to build a new type of relations between China and the United States, the world's two largest economies. Noting that their relationship now stands at a new starting point in history, Xi said the two countries share important converging interests. The Chinese president called on the two sides to work together to build a new type of relations between major countries in an innovative and active way so as to serve the fundamental interests of the two peoples and to promote development and progress of human society. Obama, for his part, said the U.S.-China relationship is important not only for the prosperity and security of the two countries, but also for the Asia Pacific region and the whole world. He said that his country welcomes the continuing peaceful rise of China as a world power and it is actually in the interest of the United States that China continues on the path of success. They also exchanged views on the domestic and foreign policies of the two countries as well as international and regional issues of common concern. At a joint press conference following their Friday meeting, Xi said both sides agreed to expand all levels of dialogues and communications to strengthen mutual understanding and trust. They agreed to step up cooperation in extensive fields such as economy and trade, energy, environment, people-to-people and cultural exchanges as well as local level exchanges, in order to deepen the shared interests of the two countries and expand them to all areas, Xi said. "We should also improve and strengthen the military-to-military relationship between the two countries and promote the building of the new model of military relationship between the two sides," he said. "We should also improve coordination on macro-economic policies, strengthen cooperation which can contribute to our respective development, and promote strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth in the Asia Pacific region and the world at large," Xi said. Obama said both Xi and himself recognized the unique opportunity to take the U.S.-China relationship to a new level, adding he is absolutely committed to not missing this opportunity. Xi arrived in California Thursday after wrapping up a three-nation Latin American tour.

Ankara protesters clash with Turkish police

Police in the Turkish capital Ankara have used tear gas and water cannon on demonstrators as anti-government protests get into a second week. About 5,000 people had gathered in Kizilay Square in the city centre. Protesters and police also clashed in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city. Turkey has seen a week of civil unrest sparked by a police crackdown on a local protest over an Istanbul park. Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ruled out early elections. "You don't decide on early elections because people are marching on the streets," he said. Local and presidential elections would take place next year as scheduled, said an official from Mr Erdogan's governing AKP (Justice and Development Party). A general election is due in 2015. The AKP has been in power in Turkey since 2002. Protesters say the government is becoming increasingly authoritarian and imposing Islamist values on a secular state. In Istanbul, supporters of three rival football clubs - Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas - set aside their differences to march together to Taksim Square, the epicentre of the protests. "We're here against fascism, all together, shoulder to shoulder. Actually we should be thanking Tayyip Erdogan for bringing us together. He united the entire country [against him]," an unnamed Fenerbahce supporter told the Associated Press.The protests mushroomed after police cracked down on activists defending an Istanbul park from developers. Mr Erdogan has called the protests undemocratic but his deputy apologised for police violence and met representatives of the protesters. On Thursday night, thousands of people waited at the airport to welcome Mr Erdogan home from a North African visit - the first major show of support for him since the protests began. The prime minister has vowed to push ahead with the redevelopment of Gezi Park, a rare green space in Istanbul's densely built-up core. Police and riot vehicles withdrew from Taksim Square last Saturday in an apparent bid to reduce tension. However, clashes have broken out since then in other parts of Istanbul. Four people - including a police officer - are reported to have died, thousands have been injured and hundreds arrested in the unrest which began on 31 May.

Bangladesh: The cost of fashion

President Obama: Nobody is listening to your calls

After reports revealed the U.S. government's practice of tracking private citizens' phone and internet use, President Obama on Friday sought to downplay the invasiveness of the procedure, assuring a California audience that "nobody is listening to your phone calls," and that any data tracking is overseen by all three branches of the U.S. government.

Afghanistan: Women in parliament receive threats - from fellow lawmakers

A backlash of conservative parliamentarians and protests against a key piece of pro-women's rights legislation may indicate the beginning of political efforts to once again curtail women’s rights.
It takes a lot to rattle Shukria Barakzai, a staunch defender of women's rights and one of more than 20 very outspoken women members of parliament in Afghanistan.But even though she’s run two successful parliamentary campaigns and has taken on conservative members of Afghan society, she is shocked by how easily some male members of parliament are now publicly threatening their female counterparts in the middle of parliamentary meetings. “A [male] member of parliament stood up in our general meeting yesterday and said parliament is not a place for women, your time is up here, you must not pursue this fight for women’s rights,” says Ms. Barakzai. For many of the Afghan women leaders, dealing with sexism and discrimination isn’t anything new. But women's rights activists say that male parliamentarians have recently intensified a war of words inside parliament. It’s a war that many Afghan women worry echoes a greater issue in society and could reverse public tolerance and support for women’s rights. “I’ve noticed the rhetoric around women’s issues has changed, and conservative members of society and parliament are once again feeling safe to verbally attack women publicly,” says Barakzai. “The Afghan government isn’t doing anything about these kinds of public threats and attacks on women. It is almost as if they agree with the conservatives.”The actions of the male parliamentarians are just one of many reminders to Barakzai and other women here that as the international security forces, foreign diplomats, and advocacy organizations prepare to leave the country in 2014, Afghan women will be left without a key source of support. “I feel like Afghan women are right at the gate of realizing their civil and political rights but the international community is too busy packing up to notice that these rights are already starting to erode,” says Horia Mosadiq, a Human Rights Researcher for Amnesty International.
Rise in violence against women
High levels of domestic violence against women and the targeting of women leaders by the Taliban and other armed groups only compound matters. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission documented more than 4,000 cases of violence against women from March 21 to Oct. 21, 2012 – a rise of 28 percent compared with the same period for 2011. Though some of the increase in violence is attributed to growing public awareness and better reporting of violence against women, it is still concerning, say activists. Several women leaders were also killed in 2012, including two directors of the Department of Women’s Affairs, a branch of the Afghan government, in the eastern province of Laghman. Both women were strong advocates for the equal treatment of women. “Afghan women have faced these challenges all along, but the difference now is that the timeline for the international community to completely disengage is nearing, after which these conservatives will feel even more forceful in imposing their restricted views and values over people and reversing many of the legal and professional gains Afghan women have made in recent years,” says Orzala Ashraf Nemat, an Afghan women's rights activist and founder of the nonprofit organization Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan (HAWCA).
‘The mood is changing’
In mid-May, conservative members of the Afghan parliament lashed out against a 2009 presidential decree that was signed into law by President Hamid Karzai on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. They claimed that the EVAW law does not represent the fundamental tenets of Islamic law and is being imposed on Afghan women by Western countries. The law is widely considered to be one of the country’s biggest accomplishments for women in the past decade: It criminalizes 22 acts of violence against women, including marital rape and child marriage. But recently some conservative groups, including male members of parliament, have publicly said that if Afghan women push for too much freedom, it will divide society and intensify the conflict. “The mood is changing and we see in parliament and elsewhere that conservative forces are publicly pushing back on women’s rights because they think Afghan women don’t have support from foreign countries and advocacy organizations anymore,” Ms. Nemat says. Barakzai and other Afghan women’s rights activists say that the United States, Britain, and Afghanistan’s other key allies need to continue to push the Afghan government to support laws such as the EVAW law, and action plans that not only increase women’s rights but protect the hard-earned gains Afghan women have made since 2001. One of these plans is the 10-year National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan, which was launched by the Afghan government in 2008 and calls for changes in six sectors that are critical in accelerating the improvement of the status of women in the country. However, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which is charged with most of the responsibility for implementing this plan, is allocated only 0.1 percent of Afghanistan’s $6.8 billion national budget. “What the Afghan government allocates for the ministry of women’s affairs and women’s issues across all of the Afghan ministries is not enough. We still need countries who are contributing to Afghanistan’s national budget to allocate at least 25 percent of their contribution strictly for women’s issues,” says Barakzai. Two years ago when the talks about a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan were picking up in Kabul, some Afghan women leaders and activists believed that the protection of women’s rights would be a top priority and a nonnegotiable part of the transition. But some leaders of women’s nonprofits in Afghanistan report that since late 2011, funding for critical programs supporting women’s shelters, advocacy campaigns, and education initiatives for women and girls have dried up. Marzia Shukoor, a sophomore at Kabul University, says when she started her studies two years ago she had hopes of opening her own architectural consulting business when she graduated. “Now I don’t know. I have to wait and see what happens with the security and if there will be any restrictions placed on women who work,” says the 20-year-old.

TTP Commander Waliur Rehman and Imran Khan’s march of folly

by Mahpara Qalander
Let Us Build Pakistan
Who was Waliur Rehman? The easy answer is that he was the deputy in command of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who was killed by a drone attack on 29 of May. But was he just the number 2 of the TTP? Was he just a terrorist who killed or ordered killing of people? Obviously no. If you listen to Imran Khan, there is something you will be surprised. According to Imran Khan’s traditional pro-Taliban belief and profession, Waliur Rehman was a pro-peace Taliban leader who wanted to hold peace talks with the government of Pakistan. This is what he said in his tweet. Even Waliur Rehman must be slapping his knees in disbelief at Imran Khan’s statement. What Imran Khan conveniently forgot to mention (as usual) that Waliur Rehman was responsible for the killing of thousands of Pakistanis including Pakistani soldiers. He lied all his life in accordance with his Deobandi-Takfiri belief. He considered Shias, Ahmedis, and Brelvis kaffir and deserving death. He had the same view about Christians and Hindus. How can he be a man of peace? Waliur Rehman was the man who was declared one of the most wanted terrorists by the government of Pakistan. Imran Khan’s march of folly is as consistent as it is unbelievable. He has been saying that the violence in Pakistan is the result of the American interference in Afghanistan. But what about the Deobandi-Takfiri fatwas which stipulate the killing of all human beings who are not Deobandi or Wahabi? How can Imran Khan possibly help the people of Pakistan who have suffered at the hands of the Taliban for over two decades? Unless you call a criminal and criminal, how can you deal with crimes? Recently, Imran Khan put his weight behind Mullah Aurengzeb Farooqi when he decided to support him in the provincial elections in Karachi. Farooqi has openly asked for the destruction of the Shias. What is Imran Khan’s stand on it? Someone in the PTI should stop Imran Khan’s march of folly. Otherwise, he will bring his own party down, which will be a great tragedy for Pakistan.

PTI, stand up and deliver: ''CM Pervez Khattak not paid taxes in years 2011 and 2012''

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader and newly elected Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak got a wake-up call when the Federal Board Of Revenue records depicted him a man who had not paid taxes in years 2011 and 2012 despite having sizeable income. He may well have taken the benefit from the tax exemption the previous government has given to the victims of the flood-hit area of the KPK. The incumbent Chief Minister, who hails from a respectable family, does not qualifies for such exemption as he hardly lost any thing in the natural calamity rather his income recorded a steep rise during the prescribed period. Thus skipping the tax is not justified, and it has left a bad taste in the mouth on the onset of the regime that many hoped will purge the corruption-plagued province, ensuring strict implementation of merit in all walks of life. His party, in the election run-up, had promised to focus on the stability of the provincial institutions, eradicating irregularities and nepotism in the province. With the iron will that the PTI had, nothing should deter its government from implementing its agenda. Of course, the protection of the people’s lives is on its top priority, the new KPK government has declared to minimize police check-posts along the main roads. The step may well reduce the grievances of the general public but it can also leave the field open for terrorists moving around escort free. The Police department warrants a total revamping to raise the security of the people, failing which the reduction in check posts can prove counter-productive. Infrastructure in the department of the health and education is in an extremely bad shape; provision of healthcare at the government hospitals and education in the government schools is absolutely non-existent. To ensure a change that the PTI trumpeted the most, its government should introduce a merit-based policy and appoint capable, efficient, dedicated and honest persons at the top official posts, doing away with those who are firmly seated in the offices over the years because of their influential background, and the concept of serving the general masses is alien to them. The Khattak government has decided to set up complaint cells. In the last regime, the PML-N too did the same that hardly paid any dividends to the masses rather it proved a publicity stunt. Thus the PTI too needs to be a little careful. The key to success lies in practicable measures having an automated check and balance mechanism in the system, the cosmetic surgery is not going to do any wonder, the people of the province have already enough of it. The economy of the province is in a shambles; unemployment has attained an agonizing proportion. For economic turn-around, the PTI government should hold a thorough probe into debacle of Gadoon Amazai Industrial Estate to kick start the process of industrialization in the province afresh. Last but not the least it is welcome sign that the veteran journalist Shuakat Yousafzai is going to hold the provincial information ministry, hopefully his elevation will help grow a close liaison between the Government and the independent Press wherein the two will work together in the greater interest of the people who have set a perfect platform for the PTI to stand up and deliver.

A menace called Twitter

There are many differences between the Turkish Spring and the Arab Spring. This is an uprising, but it is an uprising not to take control of the state. It is a revolution to give the public its dignity and gain back power over politicians. Also, it is purely the Turkish public’s uprising. In the Arab Spring, the social media messages were mostly coming from the outside world; currently, 90 percent of all information spread over the Internet in regard to the protest is from within Turkey. The malfunctioning democracy and media caused people to create their own media and information outlets without getting any help from the outside world. There were 1,599,977 #direngeziparki tweets up until June 3. Some 523,126 of those were on June 2 when the heaviest clashes occurred. Some 386,275 of those were photographs, 10,592 were videos. Only one-tenth were in foreign languages. There were just 318 tweets in Russian, for example. That’s why people in absolute power have begun targeting social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter. It is interesting to see this kind of a reaction from those people who have been visiting Silicon Valley very frequently. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was there a couple of weeks ago, saying he wanted to see what was happening on the frontlines of the information age. But I think his tour organizers didn’t inform him well enough. At least his advisers could have told him that there are so many ways to get organized via the Internet that cutting Twitter wouldn’t even slow the movement. The headline is a quotation from Erdoğan. “Social media is the worst menace to society,” he said after the public took control of Istanbul’s main square. Then Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said they had the power to cut all social media but added that they were watching for now as they are very democratic. I am sure that many of you haven’t seen such a solid example of an oxymoron for a long time. A true-hearted democrat wouldn’t even dream of cutting all the social media outlets even in their wildest dreams, let alone implying it to the public. He then said people had begun to be arrested in İzmir for inciting a revolt with their Twitter posts. There are 24 people in custody as I write this column. They were taken in the evening and held in the police station overnight as there are too many suspects to be processed, meaning their turn wouldn’t come until the morning. Yes, I didn’t see what they wrote on Twitter, so maybe they should be judged, but then it should be fair. I have seen thousands of social media messages from Justice and Development Party (AKP) followers urging the police to hit harder. Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek wrote that they could drown all of us with their spit and that if people were old enough to protest, they were old enough to be punished. There is no news about him being called in for questioning. Up until now, not a single technology NGO has issued a statement about all this. When this peaceful transition to a new kind of government is completed, I promise to be a menace to all the people who exerted pressure on everyone and those who kept silent about it. After all, what we do in life echoes in eternity.

Pakistan: US drone strike kills 7

Associated Press
A suspected U.S. drone strike killed seven militants in Pakistan near the Afghan border on Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The missiles struck a compound in Mangrothi village in the Shawal area, along the border dividing the North and South Waziristan tribal regions, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. Many Pakistanis oppose U.S. drone strikes because they say the strikes kill large numbers of innocent civilians — something the U.S. denies — and end up breeding more extremism by those seeking retribution. The country's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was sworn in on Wednesday, has lashed out against the U.S. drone program. During his campaign, he sometimes criticized the U.S. and its policy of using drones to kill militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Speaking to parliament earlier this week, he once again called for an end to the drone policy. "This daily routine of drone attacks, this chapter shall now be closed," Sharif said to widespread applause. "We do respect others' sovereignty. It is mandatory on others that they respect our sovereignty." Sharif gave few details on how he might end the strikes, however. The U.S. considers the drone program vital to battling al-Qaida and other insurgents who use the tribal areas of Pakistan as a safe haven.