Saturday, August 8, 2015

Turkey's culture of fear

On July 20, in the mainly Kurdish border town of Suruc, a suicide bomber claimed the lives of 32 and injured over 100 peace activists who wanted to contribute to the reconstruction of Kobani, the Kurdish town that survived the Islamic State (IS). The suicide bomber, Seyh Abdurrahman Alagoz, an ethnic Kurd and citizen of Turkey, was allegedly an IS member.

As mainstream media outlets blamed IS for the attacks, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) executed two Turkish police officers in their homes on July 22. While the PKK assumed responsibility for the deaths of two policemen, so far no accomplices of the Suruc suicide bomber have been arrested. Several individuals who were protesting the bombing were taken into custody.
Allegations have come from the left-wing, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and the Republican People's Party (CHP) that the Turkish government and National Intelligence Agency were behind the Suruc massacre. Meanwhile, access to several Kurdish media outlets such as Dicle Haber and Firat News has been blocked in Turkey. Internet service slowed on and off for several days at the end of July.
Since the Suruc massacre, 23 security personnel have reportedly been killed by the PKK. Incrementally, TV news is focusing solely on stories of those who were killed, kidnapped policemen, attacked government buildings and assets, along with bomb threats. Turkish audiences have not seen this many funerals since the early days of the conflict in the late 1980s. For decades, the governments have silenced the press from reporting on the funerals of terror victims — particularly if they are security officials — for various reasons, including showing the weakness of the Turkish state and highlighting the failures of military policies against the PKK terror. Hundreds of families have buried their sons quietly and grieved alone. Indeed, Turkey has seen the Veterans Agency under investigation, its chairman arrested and veterans struggling without government support. In one well-publicized case, as recently as November 2014, the government sought to reclaim the prosthetic leg of a veteran who could not pay for the operation. There was a time not many people wanted to hear the stories of those who were killed, of their loved ones left behind or of veterans’ post-war problems. Today, funerals are packed with the top echelon of the Turkish government, as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and other ministers are photographed holding the hands and drying the tears of victims’ families. The media gives the names of the fatalities, details their stories and elaborates on how they died fighting for their country.
At the same time, the financial news is not pleasant. Not only has the Turkish currency lost value against the US dollar and the euro, but tourism in Turkey has also reportedly suffered a significant loss.
Taking a break from the summer holiday, the Turkish parliament held an emergency meeting on July 29 while military operations to bomb the PKK at Qandil Mountains, and arrests of IS, Kurdish and leftist organizations' members all over the country dominated the news all day. It was only in August 2012 when the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) then-Deputy Prime Minister Huseyin Celik made the headlines about the death of Turkish soldiers, saying, “We cannot let PKK determine the agenda of the Turkish parliament just because a few conscript soldiers are killed.”
Times have changed. Now, the CHP has called upon the emergency parliamentarian meeting mainly to open an investigation into the causes of increasing terror attacks all around the country. While the two left parties, the CHP and the HDP, voted for the investigation, the votes of two right-wing parties, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the AKP, prevented the initiation of the investigation.
As tensions climbed, it was not just the death of policemen and soldiers that made the news, but also the funerals of the PKK members or sympathizers. The three-day standoff between police and Alevis in Gazi District — known for its leftist and Alevi population — made the news until the HDP brokered a deal with government officials on July 27. On August 3, after days of negotiations, the bodies of 13 Kurdish fighters who lost their lives in Syria fighting against IS were finally allowed entry into Turkey, as their families wanted to bury them in their hometowns.
The reporting does not reveal any details about the individual stories of the Kurdish deaths. These events have been deepening the rift and tensions between Kurds, Alevis and the government beyond repair.
More than 90 news websites were blocked in Turkey on August 3, including the rather mainstream Evrensel and Ozgur Gundem.
The only news sources available for the mass public nowadays are those approved by the government. These news outlets, TV and print, are overwhelmed with the mood of constant panic and fear. One significant change is the language of the news. The HDP, which was seen as the partner of the AKP during the peace process, is now discredited as the mouthpiece of the PKK. To top it all off, there are other militant and left-wing organizations making the news. One of them, the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) — which has been considered an illegal organization in Turkey since 1994 — has particularly become the center of attention. The HDP chairwoman, Figen Yuksekdag, is specifically labeled in the pro-AKP press as a senior member of the MLKP, while several police rounded up members of MLKP. In the midst of all of these intensified security measures, there is rather mind-boggling news. For example, on July 31, news broke that a young man was taken into custody on suspicion of being a member of the four leftist armed organizations.
In the immediate aftermath of the Suruc bombing, Turkey launched a double-tiered offensive against both the PKK and IS. However, domestically it is the battle against the HDP, leftist organizations and any sort of opposition — including the Gulen movement — in which the AKP government has truly engaged. It has been almost two months since the June 7 elections, and there is little to no progress regarding what kind of coalition government will be formed. Indeed, it is no secret that AKP elites, particularly Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wish for early elections in November. The only possible way for the AKP to gain a majority of seats in parliament is if the HDP fails to pass the electoral threshold in the next round. That is why Demirtas said, “How many times does AKP need to lose for their loss to be seen as a loss?”
These fears and rumors were validated as news leaked on July 30 that Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay had sent a memo to AKP cadres, saying, “We have been successful in dividing the 60% opposition block; now prepare for early elections.”
Although Erdogan announced that he is against shutting down political parties, AKP members have sought to remove the immunity of HDP parliamentarians. To counter their efforts, the HDP volunteered to remove their own parliamentarian immunity and asked all other parties to follow suit, but only the left-wing CHP joined their plea. In the meantime, a senior HDP member told Al Monitor, “They will not shut our party down; they will attempt to single out our leaders, tarnish their reputations and prevent the HDP from receiving funding from the government.” According to Turkish political parties’ legislation, all parties that acquire seats in parliament receive funding from the treasury in proportion of their vote share. The HDP was to achieve 27 million Turkish liras (about US $9.6 million); this is most likely to be blocked through the AKP’s efforts.
It is clear that the HDP’s image as not just pro-Kurdish but as a party representing all underrepresented groups in Turkey is being targeted. The HDP is now being branded as the party of “terrorists” by pro-AKP media. In major cities, people are worried about taking the metro and buses or visiting shopping malls and other crowded areas. “Where will the next bomb explode?” has become the regular topic for daily interactions in taxis, coffee shops or stores. Terror aims to change ordinary citizens’ way of life and thinking. The crux of the matter is: By November, will those who voted for the HDP still be loyal to their choice, or will the terror and propaganda effectively work to change their vote?

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How Saudi Arabia exports radical Islam

Saudi Arabia has spent billions promoting its extremist version of Islam. What has it wrought? Here's everything you need to know:
Why do the Saudis proselytize?
To combat the spread of Shiite Islam and ensure that the Islamic world is primarily Sunni. In recent years, the ancient Sunni-Shiite conflict in Iraq, Yemen, and throughout the Middle East has grown more overt, bitter, and violent. Now that Iran has agreed to rein in its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions, Riyadh fears a newly enriched Tehran will be more aggressive in spreading its Shiite doctrine and promoting Shiite-led revolutions. A trove of Saudi diplomatic documents covering 2010 to 2015, recently released by WikiLeaks, shows a Saudi obsession with Iranian actions and Iranian influence. Saudi government agencies monitor Iranian cultural and religious activities, and try to muzzle Shiite influence by shutting down or blocking access to Iranian-backed media. Saudi diplomats keep close tabs on Iranian involvement everywhere, from Tajikistan, which has strong historical Persian ties, to China, where the tiny, beleaguered Uighur population — which is Muslim — is growing more religious.
How do the Saudis promote their religious views?
By investing heavily in building mosques, madrasas, schools, and Sunni cultural centers across the Muslim world. Indian intelligence says that in India alone, from 2011 to 2013, some 25,000 Saudi clerics arrived bearing more than $250 million to build mosques and universities and hold seminars. "We are talking about thousands and thousands of activist organizations and preachers who are in the Saudi sphere of influence," said Usama Hasan, a researcher in Islamic studies. These institutions and clerics preach the specifically Saudi version of Sunni Islam, the extreme fundamentalist strain known as Wahhabism or Salafism.
What is Wahhabism?
Founded in the 18th century by Muslims seeking a return to Koranic literalism, Wahhabism is one of the strictest sects of Islam. The founder, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, sought the protection of an emir, Muhammad ibn Saud, and the two joined forces to spread the doctrine throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The cleric's daughter married the emir's son, which means the entire House of Saud is directly descended from Wahhab. The purist sect requires adherents to abstain from alcohol and drugs. The sexes are segregated, with women fully covered in public. Even other Muslims who stray from these medieval practices — such as Shiites and moderate Sunni sects — are considered infidels. Prescribed punishments for crimes — among them apostasy and blasphemy — include flogging, stoning, and beheading.
How did it become so strong?
A turning point came in 1979, when radical clerics who believed the House of Saud had been contaminated with Western decadence led hundreds of armed militants to occupy the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Deeply alarmed, the royal family sought to appease the militants by reversing the steps toward modernity the country had taken. Movie theaters and record stores were shut down, and more power was given to the religious police to seek out and punish offenses. "In effect," says former diplomat John Burgess, "the seizure of the Grand Mosque sent Saudi Arabia into a 30-year time warp that cut it off from the social-development trajectory it had been on." The royal family made a grand bargain with the clerics: Riyadh would fund the spread of Wahhabism abroad as long as the extremists kept any militant activities off Saudi soil. That deal ensured that radical Islam would overwhelm moderate versions in many countries, and planted the seeds of many terrorist groups.
Where has Wahhabism reached?
Nearly everywhere in the Muslim world except where Iran holds sway. In the 1980s, Saudi money and fighters poured into Afghanistan to help the mujahedeen fight the Soviets, an effort that gave rise to the Taliban and eventually to al Qaeda. In the 1990s, Saudi aid to the Bosnian Muslims struggling in the wars that broke up Yugoslavia brought the Wahhabi strain of Islam to Europe. That same decade, Saudi money helped to further radicalize Chechnya's Muslims. One of the cables released by WikiLeaks quotes then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." Most members of al Qaeda were Saudi, including Osama bin Laden, and 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudis.
Where does ISIS fit into this picture?
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria sees itself as purer than the Saudi regime, but its fundamentalist Sunni doctrine has its roots in Wahhabism. Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator from Florida who has called for declassification of the portion of the 9/11 Commission report dealing with Saudi Arabian links to the hijackers, says ISIS "is a product of Saudi ideals, Saudi money, and Saudi organizational support." In effect, Graham says, ISIS represents a form of Wahhabi ideology that the Saudis can't control — a cancer that now threatens the kingdom. "Who serves as fuel for ISIS? Our own youth," said Saudi dissident writer Turki Al-Hamad this year. "In order to stop ISIS, you must first dry up this ideology at the source."
The madrasas' impact
During the decade-long Afghan struggle against the Soviets, Saudi princes funded the explosive growth of madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The schools, located in rural communities where there was no other source of education, taught a militant form of Islam, telling students they had a sacred duty to fight infidels. Out of these schools came the radical students who eventually formed the Taliban, as well as many al Qaeda recruits. Today, many of these Pakistani schools draw students from Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere, and they return home radicalized. "The ideology that's propagated by these schools is so significant in shaping minds in the Muslim world," says political scientist Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "If regular schooling is not schooling people, and schools that propagate fanaticism are schooling people, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what would be the impact."

Yemeni forces kill 70 Saudi-backed militants in Abyan Province

At least 70 Saudi-backed militants have been killed in an attack by the Yemeni army, backed by popular committees, on their hideouts in the southern province of Abyan, local media reports say.
According to Yemen's al-Masirah television network, fighters of the Houthi Ansarullah movement and allied Yemeni army units managed to kill several militants fighting for Yemen's fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, in the city of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan, on Saturday.
The militants, backed by Saudi air cover, were repelled and forced to retreat from the troubled region in the face of strong resistance by the Yemeni forces. Saudi warplanes reportedly conducted nearly 200 airstrikes to target military as well as civilian targets across the troubled region during the fierce fighting.
UAE soldiers killed
Meanwhile, a landmine explosion resulted in the death of at least three Emirati soldiers who were fighting along the pro-Saudi militants. The explosion took place on a highway between Abyan and Aden in southern Yemen.
The United Arab Emirates' Defense Ministry has confirmed that at least 20 Emirati soldiers have so far been killed across Abyan over the past few weeks.
Since March 26, Saudi Arabia has been pounding various areas in Yemen - without a UN mandate. The military aggression is meant to undermine the Houthi fighters and restore Hadi, a staunch ally of the Riyadh regime, back to power.
According to al-Masirah, Saudi forces on Saturday fired artillery shells on the Kataf district in the northern Yemeni province of Sa’ada and the city of Harad in the northwestern province of Hajjah. The Kataf region was also targeted by airstrikes.
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien said in late July that thousands of civilians have lost their lives in the Saudi airstrikes.
“We continue to witness the death and injury of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. As of 24 July, health facilities report over 4,000 conflict-related deaths and over 19,800 injuries since 26 March. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reports that 1,895 civilians have been killed, and 4,182 injured.”

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa - Monitoring unit lifts lid on dismal state of health care

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa health department’s newly-established Independent Monitoring Unit has validated what has remained common knowledge about the province’s health sector for years.
According to department sources, the IMU report on health facilities in Peshawar district has panicked the movers and shakers of the sector.
The unit, comprising 175 officers hired through the National Testing Service, was set up as a three-year project with Rs478.9 million. Its purpose is to oversee quality service delivery at the 1,600 state-owned health centres run by 63,000 staffers in K-P.
The report has acknowledged a majority of the provincial capital’s health centres are understaffed, underequipped and in a dilapidated condition. They also lack basic facilities. Most people from across the province head to the city in the hope of receiving quality medical assistance which is not available in other areas.
Mattani Civil Hospital
The report revealed Mattani Civil Hospital is overstaffed yet the officials are not regularly attending their duties. The laboratory equipment is outdated and non-functional. A power generator is present but due to non-availability of fuel, seldom runs. Although it is a civil hospital, it has only a single medical officer and the surgeon visits the hospital twice a week. However, no surgeries are conducted due to the absence of anaesthesia and technicians.
BHU Shaikh Muhammadi
Irregularities were also unearthed at BHU Shaikh Muhammadi’s inventory register. The labour room is in a working condition but staffers do not provide services regularly. The solar panel provided by an NGO had been taken away by the People’s Primary Healthcare Initiative officials.
In dire straits
BHU Adezai is in dire straits and frequent power cuts have become the norm. It does not have a drinking water facility and neither does it have restrooms. The laboratory is non-functional whereas the hospital inventory is devoid of medicines. However, the staffers are regular.
CD Irrigation Colony
The civil dispensary is also in a dilapidated condition and even lacks an entrance gate. Toilets, sanitation, electricity generator and solar panels are out of the question. The laboratory is also out of order.
BHU Sherkera
Staffers at BHU Sherkera were found to be irregular in attendance. Sources in the health department quoted locals as saying that the officials leave the facility around 11am daily. The stock register is not maintained properly and the unit also does not have a medical officer. Furthermore, a power generator and solar panels are also missing.
Meanwhile, CD Garhi Mali Khel lacks an electricity meter and wiring and is in the poorest state.
According to the IMU report, staffers at CD Zargarabad are irregular in attendance and the entire human resource is heavily politicised. Besides being used for immoral activities, the facility is also used for private functions. An orderly and a watchman were the only staffers present.

Pakistan - Bilawal Bhutto denounces reported child abuse scandal

Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari denounced the reported child abuse scandal in Kasur district of Punjab, the country’s biggest ever child abuse scandal which discovered 400 videos recording of more than 280 children being forced to have sex and most of the victims were under 14.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that this type of scandal is slap on the provincial government of Punjab, which keeps harping on other smaller issues but kept the nation in darkness over this worst human rights tragedy.
He also condemned the police torture on parents of victim children, who demonstrated against the failure of local police to prosecute the criminals who orchestrated the scandal.
Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party urged impartial inquiry in this scandal and culprits must be taken to task.

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A day of devastation in Afghanistan's capital

Only hours after personally transporting dozens of injured to and from nearby hospitals, Salahuddin was back at his Shah Shahid neighborhood PVC store to assess the damage from an explosion Friday that killed at least 15 people and left dozens injured.
“There was smoke and broken glass everywhere. Everyone was panicking, everywhere you turned there was someone else who was hurt,” said Salahuddin, 45, whose store was damaged, as he described the scene in east Kabul.
The chaos was part of a violent day in Afghanistan's capital that left at least 35 people dead and many injured in attacks that included a suicide bombing outside a police academy.
The attack in the Shah Shahid neighborhood early Friday that killed at least 15 and injured more than 240 involved a truck bombing that targeted an installation of the Afghan National Security Forces, authorities said.
Among the injured, most of whom suffered minor wounds and cuts from broken glass, were 47 women and 33 children, officials said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, which jolted neighborhoods miles away.
In the evening attack outside the police academy, a person reportedly dressed in a police uniform walked into a group of recruits and detonated explosives, killing at least 20 and injuring about 25, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility. The attacks came days after the United Nations reported record high civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first six months of 2015.
Along with the human devastation, the truck bombing caused massive damage to hundreds of nearby stores and homes. Hours after the bombing, the streets were lined with piles of broken glass.
Salahuddin said it wasn't until he was able to maneuver past the crowds and debris in the streets leading to his store that he realized that three members of his own staff, who had been sleeping in a back room of the store, were among the injured.
“Three of them were trapped underneath the rubble. I have no idea how they got out from underneath, the whole room was filled with smoke and debris, but by some miracle they did,” he said.
While taking the three, two of them apprentices in their late teens, to a hospital, he picked up other injured in his Toyota station wagon.
Salahuddin said he eventually took 30 to 40 people to Ibn Sina Hospital.
“Finally, they told us there was no way they could attend to more patients,” he told The Times from inside his nearly leveled store.
Mohammad Shah, who owns a kebab restaurant, said he has no choice but to continue working even though all the glass on the front of the restaurant is now shattered.
At work in the kitchen Friday, he said it will take him at least a year to pay for repairs to his establishment, estimated to cost about 40,000 Afghanis, or $643.
“What choice do I have? I had to start working right away. … It will take at least a year to make the money, but I have to start somewhere.”
The damage to the stores is especially troubling for the capital's business owners. They say the economy has stagnated since last year's presidential election, which lasted nearly a year.

Pakistan - So far this year, 13 polio cases have been registered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ...

A polio case was registered from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Friday, taking the total number of polio cases detected in Pakistan to 28 this year.
According to the Prime Minister Polio Eradication Cell, six-month old Muhammad Yasir from the Urmarh Bala area of Peshawar was diagnosed with polio virus.
Including the latest case, this year, 13 polio cases have been registered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, of which eight have been registered in Peshawar.
2014 shaped up to be the darkest year for the Pakistan polio programme, with the number of confirmed cases reaching 296 — the highest number of cases reported in the country since 1998.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic but efforts to eradicate the disease have been severely hindered in recent years as militants continue to attack immunisation teams and polio workers.
Polio cases in Pakistan reached a low of 28 in 2005 but rose to 198 in 2011. In 2012, Pakistan had 58 cases, while 93 were recorded in 2013, as reported by End Polio Pakistan.
Militant groups often attack polio teams as they see vaccination campaigns as a cover for espionage. There are also long running rumours about polio drops causing infertility.

Pakistan - Another polio case detected in Peshawar

A polio case was registered from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Friday, taking the total number of reported polio cases in 2015 to nine.
According to the Prime Minister Polio Eradication Cell, Muhammad Yasir from the Urmarh Bala area of Peshawar was diagnosed with polio virus.
So far this year, 13 polio cases have been registered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and eight have been registered in Peshawar.

India-Pakistan relations deteriorate ahead of planned talks


India-Pakistan relations have deteriorated over the past two weeks with cross-border exchanges of fire an an almost daily basis, as well as terror attacks in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir for which India blames Pakistani terror groups.