Dr Masuma Hasan: In Memory of the Legendary Fatehyab Ali Khan

Dr Masuma’s speech at Federal Urdu University, 30 September 2015, as delivered: Mr Raza Rabbani, Dr Pirzada Qasim, Dr Suleiman Muhammed, members of the audience. Some friends had suggested that this meeting and debate to honour the memory of Fatehyab Ali Khan should be held, as it was held last year, in the University of Karachi. But Fatehyab was not only the first elected president of the Karachi University Students’ Union, he was also president of the Inter-Collegiate Body, so he represented the entire student community. Therefore, it was in the fitness of things that the Vice Chancellor decided to hold this event in the Federal Urdu University. Here, I want to praise Asif Rafique and the members of his team who have arranged this event with so much devotion and care. My association with Fatehyab lasted for 50 years ─ first as students in Karachi University and later during our marriage. In politics, there were very few who matched his integrity and honesty of purpose. Since his youth, he was in the forefront of every democratic movement in our country.

During his political career, he made numerous sacrifices, was persecuted and subjected to many deprivations. He faced trials and convictions by military courts, long prison terms and externments but never compromised on his political principles. He was fearless and never yielded to political threats or pressure of any kind and he had that remarkable courage to refuse which is found in few people. He never changed his political party. He joined the Pakistan Workers Party and when it merged with the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, he remained its president until he passed away in 2010. Fatehyab was a people’s hero, a brilliant orator, and he wrote extensively on constitutional, political and contemporary issues. During the Movement for Restoration of Democracy Continue reading

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Filed under Constitution 1973, Courts, Discussion, Events, Fatehyab, Karachi, MRD, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon

Shaker Aamer’s Homecoming: Leaving Legal Limbo at Long Last?

The last British resident is being released from Guantánamo Bay after being detained there illegally for almost 14 years. American authorities reportedly informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that US defence secretary Ashton Carter had authorised Aamer’s release on 25 September 2015. Shaker Aamer was never charged but was accused of terrorism. His lawyers maintain that he was never involved in any terrorism and was cleared of all wrongdoing eight years ago. Aamer is a 46-year-old Saudi Arabian national. He has indefinite leave to remain in the UK and is also married to a British citizen. Owing to his harsh predicament, he may be able to claim at least £1 million in compensation from the British authorities if he is able to prove that the UK was complicit with the US in his detention, rendition and mistreatment by US personnel. Nevertheless, Carter reportedly sought assurances over security measures in relation to Aamer on his return to the UK despite Downing Street and the White House seeing eye-to-eye on the decision to release the Saudi. In 2001, Aamer and his wife Zin Siddique had moved from London to live in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. The couple have four children and Aamer has never met the youngest child.

He claims that he was doing charity work and helping run a school but the Americans contend that he was a central figure in Tora Bora and that when Afghan militias captured him in Jalalabad in 2001 he was in possession of a false Belgian passport. (It is pertinent to recall that any school under Taliban rule would be a boys’ school because girls were forbidden from participating in education.) Thereafter he was tortured in Bagram airbase and shipped out to Guantánamo where he is said to have become a robust resistance figure commanding the respect of his fellow inmates. His leadership was marked by the initiation and termination of coordinated hunger strikes. (Watch for example Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes by Guardian Animations and Force-Feeding in Guantanamo: Blacked Out Bay by Vice News for the absolutely brutal nature of the way hunger striking detainees are force fed, it is totally disgusting and we should not be surprised that so many young people are attracted to the cause of extremism because of these human rights atrocities by America.) Continue reading

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Filed under Al Qaeda, Courts, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Taliban, United States

The Changing Balance of Power in Syria

With news of Russian drones humming over Syrian skies, the Kremlin’s military operations in Syria appear to be in full swing. And Russian president Vladimir Putin looks set to address the UN General Assembly next week on Monday 28 September 2015 where he will reiterate his intentions to fight ISIS and support the battered regime of Bashar al-Assad. Equally, it appears that Putin’s American counterpart Barack Obama, who will also be attending, has approved meeting him in New York to bury the hatchet over Syria and Ukraine. Both the White House and the Kremlin confirm the meeting but the Obama administration stressed that it has huge differences with Putin and that the meeting had been called on Russia’s request. It is the first time the two leaders will be meeting in a year and the event signals an end to American attempts to diplomatically alienate Putin for his annexation of Crimea. Representing a significant propaganda victory for Putin, these rather interesting developments come off the heels of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent remarks that: “We have to speak to with many actors. This includes Assad but others [US, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia] as well.” So building a coalition to save Syria from ISIS is on the cards and these events will dominate the agenda during next week’s UN meeting – the 70th session of the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, it is reported that Putin will take unilateral military action in Syria if the west does not support him. Like America’s message on the war on terror in 9/11’s aftermath, there is an “either you are with us or against us” ring to it all and world leaders are taking care to avoid unnecessary confrontation with Russia. Explaining that Russia does not plan to “occupy” Syria but instead wants to “rescue” Assad, Putin says that he is merely keeping his side of the bargain by performing defence contracts signed with Damascus “five or seven years ago”. The international community’s resolve on removing Assad from power is softening. One of his sternest critics Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan flatly conceded: “the transitional process could be with him.” It is reported that 1,700 Russian specialists are already in Tartus and that Moscow has also sent a squadron of 28 state-of-the-art warplanes to help Damascus. The force consists of various combat aircraft including ground attack designs such as the Su-24 Fencer, the Su-25 Frogfoot and the multi-role Continue reading

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New Framework for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

The EU is stretched to its outer limits in tackling issues thrown up by the economy, migration and terrorism. Tory politicians such as British prime minister David Cameron – who has been accused of extreme debauchery and profane and illegal behaviour by his former friend Michael Ashcroft in the upcoming biography Call Me Dave – are hell bent on “renegotiating” their country’s relationship with Europe. As we are already aware, the controversial and impending “in-out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is a hotly debated matter. It is also very interesting to observe that the UK’s Electoral Commission, which is required by the Political Parties, Referendums and Elections Act 2000 to consider the precise wording of the referendum question and publish a statement of its views as to its intelligibility, has said that the question needs to be changed. Notably, in the European Union Referendum Bill as introduced into the UK parliament the proposed referendum question is: Should the UK remain a member of the EU?

The Electoral Commission suggests that the questions should be changed to: Should the UK remain a member of the EU or leave the EU? Answers: Remain a member of the EU – Leave the EU. But as we see in this post on the EU’s vision for gender equality and women’s empowerment, as an institution the Union is a very positive thing and it would be fair comment that people such as the European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker and his colleagues do not like the Tory party’s stance on Europe. On 21 September 2015, the European Commission and the European External Action Service adopted a new framework for the EU’s activities on gender equality and women’s empowerment in EU’s external relations. The New framework for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Transforming the Lives of Girls and Women through EU External Relations (2016-2020) (see press release and see here) aims to Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Europe, Pakistan, Politics, Water, Women

‘Kingmaker’: Putin’s Syria Strategy

President Putin has sent military assistance to Assad and is being dubbed “kingmaker” in any future transition to a new administration in Syria.

Speaking on a European tour mostly overshadowed by the refugee crisis and military escalation in the Syrian conflict, the US secretary of state John Kerry said that Russia’s newfound resolve to fight Islamists may present an opportunity to find a desperately needed political settlement for the war-torn country. After meeting Philip Hammond in London yesterday, Kerry said that they “agreed completely on the urgency of nations coming together in order to resolve this war that has gone on for much too long”. He explained that the Syrian war is the “root cause” of the refugee crisis. In Berlin he announced that the US would take 85,000 refugees in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. On 14 September, American officials said that Russia had sent a dozen of its most modern T90 tanks, 200 marines and other military hardware to reinforce an airbase near the Assad regime’s coastal stronghold of Latakia. It is now said that 28 aircraft and 28 helicopters have been dispatched and 2,000 personnel will be deployed. Russia has been flexing its vast military muscles in the Middle East again. All eyes are on Putin, an unlikely messiah. For him, in comparison to the jihadis of ISIS,  the murderous Assad regime “is the lesser of the two evils.” (See update here.)

The Russian President, who is internationally alienated because of his despotic interference in Ukraine, quickly riposted allegations of wrongdoing by arguing that his administration aims to support the government of Syria in the fight against a terrorist aggression and is merely offering it necessary military-technical assistance. He is said to be the “kingmaker” in any future transition to another administration taking power in Syria. “Without Russia’s support for Syria, the situation in the country would have been worse than in Libya, and the flow of refugees would have been even bigger,” Putin said: he equally argues that “our main goal is to protect the Syrian state.” But senior US officials and commanders are mystified by the Kremlin’s emerging military moves in Syria where, along with Iraq, some 2,400 jihadis from Russia’s Muslim North Caucasus are fighting. Below we examine Putin’s Syria strategy and outline other developments and trends in the conundrum. “Call the bear your uncle until you cross the bridge,” as Kemal Atatürk used to say about Russia.  Continue reading

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Filed under Disarmament, Discussion, Europe, ISIS, Israel, Pakistan, Palestine, Politics, Russia, Syria, Taliban, The Middle East, United States

Drone Wars: Prospects, Proliferation and Emerging Challenges

As noted in our post The Iran Deal: Diplomacy Update, Islamabad’s nuclear weapons programme may be outpacing New Delhi’s. Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon’s study, A Normal Nuclear Pakistan, argues that our country has been producing 20 nuclear warheads annually in comparison to India’s five. (Presently, Islamabad has 120 warheads in comparison to New Delhi’s 100.) They estimate that at this rate Pakistan will, within a decade, join the ranks of Russia and the US in the league table of states possessing the largest nuclear arsenals. We also touched upon the copious use of drone strikes, by American and British forces, in Future Trends in Syria’s War and this post sheds further light on this important issue – one which chronically affects Pakistan. Emerging research suggests that apart from the US, Britain, Israel, China, and Iran – which have developed drones for military use – numerous Asian and European countries are pursuing drone programmes to reap the rewards of this unique class of weapon.

This post looks into the proliferation of drones and examines new trends emerging in this field. It has been reported that there have been 15 US strikes in Pakistan this year and only last week (6 September 2015) the Pakistan army confirmed that it killed three high profile militants in a first ever indigenous drone attack (by a UAV named “Burraq”) in the Shawal valley of the Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border. Such successes aside, one thing is for sure. The ethical, legal and tactical dilemmas thrown up by drone warfare will only intensify as their use becomes more and more widespread. Technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones have become the weapon of choice for carrying out clinical target killings Continue reading

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Discussion, Drones, India, Iran, ISIS, Pakistan, Palestine, Politics, Syria, Taliban, The Middle East, United States

Future Trends in Syria’s War

Reaper drone

Despite the Democratic filibuster in the US Senate of the Republican resolution of disapproval in relation to the Iran deal, difficult questions loom over Tehran’s nexus with Damascus and the appalling state of affairs in Syria. Large swathes of Syrian territory – historically allocated to France through the arbitrary Sykes-Picot Agreement 1916, dismembering the Ottoman Empire, between Britain and France – have been lost to the so-called “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS/ISIL). After four years of carnage, war and the displacement of millions, Syria’s borders have been completely redrawn with the result that the government retains control of a mere 30-40 percent of the country’s original de jure territory. Constantly changing battle lines and tactics make it impossible to predict what the future holds. This round up looks at future trends and directions in Syria’s brutal war and the gamut of issues shrouding peacemaking in that country.

The media reports that in 2015 the Royal Air Force carried out more than 100 drone strikes against ISIS/ISIL jihadis – with 29 strikes in August, the surge continued in the first week of September and 14 strikes were conducted. This is so irrespective of the fact that in August 2013 David Cameron’s government lost its bid to join US-led strikes in military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; the motion in support of military intervention was defeated in Parliament by 285-272 votes. The fact that British citizens are being killed in drone strikes under an official “kill list” is all the more alarming for human rights lobbyists in the UK (where, of course, there is no death penalty). Unsurprisingly, Mohammed Emwazi – the balaclava clad knife wielding ISIS executioner initially known only as “Jihadi John” – is said to be number one on the list. Continue reading


Filed under Al Qaeda, Criminal law, Cyber Warfare, Discussion, Europe, ISIS, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Syria, The Middle East