Tuesday, March 28, 2017
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News

IRREGULAR WAR

By Jim Greenhalf

Last month’s Chilcot Report into Britain’s part in the invasion and occupation of Iraq comprehensively rejected the explanations offered by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. It confirmed that Britain’s role in America’s ‘War on terror’ was an error of judgement.

The conclusions published by Sir John Chilcot’s committee of inquiry included the following points:-

. Peaceful disarmament options had not been fully exhausted by March 2003. Contrary to Mr Blair’s assertions in the House of Commons, Saddam Hussein possessed no chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction. There was no imminent threat to the west from Iraq’s president.

. UK intelligence failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that these weapons existed. United Nations’ weapons inspectors conducted 700 searches in 500 places and did not find evidence of WMD.

. The consequences of Invading and occupying Iraq were under-estimated. Mr Blair over-estimated his ability to influence America’s President George W Bush. The UK is not required to give the United States unconditional support whenever it asks.

. Memos published in the report reveal that Mr Blair several times told President Bush that public opinion in the UK and Europe was not in favour of regime change military action. Mr Blair confided that he could lose the support of “half of the EU”; nevertheless he despatched 45,000 British troops to Iraq as part of the American-led coalition. He also told President Bush that if the Iraq venture failed the whole region would “fall apart”.

Interestingly, these and many other points and can be found in a book published before Chilcot called Irregular War: Isis and the New Threat from the Margins. Compiled and written by Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University’s Peace Studies department, the 218-page book is part historical chronicle and part analysis. It is a timely reminder that all actions have consequences, usually unforeseen. This is especially the case with UK politicians who, against their better judgement, allow themselves to get carried away by the idea of Britain’s allegedly special relationship with the United States.

The book also has a proselytising purpose. This is evident here and there throughout the six chapters leading up to the final two in which Prof Rogers re-states his case. This is that unless the West urgently reforms its unregulated free market economics of the past 30 years, embraces more sustainable environmental policies and alternative energy sources, and finds another way of dealing with global terrorism other than by heavy-handed military action, much of the world will be in grave danger of catastrophe by 2045. Not so much Apocalypse Now but in the near future.

However, this Doomsday scenario does scant justice either to the book’s subject range or to the writing style of its author. Prof Rogers, a personable man who lives in Holmfirth, who has a small-holding and enjoys church bell-ringing, is more upbeat about the world’s capacity for and capability of resilience.

In the last of the book’s eight chapters, A Possible Peace, he reflects briefly on his career, saying: “When dealing with such subjects – potential nuclear annihilation, terrorism and political violence – over a long period (the best part of 40 years in my case), one has three options: drink, suicide or optimism. I don’t drink (much) and have not so far felt suicidal, so I must have chosen optimism, even if that optimism has been a little misguided at times.”

In retrospect my support and sympathy for Tony Blair thirteen years ago was also misguided. The same might be said of America’s policy of channelling hundreds of millions of dollars and weapons of massive destruction through Pakistan to supply the Mujahidin in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union’s invading Red Army in the 1980s.

Anyone not aware of this recent history could do worse than watch the Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilson’s War. Based on the real-life Texan Senator and committed anti-communist Charlie Wilson, the film celebrates America’s part in funding, equipping and training tribal Muslim fighters in this irregular war against the USSR. The irregulars won. But the long-term repercussions for the West were severe. “We fucked up the end-game,” the real Charlie Wilson said later.

Paul Rogers provides a masterly and important summary: “This long conflict lasted from 1980 to 1988 and was very much part of the Cold War environment. As such, it developed into a proxy war between East and West…In the latter part of the war foreign fighters , including Osama bin Laden and his associate Ayman al-Zawahiri, formed a small but significant part of the revolt, backed by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) and the CIA.

“By the end of the decade the Soviets had gone, and bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and others formed al-Qaeda (meaning the ‘Base’), which would take the idea of an Islamist sharia caliphate out beyond Afghanistan. During the 1990s bin Laden and his followers moved from Saud Arabia to Sudan and then back to Afghanistan, this time to aid the Taliban (‘student’) movement fighting the Northern Alliance warlords in a bitter civil war for control of the country.

“By the end of the 1990s, al-Qaeda had the features of a small transnational revolutionary movement, and was unusual in that it was rooted not in political ideology, ethnicity or nationalism but in religious identity…

“Looking beyond the earthly life, the eschatological element of al-Qaeda culture meant, and still means, that revolutionary change may be measured in many decades, if not a century or more. Recognising this is fundamental to understanding the persistence of al-Qaeda and other movements, including ISIS, but it is perhaps the one element in the Islamist outlook that has been least appreciated by Western analysts used to operating on a much shorter political timescale.”

In this respect George W Bush’s New American Century was extremely parochial in its world view. His ‘War on Terror’ against the ‘Axis of Evil’, compelling to some at the time, now look like titles of Austin Powers films rather than serious foreign policy. Against the Towering Inferno reality of the attacks on the World Trade Center that might seem flippant. Paul Rogers does not make such remarks himself. On the contrary, he frequently re-states the physical shock of 9/11, as the aerial attacks were seen virtually live on television world-wide.

What drives educated young men, as the 9/11 kamikaze killers were, to do such things? Israel and the plight of Palestinians provide only one answer; there are others. According to Prof Rogers the economic and social marginalisation of billions of people, from Afghanistan to Africa, is perhaps the most obvious. These are not the people without any hope at all, but those who subsist on or just above the poverty line of a few dollars a day. These are the people whose expectations are frustrated, either by autocratic rulers or by free market economics which benefit only the few.

Iraq blew up in the faces of the US coalition because the conquerors allowed the country’s social, economic and law enforcement infrastructure to degrade. As Chilcot found, neither the Americans nor the British prepared sufficiently for the aftermath of the invasion. There was no equivalent of The Marshall Plan that repaired Western Europe after World War 2. The treatment of Iraqis by triumphant US soldiers quickly withered the welcome that had greeted them. The liberators became vilified as invaders. Armed resistance followed. Those taking part in the insurgency against America’s finest had gained knowledge and experience from the irregular warfare against communists in Afghanistan. What happened in Iraq from 2006 became the template for other insurgencies elsewhere and horrors such as the Ramadan bombing in Baghdad which killed 250 people. Another of the consequences remains the millions of refugees pouring out of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and parts of Africa where al-Qaeda and ISIS offshoots operate. Refugee camps may prove to be academies for a future generation of the disenfranchised and dispossessed.

“Whatever happens in the coming months and years, and whether ISIS thrives, just survives or declines, the conditions remain for other movements to arise from anywhere across North Africa, the Middle East or South East Asia. The lessons of three failed wars, with a fourth now in progress, are clear, and yet the belief still persists in clear-cut military solutions. Altering this deeply embedded attitude will be singularly difficult, even more so than changing economic thinking or responding to climate change, but has to be done,” Paul Rogers writes.

Just as Chilcot recommends that Britain learns the lessons of its failed military adventure in Iraq, Prof Rogers says the extent of these failures in Iraq and elsewhere, in Afghanistan Syria, Libya, has to be analysed in detail and the implications argued for forcefully and repeatedly. The most obvious of these, at least to me, is Britain’s docile willingness to be America’s poodle. If nothing else the dubious War on Terror should tell us that the time has come to free ourselves from the leash of the so-called ‘special relationship’ with the United States, which seems to come down to us doing whatever they ask. After 43 years we are freeing ourselves from the choke-chain of the EU; time to do likewise with the land of the star-spangled banner. The New American Century ethos of the past 30 years has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, mainly civilian, and many billions of dollars.

Paul Rogers could be depressed about the future: doing something about the circumstances that give rise to terror groups like ISIS is one thing; dealing with the murderous day-to-day reality is another. But Prof Rogers is optimistic. “For nearly a decade and a half, until around 1990, my research on international security focused on nuclear issues and the very real risk of what was called, in an anodyne phrase, a ‘central nuclear exchange’. If a global nuclear war had been fought, hundreds of millions would have died, and perhaps billions in the years that followed, and yet the two power blocs prepared and trained for just such a conflict.

“In the early 1980s the risk was real and we now know that we were lucky on several occasions to avoid a global catastrophe. Yet catastrophe was avoided, and while we still face serious problems, these do not include worldwide nuclear disaster…The next two decades are likely to prove pivotal in avoiding an unstable and insecure world, but there is immense potential for positive change and huge possibilities.”

. Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat From the Margins is published by I.B. Tauris.

By Jim Greenhalf

Next week sees the publication of the much-delayed Chilcot Report into the UK’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2009.

There are two aspects to this. The first, how we got involved, is primarily political; the second, what Britain’s armed forces did during those seven years in response to the Islamic insurgency or uprising, is mainly military.

article-2197109-00806128000004B0-665_634x579The course of the war, which led to the Iraqi Government of Nouri al-Maliki telling Britain to withdraw its forces by 2009, is not the concern of Chilcot. However, the failure of Britain’s military campaign and the cost in lives, money and material, was one of the factors which prompted Tony Blair’s successor in 10 Downing Street, Gordon Brown, to commission Privy Councillor Sir John Chilcot to conduct his inquiry.

The inquiry, which has cost more than £10m, was set up to:- ‘Consider the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-in to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned.’

Peter Oborne sums up the importance of the Chilcot Report in the final pages of his new book, Not the Chilcot Report:- “The British people used to trust the British state. This trust is the magnificent legacy of World War Two, when we united in common sacrifice to confront fascism. Ever since then we have regarded our state as ultimately decent and benign…

“This trust was shattered by the Iraq war, and its gruesome aftermath. We have learned that civil servants, spies and politicians could not be trusted to act with integrity and decency and in the national interest. This discovery was shattering because it calls into question the moral basis on which Britain has been governed for the last hundred years or more.

“That is why the Iraq Inquiry matters a great deal. It is the last chance for the British Establishment to show that it can learn the lessons of its failures – and hold those who fail to account. If Sir John Chilcot and his inquiry fail to achieve this, the Iraq Inquiry will be the final proof that our system of government is broken.”

But in striving to strike a resounding note, Oborne appears to have forgotten those shabby instances after World War II when the British people’s trust in the state was shattered: the Anglo-French invasion of the Suez Canal area of Egypt in 1956; John Profumo’s resignation as Secretary of State for War in 1963 after admitting that he had lied to the House of Commons about his relationship with call girl Christine Keeler; and Prime Minister Edward Heath’s explicit public denial in 1972 that membership of the European Common Market (now the EU) would mean the sacrifice of Britain’s independence and sovereignty.

The Iraq Inquiry Is LaunchedWhen political leaders want things to happen irrespective of public opinion, is anyone seriously surprised that they may be economical with the truth? Were this not the case, hanging and conscription would have both been brought back by public demand years ago.

The simple question is this: Who needs the Chilcot Report? Are the families of the 179 British service personnel killed in Iraq – among them Sergeant Robert Stevens, from Shipley, Sergeant Christian Hickey, from Bradford, Captain Guy Philip, from Skipton and Corporal Chris O’Neill, from Halifax – expecting Chilcot to be an improvement on the four reports published to date, including the Hutton Inquiry into the death of weapons inspector David Kelly?

Reg Keys, who contested Tony Blair’s Sedgefield seat in the 2005 General Election following the death of his son Tom in Iraq in July 2003, has already said the war was illegal and that Tony Blair was a war criminal for persuading the House of Commons to vote in favour of it without the explicit approval of the United Nations Security Council. Many people agree with him.

Operation Telic, as the American-led invasion of Iraq was code-named, took the lives of 4, 491 US service personnel, while the Iraq Body Count Project puts the number of civilian dead in the region of 174,355 up to March 2016. The Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimated that by 2008 there were 4.7m Iraqi refugees, while 870,000 children had been orphaned. What is the Chilcot Report to them?

The Inquiry, which was only supposed to last for a year but went on for six, was not a court of law. Criticisms are likely, the finger of blame may be pointed at Prime Minister Blair and his men, as well as senior military figures; but what real difference will be made either to the public’s willingness to trust its leaders or the way we are governed?

“If the Inquiry has done its job, it will have demolished forever the myth that the failure to deal with the Iraq insurgency was entirely the fault of the politicians and that the military was blameless. The Iraq occupation was as much due to military incompetence as it was political inadequacy,” said Dr Richard North, Bradford political analyst and author of Ministry of Defeat: The British War in Iraq 2003-2009.

His book chronicles the failure of the Ministry of Defence and British Army commanders to respond to the realities of the Shia insurgency, one of which was the use of Improvised Explosive Devices against army vehicles more suitable to patrolling urban areas of Northern Ireland than the roads and tracks in Basra, one of four provinces assigned to the British Army.

It wasn’t lack of money, as the public has been led to believe by Ministry of Defence apologists, Dr North maintains; but the misuse of money to procure the wrong equipment for an army being re-modelled to fit the European Union’s proposed multi-national European Rapid Reaction Force.

Those under the age of thirty may be surprised that up until the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair was widely admired for the military action he advocated in the trouble-spots of Kosovo, in the Balkans, and Sierra Leone, West Africa, to prevent massacres. At the time of the invasion opinion was divided. Most who went along with the Government line thought that war was the lesser of two evils. Some, like the late journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, publicly defended the Blair Government’s prosecution of the war against Iraq’s homicidal leader Saddam Hussein.

In the minds of President George W Bush and Prime Minister Blair, Saddam Hussein was the greater evil. Professor Paul Rogers, of Bradford University’s Peace Studies department, smiled mischievously when he reminded me that in the 1980s US President Ronald Reagan described the former USSR as the ‘evil empire’ and less than twenty years later George W Bush tried to frighten the world with his vision of ‘the axis of evil’ – North Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq.

Professor Rogers, who submitted written evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry, said: “I think the Report will be pretty critical of Blair and senior military figures. It may not say that Blair lied. A person may believe something that’s wrong in good faith. Chilcot will make a bit of a difference in that many people think the war was wrong. I don’t think it will be a whitewash. ” Nor does he think it will lead to the dock of the International Criminal Court.

Peter Oborne says plainly that the evidence shows that Tony Blair colluded with the United States to further the agreed strategy of regime change. He and George W Bush did so by maintaining, against the evidence of UN weapons inspectors, that Saddam had stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction and was in league with al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden’s group behind the attacks on the United States on September 9, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people.

He dismisses as “fantasy” the idea that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was necessary to destroy Saddam Hussein’s links with al Qaeda. Oborne says the notion of such an alliance was “invented to provide some sort of an answer to the question: why are you invading Iraq when you say that the greatest threat to the West is al-Qaeda?

“The pragmatic thing for the US to do after 9/11 was to make peace with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a secular Arab state opposed to al-Qaeda, and with Iran, a Shia state opposed to al-Qaeda – and do what was necessary to force Saudi Arabia and its Gulf state allies to cease providing inspiration to al-Qaeda.

“But, instead, Iran was included in the ‘axis of evil’ and shunned by the US and its allies, and Iraq was invaded and occupied, falsely justified in part on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was one of the architects of 9/11 – and in the process Iraq was transformed from an al-Qaeda free zone into an area where Islamic extremists flourished…Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has continued to inspire al-Qaeda and its offshoots – and continues to be the US’s best friend in the Middle East.”

In his book The Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution, Patrick Cockburn says a 2013 study published by the directorate-general for external policies of the European Parliament began by stating: “Saudi Arabia has been a major source of funding to rebel and terrorist organisations since the 1980s.”

One of the documents released by WikiLeaks in December 2009 quotes the-then US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton observing: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan) and other terrorist groups.” In July, 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that 45 per cent of all foreign militants attacking US troops and Iraqi civilians were from Saudi Arabia.

If George W Bush and Tony Blair were truly bent on snuffing out Islamic terrorism in March 2003 to further the Project for the New American Century, they sent their armed forces against the wrong country.

Richard North said: “Iraq was not about 9/11. It was the excuse (for) Bush junior and unfinished business. In terms of sponsorship (of terrorism) Saudi is the key. Ironic that it was used as a base against Iraq for Operation Desert Storm in 1991.” Desert Storm was the US-led military coalition which drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait during the presidency of George W’s father, George Herbert Bush. Evidently, Bush junior had a lot to live up to.

Robert Fisk’s mighty chronicle The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, reminds us of what Bush’s Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said about Weapons of Mass Destruction. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

We are told that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them, as Britain did first in Iraq, then Afghanistan, where 453 British service personnel were killed, followed by Libya and latterly Syria.

Perhaps the only lesson governments ever truly learn from its mistakes is how to repeat them – with more expertise.

by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

After a long 43 years of niggling the marriage between the Brits and the European Union, it ended last month in divorce. The outcome of the referendum surprisingly tilted in favour of BREXIT. So now we are out of the EU. The BREXIT are jubilant but the immediate after effects appear to be catastrophic.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned. The future of the Labour leader is unsure and hanging in the balance. The value of the pound has dramatically dropped by more than ten per cent which may continue to fall infinitely. The financial market is in turmoil. The ripples of its tumultuousness have been felt globally. Some of the major banks and financial houses are seriously considering to move to France and Germany and the entire future of the EU is in jeopardy.

Our own country is deeply divided across the board and has been plunged into the state of utter confusion and uncertainty. The leaders of political parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have intensified their campaigns for independence. A large number of migrant workers from the EU are faced with expulsion over the next few years and British citizens living and working in Europe will be faced with a similar fate.

Immigration was pivotal to the leave campaign. For over two months, its leaders were constantly engaged in scaring voters about the influx of Eastern European and other immigrants who will ‘take over’ Britain. Disinformation about the cost and benefit analysis was another tactic used to mislead voters. The divisions in the Tory Party created further confusion. The pinch, hurt and humiliation felt by poor voters of Tories austerity policy was blamed on immigrants who are here only to exploit and abuse our welfare system. Hence, the disenchantment with the lower and deprived class grew fast against the European Union.

575531dfc361883a0d8b457bThe euphoria of BREXIT was short-lived. They soon discovered that their lies and innuendoes were realised by many who voted to quit. Several petitions have been organised to ask parliament either to reverse the decision or to hold another referendum. The pressure from the EU leaders is fast increasing to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty for leaving the Union without any delay. BREXIT leaders now seem to be sucked by quagmire.

In fact, the triumph of BREXIT was not earned by them. Sadly it was a triumph of hate, fear, bigotry and jingoism. It was a triumph of growing nationalism and far right politics. It was a triumph of racism and xenophobia. Above all, it was a triumph of venomous and vitriolic politics of Farage and Trump. And this is frightening. It should be worrying for all of us.

This dangerous and divisive mind set has got to be challenged and defeated sooner than later before it rips our society further apart.

Disunited, fractured and economically destabilised, Britain is in desperate need for a leader who can unite the country and help us sail safely through troubled waters. BUT THE QUESTION IS THIS: IS THERE SOME ONE WE CAN RELY ON AND TRUST?

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Bradford Council is warning people they need to be registered in order to take part in the European Union referendum on Thursday, 23 June.

Anyone who isn’t registered by Tuesday, 7 June won’t be able to participate in the referendum to decide on whether Britain will remain in or leave the EU.

People who are already registered do not need to take any action. For example, if you were registered for the recent local council and West Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner elections you are already registered for the referendum.

However, every year a small number of people are turned away at the polling station because they haven’t registered to vote and are not on the Electoral Register.

The Council is urging residents not to leave registration to the last minute.

People can register online at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote or by calling 01274 431360.

Online registration takes as little as 3 minutes. All people need is their name, address, date of birth and National Insurance number.

Bradford district’s Returning Officer, Kersten England, said: “It’s difficult to overstate the importance of taking part in this year’s EU referendum. It is considered to be one of the most important decisions to face Britain in decades.

“The decision will have significant and wide reaching implications for everyone living in the UK.

“I encourage anyone who isn’t currently registered to vote to do so as soon as possible.”

 

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by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

Nearly four weeks of my holidays in the village of my birth in the part of Pakistan held Kashmir, the weather has been expectedly fabulous with moderate sunshine and rain. The second week of my stay here in an environment full of natural beauty including a man-made lake was blessed with the company of my close friends and colleagues both locally and from Mirpur and Islamabad. The hide and seek game played by the unpredictable supply of electricity, in this part of the world, has been quite irksome and disturbing, but manageable.

In this age of highly advanced technology in global communication, it has been easy for me to keep myself abreast of some of the important issues and news of the world.

During the last four weeks, in Pakistan, the press and electronic media has been dominated with three main news. Firstly the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab in January 2011, produced massive reaction in all parts of the country. Although Qadri was convicted for murder and terrorism, his funeral was one of the largest ever held in Pakistan. Qadri was nawaz_1860146fawarded the death sentence by an anti-terror court but the judge had to flee the country for the sake of his safety. However after long judicial process, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower court. Thus, Qadri was sent to the gallows. The timing of his hanging was decided by the government of Nawaz Sharif with some trepidation due to fear of the reaction the execution may unleash. However, while the media and the government played down with his hanging, his supporters and sympathisers were out to protest in almost all small and large towns and cities of the country. All the religious political parties and clergy closed their ranks and condoned his death and condoned his act of assassination unanimously. Qadri was hailed as a great hero and martyr and the government a stooge of the west. I believe the ideological opposition of Qadri to Salman Taseer’s statements on blasphemy law that prompted him to fire twenty shots to kill him, was the result of his fixed mind on some of his religious beliefs.

He was a product of steady growth of religious extremism and intolerance in Pakistani society over the last three decades.

pervez-musharraf_650_010214013413In the third week of February, the Punjab Government took a bold decision and passed the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill in the Assembly. In the province of Punjab, where in the last five years according to the statistics available with the Punjab Police, a total of 1269 women became victims of “honour killing” and thousands were subjected to rape and domestic violence. In a misogynistic society like Pakistan, the majority of women are subject to retrogressive traditions and customs. The law has been challenged and furiously opposed and condemned by the religious leaders who are labelling the law as anti-Sharia.

The abhorrence of clergy and conservative segments of the country is a manifestation of their desire for the perpetuation of oppressive male domination, using religion as a cloak. The “Mullah Brigade” as mumtaz_hussain_qadri-1usual is spitting venom on all those who are supporting this long overdue legislation to protect the most vulnerable women. The male supporters of the legislation in the Punjab Assembly are described as hen pecked husbands and liberal secular’s hell bent on destroying the fabric of society. The government have yielded to pressures from the religious right and have agreed to consider proposals from religious leadership for possible amendments. But their demand is for scraping the law altogether. Hence, the ball now is in the government’s court.

Nawaz Sharif, ironically, has been closely associated with some Islamist groups and enjoyed their electoral support from time to time in the past. Therefore, despite his bold decision to go ahead with this radical legislation, he is not regarded as the beacon for any real social change or enlightened policies.

The Musharraf saga ended on Friday the 18th of March with no surprises. He was allowed by the government, after his successful appeal to the Supreme Court, to leave Pakistan for medical treatment abroad. He is now in Dubai where he is resting with his family. Many observers believe that he will not return to Pakistan to face his trial on treason charges. But he has insisted that he will come back after few months when his health is fully restored.

The departure of Musharraf has created enormous embarrassment for Sharif’s government. The opposition parties are accusing him of surrendering to Musharraf and letting him go scot free. In the eyes of opposition, his acclaimed resolve for bringing the treason trial of the dictator to its conclusion for strengthening democracy in the country was nothing more than a rhetoric. I believe the decision to let Musharraf leave the country was made collaboratively by the army and Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf had now become a thorn in the back of the army as the possibilities for his conviction were becoming more convincing day by day. The verdict of guilty for Musharraf would have been not easy for the army to stomach and would have put them in the most uncomfortable and uncompromising position. Nawaz Sharif’s administration also realised this forthcoming crisis which perhaps they wanted to avoid at all cost.

Musharraf’s return to Pakistan will be a risky venture for him as long as Sharif is in power. On the other hand, if the establishment offers him a safe return, he may not resist the temptation.

In Pakistan, the action against extremism and terrorism since the devastating attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar, has intensified and things have moved forward in positive directions. But it is difficult to visualise the end result of this resolve of the army.

The government is faced with enormous opposition from religious outfits. They have unanimously ganged up against it. Their demand is for total withdrawal of the Woman Protection Act and apology for Qadri’s execution. These obscurantist groups are preparing themselves for a decisive encounter with Nawaz Sharif’s government. The question is, will the government be able to muster the courage of its conviction and face this challenge fearlessly or will it lose its nerve and submit to their whims?

All the available evidence suggests, however, that in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the religious right and puritans still possess the capacity to incite religious passions and mobilise street power to wreak havoc for any government.

The Panama Papers Leaks, whereas they have shaken many incumbent governments in the world, the Nawaz Sharif government also has been under extreme pressure from opposition parties. The revelations about the alleged investment by his two sons of ill-gotten wealth in the off shore companies abroad and his failure to declare it, have seriously on his moral authority. This has happened when his relationship with the establishment is at a very low ebb. His announcement for a judicial commission to probe the allegations of tax evasion and money laundering has been rejected by all opposition parties. His reluctance to take the parliament into confidence by declaring all of his and his family’s financial interests has made his opponents suspicious of his move for purposing the judicial commission. Mr Nawaz Sharif seems to be faced with a political quandary which he did not expect and now desperate to find safe exit. However, in view of the current politically intensely heated climate in the country, he is faced with two probable choices. Either to go for re-election or resign.

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Following the announcement in the 2016 Budget that all schools will be forced to convert into academies by 2022, Imran Hussain MP questioned the Prime Minister on the plans.

Despite evidence showing that academy status does not increase the educational outcomes in schools, all schools that are currently run by Bradford Council will be forced to convert into academies, regardless of the wishes of the teachers and parents. As part of this process, accountability for the schools will be transferred from the Council to the Department for Education in London, despite the Government’s repeated claims about wishing to transfer more power to the local level.

The plans have been met with criticism from Mr Hussain who denounced them as “plain daft and unnecessary” – echoing former Education Minister Lord Baker – and has claimed that they amount to needlessly altering the structure of schools rather than taking meaningful steps to correct the failings within them, such as addressing low teacher retention rates and providing the funding needed to counter the high rates of deprivation in the district that is holding back educational attainment.

Mr Hussain also questioned why the Government were so willing to disregard the opinions of local parents and teachers, and why they were so willing to put the potential success of the Northern Schools Strategy, which was recently announced at the Budget and set to invest £20 million per year in Northern Schools, at risk.

Speaking on education in Bradford and the academisation plans, Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East said:

“Efforts to raise educational outcomes in Bradford face considerable challenges with low GCSE scores, a school places shortage and high rates of deprivation in the city, but I do not believe that forcing all schools to become academies, against the wishes of parents and teachers, offers the solution.

“When asked the question of how to improve education, the Government’s answer is to increase the pace of academisation, but ironically for the Department for Education, they are unable to fulfil a requirement of many pupils who are sitting exams and show their working and how they have come to this conclusion.

“Instead of pushing forward with such a divisive plan which has no supportive evidence proving that academy status improves educational outcomes, the Government should instead look at increasing the scope and investment of their recently announced Northern Schools Strategy, and I will be continuing to press the Government to ensure that this strategy, which has the potential to substantially improve education in Bradford, reflects the good practices of the highly successful London Challenge.”

 

by Mohammad Nazir Tabassum

A prophet of socialism, Fedel Castro, former President of Cuba, prophesied sometimes in 1973:

“The US will come to talk to us when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American Pope.”

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On Sunday afternoon, 20th March this prophesy turned out to be true when the Black American President Mr Barack Hussein Obama along with the first lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, landed at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. And the incumbent pope is Pope Francis, a Latin American who was born in Flores, Argentina.

This was one of the most difficult tasks Obama may have kept on his secret agenda as he would have ascended the stairs of the White House on 20th January 2009 as the first Black American President. He has accomplished that task if not adequately then at least to the extent of breaking the ground. Embargo has always been the most hurting aspect of estranged relations which directly affect the common man. Although Obama expressed optimism that this will go, but he was unable to give a timeframe for that. This is because trade relations and free travelling cannot be restored and sanctions can’t be lifted until the Congress allows that. Now the Congress has a majority of Republicans who are opposed to Obama’s pilgrimage to Havana, there it requires patience till that time when the coming Democratic government could take up that step too.

The world has witnessed that the performance of a Black American President has in no way been less, if not above, than that of the Presidents of other ethnic groups. Just nine months after his inauguration on 20th January 2009, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 2009 for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people.

Barack-Obama-Talks-About-Daughters-ViewDuring his first two years in the office, he took steps to legislate in response to the Great Recession in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Tax Relief, unemployment insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. His first term will always be remembered for his bold steps to get legislated and implemented the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This was opposed tooth and nail by the big and powerful insurance racket in America who nicknamed this Act as “Obamacare”.

He took landmark steps in the field of foreign policy as well. He ended US military involvement in the Iraq war and increased US troop levels in Afghanistan. Another bold step that he took was to sign NEW START arms control treaty with Russia. His military involvement in Libya opposing and then killing Col. Qadafi is a controversial step opposed by those who are against the interventionism. However, the military operation undertaken by the American Navy Seals on his orders that resulted in killing of Osama bin Laden was hailed by and large.

He has been mostly at odds with the Republicans. It became worse in 2011 when they regained control of the House of Representatives because his Democratic Party lost 63 seats. Thus, there had been a lengthy debate over federal spending and also over whether or not to raise nation’s debt limit. As a result Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Tax payer Relief Act of 2012.

In November 2012, he defeated the Republican nominee Mitt Romney and was thus re-elected and then sworn in for a second term on 20th January 2013. He has been actively engaged in domestic politics during his second term. Thus, he took bold steps in gun control prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He called for greater inclusion of LGBT Americans and his administration filed a case urging the Supreme Court to strike down part of the federal Defence of Marriage Act and State same-sex marriage laws as unconstitutional.

After withdrawal of forces from Iraq in 2011, once again, during his second term, Obama had to order his troops to go to Iraq and fight against the ISIS militancy because this terrorist organization had occupied large areas of both Iraq and Syria. He continued the process of ending US combat operations in Afghanistan. He took initiative to start discussions that ultimately led to the 2015 Paris Agreement on global climate change. The way he brokered a nuclear deal with Iran will always be remembered as an excellent gain by peaceful means. And lastly, his whirlwind visit that aimed to lock in key aspects of his historic overtures to the socialist-run country that will deepen the US-Cuba economic relations was an attempt to send the message that President Raul Castro’s government will sooner or later embrace democratic reforms. That is another thing that Josfine Vidal, director of US affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry remarked: “Cuba will not move one millimetre to try to respond”.

By Jim Greenhalf

Panel: David Cameron maintains that the UK would be more prosperous, secure and have greater influence in the world, in the European Union rather than out of it. Those in favour of leaving the EU, don’t have an alternative strategy, the Prime Minister said: “They seem to be making it up as they go along.” Well, there is such a strategy, and it was compiled and written by Bradford political researcher, author and blogger Dr Richard North. JIM GREENHALF reports.

CUTTING the Gordian Knot that binds the UK to the political and economic structures of the European Union would not be a single historic event but a gradual process over several years at least.

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Richard North

That’s why Richard North, beavering away in the book-crammed study of his Wibsey house, called his 420-page strategy FLEXCIT, short for Flexible Exit and Continuous Development. It went online in April last year since when the author calculates that more than 50,000 people have downloaded it from his EUReferendum.com blogsite.

A 48-page summary was published last month (March) by the Leave Alliance, a network of anti-EU campaigners that includes the Bruges Group and the Campaign for an Independent Britain.

“After nine treaties and 40 years of political and economic integration, there can be no clean break. Unravelling in a single step is not going to happen, and certainly not without compromises. This is a point that cannot be made too strongly,” Dr North says in the pamphlet’s introduction.

As one of the few pundits who correctly forecast the outcome of last year’s General Election, Richard North, whose books co-authored with Christopher Booker include the definitive history of the EU – The Great Deception – Richard North challenges the Prime Minister’s ideal of Britain within a reformed EU.

The EU can only be changed by treaty agreement of all 28 member states. International agreements are made on the basis of ‘shared misery’, he added. Favourable treatment for one will be opposed by other member states not in receipt of it, especially if the proposed reforms infringe any of the EU’s four freedoms: freedom of movement of people, capital, goods and services.

Richard North’s FLEXCIT strategy imagines and describes six phases following Britain’s declaration under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the EU.

“First you leave,” he said, summarising the phases for Urban Echo readers. “Negotiations for that take at least two years. Then you sort out immigration, European trade regulations, the policy issues governed by EU law (there are 22,000 EU laws), the global trading matters and finally you address domestic political reform to restore democracy and prevent Parliament from ever again giving away our power as it did in 1973 when we signed up to the European Communities Act.

“The EU’s ambition is to create a new country called the United States of Europe. That’s simply not a direction in which we can travel because there is no mandate for it,” he said.

Leaving the EU means changing a relationship, not ending it, as the FLEXCIT pamphlet makes clear:-

“We are simply travelling separately. This is not isolation but an agreement to do many more of the same things in a different way, all to our mutual advantage.”

by Mohammed Nazir Tabbasum
by Mohammed Nazir Tabbasum

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, Federica Mogherini, head of the EU foreign policy and Javed Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister met in Vienna, the capital of Austria, on January 16 and issued a joint communiqué declaring that a nuclear deal has been reached at between Iran and the world powers after the certification of UN’s international nuclear watchdog IAEA, that Iran has fulfilled all her obligations set forth for her in July last year.

Therefore, a big chunk of sanctions imposed on that country by US, EU and the UN are being lifted. This step will unfreeze Iran’s billions of dollars of assets and allow her to sell its oil in the world market.

The announcement opened the floodgates of joy and happiness for the Iranian masses that have been made scapegoat to suffer more than a decade for none of their faults. Thus, the Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif commented: “This is a good day for the Iranian people as sanctions will be lifted today.” Soon after the international sanctions were lifted, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “Iran has opened a new chapter in its ties with the world”.

90This move was welcomed by most of the countries of the world except Israel that accused Tehran of still seeking to build a nuclear bomb. Strangely enough, Israel was not alone in criticising this deal; she was joined by the holier than the holiest Monarchy of the world Muslims, Saudi Arabia in expressing their dislike. On Tuesday (19/01/16) Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubier said in his exclusive interview to Reuters: “The lifting of sanctions on Iran as a result of its nuclear deal with world powers will be a harmful development if it uses the extra money to fund “nefarious” activities”. While Israel (a Jewish state) and Saudi Arabia (a state which is the fountain head of Islam) are juxtaposed in condemning this deal, it would be interesting to see how Imam of Makkah’s Grand Mosque (an appointee of the SA government) looks at this deal, who tweeted (18-24 January) alleging an “alliance of the Safavids with the Jews and Christians against Muslims”. [Iranians are also known as Safavids].

The way this deal would lift the economic sanctions that were progressively imposed by the US, EU and the UN in response to Iran’s nuclear programme needs elaboration. Sanctions on trade, shipping and insurance are going to be fully lifted by EU. The US would suspend, not terminate, its nuclear-related sanctions, thus allowing Iran now to get reconnected with global banking system. The UN would lift sanctions related to defence and nuclear technology sales, as well as an asset freeze on key individuals and companies. Non-nuclear US sanctions would remain in place, notably the ban on US citizens and companies trading with Iran, and US and EU sanctions on Iranians accused of sponsoring terrorism would also remain in place.

Iran would immediately get $100bn (£70bn) of frozen Iranian assets. It is expected that she would increase its daily export of 101 million barrels of crude oil by half a million barrels shortly and another half a million barrels in future. It is expected that Iran would soon order the Airbus Consortium for purchase of 114 new passenger planes.

President Hassan Rouhani said that everyone was happy with the deal, apart from those he described as war-mongers in the region – Israel and hardliners in the US Congress. “We Iranians have reached out to the world in a sign of friendliness, and leaving behind the enmities, suspicions and plots, have opened a new chapter in the relations of Iran with the world”, he said in a statement on Sunday (17/01/2016) morning. Rouhani added: “The lifting of sanctions was a turning point for Iran’s economy and the country needed to be less reliant on oil revenue.

The only candidate to be credited as the “ARCHITECT” of this deal is John Kerry, the US Secretary of State who, commenting on the deal, said; “It had been pursued with the firm belief that exhausting diplomacy before choosing war is an imperative. And we believe that today marks the benefits of that choice”.

However, it did not go unchallenged from within the United States. The Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Obama administration had moved to lift economic sanctions “on the world’s leading State Sponsor of terrorism”.

This deal, as envisaged quite early, came as a shock to the monarch in Riyadh. They had their first shock in 1979 when Shah of Iran was deposed and replaced by Shia theocracy of Ayatollah Khomeini and other clerics of similar description who started crying hoarse that there is no place of monarchy in Islam. In a recent exclusive interview to Reuters, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel al-Jubier was asked if Saudi Arabia discussed seeking nuclear bomb in the event Iran managed to obtain one despite its atomic deal. He said Saudi Arabia would do “whatever it needs to do in order to protect our people”. Where Saudi Arabia can look to seek an atomic device? Nowhere except Pakistan. Thus, Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif, without wasting any time, came to Riyadh along with his army chief to console and comfort their erstwhile benefactor. They could not stop short of pronouncing their support in case of any defence-related eventuality. In an apparent equalising gesture they did visit Tehran also to clarify the reconciliatory nature of their visit.

Both Tehran and Riyadh are theocratic states, the former ruled by a Council of Shia Elders without whose clearance no one can contest election; the latter is ruled by House of Saud dynasty but their home affairs are run by the clerics who profess Wahabi / Salafi Islam as opposed to that of Shia clerics of Iran. There is a worst human rights record in both the countries. The women are treated worst in both the countries

by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

A few years ago during a brief discourse over a cup of coffee in my house with one of the most prominent Indian film directors, Mr Mahesh Bhatt, on the subject of the British Muslim community, he asked me how do I feel as a British Muslim in Britain after the 9/11 and7/7 terrorist attacks in New York and London? After a pause I said: “In the sixties and seventies I was a black young man, in the eighties I was an Asian, in the nineties I became to be known as a Muslim and in the beginning of the 21st century, I am a terrorist.”

Sadly this perception of Muslims residing in Europe and America has become so strong that it is frequently used as a popular propaganda weapon against the whole Muslim community to denigrate and demonise it. Some politicians and sections of the media have harboured and spread it to increase their rating and popularity. Even the moderate and liberal Muslims who attempt to defend themselves against the evils of terrorism, are silenced with the popular slogan “you are all the bloody same.” Hence, Muslim bashing has become a vogue in the western world. Donald Trump, the hopeful presidential candidate for America has recently vouched for the ban on Muslims’ entry to the USA. Also during many of his rallies, he has continued to ridicule the entire Muslim community and some of his staunch supporters at his rallies have chanted and shouted that, ‘every Muslim is a Satan and we don’t want them in America.’

100504277_cameroncu_249431bIn Britain, our very own Prime Minister Mr David Cameron, last month [January 2016] announced in Leeds that those Muslim women who can’t speak English will be helped by the government to learn the language. This initiative was welcomed by the community across the board. They appreciated the benefits that could accrue from this scheme, particularly for promoting social interaction and increased autonomy of Muslim females. However, Mr Cameron also delivered a warning that there could be great risk in some of these women to turn to extremism and terrorism if they fail to learn the language and if they fail to pass the language test, they will be deported to their countries of origin.

This part of Mr Cameron’s announcement is not only bereft of his political prudence and judgement and his naivety of ground realities, but it is manifestation of his true inner feelings about the Muslim community. His belief in the link between the inability to speak English language and extremism is incredible. It is a well-known fact that all those apprehended and convicted of their involvement in radicalisation and terrorism to date are all born, bred and educated in the UK. The cruellest irony here of his double talk is the depiction of Muslims as a negative and dangerous entity of British society.

His government’s policy of targeting a particular community for learning the language could be legally challenged.

The most important areas in which social interaction and cohesion can be promoted are our schools, neighbourhoods and work places. All successive governments have criminally failed to pay any serious heed to address this question. Almost all schools in the inner areas of our cities and towns with preponderance of Muslim population are ghettoised. Hardly any white face in these schools are visible. The situation in terms of neighbourhoods and work places is no different from schools. For the government, it seems to be an easy escape to offer cosmetics and yet gain national and international publicity. This is political hypocrisy at its height!

Unfortunately, the government and its leaders are too engrossed in playing power games and to outbid each other on restricting immigration and potential domestic ‘unrest’. They don’t realise that by diverting people’s attention from real issues of poverty and social injustice, they are engaging their minds in an unhelpful polarisation, the consequences of which could not be beneficial for society as a whole.

To single out the Muslims and casting on them constant aspersions and to demand that they should police their homes, neighbourhoods and communities for potential extremists and terrorists, is indicative of not trusting their loyalty as British citizens. Additionally, this kind of approach can entrench their feelings of victimisation. A community that already is beleaguered and under surveillance by our educational institutions, local authorities, police and other security agencies, can no longer afford any more pressures and demands.

To push them to a position of guilt is akin to drive them to the precipice. We have to be seriously mindful of the spill overs of such a policy.

The Muslim community is faced with many challenges. The biggest challenge is for its religious and political leaders to encourage mainstreaming and integrating with the indigenous communities.

No one denies that there is a tiny minority of Muslim youth who pose potential danger to our security and we must counter them without any reservations and extend our full cooperation to our security forces. The dangerous radicalism of a few young Muslim has finally become a frightening reality. But this should not mean that we punish the entire community.

The rising tides of extremism and terrorism are a deadly combination of historical wrongs and the havoc wreaked by hastily cooked up wars. Without addressing the source and the underlying causes of this ever growing evil of radicalism and terrorism, you cannot bring peace to the world. Mr Cameron should seriously consider to pursue a noble role of a peace maker and leave a legacy of which Britons can be proud of, rather than attempting to win political scores by abandoning the “core British values.”

The author is the former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

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