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by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE
by Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE

The elections in the United States of America, the most powerful nation of our times, are over. These elections, according to many observers, were most controversial and unpredictable. In nearly two years of electioneering, both parties were fiercely engaged in naming and blaming each other so much so, that the FBI had to intervene and investigate the allegations against Hillary Clinton the Democratic Party’s candidate.

Although she was vindicated twice, but her last clearance was only two days before the ballot. On the other hand, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate continuously spit venom on all visible minorities and xenophobic, scapegoating them for the country’s socio-economic problems conducted his campaign in the most reprehensible manner. His emotionally charged language often with overt racist slurs, created enormous fear and insecurity among Black, Latino, Mexican and Muslim communities. His rhetoric to restore the American past glory and greatness by protecting and promoting its cultural and religious values and repatriating all the illegal immigrants and to ban Muslims to enter the country, helped his campaign to sway the opinion of voters in his favour. Still it was expected that Hillary Clinton might just win by a small margin.

6360139435793044861461393096_donald-trump-prune-faceBut on 8 November, Donald Trump triumphed with a more than comfortable majority. The elections results were clear evidence of his divisive tactics which he used to woo the support of those who believed in white supremacy. These white supremacists included the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-fascist outfits, who openly supported Trump. His assertions that all non-white Americans are a serious threat to the so called core values of the country and to whip up racial animosity, is justified to protect the interests of white Americans. He told frustrated voters what they wanted to hear same as BREXIT campaigners in our country. Trump’s stance in support of racial and religious hatred was frank and unambiguous. His nefarious, vile and evil beliefs in supremacy of white race can not only be dangerous for visible minorities in America but the entire world.

America generally is hailed as one of the best democracies of the world, and yet anyone aspiring for the office of the president has got to possess enormous wealth. It is ones beyond comprehension the huge amount of money spent on building images of candidates in the press and media irrespective of their political experience, ability or level of their intelligence and intellect. The only exception to this well protected tradition was Abraham Lincoln.

The ruling elites (wealthy land owners, big businesses and the establishment) over the years have kept the ordinary Americans rendered incapable of independent thinking and thus, the two party system has managed to maintain the status quo except the introduction of some reforms from time to time.

Trump will find it difficult to fulfil his promises of creating jobs for jobless as the country’s economy has been plummeting over the last few decades. The globalisation and outsourcing has seriously dented the manufacturing industry with the exception of armaments and aerospace. This segment of American industry is well protected as the sale of this arms to war torn countries has always been the major part of its economy. American governments have been deliberately creating wars or invading weaker nations with a view to maintaining its political hegemony and steeling their resources. Also, causing havoc and destruction in these countries. This kind of policy of the USA can only be described as international political thuggery which it has pursued for many decades with impunity.

Trump desires to bring some radical changes in the foreign policy. He announced to work in close co-operation with Russia to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and to withdraw some support from NATO. This must be the most contentious commitment he seems to have made. Whether the Congress and Pentagon will swallow this bitter pill, only time will tell. But worse than all this is that he has caused serious schisms, fractures, rifts, fear and insecurity across the width and length of the country through his utterances full of contempt, hate and intolerance.

By M Nazir Tabassum

The Presidential elections take place in the US after every four years. Today is the day that American’s decide between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.

According to the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution, an incumbent president cannot contest presidential election a third time, that is, the term of the president is limited to only two terms. The presidential primaries and caucuses took place between February and June 2016 in 50 states and the District of Columbia and US territories. As a result of these, Donald Trump, a real estate businessman and reality television personality, became Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and former US Senator from New York, became the Democratic Party’s nominee.

6360139435793044861461393096_donald-trump-prune-faceBoth the contestants have been in the headlines with their good and bad points since the campaign started. FBI, the American spy agency is after Mrs Clinton for her alleged emails relating American interventionist policies. Donald Trump, since he came to the limelight as a presidential candidate, has become a highly controversial figure because of his political naivety. In the very beginning, he earned notoriety for using foul language against Muslims. He confuses Iran’s Quds Force (a US adversary) with Kurds (by and large US allies) and does not seem to care. He has almost never met a Middle East problem that he hasn’t at one point suggested could be solved by force.

Now Trump denies that he backed the Iraq and Libyan wars too. “We‘re gonna get rid of ISIS … fast”, he says. He will “bomb the hell” for not hitting the Syrian leader with “tremendous force “after he used chemical weapons against the rebels. He would have Iranian vessels that taunt American ships “shot out of water”.

There is unanimity of thought and action among most of the Americans that Islamic State must be destroyed. They think that the weak states in the Middle East, if allowed to fail completely, they could become havens for the extremist groups. Therefore, they agree that America needs to stay in the Middle East for its oil production that keeps the global economy afloat. In spite of all that, they do not want any new commitment of military force because of the bitter war going on in Iraq, a less disastrous but more unpopular intervention in Libya and a failed democratic revolt in Egypt which is a key American ally.

Hillary Clinton who has a long experience of structuring America’s foreign policy is in favour of a low risk plan little different from the one perused by Barack Obama. She favours the use of Air Force to support Kurdish and Arab allies slowly moving in an IS stronghold and special forces to train the local troops, preferably with origin in IS-held regions, to garrison the cities after they have been taken back. She vows an “intelligence surge” to hunt Jihadi leaders, rules out any big commitment of American ground troops, and offers no time table for success.

A number of women have come forward who accused Donald Trump of assaulting them sexually. Thus, there were protests in no less than 15 states across the US against the presidential candidate. One of the largest protests was at the Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York.

A Survey Monkey poll of 15 battleground states conducted with the Washington Post and released on Tuesday the 18th October showed Clinton leading in enough states to put her comfortably over the 270 majority needed to win the presidential election on 8th November. Top Republican leaders are now worried that Trump’s irresponsible behaviour is going affect their elections of Senate and House of Representatives.

Polls say that Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the final Presidential Debate. The CNN/ORC poll named Clinton the winner for the third time. During the debate, the two candidates sparred over Supreme Court, abortion policies and immigration, among others. Trump notably declined to say whether he would accept the outcome of the election. “I will look at it at the time,” he said, adding that he “will keep you in suspense”. The answer prompted strong criticism from many who argued it threatened democratic principles. Hillary Clinton’s response was succinct.

Trump seems jittery while facing his doom today, that is why he is becoming more and more controversial by claiming that the election is being rigged. In the third and final Presidential Debate, Donald Trump twice declined to say whether he would accept the results of the 2016 election. As a result, leading Republicans disowned Donald Trump’s claims that the US election is rigged. President Obama said: “One way of weakening America and making it less great is if you start betraying those basic traditions that have held it together for well over two centuries.” The President also accused Trump of irresponsible “whining” and said there was no evidence at all to support his allegations.

The Daily News, a New York Tabloid, published 14-chapter editorial that rallied against Donald Trump and everything that he stands for. Its front page on Friday (21 September) morning:

NEWS TO AMERICA: BURY TRUMP IN A LANDSLIDE. Restore US honour with giant defeat of the fear mongering demagogue.

Because Trump refused to say at the last Presidential Debate that he would accept the election result, the Daily News urged the public to deliver an unequivocal message on Election Day. The editorial offers a point-by-point takedown of Trump across 14 chapters that question his policy positions, his business record, his fitness to serve and even his sanity: “TRUMP THE DEMAGOGUE,” “TRUMP THE FRAUDSTER,” “TRUMP THE HEAD CASE,” “TRUMP THE FAKE PHILANTHRPOPIST,” “TRUMP THE LIAR,” “TRUMP THE FLIP-FLOPPER,” “TRUMP THE IGNORAMUS,” “TRUMP THE CONSPIRACY THEORIST,”TRUMP THE TAX EVADER,” “TRUMP THE DIVIDER,” “TRUMP THE AUTHORITARIAN,” “TRUMP THE SECURITY RISK,” “TRUMP THE MISOGYNIST,” and finally, “TRUMP THE ENEMY OF DEMOCRACY.”

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by M Nazir Tabassam

A British politician of Indian origin rose to the horizon of prominence like an evening star and fell into the mire of ignominy like a leaden ball. Born in Aden in 1956 with a birth name Nigel Keith Anthony Standish Vaz, drove his name from a distant relative of 17th century missionary Saint Joseph Vaz, has been creating ripples in the British politics since the good old days of New Labour. When he was 9-years-old, he moved along with his family to the UK in 1965 where he attended Latymer Upper School in London before joining the University of Cambridge for a degree in law. He practiced law as a solicitor before entering the House of Commons.

keith-vazHe found himself in the headlines in 1987 when he was elected as an MP for Labour in Leicester, the first Asian for whom the Commons opened up their doors. Controversy and self-contradiction have been his hallmarks during his political career. He has been a Eurosceptic as well as a Euro-enthusiast. In 1990, we saw him marching along Muslim protesters against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses; and yet it is on record that he offered words of support for the author.

When Labour came to power in 1997, Vaz rose to prominence in 1999 becoming the first Asian minister in the Lord Chancellor’s department before being promoted as minister for Europe. In 2000, an investigation began into whether Mr Vaz had taken payment from a solicitor. He delayed investigation for months, refusing to hand over information and refusing to answer questions. However, most of the allegations were not upheld in these investigations, but unusually many allegations were listed as “not completed” rather than rejected.

As said earlier, Keith Vaz, like a cat, has many lives, and at every turn of the tide he reinvents himself. In 2001, an investigation against him reopened. This time the allegation was that Mr Vaz helped process the UK passport application of one of the Indian billionaire Hinduja brothers, who gave £1million towards the Millennium Dome. It was shown that Hinduja had paid Fernandes Vaz – the legal firm run by Mr Keith Vaz’s wife – for work on visa. Keith Vaz married Maria Fernandes 23 years ago in 1993. Maria is a former barrister and Principal of the law firm Fernandes Vaz, established in 1995.

In 2001, Keith Vaz’s tenure as Europe minister came to an end when he resigned on “health grounds”. In 2002, the investigation committee concluded that Mr Vaz had provided misleading information to the first investigation and he was suspended from the parliament for a month. But the central allegations made against him remained unproved. He was not found to have illicitly received money from outside sources that had not declared. However, his suspension from the Commons for a month was a humiliation that made his decline and fall look absolute.

Time went on and by 2007, Mr Vaz slowly and gradually became more influential in helping to prop up the increasingly significant Asian vote, firstly for Tony Blair and secondly for Gordon Brown. In June 2007 he was promoted to Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Select committees have limited formal powers and resources. But with a keen eye for a passing bandwagon, and by ensuring committee grilling are theatrical enough to get on the television news, they can put themselves to the centre of the political action.

In 2009, the Telegraph disclosed that Mr Vaz had claimed more than £75,500 for a Westminster flat despite his valued at £1.15 million family home being just 12 miles from parliament. Although his actions were not illegal, he was asked to pay back a four figure sum. Not only to suffice that, he was accused of writing to a high court judge trying to halt proceedings against a solicitors’ firm which had lavished hospitality on him. The lawyer has since been struck off after being found guilty of 104 breaches of the rules governing solicitors’ conduct.

In 2008, Vaz backed the government at a crucial moment for the 42-day terrorist detention without charge. During the debate on 10th June 2008 Keith Vaz was asked in Parliament whether he had been offered an honour for his support. He said: “No, it was certainly not offered – but I do not know; there is still time.”

Vaz led efforts to curb Britain’s cocaine trade by heading up a Government inquiry into the drug. A subsequent report – The Cocaine Report – was published by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Mr Vaz argued against a proposed ban on amyl nitrate, also known as poppers. His Parliamentary support came during a Commons debate on the Psychoactive Substance Bill.

Now, in 2016, Mr Vaz stands down from the Home Affairs Select Committee following allegations involving male escorts and their use of amyl nitrate. The tales of prostitutes, drugs and suspicious cash are bubbling around. Two years ago he was caught on CCTV camera meeting a young man at a hotel. And an ex-worker at a London hotel said: “the married MP often arrived at short notice, sometimes with young men. There were a number of times when he did not stay the whole night. He would stay for just a few hours before checking out”.

Keith Vaz has all the while been a great survivor. We have yet to wait and see if he could reinvent himself once again after this huge ignominy.

by Maryam Ansar

With rising tensions between Pakistan and India in recent days over the Uri attacks, it comes as no surprise that Kashmiri civilians have been caught in the middle of a tug of war between both countries.

Whilst the two nuclear powers battle out their differences in stalemate over the security and future of Kashmir on either side of the Line of Control; the human right abuses towards its people have been brushed under the carpet – such disregard is catastrophic. Attempts to bring the Kashmir conflict to light on the international platform have been pitiful to say the least. Reports have surfaced suggesting Nawaz Sharif’s foreign affairs advisor, Sartaj Aziz, has requested an ‘impartial’ international probe into the Uri attacks; his 7e3de5fd-f686-45ca-abcf-d31a1a086eb5attempt at diplomacy is credible, but not nearly good enough, it is diverting away from the real issue at hand, the plight of the Kashmiris and their biddings. The response of our world leaders in isolating the Kashmir conflict has allowed individuals to take matters into their own hands, and raise awareness towards this devastation as a unified front.

Three wars have been fought over Kashmir’s territory in nearly seven decades, yet the use of systematic torture in Indian administered land is rife, with prospects for improvement looking bleak in the current climate unless the international platform is properly informed. It has been less than six months since news erupted of pellet guns being used against Kashmiri protestors by the Indian Army, in an attempt to supress their voices for peace and justice. T

he images were shared by thousands, and refuted by even more, yet the back story and facts remained in the background; the Indian army were blinding peaceful protestors with pellets of lead, the result was one hundred surgeries in four days- a terrifying number when analysed on a larger scale. The term blinding certainly isn’t being used metaphorically here, the pellets have caused victims to lose their eyes and sight in one or both eyes, a horrific price to pay for envisioning freedom.

The firing of lead pellets at protestors is just one example of the torture Kashmiris suffer on a daily basis, an example that was fortunate enough to gain some momentum in mainstream media. However, for the most part, the torture inflicted on innocent civilians goes unnoticed, with virtually no coverage on well-known outlets.

Perhaps this is why a dreadful majority of an apparently well informed society is clueless towards the one in six Kashmiris who undergo suffering at the hands of its so called safe-keepers, the Indian Army. On one hand we witnessed the use of lead pellets, but on the other, we are veiled from the harrowing accounts of rape suffered by the women, and often men, of Kashmir, deserving of an entire investigation of its own. The extent and severity of these abuses is still not apparent, and to revisit Sartaj Aziz’s proposals for an impartial investigation into the Uri attacks; it would be far more fitting, as many would agree, to launch critical investigations into almost seventy years of unrest, abuse and criminality; to raise awareness within the international community instead of isolation.

 

Jim Greenhalf reports

On September 24 Labour Party members will decide whether they want Jeremy Corbyn to carry on as leader or Welsh Labour MP Owen Smith to replace him.

Jeremy-CorbynIf the dark horse Smith is first past the post the Parliamentary Labour Party will breathe a collective sigh of relief. They think he represents the best chance of making the party electable in 2020. After the June 23 Brexit Referendum was lost, more than 40 of them resigned from shadow ministerial and other positions. It was their way of saying that Corbyn had not done enough to persuade voters of the merits of remaining in the European Union.

A very different view of a Smith win is likely from the host of three-pounders, the people who flocked to join the party for a few quid to secure an emphatic victory for Jeremy Corbyn. They were able to do so because Ed Miliband, party leader until the 2015 General Election defeat, had lowered Labour’s annual membership fee from £25. Only another convincing Corbyn win will satisfy them that they have not been stitched up by the Parliamentary party establishment.

It was ever thus. Eighty-five years ago there were riots in Glasgow and Manchester after Ramsay MacDonald turned his back on the party to form a coalition government in the Great Depression of 1931. King George V was said to have asked the moustachioed Scot to play the role of wicked Sir Jasper. The subsequent General Election victory for the National Government decimated Labour, reducing the Parliamentary party to just 56. Ever since then Labour’s rank and file have mistrusted their leaders.

In October 1981, for example, during another civil war in the party over the election of a leader capable of standing up to Margaret Thatcher, Joe Ashton MP told a Solidarity Campaign meeting at Dudley Hill Socialist Club: “I don’t agree with the method of voting for the leader of the Labour Party, it was rotten and corrupt and needed to be changed, but don’t tell me we have changed it for something better. Nothing makes me spew more, and I choose my words carefully, than when I hear members of the party attacking the last Labour Government on the grounds that it betrayed the manifesto.”

He gave the audience of more than 60 a summary of that pre-Thatcher Labour Government’s achievements: the nationalisation of the ship-building and aircraft industries; the scrapping of hospital pay beds; and equal pay for women. The party had to unite and stop the in-fighting if it was to offer itself as a credible alternative to the Thatcher Government. “We have got to get back to deciding if we are going to have an incomes policy, if we are going to come out of the Common Market and how we are going to create one-and-a-half million jobs,” he added. Thirty-five years later the Labour Party is now all in favour of membership of the European Union. Some things change but evidently not the party’s predisposition for civil war.

Is it coincidental that Labour’s internecine battles over the leadership in 1931, 1981 and 2016 occurred during times of economic turmoil? When Joe Ashton came to town unemployment in the Bradford Metropolitan District had shot up to more than 30,000 – nearly three times what it is now. Industrial recession across the country was one consequence of the hike in the price of crude oil imposed by the members of the Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in retaliation for Israel’s crushing military victory over an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The revenues from North Sea oil coming ashore – worth more than £40 billion – benefited the Thatcher Government especially during the year-long stand-off with the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984. By that time Labour was in serious conflict with Left-wing elements of the membership – hard-line Trotskyites to some – intent on raising Socialism’s red flag above town halls in Greater London, Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester, against the austerity policies of hard-line Thatcherism.

The clash with the Government culminated in a dozen Labour-run local authorities refusing to set a rate, which was illegal. Lambeth, led by ‘Red’ Ted Knight and Liverpool, led by Derek Hatton, were singled out for retribution. The councils had to pay substantial penalties and its leaders were disqualified from holding office. The clash with the Labour leadership culminated in the party conference at Blackpool when party leader Neil Kinnock tore into the activities of what the Press called ‘the Loony Left’. To jeers from Militant Tendency members at the back and cheers from moderates in the middle of the hall, he described the antics on Merseyside as “the grotesque chaos of a Labour council, a Labour council, hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.” Labour’s National Executive Committee followed up by suspending the Liverpool District labour Party and expelling all of a Militant Tendency persuasion.

The leadership election crisis that convulsed Labour in the early 1980s turned out to be a catalyst for change, for out of it emerged the Social Democratic Party. Comprising largely of defecting Labour MPs and former Cabinet Ministers, the SDP was an attempt to shift the battleground of British politics away from the extremities of Left and Right to the centre – a move that Tony Blair’s New Labour was to emulate so spectacularly in 1997. In effect it was a move towards European-style Social Democracy against Democratic Socialism and Conservatism.

Some SDP recruits said they were disillusioned with the Labour’s attitude towards the European Economic Community, as it was then called, the dependency on trades unions’ money and national economic policy. Others were alarmed by the in-fighting over the selection and de-selection of MPs (still an issue today) and the election of the party leader. Former Cabinet big guns Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Dr David Owen and Bill Rodgers, otherwise known as ‘the Gang of Four’, were joined by long-serving back-bencher Labour moderates such as Edward Lyons QC, who represented Bradford West.

Just as many thousands of three-pounders joined the Labour Party to support Jeremy Corbyn, more than 60,000 people signed up for the SDP. Out of the misery of the recession and the warfare in the Labour Party, the SDP was more than a breath of fresh air; the new party offered many the chance to breathe freely again without fear of being challenged by some officious party ‘committee of public safety’ ideologue. Evidently they liked what they heard from former Foreign Secretary David Owen in his book Face the Future:-

“Both parties are locked into dogmatic, doctrinaire, divisive policies which many of their supporters deplore. Yet their leaders appeal to blind loyalty – party first, country second. Adversary politic s thrives on polarisation, polemic and fear…We do not believe in the politics of an inert centre merely representing the lowest common denominator between two extremes. We want more, not less radical change in our society, but with a greater stability of direction.”

Two days of the SDP’s first national conference took place at Bradford’s St George’s Hall, an event welcomed by city centre hotels but snubbed by Labour and Tory councillors on Bradford Council perhaps because for some of them the Gang of Four represented the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who had come to lay waste the two-party system of Lab-Con politics. For all the talk of freshness and fairness the conference was carefully stage-managed with announcements of new defections timed to coincide with media deadlines. Hopes were high. Among the senior members of Bradford Labour Party there was an air of gloom at what might happen and contempt for the traitors who had brought about the uncertainty.

Constituency Labour Parties and the wards that made up each CLP had been infiltrated by the Corbynistas of their time – activists who wanted to change things, who wanted to make Labour MPs directly accountable to their constituents and who wanted those constituents to have an equal say in the election of the national party leader. Most of them wanted Michael Foot to lead the party rather than former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey. Under Foot, so to speak, they believed the party would win the country for Socialism and kick Margaret Thatcher and her possee of privateering monetarists out of office. Constitutional hard-liners in attitude, they believed that Labour MPs were delegates mandated to carry out the instructions of their CLP, Labour’s National Executive Committee and, of course, the all-important annual party conference – very different then to the tame show-piece affairs they subsequently became. Edwards Lyons thought differently. He said MPs were representatives, not delegates, and as such had the right to make their own judgements on serious policy matters. He denounced what he rather weakly described as “yah-boo politics”, the aggressive, doctrinaire dialectic espoused by those of a more militant tendency.

In March 1981, after more than 30 years in the party, Lyons left Labour’s den and defected to the SDP. For a while the SDP frightened Labour stalwarts and radicals alike. In the summer of 1981 Ken Livingstone, Left-wing leader of the Greater London Council that was, said he could see the Tories vanishing and the SDP becoming the New Right. In April 1988, during an interview with Mr Livingstone, I picked him up on his failed prophecy. He replied: “The projections for the SDP at that time were very favourable. If it hadn’t been for Thatcher’s come-back through the Falklands War, the SDP might have broken through.” Instead, they joined forces with the Liberals to become, after much wrangling, the Liberal Democratic Party. The SDP was dissolved in 1990.

One Labour stalwart who saw the conflict from the inside was Barry Seal, formerly leader of Bradford Council’s Labour Group and for 20 years from 1979 the Yorkshire West Member of the European Parliament. Days before Angela Eagle dropped out of the current Labour leadership race, Dr Seal told me she was just a stalking horse for the real alternative candidate coming up fast on the outside, Owen Smith. Which of the two candidates is he backing to win the leadership and does he think Labour will split as it did on that cold January Sunday in 1981 when the Gang of Four assembled to publish the Limehouse Declaration and announce the creation of the Council for Social Democracy?

Barry Seal, now chairman of Age UK, Leeds, has his money on Jeremy Corbyn. If Owen Smith wins he said he would leave the party after more than 50 years as a member. Although he admits that the divide between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the membership at large is dangerous and may lead to a split of some kind, he believes that the party, like the country, is in need of radical change away from unregulated corporate Capitalism.

He said: “The situation now is similar to 1981 but the big difference is that for 13 years Labour had people like Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair screening the party and changing the make-up of MPs. They pushed Labour more towards the centre to make it a social democratic party where the issue wasn’t the ownership of the means of production but the management of them. Instead of members having a say in policy formulation in ward and constituency parties and the conference, policy forums were set up to discuss ideas passed down by Blair and Mandelson. The present policy forums don’t discuss things from members. Instead of bottom up it’s top down.

“My perspective is that Parliamentary Labour Party members forget the membership who put them there. They are not the same as the membership. They’ve come into politics from university and then working as political research assistants. The majority of the PLP, a lot of them, don’t know what it’s like to have a dead-end job with not enough money to live on.”

The three-pounders who fired Jeremy Corbyn from the obscurity of Labour’s back-benches to the front bench as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, regard him as a democratic socialist, not a social democrat. The difference, as Barry Seal outlined, lies in the ownership and management of the means of production and distribution. A democratic socialist believes that the state should have a controlling interest in fundamentals such as the NHS, power and water supply, transport, housing and education. Social democrats, said Dr Seal, believe in academies, NHS foundation trusts, private finance initiatives and allowing global corporations to own water, power and transport.

He regards Owen Smith as a social democrat because he’s not sure what he stands for. “He’s trying to look as Left as Corbyn but more reasonable in the way he presents things. If he wins I will leave the Labour Party, so will a lot of other people. Under him Labour won’t change, it will become more like the SDP. Corbyn’s opponents say that to win the next general election Labour needs to move to the centre; but I think people are getting fed up with the capitalist system where some people are very rich and others don’t have a job. If Corbyn is confirmed as leader the problem will be with the Parliamentary party. It may split, with a group of MPs declaring UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence); but it won’t necessary split the membership in the country. There would be a battle over the selection of MPs.”

Significant differences between today and 1981 include the role of social media. Thirty-five years ago politics was media driven. Television journalists such as Robin Day, Vincent Hannah, Andrew Rawnsley and Brian Walden, to name but a few, made politics interesting, as did newspaper journalists such as Alan Watkins, Ann Leslie, Polly Toynbee and Peter Jenkins. The public was more engaged in argument; more of them turned out to vote in local and national elections. Today the public dimension has changed out of all recognition. George Galloway, at the Bradford West Parliamentary by-election in 2012, and Jeremy Corbyn in his Labour leadership battle last year, by-passed the usual mass publicity routes with spectacular success. Smart phone technology became the means of organisation and communication, leaving the mainstream media trundling along behind, out of touch and unaware of what was going to happen. More recently, the Brexit Referendum went completely against the expectations of media experts and politicians, mainly because of social media exchanges and blogging.

Barry Seal thinks Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of democratic socialism has broader public appeal than the media allows. “Socialism isn’t communism,” he said. “We had socialism in the post-war Attlee Government which brought in the NHS and the nationalisation of the railways. I used to be regarded as Right-wing in Bradford because I said you couldn’t nationalise everything. You can have small companies running enterprises; but what you can’t have is big corporations running the country’s railways, the water and power industries, the NHS. They can’t be allowed to close down something because it’s not making a big enough profit.”

The turmoil in the Labour Party in the early 1980s sustained the Conservative Party’s grip on power, in spite of its own convulsions over Europe, until 1997 and the age of Tony Blair’s New Labour. Unlike 35 years ago, Labour Party members today, Jeremy Corbyn’s three-pounders, have the means to publicise and assert their wishes and desires irrespective of what the party establishment wants and what well-paid, self-regarding media opinion-formers say. The technology may be unique to this age but rolling dialogue involving friends and strangers is reminiscent of the mid-1840s when the Chartists drew up their six proposals to reform Britain’s Parliamentary democracy. The demands, including secret ballots, payment of MPs, no property qualification for prospective candidates – were the equivalent of Loony Left proposals of the time. However, all but one of them – annual Parliaments – subsequently came to pass.

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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