Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pakistan: Christians And Debt Bondage


Christians make up a tiny minority in the nation of Pakistan, where the state religion is Islam. In many places, Pakistani Christians are persecuted and enslaved. Nowhere is this more evident in the kilns and brick-making industry.
According to Christians In Pakistan, entire families are ensnared in “debt bondage” in the kilns, with children as young as five working.
The normal routine of a ‘pathera’ or family working at a brick kiln is rolling balls of clay, placing them in moulds, or dealing with backed bricks under the harsh sun and in a environment marred with thick black smoke from the chimney.
Christian families who are indebted to landlords or due to other issues end up serving at brick kilns for the rest of their lives. There seems to be absolutely no escape. Poverty is what dooms them to typically live and work at brick kilns. Bonded labor has been the dilemma of millions in Pakistan. Due to unavailability of resources to pay off debts many only dream of how a free life would be.
Escape is nearly impossible, and rape is common among the women and girls. One man’s entrance into slavery began with borrowing RS 35000 [about $550 U.S.] from a factory owner.
Despite working from dawn to dusk, his debt never shrunk but kept on increasing due to falsified bookkeeping. He got married and had a baby girl while he kept on working at the kiln. Eventually he had to borrow more to cover expenses.
In less than one minute, there are more people being bought and sold into slavery right now than in the entire 300 year-long Atlantic slave trade. Human trafficking affects every corner of the world, every demographic. It is profitable, and until it ceases to be profitable, it will not stop.

Pakistan - Unemployed Engineers Protest In Quetta

Unemployed engineering graduates protested against non-availability of jobs in Quetta, on Monday. Protest was held under the auspices of Creative Engineers Association. Protestors started rally from metropolitan corporation office and held a sit-in protest on secretariat chowk. Protestors demanded that government should provide jobs to unemployed graduates. “Majority of engineering graduates are either unemployed or doing small level jobs such as tutoring,” lamented a protestor. “If government can’t provide us jobs then they should shut down engineering faculties in all universities of the province,” added the protestor. Unemployment is a major issue in Balochistan and majority of graduates in all fields are unemployed. Siddique Baloch, veteran journalist and Editor of Balochistan Express, told The Balochistan Point in an interview, that every year 25,000 students graduate from Balochistan and hardly 2,000 of them get jobs.

Sabeen Mahmud and Pakistan's War on Activists


There Will Be Blood

Last week, unknown assailants shot and killed human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and commercial hub, where she ran T2F (short for the Second Floor), a small café-cum-cultural center. Since its opening in 2007, T2F has provided budding poets, writers, and activists a safe space for critical expression in a country where the military and militants linked to it have created an environment of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. She was targeted immediately after hosting a discussion in the center called, “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2” on human rights violations in the resource rich southwestern province, where the military and its intelligence services have waged a long “dirty war” against Baluch separatists. 
Just a week earlier, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had preempted “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 1,” to be held at the elite Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), by threatening the faculty there. Unfazed, Mahmud invited some of the same speakers who were scheduled to speak at LUMS, including Mama (uncle) Qadeer, a tireless 72-year-old Baluch rights activist, who had found his son’s dumped mutilated corpse in Turbat (a town in southern Baluchistan) in 2011, two years after he “disappeared.”

After Mahmud’s death, many in Pakistan and abroad immediately pointed fingers at the ISI. Its many apologists in the media quickly retorted with their usual refrain: Where is the evidence? To be sure, no covert agency worth its salt is likely to leave behind a smoking gun. But the circumstances surrounding Mahmud’s death fit the agency’s playbook: a ritual of intimidation designed to create plausible deniability. For instance, media reports have suggested that the ISI had discovered her name on the “hit list” of an Islamist militant group back in January, presumably for her activism against an Islamist campaign opposing Valentine’s Day. In 2012, the ISI had similarly warned the journalist Saleem Shehzad that Islamic militants were gunning for him because of his reporting on terrorism. He was soon abducted, tortured, and killed after he reported that a terrorist attack by an al Qaeda affiliate on a major naval base in Karachi had insider help. A similar “hit list” warning also spooked Najam Sethi, the veteran editor and talk show host on the private television station Geo TV after he told viewers that the ISI had tortured Shehzad to death. He felt forced to leave the country for four months, and upon his return, had to initially broadcast his show from a studio inside his home. Now he travels in an armored vehicle.
Anyone who publicly criticizes the military in Pakistan is treading on thin ice, but discussing Baluchistan is a particular taboo. With a few exceptions, journalists and other writers self-censor mostly out of concern for their own safety. Last April, the prominent journalist and host of another popular Geo TV show, Hamid Mir, was seriously injured when unknown gunmen opened fire on his car after he reported on the “disappeared” of Baluchistan. Mir claimed that he had angered senior ISI officials. The channel is still smarting from a strong military backlash after it broadcast allegations by Mir’s family that the head of the ISI had carried out the attack on him. It was no surprise then that Geo TV bleeped the intrepid Sethi out when he tried to discuss the alleged role of intelligence agencies in Sabeen’s murder on air.
And last September, two men I took to be agents from the ISI, accosted me at Columbia University in New York, where I had just launched my book on the Pakistan military. They were angry that I had claimed that it was open season on torture and killing in Baluchistan. Before parting, one of them asked me if I had any “real evidence” on the military’s killing of the Baluch, quickly adding, “you better watch out for the crocodiles if you want to swim in the river.”
The military considers middle class, English-speaking rights activists particularly dangerous because they can advance their causes by expressing their concerns to informed audiences both at home and abroad. And as the astute Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida noted in Dawn, a prominent local newspaper, social media like Facebook and Twitter have significantly enhanced their ability to advocate their causes. Sabeen was one such activist who had apparently been pushing the envelope too far. T2F’s scheduled discussion for April 29 was to include an examination of the legality and appropriateness of military courts for trying terrorism cases, which were set up at the generals’ insistence after a gruesome December 2014 attack by Pakistani Taliban on an army run school in Peshawar. In 2012, the prominent human rights lawyer, Asma Jehangir, who has relentlessly documented the military’s human rights violations in that province for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and routinely censures the generals for their involvement in civilian politics, claimed senior ISI officials were plotting to kill her. She now travels with armed civilian police guards.
We will probably never find out who really killed Sabeen. Some local police officers, journalists with known sympathies for the military, and other assorted right-wing nationalists are already busy pointing fingers at the usual suspects, including India’s Research and Analyses Wing (RAW). Shehzad’s murder and the attack on Mir were similarly shrouded in deliberate ambiguity and obfuscation, which help reinforce the military’s sense of impunity. In 2009, a journalist from Der Spiegel asked Ahmad Shuja Pasha, then Director General of ISI, why Pakistan wouldn’t arrest the Afghan Taliban leadership believed to be hiding in the country. His response was telling: “Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn’t that freedom of opinion?” Clearly, the only people with the right to free speech in Pakistan belong to the military or its militant clients. As Mahmud’s murder makes crystal clear, everybody else must get in line, or there will be blood.

Pakistan - Which Musalmans do we claim descent from? By Ayaz Amir

By Ayaz Amir

Muslim rule in Hindustan was mainly Turkish rule – from Mahmud to Babur all Turkish conquerors or rulers – interspersed with episodes of Afghan rule as under the Lodhis and Sher Shah Suri. But we the denizens of the Fortress of Islam – the confused begetters of holy enterprises like Jehad-e-Afghanistan – what have we in common with those warriors?

They were full-blooded men marching at the head of conquering armies…Muslims to be sure but with none of the false piety or hypocrisy which often seems to be the leading currency of our Islamic Republic. Come to think of it, none of them proclaimed their empires as Islamic Empires. Confident in the strength of their arms they felt no obligation or necessity to issue declarations about their rectitude or their championship of the faith.

The best or greatest of them were open about themselves. They maintained large harems, kept slave girls, married as often as they liked and when it came to imbibing, those given to this sin made no secret of it. With our weasel-like and snivelling ways – doing things behind doors and keeping up appearances in public – do we at all look like the descendants of Mahmud and Babur and Akbar?

What to talk of anything else, centuries before gay liberation came to San Francisco those inclined in that direction were fairly matter-of-fact about that too. So many times in his memoirs Babur referring to various chieftains or fighting men says of them that they had “vicious” tendencies – meaning to say that they were inclined to swing that way (although Babur uses words more direct than this).

Babur, however, is in a class by himself. Could ever a prince be more open about his foibles? We all know that the Babur-nama is full of references to drinking parties. Apart from being a warrior and a poet, Babur was an aesthete with a discerning regard for the finer things of life. Wherever he went, he planted gardens – I think it can quite justifiably be said that the father of the modern Hindustani garden is Babur. ‘I ordered a char-bagh to be laid…I ordered a platform to be built because the view from this spot was so wonderful to look at’: the memoirs are replete with such descriptions. And whenever a valley or a prospect catches the Padishah’s fancy he can’t resist a drinking party.

Or it could even be an occasion to partake of maajun, a favourite with this prince of princes. (I haven’t been able to find out whether maajun is from charas or opium.)

Sometimes these drinking parties go on for hours. The Padishah drinks at this chieftain’s place and then they move to the abode of some other companion. And so many times it happens that they march at the crack of dawn – Babur throughout calls it “shoot of dawn” – against a fortress or an opposing army. Tough men…the word hangover does not occur in these recollections.

And who can forget that famous passage about Babur’s infatuation when in Andijan (near Ferghana) for the bazaar-boy, Baburi. There is nothing to beat Babur’s own words: “In those leisurely days I discovered in myself a strange inclination, nay! as the verse says, ‘I maddened and afflicted myself for a boy in the camp-bazar, his very name, Baburi, fitting in….From time to time Baburi used to come to my presence but out of modesty and bashfulness, I could never look straight at him; how then could I make conversation (ikhtilat) and recital (hikayat)? In my joy and agitation I could not thank him for coming; how was it possible for me to reproach him with going away?...One day, during that time of desire and passion when I was going with companions along a lane and suddenly met him face to face, I got into such a state of confusion that I almost went right off. To look straight at him or to put words together was impossible…Sometimes like the madmen, I used to wander alone over hill and plain; sometimes I betook myself to gardens and the suburbs, lane by lane.”

Babur broke his drinking cups and forswore the use of wine before the battle against Rana Sangha at Kanwaha. But he keeps pining for what he has renounced. In a letter to Humayun: “…in truth the longing and craving for a wine party has been infinite and endless for two years past, so much so that sometimes the craving for wine brought me to the verge of tears…If had with equal associates and boon companions, wine and company are pleasant things; but with whom canst thou now associate? With whom drink wine?”

Is there anything in the culture, the mores and values of our republic in common with the sentiment expressed in these lines? We draw a direct line with the Timurids and say that we come from them. As we say in Urdu: chota moonh, barhi baat. Kahan woh, kahan hum. Bhutto made the admission in a public meeting that “mein thori see peeta hoon” and the maulvis and religious parties went after him. Would the Timurids have tolerated anything like our religious parties? Would they have countenanced any of their preaching?

Muslims ruled Hindustan for well over 600 years. During all this time did they feel the need to proclaim anything like the ideology of Islam? Did the Slave Kings or the Timurids fall back on anything like the Objectives Resolution?

They lived by the sword and when their sword-arm weakened their empire declined and from a master race they became a subject race. And Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in the days of their subjection and decline taught them the virtues of obedience: “…reflect on the doings of your ancestors, and be not unjust to the British Government to whom God has given the rule of India; and look honestly and see what is necessary for it to do to maintain its empire and its hold on the country.” Pakistan was born out of this milk-laced-with-water philosophy.

The spirit of Sir Syed, unless I am grossly mistaken, would be at home in Pakistan. Sir Syed would have been a great one for our pro-American alliances and for the Anglophilia of the chattering classes. But the spirit of Babur…it wouldn’t know what to make of the Pakistani scene or the Pakistani conversation.

Shouldn’t the Babur-nama be compulsory reading for all Pakistani students of history? The history we are taught is a distorted history, events and personalities painted in black-and-white and too many false gods and false heroes. What this history does above all is to make numb if not kill the critical faculty. You stop asking questions. You start accepting too many things on trust. You lay yourself open to the acceptance of outright nonsense.

Every society has its lunatic fringe. Every society has its share of rightward-leaning evangelists. But in societies where critical thinking is alive a fringe remains a fringe, part of the mosaic of society. It doesn’t become the bishop of the dominant discourse.

The Tablighi Jamaat is not peculiar to us. Something like it is there in every society, Christian, Hindu and Judaic. Our salvationists are of course adherents of Islam. Hindu salvationists do obeisance before their own deities. And Christian fundamentalists subscribe to their own creed. But in all three examples the rigid mindset is the same.

The Babur-nama would be prohibited reading in a madressah as it would be in a Christian seminary or a Hindu dharamsala. The priest as much as the mullah would feel ill at ease before words such as these: “A few purslane trees were in the utmost autumn beauty. On dismounting seasonable food was set out. The vintage was the cause! Wine was drunk! A sheep was ordered brought from the road and made into kababs. We amused ourselves by setting fire to branches of holm-oak…There was drinking till the Sun’s decline; we then rode off. People in our party had become very drunk…”

Is there anything in us worthy of this description? Would the Timurids recognise in us anything of their legacy? So why don’t we come down to more level ground? Why don’t we build a more prosaic, a slightly more rational republic, and leave the building of fortresses, whether of Islam or of ideology, to hands stronger than ours?

Pakistan - ''Loose Cannon'' - Zulfiqar Mirza - Power-drunk feudal

Since his estrangement from his close friend and long time partner, Pakistan People’s Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Zulfiqar Mirza, the former interior minister of Sindh, has cut a rather forlorn figure in the political landscape of Pakistan. Yet that hasn’t kept him idle by any measure; Mirza has become icon for sensationalist media with his increasingly ridiculous ‘revelations’ and highly intricate conspiracy theories – all without a shred of proof of course. While he has been tolerated as loose cannon for quite a while his recent actions have crossed the line at Bilawal house; and more importantly in the eyes of the law. His antics at the Badin police station reveal him to be the same kind dictatorial, power-drunk feudal that he claims to be fighting against.

Zulfiqar Mirza, riding in his SUV and surrounded by hundreds of armed men and supporters broke down the gate off the Badin police station and stormed inside, ostensibly to protest against the arrest of his aide, Nadeem Mughal. There he raged around like a common thug, breaking furniture, hurling abuses and manhandling the DSP, Abdul Qadir Samoon. Zulfiqar Mirza - who ironically held the portfolio of Jails and Prisons during his stint in the Sindh cabinet – ordered his men to break open the cells and release Nadeem Mughal. Before making his grand entry at the police station, Mirza had taken his men around Badin, forcibly closing shops and roughing up shopkeepers. Mirza might have been the target of political victimization ad his allegations, at least a few of them, may be true; but his actions are not of a man fighting against injustice, but those of a ruffian forcibly trying to get what he wants. Under no circumstances is it right to storm police stations and free workers, our politicians – and few major ones as well –need to learn that. If Pakistani lawmakers can flout the law so easily why should the Taliban follow it, why should the common man?
Dr Mirza claims that he is exposing the corruption of Zardari and for that he is being targeted, conveniently ignoring the fact that he stood by for years watching this supposed corruption happen under his watch. Even if we buy his reformed sinner facade, to this point he has not backed up his statements with an ounce of proof. His fantastical allegations of MQM being sponsored by the U.S, the illicit relations of Zardari and the corruption of other politicians are nothing more than catchy sound bites; spewed in an effort to revive a falling political career. It is time this divisive, and seemingly unhinged ex-politician, be shown the same prisons he once managed.

Pakistan - Election tribunal’s decision

IT is not the end of the legal road for the PML-N and Railways Minister Saad Rafique now that an election tribunal has ordered re-polling on the seat won by Mr Rafique in the May 2013 election. But it would have been better for politics in general and the PML-N in particular had the latter accepted that it was the end of the legal route and time to take the matter back to the political and electoral arena.
Unhappily, the PML-N appears to have dug in its heels, preferring to challenge the election tribunal’s verdict and trying to avoid a by-election in its Lahore stronghold — this just days after the cantonment local government election established that the PML-N has commanding support in large swathes of Mr Rafique’s constituency, NA-125.
While it remains within the right of the PML-N to pursue the legal route, there are several reasons why accepting the tribunal’s verdict and gearing up for a by-election would have been preferable.
NA-125 is no ordinary seat. In the run-up to the May 2013 polls, it was considered a key battleground between the PTI and PML-N, with the demographics in the constituency suggesting sizeable support for the PTI.
The PML-N too considered NA-125 to be a vulnerable seat and Mr Rafique campaigned frenetically to avoid a humiliating loss in the city where the Sharifs have long personally involved themselves in the selection of party candidates and steering election campaigns.
When Mr Rafique won a resounding victory on May 11, 2013, it initially came as a surprise to many — if not the victory itself, certainly the wide margin by which Mr Rafique defeated the PML-N candidate, Hamid Khan.
Subsequent reports from the constituency suggested two factors worked to Mr Rafique’s advantage in NA-125: Hamid Khan ran a listless campaign, while the working-class voters in the constituency abandoned the PPP and voted for PML-N.
Still, Mr Rafique’s margin of victory was shocking enough for the PTI to never quite be able to digest it — and to make NA-125 the centrepiece of the PTI’s allegations of electoral fraud, along with the constituency won by now speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq, who defeated Imran Khan in Lahore.
That history is enough to suggest that if an election tribunal finds discrepancies in NA-125 — whether orchestrated by Mr Rafique or owing to the incompetence or laxity of election officials — it makes little sense to continue to dispute the issue in the legal arena.
Better a quick by-election to re-establish the PML-N’s bona fides in the constituency or allow the PTI to claim a victory it feels it was unfairly deprived of in 2013.
As for the PTI, perhaps this will strengthen its belief that the election tribunals and the judicial commission can and will act boldly when evidence is marshalled in support of the PTI’s claim.
At the same time, the PTI should accept judgements that go against its claims of electoral fraud.

Pakistan - PPP demands rechecking of 65 constituencies' election record

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) demanded to recheck the election record of 65 constituencies on Monday. PPP wants the rechecking of record under the supervision of Additional Session judges. PPP has submitted the answer in judicial commission about alleged rigging in election. According to PPP, much of the record from NA-124 and NA-139 have been destroyed. People s Party requested the commission to issue notices to candidates through returning officers. PPP stated that they are depending on the report of NA-123, NA-118 and NA-124. On the other hand Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) has also submitted the answer in judicial commission on the accusation of rigging. PML-N said in the answer that it is responsibility of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to provide proof of rigging as the burden of proof lies on one who accuses. According to PML-N, the difference between PML-N and PTI votes is more than 70 lac so even if 58 thousand votes proves to be fake, PML-N will not lose.

Pakistan - 100 MW addition as too little too late


Adding up one hundred mw in the national grid after the lapse of two years is rather matter of embarrassment rather pride for this government that boasted to control total load shedding of electricity in months rather than in years, said Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, President PPP Central Punjab in a statement issued from here today.
He, however, added that the nation was extremely grateful for the Chinese government’s assistance to set up the Solar Park in Bahawalpur.
The addition of 100 mw with such a fanfare is too little and too late that will make hardly any difference in the face of appalling shortfall ranging between 4000 mw to 6000 mw, he added.
He calculated that only addition in the national grid would not provide relief to the consumers more than couple of minutes who were facing the punishment of load shedding between 8 to 10 hours in urban areas and more than twelve hours in the rural areas.
He pointed out that the PPP previous government added 3400 mw in the national grid during its tenure and the addition of today in Bihawalpur Solar Park would be inconsequential in face of the huge problem of load shedding of electricity facing the people right across the country.
He said that the Chief Minister of Punjab should have used today’s ceremony of the inauguration of the Bahawalpur Solar Park for tendering apology to the nation for his abject failure to control load shedding that he committed during the election campaign. It is fresh in the memory of the people when he held out firm commitment before leaving the podium in rash manners dislocating the public address system, he recalled.
He renewed his invitation to the him to Minar-i- Pakistan to protest the agonizing load shedding of electricity by holding hand made fans in their hands to replicate his tactics of protest during the PPP tenure of government.
He predicted that the violent protests against the government as the summer season inches to its climax creating serious law and order situation. The government would be put in a tight corner with no escape latch to save it from the aftermaths.
He said that the farmers had suffered the most because the electricity was not available to them to run their tube wells thus faced with the acute scarcity of water that bitterly affecting their productivity in the agricultural produces.
The protest of the general people along with the farmers against load shedding of electricity will definitely put the government in a difficult situation with unforeseen consequences, he pointed out.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Yemen Music Video - Singer Arwa

Video - Cargo Plane Inferno: Airstrikes hit Yemen Sanaa Int Airport

UN condemns Saudi attacks on Yemen

The UN has asked the coalition led by Saudi Arabia to stop its strikes on airports in Yemen. The bombings hinder the delivery of aid and humanitarian personnel, the organization has said.
The United Nations condemned the Saudi-led coalition's airstrikes on Yemen's Sanaa airport on Monday, saying it hindered the travel of humanitarian aid workers.
The UN is preparing an airlift of workers from Djibouti to the Yemeni capital, but "no flights can take off or land while the runways are being repaired," said Johannes Van Der Kaauw, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen.
"I strongly urge the coalition to stop targeting Sanaa international airport and to preserve this important lifeline - and all other airports and seaports - so that humanitarians can reach all those affected by the armed conflict in Yemen," the statement continued.
While the bombers continued to pummel the airport in the capital, a further 150 airstrikes targeted the one in the southern city of Aden, as well as to the west in Hodeida. The coalition led by Saudi Arabia backs troops loyal to exiled President Abed Rabbo Monsour Hadi, who are locked in fierce fighting with the rebel Houthis.
Witnesses and officials said the coalition also dropped weapons to tribes allied to Hadi's government on Monday, though newly appointed Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Riyadh was considering a ceasefire in order to deliver aid to civilians affected by the conflict.
"Saudi Arabia is consulting with members of the alliance…to find specific places to deliver humanitarian assistance, during which there will be a halt of all air operations," the official Saudi Press Agency quoted al-Jubeir as saying.
Saudi forces expanded their role on Sunday, sending "limited" ground troops, at least 20 soldiers, on a "reconnaissance" mission to Aden. At the same time, the coalition itself is expanding, with the Senegalese government confirming on Monday that they plan to send 2,100 troops to Saudi Arabia to help battle the Houthis.
More than 1,200 have been killed in the Yemen conflict, among them many civilians, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Yemen crisis: Terrified citizens caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran as air strikes and blockade threaten humanitarian disaster for millions

Latest deaths show that Saudi attempts to resolve Yemen's crisis by forcing the country's former ruler to break away from the Houthi fighters has failed. Patrick Cockburn reports on King Salman's dilemma

Dozens of Saudi soldiers and Yemeni fighters have been killed in clashes on the border between the countries as five weeks ofSaudi air attacks fail to bring the war to an end. Air strikes and heavy artillery fire in the southern port of Aden have left much of the city in ruins and the attempted incursion by Houthi fighters marks an escalation in a conflict seen regionally as part of the growing confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Saudi interior ministry has said three of its soldiers were killed along with dozens of fighters from the Houthi movement, which has seized control of much of Yemen, when the Houthis attacked a border post in Najran province.
So far the air strikes have failed to force back the Houthis. The involvement of a Saudi-led Sunni coalition has connected the crisis firmly with the broader conflict between Sunni and Shia branches of Islam that is inflaming much of the region. The United Nations says that more than 1,200 people have been killed and 300,000 forced to flee their homes as a result of Saudi bombing and ground fighting, which is particularly intense in Aden.
“The scene is disastrous, not just in the streets where fighting is going on but inside houses where families are often trapped and terrified,” Ahmed al-Awgari, an activist in Aden, told Reuters. “Women and children have been burnt in homes, civilians have been shot in the streets or blown up by tank fire.”
Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster, with half of its 26 million people already malnourished before the air attacks began. Aid agencies say that the Saudi air and sea blockade is preventing Yemen from importing food on which it is wholly reliant. This includes some 90 per cent of the wheat consumed in Yemen and other essentials. Hospitals are closing because they have no fuel for generators and have asked car owners with petrol to help move the sick and injured.
In the last six weeks Yemen has joined countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya that are paralysed by violence, but aid workers say that the Saudi blockade means that conditions are worst in Yemen.
The Saudis appear to have miscalculated in believing that they could split the Houthis, who follow the Zaydi variant of Shia Islam, from the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to whom many regular army military units are loyal. The Saudis want to return to power President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, but he seems to have little support and much of the fighting against the Houthis in Aden has been by southern separatists who want to restore south Yemen to the independence it enjoyed up to 1990.
The fragmentation of power in Yemen and the collapse of state authority has given al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) the opportunity to expand its influence. Long the target of US drone attacks, AQAP has taken over the port of al-Mukallah, the fifth largest city in Yemen after freeing 300 militants from the local prison. Several tribes that used to oppose AQAP now support it because it provides shock troops and suicide bombers to oppose the Houthis.
Isis is for the first time showing that it has strength in Yemen by publishing a video of its fighters executing 15 Yemeni soldiers whom it captured on 12 April in Shabwa Province. Two days later the video shows four of the soldiers, some of whom said they belonged to the 2nd Mountain Brigade, being beheaded by Isis executioners. A further ten soldiers were shot in the head.
Though two thirds of Yemenis are Sunni and one third Zaydi Shia, the country has not previously had the fierce sectarian divisions of Iraq or Syria. But the Saudis claim that the Houthis are the proxies of Iran and part of a general Shia offensive against the Sunnis across the Middle East may be self-fulfilling, particularly if Isis continues to massacre captives whom it describes as “apostates”.
The Saudi air campaign has turned what began as a factional conflict within Yemen into a regional dispute that will make it more difficult to resolve. Indeed, the beginning of the Saudi air war five weeks ago put a stop to negotiations which were about to succeed in establishing a power sharing government in the capital Sanaa according to the UN envoy Jamal Benomar. He told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that “when this campaign started, one thing that was significant but went unnoticed is that the Yemenis were close to a deal that would institute power-sharing with all sides, including the Houthis.”
It may be that King Salman of Saudi Arabia and his younger son Mohammad, who is defence minister and chief of the royal court, saw the war in Yemen as a way of securing their power and removing rival factions in the royal family from power. On his throne for only  a few months, King Salman has been taking a harder line in the Saudi confrontation with Iran and the Shia. He has not only started an air war in Yemen but has given stronger backing to Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qa’ida affiliate, and other jihadi groups in Syria. These have recently won several victories in Idlib province over the Syrian army and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
A problem in ending the war in Yemen is that it will be difficult for King Salman to come out of it without a success if he wishes to avoid damage to his prestige at the start of his reign. At the same time, Saudi Arabia does not appear to have a plan other than the total defeat of the Houthis and their allies, something that is unlikely to happen because there is stalemate.
The original Saudi strategy was apparently to bomb the Yemeni army in order to pressure former commander President Saleh, leader of Yemen for 33 years up to 2012, to break with the Houthis, but this has not happened.


By Sara Al-Zawqari 

Abdulla Al Ariqy, like many Yemenis woke up this morning grateful that telecommunications and internet lines were still operating. News over social media said that telephone lines and internet will be cut off on Monday morning at 9am, local time. “Our house turned into a call center, family inside and outside Yemen were calling, messaging, WhatsApping, Facebooking, we were saying our goodbyes, it was insane I think the entire country panicked, we didn’t think it was going to happen so soon,” said Al Ariqy.
The Public Telecommunication Establishment (PTC) said that the establishment’s stock of diesel had been exhausted over that past four weeks due to the lack of petroleum derivatives, the limited amounts obtained from The Ministry of Oil, and the continuous power cuts. As a result, local and international calls and internet service will be cut completely in few days if no solution is found.
On Thursday the head of the Post and Telecommunications Union, said that Aden, Lahj, Al Dale, and Abyan will be the first cities to experience complete communication blackout, due to the violent armed clashes between the Houthis and the Popular Resistance which prevent the government from delivering diesel to these areas.
Private telecommunication companies have shut many units across the country, and  residents have complained about poor coverage. “We need electricity to operate our telecommunication towers,  with electricity  gone for weeks, we need to run generators which need diesel and diesel is not available any more, and its price shot up, I’m afraid if no solution is found, we will stop operating very soon,” said a senior technician in a private telecommunication company in Sanaa.
Yasmeen Mutahar a university student in Taiz said,  “We will be doomed this means we won’t know what’s happening, when we hear a bomb we call family and friends to see where it hit, we need news and social media to know what’s going on.”
The Saudi-led coalition have imposed air and sea blockade since the beginning of the operation on March 26th, they have complete control of air space, ports and there are no commercial planes or ships allowed in or out of the country. Basel Mohammed in Aden called it a catastrophe,” No one will know what’s happening to us, we need people around the world to know what’s happening, how will we call each other, call for help, call ambulances, or get in touch with relief organizations if we run out of food.” With the borders closed, when telecommunications stop, Yemen will be in danger of becoming completely isolated from the world.

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Christie’s Grip on Republican Politics in New Jersey Shows Signs of Slipping

At the height of his political celebrity, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey persuaded dozens of Democratic officeholders to back his 2013 re-election campaign. The implied transaction seemed simple: Support a well-liked Republican and win a measure of good will from him, perhaps even some acclaim by association.
One such attempted deal went notoriously wrong in Fort Lee, leading to the indictment on Friday of two former Christie appointees, and a guilty plea by another former associate.
Now, as Mr. Christie fights for his political future, it is New Jersey Republicans weighing how closely to associate with a governor whose popularity has faded in the polls. The issue is not some distant abstraction: The state’s entire General Assembly is up for election this year, and the next governor’s race looms in 2017.

Mr. Christie’s support is no longer an unalloyed asset to Republicans. State Senator Michael Doherty, a conservative lawmaker who has been critical of the governor, said the recent scandal would clearly affect the party in upcoming elections.
 “It’s going to be relevant to the reputation of the statewide Republican Party, and whether a Republican’s going to have a shot of being elected governor in 2017,” Mr. Doherty said.
Not so long ago, Republicans hoped that Mr. Christie’s electoral victories would provide a durable boost to the party. After nearly a decade out of power, Republicans were offered a toehold in Trenton and help competing in difficult areas of the state, including populous northern New Jersey.
Yet over the last year, some of the governor’s signature political trophies have been stripped away. A landmark pension-reform deal was struck down in court, denting Mr. Christie’s image as a problem solver.
Mr. Christie, who was first elected thanks in part to his profile as a clean-cut prosecutor, is now stuck parsing legalisms in an effort to play down his administration’s culpability in the events that led to the federal indictments last week.
The aide and appointees were accused of a conspiracy in shutting several lanes of traffic approaching the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for his failure to endorse the governor’s re-election.
Mr. Christie, who is considering a run for president, has denied any wrongdoing and disavowed any knowledge of the retribution scheme. Paul J. Fishman, the United States attorney for New Jersey who announced the indictments, said there were no plans to charge anyone else in connection with the bridge inquiry based on the evidence gathered so far.
The governor is still expected to play an important role in the legislative elections this year, as the party’s most visible figure and its most formidable fund-raiser.
Jack M. Ciattarelli, a Republican member of the Assembly, called the indictments “infuriating and sickening.” He said he would take Mr. Christie at his word that he was not involved in the lane closings, but criticized the governor’s selection of associates. “People who work in his administration seem to have been intoxicated with his popularity, or their power, and they abused it,” he said.
Mr. Ciattarelli, who is viewed as a possible statewide candidate, added that Republicans would be wise to prepare for life after a Christie administration, likening the governor to a pair of presidents who largely defined their parties.
“Every party needs to move on and out from under the shadow of as dominant a figure as Kennedy was, as Reagan was, and here in New Jersey, as Christie is,” he said.
Even a gentle inching away from Mr. Christie would represent a significant departure for New Jersey Republicans, who have tied their fortunes to the governor’s, for better or worse, since his election in 2009.
Most New Jersey Republicans have remained publicly supportive of the governor throughout the ordeal of the long investigation. But there have been scattered signs that Mr. Christie’s once-firm grip on the state Republican establishment may have slipped along with his approval ratings.
As Mr. Christie has publicly entertained the notion of a run for the presidency, several prominent New Jersey Republicans once aligned with the governor have instead supported Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida. Among them are Woody Johnson, the owner of the Jets, and State Senator Joe Kyrillos, the party’s 2012 nominee for the United States Senate.
Mr. Kyrillos, once one of Mr. Christie’s most enthusiastic supporters, also broke with convention when he publicly rebuked the governor last winter for mismanagement at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Despite periods of intense personal popularity, Mr. Christie has had only limited success at lifting the prospects of other Republicans. In 2013, the party made a major push to win control of the State Senate, hoping to ride Mr. Christie’s political coattails as he romped to re-election. Though he won a second term by more than 20 percentage points, Republicans failed to pick up a single seat in the chamber.
Still, the sheer breadth of Mr. Christie’s victories appeared to hold out the possibility of a larger political shift. In 2009, he won his first election by a wider margin than any Republican since Thomas H. Kean’s landslide re-election a quarter-century earlier.
National Republicans, reeling after their defeat in the 2012 elections, looked to Mr. Christie as a model for expanding the party’s electoral reach. Indeed, in his re-election campaign, Mr. Christie did the seemingly impossible, for a Republican: He won a clear majority of female and Hispanic voters, and split the youth vote almost evenly with his Democratic challenger, Barbara Buono, a state senator.
In his victory speech, Mr. Christie embraced the role, urging his fellow Republicans to campaign “in the places where we’re uncomfortable,” to court voters traditionally wary of conservative candidates.
Republicans, including Mr. Christie’s admirers, now say that the hope for a lasting realignment in their favor has waned. In places, the party’s gains have already been reversed: In last year’s elections, amid a national Republican landslide, voters ejected a Republican county executive, Kathleen A. Donovan, from the top post in Bergen County, the ultra-diverse population anchor of northern New Jersey.
Ms. Donovan, who had first won the job in 2010, a year after Mr. Christie’s first election as governor, said he had supported her energetically in her second, unsuccessful campaign. But other forces were decisive in the race, Ms. Donovan said.
“The demographics continue to change and trend toward Democrats,” she explained. “The governor has done the very best job he could, in terms of helping Republicans overcome Democrat numbers, but there are structural problems in New Jersey.”
The Democrats are not without their own challenges, having done little to fix the woes that allowed Mr. Christie to win office in the first place: high state and local taxes, a budget deep in the red and a lingering perception of ethical lapses after a long string of corruption cases. (Many were prosecuted by Mr. Christie, in his days as a United States attorney.)
Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican leader in the State Assembly and a potential candidate for governor, said the party planned to put Democrats on the defensive by focusing on their long record of tax increases. The main issue in this year’s legislative election, he said, would be making New Jersey an affordable place to live, and the Democrats’ record of doing the opposite.
Mr. Christie has agreed to play an active role in this year’s campaign for control of the legislative chamber, Mr. Bramnick said. “I think the overwhelming theme is not going to be Chris Christie,” Mr. Bramnick said. “I think the overwhelming theme is: Do you send back the same team that’s been there more than a decade?”
Representative Bill Pascrell, a Democrat who represents Fort Lee in Congress, cautioned Democrats not to grow overconfident about Mr. Christie’s downfall. After all, he noted, many of the party’s officeholders endorsed the governor for re-election and cooperated with his agenda in Trenton.
“There’s a lot of baggage out there on everybody’s shoulders,” Mr. Pascrell said. “Neither party is privy to virtue in New Jersey.”

Barack Obama is coming to David Letterman one last time

David Letterman’s final run of shows will have a presidential seal of approval. CBS announced on Friday that President Barack Obama will appear on the May 4 edition of The Late Show with David Letterman. The visit will mark Obama’s third time on The Late Show as President of the United States and eighth time overall. (He last appeared on the show on Sept. 18, 2012.)
Joining Obama on the May 4 broadcast will be actor Will Ferrell and musical guests the Avett Brothers and Brandi Carlile. Letterman’s final show is set for May 20.

Video - President ObamaTalks with Young Men at a Roundtable with the My Brother's Keeper Alliance

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Hillary Clinton’s Bold Move

By embracing police and prison reform, she’s changed the terms of the criminal justice debate. Will any Republicans follow her lead?
n a major speech delivered last week in the wake of unrest in Baltimore, Hillary Clinton made a stirring and unequivocal case for reforming the criminal justice system. “There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts,” Clinton said. “There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes.”
The speech was hailed as significant for a number of reasons. For one thing, it confirmed that, 21 years after her husband signed a bill making the criminal justice system much more punitive, Clinton has definitively come to the conclusion that the nation’s out-of-control incarceration rate is a problem that needs fixing. The speech underscored that justice reform will enjoy full-throated support on both sides of the aisle during the 2016 election, which has attracted multiple candidates on the Republican side whostrongly believe America’s courts are sending too many people to prison for too long.
But Clinton’s speech was important for another reason, too, one that hasn’t been widely acknowledged thus far. In pegging her remarks about mass incarceration to the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and making a point of calling for both prisonand police reform in the same breath, Clinton was making a nontrivial connection between unfair law enforcement practices and unfair prison policy. And while that connection may seem self-evident to some, the fact is that politicians often treat them as separate issues, and many influential figures on the right who have come out as criminal justice reformers—including Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, and the mega-donors Charles and David Koch—have not been willing to make the link.
Clinton, on the other hand, made the connection deliberately and clearly: Over the course of her roughly 3,500-word speech, she put forth a wide-ranging argument suggesting that the solution to America’s criminal justice crisis will not just be a matter of rolling back overly harsh sentencing guidelines or creating treatment programs for nonviolent drug offenders—measures that enjoy relatively broad support on the right—but addressing the broken trust between black communities and the police departments that are supposed to protect them. “Today smart policing in communities that builds relationships, partnerships, and trust makes more sense than ever,” Clinton said. “And it shouldn’t be limited just to officers on the beat. It’s an ethic that should extend throughout our criminal justice system. To prosecutors and parole officers. To judges and lawmakers.”

Again, it might seem obvious to some that politicians interested in justice reform should be treating the police-involved killings of Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray as being intimately related to the policies resulting in mass imprisonment of black Americans. But when you look at the bipartisan coalition for justice reform that has formed over the past several years, you’ll notice this connection doesn’t really get made except in the context of civil forfeiture, the controversial practice of police departments seizing money and property from people who have not been charged with crimes.
“The left and right have banded together to deal with mass incarceration … but you don’t see the same degree of robust joining together on policing,” said Nicholas Turner, the president of the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that works for reform, in an interview. Turner added, “Hillary connecting this policing issue with mass incarceration is spot-on.”
Van Jones, the liberal activist who helped organize the recent Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform alongside Gingrich, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Koch Industries, told me much the same thing—that for all the air time prison reform is currently enjoying in conservative circles, policing tends not to come up.
“The bipartisan space right now focuses on what happens after a person gets arrested, not why the person got arrested,” Jones said. “So it’s: Are the sentences too long? Are the conditions of confinement conducive to rehabilitation? When someone comes home and re-enters society, can they get a fair shot? But there’s not a lot of bipartisan discussion at this stage about doing something about why people are being arrested, or the way they’re being arrested. There’s a big bipartisan sinkhole that’s growing and pulling everything into it, but policing has not yet fallen into it.”
To get a conservative take on the move Clinton made in her speech, I called former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who served three years in federal prison for tax fraud and making false statements before being released and remaking himself as a criminal justice reformer. “I think it’s two different issues,” Kerik told me. “I don’t think the police is a part of the criminal justice problem as much as … the courts and the laws. That’s a much bigger problem than the police. Mandatory minimums, our sentencing guidelines—that’s the problem.”
Kerik, who has compared prison to “dying with your eyes open,” added: “The cops go to a community to enforce the laws that have been written. That’s why they’re there. If it’s a minority community and there’s high crime, they’re going there because there’s high crime. They’re going to enforce the laws on the books. … When you talk about the racial disparities in incarceration, a lot of that doesn’t have to do with the police, it has to do with the laws themselves.”
Kerik’s views on this are largely representative of how the right thinks about law enforcement. Though it has become increasingly acceptable among Republicans to support making prison terms for nonviolent offenders shorter, the party’s long-standing dedication to “law and order” seems to be holding strong when it comes to policing.
Mark Holden, the general counsel for Koch Industries who has emerged as the face of Charles and David Koch’s efforts on criminal justice reform, indicated in an emailed statement that while he acknowledges the distrust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they police, repairing that distrust is a matter of making changes to the way we prosecute people who break the law, not necessarily changing police practices.
“I think the whole CJ system is interconnected,” Holden wrote, noting that his remarks should not be seen as a response to the Clinton speech. “[We should] reform the CJ system so police can enhance public safety by going after violent criminals, instead of having them deal with all the issues we don’t want to deal with like mentally ill people, drug addicts, homeless, low level drug offenders. Our brave law enforcement officers signed up to protect and serve these communities but instead we have set up a system that puts them in perpetual conflict with the communities they serve. It isn’t right and it isn’t working. Our law enforcement and our communities deserve better.”
It will be interesting to see how the discourse surrounding criminal justice reform in the 2016 campaign will be affected by Hillary Clinton’s apparent belief that it doesn’t make sense to talk about prison reform without also talking about police reform. If she holds this line, it could create a point of contention between her and her Republican rivals, and serve as a revealing window onto the differences between how conservatives and liberals think about how criminal justice in the United States needs to change.
Is there a chance that, as influential conservative Pat Nolan told me after the release of the Department of Justice report on Ferguson, Missouri, reformers on the right will extend their critique to law enforcement, and stop treating prison and policing reform as two separate things? Joseph Margulies, a visiting professor of law and government at Cornell and the author of a forthcoming book about criminal justice reform in the 21st century, told me he thinks it’s unlikely.
“Among social conservatives, policing is still perceived as the thin blue line between order and chaos,” Margulies said. “To the extent that social conservatives are still attached to the idea of order, it’s very difficult to challenge the police, particularly if you believe that there is a lawlessness out there that needs to be restrained and controlled. That’s just always been an element of social conservatism. And while it’s under some strain now because it’s in tension with other [conservative issues] like overreliance on government … those are easier to apply in the prison context than in the police context.”
Clinton’s speech has been criticized by some on the left for ignoring the role her husband played in bringing about the problems she now says she wants to solve. But even if you think that’s a legitimate complaint, the fact that Clinton is unapologetically expanding the scope of what criminal justice reform should be deserves to be seen as a significant development.