New Age Islam Edit Bureau
10 September 2015
• Leaving Home: It's Time for Immigrants to Help Refugees
By Murtaza Haider
• The Baloch Saga
By Aziz Sanghur
• Renewing the Drone Debate
By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
• Dear Malala Yousafzai, Your Nobel Prize Is Not Your Ticket to Stanford
By Aalia Suleman
• The Yemen Imbroglio
By Mahrukh Hasan
• Aylan Kurdi and Shaken Beliefs
By Ali Malik
• How to Be Happy: Don't Let Others Dictate Your Life
By Asna Ali
Leaving Home: It's Time for Immigrants To Help Refugees
By Murtaza Haider
September 10th, 2015
If Facebook likes and tweets could be the solution, Aylan Kurdi, the toddler whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey, and thousands of unknown others, would not have died an unfortunate death.
The recent refugee crisis, exacerbated by the civil war in Syria, requires the international community to do more to assist the globally displaced.
Even a bigger responsibility rests with those in the West, who emigrated from the war-torn parts of the world, to find refuge for millions escaping hunger, poverty, and wars.
The shocking image of Aylan’s body lying face down on the beach alerted the world to a crisis that had largely gone unnoticed. Aylan, his brother, and mother were among the 12 refugees who drowned near the Turkish resort town of Bodrum.
Another six million Syrians are displaced within and outside of Syria. Because of global apathy, the World Food Program has been “struggling to meet the urgent food needs of close to six million displaced people in Syria and in neighbouring countries.”
Germany has risen to the occasion and offered to accept at least half a million Syrian refugees every year for the next few years. Others in Europe are under pressure to reciprocate the German philanthropy.
Britain has grudgingly agreed to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years. France has committed to accept 24,000 refugees. At the same time, numerous Western countries, including Canada and the US, have been reluctant to accept a large number of Syrian refugees.
The above graphic is generated from 1,670 news headlines that appeared in major English language newspapers between August 25 and September 9, 2015.
The size of each word is determined by its frequent appearance in the headlines. The graphic highlights the absence of Canada and the US from the global discourse on Syrian refugees.
What Led To The Syrian Refugee Crisis?
Canada and the US must do more to assist the Syrians. It was primarily an American driven initiative to dislodge the Syrian President Bashar al-Asad that resulted in the refugee crisis. The US did so to appease the Israelis and Arabs (mainly Saudis) who were becoming increasingly wary of the Iranian influence in Syria and Lebanon.
The US establishment was so eager to destabilise the Asad regime that it allowed fake experts on Syria to influence the American legislators. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Senator John McCain presented a 26-year old quack, Elizabeth O’Bagy, as an expert on Syria and quoted her Wall Street Journal op-ed in Senate hearings. She had lied about her doctorate and hid her paid assignments for Syrian rebels.
Ms. O’Bagy encouraged the American legislators to support the rebels whose ranks were increasingly filled with the Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadists. She misled the American media and the US establishment when she wrote in WSJ: “The conventional wisdom holds that the extremist elements are completely mixed in with the more moderate rebel groups. This isn't the case. Moderates and extremists wield control over distinct territory.”
While the rest of the world could clearly see that a weakened al-Asad regime would likely be replaced by brutal jihadists – now known as ISIS, which is led by the self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi – the US and Canada willfully ignored the larger threat to global security.
Canada first imposed sanctions and later broke off diplomatic ties with Syria. In 2011, the former Canadian foreign minister, John Baird, accommodated a Syrian rebel group in the Canadian Embassy in Turkey. In an interview in December 2011, Mr Baird declared that the Assad regime had “lost all legitimacy and its abhorrent behavior will not be tolerated.”
By 2014, both the US and Canada had to reverse their support for the Syrian rebels as it became increasingly obvious that the jihadists had assumed control from other rebels and claimed large territories in Syria and Iraq. The jihadists were staging attacks across the Middle East and beyond.
The Europeans, however, were better informed about the Syrian conflict.
In the summer of 2013, a comprehensive report commissioned by the European Parliament (EP) accused Wahhabi and Salafi groups, based largely out of Saudi Arabia, of supporting and supplying arms to rebel groups around the world. I covered the EP report in July 2013. I wrote:
“The European Parliament’s report estimates that Saudi Arabia alone has spent over $10 billion to promote Wahabism through Saudi charitable foundations. The tiny, but very rich, state of Qatar is the new entrant to the game supporting militant franchises from Libya to Syria.”
How can immigrants help refugees?
With six million Syrians displaced and no end in sight for a resolution of the Syrian civil war, the western world needs to step up efforts to find refuge for Syrian migrants.
While the Canadian federal government is negligent and reluctant to realise the urgency, ordinary citizens, municipal and provincial governments, and others have launched several initiatives to bring over Syrian refugees to Canada.
One such initiative has been launched by the Ryerson University in Toronto. Ratna Omidvar, executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange, and Professor Wendy Cukier, vice president of research and innovation, started the initiative to help resettle 44 Syrian refugees. Within no time many, including the University’s President and the Provost, signed up to offer financial and other help to settle Syrian refugees.
It costs approximately $27,000 to support a refugee family. Because the Canadian government wants 60 per cent of the 10,000 Syrian refugees to be supported privately, there is an urgent need to raise large sums to settle refugees in Canada. Canadians will have to raise over $40 million to settle approximately 2,500 refugee families.
The Canadian Census in 2011 recorded over one million Muslims in Canada. For such a large community, raising $40 million should not be a difficult task. It boils down to just $40 per Muslim Canadian to help resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in Canada.
In his tragic death, Aylan Kurdi touched the hearts of millions resulting in hundreds of millions of tweets and Facebook Likes. It’s time to do more than click on social media.
Let us donate to honour the memory of the young Kurdi and millions more like him.
Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of Regionomics.com.
The Baloch Saga
By Aziz Sanghur
September 10th, 2015
BRAHMDAGH Bugti’s willingness to negotiate with the military establishment might be considered a good omen by some. But it will not yield the desired result unless all Baloch organisations — whether banned, political or students’ groups — are taken on board.
There are more than six major Baloch militant groups, including the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), United Baloch Army (UBA), Lashkar-i-Balochistan etc.
While they are all working independent of each other, their goal is shared: a separate Baloch state. They are led by different leaders, although the areas in which they operate overlap each other in many places.
In order to reach the roots of Baloch nationalism, we should realise that the mother of all insurgent or political forces in the province has been the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO). The group has been banned for the past many years.
A large number of BSO leaders have been killed and several have been reportedly picked up by intelligence agencies after it was banned. BSO chairman Zahid Baloch and Zakir Majeed, another senior office-bearer in the organisation, have also been picked up by the agencies; its serving secretary-general, Raza Jahangir, was killed in August 2013. The BSO is presently run by acting chairperson, Banuk Karima Baloch.
This ‘mother organisation’ not only opposes the military establishment, it is also against the tribal system in Balochistan. Therefore the Nawabs and Sardars have always been afraid of the BSO’s politics.
Earlier Baloch insurgencies were settled through negotiations.
Almost all the Baloch leadership comes from the folds of BSO. This long list includes Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch, Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur, Dr Allah Nazar, Habib Jalib Baloch, Federal Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch, Hasil Bizenjo, former senator Sana Baloch and many other parliamentarians. Therefore, to resolve the Balochistan issue, a better understand of BSO is required.
Like the political leadership, insurgent leaders of different groups were also BSO members during their academic career. Dr Allah Nazar was a former chairman of the organisation. Mir Ghulam Nabi Bangulzai, who heads the UBA, was also a former chairman. Several other Baloch militants were active members of the BSO, therefore the group influences insurgent organisations indirectly.
The bloody conflict between the military establishment and Baloch separatist organisations has taken a heavy toll. Hundreds of political workers have been killed and thousands of others are allegedly in the custody of intelligence agencies. Thousands of people have been forced to migrate from conflict zones in Balochistan to safer havens.
In view of the above-mentioned issues, the possibility that negotiations between Brahmdagh Bugti and the military establishment would lead to peace is remote, unless all other stakeholders come on board.
The ongoing insurgency is not between the Bugti tribe and the military. Instead, all Baloch militants are stakeholders. Dera Bugti is home to hardly 180,000 people. There are many Bugti subtribes including Raija, Masoori, Kalpar etc. Brahmdagh belongs to the Raija, which constitutes a very small number in Dera Bugti. Also, Brahmdagh’s Baloch Republican Party, has not been able to leave its mark on Balochistan’s politics.
In terms of his tribal influence, the angry young man has no strong foothold in his ancestral hometown of Dera Bugti, where the Kalpars have always challenged his position.
Besides the Baloch militants and the BSO, Sardar Akhtar Mengal has a prominent position in Baloch politics. His party, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) has a strong position and Akhtar Mengal has served as provincial chief minister, as has his father Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal.
Another political entity is the Baloch National Movement (BNM), a group popular with Baloch youth; its president, Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, was killed in Turbat some years back. His confidants — Sher Mohammad Baloch and Munir Baloch — were also killed amid the kill-and-dump wave in Balochistan.
The BNM has effective street power in Balochistan, under the leadership of Khalil Baloch and Dr Manan Baloch. Both leaders went underground as they were wanted by the law-enforcement agencies in many cases.
Insurgencies by Baloch militants have occurred in 1948, 1958, and 1973. The ongoing one began in 2005. In the past the Baloch wanted greater autonomy and increased royalties from natural resources for provincial revenue. But in the current insurgency, the demands of the insurgents have toughened: many want separation from Pakistan.
We should not forget our past. In all of the above-mentioned insurgencies the conflict was settled through negotiated deals. Suppression of dissenting voices would not serve any good to the province or the country. The use of force is only fuelling the conflict, while the solution clearly lies in the political way.
Aziz Sanghur is a documentary film-maker and freelance journalist.
Aylan Kurdi And Shaken Beliefs
By Ali Malik
September 10, 2015
I have rarely been more disturbed. But, above all, rarely has anything shaken my beliefs as the image of little Syrian child Aylan Kurdi’s body washed upon the shores of the Turkish coast. I do not know if what I felt can be described as horror or shock but I am certain that it surely was profound grief.
Many years ago, when I interacted with the Afghan diaspora that had left Afghanistan post-war or with the Iranian diaspora that had to leave the country post-Islamic revolution, it was a sad and somewhat horrifying experience. What made it more horrifying then was the fact that there was a serious threat of the Talibanisation of Pakistan and an outright Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) takeover in many parts of it. So, it filled me with fear, fear for loved dear ones. I thought of the enormity of times when one may be forced to leave his place of residence for destinations unknown and future uncertain.
But what Aylan Kurdi’s death has done to me is more than anything I felt then. As I have said above, it has made me review my beliefs. I have believed in pragmatism when it comes to international politics. I, even when I could not relate to it, could understand the reasons behind Iraq’s invasion: Saddam invaded Kuwait. I could decipher why Afghanistan dragged the Russians, Pakistanis and US in. I can even understand why the Saudis are oversensitive about Yemen. I understand why dominant powers have waged wars. I even understand the necessity of such adventures or misadventures on the overall stability. But now, I am not so sure. For this image brings to fore the most horrible of human tragedies in wars.
A lot has been said about Europe’s (particularly the UK and France) response to the refugee crisis. But rarely has there been any talk of British and French adventures in the region a century or so back that led to the birth of the perpetual chaos that the region is dealing with even today. And rarely has anything been said about the economic divide that exists in the world, a divide whose foundations are laid on many of these conflicts and a divide that is still favouring the haves over have-nots, even in the fallout of this crisis. The more resourceful migrants are aspiring to be in Europe (paying as much as 6,000 Euros to human smugglers) while the less resourceful are forced into refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
It is troubling that the humanity shown by Europe in this crisis is coming from countries with no colonial past and the colonial powers that created this crisis over the centuries are acting with arrogance and disdain. But it is more troubling that these very colonial powers instigated and initiated the conflict in Syria and Libya this time around, when the US and Germans were reluctant to join any such misadventure. This crisis is also a testament to US leadership (or lack of) whose hands-off and cut and run attitude in Iraq created the monster of Islamic State (IS) that added the most dangerous dimension to this whole conflict. And if that were not enough, it could not control the arming of rebels in Syria. Its ability to curtail the misadventures of its European and Arab allies, its inability to stand through the consequences of its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, above all, the impression it gave of disengaging from the world in the name of a post-US world has made the world a more dangerous place. The US’s conduct in the last decade or so has been a disappointment for people who had hoped for a fair world centred on US ideals post-Soviet Union.
There is no doubt that with the ever changing economic, political and demographic realities of the world there will be chaos. The declining powers that built large parts of their economies on colonisation are seeing their economies declining and their share of real wealth shrinking. At the same time, they have not come across any sustainable means to make their economies more productive. In this environment, the powerful interests there will compel the governments to indulge in misadventures. Then we are seeing the economic rise of Asia centred on globalisation that brings with it economic volatility. And then globalisation itself is creating a two-tiered world within societies with an ever-increasing gap between the haves and have-nots. Then there is Africa awakening to economic opportunity. And last, but certainly not the least, the region from India to Morocco that had been a dominant player in global politics for centuries and was reduced to nothingness in the last two centuries is trying to redefine or rediscover its identity. This all is an ideal recipe for chaos. This will invite room for intervention on the part of powerful vested interests. The challenge for the world is to come up with a coherent, fair way to ensure minimal, fair and peace-centric intervention. Maybe because of the state of grief I am in, I have little hope.
Renewing the Drone Debate
By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
September 10, 2015
Pakistan giving America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) access to Shamsi airfield, heralded the dawn of a duplicitously convenient era for Islamabad. As drone casualties rose to 252 in 2008, from 36 in 2007, every CIA strike was followed by politicians’ condemnation, and preceded by US-Pak intelligence sharing to identify possible targets. This effective duplicity continued even in the aftermath of ‘Osamagate’, and Pakistan ‘kicking America out’ of Shamsi, with 383 CIA drone casualties in 2011.
It is precisely this intelligence double-play in the AfPak region that has helped the CIA drones take down, among others, ISIS leader Hafiz Mohammed Saeed in July, and the high profile killing of the then TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013, which instigated hue and cry over the mass murderer’s death.
After it was discovered that a US drone strike aimed towards an al-Qaeda compound killed two innocent hostages — including one American — in January this year, the drone debate was renewed in the White House.
In the aftermath of the discovery White House spokesman Josh Earnest said:
“Our preference when dealing with suspected terrorists is to capture, detain, debrief and prosecute them. But the fact is ... in some areas of the world… local authorities have limited capacity and, in some cases, limited will to go after these extremists.”
The above was true for Pakistan before the APS attack nine months ago.
Since then, however, Pakistan has deployed its own armed drone against terrorists with ‘Burraq’ killing “three high profile terrorists” on Monday, according to DG ISPR Asim Bajwa’s Twitter handle. Intriguingly enough on the very same day UK also decided to join the drone party with Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that the RAF had conducted UK’s first drone strike killing two British citizens who had joined ISIS in Syria.
Several other countries are queuing up to put weapons onto unmanned aircraft, including South Africa, France, Nigeria, Iran, Israel, China and most crucially for us, India. This means that the anti-drone protests generated across the world, for the good part of the past decade, has not been paid any heed by the powers that be across the board.
The much maligned aspect of Barack Obama’s counterterrorism legacy is being adopted by other nations, vindicating its effectiveness and accuracy. This means that the heretofore scepticism regarding drone strikes as extraordinarily inhumane weapons of killing was possibly misguided.
The anti-drone argument in Pakistan was founded upon four-pillars: potential negotiations with the Taliban, civilian casualties, extra-judicial manoeuvring and breach of international law and sovereignty. Any quixotic dreams of negotiating with terrorists, which the leadership of both the top two parties in Pakistan were guilty of, has been thrown off the table, despite the occasion gem from PTI Chief Imran Khan, where he manifests an apparent lack of ability in discerning the difference between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
Of the other three pillars, the latter has held the most water despite Pakistan’s claims of breach of de facto sovereignty paling in front of the state’s perpetual inability to exercise any control over FATA and other tribal areas. When Obama considered sending drones into Balochistan to target senior Afghan Taliban leaders in 2010, the Pakistani establishment warned of a major backlash, considering that the “settled areas” were perceived in a completely different light by the masses. Not to mention the fact that the establishment deemed the Afghan Taliban as unthreatening, especially back in 2010, clearly highlighting the state’s double-play on sovereignty.
In any case, the establishment officially controlling the remote control of the drone strikes, and not just complying with US intelligence, means that the breach of sovereignty is no longer a part of the drone debate. However, no matter who controls the remote, collateral damage will continue to be the unwanted baggage of drone strikes. Even so, one can be sure that media reports pertaining to the killings by Burraq and its Pakistani drone brethren will deem all casualties as terrorists, as has been the case in the ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb that has been going on in the North West of the country for over a year.
According to available statistics of military conflicts the world over, the civilian casualties range between 33 to 80 percent, depending on the region and military strategy used. This means that even if Pakistan’s military operations are the most accurate and humanistic that the world has seen in recent times – and there is no logical reason to believe so – one out of every three killed person in Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been a civilian. Estimates of drone casualties range civilian casualty ratio between 3 and 20 percent, with better technology and intelligence reducing the collateral damage.
Even though it’s evident that it’s not quite simple to designate ‘civilian’ and ‘terrorist’ tags to those being killed, we seem to forget that the same is true for any kind of military operation. The drone debate, hence, should focus on the technological aspects of the machinery and its accuracy in tracing its targets, especially those militants that can’t be captured and prosecuted otherwise. Whether or not the identified targets are erroneous cannot be pinned on the machine’s prowess.
In an interview with German newspaper Spiegel, in December 2013, a local intelligence operative of the CIA from the tribal areas said that it was “pure propaganda” that the drones primarily targeted civilians. “Does anyone seriously believe that America would wager a costly, politically sensitive war in Pakistan to kill civilians? Most of the victims are enemies of the United States and enemies of Pakistan,” he said.
An Aryana Institute for Regional Research Advocacy (AIRRA) survey from 2009 showed that 52% of the people of FATA vowed for drone strikes’ accuracy, 55% deemed them not responsible for ‘bringing fear and terror’, 60% said militant organisations were effectively damaged by drones and 70% wanted the Pakistan Army to orchestrate drone strikes against militant organisations. In the ensuing couple of years independent investigations by Shahid Saeed and Awais Masood, and Matthew Fricker, Avery Plaw and Brian Glyn Williams revealed that civilian casualties were inflated in initial media reports and that the locals believe in drone’s accuracy, reaffirming AIRRA’s claims.
When we talk about drone killings being ‘extra-judicial’ we seem to forget two crucial points. The first, as has been mentioned above, that on paper at least the drone targets are those militants that can’t be captured and prosecuted. Secondly, we seem to forget the ugly truth that we are in a state of war, and have been for the past decade or so.
When we clamour against capital punishment, which like drone strikes or military operations is barefaced murder according to the human rights rulebook, we seem to forget that wartime manuals and sensibilities are quite different from epochs of (relative) peace. As insensitive as it is to reduce the casualties to numbers, and as noble the endeavour is to shield innocents from judicial, or extrajudicial, murder, the aim should always be to reduce collateral damage based on wartime balance of probabilities.
Humankind has never been able to eliminate collateral damage in war. The humanitarian aspect of counterterrorism should thence be dedicated to minimising it. That is the idea that should be at the centre of any renewed drone debate.
Dear Malala Yousafzai, Your Nobel Prize Is Not Your Ticket to Stanford
By Aalia Suleman
September 9, 2015
It is time for Malala Yousafzai to start considering colleges for the next phase of her education. However, here the queen of education seems to have run into a little snag.
Though she has her eyes set on Stanford University in California among other institutions, Stanford has demanded that she demonstrate herself to be academically adept as per US standards for college admission.
Not quite interested in her stature as the youngest Nobel Laureate, the university, which ranks number third in the world, has demanded Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores from Malala.
SAT is a specialised test of academic skills in the areas of reading, writing, and math required for applying to admission to US colleges. SAT does not ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ a person but judges aptitude. The maximum score one can get is a 2400.
In the US, SAT is a huge deal for a high school student who is aspiring to get into a prestigious university like Berkeley, Stanford or Yale etc. It isn’t easy to get even a 2000 score on a SAT test. Even apart from the SAT test, the stakes are really high for anyone aiming for Stanford. The SAT test can be taken anytime during the sophomore, junior or senior high school years and the score is counted along with overall academic performance to make admission to a good university possible.
This year alone, 42,167 people applied for admission to Stanford University out of which only 2,138 actually succeeded in getting admission. Considering this, if there are questions raised as to why Malala should be granted a waiver on her SATs, it is no surprise.
Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic tweeted,
Writer and Stanford Alumni Rachel Syme tweeted,
There are arguments that Malala has done really well on her SAT equivalent testing in the UK and that those grades should suffice for admission eligibility. But then, if she has really done so well on her UK SAT equivalents, then she shouldn’t have trouble acing the US SAT either.
On a personal note, all students who are aspiring to enter a really sought after college must be academically assessed on an equal footing, Nobel Prize or no Nobel Prize.
Also, making sure she enters a university like Stanford on the basis of merit rather than ‘unusual circumstances’ will cement her respect in the eyes of her peers and will garner more respect for her in the long run than she would be able to muster otherwise.
After all, if she is the global symbol of women’s education and a resonating voice for girl’s education, she has to hold that flag up high.
Aalia Suleman is a freelance writer and poet who is keenly interested in the status of women in 21st century Pakistan. Her writing also zones in on Pakistan's new social and political status on a redefined global chessboard. She has a masters degree in English Literature and blogs and invites debates at 'Socio-politically Pakistani'
The Yemen Imbroglio
By Mahrukh Hasan
September 10, 2015
Saudi Arabia launched air strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen after rebel forces closed in on Aden in March this year. A coalition consisting of the Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan led by Saudi Arabia was formed; the coalition aims at restoring ousted president Abdu Rabbu Mansoor Hadi’s government.
The conflict exists mainly between forces loyal to the ousted president Hadi and those allied to Zaidi Shia rebels known as Houthis. Some units in Yemen’s security forces are loyal to Hadi who is popular in the predominantly Sunni southern part of Yemen. The rest of the Yemeni forces support the Houthis and Hadi’s predecessor Abdullah Saleh. Interestingly, both these factions are faced by another enemy in the form of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP.
The scenario further becomes bleak with the emergence of the Yemeni affiliate of the Islamic State. AQAP is considered to be the most dangerous Al-Qaeda affiliate. The US has previously been carrying out drone strikes in Yemen against AQAP; the strikes have been suspended since the Saudi invasion. This cauldron of converging interests of Houthi rebels, Sunni tribesmen, Saudi Arabia and its coalition, Iran, AQAP and the Islamic State is ready to spill over to an already volatile region rife with the Syrian war – with no signs of ending and the Islamic State in the Middle East on the rise.
The Houthis are Zaidi Shias opposed by the former Yemeni government and have a stronghold in the north of the country. Sunni tribes, AQAP jihadists and the Islamic State consider Shias as heretics. The Houthis are named after their leader Hussein Badr al-Din al-Houthi who led them in the 2004 uprising for greater autonomy and to protect the Zaidis.
Zaidi Shias compose one-third of the population and ruled North Yemen for a 1000 years till 1962. North and South Yemen were united in 1990 followed by a brief civil war in 1994. Fighting in north-west Yemen is not a new phenomenon; it broke out between the Houthis and the government in 2004 and resulted in six rounds of fighting that finally ended in 2010.
Questions concerning the reasons for this sudden escalation arise. Most important is the timing of this war – only a few months after King Salman of Saudi Arabia was sworn in as the new king. Some Middle East analysts consider it as a punitive action against Yemen, while others regard this as a message to Iran which is alleged to be providing support to Houthi rebels who are considered to be an Iranian proxy.
Yemen, though the least developed and impoverished country in the Middle East, is strategically important not only due to its proximity to Saudi Arabia but it’s location on the Bab al-Mandab Strait which links the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and joins the trade routes of Asia with the rest of the world. A Houthi takeover could jeopardise free passage of this important trade route. The conflict is often viewed as a component of a regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran has been accused of supporting the Houthis militarily and financially, an accusation Iran denies.
The ongoing Saudi campaign has been continuing for almost five months now but has failed to obtain the desired goals in terms of gaining control of Sanaa and reinstating President Hadi. The main reason is the reliance on air strikes, a strategy that often fails to bring desired results when faced with an enemy hiding in small groups in mountains and towns, the way a guerrilla war is often fought.
If the air strikes fail to achieve anything then sooner or later Saudi and coalition forces would have to send ground troops on Yemeni soil. As Foreign Policy magazine points out, the Houthis are trying to lure the Saudis into a ground war to engage them in a long bloody conflict. Drawing parallels from the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006, the magazine points out the failure of air power against a guerrilla battle ground when Israel failed to terminate the firing power of Hezbollah in Lebanon of firing rockets in northern Israel.
It is also believed that the two Iran-backed movements share operational military links. Financial Times quoted a Hezbollah commander in Beirut as saying that Houthi fighters had “trained with us in Iran, then we trained them here and in Yemen.” A second Hezbollah source told the newspaper that while Iran was “probably” supplying weapons to the Houthis, “We are the guerrilla experts, so we give advice about the best timings to strike back, when to hold back.”
While coalition airstrikes are the biggest killer of civilians so far, civilians also find themselves trapped in the crossfire between Houthi and anti-Houthi armed groups, with each side supported by units of the now-divided armed forces. The main reason for the Saudi intervention seemed to be the fear that the Houthis would control too much of Yemen, which Riyadh perceived as a threat to its influence. Five months later, the entire exercise seems an emulation of the US’ worst military adventures – an emulation that would lead to disastrous results if replicated by other regional powers. It seems the Saudis launched the campaign impulsively, not anticipating the costs and difficulties. They aligned themselves with an exiled leader with little domestic support and local forces whose goals are often divergent from theirs.
The US is not part of the Saudi coalition, but is assisting with intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi forces. This makes the US partially responsible for the civilian casualties in Yemen. Furthermore, the US has also been the major supplier of military hardware to Saudi Arabia and its partners, which are now being used in the invasion with disastrous effects. Despite US involvement, the conflict in Yemen has received occasional media coverage in the west, whereas the Yemenis are only too aware of US support for the campaign that has devastated their country.
Yemen has not stabilised after months of reckless bombardment on civilian targets, which has pushed this Middle East’s poorest country further down the road of political and humanitarian crises. More than half of the country’s population required humanitarian assistance before the war but now this number has increased to more than 80 percent. This deterioration is due to the bombardment of civilian targets, including mosques, schools and houses, as well as the blockade on commercial imports and hindrance in the working of international aid agencies.
The effects of this reckless intervention have lead to the empowerment of jihadist groups in Yemen, increased resentment regarding US interference in the region’s affairs, political instability and tremendous loss of life from famine and disease. A peaceful settlement of this destructive war still seems elusive and if the international community does not pay heed to the starvation and famine then a bigger disaster is inevitable in the coming months.
Mahrukh Hasan is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh.
How to Be Happy: Don't Let Others Dictate Your Life
By Asna Ali
September 10th, 2015
When I was 12, a kindly older relative asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I said I wanted to become a writer, and he visibly scoffed at the notion, telling me that writers are usually broke, with no real prospects of having a comfortable life.
I defiantly told him that J.K. Rowling had made millions from her books, and he said that she is just one person; there are countless others who don’t find success.
At the time, his words stung me badly, but they opened my eyes as well. So, while I never quit trying to become a writer and the dream to reach dizzying heights of success is still alive, it has been punctuated by the reality of day-to-day expenses.
I have another job to make money from, because that kindly gentleman was right – writing doesn’t make everyone as rich as J.K Rowling. Still, writing is my passion and something I will do my utmost to keep pursuing.
The purpose of saying all this is to answer some questions I received in response to my last piece on thriving in the workplace.
A few people asked me how to decide what to do with their lives, as they had no inkling what they wanted. They had stumbled into their lives and were now unhappy with the direction things were taking.
It seems to me, that we live in a society where the choices of most people were immensely affected by the opinions of others.
“My father wants me to appear for the CSS exams, I don’t want to but I’m doing this for him.”
“My parents said they wouldn’t pay my university expenses unless I got a degree in computer science. So that’s why I’m in this field.”
“I didn’t know what to study so I got admission in MBA as that’s what my older brother had done.”
Everyone I asked seems to have made serious life decisions this way. It takes away the burden of making a decision and gives us a permanent excuse to explain away our choices; 'My parents told me to', 'Everyone else was doing it', 'People say studying arts subjects is for dumb kids', etc.
These oft-repeated phrases are socially accepted as very reasonable explanations for why a person has done or not done something.
Adulthood – the phase of life in which a person makes his own life choices and then owns the consequences – never really arrives for us in Pakistan.
Most of us continue to live in our same old bedroom, eating food cooked by Amma, handing over our salaries to Abba and doing minor household chores assigned to us.
For women, things are slightly different as they have to move from their own bedroom to that of their husband's and exchange the authority of their parents for that of her parents-in-law. And, this is a very comfortable life for many.
You are referred to as an obedient child (even though you stopped being a child a long time ago) and you are absolved of all guilt if anything does go wrong, since everything from your career to your spouse was picked out by other people.
There is nothing wrong with living this way, if it makes you happy. But, somewhere along the line, most people wake up to the realisation that life has passed them by without them ever fully participating in it; they have lived mechanically to the tune of others and now, it’s too late to do anything about it.
Adulthood and the desire to be independent creeps up on us, but we are so paralysed by the fears instilled in us from very early childhood, that it’s hard to even think about making independent decisions and then living with the results.
Wanting to make our own choices is labelled as disobedience and the price is not only failure in this life, but also in the afterlife. That’s a big burden to carry.
Then, there is that age-old question which plagues us all “log kya kahen gay?”
So we march on, making martyrs of ourselves, unable to even contemplate having dreams. We pity ourselves for never having done what we wanted, but are also proud of having lived for other people.
But does that make anybody happy in the long run, though? If you are dissatisfied with your life, it shines through in everything you do.
You turn bitter, your work and relationships are affected and you pass on your fears to the next generation, so they are trapped in the same cycle of perpetually dependent childhood.
Speak up. It’s your life, and you do have the right to express an opinion about it. This isn’t disrespectful or wrong. But, also have the courage to then live with your choices, whether they result in success or failure.
Dream but don’t build up your aspirations so much that they become castles in the sky you can never reach.
It’s never easy or straightforward to get where we want to go, but it is worth the effort. If you wish to become independent enough to make your own choices, then you have to be independent enough to take care of yourself.
Adulthood comes both with privileges and responsibilities. But the internal satisfaction of knowing you did something of your own accord is worth the cost.
Find a passion. If you don't know yours, start looking inward. There are always some things that we enjoy doing but are too caught up in other matters to notice.
Remember, you won't be suddenly propelled into the life you want to live through some magical event, except what you can do on your own.
Take a chance on yourself.
Asna Ali is a bibliophile and freelance columnist from South Punjab.