Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan

Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Nawabzada Hajji Lashkari Raisani (center), a former senator and a candidate from NA-263 Quetta, is pictured during an election campaign in Quetta, Pakistan, on January 22, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Election posters are installed along the street in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Candidates of the Pakistan People's Party campaign for the upcoming general election in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Election posters are installed along the street in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
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Updated 13 February 2024
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Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan

Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
  • Majority of Balochistan’s 442 candidates come from well-established tribal political backgrounds
  • Analysts say free environment could end ‘political engineering’ and bring change to province

QUETTA: For many like 38-year-old Mohammad Abid Hayat from the Pakistan National Assembly’s NA-263 constituency in the southwestern Balochistan province, the 2024 general elections come with little hope of change for voters who say political parties are following a decades-old pattern of promoting dynasties over grassroots politics.

Pakistan’s political landscape has long been dominated by well-established families, including the Sharif clan of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a wealthy industrialist family from Punjab, and the Bhutto dynasty of feudal aristocrats that has ruled the southern Sindh province for decades, given the country two prime ministers and whose scion, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has now set his sights on the PM’s office.

Other than periods of military rule, the two rival families and the parties they founded swapped the reins of power frequently throughout the 1990s and formed governments until only recently, when cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan came to power through general elections in 2018 and ruled until 2022. But even 80 percent of Khan’s winning candidates in the 2018 elections in Punjab were dynasts despite the party rallying behind an anti-status quo banner, according to research by Dr. Hassan Javid, a former associate professor of sociology at LUMS who now teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada.

After Khan’s ouster from the PM’s office in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022, Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, became prime minister until late last year, when he handed over the reins of government to a caretaker administration constitutionally mandated to oversee the next general elections, scheduled for Feb. 8.

In Balochistan, too, the country’s largest but most underdeveloped province, it is families, or tribes, who have been at the helm for decades. Out of 16 National Assembly seats from Balochistan province, 442 candidates are eligible to contest the upcoming elections, with a majority coming from tribal and well-established political backgrounds.

“There are many political families and tribal leaders who have been contesting elections under family-based politics for years,” Abid, a salesman at a local medical store, told Arab News on Quetta’s Patel Road, part of the NA-263 constituency where he will cast his vote.

“Dynastic politics discourages political workers who start their career from a grassroots political level from coming out to represent their people on the mainstream political ground … dynasties in politics erode voters’ trust … ahead of the general polls, it should end now.”

Syed Ali Shah, a senior journalist and political analyst based in Quetta, the provincial capital, said that despite having strong roots in the province, candidates from known families would face “tough competition in 95 percent of provincial and national assemblies.”

Journalist Saleem Shahid, who has covered general elections in Balochistan for the last five decades, agreed that independent candidates from non-political and middle-class backgrounds would prove to be a challenge for powerful candidates in some constituencies of the provincial capital, but added that “weaknesses” in the system served as an impediment to “common candidates” getting elected, such as political parties, armed with big money and vote banks, continuing to back known faces.

“Political parties have to nominate common people as their candidates, and political procedures should be allowed to continue without interference so it will change people’s mindset to elect candidates with strong ideological backgrounds,” Shahid, who is the bureau chief for the daily Dawn newspaper in Quetta, said.

Still, a large number of independent candidates who hail from middle-class and lower-middle class families are contesting powerful political dynasties, tribal influencers and businessmen in the coming election, Shahid added.

Javed Ahmed Khan, 60, who is contesting from the provincial constituency PB-43 in Quetta district, said that he was running in general elections for the first time “to counter political dynasties and wealthy candidates who can’t even understand the basic issues of common voters.

In an interview with Arab News, he said: “Why can’t the son of a poor man become a politician or member of the parliament? They (wealthy candidates) vanish after being elected and close their doors on voters.”

“WHY DYNASTIES THRIVE”

But change will be a long and bumpy road in Balochistan, where the average resident lives on no more than $2.50 daily, while more than 90 percent of people lack access to clean drinking water and medical facilities, and rural illiteracy surpasses 90 percent. About 70 percent of the population live in remote rural areas and rely on well-connected, well-heeled dynasts and tribal leaders to provide everything from jobs to facilities like schools, water and gas.

Therefore, weakening dynastic politics will require urbanization of the province and changes in the very structure of its political economy and governance model, experts say.

The military’s outsized role in the running of the province, which has for decades been plagued by a low-level insurgency by separatist militants, and borders key rival nations like Afghanistan and Iran, also does not help, Quetta-based Shah added.

In Balochistan, there is a long and well-established history of the military pushing tribal elders and so-called “electables,” or candidates with large vote banks and political and economic clout, into preferred political parties or newly established ones ahead of each election, such as the Balochistan Awami Party, which was founded ahead of 2018 elections, thereby reinforcing the power of traditional families and well-entrenched tribal chieftains. The military denies that it interferes in political affairs.

“Since Pakistan’s creation, the country has been ruled by military dictators, hence dynastic politics have thrived,” Shah added.

Canada-based Javid agreed that Balochistan’s major problem is that the powerful establishment had backed so-called electables for the last three decades.

“The establishment’s political interference should end to stem dynastic politics from Pakistani society,” the professor told Arab News. “Not only in Balochistan’s tribal society, the political dynasties ruling over the people in Sindh and Punjab provinces as well are based on community and ethnic-based politics.”

Take the Raisani tribe, whose former senator Nawabzada Hajji Lashkari Raisani is an independent candidate from NA-263 Quetta city. Raisani’s elder brother, Nawab Aslam Raisani, is contesting 2024 polls for a provincial seat, PB-35 Mastung, from the platform of Pakistan’s key religious party, the Jamiyet Ulma-e-Islam. His nephew, Nawabzada Jamal Khan Raisani, is a national assembly candidate in NA-264 for the Pakistan People’s Party.

Speaking to Arab News, Lashkari Raisani said that political dynasties existed all over the world, from the Gandhi family in India to the Kennedy or Bush families in the US.

“In the US, the Kennedy and Bush families have been doing dynastic politics,” he said. “It is not an issue because in parliamentary politics, vote has a significant importance (no matter what family you are from).”

Another candidate, PPP’s former senator Rozi Khan Kakar, who is a national assembly candidate from NA-263, and whose younger brother Noor ud Din Kakaris is standing for the provincial seat PB-41, defended his brother’s nomination, saying that the ticket was given on merit.

“My younger brother is an active party worker who served as the party’s district president for five years and established 200 new units in Quetta,” Kakar said. “Hence, he was nominated as the party’s election candidate on PB-41 by the central leadership based on performance, not on my personal will.”

Many voters believe that the power to break the status quo lies in their hands, urging ordinary people in Balochistan to throw their weight behind pro-poor parties and make efforts to organize around a progressive economic agenda.

“In 2024 polls, I request the voters to support election candidates belonging to middle-class families,” said Alam Khan Kakar, a voter from Quetta’s PB-41 constituency, “in order to get rid of political families ruling for three generations for their personal gains rather than delivering for the public.”

“MATURITY WILL TAKE TIME”

Analysts say that “free and fair” elections in the province are the only solution to bring new faces into politics.

Though Balochistan is famous for “political engineering” ahead of general polls, Javid said that “a change in political leadership from middle-class backgrounds” is possible in the next one or two elections, depending on whether a free political environment is allowed for candidates and voters.

For 2024, the sociologist does not see much hope for new faces “because the political dynasties will change their party affiliations but the faces will remain the same.”

The cost of holding elections also keeps out new entrants in the impoverished region.

Shah, the analyst, said: “Today, the expenditures for contesting elections have reached millions of rupees, thus it is a daydream for a middle-class man in Balochistan.

“We are in a transition period but maturity will take time.”


Germany holds 2 over military base attack plot for Russia

Germany holds 2 over military base attack plot for Russia
Updated 18 April 2024
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Germany holds 2 over military base attack plot for Russia

Germany holds 2 over military base attack plot for Russia
  • NATO working on more air defenses for Ukraine, Stoltenberg says

BERLIN: Two German Russian nationals have been arrested in Germany on suspicion of plotting sabotage attacks, including on US military facilities, in what officials called a serious effort to undermine military support for Ukraine.

Authorities have searched the homes and workplaces of the two suspects who stand accused of working for a foreign secret service. One of them, identified as Dieter S., had since October 2023 discussed possible plots with a person linked to the Russian secret service, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Germany has become one of Kyiv’s biggest suppliers of military aid since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and is a major target for Russian spying operations, authorities have said.

“The suspicion that Putin is recruiting agents from us to carry out attacks on German soil is extremely serious. We will not allow Putin to bring his terror to Germany,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said.

Germany summoned the Russian ambassador over the arrests. Earlier, the Kremlin said it had no information about the issue.

Dieter S. had been prepared to carry out bomb and arson attacks on military facilities, including those operated by US forces, prosecutors said, adding that he took photos and videos of military transport and equipment.

A second person, Alexander J., began helping him from March at the latest, prosecutors said.

According to Spiegel magazine, the facilities included the Grafenwoehr army base in the southern state of Bavaria where Ukrainian soldiers receive training to use US Abrams tanks.

US, allied and partner training missions at Grafenwoehr, including the training of Ukrainians, continue, a US military spokesperson said, but referred inquiries about the arrests to the German authorities.

The prosecutors suspect Dieter S., whose last name has not been disclosed due to German privacy laws, was a fighter for Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine from December 2014 to September 2016 in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

He was in possession of a firearm, prosecutors said.

In a separate case, prosecutors last month charged an officer in Germany’s military procurement agency with attempting to pass secret information to Russian intelligence. News of Thursday’s arrests coincided with a surprise trip by German Economy Minister Robert Habeck to Ukraine.

Germany also issued an urgent appeal this week for countries to help shore up Ukraine’s air defenses as Russian forces continue to pound Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.

“We will continue to provide massive support to Ukraine and will not allow ourselves to be intimidated,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said.

Meanwhile, NATO is working to send more air defense systems to Ukraine, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, adding that delays in providing such aid were harming Kyiv’s efforts to resist Russia’s attacks.

“We have compiled data about the different air defense systems we have in NATO and focused on the Patriot systems. And we are working with allies to ensure that they redeploy some of their systems to Ukraine,” he said in Italy.


Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report
Updated 18 April 2024
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Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report

Cameron tells Netanyahu UK will not ban IRGC: Report
  • Stance relayed during face-to-face talks between British FM, Israeli PM Wednesday
  • ‘We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation’

LONDON: The UK will not proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, the Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday.

The stance was reportedly relayed by UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron during a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday.

The Israeli government reportedly requested that the UK ban the IRGC following Iran’s drone and missile attack last week.

But Cameron, in what a source called a “blunt” response, told Netanyahu and Katz that doing so would hinder London’s ability to communicate with Tehran.

“We need to be able to pick up the phone. If we proscribed them it would not help the situation,” the source reported Cameron as saying.

If the IRGC were to be proscribed in the UK, it would make membership of it, attending its meetings, displaying its symbols or campaigning for it in the country illegal.

The move has been considered by the UK government for over a year, but Home Office officials have long warned that doing so would sever one of the few remaining diplomatic channels with Tehran. Instead, the IRGC has been sanctioned by the UK government on several occasions.

The US, which has banned the IRGC, has also suggested that the UK should proscribe it. The group’s navy was recently included in a new set of joint sanctions issued by London and Washington.


US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership
Updated 18 April 2024
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US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership

US to oppose Palestinian bid for full UN membership
  • 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution
  • Palestinians currently non-member observer state, de facto recognition of statehood

NEW YORK: The US will on Thursday vote against a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership, a US official told Reuters, blocking the world body from effectively recognizing a Palestinian state.
“It remains the US view that the most expeditious path toward statehood for the Palestinian people is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with the support of the United States and other partners,” the US official said.
The 15-member council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution that recommends to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.”
A council resolution needs at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass. Diplomats say the measure could have the support of up to 13 council members, which would force the US to use its veto.
“We have long been clear that premature actions in New York, even with the best intentions, will not achieve statehood for the Palestinian people,” the US official said.
The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a de facto recognition of statehood that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.
The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council.
“Failure to make progress toward a two-State solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

DIRECT TALKS
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.
“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council.
He said granting full UN membership to the Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”
The UN Security Council has long endorsed a vision of two states living side by side within secure and recognized borders. Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, all territory captured by Israel in 1967.
The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.
Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, asked the United States: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?“
“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution ... are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.
Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”


After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’
Updated 18 April 2024
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After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’

After COVID, WHO defines disease spread ‘through air’
  • Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required stringent containment
  • Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size

LONDON: The World Health Organization and around 500 experts have agreed for the first time what it means for a disease to spread through the air, in a bid to avoid the confusion early in the COVID-19 pandemic that some scientists have said cost lives.
The Geneva-based UN health agency released a technical document on the topic on Thursday. It said it was the first step toward working out how to better prevent this kind of transmission, both for existing diseases like measles and for future pandemic threats.
The document concludes that the descriptor “through the air” can be used for infectious diseases where the main type of transmission involves the pathogen traveling through the air or being suspended in the air, in line with other terms such as “waterborne” diseases, which are understood across disciplines and by the public.
Almost 500 experts contributed to the definition, including physicists, public health professionals and engineers, many of whom disagreed bitterly over the topic in the past.
Agencies have historically required high levels of proof before calling diseases airborne, which required very stringent containment measures; the new definition says the risk of exposure and severity of disease should also be considered.
Past disagreements also centered around whether infectious particles were “droplets” or “aerosols” based on size, which the new definition moves away from.
During the early days of COVID in 2020, around 200 aerosol scientists publicly complained that the WHO had failed to warn people of the risk that the virus could spread through the air. This led to an overemphasis on measures like handwashing to stop the virus, rather than focusing on ventilation, they said.
On Wednesday, Democrats in the Arizona state House failed to repeal a controversial ban on abortion that dates back to 1864 after they couldn’t muster Republican support.
By July 2020, the agency said there was “evidence emerging” of airborne spread, but its then chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan – who began the process to get a definition – later said, opens new tab the WHO should have been more forceful “much earlier.”
Her successor, Jeremy Farrar, said in an interview that the new definition was about more than COVID, but he added that at the beginning of the pandemic there was a lack of evidence available and experts including the WHO acted in “good faith.” At that time, he was head of the Wellcome Trust charity and advised the British government on the pandemic.
Farrar said getting the definition agreed among experts from all disciplines would allow discussions to begin about issues such as ventilation in many different settings, from hospitals to schools.
He compared it to the realization that blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis B could be spread by medics not wearing gloves during procedures.
“When I started out, medical students, nurses, doctors, none of us wore gloves to take blood,” he told Reuters. “Now it is unthinkable that you wouldn’t wear gloves. But that came because everyone agreed on what the issue was, they agreed on the terminology… [The change in practice] came later.”


Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza
Updated 18 April 2024
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Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza

Reuters photographer wins World Press Photo of the Year with poignant shot from Gaza
  • Mohammed Salem won for heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece
  • Inas Abu Maamar holds five-year-old Saly, killed along with her mother and sister when Israeli missile struck their home

PARIS: Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem captured this year’s prestigious World Press Photo of the Year award Thursday with a depiction of loss and sorrow in Gaza, a heartrending photo of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her young niece. The photograph, taken in Khan Younis just days after Salem’s own child was born, shows 36-year-old Inas Abu Maamar holding five-year-old Saly, who was killed along with her mother and sister when an Israeli missile struck their home.
Salem, who is Palestinian, described this photo filed Nov. 2 last year, as a “powerful and sad moment that sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip.”
The image ”truly encapsulates this sense of impact,” said global jury chair Fiona Shields, The Guardian newspaper’s head of photography. “It is incredibly moving to view and at the same time an argument for peace, which is extremely powerful when peace can sometimes feel like an unlikely fantasy,” she added.
The World Press Photo jury praised the shot’s sense of care and respect and its offering of a “metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss.”

This image provided by World Press Photo and taken by Julia Kochetova is part of a series titles War is Personal which won the World Press Photo Open Format Award. Amidst tens of thousands of civilian and military causalities and an effective stalemate that has lasted for months, there are no signs of peace on the horizon for Russia’s war in Ukraine. (World Press Photo via AP)

This is not the first time Salem has been recognized for his work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he received a World Press Photo award more than a decade ago for another depiction of the human toll of conflict in the Gaza strip.
In the three other global categories announced Thursday, South Africa’s Lee-Ann Olwage won Photo Story of the Year for her touching series “Valim-babena,” featured in GEO magazine. The project focused on the stigmatization of dementia in Madagascar, a topic she explored through intimate portraits of “Dada Paul” and his family. Lack of public awareness surrounding dementia means that people displaying symptoms of memory loss are often stigmatized.
In the series, “Dada Paul,” who has lived with dementia for 11 years, is tenderly cared for by his daughter Fara. One of the standout images in the series shows him preparing for church with his granddaughter Odliatemix, capturing moments of normalcy and warmth amidst the challenges of dementia.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of a multimedia project by AP’s Renata Brito and Felipe Dana title Adrift, won the World Press Photo Africa Regional Winner Open Format category and shows a mortuary technician opening the door of a refrigerator used to store the remains of migrants recovered from inside the Mauritania boat that appeared drifting near the island of Tobago in Scarborough on January 25, 2022. (AP)

Photographer Alejandro Cegarra, a Venezuelan native who migrated to Mexico in 2017, won the Long-Term Project award for “The Two Walls,” published by The New York Times and Bloomberg. Cegarra’s project, initiated in 2018, examines a shift in Mexico’s immigration policies, which have moved from being historically open to enforcing strict regulations at its southern border. The jury said the photographer’s perspective as a migrant gave it a “sensitive,” human-centered perspective, according to a press release.
Julia Kochetova of Ukraine won the Open Format award for “War Is Personal.” The project stood out from coverage of the ongoing conflict by offering a personal look at the harsh realities of war. On a dedicated website, she merged traditional photojournalism with a diary-like documentary style, incorporating photography, poetry, audio clips and music.
The Associated Press won the Open Format award in the regional Africa category with the multimedia story “Adrift,” created by journalists Renata Brito and Felipe Dana. The story investigates the fate of West African migrants who attempted to reach Europe via a treacherous Atlantic route but ended up on a ghost ship discovered off Tobago. The team’s compelling use of photography, cinematography and detailed narrative, enhanced by expert design and multimedia elements, highlights the perils faced by migrants and the human stories behind global migration issues.

This image provided by World Press Photo is a part of series titles Afghanistan on the Edge by Ebrahim Noroozi, Associated Press, which won the World Press Photo Asia Series category and shows three Afghan internally displaced children look with surprise at an apple that their mother brought home after begging in a camp on the outskirts of Kabul on February 2, 2023. (AP)

The Associated Press’ Ebrahim Noroozi won the Asia Stories award for his series “Afghanistan on the Edge,” which documents the country since the Taliban took over in August 2021.
World Press Photo is an independent, nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, founded in 1955.