Asia News Columns World News

PoK on warpath over neglect

Youths are blocking roads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir over Islamabad’s policies to sideline them.   PoK’s four million residents have never been allowed to speak a word and address their political and socio-economic grievances. Its high unemployment rate, poor infrastructure, and lack of resources force its citizens to migrate to large cities of Pakistan where they are only allowed menial jobs as labourers, cleaners at hotels, drivers, etc. Through the nation, they are treated as outsiders, second-class citizens, or maybe not humans at all looking at the present scenario. … a special report by Dr Sakariya Kareem

The story of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) is a tragic tale of conscious neglect, political suppression, denial of freedom of speech and liberty, calculated demographic changes, violence, illegal detentions, electoral rigging, and all that falls under the category of colonialism. Pakistan is unable even to provide the bare minimum necessary to keep people alive in its colonized state. Does one wonder if Pakistan’s aim to capture ‘Azad’ Kashmir 75 years ago was indeed for their genuine concern for Kashmiris or was it a means to an end?

PoK’s four million residents have never been allowed to speak a word and address their political and socio-economic grievances. Its high unemployment rate, poor infrastructure, and lack of resources force its citizens to migrate to large cities of Pakistan where they are only allowed menial jobs as labourers, cleaners at hotels, drivers, etc. Through the nation, they are treated as outsiders, second-class citizens, or maybe not humans at all looking at the present scenario.

PakistanPrime Minister & Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) President Shahbaz Sharif

At the beginning of this fiscal year, India’s Finance Minister presented a US$13.33 billion budget for the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. New Delhi allocates nearly five times more funds to J&K than Islamabad allocates for PoK.

At the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, UKPNP (United Kashmir People’s National Party) chairman and human rights activist Sardar Shaukat Ali Kashmiri held a demonstration at the ‘Broken Chair’ monument to condemn Pakistan’s forcible occupation of Kashmir and serious human rights violations in PoK. He said: “Pakistan has no locus-standi on its occupied Kashmir. It has illegally occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Back home, Pakistan is fighting tooth and nail to put an end to rallies in Muzaffarabad (PoK) through threats and torture, nothing out of the ordinary. It has given a free hand to Pakistan Army in the region to mellow down the angry mobs through ‘whatever ways necessary’.

Since July 1, women and children have been sitting on roads for days in PoK, shouting slogans of freedom and demanding Army to return to Barracks. Many people have been arrested; and what are their crimes? Wanting basic facilities such as water, social opportunities, education institutions, and healthcare. Underdevelopment and disenfranchisement have taken people to the streets!

The Planning and Development Department of PoK reports that 50 per cent of the total population of the region has no access to piped water; 78 per cent of the total households have no tap water connections. And on the other hand, the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam is a ticking bomb for PoK, which can swipe all lives in the area. The electricity produced in PoK relieves the heat in Punjab, while people of the region face load shedding of 18 to 20 hours. The water of rivers is diverted for hydropower projects built by Chinese companies.

For three years in a row, there is a severe shortage of food grains leading to starvation. Ex-servicemen have not seen a single paisa in the name of pension, and government employees have not received salaries in a year.

Since July 2 the locals of Gilgit-Baltistan have staged a sit-in blocking the Karakoram Highway in Nasirabad, Hunza, to protest against the minerals department for permitting mining leases to an outsider company. There are rumours that Pakistan may cede Gilgit-Baltistan to China on lease to pay off its growing debt. They will do anything to appease China – their puppet masters. Chairman of Karakoram National Movement, Mumtaz Nagri, expressed her fear but told people to stand their ground and “not to be scared of Pakistan’s spy agency and be prepared to go to jail”. The people at large recently expressed a desire to merge with India.

All those who oppose the government in PoK are labelled as traitors or agents, and then put through a series of torture, humiliation, or even worse – jail. Since its inception, Islamabad has exploited the land, resources, and people of PoK indiscriminately. Pakistan’s ISI works with fundamentalist mullahs in designing and implementing the extremist version of Islam, forming a public opinion to incite Jihad in J&K UT.

There is a palpable fear of the Pakistani military, the ISI, and terror outfits acting independently or as government representatives. Terrorist training camps in PoK have the latest modern weapons and communication gadgets, awarded to them by the Pakistani Army.

The PoK Interim Constitution (13th Amendment) Act, 2018 states, “No person or political party in ‘Azad’ Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the state’s accession to Pakistan.”

Now what more evidence do the International Peace bodies need to deduce Pakistan’s ambitions with its colony?

For the Punjabi Taliban network, an extension of Punjabi-origin Taliban, PoK is the epicentre of their cross-border terrorist activities and drug racket. The annual drug trade in Afghanistan (more than US$33 billion) is used to fund the Taliban.

In the past few years when a proxy war was orchestrated in the name of Kashmir Jihad, heroin ran through the veins of the public like a river. The educated PoK youth that once stood up against the Pakistani government are now heroin victims. There is a conspiracy to paralyze the youth and slowly eliminate the resistance.

One must be so shameless to talk about ‘Kashmir Solidarity with Indian UT of J&K when people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan live lesser than animals.

-Top News Columns UK News

Game Over For Rishi At Westminster

Breaking the Brexit deadlock and stewardship of the nation’s economy and finances? Britain is on the brink of breaking a deal with the EU over Northern Ireland. Britain is at the bottom of the list of G7 economies. Officials are scrambling to recover the billions Britain allocated to bogus companies during the pandemic. What will be your legacy, Mr Sunak? …writes Anasudhin Azeez

Till yesterday, I don’t know Rishi Sunak, the ex-chancellor of the exchequer is a Bollywood fan! The resignation letter is the finest proof. It contains all the elements of a Bollywood film. Like the character Veeru (played by Dharmendra) from the blockbuster movie Sholay announcing his love for Basanti by perching on the water tank, Rishi announces his resignation from No. 11 Downing Street.

“This may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning,” said Sunak in his resignation letter.

The standards he is talking about is taming inflation and controlling the spiralling cost of living. Inflation is nearing 10 per cent since the Ukraine war and there is still no concrete action on supporting the so-called “working families of Britain.”

Complaining about the lack of support from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Sunak said, “I have been loyal to you, I backed you to become the leader of our party and encouraged others to do. I have served as your Chancellor with gratitude that you entrusted me with stewardship of the nation’s economy and finances. Above all, I have respected the powerful mandate given to you by the British people in 2019 and how under your leadership we broke the Brexit deadlock.”

Breaking the Brexit deadlock and stewardship of the nation’s economy and finances? Britain is on the brink of breaking a deal with the EU over Northern Ireland. Britain is at the bottom of the list of G7 economies. Officials are scrambling to recover the billions Britain allocated to bogus companies during the pandemic. What will be your legacy, Mr Sunak?

Sunak is breaking the cardinal rule of diplomacy. Don’t disclose too much! You are getting exposed. Politics is not for serving a person with gratitude. It is serving the nation and its people – especially the hardworking families (the most popular catchphrase of British politicians). It is not for taking or gaining but for giving and serving. There is no slot for ‘Me’ in this game. Only We – The People, the electorate. But the Eton Tories and their cohorts at Westminster turned that into a circus. Booze, babes and bribes. One rule for the ruling class and one rule for the “hard-working” class.

The Eton class and the people who made millions from the city failed to feel the pulse of the public which is struggling to survive. Rishi will be remembered for his photo at a Sainsbury gas station filling a borrowed Kia. That was the peak of his popularity and aiming to win the heart of Britain with 5p tax rebate on fuels. A multi-millionaire on Kia Rio. Hypocrisy has its limits!

What went wrong with this smart, young, bright politician from the Asian community? Instead of Veeru, he is more of Icarus. The Greek mythological figure lost his life by flying too close to the sun with two sets of wings made of feathers glued together by wax made by his father Daedalus.

Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, as the wax would melt. However, the advice went unheeded. Icarus was so intoxicated by the experience of flight that he went higher. As the wax in his wings melted, he tumbled into the sea and drowned.

The saying “don’t fly too close to the sun” is a reference to Icarus’ recklessness and defiance of limitations.

Poor Mr Sunak. He ignored the advices of his mentor Lord William Hague who left his Yorkshire seat of Richmond in 2015 to give a chance to this bright young man from the city. When his mentor took a stand against Brexit by saying it is “tantalising, interminable and dangerous”, Rishi embraced Brexit and defend the Boris Brexit policies built on populist slogans. He was on a HoHo tour in city studios to justify the Boris policies. As an insider, he knew he is working against a big financial hub like London where he thrived and accrued his millions.

He was properly rewarded with the plum post of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He was moved into the chancellor’s seat in 2020 February, when Dominic Cummings was looking for a “loyal” person to replace the bickering Sajid Javid.

The elevation put Sunak, the son-in-law of a tech billionaire from India — Infosys Narayana Murthy — to another pedal. The furlough schemes he introduced to save millions of jobs fuelled his popularity and he was very close to grabbing the plum seat at No. 10 as Johnson’s popularity dwindled over Partygate and work culture.

Rishi was the most popular to replace the prime minister. But the exposure of his wife’s tax status put the young chancellor in a precarious situation. Other exposures like his flat in Florida, PPE Scams in which the Tory class looted the treasury of billions, evaporate his popularity. ‘Dishy Rishi’ — a moniker he earned for a generous scheme to bring the eaters to back at restaurants, become ‘Toxic Rishi’. His family moved out of No.11 to a converted mews house in London.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. (Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street)

That was Rishi’s Icarus moment at Westminster. He sweats at TV studios defending his family. His wife was forced to amend her tax status which cost millions.

Technically Rishi is paying the price for his ambition to become a politician. Voters are closely monitoring the Westminster drama. Rishi is leaving along with the person whom he replaced. Sajid’s second coming as health secretary was short-term. Politics is not a place to fix somebody’s personal agenda, but to put the national interest first and support people in distress.

The Eton class and the people who made millions from the city failed to feel the pulse of the public which is struggling to survive. Rishi will be remembered for his photo at a Sainsbury gas station filling a borrowed Kia. That was the peak of his popularity and aiming to win the heart of Britain with 5p tax rebate on fuels. A multi-millionaire on Kia Rio. Hypocrisy has its limits!

Asia News Columns World News

SPECIAL: Paucity of goods & services dog Pakistan

Pakistan is witnessing an unprecedented economic crisis fuelled by the shortage of different commodities and essential services. It has not only affected its food supplies but has had a negative impact on other important sectors such as medicine, power supplies and even education… A special report by Dr Sakariya Kareem

Pakistan is witnessing an unprecedented economic crisis fuelled by the shortage of different commodities and essential services. It has not only affected its food supplies but has had a negative impact on other important sectors such as medicine, power supplies and even education. The power crisis in Pakistan has reached the next level as commercial markets and government officers are forced to shut down much before their scheduled time.

Expressing the inability to find a solution to the power crisis, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said: “We are facing a severe crisis… We desperately need to take energy conservation measures. We need to tap on every option to save on energy.”

So offices are made to work just five days a week from earlier six-days a week while official fuel allowance has been reduced by 40 per cent.

Power generation projects under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have failed to ensure optimum energy supply in Pakistan. Now inadequate LNG supply due to increasing global prices has added to Pakistan’s power generation woes.  The deteriorating financial situation is making it difficult for the Islamabad government to arrange the resources and materials required for enough power generation.

The shortfall of around 7,000 megawatts, which accounts for one-fifth of Pakistan’s power generation capacity, is affecting the industry, especially, textile production which has a lion’s share in the country’s exports.  “The textile industry is in a state of emergency,” Qasim Malik, the vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, said in Sialkot.

Besides daily power cuts of up to eight hours, there have been curbs on social programmes and commercial activities. There cannot be a wedding after 10 pm and markets have to shut by 8.30 pm. This has added to the problems of common households in Pakistan, who are already facing the problem of food shortage.

 Food prices have gone up while people’s income has reduced, thus aggravating the problem of food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme, about 43 per cent of the Pakistani population is facing a food shortage. Think tank- International Forum For Rights and Security (IFFRAS) blamed the Islamabad government for inconsiderate planning and mismanagement of agricultural sources for the problem.  “We are an agricultural country, but we are also a food scarce country. We import wheat, lentils and edible oil. We can’t even grow enough to feed our country. When your industry and agriculture is ruined, you have zero growth and zero jobs,” said Dr Kaisar Bengali, a leading economist in Pakistan.

People of Pakistan have been struggling to get life-saving drugs including paracetamol, Panadol and Azomax for months. This has aggravated the risk for people infected by Coronavirus. Drug manufacturers blamed the Islamabad government for imposing a 17 per cent tax on imports of raw materials required to manufacture these drugs.

According to Pakistan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, the country is facing a shortage of 40 types of medicines, and 100 more medicines are likely to be added to the list, thanks to rising prices of raw materials. 

“Our cost of raw material and shipping has increased five to six times in the last six months. If the sales tax is not withdrawn, it will lead to a further shortage of medicines and an increase in their prices,” said Qazi Mansoor Dilawar, chairman of the association.

Even as a new academic session is about to start, many students are not likely to get textbooks thanks to the paper crisis in the country. Publishers and Booksellers Association of Pakistan said the 200 per cent hike in the price is responsible for the ongoing paper crisis.

“If the prices of paper are not stabilized, booksellers will not be able to provide textbooks to millions of students this year,” said Aziz Khalid, chairman of the association.

Pakistan government has failed to keep the rising prices of paper under control as well as to reduce heavy taxes on paper imports. “Due to this, textbook boards of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not be able to print textbooks,” said Dr Bengali.

The falling Pakistani rupee against the US dollar has disrupted businesses especially those rely on imported inputs. This has put an additional burden on the Islamabad government which is struggling to address the problems arising due to the shortages.

-Top News Arab News Columns

Biden’s Mideast regional tour: It’s all about the agenda

US President Joe Biden’s regional tour will culminate in an extraordinary summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, and attended by the leaders of the GCC states as well as the heads of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq … writes Osama Al Sharif

President Joe Biden will make his first Middle Eastern tour mid-July but everyone is speculating about his agenda. A flurry of diplomatic activity is taking place well before his visit with regional leaders exchanging views to come up with a unified response to a number of issues that are likely to feature during Biden’s regional tour which will culminate in an extraordinary summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah, and attended by the leaders of the GCC states as well as the heads of Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

US President Joe Biden (Photo: Twitter@POTUS)

Biden will begin his tour with a visit to Israel before meeting President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank. He will then travel to Saudi Arabia—and may make a short stopover in Amman—for an historic visit aimed at resetting ties between Riyadh and Washington. It is no secret that relations between the two countries had gone through a tense phase following Biden’s presidential victory. Biden had talked about Saudi Arabia being an international pariah during his election campaign and was seen by both the Saudis and Emiratis as doing little, while in the White House, to condemn and respond to attacks by the pro-Iran Houthis in war torn Yemen.

So much so that both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had ignored calls by Biden and top US officials following Houthi drone and missile attacks against sensitive targets in the two countries. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February had changed the global geopolitical realities. Suddenly Biden needed the two oil-rich Middle Eastern countries to help calm the bullish energy markets, which were wreaking havoc on the economies of the US and Europe.

Biden has said that energy was not the only issue he will be discussing with regional leaders during his visit. Israel wants Iran’s nuclear file to top the talks in light of the stalemate hampering a conclusion to more than one year of tough negotiations in Vienna. Israel has been threatening to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites.

Giving boost to such a scenario is the US Congress adoption of a bill calling on the Pentagon to integrate the air defenses of Israel and a number of Arab countries that are close allies to the United States within a specific period of time. A week ago Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that Israel has joined with several other countries in the Middle East to form a new US-led joint air defense network, known as the Middle East Air Defense Alliance (MEAD). No other Arab country has confirmed this.

Israel has already deployed its air defense system in two Gulf states aimed at thwarting any missile threat from Iran. Gantz has said that the program is already operative and has enabled the successful interception of Iranian attempts to attack Israel and other countries.

Saudi Crown Prince pays a visit to Turkey to renew ties

Unconfirmed Israeli reports said that the US has been planning to facilitate Riyadh’s inclusion into the Abraham Accords during Biden’s visit. Again there was no confirmation of this by Saudi Arabia.

During the regional tour last week by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, a joint Jordanian-Saudi communiqué reiterated both countries’ support of the two-state solution in accordance with UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative (API). The API, presented by the Saudis in 2002, calls for recognizing Israel only if it withdraws from occupied Palestinian territories and accepts the creation of a Palestinian state. Despite Israeli media speculation, the Saudis have been consistent in their unwavering position on the Palestinian issue.

It is unlikely that the Jeddah summit will lead to a Saudi normalization with Israel. At least three of the GCC countries refuse to normalize ties with Israel until a just solution to the Palestinian issue is concluded.

That leaves the issue of formalizing what has been dubbed as a US-led Middle Eastern NATO with Israel being part of it. That too is problematic even for countries that have recently normalized ties with Israel. In a recent interview with CNBC, Jordan’s King Abdullah said he would “be one of the first people that would endorse a Middle East NATO” but added that the vision of such a military alliance must be very clear, and its role should be well defined. “The mission statement has to be very, very clear. Otherwise, it confuses everybody,” he said.

For Jordan an openly anti-Iran military alliance, with Israel being part of it would create a backlash at home. Same could be said of the UAE, which has close economic ties with Iran. As much as Iran’s regional behavior is condemned, no Arab country would explicitly join a military coalition that could wage war on the Islamic Republic, which could have terrible outcomes for Gulf countries and beyond.

Israel would like to impose a certain agenda on Biden’s Middle Eastern tour. That possible agenda would annoy Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar for various reasons. The fact is that there are different calculations for each country. The best Biden could do now is to reset US-Saudi ties after a rollercoaster year. There is nothing he can do to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks and it is unlikely that he can recruit many countries to join openly an anti-Iran military front. So far his agenda will be limited to achieving what a majority of Americans want and that is to secure a proactive Saudi role in controlling the erratic oil markets in a bid to alleviate the economic damage back home ahead of crucial midterm elections in November.

(Osama Al Sharif is a veteran journalist and a political commentator based in Amman)

Asia News Columns India News

Tale of two Kashmirs

When India is implementing several new projects to take Jammu and Kashmir to meet the demands of the post-Covid economy, the occupied part of Kashmir on the other side suffers with new influx of Chinese workers and corrupt politicians. The PoK is vastly an underdeveloped territory due to Islamabad treating it as a centre of terrorism, while New Delhi’s policy of development, peace and prosperity has turned Jammu and Kashmir into one of the most developed regions in the world …. Writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

There can be no comparison between Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Jammu and Kashmir. The PoK is vastly an underdeveloped territory due to Islamabad treating it as a centre of terrorism, while New Delhi’s policy of development, peace and prosperity has turned Jammu and Kashmir into one of the most developed regions in the world.
There is no comparison between PoK’s capital city Muzzafarabad with Srinagar or Jammu, twin capitals of J&K. It’s like comparing metropolitan cities of Mumbai and Kolkatta to a provincial town in India.
As per the Aadhar statistics the J&K population in 2021/2022 stood at 13,635,010 (13.64 Millions), while PoK’s population is approximately 52 lakhs.

The J&K has an area of 42241 square kilometers, while PoK is spread over 13, 297 square kilometers.  J&K has 22 districts, while PoK has only 10. J&K has four airports, PoK has only 2. There are 35 universities in J & K and in PoK there are only 6.  There exist about 2812 hospitals in J&K to provide free health care to people compared to 23 hospitals in PoK.
In J&K people can choose any medium for education i.e. Hindi, Dogri, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Urdu and English while in PoK only Urdu is in vogue one of the major reasons for people remaining uneducated and unskilled.
Average literacy rate in Jammu and Kashmir for urban regions is 77.12 percent in which males are 83.92% literate while female literacy stands at 56.65%.  While in PoK literacy rate is around 70%. Most literates in PoK can only write and read Urdu, foreign languages are alien to them.
The condition of roads in PoK is pathetic. Everyday people plunge to their deaths in ravines in road accidents due to lack of safety walls. Many patients die each month due to lack of basic medical facilities and anti-venom vaccines.
In February this year Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented a Rs 1.12 lakh crore (13.33 billion US dollars apex) Budget for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir for the year 2022-23. The Budget aims at building the economy and creating jobs in the Himalayan region.
The J&K Budget focuses on education, home, public health engineering, with power development getting highest allocations for the financial year 2022-23.
The J&K’s economy is expected to grow by 7.5 per cent on current prices during 2021-22.
In J&K four National Highway projects are expected to be completed in 2022.  Ten new road/tunnel projects have been agreed by MORTH under Bharatmala. The world’s highest 1315-meter long railway bridge over River Chenab is targeted for completion by September 2022.
Projects under the Prime Minister’s Development Package have seen expenditure of Rs 36,112 crore.
A total of 25 projects have been completed/substantially and another four projects are likely to be completed by the end of the current financial year.
For Industries and Commerce, capital expenditure in J&K is estimated to be Rs 555.80 crore. For the rural sector, an allocation of about Rs 4,627.85 crore has been made under Capital Expenditure for the year 2022-23. The  capital expenditure for the power sector is estimated to be Rs 2,457.58 crore, while that for the school and higher education sector is estimated to be Rs 1,806.66 crore.
On the other hand the annual budget of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) in 2021-22 was 141 billion Pakistan rupees which is just over 78.55 million US dollars.
Recently PoK’s Finance  Minister Abdul Majid Khan stated that the federal government slashed PoK’s development budget by Rs 5.2 billion, which Khan said, could lead to severe financial system disbalance.
Another PoK minister, Khawaja Farooq Ahmed accused the federal government of harbouring “deep animosity” towards the people of PoK and Gilgit Baltistan by imposing budget cuts in the territory.
The federal government in Pakistan was supposed to provide Rs 49.9 billion to PoK as its 3.64 per cent share in the federal taxes pool (variable grant) but that too has been slashed by Rs 4.4 billion.
The 3.64 per cent share from the federal taxes pool which was agreed under a financial arrangement between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad in 2018 is equalled to Rs 74.32 billion in Financial Year 2022-23, but the federal government had recently informed that it would provide only Rs 60 billion. This has created a shortfall of Rs 14 billion in PoK’s income which cannot be bridged from any other source.
The PoK ministers are of the opinion that the federal government’s decision to slash the budget allocations could affect PoK’s financial system beyond control and make the region poorer.  

Suffer silently
Denizens of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) are suffering silently as they are not allowed to raise their voice. The media is controlled by the government to ensure that human rights violations by the armed forces and the terrorists aren’t reported.
China has made inroads into PoK and is using the land to fulfill its ambitions. The federal government in Pakistan has gone out of way to appease China and is allowing its golden plan of forming a sea route through PoK. Thousands of Chinese engineers and workers are deployed in PoK.

The works being carried out by them have ruined the natural resources and beauty of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The irony is that natives of PoK have to go and work as waiters, drivers and labourers in other cities of Pakistan, while the people of Chinese origin are earning their livelihood in PoK.

The debt ridden Pakistan Government cannot dare to ask China to employ the locals in its projects. The unemployment graph in PoK is on rise as the jobs which the locals could have got are being snatched by the outsiders.

Path of progress

Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 is fast turning into a hub of business and tourism activities. It has become the most preferred tourist destination as lakhs of tourists have thronged J&K during the past two years.
The Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is on its way to become an express highway. The train to Kashmir is not that far-away and by 2024, the Valley will be connected with the rest of the country through a railway network.

People of J&K, especially Kashmir are no longer living in illusions created by the Pakistan stooges. After August 5, 2019—when the Centre announced its decision to abrogate so-called J&K’s special status and divided it into two Union Territories—Kashmir hasn’t witnessed any street protests and shutdowns.
The government during the past 2-years has advertised more than 20,000 vacancies.

The Union territory has received new investment proposals worth thousands of crores. Youth are being provided all possible help, including financial support, to set up business ventures and become successful entrepreneurs. The youth in J&K are shining in every field from sports to education. For people of J&K sky is the limit while for the citizens of PoK even managing two square meals in a day is becoming a difficult task.    

Columns Health Woman


Something has to change…Suicide rate of Asian women three times the national average- why? Explores Faiza Ahmed

Asian women in Britain have the highest rate of suicide, three times the National average and on a par with soldiers returning home from war. (Journeyman Pictures – Why are UK authorities ignoring honour killings? – YouTube )

What makes the lives of Asian women so unbearable that they feel the only way to escape the horror of their everyday existence is to take their own lives?

We all know that there are issues within parts of the Asian community with forced marriages and honour killings when young people struggle to cope with being raised between two vastly different cultures.

The cases of Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmood are well known and were well-publicised  after they died. No one helped them when they were alive when it could have made a difference to these young women and saved their lives.

According to Journeyman Pictures, one of the main causes of suicide is because of young Asian women seeking to escape marital rape after being forced to marry someone they don’t want!

However, there are other stories besides these more typical stories of honour killings and forced marriages that don’t get told.

For example, take the case of Sara (not her real name) who stood first at every school she attended before the age of sixteen and was told by Asian peers that she was considered the most likely to succeed.

Awarded the prize for best O Level results at 16 and having been invited on an Asian radio show in 1988 ( Smeet Petite and the Karachi Kid on GLR Radio) after winning a competition, she and her peers felt she was set to have a bright future.

After being considered for a place at Cambridge in 1990 (She had attained the points at A Level and aced the interview at King’s College Cambridge), she attended a red-brick university (rated among the Top 10 British universities) from 1989 and graduated with a 2:1 BA Hons in 1992.

A hard-working serious minded young woman, she was a trained and qualified teacher by the age of 22 like her father, maternal grandfather and great grandfather before her. Sara’s life looked as if it was set to shine….

In the late 1990s,  she attended Thames Valley University for a script writing course and her tutor Tony Dinner ( a former head of the BBC Script Unit) told her in front of a class that her work was good and that she must never give up on her talent even though it was hard for new writers to get a foot in the door!

It looked as if she had it all until she became the target of a smear campaign by other Asians who quite possibly had a problem with her success.

This was even though she had been a child of divorce who had been raised without a father from the age of 10 in council housing on a pittance as her mother received no child support! In spite of this disadvantage, she had worked hard to build a better life and had achieved some success because of hard work.

Despite her efforts, she found herself being smeared as a terror threat to Britain by mentally unstable people connected to the father who had failed to pay child support and had been absent from her life from the age of 10. They destroyed her success after never having contributed to it!

Not only that but then she was targeted by other Asians who were rivals to that paternal family who called her “the daughter” of the man who had abandoned her at age ten because he didn’t want to pay child support!

They made her pay to the age of 50 for the absent parent who never paid for her when she was a child of ten and carried out a tribal vendetta against her!

This was tribalism, something that is prohibited in Islam which these Asians claim to follow! Other crimes condemned in Islam were to follow- slander of innocent women, spying and backbiting innocent people, harming the fatherless, the less fortunate the “widow” and her fatherless orphan!

A teacher’s daughter, grand daughter and great grand-daughter, she was rumoured by these pathologically lying strangers to be a terrorist, tart, gang person, a drug addict!

Gossip is a sin in the religion of Islam but gossip was favoured over 40 years of verifiable exemplary school and work reports and an enhanced DBS check!

Sara found herself being depicted as the exact opposite of all that she was after being exemplary! Her mother had raised her to believe that being good and working hard was the key to success but this proved not to be the case!

Sara was deeply humanitarian and had been a regular charity donor giving to seven British charities a month and doing voluntary work but they slandered her as a terrorist!

A teacher’s daughter, grand-daughter and great grand-daughter this teetotal woman was rumoured to be a gang person taking drugs possibly by Asian gang people taking drugs in a part of London where she never goes and knows no one!

She and her maternal relatives complained to the police and her MP about the abuse.

Sara even turned to social media in desperation and uploaded verifiable proof of the facts- 40 years of verifiable school and work reports and other documents that prove she has been exemplary and deeply humanitarian as well as proof that she had lost contact with her father in primary school!

She felt compelled to do this because in a society that has lost the fear of God, lies can be casual and even exemplary people can be demonised to save face for those who have done wrong especially when bigotry, racism or discrimination is involved.

Suicide is forbidden in Sara’s religion and as a devout Muslim she turned to her faith for comfort, a faith which forbids suicide but there is no joy in her life after being exemplary and the girl who once was thought by some of her Asian peers to be the most likely to succeed now counts down to the day when her life will be naturally over and she can escape the sadness of a life that feels empty.

At 51 she has ended up with no husband, no children. She has never known what it is to have a wedding day, to be a bride or to hold a new born child in her arms, to be a mother, to have a family that will be there for her in her old age to care for her as she cares for her mother. This is a sad ending for a girl who was exemplary.

Someone whose poetry had been published in the children’s section of the Young Observer in Asia in 1981, Sara never did write the sitcoms, novels and plays she might have written because of the stress caused in her life by other Asians who made her a target for the more sinister and dangerous people of other groups who harbour covert racist tendencies who would always try to demonise even exemplary Asians like herself in order to whitewash the wrong done to them.

There is good and bad in every ethnic group and sadly Asian women who are unprotected and disadvantaged in some way can be targeted by the nastier elements of every group who will milk their disadvantage. This is what happened to Sara.

After 9/11, local councils were given the right to spy on terror suspects. All it took for Sara to become a suspect was for an unstable, possibly envious person to tell lies!  While working at her local council she noticed a colleague repeating word for word things she had said in her own home, the same colleague who openly stated that, “Kicking people’s heads in with bovver boots is a primitive method but it works.”

She began to suspect that far right violent and dangerous racists who like to brain damage Asians were invading her privacy on every level as a result of the lies of other Asians!

She stopped writing for fear of plagiarism and all her talent was wasted. She has spent her life in fear of being brain damaged, the girl who had stood first and been told by a former BBC head that she had real potential, real talent.

Writers can bring millions into the economy if their talent is nurtured so it is Britain’s loss if British writers are wasted. Sara was also top ranked in an industry said to be worth $63 billion dollars a year to the economy but this talent was  also wasted. (Why the ESL Market is set to boom in the next 10 years –­)

This is a story less typical than the stories of forced marriages and honour killings but it is a story that needs to be told for if even exemplary Asian girls can’t make it, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

No wonder the suicide rate of Asian women is three times the national average and on a par with the suicide rate of soldiers returning shell shocked from wars! Asian women who are disadvantaged in some way are being set up to fail!

Instead of ignoring the problem, the Asian community in Britain needs to face what is wrong and work together to rectify the situation to make life better for Asian women. There is no excuse for apathy on this issue given the shockingly high suicide rate.

It is unacceptable that Asian women and girls can be exemplary and end up endangered and with nothing after following the rules and being perfectly behaved.

Something has to change…

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PAKISTAN: Sikh Community Faces Existential Threats

Islamist groups within Pakistan are feeling more emboldened and fearless to target minorities, and also patronage given to the right-wing forces during the former ‘hybrid regime’ of Imran Khan. There is a spike in targeted killings, abductions, forced conversions, and false cases of ‘Blasphemy’ against members of Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Shia, and Ahmadiyya communities in Pakistan … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

In a brazen incident on May 15, two Sikh traders – Kuljeet and Ranjit Singh – were assassinated in the outskirts of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) took the responsibility for the attack. According to the local community, this was the ‘twelfth’ such incident since 2014, when Sikhs were targeted by extremists in KP province alone. In September last year, Satnam Singh, a Sikh Unani medicine practitioner was shot down inside his clinic in Peshawar. 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also strongly condemned the murders and said in a statement, “This is not the first time that the Sikh community in KP has been targeted and we demand that the KP police identify and arrest the perpetrators promptly.” The recent killings in Peshawar’s outskirts illustrate the vulnerability of the Sikh community in Pakistan, which is facing an existential threat from Islamist outfits.

Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s Rizwan after destroying the statue of Ranjit Singh at Lahore Fort

Growing terror activities in the region have further complicated the situation for religious minorities in Pakistan. Islamist groups within Pakistan are feeling more emboldened and fearless to target minorities, and also patronage given to the right-wing forces during the former ‘hybrid regime’ of Imran Khan. There is a spike in targeted killings, abductions, forced conversions, and false cases of ‘Blasphemy’ against members of Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Shia, and Ahmadiyya communities in Pakistan. It seems that the larger objective of the Islamist outfits, and their ‘state’ sponsors, here is to either forcefully convert ‘non-Muslims’ to Islam or create an unlivable environment for religious minorities, pressuring them to leave Pakistan.

Sikhs are easy targets because of their unique religious identifications and their population accumulation in unsafe areas of KP. It is ironical that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, and intelligence agencies, are giving patronage to extremist Khalistani elements to foment security disturbances in India’s Punjab, while it is failing to safeguard its own Sikh population from terror attacks. There are reports which suggest that the Sikh population in Pakistan has seen a decline in the last two decades amid rising cases of forced conversion and targeted attacks against the community members.

According to Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, there are just 15,000-20,000 Sikhs estimated to be left in Pakistan of which some 500 Sikh households are in Peshawar. Whereas the Government of Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority figures suggest that there were 6,146 Sikhs registered in Pakistan in 2012. Interestingly, Pakistan has not yet released the population data pertaining to minority communities – Hindus, Sikhs, Christians etc, since the last census conducted in 2017. It is clear that Pakistan wants to hide the real numbers of the religious minorities in order to avoid international criticism over their declining population, which is a direct consequence of years-long persecution of these communities.

Historically, Sikhs and majority Muslim community in Pakistan have maintained a decent relationship after the bloody events of 1947-48. However, due to increasing security threats, Sikhs are now moving to safer places in Pakistan. For instance, several Sikh families have moved from border agencies of the erstwhile Federally Administrative Tribal Region (FATA) to Peshawar. Most Sikhs in KP come from a financially weak background and run small grocery shops or work as Hakeems. For them, migrating to a safer place is fast becoming a compulsion. Additionally, Sikhs from KP do not have financial wherewithal to start afresh in a new place. More importantly, there is no ‘long-term’ guarantee of their security in any region of Pakistan.

In January 2020, a violent mob attacked one of the holiest Sikh shrines, Nankana Sahib Gurudwara, in Punjab province. The incident terrorised Sikhs across Pakistan because it made them realise that even Punjab was not safe anymore. International Sikh organisations have expressed their concerns regarding recent incidents of targeted killings of the Sikh community members in Pakistan. For instance, the World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) condemned the Peshawar killings and expressed deep concerns for the safety of Pakistan’s Sikh community. In their statement, the WSO stated that Sikhs in Pakistan are “feeling vulnerable and unsafe.” Moreover, “they do not know if they will return home safely, if they go out.” So far, these condemnations and appeals to safeguard the Sikh minorities in Pakistan have fallen on deaf ears.

Religious minorities in Pakistan are known to be treated as ’second-class’ citizens. Neither the civilian government nor the security establishment prioritise them. On the contrary, they have been largely used to fulfil  domestic political objectives or certain foreign policy goals. The Sikh community in Pakistan has also been used as a ‘propaganda’ tool to create disturbances in India’s Punjab. However, increasing targeted killings of the Sikh community members will only create tensions within Pakistan. Consequently, there is a growing disenchantment among minority communities in Pakistan, especially among Sikhs, who thought that they could co-exist peacefully along with majority Muslims. But with religion-centric ideas like turning Pakistan into a ‘Riyasat-e-Medina’ (Islamic Welfare State like Medina) or growing demands of imposing ‘Sharia Law’ in the country will further shrink space for religious minorities to survive in Pakistan. 

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The Pakistani Constitution officially declared the Ahmadis sect of Islam to be “infidels” and barred members of the community from “posing as Muslims,” which the vandalized graves were found guilty of. The community members allege that there is government complicity … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Pakistan’s Ahmedi or Ahmediyya community is facing a new woe of late: Graves of its dead are being dug up and their body remains are thrown away. Over fifty such cases have been detected in Punjab and in and around Peshawar.

The latest case reported by the Friday Times (May 27, 2022), happened in a village near Peshawar. The body was that of Ishfaq Ahmed, son of one Dr Sarwar of Sangu village in Peshawar. He died in Ukraine 27 years ago. The desecration took place on May 19, according to Saleem ud Din, the spokesperson of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan.

A day earlier, a 36-year-old Ahmadi man was stabbed to death in front of his two children in Okara. The murderer, who is reported to be affiliated with Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was a student at a local madrassa, the weekly reported.

Ahmedis are Muslims who were declared non-Muslim by Pakistan in 1973. They are subjected to increased discrimination from the government and the society at large dominated by the majority Sunnis. There are also frequent moves to ensure that they do not sport Muslim-sounding names.

The Pakistani Constitution officially declared the Ahmadis sect of Islam to be “infidels” and barred members of the community from “posing as Muslims,” which the vandalised graves were found guilty of. The community members allege that there is government complicity. Many cases are hushed up and even when cases are registered, investigation and prosecution are weak and the culprits go scot-free.

“Even mainstream political leaders do not refrain from dragging minorities in their speeches at rallies, which ends facing even more cases of hate crimes.

“Ahmadis also face mistreatment from the justice system, as many lose their lives while being tried for blasphemy, the weekly said in its report. A few sections in the media report these incidents. The press, by and large, ignores violence against the Ahmedis, unless it takes place on a large scale, attracting international attention.

Earlier this year, a 70-year-old Ahmadi man on trial for blasphemy died in Bahawalpur Jail due to alleged mistreatment despite his ill health. He was awaiting his bail hearing scheduled for later this year.

An earlier report of August 23, 2021, quoted historian and lawyer Yasser Latif Hamdani, former BBC Urdu editor Tahir Imran Mian and human rights activist Rabia Mehmood and Ali Warsi to discuss how arms of the state are complicit in this violence against this minority community.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif

They alleged that while Pakistan accuses the world community of indulging in Islamophobia, its own people engage in that more frequently and violently when it comes to the Ahmedi community.

In a detailed report cum analysis in The Diplomat journal (February 14, 2022), Kunwar Khuldune Shahid pointed to Dr. Abdus Salam (1926-1996), a renowned physicist and Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate. Despite his pioneering work in establishing many of Pakistan’s institutions of learning and research in physics, he was not allowed to return home despite several pleas. He remained a Pakistani national and died a dejected man in Paris.

Yet, his grave in Rabwah was damaged. The word “Muslim” has been erased from the phrase “the first Muslim Nobel laureate in the English inscription.”

Shahid also dwelt on the desecration of dead Ahmedis’ graves – this time by the Punjab Police. It desecrated 45 graves belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect in Hafizabad town.

“Police personnel damaged the tombstones and removed Islamic inscriptions in accordance with the law.”

“In addition to desecration of graves, the police also regularly demolish Ahmadi mosques over similar allegations of masquerading as Muslim worship places. Ahmadis are barred from giving the Islamic call to prayer, or even displaying “Muslim names” in front of their homes.

“Most ominously, the Ahmadiyya sect remains the most vulnerable to Pakistan’s violent blasphemy laws, with at least 13 Ahmadis killed and 40 wounded since 2017 owing to their identity. This is in addition to the jihadist attacks on the community. In 2010, twin mosque terror raids in Lahore killed at least 94 Ahmadis.

The persecution of Ahmadis is rooted in the sect’s faith in its 19th-century founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, which representatives of other Islamic sects deem sacrilegious. Ahmadis’ beliefs “are dragged into astonishingly unrelated realms in Pakistan.

In 2018, the incumbent Imran Khan government backtracked on the appointment of renowned economist Atif Mian as financial advisor owing to his Ahmadiyya faith. Besides accusing the Ahmedis of being collaborators with “India and Israel,” the Ahmadi sect “is held responsible for pretty much any predicament, including the outbreak of COVID-19.”

Shahid writes: “What Pakistan unquestionably has in place is veritable religious apartheid….. Indeed, Pakistan is indubitably more phobic of the Ahmadiyya sect, and their interpretation of Islam, than most of the states that Imran Khan vocally deems “Islamophobic.” In Pakistan, Ahmadis have been arrested for purchasing literature, partaking in Eid celebrations, or even reciting the Quran.

“The government’s Islamic advisory body has even incited genocide against Ahmadis. Ministers have called for “beheading of blasphemers,” which, incidentally, is the law in the country, used by Islamist mobs to get away with murder,” Shahid writes.

This apartheid is deepening and widening strife. “For Pakistan, ignoring the apartheid against Ahmadis has resulted in similar calls against Shia Islam being echoed in, among other places, the parliament. It has further emboldened a three-way turf war among Sunni jihadist groups, which root their Islamic terrorism in takfir, the belief that they have the right to determine who is and isn’t a Muslim.”

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The real story is not Abu Akleh’s murder

In a few weeks the uproar over Abu Akleh’s killing will die down. But the reality for the Palestinians will not change. Hundreds of Abu Aklehs will be killed and injured as has been the case for decades. And again the West will look the other way. Israel knows this and the sad fact of life is that Israel is right in believing so …. Writes Osama Al Sharif

Two weeks after the cold-blooded murder of veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin in the occupied West Bank her killers remain at large. Since her killing, which was caught on camera for the whole world to see, at least two Palestinian youths have been murdered by the Israeli occupation forces. In fact, in Jenin only 20 Palestinians have been killed by Israel since the beginning of 2022; 42 in the last two years.

 So far Israel has refused to launch an inquiry into Abu Akleh’s death, which the Palestinians and many eyewitnesses blame Israel for. The UN, the EU, the US and many international organizations like Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders have all called for an independent probe into the killing of the 51-year-old American citizen. Israel is coming under pressure to investigate the death and allow others to look into her murder. But the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, is unrelenting even as his shaky coalition is about to be voted out of power.

Tension between Israel and Palestine flare up

But despite the tragic death of Abu Akleh and the unprecedented global backlash, one cannot but underline the fact that, once more, the West is applying double standards when dealing with anything that has to do with Israel and its decades-long brutal occupation of Palestine.

Immediately following the gunning down of Abu Akleh, many mainstream western media obfuscated the facts by choosing neutral words when reporting the crime. The New York Times shamefully wrote: Abu Akleh “dies at the age of 51” while others ignored the fact that the only armed force in the area were Israeli soldiers. During her funeral, heavily armed Israeli police stormed the hospital where her coffin was about to be moved to the cemetery and attacked the pallbearers and mourners on live TV. The hesitant western media talked about “violence” and “clashes” erupting at the funeral. Again there was no pointing the finger at Israel and her brutal treatment of Palestinians under occupation.

But even then, and as politicians and international organisations condemned the killing and the attack on the mourners, few dared to speak about the larger picture; that in effect it is not the killing of Abu Akleh that was the issue but the vile Israeli occupation.

 Abu Akleh was not the first journalist to have been killed by Israeli occupation forces in the last two decades. According to independent figures more than 50 journalists, the majority Palestinians, have been gunned down by Israeli soldiers since 2000. And like Abu Akleh’s documented murder, there is plenty of evidence implicating Israel in almost all of these deliberate killings. In a handful of cases, Israel promised to carry out an investigation and in almost all, there was no culpability.

Abu Akleh was a high profile journalist; a household name for millions and an American citizen. Her murder had shocked the world and elicited an unexpected backlash. But the stark irony is that Abu Akleh had covered the occupied territories for almost 25 years and in the process reported on tens of extrajudicial killings by Israel of Palestinians; the majority of whom were unarmed civilians. Not once had the West moved to push for independent probes or to hold Israel responsible. The fact that the entire occupation of the West Bank is illegal under international law is notwithstanding.

Palestine urges UN to contain Israeli actions in East Jerusalem

Less than two weeks after Abu Akleh was killed, Israeli forces stormed the Jenin refugee camp for the umpteenth time. On 21 May and in a morning raid they killed 17-year-old Amajd Al-Fayyed, who was reportedly shot 12 times. No one in the West is going to condemn his murder or call for a probe. His wanton death was not going to be reported by the western mainstream media as well. He is just a statistic in a never ending register of Palestinian casualties who succumbed in “clashes”. No one in the western media is going to do a human interest story about who Amjad was, what he dreamt of, or how his bereaved mother and siblings feel. No one is going to ask why he was killed and if his killers are ever going to face justice.

The killing of Abu Akleh has embarrassed Israel, if only for a fleeting moment. If worse comes to worse and if the US puts pressure on Israel an internal probe may be conducted and the final reports will come up with flimsy excuses for her death. That will be that.

But the real story is not about Abu Akleh. She never thought that she would be the news. Her life was dedicated to covering the plight of her people. That remains the story—the only unfolding story.

In Israel itself voices were raised that the Jewish state had lost the battle for public opinion. Israel was being lambasted not in the mainstream media but on social media platforms. Millions, from all over the world, told the story as it really is; about a brutal occupation that has dehumanized the Palestinians in every way, both Muslims and Christians. The story was about Israel that is above the law, unaccountable for its breaches of international laws and conventions and one that continues to carry out its crimes with impunity.

In a few weeks the uproar over Abu Akleh’s killing will die down. But the reality for the Palestinians will not change. Hundreds of Abu Aklehs will be killed and injured as has been the case for decades. And again the West will look the other way. Israel knows this and the sad fact of life is that Israel is right in believing so.

(Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman)   

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Arab Allies In A Fix Over Israel’s Attacks on Al-Aqsa

What Jordan and the Palestinians fear now is that the Israeli premier is caving in to pressure to divide the mosque itself; thus allowing Jews to share the inner sanctum of the mosque and perform Talmudic prayers there … writes Osama Al Sharif

In the prickly political landscape of the Middle East, religious-based violence will almost always trump political expediency. And as much as Israel was able to weave a web of new alliances with long-time Arab foes in the past few years, its repeated breaches of Al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan and violent attacks on Palestinian worshippers in addition to allowing hundreds of Jewish extremists to tour the Muslim compound and perform Talmudic rituals was too much to bear even for its Gulf allies.

Responding to calls from influential King Abdullah of Jordan, who was convalescing in Frankfurt from spine surgery, the UAE Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador to Abu Dhabi last week to deliver a “strong protest and denunciation of the events taking place in Jerusalem and [in] Al-Aqsa Mosque, including attacks on civilians and incursions into holy places that resulted in the injury of a number of civilians.”

This was the first public rebuke of Israeli actions by the UAE since establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries two years ago. Not to be left out, Bahrain and Morocco too deplored Israel’s escalations at Al-Aqsa.

 To underline that Abu Dhabi was serious about its position, Emirati airline Wizz Air Abu Dhabi announced that it will not be participating in an Israeli Independence Day flyover in May. Both moves represented what can be described as setting a line in the sand by the UAE, which had taken bold moves to build what observers saw as an alliance between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi, especially in the areas of military and intelligence cooperation, free trade, tourism, energy and others.

 When Israel’s new allies reacted this way, the response from old allies was even worse. Amman had sparred with Israel before over breaches of Al-Aqsa, where King Abdullah is recognised as custodian. This time Jordan launched a flurry of diplomatic contacts to put pressure on Israel to respect the historical status quo, which recognizes the 14 square kilometre Al Haram Al Sharif as a place for Muslim worship but allows non-Muslims to visit the compound in coordination with the Islamic Waqf.

 The Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam, has been a flashpoint between Palestinians and Israelis since the 1967 war and the occupation of East Jerusalem. In 2000 when Likud leader Ariel Sharon stormed the compound in a provocative visit he triggered a second Palestinian Intifada. In 2015 then Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu agreed to an agreement, brokered by the Americans, to respect the historical status quo at Al-Aqsa.

Jordan King: Israel must respect rights of Muslims to worship at al-Aqsa

But with right-wing parties in Israel gaining the upper hand in the past two decades, influential far-right parties and voters pressured successive governments to open up the Mosque’s compound to radical Jewish visitors. Often these visits ended with Israeli occupation forces attacking Palestinian worshipers.

 Since Naftali Bennett, a right-winger himself, formed his broad coalition government last June, he tried to appease radical Jewish settlers and small extremist parties by lifting objections to almost daily visits/breaches of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Last May Hamas and Israel went to war over such breaches and attacks on worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan.

What Jordan and the Palestinians fear now is that the Israeli premier is caving in to pressure to divide the mosque itself; thus allowing Jews to share the inner sanctum of the mosque and perform Talmudic prayers there. Israelis claim that the holy site, which they call Temple Mount, is also the location of the Jewish Temple on which the temple of Solomon once stood. Far-right politicians and radical Jews declare that their intention is to demolish Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Jewish temple on its ruins.

 For King Abdullah, whose great grandfather King Abdullah I was assassinated at the steps of Al-Aqsa in 1951, the link to the holy site cannot be severed at any cost—even if that meant terminating the peace treaty with Israel. The legitimacy of the Hashemites of Jordan is embedded in what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, from where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on a miraculous nocturnal journey. For more than a billion Muslims believe in the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif is anchored in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

Jordan Israel responsible for serious repercussions at al-Aqsa mosque

 This is where religion gets in the way of politics. Despite the UAE’s strategic decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel, it cannot look the other way when Israel, for no clear logical reason, provokes tens of millions of Muslims by attacking the mosque and unarmed Muslim worshippers in the midst of the holy month of Ramadan.

 The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and even Egypt and Jordan would rather deal with a secular Israel within its 1948 borders and not with Israel as an occupying power that kills Palestinians, usurps their lands and defiles Muslim shrines on daily basis. This now is the conundrum facing Gulf and Arab leaders. None want their relationship with Israel to drag them into a religious showdown. They would rather focus on geopolitical threats such as that of Iran and possibly Turkey at a time when there is a growing perception that the United States is abandoning the Middle East.

 But understanding domestic Israeli politics is crucial for the determination of the future of Arab ties with Israel. The Israeli left has been decimated in the past decade and a half and the centre-left cannot form a government without relying on small far-right parties. The fact is that the Israeli society has been veering to the far right for some years and with every election cycle.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and

 Gulf leaders will adapt to the fact that they are dealing with radical far-right Israeli governments in the foreseeable future and that means that religious tensions will continue to take centre stage at the domestic level. Striking a balance will be a delicate task. The Arab world cannot afford to look the other way or watch as false witnesses if and when a radical Israeli government makes the daring step of dividing Al-Aqsa Mosque or worse.

 (Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman)