Malala Effect: Nothing will stop the fear against Taliban

Malala Yousafzai, 14, who was shot by the Taliban on Oct 9 because of her advocation in education campaign for girls.

A 14-year-old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousazfzai, was being shot by the Taliban as a form of retaliation against her education campaign. She was recently being awarded as the runner-up of TIME person of the year, right behind the US President Barack Obama, congratulations!

After undergoing medical treatment at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, she is now finally recovering from the wounds hurt by the bullet, which it pierced the skin just behind her left eye, traveled along the exterior of her skull and stayed in the muscle just above her left shoulder blade. The bullet almost took away her life, in such sense, she valued educational rights for women in Pakistan being more significant than her precious life. She was not fearful in the land where terrorism prevails.

Malala being awarded as the runner-up TIME Person of the year.

Malala being awarded as the runner-up TIME Person of the year.

TIME recognized her eagerness in promoting girls’ education in Pakistan:

She has become perhaps the world’s most admired children’s-rights advocate, all the more powerful for being a child herself. Her primary cause — securing Pakistani girls’ access to education — has served to highlight broader concerns: the health and safety of the developing world’s children, women’s rights and the fight against extremism.

Malala was sitting with classmates on a school bus on Oct 9, in Northwest of Pakistan, Swat Valley, a picturesque region that has come under the influence of Swat Taliban militants. The leader of this subgroup of Pakistani Taliban movement based in South Waziristan, Maulvi Fazlullah, espoused Islamic ideology through FM radio station.

Sudden attack by Taliban fighters

A bearded man hopped on the bus and asked “Who is Malala?”, then he shot her in the head and leg, also two of her classmates were injured. Taliban claimed responsibility after the attack, the spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone that Malala had been the target: “She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it. Let this be lesson.” He also added that the militants would definitely attempt to kill her again even she could survive. The spokesperson told Reuters that she was “speaking against Taliban, calling President Obama her ideal leader and promoting western culture in Pashtun areas”. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also released a 7-page statement to Pakistani media The Tribune, giving a more detailed account for the attack:

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Will the new constitution save Syria from further killings?

As promised by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the country will hold a referendum on the new constitution on February 26. The draft constitution suggests putting an end over 50-year of single-party rule in Syria. Hundreds of copies will be printed and distributed to people before they vote on the new changes of the law. But with parts of the country in open rebellion, an army onslaught on the third largest city – Homs, it is unclear how a nationwide poll can be effectively conducted.

Authorities say 14.6 million of Syria’s 23 million people are eligible to vote and 14,000 polling stations have been set up for the referendum. But with cities such as Homs in open revolt, Syrians are divided over the draft constitution and the timing chosen for the vote. Nabil Samman, the head of the Centre for Research and Documentation in Damascus, told Al Jazeera that the draft constitution allows the president to retain most of his powers.

“The timing in light of the violence is very wrong. There are areas that have no security at all. There are other areas where people are scared. The time between the release of the draft constitution and the voting time is very short.” Samman added that there was little time for the public to debate and discuss about it. “The opposition inside Syria has no chance to voice their opinion of it on national TV.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told BBC at the news conference: “On one hand you say you are holding a referendum and on the other you are attacking with tank fire on civilian areas. You still think the people will go to a referendum the next day in the same city?”

New constitution ensures separation of powers?

The Syrian Arab News Agency released the full text of the draft constitution,  it contains 157 articles, of which there are 14 new and 47 amended articles. The new constitution emphasizes on political pluralism and drops a clause which effectively granted Assad’s Baath Party a monopoly on power, instead as stated in Article 8:

“The political system of the state shall be based on the principle of political pluralism, and exercising power democratically through the ballot box.”

However under the same article, the new text forbids political activity or parties based on “religious, sectarian, tribal (or) regional” basis, this can prevent the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood registering, and also restrict parties representing minority Kurds.

From Article 83 to 117, it lays down the power and execution of the president of Syria, who holds real power to declare war or a state of emergency, can draft laws and assumes legislative authority when parliament is not sitting. Parliamentary elections will be held within 90 days of the approval of the constitution, state television reported. If passed, it would restrict the president to serving a maximum of two terms of seven years and introduce a pluralistic party system. The seven-year presidential term was adapted by Hafez al-Assad with reference to French constitution of Charles de Gulle, but when the French reformed its constitution, the Assad regime found its advantages of stability in terms of governance.

If Bashar al-Assad runs for the president again, his second term expires in 2014. Bashar was elected in 2000 when his father Hafez al-Assad was dead after ruling Syria for 29 years. Another clause in the constitution says laws will not apply retro-actively, implying that Assad could serve another two terms until 2028, by that time Bashar will be in his 60s, having ruled Syria for 28 years. In addition, the president must have lived in Syria for 10 years, a requirement which would rule out many of Assad’s opponents who have lived in exile for years.

Progress at the Friends of Syrian conference in Tunis

Representatives from more than 60 Western and Arab countries met in ‘Friends of Syria’ International conference in Tunisia in the previous weekend. The conference aims at calling for an immediate ceasefire, to work out for details of 72-hour ultimatum and to allow humanitarian assistance for civilians. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was appointed as a special envoy  in efforts at ending “violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.”

The Economist published the article “How to set Syria free” revealed that an united opposition was a solution to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. The view is similar to Joshua Landis, an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma, told CBC news about the divisions among the opposition group:

“There’s the Islamists versus the secularists; there’s the young versus the old; there’s the inside leaders who are on the streets versus the SNC [Syrian National Council] type leaders … who have been out of the country for a long time and who are very savvy at talking to the West. There are also, he points out, ethnic divisions between Kurds and Arabs as well as religious divisions between the minorities and Muslims.”

There are different opposition groups in Syria. Here’s the list:

Syrian National Council (SNC)

The SNC is currently led by Burhan Ghalioun, an exiled secularist who taught political science at the Sorbonne in Paris before assuming the chairmanship of the coalition. It has roots from the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change, a statement signed in 2005 by members of both the secular and Muslim opposition in Syria (including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed in Syria since the 1960s and death penalty since 1980s). The Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader Mohammad Riad Shaqfa has been living in exile in Saudi Arabia, has said it would not seek to make Syria an Islamist state. The council also includes representatives of Kurdish factions and smaller grass-roots groups as well as tribal leaders and independent opposition leaders. Members of the council are clearly divided themselves and vague on whether they would support a foreign military intervention, with some voicing support for actions short of intervention such as a no-fly zone.

National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCB)

The group is led by Hassan Abdul Azim, a moderate dissident in his 80s who has been a prominent member of Syria’s socialist movement since the 1960s. It is made up of secularists within Syria who favour a peaceful transition of power without any military intervention and who are willing to negotiate with the Assad regime. It signed a co-operation agreement with the SNC in December 2011 outlining a post-Assad transition to democracy, but the pact fell apart when the Muslim Brotherhood and other factions within the SNC accused SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun of negotiating the pact without their input.

Free Syrian Army

It is nominally led by Col. Riad al-Asaad, a defector from the Syrian military who is attempting to coordinate the fighters from a refugee camp in Turkey. In reality, bands of fighters within Syria have been largely operating independently of al-Asaad and each other, launching their own attacks on troop convoys and other actions against government forces. The current problem of FSA is that it does not have regular access to military supplies, the defectors usually purchase weapons on the black market. The number of Free Syrian Army fighters is unknown, but al-Asaad told the Reuters news agency in Ocotber 2011 that 15,000 soldiers had defected from the Syrian military. Even if the total number of opposition fighters is more than that, it’s still nowhere near the Syrian army’s estimated 200,000 soldiers, along with an unknown number of state-sponsored militia fighters (known in Arabic asshabiha), who are considered even more loyal than the military, since they generally come from the same Alawite sect that Assad belongs to. The FSA has also suffered from its own internal divisions, according to a scholar Randa Slim at the Middle East Institute. Recently, General Mustapha Sheikh, an officer who defected from the Syrian Army, formed a new organization the “Higher Military Council” claiming to lead armed defectors inside Syria.

At this point, it’s worth to take note that the Hamas leadership has left Syria due to the regime’s crackdown. Hamas’ prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyasaid began supporting the opposition of Assad regime, he told the New York Times, “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.”

How can fractious opposition stand up as one?

There is an agreement between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Military Council to form a “Ministry of Defense” for the Syrian revolution, after the conference in Tunis. Some progresses have been made out of the congress, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal supported to arm the oppositional group and revolutionaries.

However, political activist Shabbir Razvi told RT that the conference representatives are not working for the interest of Syrian people. “The Western powers would never be satisfied with any kind of change occurring in Syria or any of the other Middle Eastern countries so long as that change is not in the interest or benefit of the Western powers.

While China Daily cited the source from the state-run SANA news agency: “The conference came as a result of a failed plot targeting Syria and its people. Syria also totally rejects any calls to arm the oppositions, as we consider it a move of support to terrorists that would hurt the Syrian people and their hope for peace and stability.” Syrian state TV referred to the conference as a meeting of “symbols of colonialism” and said the countries attending were “historic enemies of the Arabs.”

The Syria Report mentioned that a report released by the United Nations and submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, accuses the Syrian government of committing “gross human rights violations” tantamount to “crimes against humanity”. The report, derived from 360 interviews with individuals inside Syria, also charges that security crackdowns constituted state policy from coming from “the highest levels of the armed forces and the government”. The same report, however, also charges the Free Syrian Army, an armed element of the opposition, of committing serious abuses. To that end, as violence continues to deepen across the country, Syrian officials continue to adamantly charge that they are fighting against armed terrorist groups – an allegation now partially echoed in some parts of Washington, as a number of senior American officials claim that the terrorist group Al-Qaeda is behind some of the country’s violence.

Does the UN resolution guarantee peaceful situation in Syria?

Death Toll in SyriaThe latest death toll in Syria from Reuters says it reaches over 5,000, and from the above report, we can tell the human rights situation is deteriorating. While the international society attempts to ceasefire and crackdown on the bloodshed by drafting a resolution S/2012/77 (drafted by Bahrain, Colombia, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, UK and US), Russia and China vetoed the resolution, which means that the UN Security Council again failed to assume its responsibilities and to live up to its mandate to maintain international peace and security. As the Syrian representative to the UN cited from a quote by former US attorney Ramsey Clark: “The UN, which was created to prevent the scourge of war, has become an instrument of war.”

Russia and China both have condemned the crisis in Syria, however, while Russia said the draft resolution didn’t reflect the real interests of Syrian people and it is not an objective report, also Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would meet in person with Syrian President Basher al-Assad; China, on the other hand, rejected the proposals of intervention from the west, based on its renowned “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence“, which are (1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, (2) mutual non-aggression, (3) mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, (4) equality and mutual benefit, and (5) peaceful co-existence. A Middle East expert Chris Zambelis commented on the Middle East Voices: ” Since 2004, Damascus and Beijing have signed at least a dozen economic agreements, but the approximately $1.2 billion trade relationship between them is for the most part one-way; in 2010, only a quarter of that amount was spent by China on Syrian goods and products.

When will the killing in Syria end?

This is a question raised by people around nations who witness the bloodshed through television and newspaper reports. But when it comes to media coverage, an independent journalist representing for Press TV and Russia Today, Lizzie Phelan, revealed that the NATO and GCC media organizations represented the agenda of their own countries’ foreign policy in their coverage in Syria. Phelan was being interviewed by New York Times Robert Mackney, and she thought the questions were deceitful, so she explained the fabrication in details on her blog. She believed that all these media “provided narrative to support the foreign intervention in Syria at the UN Security Council meeting”.

Let’s remember our most respected war journalist – Marie Colvin (1956-2012)

Somehow Phelan’s account of the event does explain why the famous war reporter Marie Colvin was being killed by Syrian government forces. The British journalist Marie Colvin reported about a dead baby the day before she got killed in the Babr region in Homs last week. Here’s her final report for the Sunday Times: We live in a fear of massacre.

 

And here are some collections of articles about her perseverance.

We lost a great one by Sarah Topol

Roy Greenslade’s orbiturary

 

 

How to halt the butchery in Syria’ (Anne-Marie Slaughter, New York Times)

‘Arab Spring cleaning’ (The Economist)

Syrian opposition: When will the Assad regime end, or will it be ever ended?

The international society has been waiting patiently for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Major international institutions such as the United Nations called for international actions to prevent civil war in Syria; and the Arab League has imposed economic sanctions against Syria earlier due to its government crackdown in the past few months. The UN estimated the death toll is at least 5,400 people have been killed since March 2011. Canada’s Nation Post visualized the death toll in the form of graphic presentation, illustrating 6,375 people have been killed, among the dead, 99.4% were Syrian citizens.

The most interesting development in the Syrian Uprising is the determination of Assad to remain on the thrown, while the world has been continuously condemning his killing of the civilians, or even being named as a ‘killing machine’. In the last few weeks, Assad and his supporters organized pro-government rally on the streets, waving Syrian flags and chanting songs defending for the Assad regime.

The Syrian uprising continues despite the murderous violence from the Assad regime. Credits: Workerspower.co.uk

The Syrian uprising continues despite the murderous violence from the Assad regime. Credits: Workerspower.co.uk

While the opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has been recognized as Syria’s legitimate government by Libya and some NATO and EU countries. The SNC campaigned “Towards a Peaceful Transition to Democracy in Syria” statement, calling for:

  • Rewriting of the constitution to guarantee basic rights and checks and balances
  • Separation of powers between and among the executive, legislative and judiciary
  • Immediate end to extrajudicial, special, martial and field courts
  • Release of all political prisoners
  • Commitment to non-interference in the affairs of Lebanon
  • Repositioning of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the forefront of Syrian foreign policy aims
  • Formation of a free and independent media
  • Development of the economy and more investment in infrastructure
  • Formation of a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate crimes of the regime
  • Compensation for political exiles and disappeared political prisoners
  • Political rights for the Syrian Kurdish minority
  • Military supervision of a transitional government
    Source – The Syrian opposition: Political analysis with original testimony from key figures

Despite the growth in the number of death, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad went to the Damascus Square on Jan 11 to meet the pro-regime crowd in public. Assad addressed to his supporters, saying:

“We cannot relent in the battle against terrorism. We strike with an iron fist against terrorists who have been brainwashed. We are nearing the end of the crisis. We should be united.” Assad blamed on “foreign conspiracy” for the cause of the crackdown, he said: “Syria was threatened with bombing and invasion. We will never allow them to defeat Syria. Resistance is the core of our identity.”

“Without a doubt, we will defeat the conspiracy, which is nearing its end and will also be the end for (the conspirators) and their plans. We will make this phase the last one of the conspiracy.”

In another occasion, Assad delivered a speech at Damascus University, promising future hopes to the Syrians, which included: dialogue with the opposition; promise of renewed constitution in March 2012, which meant an early referendum allowing multi-party elections by then. The entire transcript of Assad’s speech can be downloaded here.

“I want to make sure that there will be a national referendum because the constitution is not for the country but it is on the interest of each Syrian citizen. We will have the referendum after the committee finishes its work and gives the constitution. We will put it in the constitution channels, aiming to go to the referendum and the referendum on a new constitution is expected in March. We welcome the participation of all of the political forces and we have begun to talk to them recently to take their opinion in the participation and they have answered positively.”

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described Assad’s speech as “chillingly cynical“, what Assad meant by “conspiracies” also included the Syrian opposition, the international community, all international media outlets and the Arab League itself. Assad has blamed media fabrications for the unrest, therefore, most foreign media outlets are now barred from independent reporting. An independent journalist Lizzie Phelan, who is currently in Damascus, told RT that the objectivity of reports coming from Syria is increasingly being questioned:

“There were some reports that the area of Al-Zabadani, near the Lebanese border, had been taken by the Free Syrian Army. And now, I went there myself, the last night, and as I drove to Zabadani, I was very surprised to find no check-points by the Syrian army on the way, and I was actually allowed to go inside Zabadani. And despite having seen footage on the television of convoys of Free Syrian Army fighters, I found that there was actually nothing there.”

What we know about Syria from news agency or media – are they the information controlled or filtered by the regime? How can we know the truth? The situation in Syria is getting increasingly sophisticated.

Involvement of Arab League

Syria, being one of the member states of the Arab League, has been exerting pressure against Assad regime to stop the bloodshed, by imposing sanctions in late November 2011. The League has launched a monitoring mission in Syria, a team of observers was sent to Syria on December 27, hoping that the observers could provide sufficient political and physical protection to protesters. So far, around 70 inspectors have arrived the hot spots.

One of the inspectors, Anwar Malek, survived an assassination attempt in the city of Homs, where the first western journalist was killed during a pro-regime rally. The Algerian inspector Malek spoke to The Sunday Telegraph that he was “threatened to death”, he was ordered to stay in the hotel for a long period of time, and he was spied over his activity. The power of the Arab League monitors is in doubt, the inspectors do not possess genuine power in scrutinizing the Syrian regime, they do not have personal bodyguards or independent army to protect their safety. The mission does not have a clear direction and goal in eliminating the bloodshed in Syria.

Foreign intervention?

Is it the time for international institutions such as the United Nations to intervene – by introducing a legitimate resolution in the Security Council – to introduce the UN Army to protect the Syrian civilians?

Pro-Assad countries: Russia, China, India, South Africa, Iran

Against Assad countries: UK, France, United States, Germany, Turkey

Syria and Iran have forged a close alliance by supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has accused Tehran for supplying arms to Syrian security forces.

As Financial Times has put it, some analysts say that if international diplomacy fails to bring an end to the violence, the country will lurch towards a broader violent conflict.