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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 4   01-15 July 2014

Professor A. R. Momin

Slavery in Pakistan

The Global Slavery Index 2013, published by the Walk Free Foundation, provides a country-wise estimate of the number of people living in modern slavery or slavery-like conditions today and presents a quantitative ranking of 162 countries around the world. The Walk Free Foundation, based in Perth, Australia, is committed to ending all forms of modern slavery in this generation. Modern slavery, according to the Global Slavery Index, includes slavery and slavery-like practices (such as debt bondage, forced marriage and the sale or exploitation of children), human trafficking and forced labour. According to the Global Slavery Index, 29.8 million people worldwide are living in modern slavery. The prevalence of modern slavery is the highest in the following countries: Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Moldova, Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, The Gambia and Gabon. Nearly 76% of the world’s enslaved people are to be found in India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The highest incidence of modern slavery in Asia is to be found in Pakistan. Pakistan ranks third in the Global Slavery Index. It is estimated that there are between 2000, 000 and 2200, 000 people involved in modern slavery in the country.

Poverty and illiteracy make people, especially children, vulnerable to various forms of modern slavery and bonded labour. Modern slavery in Pakistan occurs in primary industries, manufacturing, domestic servitude, forced begging and commercial sexual exploitation. The brick making industry in the country has high levels of bonded labourers, including children. According to an estimate of the Asian Development Bank, there are 1.8 million bonded labourers in Pakistan. Bonded labour is to be found in brick kilns, agriculture, fisheries and mining. Debt bondage is a serious problem, particularly in the Sindh and Punjab provinces. A 2004 study by the International Labour Office estimated that there are up to a million landless peasant families (haari) in Sindh alone, the majority living in conditions of debt bondage.

There are reports of children being subjected to forced labour, begging and sexual exploitation in several parts of Pakistan. The Federal Bureau of Statistics estimates that approximately 3.8 million children between the ages of five and 14 in Pakistan are working. There are also reports of child sex trafficking between Iran and Pakistan. The Global Slavery Index report notes that government efforts to address modern slavery in the country are poorly coordinated and executed.

Turkey’s Ex-Generals Sentenced to Life

Since the establishment of the Turkish republic, the army has wielded enormous powers and influence and has blatantly interfered in matters of state, politics and society. Since 1960 the generals have toppled four democratically elected governments on specious grounds. In 1997 Necmettin Erbakan was forced by the military to step down on the grounds that he and his Refah Party harboured a secret agenda to promote Islamic fundamentalism in the country. Erbakan was prohibited from all political activities and his party was outlawed. In 2007 the generals unsuccessfully tried to prevent Abdullah Gul from becoming Turkey’s president because his wife wears a headscarf. In 2008 the military urged the Constitutional Court to ban the AK Party on the grounds that it was pursuing a secret agenda to impose Islamic laws on the country. The plea was eventually dismissed by the Constitutional Court.

The 1980 Coup

In the late 1970s escalating chaos, unprecedented violence and political uncertainty loomed large over the political scenario in Turkey. On September 12, 1980, the Turkish military, led by Chief of General Staff General Kenan Evren, overthrew the civilian government headed by Suleyman Demirel. The constitution was suspended and the parliament was dissolved. Martial law was promulgated across the country and political parties and trade unions were banned. For the next three years the Turkish armed forces ruled the country through the National Security Council. Between 250,000 and 650,000 people were detained, out of which 230,000 were put on trial before military tribunals. Hundreds of thousands of people were tortured in prisons. At least 517 people were sentenced to death. More than 14,000 people were stripped of citizenship. In November 1982, Evren was appointed President for the next seven years. The 1980 military coup marked one of the darkest chapters in the history of modern Turkey.

In 2010 the ruling Justice and Development Party (A K Party) proposed some amendments to the constitution, which were approved in a nation-wide referendum held on September 12, 2010. One of the amendments was that civilian courts would have the power to prosecute military personnel for crimes against the state. After the referendum, the government launched an investigation into the 1980 coup. In January 2012 a Turkish court accepted the indictments against Gen Evren and Gen Sahinkaya for their role in the coup. Gen Evren never expressed any regret for the coup. On June 18, 2014, Gen Evren and Gen Sahinkaya were convicted for crimes against the state and for conspiring for army intervention and were given life sentences. The court order vindicates Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s stand that the military has no business to interfere in matters of state and that it should be accountable to the civilian government.

In 2012, a series of startling cases – known as “Sledgehammer” – implicated the top army brass in a carefully orchestrated conspiracy to topple the government. Some 400 serving and retired high-ranking army officers, including 139 generals and admirals, were arrested on charges of hatching a conspiracy to overthrow the Erdogan government. One of the plots involved the murder of some Armenian and Greek Christians, which would intimidate large numbers of Christians into leaving the country. This would then be used as an indictment of the government and provide an excuse for the army to intervene. On January 5, 2012, Mr. Basbug, former chief of the armed forces was arrested and jailed for associating with a terrorist group that conspired to topple the government.

In March 2014, Erdogan suggested that the accused military officers should be retried in accordance with the principles of justice and fair trial. On June 17, 2014, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that the rights of the accused military officers were violated and that the prosecution’s case was flawed. The court ordered the retrial of the case. On June 18, 2014, Turkey’s highest criminal court ordered the release and retrial of 230 military officers who were convicted in 2012 of conspiring to overthrow the Erdogan government. The criminal court observed that some of the evidence against the military officers presented in the special courts had been misused.

Healing the Wounds of 1915 Armenian Tragedy

Armenia, a mountainous country in the South Caucasus, was conquered by the Ottomans in the closing decade of the 14th century. Before the Ottoman conquest, the Armenians were groaning under the oppressive weight of the Byzantine Empire and the Greek Orthodox Church. The Armenian Church was not allowed to function because the Greek Orthodox Church regarded it as heretical. The Ottoman rulers granted the Armenians, as well as other Christian denominations and sects and Jewish communities, substantial religious, legal and cultural autonomy and allowed them to preserve their beliefs and rituals, language and cultural traditions. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which regulated and oversaw the religious and cultural affairs of the Armenians, was established in Istanbul.

In the course of time, the Armenians became well integrated into the Ottoman Empire and made significant contributions to its economy, polity and society. They held prominent positions as bankers, traders, architects, ministers, diplomats and bureaucrats. A prominent Armenian, Abraham Pasha, became a minister in the Ottoman Empire. Gabriel Noradonkyan, a prominent Armenian diplomat, served as Foreign Minister of the Ottoman Empire in 1912-13. Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian banker, became one of the main advisers of the National Bank of Turkey. Sixteen of the eighteen most prominent bankers in the Ottoman Empire were Armenians. Ottoman sultans commissioned Armenian architects, particularly those of the Balyan family, to build their palaces, mosques and other buildings in the 19th century. The imperial palaces of Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi, well-known architectural monuments of Istanbul, were built by the architects of the Balyan family. Several mosques along the Bosporus were built by the Balyans. Armenian musicians like Hamparsum Limoncuyan played a significant role in preserving Ottoman music. Edgar Manas, a prominent Armenian musician, was one of the composers of the Turkish national anthem.

The decline of the Ottoman Empire began in the 19th century. There were Christian uprisings against the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans in the closing decades of the 19th century. In the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, which was fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire, several Balkan countries allied themselves with the Russians. Following the war, hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Muslims were forced to flee the Caucasus and the Balkans. More than 600,000 Circassian Muslims were expelled from the Caucasus by the Russians. In 1881 Austria occupied the Ottoman province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the First Balkan War (1912-13), Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro, which were under Ottoman control, rose in revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman forces were defeated and more than 85% of the territories held by the Ottomans were lost. The loss of the Ottoman provinces in the Balkans resulted in atrocities, expulsion and deportation of Ottoman Muslims. More than 5 million Ottomans, mostly Muslims, were driven out of their ancestral homes in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Anatolia. The colossal suffering and hardships of Ottoman Muslims in the wake of the Russo-Turkish War and the Balkan wars remain largely unknown to the outside world.

The Armenians betrayed the Ottoman Empire and joined hands with the Russian army in the Caucasus. When the situation became relatively peaceful, the Ottoman rulers decided to punish the Armenians by deporting them to the Syrian desert. Between 1915 and 1918 tens of thousands of Armenians were deported. There is no consensus among historians about the number of Armenians who died during the deportation. According to Turkish historians, approximately 600,000 Armenians perished due to starvation, exhaustion, disease and killings by soldiers. Western historians, on the other hand, claim that between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians died during the deportation – which is described as the Armenian genocide.

The issue of the deportation of Armenians by the Ottoman authorities and their alleged massacre has been a highly controversial issue in recent decades and has strained relations between Turkey and Armenia, including the 7-million strong and influential Armenian diaspora. At least 23 countries, mostly Western, have officially recognized the Armenian killings as genocide. In 2012 the French government passed a bill making it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide, which was later overturned by the Constitutional Court. Germany has not recognized the Armenian tragedy as genocide. Turkey recognizes the 1915 Armenian tragedy but refuses to accept that it amounts to genocide. In 2005, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote a letter to then Armenian President Robert Kocharian, in which he said that the issue needed to be dispassionately investigated by historians. Erdogan pointed out that there are millions of documents on the subject in Turkish archives, of which only about one million have been examined. He suggested that documents on the subject in Armenia should be made available to a team of Turkish and Armenian historians and researchers. Erdogan also proposed the setting up of a joint commission comprising Turkish, Armenian and American historians to examine the vast archival material on the subject. However, Armenia has declined the offer of a joint historical commission.

In a statement issued on April 23, 2014 on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the 1915 Armenian tragedy, Erdogan spoke about the “suffering of the victims” and offered condolences to the descendants of Armenians who died in the tragic events of 1915. He described the events of 1915 as “inhumane” and said, "It is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early 20th century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren." He added, "Having experienced events which had inhumane consequences -- such as relocation -- during the First World War, should not prevent Turks and Armenians from establishing compassion and mutually humane attitudes among towards one another." Erdogan reiterated his call for a joint historical commission and emphasised the need for dialogue between Turkey and Armenia.

Many Turkish-Armenian scholars and commentators, such as Hayko Bagdat, have welcomed Erdogan’s overture and said that his statement makes a good start towards building bridges of understanding and reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. It is note-worthy that between 40,000 and 70,000 Armenians are still living in Turkey, mostly in and around Istanbul. One hopes that Armenia will reciprocate Erdogan’s gesture and set in motion a process of reconciliation.

Iraq and Tony Blair’s Shameless Rhetoric

It has been established beyond a shadow of doubt that the 2003 invasion of Iraq, masterminded by George W. Bush and Tony Blair, was in utter disregard of international law. "It was absolutely irresponsible to go in without thinking of the consequences", Lord Guthrie, former chief of defence staff and head of the British army, recently stated. The invasion led to the killing of more than 100,000 Iraqis and 4,500 US and British soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including civilians, women and children, were grievously wounded. More than 30,000 coalition soldiers were wounded and more than $2 trillion was spent on combat operations. Iraq has not recovered from the tragic legacy of the devastation brought about by the invasion. In fact it is sinking deeper and deeper into chaos and anarchy. The sectarian divide has deepened to such an unprecedented extent that it now threatens to tear the country apart. The country is evidently split along ethnic and sectarian lines, with Shia, Sunni and Kurdish areas and enclaves. The fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have seized a vast swathe of territory across the country and have declared the establishment of an Islamic state straddling Iraq and Syria. Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish Region proposes to hold a referendum on independence within months.

The present turmoil has forced hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq to flee their homes. More than 1.1 million Iraqis are now displaced. Following the capture of Mosul by the Sunni militants on June 15, more than 500,000 people fled Iraq’s second-largest city.

In an article on his website on June 14, 2014, Tony Blair said that the violent insurgency in Iraq is unrelated to the 2003 invasion of the country. He added that Western nations could “actively try and shape this situation with our allies in the region.” Blair wrote that the West should consider a range of options, including air strikes and the use of remote-controlled drones as happened in Libya.

Blair’s views have been strongly rebuked by several British ambassadors, MPs and diplomats. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, described the Iraq invasion as a “tragic mistake” and a “misbegotten folly.” He said that he has “come to the conclusion that Tony Blair has finally gone mad.” “Somebody needs to go on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it – or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender.”

Blair’s comments were condemned by his former deputy, Lord Prescott, who was opposed to Britain’s involvement in Iraq in 2003 and had accused him of wanting to launch a “crusade” in the region. Lord Prescott told Sky News, “I said to him at the time, your great danger, when you want to go and do these regime changes, you’re back to what Bush called a crusade….Put on a white sheet and a red cross, and we’re back to the crusades. It’s all about religion – in these countries it’s gone on for a thousand years.”

ISIS militants have announced the creation of an Islamic caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria Clare Short, one of Balir’s cabinet ministers who resigned over Iraq, said, “More bombing will not solve it, it will just exacerbate it.” She called Blair a “complete American neocon” who had been absolutely, consistently wrong on the issue.” Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US from 1997 to 2003, said the handling of the campaign to remove Saddam was “perhaps the most significant reason” for the sectarian violence now convulsing Iraq.” “We are reaping what we sowed in 2003,” he added.

A group of former British ambassadors and MPs have launched a campaign to removing Blair from his role as Middle East peace envoy. They have issued a letter saying the 2003 invasion of Iraq was to blame for the rise of “fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously.” The signatories to the letter include Britain’s former ambassador to Iran, Sir Richard Dalton, Oliver Miles, former ambassador to Libya, Christopher Long, former ambassador to Egypt and Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London.

The letter says: "We, like many, are appalled by Iraq's descent into a sectarian conflict that threatens its very existence as a nation, as well as the security of its neighbours. We are also dismayed, however, at Tony Blair's recent attempts to absolve himself of any responsibility for the current crisis by isolating it from the legacy of the Iraq war. "In reality, the invasion and occupation of Iraq had been a disaster long before the recent gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis). The sectarian conflict responsible for much of the war's reprehensible human cost was caused in part by the occupying forces' division of the country's political system along sectarian lines."

It added: "In order to justify the invasion, Tony Blair misled the British people by claiming that Saddam had links to al-Qaida. In the wake of recent events it is a cruel irony for the people of Iraq that perhaps the invasion's most enduring legacy has been the rise of fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously. We believe that Mr Blair, as a vociferous advocate of the invasion, must accept a degree of responsibility for its consequences."

The letter says: "It is our view that, after seven years, Mr Blair's achievements as Envoy are negligible, even within his narrow mandate of promoting Palestinian economic development. Furthermore, the impression of activity created by his high-profile appointment has hindered genuine progress towards a lasting peace. "Seven years on there are still over 500 checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank. The Gaza Strip, severely damaged by Israel's 2009 bombing, remains in a humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its population reliant on foreign aid for survival. Israel continues to build settlements that are illegal under international law. According to the Palestinian Authority's former Chief Negotiator, Nabil Shaath, Tony Blair has "achieved so very little because of his gross efforts to please the Israelis".

The letter is also critical of Blair's business interests. "Tony Blair's conduct in his private pursuits also calls into question his suitability for the role. Mr Blair has been widely criticised for a lack of transparency in the way he organises his business dealings and personal finances, and for blurring the lines between his public position as Envoy and his private roles at Tony Blair Associates and the investment bank JPMorgan Chase."

Oliver Miles said: "Tony Blair is the wrong man in the wrong job. The wrong man because he is identified with the war in Iraq; criticism has concentrated on his misreading of intelligence and his lies, but equally important was his failure to plan for the peace, with the result we see today. The wrong job because patching up the Palestine economy sounds good but avoids the real issue, the repression and misery of the occupation; that is what the quartet should tackle. Seven years on it's time to blow the whistle." Crispin Blunt said: "It's time to end Tony Blair's personal calvary as quartet envoy following his disastrous statesmanship in office on the Middle East. His role as envoy was neutered politically almost as soon as it began, and is now a distraction from the increasingly desperate need for a comprehensive peace deal." George Galloway said: "I have begun the process of parliamentary impeachment of Tony Blair. The House of Commons will vote on that later this year. His position is collapsing along with the state of Iraq he helped destroy. His tenure as Quartet envoy is now untenable"

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