Imran Azam

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Latest articles from Imran Azam

Saudi Pro League has 'turned transfer market upside down'

Alex McLeish claims its 'too early' to assess the impact of Saudi Arabia’s financial strength on European football. The two-time former Scotland national manager, who has also managed at club level in England, Belgium and Egypt, has been taken aback more at the speed rather than the amount splurged by the Saudi Pro League (SPL). By the time the SPL transfer window closed on September 7, they had spent £701.3m in transfer fees, outspending four out of the five leading leagues in Europe such as Ligue 1 (France), Bundesliga (Germany) Serie A (Italy) and La Liga (Spain). Only the English Premier League had a greater outlay. The majority of the spend came from four out of the 18 SPL clubs – Al Hilal, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Ittihad – who are owned by the country’s Public Investment Fund. McLeish, a supporter of Show Racism the Red Card charity, said: “It’s fair to say that in the space of a few weeks they’ve turned the transfer market upside down! A lot of people in the game are making parallels with the Chinese [Super League] which offered big name players, plenty of money but for a number of reasons, it didn’t take off. “At this stage it’s not clear if the Saudis will go the same way. You’ll have to wait a few years to get a better idea. But you know competition is a good thing. Much of the media attention and focus has been on the major [western] European leagues. Maybe some people in Europe got too complacent and now they’ve got a wee kick up the backside. “In my opinion the English Premier League is still the best in the world. Players get paid very well but Saudi money is no doubt turning heads. Most of the players going over there are coming towards the end of their careers. The test will be if they can consistently attract those who are in their prime.” Earlier this month the SPL Director of Football, Michael Emenalo, gave several interviews to UK broadcasters defending the transfer fees and salaries, whilst also addressing the issue of “sportwashing” – whereby Saudi Arabia uses sport to improve its reputation and divert focus away from issues such as human rights. McLeish, who has managed Aston Villa, Genk and Zamalek adds that putting politics to one side, he can understand why some players are going to the Middle East. He added: “If you’re a Premier League player who is facing the prospect of reduced game time or potentially moving to a smaller club elsewhere, then apart from your salary, moving to an up-and-coming league where you’re exposing yourself to a different culture and way of life becomes an attractive proposition.” He continued: “When you have the likes of golf, boxing and Formula 1 getting involved with Saudi Arabia, people in football will be asking themselves “Why not us?” You’ve had the World Cup in Qatar and the FIFA President [Gianni Infantino] who clearly said that Europe isn’t in a position to lecture other countries.” Muslim players in Saudi Arabia Several high-profile Muslim players have made the move to the SPL including Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez. Both Mane and Benzema have been quoted as saying that moving to a “Muslim country” was a key reason for them signing for Al Nassr and Al Ittihad respectively. Moreover footage on social media has shown both players performing the Umrah pilgrimage. Will Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah be the next Muslim superstar to be head to the Middle East? Al Ittihad had a reported bid of £150m rejected and could try again for the Egyptian, when the transfer window opens in the New Year. Speaking on talkSport former Tottenham player Jamie O’Hara said Salah’s religious background will be a factor in any move to Saudi Arabia.

'We are fed up': Residents bemoan protests outside Pakistan Consulate

When Imran Khan was arrested last month, his supporters took to the streets, not just in Pakistan but also in north America and the UK. A demonstration was organised in Scotland for Pakistan’s former prime minister by the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) West of Scotland, outside the Pakistani Consulate in Glasgow. The small but vocal group called for his immediate release. The protest was peaceful (unlike those that have taken place outside the Pakistan High Commission in London). However, given the unpredictable nature of politics in the south Asian country, and with a general election potentially due to take place later in the year, some living close to the consulate are dismayed at the potential prospect of further rallies. Speaking anonymously one resident said: “This is a quiet area. It wouldn’t be an issue if they were a one-off, but they take place in quick succession, each getting bigger in number especially if it’s taking place at weekends. “Every time I watch the news and it kicks off in Pakistan, I know it’s only a matter of time before groups of people are stood outside my house. If you ask me its selfish. They wouldn’t like it if it was happening where they lived. “My neighbours are Pakistani and they too are fed up.” Another local, who also didn’t want to give their name, added: “It’s mostly men, you don’t tend to see too many women. They’re shouting slogans, some using loudspeakers, in a language I’m not familiar with. “At bigger demonstrations you’ve a situation where people have spilled out on to the road, which is dangerous and causes obstruction.” After Khan was removed from office last year, several demonstrations were held outside the consulate, which is situated in the Pollokshields area of the city. Prior to its move in 2005, the consulate was situated in a non-descript office close to the city centre. Its relocation has been controversial from the start. In its early days a former staff member told me that he was approached by a resident who objected to the flying of the Pakistan flag from the building. Non-political demonstrations have also taken place. These include when minority groups such Hazara Shias have been attacked or when militants targeted an army-run school in Peshawar (2014). In 2016 the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), organised a protest in solidarity with Asia Bibi, who in 2010 was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges but was exonerated eight years later. According to the BPCA they were confronted on the day by residents who stated their “everyday lives” have been “disturbed” by the number of other demonstrations that have taken place. However upon learning that this particular gathering was “highlighting the plight of Pakistani Christians” they were left to protest with their “blessing”. Last month the consulate hosted Independence Day celebrations, Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf was one of the 600 guests present. A resident who witnessed the festivities says the impact of the demonstrations and other events has been 'exaggerated'. She said: “I have watched many a demonstration from my front window and I’ve not witnessed any anti-social behaviour. They are very civilised. "There are people in hi-vis making sure that cars are not illegally parked or blocking traffic. From my perspective kids from the local school cause more of an issue regarding litter than anyone at a demonstration. “I’ve not had any of my neighbours in this block say they’ve been inconvenienced.”

Rahis Nabi on why Pakistani football deserves a chance

It’s extremely rare for a footballer to take positives from his team finishing bottom of their group at an international tournament without a single victory or solitary goal. However Rahis Nabi believes Pakistan’s performances at the recent South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFF) should be viewed beyond the results. The Birmingham-born midfielder, who made his international debut in 2019, explained: “On the face of it three defeats doesn’t look very good, but you have to look at the bigger picture. The only way players can gel together and put into practice what the manager wants them to do is by playing regularly. “Anyone who follows Pakistani football knows that a lack of games has been an issue. But having three competitive games back-to-back is a major positive. We must build on this now.” (Due to various reasons Pakistan played less than 10 competitive fixtures from 2015 to 2019).

Column Srebrenica: A genocide that happened in plain sight of the world

Earlier this month events were held throughout the UK to commemorate the single largest mass killing on European soil since World War Two. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb soldiers accompanied by their allies, under the command of General Ratko Mladic overran the United Nations (UN) declared “safe area” of Srebrenica. Despite the presence of Dutch peacekeepers they slaughtered over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. In 2017 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted Mladic of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life imprisonment. In 2001 the ICTY had also found another senior Bosnian Serb army officer, Radislav Kristic, guilty for his role in “aiding and abetting” genocide. He was transferred from The Hague to a prison in West Yorkshire, where in 2010 he was violently attacked by three Muslim inmates. The BBC reported that the judge sentenced his attackers to life sentences. He was quoted as saying: “This was a crime of exceptional gravity. You planned a revenge attack by the way of retribution of war crimes.” The war in Bosnia began in April 1992. On a daily basis I would watch harrowing reports of the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted for almost four years, making it the longest siege of a city in modern warfare. The international media was initially heavily focussed on the Bosnian capital, but as time progressed they began to highlight atrocities taking place in other parts of the country. Just one example was in the town of Ahmici, when the Bosnian Croat army massacred over 100 Bosnian Muslims, including women and children. Many were burned alive. British soldiers belonging to the Cheshire Regiment were first on the scene. After surveying entire families scattered lying dead outside their homes, one British solider turned to ITN news cameras in disbelief before saying: “This is Europe 1993 not 1943.” Moreover Ed Vulliamy was the first journalist to uncover the horrors of concentration camps such as Omarska. The sight of skeletal non-Serbs stood behind barbed wire, made the front pages of newspapers across the world. When asked about their treatment one prisoner chillingly told him “I don’t want to tell any lies, but I can’t tell you the truth.” Furthermore the UN estimates that between 20 to 50,000 Bosnian Muslim women were victims of sexual violence during the conflict. Despite such organised, systematic, large-scale campaign of killings, rape and torture taking place in the heart of Europe, British mediator David Owen told Bosnian Muslims “Don’t, don’t, don’t live under this dream that the west is going to come and sort this problem out.” Yet compare the western response to Serb aggression against Bosnia with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Western leaders are queuing up to provide Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with political, moral and crucially military support. There was no red-carpet treatment for the late Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic. He pleaded for a UN arms embargo, which disproportionally impacted on the Bosnian army’s ability to defend themselves, to be lifted. The British and French in particular insisted it remain in place, claiming if removed it would only escalate the violence. However, for some the stance taken by those in power in London and Paris was in fact a cover for Islamophobia. Genocides have taken place in other parts of the world including East Timor, Rwanda and Darfur. However according to Srebrenica genocide survivor, Hasan Nuhanovic, the genocide of Srebrenica is unique in the sense it was committed in “plain sight” of the international community. The flags of both the UN and the Netherlands were flying from the enclave. At the ICTY, Egyptian Judge Fouad Riad, said in relation to Srebrenica: “Scenes of unimaginable savagery: thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered, children killed before their mothers’ eyes, a grandfather forced to eat the liver of his own grandson. These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.” Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said only three years ago that the “tragedy of Srebrenica will haunt” the history of the organisation. Last year the Dutch Government offered its “deepest apologies” for its role in failing to protect the town’s Muslim population. During the Bosnian conflict, there was a narrative in the UK, that if secular, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Muslims could be ethnically cleansed in Europe, then what fate would await non-white Muslim communities in Britain, if similar violence broke out? Many of my peers and I had rarely seen white Muslims. We were ignorant of Islamic history in Europe (Islam came to Bosnia during Ottoman rule). I vividly remember hearing the experiences of a Bosnian Muslim female, who along with her family sought refuge in Scotland. At a public event she told the story of her house being torched by her Serb neighbours. When she asked why they were doing this, they replied: “Because you are dirty Muslims.” She told the audience that growing up in the former Yugoslavia (socialist state) she did not know the difference between a Serb, Croat and Muslim. She only discovered her ethnic and religious identity as a Muslim because of the war. I recall meeting the former Bosnian international footballer Muhamed Konjic who fought for the Bosnian army. I told him I wish I could have done more to help the Bosnian people but all I could do was “pray.” He interrupted me and said, “Don’t underestimate your prayers. We know Muslims all over the world were praying for us. We felt those prayers on the frontline.” I was also intrigued by the experiences of the likes of Babar Ahmad, one of many British Muslims, who initially travelled to Bosnia on humanitarian grounds, but upon learning of the atrocities being committed ended up picking up arms for the Bosnian army. Furthermore, as someone of Pakistani/Kashmiri origin I am fascinated by Pakistan’s involvement in the war. The country’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, under the leadership of Javed Nasir, defied the arms embargo and ran a covert operation in providing the Bosnians with weapons, crucially highly sophisticated anti-tank missiles. Emir Suljagic, is a survivor of the Srebrenica genocide and is the current Director of the Srebrenica Memorial Centre. In a reply to a tweet relating to mosques in Bosnia raising funds for Pakistani flood victims he wrote “those ‘Red Arrows’ in our darkest hours will never be forgotten.” Moreover former Pakistani Prime Minister the late Benazir Bhutto visited Sarajevo in 1994 alongside her then Turkish counterpart Tansu Ciller. In a joint statement the two female politicians said: “Rarely in the annals of human history has a nation been subjected to such merciless savagery in the full view of the world.” When Bosnians refugees were airlifted and resettled in Pakistan the then Bosnian ambassador to the country, Sadzida Silajdzic, was quoted in the Independent saying: “We are Europeans but were abandoned by Europe only because we are Muslims. Now distant countries like Pakistan have opened their hearts to us.” The only conclusion one can reach is Pakistan’s involvement is purely down to helping fellow Muslims. There was no oil, territory, or financial gain from getting involved in a conflict thousands of miles away. Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey also assisted with weapons, whilst Bangladesh and Malaysia also had personnel deployed on peacekeeping duties. However questions could be asked why other Muslim nations didn’t do more to help? Would it have made a difference if Pakistani or Bangladeshi soldiers were in Srebrenica as peacekeepers? Earlier this year during my visit to Bosnia I travelled to the Srebrenica Memorial Centre. On display were belongings of those who were martyred, such as the Quran including separate copies of specific verses and a tasbih (prayer beads). A few days earlier during coffee with Hasan Nuhanovic, our conversation turned to the practice of Islam during the siege of Srebrenica. He told me that the mosques were full and not just for Friday prayers or Ramadan. “What else could people do apart from pray?” Nuhanovic’s reply coincidentally reminded me of a meeting Mladic had with civilian representatives of the town. He told one of them “Allah cannot help you, but Mladic can.” In early 1993 French General Philippe Morillon entered the town and was shocked at the scenes that greeted him. A terrified population starved of food and without basic medical care. He told them “You are now under the protection of the UN forces. I will never abandon you.” With the limited armoury at their disposal, the Bosnian army had repelled their more powerfully armed enemies for several years. However with Mladic’s troops closing in they were left with two options. They could defend the enclave themselves (but in a way of demilitarising the area, the Dutch had seized their heavy weaponry). Or they could leave their destiny in the hands of the UN who assured them of NATO air strikes against advancing Bosnian Serbs. The airstrikes never came on the time promised. Incredibly one request was denied because it was submitted on an incorrect form! In an interview with France 24 former Dutch Defence Minister Joris Voorhoeve claimed that the UK, France and US decided to “suspend” airstrikes but didn’t inform the Dutch of their decision. In a 2020 blog Babar Ahmad wrote “Words cannot articulate the feelings of people besieged in a city which is about to be overrun by a powerful army. They die deaths that are twice as painful than other deaths. That is because along with the pain of death, they die in the pain of being abandoned by the world.” A sentiment echoed by American journalist David Rhode who in his book Endgame: The Betrayal and the Fall of Srebrenica wrote: “The international community partially disarmed thousands of men, promised them they would be safeguarded and then delivered them to their sworn enemies. “The actions of the international community encouraged, aided and emboldened the executioners.”