Saturday, December 20, 2014

Video Report - Largest immigrant detention center in the U.S. opens

Obama Orders Trade Ban on Crimea for Russian 'Occupation'

President Barack Obama has imposed a wide-ranging trade ban on the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula, with an executive order that bars exports of  key U.S. goods and services and blocks Crimean imports.
A White House statement Friday said the order is "intended to provide U.S. clarity to American corporations doing business in the region." It also said it aimed to demonstrate that Washington "will not accept Russia's occupation" of Crimea.  
The ban includes sanctions on 24 individuals and companies identified as contributing to unrest in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian parliament voted in April to annex the region, despite protests from the European Union and Washington.
The U.S. measures follow similar moves made this week by the European Union and Canada.
Obama on Thursday signed into law a bill authorizing additional sanctions against Moscow for its support of the ongoing pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine. He said the legislation, known as the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, gave his administration additional flexibility to impose new measures against Moscow "if circumstances warranted."
The law also authorized $350 million in lethal and nonlethal military aid to Ukraine, including anti-tank weaponry, munitions and surveillance drones.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, in a statement Friday, described Moscow as "deeply disappointed" in the U.S. law, calling it "unacceptable and provocative."

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North Korea says did not hack Sony, wants joint probe with U.S.

By Jack Kim and Steve Holland 

North Korea said U.S. accusations that it was involved in a cyberattack on Sony Pictures were "groundless slander" and that it was wanted a joint investigation into the incident with the United States.
An unnamed spokesman of the North's foreign ministry said there would be "grave consequences" if Washington refused to agree to the joint probe and continued to accuse Pyongyang, the official KCNA news agency reported on Saturday.
On Friday, President Barack Obama blamed North Korea for the devastating cyberattack, which led to the Hollywood studio cancelling "The Interview", a comedy on the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In its first substantive response to the accusation, the isolated North Korea said it could prove it had nothing to do with the massive hacking attack.
"We propose to conduct a joint investigation with the U.S. in response to groundless slander being perpetrated by the U.S. by mobilizing public opinion," the North Korean spokesman said.
"If the U.S. refuses to accept our proposal for a joint investigation and continues to talk about some kind of response by dragging us into the case, it must remember there will be grave consequences," the spokesman said.
Earlier, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it had determined that North Korea was behind the hacking of Sony, saying Pyongyang's actions fell "outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior".
Obama said North Korea appeared to have acted alone. Washington began consultations with Japan, China, South Korea and Russia seeking their assistance in reining in North Korea. {ID:nL1N0U32BR]
Japan and South Korea said they would cooperate. China, North Korea's only major ally, has yet to respond, but a Beijing-run newspaper said "The Interview" was not a movie for Hollywood and U.S. society to be proud of.
"The vicious mocking of Kim is only a result of senseless cultural arrogance," the newspaper said.
It was the first time the United States had directly accused another country of a cyberattack of such magnitude on American soil and set up a possible new confrontation between longtime foes Washington and Pyongyang.
Obama said he wished that Sony had spoken to him first before yanking the movie, suggesting it could set a bad precedent. "I think they made a mistake," he said.
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Executive Michael Lynton insisted the company did not capitulate to hackers and said it is still looking for alternative platforms to release "The Interview." This week, a spokeswoman for Sony had said the company did not have further release plans for the $44 million film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.
Despite Obama's stern warning to North Korea, his options for responding to the computer attack by the impoverished state appeared limited. The president declined to be specific about any actions under consideration.
North Korea has been subject to U.S. sanctions for more than 50 years, but they have had little effect on its human rights policies or its development of nuclear weapons. It has become expert in hiding its often criminal money-raising activities, largely avoiding traditional banks.
The FBI said technical analysis of malicious software used in the Sony attack found links to malware that "North Korean actors" had developed and found a "significant overlap" with "other malicious cyber activity" previously tied to Pyongyang.
But it otherwise gave scant details on how it concluded that North Korea was behind the attack.
U.S. experts say Obama's options could include cyber retaliation, financial sanctions, criminal indictments against individuals implicated in the attack or even a boost in U.S. military support to South Korea, still technically at war with the North.
But the effect of any response would be limited given North Korea's isolation and the fact that it is already heavily sanctioned for its nuclear program.
There is also the risk that an overly harsh U.S. response could provoke Pyongyang to escalate any cyber warfare.
Non-conventional capabilities such as cyber warfare and nuclear technology are the weapons of choice for the impoverished North, defectors said in Seoul.
They said the Sony attack may have been a practice run for North Korea's "cyberarmy" as part of its long-term goal of being able to cripple its rivals' telecommunications and energy grids.

After turbulent year, Obama aims for quiet Hawaii getaway


A tumultuous year all but behind him, President Barack Obama set off for his annual winter getaway in Hawaii hoping for one thing: Quiet.
Air Force One touched down late in the evening at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with the president, first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters and two dogs on board. On Saturday, the family was to begin their roughly two-week retreat from the hubbub in Washington on the lush island of Oahu.
Vacationing in Hawaii, where the president was born and spent much of his childhood, has been a tradition every year that Obama has been in the White House. This year, the trip comes as Obama closes out a chaotic sixth year in office on something of a high note.
Lofty aspirations to overhaul immigration laws, early childhood education and U.S. wages were scuttled by stubborn opposition to Obama's agenda in Congress, and on his watch, Democrats took a drubbing in the midterm elections that will relegate them to the minority in Congress for Obama's last two years. Crises erupted in Ukraine, the Middle East and West Africa, diverting Obama's attention time and again.
Yet as Obama packed his bags for Hawaii, he appeared buoyed by what he had managed to accomplish on other fronts, including the resumption of relations with Cuba last week after a half-century of antagonism. In his year-end news conference Friday, Obama said he felt energized, citing signs of major progress in the economic recovery and his recent executive actions on immigration and climate change.
"Going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a time-out," Obama said. "I am now looking forward to a quiet time-out, Christmas with my family."
He also wished reporters a "mele kalikimaka" — Hawaiian for merry Christmas.
Typically, Obama spends much of his vacation playing golf on Hawaii's lush courses, joined on the green by longtime friends and occasionally a celebrity or professional athlete. A gym at a nearby Marine Corps base allows the president to get in an early-morning workout. He and Mrs. Obama also dine out at landmark restaurants in Honolulu, and join daughters Sasha and Malia for hikes, beach time and trips for shave ice — a Hawaiian treat similar to a snow cone.
In years past, Obama's vacation has been interrupted by pressing crises, sometimes forcing him to delay his departure or even return to Washington temporarily. This year, with Congress having approved must-pass legislation just ahead of its year-end deadlines, White House aides were cautiously optimistic that this year's trip wouldn't be disturbed.
Like last year, the Obamas were to spend their time away in a swank rental home in Kailua, a beachside community not far from Honolulu. Obama has no public events scheduled during his stay, but islanders typically have a few opportunities to spot the president and his family out and about during their stay.
Obama is scheduled to return to Washington on Jan. 4.

Video - President Obama's 2014 Year-End Press Conference

Video - Late-night laughs: Greetings from Havana

Obama, Cuba and the Fierce Urgency of Now

Something seems to have happened to President Barack Obama as he begins his final two years in office.

Instead of being intimidated by the prospect of Republican Party control of both chambers of Congress beginning in January, the president seems unhindered and in some ways politically liberated, eager to strike out on his own after years of battles with Republicans in Congress.
The latest example was the president’s surprise announcement to reopen diplomatic ties with Cuba, a radical shift in a policy that’s been in place since before he was born.
President Barack Obama 

"We will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries," Obama said Wednesday. "Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas."

Disapproving voices
Some Republicans and a prominent Democrat were quick to criticize the move on Cuba.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles who settled in Florida, said the president’s decision “represents a terrible setback for the hopes of all oppressed people around the globe.”
Rubio is a potential presidential contender in 2016. He quickly seized on the Cuba opening to launch a broadside against the president’s overall foreign policy, which many Republicans see as an invitation to weakness.
Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was disappointed in Obama’s decision. In his words, it "vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government."
But Republican Senator Jeff Flake supported the president’s move. He argued that the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba in place for the past 50 years has done more to keep the Castro government in power than anything else.
"I am pleased these actions have been taken," Flake said. "I think they will improve the lot of ordinary Cubans and it’s good for Americans as well."
Many Democrats also welcomed the change in direction toward Cuba. The split reaction in Congress means it may be difficult for opponents to muster the necessary will to try and block the president’s actions.
Fears of gridlock in 2015
Republicans were already fixated on ways to stop Obama’s executive action protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
There is little question that the Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives will give them political leverage this coming year.
But Republican House Speaker John Boehner also acknowledged that the public will be watching to see whether his party can handle the reins of power.
"Of course the opportunity to serve the American people is always humbling," Boehner recently told reporters. "It is even more so at a time when our country faces such great challenges. We are ready and eager to get to work."
Expect Republican challenges to the president on his unilateral actions on immigration reform.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Tea Party favorite and likely presidential contender in 2016, is among those leading the charge.
"Just about every Republican candidate campaigned saying, ‘If you elect us, we will stop President Obama’s amnesty,’ " Cruz said. "What I’m here urging my fellow Republicans to do is very, very simple: Do what you said you would do."
But Obama made it clear he will not back down on his immigration order. 
"Until Congress fixes this problem legislatively, if you have deep ties to this country and you are willing to get right by the law and do what you need to do, then you shouldn’t have to worry about being deported or being separated from you kids," he said last week at an immigration town hall in Nashville, Tennessee.
Opportunity for Republicans
Republicans’ efforts to bolster their party’s image as they run Congress over the next two years could pay dividends as voters look ahead to the 2016 presidential election, said University of Chicago expert William Howell.
"They need to demonstrate their ability to effectively govern. They cannot strictly and solely be an obstructionist force in American politics," Howell said. "They need to demonstrate their ability to get stuff done."
Republican political strategist Phillip Stutts agreed that his party will need to demonstrate an ability to govern over the next two years.
"We have to show leadership," Stutts said. "We have to show that we have ideas. Otherwise, we are not going to win in 2016 and this is our chance."
But Stutts quickly added that Republicans may not have a lot of time to prove themselves.
"I also think there is a limited window going into 2015 and then once some of the potential presidential candidates start staking out positions and announcing, then I think all bets are off," Stutts said. "It is just going to be a war. No one is going to get along and it is just going to be the kind of thing that everybody hates about Washington all over again."
Jeb Bush signals he’s ready
Nobody expected former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to signal his presidential intentions quite this early.
FILE - Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says he's considering a 2016 presidential bid.FILE - Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says he's considering a 2016 presidential bid.
Most of the pundits said the so-called big boys in the race – Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and perhaps 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney – all would wait a few months before announcing their intentions.
But Bush seized the early headlines with this week's announcement that he is officially exploring a White House run for 2016. He spoke about his possible presidential aspirations with Miami TV station WPLG.
"I have no clue if I would be a good candidate," said Bush, whose last campaign ended with his 2002 reelection as governor. "I hope I would be. I think I could serve well as president, to be honest with you, but I don’t know that, either."
Bush also suggested he wouldn’t shy away from big themes during a campaign if he decides to run, and might be willing to take some stands unpopular with the conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.
"You can do big things if you set the stage in a campaign and then move forward," he said. "If you run with big ideas and then you are true to those ideas and get a chance to serve and implement them and do it with passion and conviction, you can move the needle" and effect change.
Public opinion polls have shown Bush to be one of the leaders of the potential Republican presidential field, but not by an overwhelming margin.
Others consider running
His decision could cause other potential contenders to move up their timetables, including Christie, Cruz, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
It also could be a blow to some possible contenders who had hoped to get traction in a field that did not include a big name like Jeb Bush. Among those in this category are Florida’s Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
Bush’s early decision to dip his toe in the water could also help line up wealthy fundraisers around the country who otherwise might wait to see what Christie, Romney and Perry will do.
But make no mistake: Bush will have his challenges if he decides to take the plunge in 2015.
Tea Party factions and some conservative talk show hosts see a Bush candidacy as a potential irritant to the Republican Party’s right wing, which could produce several conservative challengers in the primaries.
Bush could have edge
Even if he won the party nomination, Bush would have to face the notion often seen in past opinion polls that the country simply isn’t ready for another Bush to win the presidency in 2016.
But Bush could have an advantage if he runs. Both Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 were able to survive conservative challenges to win the Republican nomination.
But the 2012 gauntlet for Romney left some Republicans wondering if all that pressure on him to take conservative positions in the primaries left him vulnerable in the general election against Obama.
This time around, more Republicans may be looking for a winner rather than a conservative ideological champion – and that might help Bush.
In addition, the 2014 midterm results were seen by many as a victory for the Republican Party establishment in the long-running battle with Tea Party activists.

Bush could benefit from a party more intent on winning back the White House in 2016 with a candidate who can appeal to moderates and Hispanics, something he was able to do in two election victories for governor in Florida.

Video - President Obama's Weekly Address: - America’s Resurgence is Real -

Peshawar bomb blast - Pashto sad song for peace.

The good news in ‘Afghanistan’s Marshall Plan’

As the U.S. continues its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, it’s worth taking a look at how much the nation has spent on aid–and how effective it has (or hasn’t) been.
Certainly, the numbers are high. A July quarterly report (PDF) released by special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction John F. Sopko declared that in passing $104 billion mark ”the United States will have committed more funds to reconstruct Afghanistan, in inflation-adjusted terms, than it spent on 16 European countries after World War II under the Marshall Plan.” It is safe to say that the $103.4 billion current-day dollars spent on the Marshall Plan led to better nation building, and critics were quick to malign much of the spending in Afghanistan as ill-conceived and poorly managed.
But as  this Reuters graphic makes clear, a number of social and economic indicators describe an marked improvement quality of life in Afghanistan. Against the most recent numbers, Afghan life expectancy has  jumped by 5 years since 2002 and total GDP has quintupled. In 2011, the number of children who died before the age of five was less than 40 percent of the 2003 figure, and the number of women dying in child birth was almost one-fifth the 2002 rate. Doctors per 1,000 people have tripled; access to reliable electricity has better than quadrupled; school enrollment has better than octupled; and high school enrollment has tripled.
In the long wars triggered by the 9/11 attacks, making people’s lives tangibly better beats torture every time, and the Taliban massacre of scores of Pakistani school children this week can’t be winning hearts and minds in the region. The war in Afghanistan has taken more than 3,400 U.S. and Coalition lives, with over 20,000 wounded, at a price tag of almost $1 trillion. It is important to recognize that some good has come from those costs.

Afghanistan - Deadline fixed for new cabinet

The house of representative of Afghanistan has set a deadline of one week to the new government to introduce their cabinet to the house.
The house of representative on Saturday said if government does not introduce the cabinet in one week they will announce their decision.
Members of the house in their Saturday’s session were accusing the heads of the government for sharing power which has postponed the introduction of the new cabinet.
They called on the president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah to introduce the cabinet for the sack of people ASAP.
It has been the 3rd month of the new government but the cabinet is not introduced at this time.
Political analyzers believe the delay of the cabinet is one of the key reasons for increase of insecurity in the country.

Civilian Deaths In Afghanistan Reach New High In 2014: UN

At least 3,188 Afghan civilians have been killed in the intensifying war with the Taliban in 2014, making it the deadliest year on record for non-combatants, the United Nations said on Friday.
The numbers are a sharp reminder that the Afghan war is far from over, even as a U.S.-led international force formally ends its combat mission at the end of the month, shifting to a supporting role for Afghan forces after 13 years.
"The situation for civilians in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly dire," said Georgette Gagnon, human rights director for the U.N. mission in Kabul.
As of Nov. 30, the United Nations had recorded a total of 3,188 civilian deaths and 6,429 injuries.
That puts 2014 on track to be the first year on record that combined civilian casualties will surpass 10,000.
Civilian deaths over the year to the end of November were up 19 percent over the same period last year and had already surpassed the previous high set in 2011, when 3,133 civilians were killed.
For the first time, ground battles between the Taliban and Afghan forces became the main cause of civilian deaths. In previous years, planted bombs killed the most civilians.
"That is very worrying," said Gagnon, calling on all sides to do more to keep civilians from being caught in crossfire of mortars and other heavy weapons.
About three-quarters of civilian casualties were caused by Taliban insurgents, who are intensifying their fight to re-establish their hardline Islamist regime that was toppled in a U.S.-backed military intervention for sheltering the al Qaeda architects of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.
Since the U.N. began tracking civilian casualties in 2009, a total of 17,252 civilian deaths and 29,536 injuries have been recorded.
While U.S. military officials have portrayed the war as in the process of being won by Afghan security forces, the national army and police have also suffered record losses this year, with more than 4,600 killed.
Since 2001, nearly 3,500 foreign soldiers from 29 countries have been killed in Afghanistan, including about 2,200 Americans.

Pakistan - #ArrestAbdulAziz - Pakistan’s Old Curse

Only a week ago, the Red Mosque seemed a nearly untouchable bastion of Islamist extremism in Pakistan, a notorious seminary in central Islamabad known for producing radicalized, and sometimes heavily armed, graduates.
On Friday evening, though, the tables were turned when hundreds of angry protesters stood at the mosque gates and howled insults at the chief cleric — a sight never seen since the Taliban insurgency began in 2007.
What has changed is the mass killing of schoolchildren, at least 132 of them, slain by Pakistani Taliban gunmen in a violent cataclysm that has traumatized the country. In the months before the shocking assault on a Peshawar school on Tuesday, Pakistan’s leadership had been consumed by political war games, while the debate on militancy was dominated by bigoted and conspiracy-laden voices, like those of the clerics of the Red Mosque.
Now, united by grief, rage and political necessity, Pakistanis from across society are speaking with unusual force and clarity about the militant threat that blights their society. For the first time, religious parties and ultraconservative politicians have been forced to publicly shun the movement by name. And while demonstrations against militancy have been relatively small so far, they touched several cities in Pakistan, including a gathering of students outside the school in Peshawar.
Protest leaders believe that the public will support them. “This will become a protest movement against the Taliban,” one organizer, Jibran Nasir, thundered into a microphone outside the Red Mosque on Friday.
Though there is little doubt that the Peshawar massacre has galvanized Pakistani society, the question is whether it can become a real turning point for a society plagued by violent divisions, culture wars and the strategic prerogatives of a powerful military.
After all, Pakistan has been here before. The country has suffered countless wrenching tragedies — the death of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, as well as attacks on mosques, markets and churches — only for rage to fizzle into nothing. And after the Taliban attack on the teenage rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai, a resulting backlash against Western support for her made her the target of smears and vitriolic criticism.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, seemingly paralyzed for much of the year by political opposition, has promised that this time will be different. He rushed to Peshawar as the school shooting was still underway. As global scrutiny intensified, Mr. Sharif vowed to eliminate the distinction between “good” and “bad” militants — a nod to the military’s decades-old policy of fighting some Islamists while secretly supporting others.
The army, for its part, has been buoyed by a wave of public sympathy, as many of the children killed at the Army Public School in Peshawar came from military families. And other forces, such as Karachi’s M.Q.M. party, have sought to harness national anger for local purposes.
“Crush Taliban to Save Pakistan,” read the banners at a large party rally in Karachi on Friday.
The tide of outrage has encouraged progressive Pakistanis, increasingly marginalized for years, to speak up.
Outside the Red Mosque on Friday, protesters waved placards mocking the chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who had enraged many by refusing to condemn the Taliban attackers during a television interview. “Run, burqa, run” read one sign, in a reference to Mr. Abdul Aziz’s attempt to slip through a military cordon in 2007 while disguised in a woman’s concealing garments.
A day earlier, when a few dozen demonstrators tentatively appeared outside the mosque, students there wielded staves to intimidate the protesters into silence. But on Friday, the protest grew, and riot police officers waving truncheons interposed themselves between the two sides.
“The Red Mosque has become a factory of terror and hatred,” said Bushra Gohar of the Awami National Party, a Pashtun political party that has suffered countless Taliban attacks.
But for all the fighting talk, many are skeptical that the anger and tears of this week can make a sustained change.
The most intense anti-Taliban protests this week have been confined to the relative safety of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, where many users have posted solid black images as profile pictures. The extraordinary scenes at the Red Mosque would only be significant if they were replicated in numbers across Pakistan, said Chris Cork, an editorial writer with The Express Tribune newspaper.
But, he said, civil society is still weak and disorganized, riven by fear of the Taliban and the harsh gaze of the intelligence agencies.
“I don’t see a joining up of the dots across the country,” Mr. Cork said. “There isn’t the infrastructure, the will, the people with organization, ability and visibility to lead it.”
The wave of anti-Taliban sentiment is “probably just a blip,” he added. “Quite honestly, give it a month and it will have faded.”
The hard lessons of history underpin such pessimism. Although the Pakistani military has taken the fight into the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan in recent months, there is evidence that Pakistan’s generals continue to play favorites among militant groups.
The “good” militants that Mr. Sharif referred to in his speech — those focused on Afghanistan and India, and who have longstanding ties to Pakistani intelligence — have continued to strut the national stage, even after the Peshawar massacre.
The most visible of such groups is Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the deadly 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Not only does its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who has a $10 million United States government bounty on his head, live openly in the eastern city of Lahore, but he has also built a public profile as a media personality.
On Friday, his brother-in-law, Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki, delivered a sermon at a mosque in Hyderabad, the second largest city in Sindh Province. After offering prayers for the victims of the Peshawar attack, Mr. Makki first accused NATO of sending “terrorists disguised as Muslims” into Pakistan, then linked the attack to India.
The group said that as he spoke, preachers from its charity wing fanned out across Karachi, a city of 20 million people, giving sermons at 45 different mosques — and propagating similar conspiracy theories.
Experts say it would be naïve to expect the Pakistani military to immediately disband groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, particularly given the fraught state of relations with India in recent months. But they also say that the underground ties between militant groups — which often share ideas, fighters and weapons — hopelessly undermine army efforts to dismantle the Pakistani Taliban.
“It’s that old story,” Hillary Rodham Clinton said when she visited Islamabad as secretary of state in 2011. “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors.”
A cross-party political committee, formed by the prime minister, has promised to come up with a new strategy to fight the Taliban within a week. That is a hopelessly optimistic goal, by most reckonings.
The bigger worry, though, is that once anger over the Peshawar massacre has dissipated, the debate over militancy will once again be clouded in confusion and obfuscation — which, as recent years have shown, offers an ideal moment for the Taliban to strike again.

Ranting Hafiz Saeed Unrebuked by Pakistan

      Our hearts go out to the little victims and their teachers of the Peshawar incident. India has mourned, many a time, for its own innocents suffering at the hands of terrorists. The entire region feels for the parents mourning the loss of their beloved ones. Such atrocity by terrorists seeking to justify their barbaric acts of murder in the name of religion is condemned across boundaries. The cry for justice and action against terrorists is a unified one.
      Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly confirmed a telephonic conversation with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif to condemn the incident and offer any assistance from India. Schools across India observed two minutes of silence to express solidarity, as did Parliament.
      National Security Adviser Ajit Doval while visiting the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi to offer condolences summed up the national mood when he stated that "Never in my life, I have seen or heard that people can be so inhuman," and added, "They can descend to such low level, target children in school... it has shocked and stunned our entire nation."
      Numerous television panelists from Pakistan publicly appreciated Prime Minister Modi's gesture and the mood across India for their solidarity with the people of Pakistan in this moment of grief. Given the response of the Indian Prime Minister and its citizens, commentators wondered whether a thaw in the relations between the two nations could now be expected.
      However, within hours the pubic rant by 26/11 master-mind Hafiz Saeed across television channels in Pakistan blaming India for the Peshwar incident and seeking revenge provided a typically conflicting and jarring note. Even former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf joined the extreme bandwagon by claiming the perpetrators of the crime were those trained by India! And to top it, another 26/11 accused, LeT commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was granted bail by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court.
      Unfortunately, the question of normalization of relations with Pakistan cannot ignore realities within Pakistan where several conflicting centres of power co-exist. In a country where democracy isn't firmly established, the army has emerged as the permanent pillar of stability. This in itself weakens democratic forces resulting in perpetual instability through power politics. Add to this the role of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) together with the so-called "non-state actors", an inventive term for terrorists and extremists, and Pakistan becomes internally combustible.
      This volatility is exacerbated when another incongruous distinction is made between 'good and bad terrorists'. While the Pakistan army is engaged in a bloody battle against terrorists in areas on its western borders, astoundingly on its eastern borders, terrorists like Hafiz Saeed freely roam and rant against India at will!
      These contradictions are evident globally as well. Osama bin Laden was living less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad. It finally took US navy seals to swoop down in a pre-dawn raid and kill their most-wanted terrorist.
      As a counter-measure, the Pakistani establishment has followed a core strategy of deflecting attention from these contradictions through a stringent anti-India stance primarily fixated on Jammu and Kashmir and devoid of any deliverables. Punishment for the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack seems distant (if at all). Dawood Ibrahim, among India's list of most-wanted criminals, has been living in Pakistan for decades, while Hafiz Saeed appears on television at will.
      All such issues raise pertinent questions on whether the civilian government there can deliver on what it promises. Which is what makes "meaningful dialogue" with Pakistan somewhat unsure, even if talks are to be resumed.
      Within Pakistan, this is the time for the establishment and civil society to take action against such forces head on and without duplicity. It would be a firm step forward. To feed a fictional narrative that Indian agencies were involved in the Peshawar massacre, in order to fan the frenzy and deflect attention from their own systemic failures, will only drive them farther from the truth and from what urgently needs to be done. This may well be that historic moment when the Pakistani establishment can seriously seize the opportunity to consider constructive and empowering decisions in the path ahead.
      While India and Pakistan are not yet friends, it does not mean that we can't be friends in the future. In the meanwhile, given the fact that terrorists like Hafiz Saeed remain free with impunity within Pakistan, perhaps Noam Chomsky would serve well for serious thought - "Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it."

      Pakistan: Barbarity of the Peshawar massacre

      The massacre of 141 people including 132 children by the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban at the Peshawar Army Public School yesterday was probably the most heinous barbarity ever seen even in Pakistan, which has been victim to this scourge for decades now. Hardly a day passes without suicide attacks, terrorist bombing or target killings in this tragic country.
      The main reason cited for this atrocity by the spokesman of the perpetrators and the official analysts is the ongoing operation in North Waziristan by the Pakistan army to wipe out the Taliban and eliminate their strongholds. However, just days before this operation started the main commanders and masterminds of these terrorist outfits had left the region to Afghanistan and other areas that were not targeted in the operation plans. This fact, conceded by the military spokesmen, speaks volumes about the penetration of these reactionary forces into the structures of the state and the sensitive decision-making institutions.
      But the roots of this prevalent Islamic terrorism lie in the historical and the strategic character of the state and the reactionary nature of the Pakistan’s ruling classes that rely on these Islamic forces to perpetuate their exploitative and repressive rule. It’s not an accident that most terrorists go scot-free from the courts for even for the most bestial of crimes and murderous brutality. Those convicted are rarely prosecuted. There have been innumerable incidents when officers and personnel have been arrested and charged with some of the worst acts of terrorist killing and violence. Most of the judiciary, especially at the middle level, is comprised of personnel that are in fact followers of these religious Jihadi doctrines. A police guard who assassinated Salman Taseer, the serving governor of Punjab, was garlanded and showered in flower petals by the lawyers at his court appearance and is yet to be prosecuted for the crime.
      mohammad-hafiz-saeedMohammad Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar a Tayyaba has a bounty of $10 on his head, however he freely appears in Pakistani television on a regular basis.The most nauseating and defeatist argument of the dominating intelligentsia and the media specialists of the political elite is to create a distinction between the so-called moderate and extremist Muslims. However, experience has shown that the ‘moderates’ can become ‘extremists’ and extremists in connivance with the state hypocritically start posing as ‘moderates’ in a quick succession. For example, one of the leaders of the former Lashkar a Tayyaba that is at the top of the list of the terrorist organisations compiled by the Western agencies, has a bounty of ten million dollars offered by the CIA, yet he is on television shows and addresses public meetings frequently without any fear, with high level security covertly provided by the ISI. He is also wanted for masterminding the Bombay massacre, and such is his influence in the state establishment that the Pakistani regimes can put the peace process with India at stake just to protect this individual.
      This example shows the power of those hidden by the state and the rogue agencies which are answerable to none. Even the US imperialists have compromised with this status quo in their own impotence, due to the failure of their invasion in Afghanistan and defeat of their policies in the region. On the other hand, a widespread movement of the Islamic preaching called ‘The Tableegi Jamaat’ that has millions of followers is portrayed by the media as a ‘moderate’ organisation. In a recent book ‘Pakistan: A New History’, Ian Talbot has revealed that this religious outfit was responsible for the Madrid and London train bombings that killed and maimed dozens of innocent people. It has its annual congregation every November in Raiwind near Lahore, which is attended by more than half a million people. Those attending this congregation include judges, military and civilian bureaucrats, politicians, journalists, most wanted Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and others at the helm of the affairs of the state and society.
      In the heart of Islamabad is located the Lal Masjid (The Red mosque) and the notorious Jamia Hafza, a women’s seminary that breeds and trains Islamic fundamentalist vigilantes and terrorists. In 2006, during the Musharraf regime, these female vigilantes roamed around Islamabad with sticks and clubs to destroy video shops and private houses accused of being adulterous by these cleansers of society. They harassed, humiliated and even perpetrated violent acts against women who did not wear veils or used nail polish, etc.
      The police and the state forces turned a blind eye to these acts of vigilantism and stayed aloof. However, when these vigilantes attacked a Chinese massage parlour, under the severe pressure of the Chinese government the Pakistani regime had to act. But this operation proved too damaging for Musharraf. The seminary and the basement of the mosque had huge stocks of advanced weaponry and explosives. A severe battle ensued in which dozens of military commandos and terrorists were killed. The right wing elements in the judiciary, state and politics are still trying to prosecute Musharraf in spite of him being a former president and Chief of the army. The top cleric of those institutions has been released scot-free by the judiciary and the Mosque and the seminary fully restored under his command. After the gruesome killing of the school students in Peshawar he refused to condemn the brutality and is often on the airwaves preaching violent jihad and the venomous hatred of religious prejudice. But even the other moderates and Mullahs of other varieties that are hypocritically condemning this act of terror are otherwise mostly giving provocative and reactionary sermons instigating especially the petit bourgeois youth to commit reactionary acts of social despotim.
      During the late 1970s and 80s the Zia dictatorship imposed Islamic laws and made it compulsory for the government employees to pray five times a day. All national days were infested with Islamic scriptures. This Islamisation of Pakistan the Zia and the ISI under supervision of the CIA and the Saudi intelligence agencies carried out the recruitment of religious fanatics in the infamous Dollar Jihad at the behest of US imperialists. This was to advance the counter revolutionary insurgency against the left wing government in Afghanistan. That process of Islamisation of the state and society started by the vicious Zia dictatorship continued under the subsequent democratic regimes of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. However, the CIA to finance the Afghan Jihad initiated the business of heroin production and drug smuggling that continued after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops and the decline of US interests in the region. This trade has now become a mammoth black economy that is more that twice Pakistan’s formal economy. Heroin also finances the terrorist outfits that are now attacking the US forces in Afghanistan and interests elsewhere. They have become Frankenstein’s monsters not just for the imperialists but also for their local ISI mentors. The terrorist acts that get huge investments for their operational executions also are a source of massive profits in this business of crime and plunder. They also create conflicts between various factions of these terrorist outfits which, apart from their internecine wars, also have to compete for the most brutal and vicious acts of violence in order to enhance and market their ‘terror’ commodity in areas where the rule of state law is dying as its authorities collapse. The state’s operations against some sections of these Islamic terrorists - while avoiding or protecting others whom they use in their proxy wars with other competing states in the region - complicate this whole war on terror. Those friend-turned-foe terrorist outfits are more dangerous for the state as they have been trained by it and are well aware of its strategic and logistic plans and whereabouts.
      The condemnation by Narendra Modi reeks of a cynical hypocrisy. He is a product of Hindu fundamentalism and his whole politics and support base amongst the Indian petit bourgeoisie and primitive sections of society is based on this very religious and narrow national chauvinism. John Kerry and David Cameron’s condemnations are equally duplicitous. These imperialist powers were the ones that engineered and fabricated this modern Islamic fundamentalism. They still use them directly and inversely wherever they need these fundamentalists for their vested interests.
      Is this not also true of Pakistan’s ruling political elite and the parties that are part of the status quo and exponents of this regressive and rotten capitalism in Pakistan? The failure of Pakistan’s ruling classes to complete any of the tasks of the capitalist revolution and the continuum of this degenerating and decaying system under their corrupt rule is the actual root cause of this terrorism. This barbarism can also be defined by Trotsky’s dictum that it is the distilled essence of capitalism to a large extent. The black economy that actually runs Pakistan has penetrated not only the state but also politics and these mafiosi bosses have to a certain extent taken over sections of this country’s ruling class. Hence the all-parties’ conference has come out only with the formation of yet another ‘committee’ to devise a strategy to combat terrorism. This would be hilarious were the reality of yesterday’s event not so tragic.
      Ali Wazir 20132013 election poster of Ali WazirNone of the basic structures, venom spewing mullahs, masterminds in moderate postures and breeding seminaries will be touched by this state. Nor can they be. A malaise has set in society due to the prevailing dark clouds of reaction. The social, ethical, moral and cultural values have further rotted with an asphyxiating atmosphere in society. Still there is a silver lining on the horizon. There have been several movements of the workers and the youth, from the gas and oil workers to the nurses and doctors’ struggles. In Waziristan itself there has been a victorious struggle of ordinary masses led by a Marxist comrade Ali Wazir, which shows that in the most arduous of the situations struggles can be fought and won. Within the existing capitalist system Pakistan is doomed. Not even minimal reforms can be actually implemented not to mention eliminating terrorism. This Islamic fundamentalist menace has become a tumour in the socio-politico body of this country. It can only be lanced with the revolutionary surgery of a socialist transformation.

      #PeshawarAttack - How much real is the anxiety the day after?

      For too long, the work the government, its agencies and political leadership should have undertaken and finished to confront and control terrorism had been cut out; that the urgency that it should be done was to be dictated by the blood spilt in the classrooms of Peshawar Army Public School is nothing but rank national failure. What a price the nation had to pay. How frivolous were the inhibitions which had held back national consensus for a unified action against the modern-day Herods the Great; indeed very frivolous. No wonder then it hasn't taken the political leaders across the board more than a day to turn the page on their ego-centric perennial squabblings and join hands against terrorists. No beef with those who paint the unanimity arrived at the Governor's House on the day after as the Pakistani nation's inherent strength to rise to the occasion. But who is to be blamed for the continuing lack of will and action against monsters who kept spilling innocent blood wherever they wanted, and when caught were not punished? We will watch as the joint declaration issued at the end of a multi-party conference (MPC) chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif plays out. Given the enormity of the terrorists' barbaric act the Peshawar declaration cannot be allowed to be another déjà vu. 

      In the wake of the school carnage quite a few important developments have taken place. One, the MPC has formed a committee, headed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, to work out a national plan for counter-terrorism within a week, which will be then discussed with all stakeholders, including the armed forces, before implementation. Though we set no great store by 'committees' set up from time to time, but given the gravity of the situation, we trust this time it would be different from the routine. And also that the timeline would be hermitically observed, particularly when debates and discussions of "good" Taliban and "bad" Taliban and if they are fighting for the glory of Islam have lapsed. Two, with a complete agreement of the MPC participants the government has lifted the nearly decade-old moratorium on executions following courts verdicts. This was long overdue, and the law-enforcement and security agencies had been asking for it, but as much for the pressure exerted by the European Union and various rights groups as for a lack of clarity on the part of the government of the day, executions were not carried out, with the result that, as of now, there are no less than eight thousand convicts on death row. Death penalty is an essential part of the Pakistan Penal Code and should not have been placed under moratorium, especially of the convicted terrorists. From now on those convicted of terrorism-related offences would be sent to the gallows. How adversely the moratorium impacted counter-terrorism actions the classic case is that of the convict who while in prison had succeeded in breaking the same prison. But that said it would be pertinent to point out that all those convicted by anti-terrorism courts may not be the ones who were involved in the kind of terrorism the lifted moratorium is expected to counter. 

      At the same time Imran Khan's change of heart reflected from his decision to wrap up his 126-day long sit-in is no doubt a good omen for the nation's renewed pledge to win the war against terrorists. But one should not forget that his 'dharna' did cause a lot of national loss, the most grievously hurting being inability of the government to receive Chinese President Xi. All that he wanted to achieve was, and is, possible through peaceful means. In politics, past of a leader is more important than his future and it lives with him throughout. Good that he is convinced of what the Peshawar Corps Commander told him about the dangers lurking on the horizon: But isn't it crassly weird that he didn't know of it before? Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, this was the instant visit of army chief General Raheel Sharif to Kabul with an undeniable proof that the attack on the Peshawar Army Public School was organised and conducted by the Kunar-based Mullah Fazlullah. Even when quite a few other terrorist outfits, some on their own and some as proxies, are presently engaged in the countrywide terrorism in Pakistan the most active is the Mullah Fazlullah's group. The ball is now in the court of new Afghan government, and they have to play it. And there are also quite a few others in Pakistan who wonder how come Mulla Fazlullah has survived the otherwise ubiquitous presence of American drones and the Coalition troops' fire.