Saturday, October 25, 2014

Video Report - South Korean protesters rally against Japan over disputed islands

Hundreds of thousands rally in Rome in protest over ‘anti-job’ reforms

Protesters from all over Italy have packed the streets of Rome to express their anger at labor market reforms, one of the main building blocks of the government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s policy.
Up to 1 million people flooded the streets of the Italian capital, the organizers of the rally said. Up to 300,000 more participants were set to arrive in Rome throughout the day to take part in the protests, including a boat and two chartered planes from Sardinia.
CGIL, Italy’s biggest labor union, organized the march and rally in Piazza St. Giovanni, with many protesters carrying red balloons and waving red union banners.
Renzi eyes changing employee protection rules. In September the plan won backing from his party. Critics say the amendments would result in companies not hiring enough staff and creating the risks of chronic economic weakness.
"We want work for everyone, and work with rights. This is a demonstration for those without work, without rights, those who suffer, who have no certainties for the future," Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL, addressed the protesters.
"If Renzi and his government have their antennas up, as they usually do, they will receive a very strong signal today which is that the majority of the people who work and who want to work in this country do not agree with their politics," Fiom union Secretary-General Maurizio Landini told Reuters TV.
"If he really wants to change this country he needs to do it with these people, not against us," he added.
Also fueling the public’s outrage is the austerity policies: increasing public spending cuts to cope with the EU budget restrictions.
Italy’s current employment rate is one of the lowest in the EU, standing at 55.7 percent in August, with joblessness among the youth at 44.2 percent.
The current demonstration follows a 24-hour air and ground transport strike. More disruptions are set to happen on November 14, when Alitalia and Easyjet staff will stage a walk-out, according to a statement published on the Italian Transport Ministry’s website.
The unions plan to hold another demonstration on November 8.

Ebola crisis: Cases pass 10,000 as almost 5,000 killed by disease in eight countries

More than 10,000 cases of Ebola have now been recorded as the virus continues to spread through West Africa.Out of 10,141 cases recorded in eight affected countries, almost 5,000 patients have died.
Liberia has been the worst hit country so far – seeing 4,665 cases – followed by Sierra Leone with 3,896 and Guinea with 1,553.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), many parts of Guinea have seen no new cases in the past week and transmission has slowed in parts of Liberia but in Sierra Leone, Ebola is still raging out of control.
The latest count was announced after the first case of Ebola was identified in Mali, in a two-year-old girl.
She had travelled from the district of Kissidougou with her grandmother to Kayes in western Mali, prompting fears of the virus spreading to other passengers.
The girl died on Friday, just a day after being diagnosed with Ebola. More than 40 contacts are being monitored and the rest are being traced by authorities.
Nigeria and Senegal have been declared Ebola-free after containing a relatively small amount of cases and the disease is under control in the other affected countries of Spain and the US.
A Spanish nurse who contracted it from a patient in Madrid survived and has been declared non-infectious.
Theresa Romero, 44, caught Ebola while caring from two Spanish missionaries who died after becoming infected in Liberia.
More than 80 people who had contract with her are still being monitored for the disease but her husband Javier Limon, who is in quarantine, said he was just “very happy” his wife was alive.
There have now been four cases and one death in the US, where the most recent patient tested positive in New York on Thursday.
Dr Craig Spencer, who had been working in Guinea until 17 October, had been bowling and drinking with friends before realising he was infected.
Both Texas nurses who caught Ebola from America’s first victim, Thomas Eric Duncan, were successfully treated and have since tested negative.
WHO has expressed concern over the number of health workers being hit by the disease, despite their expertise and the use of infection suits and controls to protect them.
A total of 244 health workers have been killed by Ebola out of 450 infected - 80 in Guinea, 228 in Liberia, 11 in Nigeria, 127 in Sierra Leone, one in Spain and three in the US.
While Ebola is not airborne and therefore cannot spread in the same way as illnesses like the common cold, contact with infected bodily fluids or organs, including blood, can be highly dangerous.
WHO convened a meeting on Thursday with high-ranking government officials from affected countries to discuss the production of a possible vaccine.
Trials of vaccines have already started in Britain, the US and Mali, and are beginning in Gabon, Germany, Kenya and Switzerland to determine safety, dosing and effectiveness.
“As we accelerate in a matter of weeks a process that typically takes years, we are ensuring that safety remains the top priority, with production speed and capacity a close second,” Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Health Systems and Innovation, said.

Video - President Obama's Weekly Address: Focused on the Fight Against Ebola


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Pakistani, Afghan experts eye China's greater role in Afghanistan

Pakistani and Afghan foreign affairs experts agree in their view that China can play a proactive role in Afghanistan because of its policy of non- interference and quest for enhanced economic engagement.
They say China role will also be very important in the elusive peace after the withdrawal of most of the foreign troops this year as it enjoys good relations with key stakeholders like Pakistan and Iran.
The political watchers have also attached high hopes to the upcoming visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to China this month.
Ghani is scheduled to hold talks with Chinese leaders and will also attend the ministerial conference of the Istanbul Process, Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference on October 31.
The Heart of Asia process that was launched in November 2011 in Turkey aims to rouse regional co-operation for security and development in Afghanistan and its near and extended neighbors.
Chairman of Pakistan's Senate Defense Committee, Mushahid Hussain, says of all countries, China probably has the most credibility and capability to promote peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.
"Unlike Russia or the United States, China carries no historical 'extra-baggage' and unlike Pakistan, Iran, Turkey or the Central Asian Republics, China has stayed away from all previous conflicts or civil wars in Afghanistan, therefore it is not tainted in any way as far as the Afghan people are concerned, and, unlike the increasingly bankrupt West, China has the financial resources to sponsor much-needed investment in key sectors of Afghanistan's development," Hussain told Xinhua.
Dr. Davood Muradian, Director General of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, believes that China's role will be important in the sense that China is Afghanistan's largest most prosperous and most important neighbor of Afghanistan.
"Therefore we expect a corresponding contribution from China to Afghanistan's stability and prosperity. We really expect China to act as it is powerful neighbor of Afghanistan," Muradian told Xinhua in Islamabad where he attended the Afghanistan-China- Pakistan trilateral dialogue.
"China is one country which does not have hegemonisti, territorial and strategic ambitions. It has only economic and commercial ambitions in Afghanistan which is not objectionable," former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, Rustam Shah Mohmand says.
Mohmand says that China can also play a key role in Afghanistan 's peace and reconciliation process because of its friendly relations with Pakistan and Iran, the major key players in Afghanistan.
"China is coming with a very clear slate. China's role now in the world and in the region is recognized by everybody. So I think it is time that China also gets involved in the peace negotiations which are based on the assumption that there would be no foreign militants in Afghanistan," the former ambassador told Xinhua in Islamabad.
A senior Pakistani analyst and writer Hasan Askari says that Pakistan, Afghanistan and China can work together to contain terrorism as "China has concerns about terrorism in Xinjiang region and those elements are to be found in Pakistan tribal region and also in Afghanistan."
"China can also help to defuse misunderstanding and tensions that develop between Pakistan and Afghanistan because it has good relations with both and both trust China," Askari said.
He said China can contribute to Afghanistan's reconstruction as unless there is reconstruction and economic development, the people will not have much hope for the future and Chinese can contribute to economic development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

China's Afghanistan policy: Testing the limits of diplomacy
Dirk van der Kley
In just two months' time, international forces in Afghanistan will hand over security responsibility to local personnel. In preparation for the handover, and the eventual withdrawal of foreign militaries, Beijing has substantially raised its traditionally low-key diplomacy in the country.
China has pursued dozens of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic mechanisms with Afghanistan and surrounding countries that have focused on the issue of security. As I write in a new Lowy Institute Analysis, diplomacy is one of China's two major policy pillars in Afghanistan (the other is to substantially increase economic engagement).
Beijing's key interest in Afghanistan is security. China wants to prevent the spread of terrorism, and in particular terrorist ideology, into the Chinese province of Xinjiang, as well to ensure that Afghanistan does not function as a strong base for Uyghur militancy. Beijing will not commit militarily to Afghanistan, so how will it use diplomacy to prevent new instability spreading to Xinjiang?
Beijing will attempt to reduce the security threat in two main ways.
Stabilise Afghanistan, or prevent further deterioration in the Afghan security environment.
If 1. fails, limit the spread of new instability regionally and reduce the direct threat to Xinjiang.
Beijing's direct influence in stabilising Afghanistan is limited. It will commit huge levels of economic support. Diplomatically it is encouraging surrounding countries to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. But security will be left to Afghan forces and any residual foreign troops. The US will likely play the role of mediator in Afghanistan if necessary, as happened during the recent electoral deadlock.
On point 2, Beijing has more diplomatic options. China maintains contacts with a broad range of actors and groups in Afghanistan, including the Taliban. Since the Karzai Government came to power in 2001, contact with the Taliban has often been via intermediaries. But more recently Beijing has reportedly rebuilt the direct links it had with the Taliban prior to the US invasion in 2001.
Beijing seeks guarantees that Afghanistan won't function as a base for Uyghur militant groups. It also wants Chinese investments in Afghanistan protected from Taliban attacks. There are mixed views to how effective this approach will be. Some Chinese sources say the Taliban doesn't want to raise the ire of Beijing because this could complicate the Taliban's relationship with Pakistan, which has close ties to China. Others question the Taliban's commitment to China's requests. Insurgents have attacked Chinese resource projects in Afghanistan on numerous occasions, and in 2012 Reuters quoted a Taliban spokesperson saying it opposed China's largest investment in Afghanistan, a copper mine near Kabul.
Beijing has also vastly increased its regional diplomatic footprint. China hopes to achieve a consensus on the Afghan issue among surrounding countries because they are at the front line of containing any new Afghan instability. What this consensus may look like is vague, but could include increasing regional cooperation on issues such as anti-narcotics and counter-terrorism, with practical measures such as intelligence sharing, joint military exercises and judicial or law-enforcement training (some of these already happen bilaterally or through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization).
There are clear obstacles. Officials in Central Asian countries are suspected of close links to the drug trade. And there are long running concerns that Pakistan's security and intelligence services help shelter terrorists. Also, many countries in the region have antagonistic relationships with each other.
Despite challenges, Beijing's diplomatic approach may suffice to quell the terrorist threat from Afghanistan. The number of Uyghur militants sheltering in Afghanistan (and Pakistan too) in all likelihood remains small, and the capability of external Sunni Uyghur militant groups to launch attacks in China appears limited. It would take a significant capability leap from these groups to be a constant operational threat to China.
However, diplomacy, economics or military intervention cannot prevent the spread of terrorist and religious propaganda into Xinjiang. This was consistently identified by Chinese interlocutors in research interviews for my Lowy Institute Analysis as the greatest external threat to Xinjiang's stability.
The Chinese Government probably hypes the ideological threat from abroad – as many governments do. Xinjiang's problems are overwhelmingly domestic, stemming from a disenfranchised Uyghur population that chafes under religious repression, economic imbalances and ingrained discrimination. But concerns abound that ideological messages could resonate with this group.
The most prominent external Sunni Uyghur militant group, the Turkistan Islamic Party, undeniably encourages violence in Xinjiang and supports Uyghur separatism. Its media output has become more sophisticated in the past few years. Other groups such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda have also expressed ideological support for Uyghurs in Xinjiang, although this doesn't appear to have led to operational support.
Chinese analysts understand the limits of diplomacy in regard to Afghan security, but it is seen, along with an economic contribution, as the least-worst policy option. Shi Lan of the Xinjiang Academy for Social Sciences sums it up: 'Dialogue is the best choice we have for solving this issue. Of course, I feel it may be difficult to achieve results with dialogue, but we have to try.'

Iran-Pakistan: Will border tensions boil over?

By Alex Vatanka
There have been a number of rounds of border skirmishes between Iran and Pakistan since the first week of October. However, reports that Pakistani forces have returned mortar fire is highly unusual and represents an increase in tensions that have marred this region for years.
Last week some 30 Iranian security force personnel crossed the border in pursuit of anti-Iranian militants. The Iranian raid resulted in the death of a Pakistani Frontier Corps soldier.
Islamabad lodged a diplomatic protest. A meeting on Wednesday in Tehran on increasing intelligence sharing between the two countries was meant to end this latest spat. That meeting clearly did not achieve its objective.The problem is considerably deeper than merely finding ways to share intelligence about border crossings. Officials in Tehran have for years maintained that the Pakistani side is either incapable or reluctant to stop cross-border attacks.
In fact, Iranian officials often accuse elements in Pakistan - with the alleged backing from Gulf States - of providing sanctuary and support to anti-Iranian militants to try to create instability for Tehran. The Pakistanis have always rejected such charges.
Turning point
The militants at the heart of the dispute are from Jaish Al-Adl (Army of Justice). It is an ethnic Baloch and Sunni group which purports to fight for better living conditions in Sistan Baluchistan, Iran's most impoverished province.
It is widely believed to be the successor to Jundullah, another Iranian Baloch group, which the United States in 2010 designated a terrorist organisation.
Jundullah, which emerged on the scene around 2003, was responsible for the deadliest attacks against Iranian government targets, including an assassination attempt against then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.The group's most high-profile attack took place on 18 October 2009 in the border town of Pishin.
A suicide bomber that Tehran claimed had crossed the border from Pakistan blew himself up at an assembly of Iranian Baloch tribal leaders and senior commanders from Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).Among the dead was Noor Ali Shooshtari, the deputy commander of Ground Forces of the IRGC, a man close to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That attack was a turning point.
Major difference
It is most likely not a coincidence that the recent attacks by Jaish Al-Adl come on the fifth anniversary of the Pishin attack. As is the case today, top commanders from the Revolutionary Guards then vowed to retaliate and put extreme pressure on Pakistan.
It was most likely with Pakistan's help that, within four months of the Pishin attack, Iran was able to capture Abdolmalek Rigi, the young leader of Jundullah. Rigi was hanged in Tehran in June 2010.
The most recent Iranian actions, including the pursuit of militants across the border and shelling inside Pakistani territory, is very similar to what occurred in the aftermath of the Pishin attack.
The major difference this time, however, is that the Pakistani side is now openly returning fire against Iran. This amounts to an escalation that breaks with past Pakistani behaviour.
Islamabad, which over the last few weeks has also had to deal with skirmishes on its Afghan and Indian borders, apparently feels it has to react to deter the Iranians from any further unilateral action.
The record from the last decade shows that both sides are disinclined to let the violence get out of control. Tehran and Islamabad have for a long time been willing to accept "contained hostilities" in the border regions as part of life and assumed that border violence will always be limited and localised.
That is a dangerous and potentially a very costly assumption.

Pakistan's bewildering array of militants

The sacking of Pakistani Taliban (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid for supporting Islamic State is the latest sign of divisions in an already fragmented militant movement. Over the years Pakistan's insurgents have spawned a bewildering array of splinter groups and factions, reports M Ilyas Khan.
Shahidullah Shahid, as he was known, was the third TTP spokesman to part company with the leadership in recent months. Before him, Azam Tariq left with the Mehsud faction of Khan Said Sajna that quit the TTP in May. Another predecessor, Ehsanullah Ehsan, became the chief spokesman for a group of Mohmand tribesmen that goes by the name Jamaat-e-Ahrar.
This splintering of the TTP shows that like any other social entity, large and geographically inclusive militant groups also contain sub-groups. Back in September when the spokesman of the Pakistani army blamed an unknown group of militants - the al-Shura - for carrying out the October 2012 attack on education activist Malala Yousafzai, few eyebrows were raised.
After nearly 35 years of conflict involving non-state actors, Pakistanis are used to insurgent groups breaking from the herd to launch an attack which grabs the headlines, often under one of those spiritually inspiring names from the Islamic texts.In most cases, they disappear from the scene just as quickly.
The trend started in the post-9/11 period, when elements within the militant network that were uprooted from Afghanistan started to hit targets in Pakistan.
These groups comprised fighters from the Pakistani tribal militants, the Punjabi Taliban, Central Asians, Arab fighters and militants from East Asia. Most of them gravitated towards the umbrella militant alliance called the TTP which was formed in 2007. The earliest such group to make headlines was Harkatul Mujahideen al-Almi, which was blamed for a string of attacks in Karachi in 2002, including an assassination attempt on then President Pervez Musharraf, the bombing of the Sheraton hotel and a car bomb explosion outside the US consulate. The group's name was similar to that of a major Kashmir-focused Punjabi Taliban group, but the addition of a suffix - al-Almi, or international - appeared to give it wider scope.
It faded away soon afterwards and has not been heard of since.
In 2004, a group calling itself Jundullah surfaced with an audacious ambush of the Karachi Corps commander. Then it took an eight-year sabbatical. Soon after it re-emerged it seemed to fall out with the TTP over who carried out the 2013 killing of nine foreign climbers on Nanga Parbat.
Jundullah claimed the credit for itself, but the TTP said a specially established unit called Jundul Hafsa had done it. Police in Karachi have blamed some recent attacks on Jundullah, but the group itself has made no comment.
As for Jundul Hafsa, it has turned out to be another one-hit wonder, at least so far.
Other short-lived groups include the Asian Tigers and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Almi (LeJA), another group with a familiar name but a differentiating suffix.Both were briefly in the news during the spring of 2010.
Apparently, the Asian Tigers claimed that they had captured two former ISI officials and a British journalist of Pakistani origin. Later, one of the ISI men was beheaded for "spying".Some weeks after the killing, there were reports of a series of attacks in North Waziristan in which two top leaders of the Asian Tigers were said to have been gunned down by someone calling himself the chief of LeJA.
This man himself was killed along with two others by unknown gunmen two months later. The killers left a note written on a TTP letterhead accusing the dead men of kidnapping former ISI officials who "during their active service had been kind to Taliban".
Make of all that what you will - it's not straightforward.
More recently, the group calling itself Jamaat-e-Ahrar (JA) has broken away from the TTP.
It is not clear if JA is some kind of successor to a TTP-linked group called Ahrarul Hind, which represented those elements within the TTP who believe in the "final battle for India" in which, according to them, a Muslim victory was foretold by Prophet Mohammad.The recent launching of al-Qaeda's South Asia wing is seen by many as a continuation of this strand of militant thought.
All these groups seem to have grown from a common source - the Afghan mujahideen of the 1980s and their Arab and non-Arab allies who later morphed into al-Qaeda and the TTP.
This process was born in the shadows of a military regime that ruled Pakistan during the 1980s and hosted a seven-party alliance of Afghan mujahideen - called the Peshawar Seven - to destabilise Kabul under Soviet occupation.
The regime's ideological tilt created room for fundamentalist groups to dominate the Afghan jihad, ultimately giving rise to the Taliban movement in 1994.
By 1996, when Taliban had captured Kabul and put an end to the Afghan civil war, the Arab Wahhabi groups and Salafists who had earlier left for Africa, the Caucasus and the Balkans began to pour back into the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, thereby completing the toxic mix that has characterised local militancy in the region.
Since 9/11, the number and numerical strength of these groups has multiplied, and many of them have Pakistan - an ally in the US-led "war on terror" - near the top of their hit-list.
Earlier this year, Pakistan's interior minister Chaudhry Nisar told parliament the main TTP movement included more than 35 groups. Later, a security policy document listed around 60 groups that successive Pakistani governments had proscribed since the late 1990s. But there are dozens of others - all vying for limelight and funds.Most of them have local interests. They are natives of the areas under their control, and tend to organise into regional groups to form territorial entities. They are often named after their top commander or their area of operation, such as the Mullah Nazir group, or the Mohmand Taliban.
Others have broader ideological aims.
They mostly comprise fighters from Punjab province with a background in the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) which exists to wipe out Shia Muslims. These fighters have links with al-Qaeda and its affiliates, especially the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). They move in and out of larger groups either due to tactical or operational reasons, ideological considerations or internal group rivalries. Many shine for brief periods, then fade away only to re-emerge in new avatars.

Pakistan’s militants - Taliban tumult

FOR years Pakistan’s government and army put off confronting the Pakistani Taliban and their allied fanatics who had set up what was almost a state of their own in North Waziristan, the wildest of several tribal agencies on the country’s north-west frontier with Afghanistan. The reason for such reluctance was a belief that any attack on the militants would trigger savage reprisals. Imran Khan, a populist politician perhaps most responsible for discouraging military action, has countless times predicted a big “blowback” in the cities.
Yet since the army launched a belated offensive against the militants in North Waziristan on June 15th, the number of terrorist attacks across the rest of Pakistan has fallen by nearly 30%, according to a database maintained by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad, the capital. Deaths from terrorism are down by more than half compared with the same period in 2013.
Indeed, the widespread assumption is that Operation Zarb-e-Azb, named after a sword of Muhammad, has badly undermined Pakistan’s militants. Independent confirmation is impossible, but the army claims it has killed more than 1,100 terrorists in North Waziristan. (More implausibly, it also claims that its “precision” air strikes have killed precisely zero civilians.) Militants appear now to have lost what was once a secure sanctuary where fighters could be trained and suicide-bombers groomed for self-destruction. The army says that more than 40 of its soldiers have been killed in the course of capturing key towns in North Waziristan, notably Mir Ali and the agency’s capital, Miran Shah. The campaign adds to the steady progress Pakistan has made in recent years in restoring its writ over the tribal areas, nearly a third of which were controlled by militants in 2007-08, the army says.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella organisation of militant groups officially known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), may have all but fallen apart. For that, perhaps, the United States is as much to thank as the army offensive. Nearly a year ago a CIA-operated drone managed to kill Hakimullah Mehsud, the long-haired tribesman who had run the group since 2009. His death sparked a bitter succession struggle, with the leadership eventually passing to Mullah Fazlullah, a militant who masterminded the Taliban’s takeover of his homeland of Swat, once a popular holiday destination, in early 2009.
Mr Fazlullah has since been unable to hold together an organisation traditionally ruled by members of the Mehsud tribe. For his own safety against government attacks, he moved to eastern Afghanistan, a choice that earned him disparagement among fellow jihadists. Meanwhile, disagreements grew over whether the movement should negotiate with the Pakistani government. To date four separate groups have split off from the original TTP, two later merging with each other. They have taken much of the TTP’s fighting force with them.
In September a group calling itself the Punjabi Taliban announced that it would abandon domestic terrorism in favour of preaching and waging war in Afghanistan instead. Some analysts took that as a sign that Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), has had some success in directing the energies of militants towards creating chaos elsewhere in the region.
A long-standing ISI policy of fighting only those seeking to topple the Pakistani state while tolerating or even supporting groups on Pakistani soil that restrict their violence to Afghanistan and India has long been a source of despair to Pakistan’s Western allies. They point out that, wherever they operate, militants with bases in Pakistan share ideas, fighters and often allegiances. Western spooks appear convinced that the Haqqani network, a particularly lethal Afghan insurgent group, received ample warning and even assistance from the ISI in making their escape from bases in North Waziristan before the launch of Zarb-e-Azb.
Sowing further discord among the jihadists is the excitement generated by the success of Islamic State (IS) in conquering swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. Leaflets praising IS and declaring Pakistan, Afghanistan and bits of India to be part of a caliphate have been circulated in Pakistan’s north-western city of Peshawar. This month six senior TTP leaders announced that they had declared their allegiance to IS’s “caliph”, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi.
As for al-Qaeda, the terrorist group now in competition with IS for leadership of the global jihad movement, it is attempting to shore up its position in Pakistan, where American drones have killed many of its leaders. Last month the group announced a new franchise, called al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. However, its first big operation, an apparently overreaching plan to hijack a Pakistani frigate and attack American warships, came to naught after it was foiled by a guard.
Although the army’s battlefield success, splits in the TTP’s ranks and a tug-of-war between IS and al-Qaeda have reduced violence in Pakistan, hopes of this lasting are not high. Jihadist militancy has a record of evolving for the worse, and the especially loathsome tactics of Islamic State may inject a new radicalism into Pakistan’s already ferocious militant groups. And for as long as the army’s spy agency continues to regard some militants as helpful to its regional designs, then Pakistan is unlikely to be properly at peace.

Pakistan - Desperate Christians Find No Place For Burials In Torey Wala

In the tiny village of Torey Wala where most homes don’t have windows and meals are cooked over fire pits, Christians are used to feeling like second-class citizens.
Christians say they earn less than 200 Rupees (2 $) a day working in the sugar-cane fields. They must shop at the meagrely stocked Christian-run shop. They are not allowed to draw water from wells tapped for Muslim neighbours. Now, in what many consider to be a final disgrace, they are struggling to bury their dead.
“There is discrimination, and that is very much clear and obvious to all of us who live in this country,” said Nizar Masih, 65, a farmer who, like many Pakistani Christians, has a surname that refers to the Messiah.
Christians in Pakistan have been targets of what human rights activists call an extraordinary wave of violence against religious minorities, including Shiites, Ahmadis, Sikhs and Hindus. Christians’ dwindling burial space is an example of a less dramatic but more persistent battle they say takes place on daily basis.
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Top Pakistani Shia Leader Says Pakistan Is The Base Of ISIS
Allama Sajid Naqvi, Chief of Shia Ulema Council, has said that takfiri terrorism including ISIS originated from Pakistan but they were bound to fail because of Shiites rational course of action.
“Masterminds of ISIS are those who invented takfiri nasbi terrorists in Pakistan and their prime target were Shia Muslims but we defeated them by unity of Muslims and now ISIS are disgusted, condemned and isolated outfit,” he said speaking at “Ulema Conference on Protection of Azadari and Defence of Shiites,” in Karachi.
He said that those who stage rallies and public gatherings for Hazrat Usman lacked any right or justification to oppose the azadari processions and congregations.
“We need alternate policies to stop genocide against Shia Muslims in Karachi and other parts of Pakistan. We should remain vigilant during Moharram in particular and strengthen our unity to counter plots of enemies,” he urged.
The SUC officials namely Allama Arif Wahidi, Allama Baqar Najafi, Allama Shabbir Maisami, Allama Shahenshah Naqvi and Allama Jafar Subhani also spoke at the scholars’ conference.

Pakistan: PML-N govt has little interest in Council of Common Interests!

There has been no meeting of the Council of Common Interests since the formulation of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in the Centre, while the cabinet of its Punjab chapter has met only for once in its present tenure.
According to a report in the local media, officials said that most of the decisions in Punjab were being made through executive orders.
Only matters considered important by the provincial government were being approved by the cabinet through the method of circulation. This method does not involve any discussion. The ministers follow instructions to approve a file.
According to the report in Dawn, different inter-provincial issues were pending approval by the CCI but it had not met even for once since the inception of the Nawaz Sharif government.
The government issued notices for two CCI meetings in the recent past but they were cancelled at the eleventh hour.
Under the constitution, the prime minister chairs the CCI meeting. Federal inter-provincial coordination minister chairs the minister-level meeting of the junior Inter-provincial Coordination Committee.
The third is the CCI’s secretary level committee which initially considers issues pertaining to the Centre-province matters and, if found sound, forwards them to the minister-level committee for consideration. This committee finally sends the matters worthy of decision to the CCI.
Officials claimed that both subsidiary committees too had not met during the present government of Nawaz Sharif.
They said the Punjab cabinet of Shahbaz Sharif had met once for approving the provincial budget in June this year. A special meeting was held in September only to approve a relief package for the flood victims.
Sources said majority departments were normally asked to quickly prepare cases for approval of the cabinet. This was done to avoid wrath of the authorities but the matters kept pending a decision for a lack of cabinet meeting.

Pakistan: Repeating mistakes?: Govt set to approve $22.5m project for reforms

By Shahbaz Rana
Instead of mustering the political will to take difficult economic decisions and build institutions, the government is set to approve a $22.5 million (Rs2.3 billion) project for implementing reforms and hire expensive consultants, many of whom will be foreigners, towards this end.
The Public Sector Enterprises Reforms Project is being presented as the government’s response to increasing criticism for not initiating reforms. It is likely to be approved on October 27, a day before the special cabinet meeting convened to evaluate the government’s performance. The project will be funded through a $20 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) at an interest rate of 2% in dollar terms. The country will return the loan in 25 years.
As much as 75% of the total cost or $16.9 million (Rs1.7 billion) will be set aside for paying salaries to consultants hired for the project. Foreign consultants will be paid Rs65,000 a day and local consultants will be paid up to Rs20,000 a day, official documents revealed.
The entire project will be implemented through 321 consultants, including 175 foreign consultants, according to project documents of the finance ministry. These consultants will be hired in the ministries of finance, water and power, petroleum and natural resources, and the Privatisation Commission.
Interestingly, the project will be implemented by bureaucrats of the finance ministry even though the subject of reforms falls under the Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms according to the Rules of Business 1973.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has come under pressure to improve its governance and introduce reforms in the state-owned enterprises due to protests by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
However, experts in public policy have criticised the strategy of bringing reforms through foreign-funded, consultant-driven projects. “Reforms can never be done through projects… it is an institutional building process,” said former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haque. He added that reforms need political will, something that is missing at the moment.
There are apprehensions that the opportunity to take reforms seriously following the ongoing political campaign may be lost as a result of the proposed project that may divert the government’s attention and resources.
“The proposed project is a farce and is designed to mint money … it also shows how insincere bureaucrats are with Prime Minister Nawaz,” a senior government functionary said. Foreign consultants are unfamiliar with Pakistan’s ground realities and will produce the kind of reports which are already pending implementation, he added.
“Who will implement consultants’ reports?” the official said. He also pointed towards the “precious time consumed despite the need to immediately take difficult decisions in taxation and energy areas.”
According to the official, problems of the power sector cannot be resolved by consultants. Similarly, the government is not ready to privatise Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Steel Mills due to vested interests of political parties. “So the consultants can’t do anything.”
The project will be a duplication of activities, as there already is a ministry of reforms and an Economic Reforms Unit in the finance ministry. There is also a World Bank-funded Institutional Capacity Building project in the finance ministry and reforms delivery unit in the ministry of planning and reforms. The Planning Commission has also recently hired sector-specific members in Management Pay Scale –I, which is equivalent to a federal secretary.
The government’s earlier experiments to implement reforms through projects were unsuccessful. It borrowed a large sum from the World Bank (WB) under the Tax Administration Reforms Project. The WB itself declared the project as the worst case. Similarly, the ADB lent money for judicial reforms under Access to Justice Programme which, again, was a big failure.

Pakistan: Waking up to FATA

By - Mona Naseer
For urban Pakistan, FATA is its Achilles heel because it is the hub of all terrorism. According to them, drones fuel terrorism and so drones must stop.
When we talk about FATA, the emotions stirred in urban Pakistanis are only related to drone attacks causing civilian casualties, fuelling terrorism and violating our sovereignty. We have recently seen a popular political party raising the issue of drones, conducting protests and ultimately closing the NATO supply line going through the Peshawar-Torkham border. Urban Pakistan, living under the 1973 constitution, which provides them fundamental rights like the right to fair trial, right to freedom of speech, right to access of information, liberty, dignity, equal protection under law, privacy of the home, so on and so forth, has finally recognised that the people of FATA are vulnerable and that they are ready to own the people of this region.
Of course, my delusion did not remain for long. The most important question that has failed to capture the minds and discourse of our literate Pakistanis is: why is the region kept under deliberate political and social isolation? Why is the outrage over the drone debate not linked to FATA reforms and immediate streamlining into Pakistani society? For urban Pakistan, FATA is its Achilles heel because it is the hub of all terrorism. According to them, drones fuel terrorism and so drones must stop. Beyond that debate, FATA is just not exciting enough. I apologise for trying to question the moral indignation of urban Pakistan over the drone debate. It is, however, not important for the urban dharna (sit in) participating crowd that FATA, which comprises of seven Agencies along with Frontier Region areas, remains Pakistan’s poorest region, with a population that, according to unofficial estimates, has reached over seven million. Nearly 66 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. The region continues to be directly governed by Pakistan’s federal government through a special set of laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), a body of laws based on six chapters, 64 sections, three schedules. Article 247 of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan grants special status to FATA, whereby no act of parliament or the jurisdiction of the supreme judiciary is extendible to the region. The FCR guarantees no dignity of life and personal freedom to the people in the region.
The literacy rate in FATA is only 17.42 percent, compared to the national average of 40 percent. Among women, it is three percent, compared to the national average of 32 percent. The per capita income is roughly $ 250, half the national average of $ 500, with a growth rate of 2.19 percent only. With hardly three percent land holdings, FATA’s 50 percent population is dependent on trade activities with Afghan brethren on the other side of the Durand Line. FATA’s forbidding terrain further isolates tribal communities from markets, healthcare, education services and many positive, external influences.
The above statistics place FATA in the fourth world of the south. The tribal nature of the people and the geography of the region are being deliberately used to keep the region militarised. Defending the honour of the Pakistani state, the tribals were encouraged to fight jihad in Kashmir in 1948, since the fortress of Islam that is Pakistan was in danger. The people of FATA — trigger-happy cavemen — were ideal for providing human fodder from 1948 onwards to the current war on terror. The biggest war theatre in FATA was enacted by our military establishment to fight Islamic jihad in Afghanistan with petro dollars against the ‘infidels’ of the USSR. In 1979, FATA assumed special importance for our state when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. A massive jihad operation, from human fodder recruitment to drug factories, started operating in the region conveniently. During the Afghan war, more than 15,000 Arabs, Uzbek and Chechens were repatriated to and settled in FATA to fight a holy war against the Soviets.
Also, nearly 1,000 or so unregistered madrassas (seminaries) were established primarily in FATA, many of which preached jihad against infidels. The continuation of the FCR by the Pakistani state made their various adventures possible in the region from 1948’s militarisation to the ultimate disintegration of the Soviet Union to the current war on terror. There are roughly 21 leftover jihadi groups from 1979 and 39 sectarian groups operating in FATA. These jihadis have now turned into the Taliban with different interests to manipulate and control the local population. However, 13 peace agreements were signed between the Taliban and the government between the periods 2007 to 2009 without involving the local population at large. In all these peace agreements signed with the militant Taliban, people sitting in Islamabad were taken on board but most of them lack understanding of local problems while dealing with these former jihadists now turned militants. To counter the former jihadists, a military operation was initiated by the state.
Pakistan’s military has launched 12 major operations since 2002 against the Taliban. These military operations have completely militarised/destroyed the social and economic life of the people of FATA. Presently, military operations in the tribal belt have led to the displacement of more than three million people. The largest displacement is from South Waziristan where around 428,000 people have been displaced. In the summer of 2013, the Pakistani military launched an operation in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, which resulted in a huge exodus of more than 80,000 people. The military operations and Taliban takeover have played havoc with an already most impoverished area of the region. Agriculture, forests, water resources and lakes have been ruined. More than 32 percent of the educational institutions in the tribal areas of Pakistan have been destroyed in the militancy. Along with the bombing of schools by the Taliban, the healthcare sector has had a major setback by the targeting of polio workers in the region. FATA has 41 hospitals for its seven million strong population.
The whole debate on this war on terror has been dominated by a very parochial, false and superficial discourse. The All Parties Conference held by the Nawaz Sharif government, which had participants from all major political parties in Pakistan, was a further disappointment. The conference called the tribal people their own people but called for no immediate and drastic reforms in the region, not even by those who championed the anti-drone policy. Urban Pakistan’s imagination is only caught up with one thing: how drones fuel insurgency and kill innocent people. Let us assume these leftover jihadists did not exist in the tribal region before the drones, or are not responsible for the killing of more than 1,500 tribal elders, murder and rape of the local people. Or maybe that the 1979 radicalisation of the area never happened. And we can deny that there are no Arabs, Chechen and Uzbek militants enjoying Pakistan’s tattered sovereignty. Or maybe I keep on forgetting they are sitting in Alaqa ghair (territory which is outside the domain of civil Pakistan).
That debate can be bought by someone who is trying not to see the whole picture. Maybe if the press and media were allowed into the region we would get half of the ugly picture. However, no press and media are allowed and, under FCR’s draconian laws, no tribal can participate in national or international debate. We see no outrage over poverty and inhumane laws operating in FATA, let alone the deliberate militarisation under the pretext of Americanised jihad. If Pakistan is trying to own FATA through drones protests only, I regret to inform them that there is more to FATA than just drones. Protesting against drones can be good for one’s moral soul because they do cause civilian deaths along with those of high profile terrorists but this will not make the people of FATA Pakistanis.

Pakistan: PM waking up?

While the dharnas (sit-ins) in Islamabad achieved little and caused greater harm than good, one thing they made clear is that the Musharraf era changed Pakistan — an era that Nawaz Sharif and his loyal party members spent in exile and so missed watching those changes first hand. The substance of change was exposed by the dharnas and it is driven by anger: anger at injustice, at being ignored, deprived, belittled and fooled. Pakistan today is not willing to sit quietly while politicians assume office and do nothing. It appears Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif is finally waking up to the fact that what is perceived as an autocratic style negatively impacted his image and working through the bureaucracy rather than his political colleagues alienated people. The dharnas, as Aitzaz Ahsan said, reminded the PM of the importance of working with his political colleagues to govern. He has since taken the political forces on board while making major decisions. Carrying the support he received from political parties forward, on Thursday the PM told federal ministers that they will be regularly evaluated on their performance from this point on based on several criteria, failing which they will find themselves out in the cold.
The PM is also reportedly planning a cabinet reshuffle, a sign that he realises that the performance of his cabinet has not been up to the mark so far. The foreign affairs portfolio remains unfilled, which is unheard of, and the Defence Ministry has been handled by Khawaja Asif in addition to his responsibilities at the Ministry of Water and Power. His performance in both has been found wanting on a number of occasions, such as his belated realisation of the full scope of the power crisis.
What these blunders showed was that the PM’s team did not do their homework about the full extent of the problems they would have to solve and did not prepare solutions as a result while in opposition. Rather it seems they were planning on taking things as they come. This attitude may have passed in the 1990s but cannot today. For better or worse, media scrutiny is too widespread for politicians to get away with not performing on a regular basis and the public’s patience for incompetence and corruption has sunk to an all time low. The dharnas were a media-centric political tactic and perhaps proved to the PM what a different world Pakistan has become since he last took office in 1997. What the PM should also learn from this experience is that in order to get his priorities right and keep the public happy, he will have to re-evaluate his agenda in light of the recommendations he receives from the elected representatives. Working through parliament can help him improve his performance.
Given the events of this year, trust issues and personal preferences must be kept aside in the interests of delivering on the public’s requirements.

Pakistan: State failure or failed state?

By Abbas Nasir
That Osama bin Laden lived in urban Pakistan undiscovered by the authorities or with their connivance was bad enough; that the US Special Forces were able to find and eliminate him deep inside our country was clearly an intelligence failure for which heads should have rolled.
But, of course, since the blame for this failure could be laid squarely on the country’s so-called premier intelligence agency, as such matters are its responsibility alone, the then director-general made a perfunctory offer before parliament to resign.
This particular officer’s claim to fame to this day is his disdain for civilian politicians and the elected set-up. So, our elected public representative saw an opportunity to keep him onside by pleasing him. They didn’t accept his offered resignation. In fact, he was lauded for the ‘unprecedented’ gesture.
A judicial commission was indeed set up. The fate of its findings was no different than those of dozens of others that have looked into instances of catastrophic national shame. No targeted blame was assigned. Therefore, the possibility of accountability did not arise.
Our country today is bedevilled with militancy of every conceivable denomination. Each strand can be traced to a state policy of waging jihad via proxies more commonly known as non-state actors to further Pakistan’s perceived foreign/security policy goals.
Perish the thought that anybody has been, or will ever be, held responsible for this unmitigated disaster that has made the country virtually ungovernable and claimed tens of thousands of lives. The victims have either been innocent bystanders or those battling this existential threat as the monster turned on the creator.
In a better-late-than-never move, the new army leadership has finally taken a decision to take on some elements of this threat. The army has patted itself on the back, with partial justification, for pre-empting a ‘blowback’ for its anti-TTP operations through intelligence-based operations in many urban areas including Karachi.
However, as has been witnessed on many an occasion in the past, the militants are in the process of morphing and now joining avowedly sectarian outfits. This serves two purposes. First, the TTP type militant finds protection as many key decision-makers of the state apparently still believe that these sectarian outfits have utility in the event of external aggression and allow them to operate quite freely.
Secondly, the sectarian TTP members, which used the anti-imperialist cloak so effectively that even popular national leaders fell for it, then carry on with their activities as before with impunity. What else would explain the spurt in sectarian murders all across the country and particularly in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and in areas such as the Kurram Agency?
The Taliban threat wasn’t dealt with firmly for years as many in the intelligence set-up had influenced opinion so favourably in the upper echelons of the military of these ‘God-fearing, patriotic fighters’ that no action was taken till they became an outright existential threat.
A similar lethargy (or is it complicity?) is in evidence in taking head-on this sectarian monster. No matter how numerically limited believers of their ideology may be the sectarian takfiri groups have enormous firepower and clearly seem to operate with no fear of the law.
Balochistan offers an interesting case. The military-led law and order apparatus, which includes the paramilitary Frontier Corps and Rangers as well as an undisclosed number of ISI officials and agents, has been in a lead role in the province for nearly 10 years.
During this time, hundreds if not thousands of Baloch of all ages have disappeared only for their families to find their tortured, tormented bodies dumped later in public places.
And these were the fortunate ones since, despite their agony, they were able to bury their loved ones and get closure. There are many others whose loved ones disappeared without a trace. They must exist in living hell, waiting for their loved ones even as they fear finding them.
Many believe that the Baloch separatists have now started targeting even non-Baloch poor labourers and that this is a sign of their frustration because they are finding it hard to target their main foe, the security forces. The brutal anti-separatist operation where human rights have been openly violated, some argue, has been that effective.
So, where the authorities want they can smother any threat. Frankly, Operation Zarb-i-Azb so far, since its launch in North Waziristan, leads one to the same conclusion. It is continuing apace with the military now controlling infinitely more space than it did before.
In the process, many TTP bastions have been flattened as has happened with many IED-making factories which provided the militants with the bombs with which to wreak havoc, whether they were targeting military convoys or city centres.
Shia Hazaras, particularly those in Quetta, will tell you that dismantling Lashkar-i-Jhangvi sanctuaries is as important as overrunning IED factories as they are equally lethal. They’ll argue that putting a lid on hate speech in their city should be a much greater priority than muzzling Baloch nationalist sentiment.
Ask a Shia Hazara in Quetta today and don’t blame him/her for seeing Pakistan as a failed state. Imprisoned in their own homes with many unable to step out of their two ghettoes to educate themselves, earn a living or do as other Pakistanis do, this is their reality.
The state has failed them miserably. If this dangerous drift continues the state will have failed itself too. So much so that it may forfeit the right to call itself a viable entity. Many patriots will take umbrage with this assessment but what else will Pakistan be when its key institutions fail to stand up for it?

Pakistan: South Waziristan's Tribal elders take polio drops, join eradication campaign

Tribal elders of South Waziristan set a unique example on the World Polio Day observed on Friday by taking the vaccination drops themselves to persuade fellow tribesmen to get their children vaccinated and offset growing impact of propaganda against the anti-polio campaigns by certain quarters in their region.
The elders held a jirga to mark the day and a walk was held from the SWA Rest House to Bab-i-Waziristan where prayers were offered. The walk was attended by elders of Mehsud and Barki tribes, clerics, officials of the administration and health department and representatives of organisations associated with efforts to eradicate polio.
The elders asked the agency’s political agent Nawab Khan Safi to administer polio drops to them to show the world that “we want elimination of this crippling disease from our soil once for all”.
The elders and officials said the Mehsud and Barki tribes had proved that they want to end the disease from their areas.The tribal elders pledged to administer the drops to their kids and also help vaccinate other children around them.
Only Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan still have transmission of the wild polio virus.
Since 1988, the number of polio cases in the world has been reduced by 99 per cent from 350,000 a year to about 400 in 2013.
This year Southeast Asia has been certified as polio-free.
Earlier this year, the director general of the World Health Organisation declared polio to be still a public health emergency of international concern.
The WHO urged polio-impacted countries to ensure that travellers leaving their borders were immunised against the disease.
There is no cure for polio, but for as little as about Rs60 worth of oral vaccine, a child can be protected from the disease for life.
Dr Elias Durry, who heads the WHO’s polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, said in a statement that of 220 cases reported in the country this year, most had been detected in the northwest, where the Taliban had fought to prevent immunisation, killing about 60 workers and police escorting polio teams across Pakistan.
He told The Associated Press that the government would launch a fresh anti-polio campaign in the northwest on Saturday to reach children who had missed out on previous efforts because of the militants.

Pakistan: 3 more cases reported on World Polio Day

After three new cases were reported in Sindh and Balochistan on the World Polio Day Friday, the total number of the children suffering from the deadly virus in Pakistan rose to 210 in 2014.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) sources, two cases were reported in Korangi, Karachi while the third surfaced in Zhob, Balochistan.
The new cases were reported in the backdrop of the World Polio Day being observed globally. Only three countries, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan still have transmission of the polio virus.
Aysha Raza Farooq, focal person of Prime Minister’s Polio Cell, admitted in an interview with BBC that there were some flaws in the polio eradication programme as well as vaccine quality problems. She, however, said the government was framing a policy to handle these issues.
Despite efforts by the government and other stakeholders, the number of polio cases in the country has increased by four times in year 2014 when compared to the corresponding period last year. As many as 206 cases have surfaced this year, which is a record.
The reasons behind increase in polio cases are refusal of parents to administer polio drops to their children and attacks on the teams deputed to carry out this job. From December 2012 to date at least 60 health workers and the police personnel deputed for their safety have so far been killed in attacks on them.
Owing to increase in polio cases, the World Health Organisation imposed certain restrictions on Pakistanis with reference to their travel abroad. Under these restrictions, every Pakistani intending to go abroad is bound to furnish a certificate before his departure that he has been administered polio vaccine.
Currently, the polio virus is found in three countries of the world, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. According to the United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), a record number of polio cases surfaced in 2014 whereas a decrease in such cases was witnessed in Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The Unicef says this year206 cases surfaced in Pakistan, but only six cases were reported in Nigeria though the number of such patients in 2013 was 49 in that African country. Similarly, a considerable decline in such cases was witnessed in Afghanistan this year, the Unicef reports.

Pakistan: Far from polio-free
With 500,000 children yet to be vaccinated, Pakistan stands at a deplorable position on this year’s World Polio Day where it adds 85 percent of polio cases to the world. More than 200 cases have been reported since January this year alone, a fourfold increase as compared to last year. Such escalation of the disease creates many doubts about the stat’s measures and their outcome. As if the government’s inability and lack of an efficacious regimr to tackle this pandemic was not enough, there had to be a conspiratorial element to further depreciate all the efforts. Somehow, the terrorists’ narrative got it into some people’s mind that the polio vaccinations are actually meant to render us sterile and is therefore an un-Islamic act. Hence no parents should allow their children to be vaccinated. Moreover, the polio immunisation teams whose workers carry out door-to-door vaccinations should be killed as they are part of this sinister conspiracy against Muslims. Since this narrative got out, a series of attacks have been carried out targeting polio teams and killings dozens of health workers, mostly in the troubled areas of Khyber Phakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan. As a result of which the most challenging issue for the government is how to retrieve the lost public trust where people in these areas now refuse to get their children immunised. A report suggests that all of the six polio cases reported from Quetta were solely because of their parents’ refusal to get their children vaccinated.
Despite many edicts being issued by different clerics and religious scholars to unequivocally endorse the necessity of these immunisations, no adequate narrative seems to be in place and after having all these alarming facts in front of us, one wonders why the government has not adopted an effective policy on a war footing. When will it come out of its slothful mode? The country needs a strong counter-narrative to make people realise the sense of urgency and the threat it poses to us and the world otherwise the field is open for this crippling disease to take hold even more widely. Is it not shameful that in the entire world, Pakistan remains one of those three countries where polio is still being categorised as endemic? Its contagiousness poses a threat to the rest of the world that is polio-free. Surely, we do not want to isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity. It is not only for our own sake but in order to be an active member of today’s dynamic global world that we need to get rid of this affliction as soon as possible.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Saudi Arabia's Women Problem

Ahead of the anniversary of a protest against the ban on female drivers, the country is warning women not to get behind the wheel again.
One of the lesser-noted tendrils of the Arab Spring, which kicked off in earnest in 2011 and has been all but declared over, is the ongoing movement to end the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia.
The decades-long ban, which technically stems from religious custom rather than an actual Saudi traffic law, also has a history of being challenged. In November 1990, with the region roiling from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a group of 47 women joined together in a convoy and cruised down a major street in Riyadh in a "drive-in" protest. One of the rationales for choosing the moment was that a national emergency required their male custodians to be elsewhere.
The women gained immediate fame for their protest, but as Katherine Zoepf writes, not the kind that would lend their cause protection: "The forty-seven women, still collectively known in the kingdom as 'the drivers,' were detained, fired from their jobs, and widely pilloried."
One person who remembers the backlash against "the drivers" is Manal al-Sharif. As she told The Wall Street Journal last year: "When I was a kid they sent brochures all around the country, with the names of the women and their house numbers, encouraging people to call them and tell them to come back to Islam. They said these women had sex with American troops. They said they took off their hijabs and burned them."
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Sharif became a driver herself. In May 2011, she uploaded a video of herself driving around the Saudi city of Khobar. It went viral and garnered international support, but inspired threats against her at home. A week later, after she set off behind the wheel again, she was quickly spotted by police.
“They called the religious police, I was taken into interrogation and then they let me go," she recounted earlier this year as she received one in her growing collection of awards and honors. "But they came again to my house at 2 a.m. and took me to jail.” She remained in jail for the next nine days.
A few weeks after Sharif's ordeal, with the movement gaining steam, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton incited a diplomatic incident after offering her support for the issue during a visit to Riyadh.
What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them, but I want to underscore the fact that this is not coming from outside of their country. This is the women themselves, seeking to be recognized.
Last year, a campaign called on Saudi women to defy the driving ban on October 26. The efforts were briefly given momentum after a Saudi cleric issued this doozy of a statement in which he warned that driving has a "physiological impact on women and could affect her ovaries and push the pelvis higher as a result of which their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees."
Dozens of women reportedly participated, but some said the reach was limited after the Saudi Interior Ministry warned that defying the ban would bring consequences.
A few weeks after last year's demonstration, Secretary of State John Kerry eschewed the Hillary approach during an official visit. Kerry said that while he is proud of gender equality in America, when it comes to driving, "it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure choices and timing for whatever events."
On Thursday, ahead of a renewed push to recreate the "drive-in" on the one-year anniversary, Saudi officials once again warned against defying the ban. Their reasoning? The protests represent "an opportunity for predators to undermine social cohesion."

Turkey's U.S. relations show strain as Washington's patience wears thin

The U.S. decision to air-drop weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria on the same day Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan dismissed them as terrorists is the latest false note in the increasingly discordant mood music coming out of Washington and Ankara.
No matter how much officials on both sides publicly insist there is harmony, differences in strategy over the fight against Islamic State and the fate of the beleaguered Syrian border town of Kobani are straining relations between the Washington and its key regional ally, leaving Turkey increasingly isolated.
On Saturday Erdogan briefed journalists on board his lavish new presidential jet, saying it would be inappropriate for the United States to arm the Kurdish PYD which controls Kobani, besieged by Islamic State forces for more than a month.
Less than an hour after the plane touched down in Istanbul, President Barack Obama spoke to Erdogan by telephone, notifying him that weapons drops to Kobani's defender's were going ahead.
"U.S. actions certainly humiliated Erdogan. The story of the air-drop is one of Turkish irrelevance," said Aaron Stein, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
An op-ed by an Erdogan adviser published on Monday after the drops reiterated Turkey's opposition to helping the PYD, and highlighting the apparent gap between Ankara and Washington.
Hours later Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey would work with the United States to allow Iraqi Kurdish 'peshmerga' fighters to go to the defense of Kobani.
Senior Turkish officials paint the change of stance in a positive light. But Erdogan has kept up his attack on U.S. tactics, and the focus on Kobani.
"Now there's this situation called Kobani. What's the significance for it? Around 200,000 people came to my country and there are no civilians left inside apart from 2,000 PYD fighters," he said on Thursday, branding the PYD terrorists.
But Turkey's stance has little bearing on the direction of the coalition, and on Washington's actions, Stein believes.
"I don't think Turkey is buckling under the pressure (to do more), I think people are just ignoring Turkey."
Senior U.S. officials acknowledged Turkey’s unhappiness with the air drops to the Syrian Kurds, and said they explained it to Ankara as a temporary fix, which would not be necessary if Turkey would allowed safe passage of Iraqi peshmerga fighters to Kobani to aid in the city’s defense.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the weapons drop a “momentary effort.” Describing Obama’s talks with Erdogan and his own with top Turkish officials, Kerry said: “What we did say very clearly is, ‘Help us to get the peshmerga or other groups in there who will continue this, and we don't need to do that’ (weapons resupply)."
Another senior U.S. official said: “So what we did was actually pretty limited but basically designed to create a bridge to get to a place where the resupply was coming in via Turkey from the Kurdish peshmerga.”
A third senior U.S. official, while acknowledging remaining tensions, said the high-level diplomacy, including Obama’s phone talk with Erdogan, had at least prevented a further breakdown in relations between the two NATO allies.
The two countries still remain divided, however, over Washington’s request to use Incirlik air base to support military operations in Syria, with Erdogan demanding that the anti-Islamic State coalition set up a no-fly zone over Syria.
And U.S. suspicions remain about Turkey’s sympathies in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.
A U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States believes Turkey is playing a double game in Syria, lending at least covert moral support to Islamic State while avoiding doing so in public.
The official did not know if Turkey was providing financial or military support to Islamic State, but said Washington believes Turkey is partnering with Qatar in providing support to Islamist factions and militias in Libya.
The official said that the United States believes that Turkey’s ruling AK party has long had a policy of covertly seeking accommodations, if not actually trying to ingratiate itself, with Islamist groups.
Turkey has so far been a reluctant member of the U.S.-led coalition to tackle Islamic State, radical Sunni Muslim fighters who have seized swathes of territory in northern Syria and Iraq.
Ankara points to humanitarian efforts that have seen it give shelter to nearly 2 million Syrians since the beginning of the war in 2011 as proof of its commitment to the region.
But Turkey has also made it clear it sees Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a bigger threat than Islamic State, and has demanded the creation of safe areas in northern Syria and a no-fly zone before it will take a more active military role.
Despite praise for its treatment of refugees, Turkey's failure to join the bombing campaign against Islamic State has brought criticism in western media.
Repeated denials by Turkish officials have failed to quell rumors that Ankara allowed arms and fighters to flow to radical groups in Syria as part of a strategy to topple Assad.
Earlier this month, in another awkward episode, Erdogan demanded and received an apology from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden for saying Turkey and other countries had backed extremists and whipped up sectarian conflict.
"Turkey has a perception problem... and perceptions can be more important than the truth," said Osman Bahadir Dincer, of the Ankara based think-tank, USAK.
At home, the Turkish government's attitude has generally gone down well with a public who have little appetite for foreign policy adventures, amidst an economic slowdown and under the strain of hosting half of all Syrian refugees.
But deadly protests by Kurds furious at Ankara's failure to help their kin in Kobani hint at the domestic dangers of regional spillover. They also risk derailing a fragile peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), aimed at ending a simmering 30-year insurgency.
In foreign relations, the picture is different.
Privately, diplomats from friendly countries express frustration, aware that Turkey's geographical position and military power make it a vital, if increasingly mistrusted, regional ally.
"To be frank, Turkish politicians may be outstanding masters of domestic statecraft, but they are junior leaguers when it comes to foreign policy at a time when ISIS threatens to destabilize the region," said Atilla Yesilada, an economist with New-York based Global Source Partners.
The decision to allow Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters to cross into Syria has been welcomed by officials in Washington, and may be the first sign of Turkey softening its opposition to America's strategic focus on Islamic State.
But the month-long delay before acting has hurt Turkey internationally, and deepened the sense that its desire to be a major regional player is not backed up by its ability, according to one European diplomat based in Ankara.
Turkey's refusal to back down on demanding the removal of Assad and the creation of safe zones has baffled and infuriated partners, who agree with the ideas in principle, but do not see them as priorities, the diplomat said.
Turkey's leaders have never been afraid of sticking to their guns in the face of international opinion. Both Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolgu are driven by a vision of the Middle East united by a Turkish brand of political Islam. Both believe their foreign policy is supported by moral imperatives, and that they are on the right side of history.
But unless Ankara aligns itself more closely with international opinion it will become ever more isolated, and its goals will remain out of reach, many experts believe.

President Obama hugs Ebola-free nurse
Before Nina Pham headed back home to Dallas, Texas, she made one exciting final stop.
The 26 year old nurse, who is now Ebola free, met with President Obama in the Oval Office this afternoon, where the president gave Pham a big hug.
He wasn't the only one to hug Pham Friday.
On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, told reporters that Pham "is cured of Ebola," following multiple tests that confirmed it. Fauci hugged her too.
Pham was first diagnosed earlier this month after treating Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. She was the first person to be diagnosed with the disease on U.S. soil days after Duncan died from Ebola. She came to the Washington region for treatment, attended by caregivers in hazmat suits.
Her diagnosis caused an uproar among politicians who are now calling for tougher restrictions on travelers coming from three of the Ebola stricken countries: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The administration has pushed back against calls for a travel ban, saying it will hurt more than help fight the disease in West Africa.
Read more:

US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

A U.S. nurse diagnosed with Ebola after caring for a Liberian patient has been found virus-free and has been discharged from the National Institutes of Health in suburban Washington.
Nina Pham, a nurse at a Dallas, Texas, hospital that treated the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, told reporters and supporters Friday she is grateful for her recovery. She was flown in last week for treatment at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland.
She added that she is mindful of others who are still struggling with the illness, particularly another Dallas nurse, Amber Vinson, who was also infected after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital.
"Although I no longer have Ebola, I know it may be a while before I get my strength back," said Pham. She asked for privacy as she recovered further. She planned to head back to Dallas to reunite with her family and her dog Bentley.
Pham visited Friday with President Barack Obama, who shook her hand.
"She is cured of Ebola. Let’s get that clear," Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday.
Fauci said the 26-year-old was not given any experimental drugs while at NIH. It’s unclear why one Ebola patient recovers and another does not, he said, noting Pham’s youth and previous good health may have helped her beat the virus.
Pham had gotten a transfusion of blood plasma from Ebola survivor Kent Brantly, an American physician who had contracted the virus while treating patients in Liberia.
WHO anticipates vaccine
An official with the World Health Organization predicts hundreds of thousands of Ebola vaccine doses will be ready by June.
Marie-Paule Kieny, assistant director-general, told reporters Friday that two leading vaccine candidates are already in clinical trials and five more experimental vaccines are being developed for clinical trials next year.
"Before the end of first half of 2015 … we could have available a few hundred thousand doses. That could be 200,000 – it could be less or could be more,'' Kieny said after a meeting in Geneva of industry executives, global health experts, drug regulators and funders.
Donor countries have committed to finance the research, Kieny said. “There is a broad understanding that money will not be an issue" in developing an Ebola vaccine, Reuters news agency quoted her as saying.
New York confirms case
On Thursday, a New York City doctor who recently treated Ebola victims in Guinea became the first person in the U.S. city to be diagnosed with the virus.
Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed the case late Thursday, saying Dr. Craig Spencer has been placed in isolation at Belleview Hospital Center and the general public has no cause for alarm.
"Ebola is an extremely hard disease to contract," de Blasio said. "… New Yorkers who have not been exposed to an infected person's bodily fluids are not at all at risk."
Spencer on Thursday had notified the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, with whom he’d worked, that he had a high fever and nausea – two symptoms of Ebola.
Officials are looking for anyone who may have had contact with Spencer. He is the fourth person diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, and the first in New York.
Mali case may signal setback
The West African nation of Mali on Thursday also reported its first case of Ebola, in what many warn could be another major setback to African efforts to contain the disease.
Health Minister Ousmane Kone said on state television the patient is a 2-year-old girl who was brought to a hospital from neighboring Guinea. She had traveled with her grandmother, Kone said, adding, "It is possible that these two people arrived at a time when the symptoms were not detectable."
The girl's condition is improving, thanks to quick treatment in the western town of Kayes, Kone said.
The Ebola outbreak – concentrated in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – has killed close to 4,900 people. There are almost 10,000 confirmed or probable cases.
EU secures $1.25 billion to fight Ebola
European Union leaders on Friday announced they have secured $1.25 billion to help fight the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The announcement followed a summit of EU member nations in Brussels on Thursday.
So far, there have only been scattered cases of Ebola reported in the United States and Europe.
Even so, U.S. government health officials are ordering travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to monitor their health for 21 days and give local health departments daily reports.
The monitoring program starts Monday in six eastern states – Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia – where the majority of those travelers arrive. They will be given an Ebola kit, including a thermometer, upon arriving at airports.
New York called ‘ready’
In the latest case in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Dr. Spencer was familiar with symptoms and handled himself appropriately once he experienced symptoms.
Cuomo said the city is "as ready as one can be for this circumstance" and has been preparing for weeks to handle a possible Ebola case.
The White House said President Barack Obama spoke separately late Thursday with de Blasio and Cuomo, assuring them both of "any additional federal support necessary."
Obama also noted "the extensive preparations that New York City and, in particular, Bellevue Hospital Center … have undertaken to prepare for this contingency."
The earlier Ebola cases in the U.S. include a Liberian man who died two weeks ago at a hospital in Dallas, Texas. Two nurses who treated him are hospitalized and reportedly doing well.

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India asks Afghanistan to share information on detained Haqqani leaders

According to reports, India has asked the Afghan government to share information regarding the interrogation of two top Haqqani terrorist network leaders who were arrested by Afghan intelligence.
The request was reportedly made during Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval’s visit to Afghanistan.
Doval met with President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah and national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar. Atmar is understood to have assured Doval that Kabul would share all relevant information that may come out from interrogating the two Haqqani Network leaders – Anas Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid, according to Indian newspaper Deccan Herald.
The Pakistan-based Haqqani terrorist network and Lashkar-e-Taiba are accused of having role behind deadly attacks on Indian embassy in Kabul and Indian consulates in Jalalabad and Herat province.
New Delhi hopes that the interrogation of the two top Haqqani terrorist network leaders will reveal substantial details about network’s link with Pakistan’s military intelligence – Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
According to the Afghan intelligence – national directorate of security (NDS), the detained Haqqani terrorist network leaders included Anis Haqani, the brother of Sirajudin Haqqani and Hafiz Rashid the military commander of Haqqani network.

Residents pay price of India-Pakistan border skirmishes
Residents on border towns are paying the price of the decades-long animosity between the two neighbours with their blood.
Pakistan: India and Pakistan have once again traded fire across their borders in recent weeks, and the two nuclear rivals are putting the blame on each other for the border skirmishes.
The border town of Charwah Sector in Sialkot, which is overshadowed by Indian and Pakistani posts, feels the heat every time tensions mount between the two neighbours. Residents live in fear whenever both sides exchange fire across the border.
Farmers living just a few hundred metres away from the working boundary between India and Pakistan said they are in a constant state of fear, and blame the Indian forces for targeting their village. Residents said India fired the opening salvo as they were getting ready to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha. The attack claimed several lives and injured dozens of people.
"People vacate this town in the evening. They move to safer locations at night and come back in the morning,” said one of the town’s residents. "We feel scared when we visit our fields to harvest our crops, but we have to do it since this is our land and we don't have anywhere else to go,” said another resident.
Indian officials said Pakistan was using border fire to help infiltrate people into their territory, but that claim was denied by a senior Pakistan Rangers commander. He pointed out that Indians have erected a 3.7-metre high fence on the other side of the working boundary, installed high-resolution cameras and powerful searchlights to monitor the area and hence, prevented the possibility of any infiltration.
As India and Pakistan slug it out, one military hospital is witnessing an influx of innocent civilians who have received shrapnel injuries. While the blame game continues, residents on such border towns are paying the price of the decades-long animosity between the two countries with their blood.