Saturday, March 28, 2015

President Obama's Weekly Address: Protecting Working Americans' Paychecks

Video - Family Of Afghan Woman Mourns Devout Life Cut Short

The brutal mob killing in Kabul of a woman named Farkhunda has shocked Afghanistan. As thousands have taken to the streets to demand justice, her family and friends are mourning privately. RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan spoke to those who remember Farkhunda as a kind and pious young woman. (Produced by Tamim Akhgar and Wali Sabawoon, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan)

Mr. Ghani Goes to Washington











By Catherine Powell 

This week, during the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s White House visit, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he will delay the schedule for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and current troop levels will be maintained through the end of 2015. While I have reservations about the use of U.S. military power abroad more generally, a brief extension of the American military presence in Afghanistan makes sense to secure the substantial U.S. investment there.
Obama’s announcement should allay Ghani’s concerns over Afghanistan’s ability to manage the security transition. As the Afghan president said in a CFR meeting on Thursday, “2015 is going to be a very difficult security year… We have demonstrated our capability and will, but we are going to be tested.”
Yet in his address to Congress, Ghani maintained an emphasis on Afghan self-reliance. “I know American people are asking the same question as the Afghan people. Will we have the resources to provide a sustained basis for our operation? And the answer is: within this decade, we will.” However, for now, Afghanistan’s own security forces have limited airlift capability—a serious shortcoming in light of Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain. Afghanistan also currently lacks the high-end intelligence-collecting technology that American forces possess and have used to secure Afghanistan against insurgents.
While the United States cannot and should not remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, Obama’s decision reflects the realization that the transition envisioned by both the U.S. and Afghan governments cannot happen overnight. Slowing the pace of U.S. withdrawal will allow Afghanistan time to build up their self-reliance and capacity without fear of collapse.
As I have written before, the success or failure of the security transition has implications for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Afghan women have made incredible strides since the fall of the Taliban in 2001—especially in education and health care, as Ghani reminded Congress. And the Afghan president has plans to continue increasing women’s rights and opportunities in Afghanistan. In his address to U.S. lawmakers, Ghani described the three pillars of his approach to empowering women: education, economic opportunity, and a “mental and cultural revolution… over the treatment of women.” Empowering Afghan women and girls is critical to their own dignity and wellbeing first and foremost, but it also has benefits for Afghanistan’s prosperity and stability more broadly. Yet without a foundation of security, none of these reforms will be possible; women and girls have been under attack on their way to work and school, and female politicians have been threatened. A short extension of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan—to provide more time for the Afghans to strengthen their own security apparatus—is critical for the development of Afghanistan’s programs for women.
Of course, there are good reasons to be wary of the extension of the U.S. military presence—given that it is reportedly in part geared toward bolstering capacity for U.S. secret drone strikes from United States military bases. Cross-border CIA drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas have caused resentment against the United States, are troubling from a legal standpoint, and set a worrisome precedent for other governments to use drones strikes against American citizens and potentially against political dissidents and other disfavored groups.
I am also generally cautious about the use of American military power and wary of the trend toward militarizing women’s human rights, when diplomacy and soft power may be more effective and sustainable, less costly, and more protective of American and Afghan lives. Plus, military interventions can undermine—rather than support—local women’s rights efforts. However, in the short term, maintaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a practical step, and since their mission is advisory, not combat, the dangers of exercising U.S. power is reduced. Plus, whether through U.S. Army female engagement teams or USAID and State Department programs, the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has actually supported and worked in partnership with community-based women’s organizations. Supporting such local capacity continues to be the right and smart thing to do.
In an ideal world, military power would never be necessary to create conditions of gender equality. Yet given Afghanistan’s history—including the allegations of fraud in last year’s election that delayed the political transition and Ghani’s ability to stand up a new government quickly—the United States would be remiss if it did not extend support to Afghanistan while it regains its security footing.

Afghanistan’s Next Chapter

Now that President Obama has decided to slow the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, he and the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, have an obligation to prove that the additional American investment will be worth it. It will not be easy, and it may not be possible. For more than a decade, the Afghan government has stubbornly resisted taking most of the political, economic and military steps needed to put the country on a firm footing.
Mr. Obama’s decision to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan at least through 2015 is a change from his previous plan to cut that force in half by the end of the year. Administration officials said it was a response to the expected resurgence of the Taliban in the spring fighting season and the need to continue training and assisting the struggling Afghan security forces.
The decision means that two military bases from which the Central Intelligence Agency and military special forces conduct secret drone strikes and other operations — in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, and in Jalalabad, in the east — will stay open.
After the first White House meeting between the two presidents on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said at a news conference that he still planned to honor his commitment to reduce the force to about 1,000 when he leaves office in 2017. With America headed into a presidential election campaign in which Republicans are already taking a tougher line on security issues in general, Mr. Obama’s decision to slow the pace of the withdrawal should not be an excuse for keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Mr. Ghani, an American-educated, former World Bank official who is widely perceived as more serious and responsible than his erratic predecessor, Hamid Karzai, made a convincing argument that delaying the withdrawal would give him security support while he pursued economic, political and military goals.
His thanks to American troops who served in his country and to American taxpayers, who are still footing a hefty bill, was especially well received during a speech to Congress. During a visit to The Times, he said the result of his Washington meetings was that “we have been given space and time to demonstrate that what we’re saying can actually be implemented.”
The challenges cannot be overstated. One is an Afghan Army that will be unable to defend the country if it continues to lose personnel through desertions, discharges and an unsustainable level of combat deaths. Although authorized to employ 195,000 people, the force lost 17,000 troops and civilian employees last year.
Another challenge is endemic corruption. Over the years, the United States has poured billions of dollars into Afghanistan to underwrite the government, the military and scores of other programs, with untold millions siphoned off by Afghans to buy homes in Dubai and millions more wasted. To get at these problems, Mr. Ghani has fired 62 generals and centralized billions of dollars in procurement deals under his purview, but he still confronts huge obstacles in cleaning up the bureaucracy. All through the war years, it was apparent that military action alone would never bring peace. Afghanistan needs a government that can bring jobs, education, health care and justice to its people and undercut the lure of the Taliban. Mr. Ghani has made a more serious, coherent effort than Mr. Karzai in pursuing political reconciliation with the Taliban, which even American generals agree is the only way to end the conflict.
Although there is little sign that talks with the militants could make progress anytime soon, Mr. Ghani has taken an important step by trying to improve relations with Pakistan, whose lawless border region has long provided a sanctuary for militants who have targeted Afghan and American forces. He described the stakes in remarkably blunt terms, saying the problem was not making peace with the Taliban so much as “peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Mr. Ghani has big visions. He told Congress he aims for the country to be self-sustaining, and weaned of international assistance that now is central to the economy, within this decade. He talked of Afghanistan’s being an Asian hub crossed by pipelines, rail lines and modern telecom and banking services. Those are worthy goals, but they are still based mostly on hope.

Mr Nawaz Sharif, the Saudi-Yemeni conflict is not our war to fight








 

As the Houthi rebels strengthen their stranglehold over the country, amid the surreptitious flight of the Yemeni president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the long raging civil war in Yemen has finally come into the international spotlight.
Pakistan is, once again, at crossroads with Saudi Arabia, who is attempting to suck in inter-ethnic, inter-religious, and intra-sectarian conflicts into their black hole.
The prospects of petro-dollars coupled with the longstanding romance between the Sharifs and Sauds, buoyed by a rise of the Pakistan Army as a bulwark against both domestic as well as international terrorism, in recent times, might have made the temptation of joining the Saudi alliance irresistible, but it is an alliance which must be resisted.
That Pakistan should not embroil itself in a new war seems a no-brainer. Yet decades of misplaced priorities and mercurial and xenophobic foreign policy-making decisions have clouded or perhaps, blinded us towards our ‘national’ interests and how to achieve them.
The disorder of social amnesia amongst our public may be one of the major reasons for this disastrous ideological bickering among ruling elites. Moreover, the recent statement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about his stance on Saudi Arabia seems more like a ploy to support his Saudi ‘brothers’ in their imperialist adventures in the Gulf region, rather than a purely threat-based assessment.
For those of us wise or old enough to recall, the last time the Pakistan army aided a war in the Gulf from 1967-1970, under the command of the infamous General Ziaul Haq, it became known as “Black September”. Thousands of Palestinians were killed and displaced from Jordan, squandering all the goodwill that we had achieved earlier. Therefore, this time around, we must not be on the wrong side of history. But before going further, let’s stop for a bit and analyse the current situation in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is currently busy helping the ailing Yemeni government to fight off the Houthi rebels – a Shi’ite group of the Zaidi denomination who ruled North Yemen for about a 1000 years. They are mostly concentrated in the north of the country, which used to be a separate republic before it was unified with the south to form modern day Yemen in 1990.
Since then, the Houthis – who named their movement after Hussein Badraldin al Houthi, the man who led the first uprising against the Yemeni government in 2004, and was assassinated subsequently – have steadily gained ground in the past few months, closing in on Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen.
The Saudis have long been meddling in the political upheaval in Yemen. Their current preoccupation is therefore a part of the larger desire to maintain their long established political, religious, and now more so, military hegemony in the Gulf region.
To make matters worse, its nemeses, the ultra-sectarian Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have also managed to consolidate their power in the chaotic country. The Islamic Republic of Iran, a long-standing Saudi contender for ideological influence in the Middle East, is also stepping up support for the Houthis, their fellow Shiites. Thus, engulfed in a bitter intra-sectarian and inter-ethnic rivalry, the Saudis are desperate for help.
This hodge-podge of sectarian strife, spiced up by the entry of ISIS and AQAP, warrants a cautions and pragmatic policy by Pakistan. In its crusade against the so-called ‘terrorists’ in the country and region, Pakistan must not get carried away and adopt a blanket policy towards all insurgencies.
The Houthis, for example, are not the Taliban or al Qaeda, contrary to what the Saudis might suggest. They do not call for the establishment of an obscurantist and puritanical form of theocracy; instead they are fighting primarily to achieve socio-economic security, and just political representation which has long been denied to them by the dictatorial central government.
We must not, therefore, in principle, be privy to such a coalition. Since principles hardly matter when it comes to Pakistan’s foreign policy, Realpolitik may help deter us from yet another military adventure for two reasons.
First, Pakistan shares a long and porous border with Iran through its troubled province of Balochistan. With a separatist insurgency brewing in its own backyard, irking the Iranians by thwarting their attempts in Yemen could only turn out to be ominous. That Iranians would not retaliate by propping up the Baloch rebels (freedom fighters) is wishful thinking at best and naivety at its worst.
Tensions have already been simmering under the surface of Pak-Iran bilateral relations over the issue of Pakistan’s alleged support for Sunni terrorist groups operating on Iranian soil, and this move will just add fuel to the fire.
Secondly, and more importantly, allying with the Saudis to take on ISIS, AQAP, and Houthis all at once, would only entangle Pakistan into a protracted and tiring war with the Middle-Eastern jihadists, leading to increased hostilities at home and abroad. If the blowback of the ‘Afghan Jihad’ in the 1980s seems lost in retrospect, the recent quagmire of the US, Saudi, Qatari, Jordanian, and Iranian forces battling both each other and the Syrian forces should refresh our memories.
After 70 years of precarious existence, far from what Jinnah envisaged as a democratic Muslim model, we are still grappling with core issues such as basic healthcare, a faltering education system, rampant corruption, and moral and cultural depravity.
Thus, it is time that we stopped meddling in others’ wars and started fighting our own.

Pakistan - Punjab lags behind KP, Sindh in arrests under National Action Plan

Provincial law enforcement agencies arrest 2,298 suspected terrorists between Dec 24, 2014 and Mar 25, 2015 compared with 18,619 arrests in KP and 6,467 detentions in Sindh

Punjab lags behind Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces in implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism as the provincial security and law enforcement agencies were able to arrest just 2,298 suspected terrorists in 14,791 intelligence-based operations between Dec 24, 2014 and Mar 25 this year.

The revelation was made in a report submitted to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday detailing the tactical progress made by security agencies in the wake of NAP — a wide-ranging counter-terrorism policy formulated in the aftermath of the deadly school bombing in Peshawar last year.

The report maintains that over 32,000 people have been arrested on various charges and more than 28,500 operations have been conducted across the country.

The report suggests that 14,791 operations were conducted in Punjab, 5,517 in Sindh, 6,461 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 84 in Balochistan, 405 in Islamabad, 1,394 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 83 in Gilgit-Baltiststan (GB) and 91 in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

It also stated that under NAP, security agencies made 32,347 arrests, including 2,798 from Punjab, 6,467 from Sindh, 18,619 from KP, 3,483 from Balochistan, 762 from Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), nine from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 30 from GB and 179 from FATA.

The report adds that 37 terrorists were killed during this period and the arrested men include 727 “hardcore terrorists”.

During this period, the report says 61 convicts have been executed, including 47 in Punjab, 11 in Sindh, one in KP and two in AJK.

The police also arrested a total of 3,938 people on loud speaker violations including 3,214 in Punjab, 176 in Sindh, 451 in KP, three in Balochistan and 94 in ICT, the report says.

In total, the report says 887 cases have been registered for spreading hate speech. These included 707 in Punjab, 38 in Sindh, 83 in KP, 11 in Balochistan, one in ICT, 46 in AJK and one in GB. Law enforcement agencies also arrested 918 people and sealed a total of 70 shops on these charges.

According to the report, 18,855 Afghan refugees have been deported including, 5,996 from KP, 798 from Balochistan, 11,216 from AJK, one from Islamabad, two from Gilgit Baltistan and 842 from FATA. Over 350,000 cases have been registered in this regard.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has registered 64 cases for money transfer through hawala hundi, arrested 83 people and recovered Rs101.7 million, it stated.

Nine cases have also been registered on “suspicious transactions” while the agency also registered 57 money laundering cases and arrested 50 people on the same charges.

The State Bank of Pakistan also froze 120 accounts containing Rs 10.1 billion balance under the measures being taken under NAP, the report said.

In total, 351 actionable calls were received on anti-terror helpline 1717 including 234 in Punjab, 31 in Sindh, 39 in KP, 10 in Balochistan, two in AJK, 33 in ICT and one each in GB and FATA.

According to the report around 2,237 intelligence-based operations were also conducted during this period throughout the country.

The cellular mobile companies, in cooperation with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) have so far verified total 59.47 million SIMs including 18,151,586 of Telenor, 17,430,895 of Mobilink, 10,450,661 of Zong, 7,942,221 of Ufone and 5,490,911 of Warid.

THE INTERVENTIONIST HOLOCAUST – OPED - two million people killed. And three trillion dollars spent



By Daniel McAdams
This month, the Physicians for Social Responsibility released a report on the number of Afghanis, Iraqis, and Pakistanis killed in the ten year US “war on terror.” Titled “Body Count” the report from the Nobel Peace Prize winning organization has found that what was supposed to make the world a safer place has in fact resulted in mass casualties of historic proportions.
In terms of body count, the report has found that:
…the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs. And this is only a conservative estimate. The total number of deaths in the three countries named above could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.
As many as two million people killed. And three trillion dollars spent. The result of this decade of destruction is a far more dangerous and volatile Middle East and south Asia than before the interventionists started. Not only a failure, but a hugely immoral and ugly failure.
The report points out how difficult it is to get an accurate count of those killed in the US war on terror because, for a start, the US only counted casualties on its own side. Victims of US mis-aimed or otherwise civilian-killing strikes mattered little in the eyes of the Pentagon and the US political leadership.
The US government has little interest in the American public knowing the numbers of dead — especially killed civilians — overseas because there is a danger that might undermine US support for the operations. Quoted in the report, US General Stanley A. McCrystal said in his inaugural speech as ISAF Commander in June 2009, that, “I believe the perception caused by civilian casualties is one of the most dangerous enemies we face.”
So, the US government has done its best to keep that information from American citizens. The media is ever-ready to lend a hand. As the report finds:
…the media, and even parts of academia, be it ideologically motivated or guided by other interests, use starkly sanitized figures (see Chapter 3: “The Numbers War”) And this has been quite successful: In a 2007 poll, Americans estimated the number of killed Iraqis at less than 10,000.
In fact, as noted above, the report finds that the number of Iraqis killed from the 2003 invasion onward is in the neighborhood of one million.
Of course the neocons and interventionists will always make the illogical argument that without US intervention the body counts would have been higher, just as they argued at the time that a third world country half a world away that had never attacked us posed an existential threat to the United States.
Arguing for an effectively perpetual US troop presence in Afghanistan, the Chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), blames the disaster in Iraq on the US military withdrawal instead of the US attack:
Everyone looks forward to the day when Afghans can meet all of their own security needs, but Iraq has shown us the consequences of leaving a fragile ally too early.
This re-writing of history cannot go unchallenged. The penalty of our having to endure more disastrous interventions pales only nest to the penalty of being an innocent civilian in a country “liberated” by US bombs.

India and Pakistan Locked in a Nuclear Naval Arms Race


A while back, I reported on the murky detailssurrounding Pakistan’s sea-based nuclear deterrent. Much of it remains a mystery, including its future submarine force.
Conversely, the Indian Navy still does not have a capable ballistic missile with which to arm the INS Arihant – New Delhi’s only ballistic missile submarine (which only began sea trials in December). India’s submarine fleet is also experiencing difficulties in maintaining its readiness rate, which has dropped below 40 percent.
However, both India and Pakistan are set to continue to develop their naval nuclear forces, as a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace points out. Yet, this should not automatically be a cause for alarm, Iskander Rehman, the author of a newly released Carnegie policy paper, argues.
“By further institutionalizing relations between their navies and by insisting on stronger transparency with regard to naval nuclear developments, both countries may succeed in adding a greater degree of stability to what otherwise promises to be a dangerously volatile maritime environment,” he notes.
Rehman highlights a few other interesting points about the naval nuclear dynamics in the Indian Ocean:
  • India’s pursuit of a sea-based nuclear strike force is the next logical step in its quest for an assured retaliatory capability.
  • To enjoy an effective sea-based deterrent vis-à-vis China, India’s other prospective nuclear adversary, New Delhi has to develop larger SSBNs with greater missile carriage capacity and more powerful nuclear reactors.
  • Pakistan’s naval nuclear ambitions are fueled primarily by the sense of a growing conventional, rather than strategic, imbalance between New Delhi and Islamabad.
  • By dispersing low-yield nuclear weapons across a variety of naval platforms, Islamabad aims to acquire escalation dominance and greater strategic depth and to reduce the incentives for a preemptive strike on its nuclear assets.
Interestingly, Rehman also underlines that, “the submarine-based leg of India’s nuclear triad will have a major impact on the nation’s existing command-and-control arrangements.”
Writing for The Diplomat, Amit R. Saksena, already elaborated on this point back in January. “For a sea-based asset, where deterrence is primarily achieved by long-term radio silence, and launching control is delegated to seniority on board the vessel, the existing command and control model is not applicable,” Saksena emphasized.
India’s nuclear warfare policy is predicated on a No First-Use (NFU) doctrine; consequently, New Delhi needs to field a credible second-strike capability.
“Just like Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons (TnWs), New Delhi will essentially be delegating launch control to field officers on board the submarine, massively increasing the probability of incidental firing,” according to Saksena.
Furthermore, he points out another issue. “India, like Pakistan, is known to keep its nuclear warheads de-mated from the delivery mechanisms. For the INS Arihant to fulfill its operational responsibility, SLBMs mounted with nuclear warheads will have to be deployed on the vessel.”
Rehman does not discuss this issue in any detail. Nor, despite highlighting the problem, does he elaborate on what a new command and control model for India’s strategic forces might look like.
However, the report contains an interesting section on what lessons Islamabad and New Delhi can derive from naval nuclear operations during the Cold War, as well China’s future role in shaping naval nuclear policies in the Indian Ocean.
At the end of the report, which is worthwhile reading in its entirety, Rehman concludes that “the present period offers a precious window of opportunity for both New Delhi and Islamabad to shape, rather than be shaped, by the emerging naval nuclear regime in South Asia.” Yet the window for the implementation of new confidence-building measures between the two countries is shrinking rapidly.

Why Pakistan may be a reluctant ally in Saudis' Yemen campaign



Musharraf And Lal Masjid






On Friday, a local court in Islamabad issued bailable arrest warrants for former dictator Pervez Musharraf in the murder case of Abdul Rashid Ghazi and his wife during the Lal Masjid operation in 2007.
Most likely, Musharraf will neither be arrested nor compelled to appear before the court.
If there is one thing that has become clear during this extended episode involving Musharraf and court cases, it is that he is no ordinary man and will not be treated as one.
The treason trial – which was once making headlines with PML-N cabinet members and members of the superior judiciary promising justice – has been put on the back burner from the last many months.
Everything that the government or the judiciary did on that front has proven to be inconsequential.
Now with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif having rediscovered his limitations and vulnerabilities, it appears that Musharraf will not be held accountable for abrogating the constitution.

However, as far as the Lal Masjid case is concerned, Musharraf cannot be blamed for the death of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, his wife and others present in the mosque on the day of the operation.
The mosque had become a cause for much lawlessness and fear in the capital with students roaming around as some self-appointed morality policy destroying CD shops and abducting Chinese nationals.
Then they shot a security officer, and took refuge inside the mosque and refused to come out despite repeated warnings and requests.
All efforts aimed at convincing Abdul Rashid and his followers to surrender before the state proved unsuccessful leaving the state with no choice but to conduct military action.
The deaths of SSG commandos participating in the operation ought to make it very clear that they faced armed opposition.
Maulana Abdul Aziz, who attempted to escape in a burqa with female students, was taken into custody and remained unhurt.
His brother and others would have survived had they not literally stuck to their guns.
The narrative in subsequent years has been twisted to present the deceased of Lal Masjid as some hapless, unarmed victims of state aggression.
They were anything but.
Recent developments concerning Lal Masjid and its infamous cleric make it easy to believe how they may have put themselves in such a situation.
Female students of Jamia Hafsa recently released a video in which they swore allegiance to ISIS and Afghan Taliban simultaneously.
Abdul Aziz openly threatened the state and members of the civil society during a Friday sermon.
If anything, there is a need for more action against Lal Masjid and to hold Abdul Aziz accountable for his crimes against the state and the people.
Be it Musharraf or Abdul Aziz – no one can be allowed impunity against law.

Pakistan Vs Yemen - A bad idea


In response to the Houthi rebels’ advance on Aden, the  southern port city of Yemen where embattled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled when the capital Sanaa fell to the insurgents and who has now left the country to appeal for support from the Arab League meeting in Egypt, an Arab coalition put together by Saudi Arabia has intervened through air strikes. The move has evoked responses along expected lines in the region, with Iran condemning it and its Shia allies such as Iraq and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon joining in. The escalation of the civil war in Yemen has set in motion an international/regional dynamic as well as widened some old and other relatively new fissures internally. On the external front, it is by now clear that Saudi Arabia is counting on Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan to join its military intervention in Yemen. On Thursday it was revealed that Pakistan too has been asked to contribute to the effort. Whereas the Pakistani foreign office has been at pains to deny that any decision on the request has been taken just yet, high level civil-military meetings indicate a disturbing rush to get involved. A ministerial level delegation including senior military officers was due to travel to Saudi Arabia for discussions on the issue on Friday, but that visit has been postponed because of the Arab League meeting being attended by all Arab stakeholders. The statements emanating from the government disturbingly hide behind the mantra that any threat to Saudi Arabia would be met with a strong response. It is questionable however, whether any such ‘threat’ exists. The fact that Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbour Yemen is going through the trauma of a bloody struggle for power does not, by any stretch of the imagination, threaten Saudi sovereignty or territory, unless one buys the notion that Yemen has always been Riyadh’s ‘backyard’ and therefore not beyond Saudi whims and wishes to control events in that country. For Pakistan to insert itself into the middle of a largely sectarian Sunni-Shia conflict in Yemen would be foolish adventurism. Pakistan has enough problems of its own on its plate, including but by no means confined to a life-or-death struggle against terrorism. To offer Pakistani troops for the war in Yemen would place us unnecessarily at loggerheads with neighbour Iran, and cause complications for our relationships throughout the Middle East. It is by now also clear that the purpose of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent unscheduled dash to Riyadh to meet King Salman was tied to the request that has now broken water. For our rich Arab friends to regard the Pakistan army as a mercenary force available for fishing in their troubled waters, including siding with one side in a sectarian-tinged war, is insulting to the dignity and respect of our fighting men.

Yemen has had a troubled modern history. Once two states, North and South Yemen, it merged into one country after the North’s civil war between royalists and nationalists ended in the former’s victory and the communist government in the south was removed in 1990. The merger broke down into a civil war between north and south in 1994, in which former strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh crushed the south brutally. Saleh himself fell to the winds buffeting the region in the shape of the Arab Spring in 2012. His deputy and successor Hadi has steadily lost ground of late to the Houthi rebels, backed by former president Saleh and his son Ahmad’s supporters, whose ranks boast military units loyal to Saleh. The Saudi air strikes followed the deployment of 150,000 Saudi troops on the Yemen border and were carried out by 100 aircraft. Other Arab countries such as the UAE are said to have supplied aircraft and pilots for the mission. In the midst of this Sunni-Shia divide and conflict, the old resentments and separatist sentiment in the South have re-emerged. Whether it finds traction in the present circumstances or not, it does show that Yemen is fracturing along sectarian and internal regional lines. For an already troubled Pakistan with more than its share of problems to get involved in this complex and potentially explosive war sounds like a thoroughly bad idea. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Video - What to know about the U.S.-Iran nuclear negotations

Video - Yemen bombed: 'Crisis could deepen to all-out Sunni-Shia religious war, real aim is to stop Iran'

Video - Canada fury: Week of austerity protests brings tens of thousands onto Quebec streets

U.S. - Congress concerned over Turkey's drift from democracy



By Julian Pecquet

US lawmakers are pressing the Barack Obama administration to beef up support for Turkey’s civil society as an antidote to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s perceived drift toward authoritarianism.
Five key House members wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on March 27 urging him to launch a “formal dialogue” with Turkey aimed at strengthening political freedoms. They want the State Department to make clear that democratic governance is just as important as other priorities, such as economic cooperation and trade that already have their own regular bilateral forums.
“We urge you to continue to stress the importance of media freedom, separation of powers, human rights, and the rule of law in your discussions with President Erdogan and other senior Turkish government officials," the lawmakers wrote in a letter obtained by Al-Monitor. "To this end, we strongly recommend the establishment of a formal dialogue with Turkey on these matters in parallel with ongoing discussions on trade and investment, security, and culture and education."
The push is spearheaded by Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., who was the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs panel on Europe last year and now holds that spot on the terrorism and trade subcommittee. Also signing on are the chairmen and ranking members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash.; and Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a member of the intelligence and foreign aid spending panels.
"To remain silent on all of this could create the impression that we acquiese — and we don't," Keating told Al-Monitor in an interview in his office. "And if there's going to be joint efforts economically and on other fronts, these are issues that have to be discussed" — lest Ankara conclude that US officials "don't care about that stuff."
The letter comes amid growing signs that Turkey is becoming less free.
Turkey was the world’s leading jailer of journalists in 2012 and 2013, and was responsible for 92% of all tweets removed around the world in the second half of 2014. In its most recent report on Turkey, Human Rights Watch decried the “erosion of media freedom, continuing readiness to limit freedom of expression, restrictive approach to freedom of assembly, and readiness to prosecute demonstrators while tolerating police violence against them.”
Concerns have been growing on Capitol Hill since the crackdown on the Gezi Park protesters in the summer of 2013 and the restrictions on the media and the criminal justice system since the launch of a corruption probe against Erdogan’s government and allies in December. Most recently, attention has turned to the parliamentary debate over a domestic security bill that critics say would give police more powers to arrest and shoot protesters.
"We are very concerned that without a clear statement that human rights, media freedom, and the rule of law are integral to U.S. policy toward Turkey, President Erdogan is likely to step up pressure on his critics, opponents, and others who simply do not agree with his policies and thereby further undermine Turkey's democratic heritage," the letter states. "This would increasingly distance Turkey from the U.S. and Europe, and possibly provoke instability in its own society."
Recent efforts to engage Turkey on the issue have largely fallen flat.
During a campaign rally last year, Erdogan denounced a private letter from lawmakers friendly to Turkey urging him to tone down his rhetoric on Israel. And Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Serdar Kilic, took offense to a hearing by Keating's panel on "The Future of Turkey's Democracy" last year.
  1. RT @HouseForeign: Tues at 2pmET Chairman @DanaRohrabacher to convene hrg: The Future of Turkish http://1.usa.gov/1qscmwo 
@drjwalk future of democracy in Turkey? As bright as a shining star.Not due to hearings like this, but bcs turkish people deserve no less

Keating said his effort aims to create an alternative avenue for such discussions that he hopes will prove more productive.
"There's been a very serious drift and this is meant as one means maybe to create an avenue to come back [to better relations] — and not a threatening one, either," Keating said. "It's something that's meant to bridge rather than build a wall."
Ideally, Keating said, the dialogue would involve high-ranking government officials from both the United States and Turkey, as well as civil society groups. If Ankara doesn't want to get involved, however, he envisions the US side working with Turkish nongovernmental organizations.
He said the idea of a formal dialogue has the support of several Turkish groups, even though some may be reluctant to say so publicly. 
"This is something that they very much embrace because they're doing their best in a very difficult environment internally to raise these issues," Keating said. "So anything from the outside will be helpful for them."
Already, congressional sources say they've seen an uptick in US engagement on the issue. They point in particular to President Obama's September 2014 memo requiring senior US officials traveling abroad to "seek opportunities to meet with representatives of civil society," as well as the confirmation around the same time of John Bass to serve as ambassador to Turkey.
The letter starts by acknowledging the administration's recent efforts. In particular it highlights Vice President Joe Biden's meeting with civil society groups during his visit to Istanbul last November.
"Our founders concluded that a concentration of powers was the most corrosive thing that can happen to any system," Biden told the group ahead of a meeting with Erdogan.
"Again, we are encouraged by the strides your Department and the Vice President have made in reaching out to Turkish civil society, and we urge you to increase your efforts," the letter concludes. "As you and President Obama have repeatedly noted, countries that respect human rights and democratic values are stronger and more reliable partners. It is time to apply this maxim to the U.S. relationship with Turkey."


Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/03/turkey-authoritarianism-erdogan-civil-society.html#ixzz3VdxPL0UD