Saturday, March 28, 2015
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)
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.
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.
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.
Friday, March 27, 2015
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.
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