Tuesday, February 7, 2012

US drone strike kills eight in Pakistan

A US drone attack targeting a militant compound killed eight insurgents in a troubled Pakistani tribal region, according to security officials.

Two missiles hit the compound located in Tappi, 10 kilometres (six miles) southeast of Miranshah, the main town in volatile North Waziristan near the Afghan border, on Wednesday, a military official in Peshawar said.

"Eight militants were killed and two wounded," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

"Militants have surrounded the compound and are removing the dead bodies."

US officials say Pakistan's tribal belt provides sanctuary to Taliban fighting for 10 years in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda groups plotting attacks on the West, and Pakistani Taliban.

But the missile strikes fuel widespread anti-American resentment, which is running especially high in Pakistan since US air strikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

Russia pushes Syria reforms as bloodshed mounts

Days after blocking a U.S.-backed peace plan at the U.N., senior Russian officials pushed for reforms Tuesday during an emergency meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, promoting a settlement to end the uprising without removing him from power.
Thousands of flag-waving government supporters cheered the Russians in the Syrian capital of Damascus

while to the north, Assad s forces pounded the opposition city of Homs underscoring the sharp divisions propelling the country toward civil war.
The violence has led to the most severe international isolation in more than four decades of Assad family rule, with country after country calling home their envoys.
France, Italy, Spain and Belgium pulled their ambassadors from Damascus, as did six Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia. Germany, whose envoy left the country this month, said he would not be replaced. The moves came a day after the U.S. closed its embassy in Syria and Britain recalled its ambassador.
Turkey, once a strong Assad supporter and now one of his most vocal critics, added its voice to the international condemnation, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying his country cannot remain silent about massacres in Syria. He said Turkey would "launch a new initiative with countries that stand by the Syrian people instead of the regime."
His comments reflect a growing movement by the U.S., Europe and countries in the region to organize a coalition of nations to back Syria s opposition, though what kind of support remains unclear. Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for "friends of democratic Syria" to unite and rally against Assad s regime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov flew into Damascus on Tuesday, accompanied by his foreign security chief, to try to boost a plan that would keep Assad in power, even though many prominent members of the opposition reject that entirely.
"It s clear that efforts to stop the violence should be accompanied by the beginning of dialogue among the political forces," Lavrov said, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass. "Today we received confirmation of the readiness of the president of Syria for this work."
The visit was also a sign that Moscow wanted to get a firsthand assessment of the situation on the ground in Syria
and the raucous welcome the diplomats received from thousands of regime supporters appeared aimed at showing that Assad s grip is firm, at least in Damascus.
Syria has been a key Russian ally since Soviet times, and Moscow remains a major arms supplier to Damascus even as Assad unleashes his forces to crush not only peaceful protesters, but army defectors who are fighting the regime.
The U.N. estimates the government crackdown has killed more than 5,400 people since March, making Syria s conflict one of the deadliest of the Arab Spring. Hundreds more are believed to have died since the U.N. released that figure in January, but the chaos in the country has made it impossible for the world body to update its figures.
Tuesday s visit by Lavrov and intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov was evidence that Russia does not want to be seen as giving Assad a free hand to crush his opponents in the wake of Saturday s veto at the U.N. Security Council.
Both Russia and China blocked a Western- and Arab-backed resolution supporting calls for Assad to hand over some powers as a way to defuse the 11-month-old crisis.
Russia has opposed any U.N. call that could be interpreted as advocating military intervention or regime change. Russia and China also used their veto powers in October to block an attempt to condemn the violence in Syria.
On Tuesday, Moscow delivered its own message to Syria, calling on all sides to hold a meaningful dialogue.
"Necessary reforms must be implemented in order to address legitimate demands of the people striving for a better life," Lavrov told Assad, according to ITAR-Tass."

US expanding role of Special Forces in Afghanistan

A U.S. admiral said Tuesday that special operations forces in Afghanistan are preparing for a possible expanded role as American forces begin to withdraw after a decade of war.

Adm. Bill McRaven, the special operations commander who led last year s Navy commando raid against Osama bin Laden, confirmed that special operations forces would be the last to leave under the Obama administration s current plan, and that the Pentagon is considering handing more of the Afghan war responsibility over to a senior special operations officer as part of that evolution.

McRaven said special operations would combine targeting and training operations this summer to prepare for a smaller overall U.S. presence, but he stressed that no final decisions had been made.

"I have no doubt that special operations will be the last to leave Afghanistan," McRaven told a Washington audience, though he said he did not expect their numbers to rise.

"As far as anything beyond that, we re exploring a lot of options," he said.

The White House is considering handing the entire Afghan campaign back to special operations forces
an evolution expected to stretch well past the drawdown of most conventional NATO troops in 2014, according to multiple officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the still-evolving plans.

Senior administration officials have described turning the mission over to special operations forces as a possible way to provide security with fewer U.S. troops, because of their ability to work in smaller numbers and with local forces on such missions as night raids or patrolling villages. Administration officials believe that smaller presence will be less offensive to the Afghans.

Afghan participation in the controversial night raids against insurgents has not stopped Afghan president Hamid Karzai from criticizing them and blaming the U.S. for unnecessary civilian casualties, but U.S. officials believe his criticism will be more muted as his forces take on a greater role.

The administration s emphasis on partnering with Afghan forces is driving McRaven s streamlining of special operations in Afghanistan, blending the village security operations with the elite Joint Special Operations Command s terrorist-hunting cell based at Bagram, which is working on degrading the Taliban militant network with focused raids.
"We feel like we have to become not only more effective but more efficient," McRaven said.

Under the current system, if the special operations terrorist hunters have five potential insurgents to hit in a given area, they will likely choose to strike a high-value target, instead of spending their time hunting lower level insurgents menacing a local village that fellow U.S. Army Green Berets are trying to secure, according to a U.S. military official.
With one commander in charge of all special operations, he could decide to clear out those lower level insurgents to secure the village, leaving the high value target for another night.

During McRaven s remarks at a Washington area hotel, there was an outburst from a retired special operations general who was angry at media coverage of special operations missions, such last year s raid in Pakistan by Navy commandos known as SEALs that killed bin Laden, and the recent SEAL rescue of two Western hostages in Somalia.
"Get the hell out of the media," retired Lt. Gen. James Vaught shouted at McRaven.

McRaven calmly responded that avoiding media coverage was impossible in the 24-hour news cycle, and that while he objected to revealing sensitive tactics, the media could be useful, especially when reporting operations gone wrong.
"Having those failures exposed in the media helps us do a better job," McRaven said. "So sometimes the spotlight on us makes us better."

Quetta's Hazara community living in fear

humanitarian news and analysis

Widespread fear of harassment, discrimination and killings has prompted some Hazara community members living in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province in southwestern Pakistan, to consider leaving the country, even by illegal means.

“Over 600 Hazaras have been killed since 2000,” Abdul Qayuum Changezi, head of the Hazara Jarga, a group representing Hazaras, told IRIN. Media reports speak of dozens recently killed in attacks on the community in Quetta and in other parts of the province.

The Hazaras constitute a distinct ethnic group, with some accounts tracing their history to central Asia. Almost all belong to the Shia Muslim sect, speak a dialect of Farsi, and are concentrated in central Afghanistan and some parts of Pakistan. There are some 6,000 to 7,000 Hazaras in the country, according to a Hazara chief, Sardar Saadat Ali.

In Quetta, many of them live in Alamdar Road. Close by, Ali Hassan, 55, and his two sons, both in their 20s, were engrossed in a fierce argument in their small house - when IRIN visited - about leaving the country, even if illegally.

According to the two, there is too much discrimination against the Hazaras for them to have a future. “It is simply too dangerous to live here. Besides, Hazaras get no opportunities in education or for jobs, because of the bias that exists,” said Ibrar Ali, 21, the younger of Hassan’s sons.

However, their parents were terrified of allowing them to try and leave, mainly because of an incident in December last year in which at least 55 Hazaras from Quetta were killed when a boat carrying some 90 illegal immigrants to Australia capsized off the coast of Indonesia.

“The boat was overloaded with over 250 people, including children and women,” said Nasir Ali, whose brother was on the ill-fated boat, but survived.


Following the incident, the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded a government inquiry. In a statement, HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf said the fact that “Hazara young men chose to leave Pakistan by taking such grave risks is a measure of the persecution the Hazara community has long faced in Balochistan.”

The statement also urged the government to act against those illegally ferrying people out of the country in exchange for large sums of money, and demanded it “take urgent steps to find a way to put an end to the persecution of the long-suffering Hazara community”.

The New York based monitoring body Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also condemned the sectarian killing of Shia Muslims in Pakistan, and has noted: "Research indicates that at least 275 Shias, mostly of Hazara ethnicity, have been killed in sectarian attacks in the southwestern province of Balochistan alone since 2008." HRW Asia director Brad Adams says a start can be made to ending such killings "by arresting extremist group members responsible for past attacks”.

Anger within the Hazara community runs deep, and has been growing.

“The news of the killings and the desperation of the community is terrible. I weep often when I read of what is happening. I want to return to Quetta, because I love my home town; I want to be close to my parents and live there with my own family. But my fiancé and I ask if it will be sensible to raise our children in a climate of death,” Mina Ali, a medical student from the Hazara community currently based in Karachi, told IRIN.

Her fiancé, also a Hazara, is keen to try and flee the country, whether “legally or illegally”, Mina said.


Statements to the media from top government officials, including the chief minister of Balochistan, have also been perceived as insensitive in their failure to strongly condemn killings that some commentators have described as a “genocide”. Others in Pakistan are demanding that the International Court of Justice look into the matter.

Hazara chief Sardar Saadat Ali, a former provincial minister, told IRIN most Hazaras in the country were based in Quetta but there were “also some in Hyderabad [in Sindh Province] and other Baloch districts”.

Ali, who has lost close relatives including his brother in targeted killings of Hazaras, said: “We can expect nothing from the government; so we act for ourselves. I personally went to Indonesia to bring back the bodies of the young Hazara men who had died in the boat tragedy. They were fleeing because of the security situation and in search of a chance to gain an education.”

Hazaras, he added, were being targeted on “both ethnic and sectarian grounds” by extremist groups - mainly the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which have origins in the Punjab. He was also concerned about further persecution if the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan.

“I don’t understand much about politics, but I worry constantly for my grown children, and their children," said Zareen Bibi, 60, a Hazara resident of Quetta. "Too many Hazaras have died, for no reason - and this inhumanity has to end. We all deserve dignity and the right to life."

Arms deal to Bahrain uncovers foreign policy hypocrisy

By David Scheuermann
In a speech following the United States' missile strike on Libya, President Barack Obama proclaimed a resounding call to spread the ideals of democracy around the world.

"Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States," Obama said.

And in some bizarro universe, this commitment to a democratic ideal may ring true. But in reality, the United States' support of democratic movements, especially in the Middle East, depends largely on what they offer us.

Let's take the island nation of Bahrain as an example.

Inspired by the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahraini citizens gathered on Feb. 14, 2011, in the capital city of Manama, calling for political reforms such as free, fair elections and a constitutional monarchy.

What they were met with in return was a violent crackdown by the Bahraini monarchy that began on Feb. 17, 2011, or Bloody Thursday. A month later, troops from other Persian Gulf states, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were brought into the country as martial law was declared for three months.

All in all, 2,929 people were detained and 55 are believed to have been killed during the uprising as the Bahraini government cracked down on everyone from opposition activists to doctors trying to do their jobs. Midnight raids occurred in Shia neighborhoods, opposition activists "disappeared" and detainees reported being tortured by their government.

What was the response from the United States?

After initially offering stern words against the violence used against protesters, the United States decided to pursue a $53 million arms deal with Bahrain.

The kicker: After the deal was delayed by human rights concerns and congressional opposition, last week the Obama administration found a way to go through with the sale without congressional or public oversight by exploiting a legal loophole.

By breaking down the arms package into individual sales of less than $1 million each, the Obama administration can sell anything it wants without notifying Congress.

Yet, our support to anti-democratic regimes is nothing new.

Saudi Arabia, notorious for its oppressive laws and mistreatment of minorities, is a major beneficiary of the United States. In 2010, the Obama administration signed the largest arms deal ever to a foreign nation when it agreed to sell $60 billion worth of military equipment to the country.

A more apt comparison may be our relationship with Yemen, a country which has also killed and detained protesters in its brutal crackdown on uprisings since last year. Despite the violence against Yemeni citizens, the United States never offered an action that went further than harsh words and criticisms — because Yemen allows the United States to conduct counter-terrorism actions inside the country.

When you compare this treatment to our support for the NATO intervention in Libya and our attempts at sanctioning Syria, there is an obvious double standard and hypocrisy when the nations abusing its citizens have something to offer us.

There are political arguments for our support of anti-democratic regimes such as the Bahraini government.

The United States Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is seen as a major force for combating the influence of Iran in the region, is stationed in Bahrain. Bahrain's alliance with states such as Saudi Arabia also would have made it difficult to chastise the government without repercussions.

However, these strategies seem short term and alienating.

A Pew poll released in May 2011 revealed that, even after the Arab Spring, a great majority of the population in many Middle Eastern countries viewed the United States unfavorably. What concerned them about the United States was "a perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally" and neglectful of their interests when making foreign policy decisions, according to the Pew Research Center.

The sad thing about that is there is no way to combat such perceptions when they are entirely accurate.

Our foreign policy in the Middle East may provide stability in the short term, but it also perpetuates animosity toward us in the region, empowers our enemies against us and makes a mockery of the democratic ideals that this country was founded on.

David Scheuermann is a 20-year-old mass communication and computer science sophomore from Kenner. Follow him on Twitter at @TDR_dscheu.

U.S. must bring pressure to bear on Bahrain

The Washington Post

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION and other Western governments have rightly lambasted Russia and China for blocking action by the U.N. Security Council on Syria. The government of Vladi­mir Putin is particularly culpable for propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad: In addition to vetoing a Security Council resolution, it has been supplying Damascus with weapons. In contrast, though it suffered a diplomatic defeat, the United States will ultimately reap the benefit of siding with the Syrian people. As President Obama said in a searing statement Saturday, by rejecting the regime and its criminal brutality “we stand for principles that include universal rights for all people and just political and economic reform.”

For that stance to be effective, however, it must be consistent across the region. After all, quite apart from democratic principles, the Obama administration has a strategic interest in overturning the Assad government, which is Iran’s closest Middle East ally. Its tough position there won’t mean as much unless it is also applied to Arab states that are allies — including those that stand with the United States on Iran.
That’s why U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf emirate of Bahrain continues to be disturbing. In some respects, the year-old conflict in that island nation is the inverse of Syria’s: A Sunni ruling family and elite is battling a disempowered Shiite majority. The same Sunni Arab states that demand a “democratic transition” in Syria have sent troops to Bahrain to help ensure the regime’s survival, while Shiite Iran, which has given military support to the Assad regime, is calling for democracy for Bahrain.

Bahrain’s repression of its protesters isn’t comparable to Syria’s: Some 40 deaths have been recorded in the island emirate, compared to 7,000 or more killed by Mr. Assad. The ruling al-Khalifa family has also done more to reach out to the opposition, including appointing an independent commission to report on abuses by the security forces and recommend reforms. However, the regime has yet to offer meaningful power-sharing with the Shiite opposition, much less democracy. A number of opposition leaders remain imprisoned. And near-daily clashes between security forces and protesters have been growing worse, even as the Feb. 14 anniversary of the popular uprising approaches.

The United States has exceptional influence in Bahrain, in part because the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is based there. But the Obama administration has mostly refrained from using that influence. It tried to go forward with a $53 million arms sales package last year until it met stiff resistance in Congress. Now the State Department has disclosed that the administration is releasing “previously notified equipment needed for Bahrain’s external defense and support of 5th Fleet operations,” including spare parts.

A statement said that the administration was “maintaining a pause on most security assistance for Bahrain pending further progress on reform.” Nevertheless, the transfer of any military aid now sends the wrong message, both to the Khalifa regime and to the region. U.S. criticism of Russia for continuing to arm the Assad regime will sound more credible when American military aid to Arab allies engaged in repression comes to a complete and unambiguous halt.

Madonna 'angry' with MIA over Super Bowl finger

Rapper MIA angered Super Bowl organisers and audiences when she raised her middle finger on stage on Sunday night.
However it seems Madonna is equally angry with the British star.
It is being reported that Madonna is frustrated with the fuss caused by MIA's antics whilst they performed together during Madonna's much anticipated halftime set at the event.
MIA joined Madonna on stage for her performance of Give Me All Your Lovin', and during the song she flicked her finger to the camera.
Madonna is said to be angry that a negative story now surrounds what she wanted to be a world class performance.The NFL has already been forced to apologise for MIA's gesture.

Shahid Afridi officially becomes goodwill ambassador for UNODC

On Monday at Shalimar Cricket Ground in Islamabad, former Pakistani cricket team Skipper Shahid Afridi signed a 2 year contract as Goodwill Ambassador with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

He is being appointed in recognition for his outstanding tracking record in cricket and close association with charitable causes n Pakistan. Both batsman and bowler, Afridi is a talented all-rounder who was captain of the Pakistan national cricket team from 2009 to 2011 particularly in ODI, T20 and one day matches.

Shahid Afridi will promote healthy living and positive values through sports during visits to schools and colleges. In 2012, he will witness the impact of UNODC work in Pakistan and highlight the need to fight drug use and associated crime.

He is expected to take part in a range of activities, such as a youth cricket tournament, and the International Day against Drug Abuse (26 June) as well as advocate for increased ethics in sports and gender-responsive services for drug users, promoting knowledge of drug and HIV/AIDS issues.

American kids denied food stamps in Alabama under immigration law

Yahoo New

Some U.S.-born children with parents who are illegal immigrants have been denied food stamps under Alabama's new immigration law, Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen told Yahoo News on Monday.

Five people have called into the group's Alabama hotline to say they were denied food stamps because they couldn't prove they were legal residents, even though the food stamps are for their children, who are citizens.

Cohen says the civil rights group, which has already filed two lawsuits against Alabama over the law, will most likely bring another suit over the denied food stamps.

The law makes it a felony for a government employee to engage in "business transactions" with illegal immigrants, which some government employees have interpreted very broadly. Illegal immigrants have been told they can't pay their utility bills or even their taxes because it would count as a "transaction" with the government, according to Cohen.

Barry Spear, a spokesman for Alabama's Department of Human Services, said in an email to Yahoo News that it is not the agency's policy to demand proof of citizenship from the guardians of Americans who need food stamps. "We are unaware of any violations of the policy," Spear said.

Several parts of the law have been temporarily blocked pending the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on whether the law is constitutional or not. But the "business transaction" prohibition, as well as a mandate for local police to ask for proof of legal status during stops, were left to stand. Some Republican lawmakers say they want to amend the law this year, while a coalition of Democrats is trying to repeal it entirely.

Illegal immigrants are prohibited from accessing most welfare benefits, including food stamps, non-emergency Medicaid and cash welfare programs. Their children, if born in America, can access welfare programs as citizens. (The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that about 4.5 million American citizens under 18 years old have at least one undocumented parent.)

Last month, Kansas kicked more than 1,000 mixed-status families off its food stamp program when it joined three other states in adopting a stricter food stamp eligibility policy. A low-income family of five made up of two undocumented parents and three citizen children now has to show that its income is close to the poverty level for a family of three--not a family of five--in order to access food stamps. This is intended to prevent illegal immigrants from benefiting from food stamps, but immigration advocates say it will leave citizen kids hungry.

The Justice Department has sued Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah over laws that crack down on illegal immigrants, saying they interfere with the federal government's control over immigration. The Supreme Court will hear arguments over Arizona's SB1070 beginning on April 25.

Russian envoy in Syria

Pakistan Supports Afghan-Owned Peace Initiative


During his three-day trip to Qatar, Pakistani Prime Minister, Yosuf Raza Gilani said that his country supported Afghan-led peace process.

He also called Doha's role vital in stability of the region.

At the time of his departure from Pakistan, the prime minister reiterated stance of his government to support Afghan-led and Afghan-owned initiatives for a stable Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed Mr Gilani's statement and hoped for an honest Pakistani role in Afghan peace efforts.

"Pakistan plays a vital role in the Afghan peace process," a spokesman for Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Janan Musazai said. "We hope for an honest involvement of Pakistan in this process. We thanked for the comments made by Mr Gilani and Foreign Minister Khar."

Before Mr Gilani's trip to Qatar, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Hinna Rabbani Khar visited Afghanistan and emphasised on her country's support of Afghan peace efforts.

"Let me also say quite clearly we have to start engaging in the end of blame games," she said. "We have to evolve a cooperative approach which is there to deal with the common challenges that both the countries face and attain to ensure a better future for our people."

Meanwhile, in a meeting between Mr Gilani and a delegation of Afghan parliamentarians last week, he said that peace in Afghanistan was critical for peace and security in Pakistan.

Mr Gilani's efforts come as recently a Nato revealed report showed strong support of Pakistani officials to Afghan Taliban.

Afghan Officials Question Accounts of Children’s Deaths From Cold

Afghan government officials cast doubt on Tuesday about whether more than 20 children who died in refugee camps recently had perished from the cold.

The officials were also sharply critical of some of the camp residents, complaining that they had exaggerated their circumstances to attract more aid and that news accounts about the deaths during a period of unseasonably frigid weather were “one-sided.”

Mohammad Daim Kakar, the director general of Afghanistan’s disaster assistance agency, confirmed that camp officials, parents and religious leaders in two of the camps in Kabul had reported the deaths of 21 children, as well as two elderly adults. The New York Times, quoting similar sources, found 22 cases of children under 5 who had died there as of last week, with a 23rd case reported on Sunday.

Mr. Kakar said the cases his agency had confirmed were children reported to have died at night. “Is that reasonable that all of them would die at night?” he said. He was also suspicious because the deaths were not registered, and camp officials did not take his agency’s investigators to cemeteries to show them fresh graves.

“I am not saying they are liars, but for us it is a question mark,” he said.

Temperatures at night have been dropping typically to the mid-teens Fahrenheit during the past month, much colder than usual, along with unusually heavy snowstorms.

“Of course they die at night,” said Mohammad Ibrahim, the camp representative at the Nasaji Bagrami camp. “What do they expect? It is colder at night.” He and the camp mullah, Walid Khan, furiously denied that any officials had tried to see the cemetery there and been rebuffed.

“Let them shave my beard if I am lying,” said Mr. Ibrahim. The two men led reporters to the cemetery on Tuesday and pointed out each of the gravestones marking the 16 children under 5 who died in that camp since Jan. 15, including a pair of paving stones used as markers for the graves of two twin girls, 3 months old, Naghma and Nazia Jan, who died the same night, Jan. 22. The markers could just be seen poking through 18 inches of snow.

“I buried every one of them,” said Mr. Khan. The men’s accounts were corroborated by the graveyard’s caretaker, Abdul Rasoul.

Of those 16 children, the camp officials said, 15 died of the cold and were under 5; the 16th, the 5-year-old daughter of Mr. Khan, the mullah, died of burns after accidentally spilling a pot of boiling water on herself while trying to stay warm. “I blame the cold for that, too,” Mr. Khan said. The most recent cold victim there was a 1-year-old, Qader, son of Sayed Azam, at the Nasaji Bagrami camp, officials there said. He died Friday, but his death was not reported until Sunday.

Most victims were all children who were discovered late at night or early in the morning, frozen and dead in unheated tents and huts after supplies of firewood and fuel were exhausted.

Mr. Kakar said that despite his suspicions, aid supplies would be increased to the camps, which are mostly inhabited by refugees who fled fighting in other parts of Afghanistan. At the two hardest hit camps, Nasaji Bagrami and Charahi Qambar, most of the victims were from families who fled from Helmand Province in recent years. Camp officials at Charahi Qambar reported eight deaths in all, the most recent two last Thursday.

Mr. Kakar made his comments at a news conference held with a spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, Islamudin Jurat. Mr. Jurat was critical of what he called one-sided news reports of the camp deaths that failed to take account of efforts made in the past on behalf of the residents of the camps.

He said that while his ministry had no responsibility for the camp residents, it had warned before winter began of a possible disaster, but international aid groups had ignored that warning. Mr. Jurat also said the ministry had offered the residents land on which to resettle in Helmand Province, but that the camp residents wanted to be resettled in Kabul Province, instead.

He also said that past aid efforts had failed because camp residents had sold off the aid they were given. At one point, he said, rental houses were found as alternatives for camp dwellers, but they soon left them to return to their tents, instead subletting the premises for income.

“That is a lie,” declared Mr. Ibrahim. “They haven’t given us anything. I’ve been to the Ministry of Refugees asking for assistance, even shouting for assistance and nothing has happened, no help.”

Meantime, however, widespread Afghan news media coverage about the deaths of the children over the last two days have spurred action from many quarters. Private Afghan businessmen and companies like Roshan, a mobile telephone carrier, and Ariana Television, through its charitable arm, have visited both of the worst hit camps in recent days, handing out aid, including firewood and cash payments to each family.

Afghan child labor fears grow as aid dries up

Dwindling development aid as the war winds down in Afghanistan means child labor in the impoverished country is at risk of becoming more widespread, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned on Tuesday.

Half of Afghanistan's population of 30 million are under 15, with almost two million children in full or part-time work, UNICEF estimates of a country where war, poverty, unemployment and pride in having large families have created a huge underage labor market.

With foreign troops fighting Taliban insurgents pulling out by the end of 2014, global attention is dolefully shifting away from Afghanistan and its humanitarian needs, said the ILO's representative to Kabul Herve Berger.

"The issue of child labor may fall below the radar screen and be seen as less important after 2014," Berger told Reuters. "What is key here is ensuring enough sustainability."

Berger cited a report by the UN agency detailing one of the worst forms of child labor -- brickmaking in the dusty kilns in the country's east, where children work in a slavish cycle of debt that is almost impossible to escape.

Though both child labor and so-called bonded work are illegal in Afghanistan, children as young as five churn out hundreds of bricks a week for a few dollars to pay off family debts which swell the longer they work there.

Poor health from harsh working conditions, reliance on shelter and electricity provided by brick employers and denied education mean brickmakers are tied to their work.

With Afghanistan's construction boom -- a third of which is supported by foreign aid -- expected to dampen as aid dries up, brick demand will slump and the children will be forced further into poverty as the balance tips in favor of the employers.

This mirrors what could happen to Afghanistan on a larger scale when the aid vanishes, a process which has already started.

"All service sectors will be affected as aid dries up. Lower profit margins mean more children will be working," said Sarah Cramer, project manager at Samuel Hall Consulting, which conducted the study for the ILO.

Civilian aid, the vast majority coming from the United States, peaked in 2010 in Afghanistan and Washington has said it will spend less on development as it withdraws troops.

U.S. economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan fell from $4.1 billion in 2010 to $2.5 billion in 2011. The UN World Food Programme only managed to raise half of its Afghan budget last year as donors cut back as global economic woes mounted.

U.S. aid will be even lower this year as Washington shifts to sustainability projects, which they say require lower levels of funding.

Ensuring sustainability is one of the key concerns to be voiced at the major Afghanistan conferences in Chicago in May and Tokyo in July, Berger said.

He said that despite Afghanistan's pledge last year to set a minimum age for coal mine workers at 18, the country must be vigorous in eradicating child labor when exploring its untapped mineral deposits, plans which are already unfolding in the face of disappearing aid.

Military comeback a distant dream for Afghan Taliban

A secret NATO report showing the strength of confidence among the Afghan Taliban is raising concerns from Kabul to Washington that the militant group might overrun the country again when foreign combat forces finally leave.

But analysts doubt the militants, who rose from the ashes of Afghanistan's civil war, will be able to again race into the capital in pick-up trucks, hang their opponents in public and once more impose their austere brand of Islam on the country.

Although still much feared, experts say they don't have the military capability to seize control of the whole country when NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014.

Despite the bold predictions of Taliban detainees whose opinions formed the basis of the NATO report, which was leaked last week, circumstances have changed substantially. A partial comeback appears to be the best the Taliban can hope for.

"When they ruled before, many people had fled Afghanistan. There was no young generation. Without much fighting, they captured 90 percent of Afghanistan. But now the situation has completely changed," said Waheed Mujhda, Kabul-based expert on the Taliban.

"They accept that the time has changed. They accept that it's impossible for one party to capture all Afghanistan and rule all over Afghanistan."

The Taliban, ousted after a U.S. invasion in 2001, was able to sweep to power in 1996 partly because it was able to exploit the chaos gripping Afghanistan in the years following the end of the failed Soviet occupation.


The Afghan army and security forces may still be deeply flawed, but their mere size would make it difficult for the Taliban to simply topple the government when NATO troops go.

With an estimated 25,000 fighters at the most, the Taliban is hugely outnumbered by NATO and Afghan forces.

Its budget too is minuscule, put at just $150 million a year. By contrast, the United States has spent some $500 billion on its 10-year war there.

"The government is very fragile but we have to keep in mind it is supported by a 250,000 strong security apparatus ... which is also supported by the international community and these two big elements were missing when the Taliban seized the country in the mid-90s," said Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul.

Without tanks and fighter planes, the Taliban could find itself battling government forces -- and remaining Western special forces - for years.

And a survey by The Asia Foundation showed that the proportion of respondents who say they had some level of sympathy with the motives of armed opposition groups reached its lowest level last year.

Also standing in the way would be the threat of a renewed civil war from the Taliban's old ethnic foes, a small army of Western advisers likely to remain after 2014, and the opposition of many ordinary Afghans.

A surge in U.S. and NATO troop numbers that began in 2010 has suppressed the Taliban on the open battlefield, forcing the insurgency last year to turn to assassinations and audacious attacks in Kabul to regain a psychological advantage.

Taliban commanders still speak of waging jihad until Islamic rule is restored. But some militants are starting to long for a peaceful end to Afghanistan's years of conflict.

"There are fighters who had suffered losses, lost their family members in fighting and became homeless who want a peaceful solution to the long war," said a Taliban commander who identified himself by his codename, Qari Baryal.

Afghanistan's fate after 2014 may depend on how neighboring Pakistan views the Taliban, with which it has historical ties.

The NATO report said Pakistani intelligence was supporting the Taliban, an allegation Islamabad denied.

However, analysts say Pakistan does not want to see the Taliban in power again because that could embolden militants fighting the Pakistani state, though the regional power still wants a say in Afghanistan.

A senior Western diplomat involved in Afghan reconciliation efforts said he detected caution among Pakistani officials.

"I got the strong impression that Pakistan does not see a Taliban takeover to be in its interests," he told Reuters.

In a surprise announcement last month, the Afghan Taliban announced it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to negotiate -- for government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.

That also suggests it thinks the odds of a complete takeover are slim and is instead looking for major gains in the political arena.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said it was too soon to say how political maneuvers towards peace negotiations could unfold, although the Taliban was open to conciliation.

But there are questions over how cohesive the Taliban can remain.

Ghulam Jelani Zwak, director of Afghan Analytical and Advisory Centre, said he believed peace talks and the NATO withdrawal would lead to the break-up of the Taliban between more extreme insurgents and those willing to accept a peace deal.

"But there is no open sign of disaffection in the Taliban, and so we can only guess at that," he said.


The Taliban's medieval justice and punishment system -- including hangings, oppression of women and amputating the limbs of thieves -- was initially accepted by Afghans because it brought security and an end to a period of chaotic warlord rule.

Today, many Afghans have grown accustomed to improved access for women to education and work, and an economy in which growth has averaged 9.1 percent. Foreign investment has climbed sharply from zero in Taliban days to a peak of $300 million in 2008.

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are catching on among young Afghans, providing a forum for users to criticize the government and the Taliban.

Kamran Bokhari, a South Asia expert at global intelligence firm STRATFOR, said the Taliban had become interested in a political solution over fighting because it needed both a withdrawal of foreign troops and international acceptance of a more moderate face to take part in eventual power sharing.

For those still fighting against Taliban militants, they remain a formidable foe. They have proven resilient in the face of American-led NATO firepower during the war, outsmarting the best U.S. military minds through the use of homemade bombs, sophisticated high-profile attacks and political savvy.

At remote Afghan army posts, soldiers like Nassem Gul doubt their own ability to repel the Taliban that has kept NATO at bay for over a decade.

"When the Taliban try to overrun our post, we think first to call NATO air support. If there is no air support it is very difficult to fight and even hold this post," said Gul, complaining he needs heavier weapons than his AK-47 rifle.

Khyber Club’s bartender had front-row seat to history in Pakistan

As U.S.-funded Afghan jihadists battled the Soviets in the late 1980s, the unassuming American-run bar in this ancient frontier city bulged with gossiping foreigners. Today, with another Afghan conflict winding down, the watering hole practically echoes with emptiness.

Through it all, Khan Afsar, the Khyber Club’s unlikely bartender, had a front-row seat.

But Afsar did not actually have a seat in his spot behind the bar, and all the standing recently became too much to bear. So Afsar has stepped down after nearly 25 years of six-day workweeks that he says left him with admiration for Americans, a rare sentiment in Peshawar and in Pakistan at large.

“They are good people” — not to mention good tippers, Afsar said. “They are helping us.”

As a recent Saturday evening shift began, a lone Canadian patron sipped beer at the bar and predicted that the crowd was unlikely to improve. The scene seemed a metaphor for U.S.-Pakistan relations, which boomed with cooperation during the Afghan resistance but now gape with mistrust.

Yet Afsar himself is a symbol of the ground-level relations between Americans and Pakistanis, which, despite the diplomatic tensions, are typically far more amiable than sour. Over the decades, Afsar — a devout Muslim who never tried alcohol — served as a steadfast and good-natured ambassador for Pakistan, building a trail of admirers now scattered around the globe.

“For a modest fellow from a mountain village . . . he supervised and served the foreign lunatics with kindness, merriment and unflappable aplomb,” Stephen Masty, who managed the bar in the early 1990s, wrote in an e-mail.

The club, then called the American Club, was launched in 1985 as a guesthouse for visiting U.S. officials. Peshawar swirled then with aid workers, missionaries, journalists, spies and diplomats working the sidelines of the Afghan war. One of the club’s neighbors was Osama bin Laden — a wealthy young Saudi who was funding mujaheddin fighters.

According to one American official there at the time, the club’s founders decided it needed a “discreet” bar, because then, as now, alcohol was mostly prohibited in Pakistan. Foreigners soon flocked to the club for drinks, cheeseburgers, music and aerobics on the terrace. But the big draws were tales from “inside,” as Afghanistan was known, said Robert D. Kaplan, a former patron who is now a national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine.

Afsar donned his bartender’s waistcoat in 1987, after a few years waiting on Americans working at a dam project in northern Pakistan. It was a solid gig, he said, for a man whose growing family lived a few hours away near Abbottabad, the city where bin Laden would be killed by Navy SEALs 24 years later. For safety’s sake, though, Afsar told only relatives where he worked.

He memorized the ingredients for B-52s and Manhattans from a book, and as Afghan fighters downed Soviet aircraft with CIA-funded Stinger missiles, Afsar’s stinger cocktail — creme de menthe and brandy — became famous from western Pakistan to the Chinese border, Masty said. The man behind those missiles, the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, preferred Johnnie Walker on the rocks, Afsar said.

“If I see a face, I remember it,” said Afsar, explaining that he no longer recalls all the notables he served. “Here, every customer is famous.”

Though U.S.-Pakistan relations ebbed after 1990, the club kept up, and so did Afsar, always adhering to his daily prayer schedule. The bar expanded. The tennis court was replaced by a swimming pool.

Things began changing about five years ago, as Islamist militants expanded their reach and launched attacks in northwest Pakistan. Hostility toward Americans rose, and many international organizations withdrew foreign workers to Islamabad, the capital. The club’s security walls multiplied, and more American customers sported beards and tattoos, said Yusuf Ghaznavi, a Pakistani American who has been a fixture at the club for two decades.

“I presume they were contractors,” Ghaznavi said. “Their main concern was A, how soon they are going to get out, and B, how much money they are making.”

As bilateral tensions soared, Pakistan ordered the departure of most U.S. military representatives, many of whom had been based in Peshawar. The American mission in Peshawar now has a skeleton staff whose security guidelines prohibit much movement in the city.

Against that backdrop, the club has become more of a lifeline, recent patrons said. Three U.S. troops who were killed in a roadside bombing in northwest Pakistan in 2010 were mourned at the Khyber Club, said one U.S. diplomat stationed there then. Afsar also served as a lifeline, the diplomat said — a historian and a middleman who could always fulfill orders for the perfect Pakistani carpet or shawl.

When patrons learned two years ago that Afsar’s wife was ill, they held a fundraiser at the club.

“It’s the only time I saw his tears,” the diplomat said.

Afsar dismisses the plaudits, saying he just did his job. He insists the work never brought him threats from militants or hounding from Pakistani intelligence.

A few months ago, a motorcyclist accidentally struck Afsar while he walked to work. The injuries were not severe, but Afsar said they made him too weak to tend bar. He misses it, he said, sitting at a round table near stacks of board games and DVDs while his replacement slid open the liquor cabinet.

“It’s a little boring now that I am retired,” said the father of eight and grandfather of six.

Afsar, a witness to decades of globe-shaking history, would hazard no guess about the future of the club or Afghanistan. U.S.-Pakistan relations, he thinks, will soldier on.

“This is government policy,” he said. “This is not my job. We are poor people. We are just looking for work.”

Russia's FM arrives in Syria for talks with Assad

Russia says its foreign minister has arrived in Syria for talks with President Bashar Assad.
The foreign ministry said Tuesday that Sergei Lavrov is joined by Russia's foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov.
The Kremlin has been a staunch ally of President Assad although Moscow has also hosted talks with Syrian opposition leaders.
Russia and China vetoed on Saturday a Western- and Arab-backed resolution at the United Nations condemning the Assad regime's crackdown on dissent and calling on him to transfer some of his powers to his deputy. The Syrian government had earlier rejected the Arab plan as intervention in Syria's internal affairs.

President Assad’s wife ‘defends Syria crackdown’

Al Arabiya News

The British-born wife of Syria’s president has spoken in support of her husband for the first time since the 11-month uprising against his regime began, a British newspaper reported Tuesday.

“The President is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role,” The Times quoted Asma al-Assad as saying in an email sent via an intermediary from her office.

The email is her first communication with the international media since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime began, The Times said.

“The First Lady’s very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has long been involved with and rural development as well as supporting the President as needed,” the email reportedly continued.

“These days she is equally involved in bridging gaps and encouraging dialogue. She listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence.” it added.

The statement came after Syrian forces pounded protest hubs with rockets and shells, killing 79 civilians on Monday, according to activists, and as Britain recalled its ambassador to Syria “for consultations”.

Unlike her husband, a minority Alawite, the 36-year-old First Lady is a Sunni Muslim who originally hails from Homs -- the central Syrian city rocked by some of the worst carnage since the revolt began in March last year.

Stylish and charismatic and with a degree from King’s College in London where she was raised, the former investment banker had helped promote the soft side of an iron-fisted regime.

But she has virtually disappeared from the public eye since the revolt broke out and had drawn criticism for her silence on a crisis that has left more than 5,000 people dead in her country.

Last month she appeared with two of her children to support her husband of 12 years as he spoke at a pro-regime rally, but did not speak herself.

Pakistan & Resolution on Syria

It comes as a surprise that Pakistan has favoured a US-backed resolution proposing the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, for his role in violently cracking down on protestors. The resolution was, however, vetoed by China and Russia. The Chinese Ambassador’s statement briefed that the resolution would have been counter-productive. Putting more pressure on the country would, indeed, further complicate the situation.

Islamabad, as well as all middle-Eastern countries, also teamed up with the US against a brotherly Muslim country. Being responsible and influential players within the world spectrum, Muslim countries are expected to recommend a path of moderation and patience. We hold a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council, which puts additional responsibility on our shoulders to protect the interests of our fellow UN member countries. These interests are best served by negotiations and debate - not open war. Has the world not seen enough of war in the last ten years? First Iraq, now Afghanistan. Can anyone really say that these adventures have been succesful? Granted that Syria's chaotic situation and President Asad's violent clampdown on protesters is worrying, yet is military action the oil to smooth these troubled waters? There is evidence of US and Western help to the opponents of the Syrian President. We have seen the limitless death and destruction wrought by military interference in countries such as Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Libya is now embroiled in civil strife. A stable and economically prosperous state has been turned into a war-ravaged country, overnight. There is a thin line dividing a terrorist from a genuine freedom fighter when it comes to the international definition of terrorism. A sympathetic Syria would be useful as a vantage point to contain Iran.

If the US and other Arab countries that supported the resolution are so eager to help Syria, they must extend a friendly hand, not one holding a detonater. It is for the Syrians themselves to decide which course suits them best.

First polio case of year in Kohat confirmed

The first polio case of the year in Kohat has been confirmed, raising questions about the performance of health department, polio teams and the district administration.

“The polio disease in three and a half years old Shazia has been confirmed on Monday by the National Institute of Health (NIH), Islamabad, to the local administration in a letter Polio-PRL/1-12-554,” said an official.

Dawn learnt officially from the World Health Organisation’s Kohat office that the girl had been affected with polio and the result of her younger brother Adil’s test report would be received soon.

Last year, a case was detected in Bostikhel area of Darra Adamkhel, a nearby semi-tribal area, and now the first case of 2012 had been confirmed in area of Kohat, hardly a kilometre away from the city centre.

Father of Shazia, Wazir Khan, who belonged to Kurram Agency and is residing with his family from last one decade in Mangal Bibi area, Urban-5 Kohat, claimed that no polio team had visited their area during last several years.

It was learnt that Mr Wazir had told the authorities concerned that his son’s test had also been sent to the NIH laboratory and the result was awaited.

The WHO official, requesting anonymity, also said that the administration of a government school in Cantt area had not allowed the teams to administer polio drops to the children during last four campaigns. He said that the matter had been brought to the notice of district administration, which was in contact with the school administration on the issue.

A former WHO official said that the detection of a case in Kohat reflected the lack of seriousness of the health department, polio teams and the administration, which had been spending millions of rupees on holding workshops, seminars, campaigns etc.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expresses concern at killing of protesters in Sibbi

he Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed its concerns over the killings of two of the protesters in Sibbi, Baluchistan on Saturday. Condemning the act, Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson
of the HRCP stated, “HRCP regrets very much the deaths and injuries among demonstrators in sibbi when FC personnel opened fire on them.”

According to the news, the protestors were demonstrating against the brutal killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti’s kin in Karachi last week.

The Commission said in a statement: “HRCP regrets very much the deaths and injuries among demonstrators in Sibi when FC personnel opened fire on them. Media reports suggest that around 300 people had blocked the National Highway to
protest the killings and had prevented an FC convoy from passing through.

“Such use of force plays into the hands of those who want the situation to aggravate in the province, if further aggravation is possible. HRCP reiterates the people’s right to peaceful protest and emphasises that the authorities
must exhaust all possible options before resorting to the use of lethal force and only do that to prevent violence and bloodshed that cannot be prevented otherwise. Furthermore, in view of the charged environment in the province these things must not be seen
as mere law and order issues.

HRCP, through a press release, also welcomed the government’s decision to hold a judicial probe and very much hopes that unlike earlier probes the findings of this one would be made public.”

Congressional Baluchistan Witness Prepares for Pakistan Policy Firestorm


In an election year, anything is possible. But, when anything includes the U.S. policy approach to Pakistan, Congress must remain a responsible stakeholder. Members of Congress must clearly convey their intentions when taking on potentially contentious issues that risk undermining one of the Barack Obama Administration's and the U.S. military’s most important strategic partnerships. Baluchistan is clearly one of those issues. However, the Congressmen who have scheduled a hearing on Baluchistan for this week have failed to properly set expectations as to what they are trying to accomplish. This could raise fears that some in Congress are recklessly engaged in a high stakes gamble to undermine the Administration's policy approach on Pakistan under the guise of Baloch human rights concerns.

Regardless of whether or not this is true, the scheduling of the hearing has increased expectations among some in the Baloch diaspora that the U.S. will support their cause. It also has forced Pakistan to question how committed the U.S. is to Pakistan's territorial integrity. Such consequences pose great risks for the Administration's ongoing efforts in South and Southwest Asia. Mr. Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan Director of Human Rights Watch and one of the hearing's scheduled witnesses, is well aware of the serious risks posed by the hearing. However, he also sees the hearing as an opportunity to educate members of Congress and the American public on the very real human rights violations being prosecuted against civilians on both sides in Baluchistan. His objective therefore will be to remain on point on human rights issues and not be drawn into the crosshairs of whether or not to support the Balkanization of Pakistan.

Bilawal Bhutto for modern techniques to deal with disasters

PPP Chairman

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari directed the Sindh government to pursue a comprehensive strategy and adopt modern techniques to deal with disasters.
A briefing was given to PPP chairman at Bilawal House Tuesday on development projects in Sindh focusing on supply of clean drinking water, construction of roads and steps taken for alleviation of poverty.
Speaking on the occasion, he said the government took all possible measures for rehabilitation of flood affectees.
Sindh Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah gave a briefing to him on Benazir Income Support Program.
Moreover, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah told Bilawal that thousands of ghost employees had been identified in the province.

Shahbaz Sharif (LOHARE) failed to appear in the assembly

The Punjab Assembly session on Monday was prorogued for an indefinite period after Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif failed to appear in the assembly and conclude the debate on the deaths from drugs provided by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC). The opposition strongly condemned the absence of the chief minister and walked out from the House.
The Punjab Assembly session began an hour and a half behind its scheduled time at 3pm under the chairmanship of Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan. The chairman tried to start Question Hour but the opposition raised the issue of PIC and demanded the presence of the chief minister in the House.
House Opposition Leader Raja Riaz said on a point of order that the law minister had made a commitment with the House that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif would come to the Assembly and conclude the debate on the PIC issue which had started last Wednesday.
He said that Monday was the last day of the session but the CM had not come to the House to take it into confidence on the matter, which was disrespectful towards the assembly, the nation and the chairman of the House. He said that chief minister was not taking the PIC issue or the assembly seriously, so he had the right to bring a privilege motion against him.

Law Minister Rana Sanaullah responded by saying that the chief minister would conclude the debate once the opposition leader had delivered his speech on the issue. He also suggested to suspend the rules of procedure and to start debate in the House without any delay.

The opposition leader said that the law minister was using delay tactics, adding that he was ready to deliver his speech in the House if the law minister could assure that the chief minister would conclude the debate, and that the House would not be prorogued.

However, Sanaullah did not give such an assurance, and the chair clarified that the House would prorogue on Monday as per its schedule. The chair also informed that the session would be called again within the next four days, so the chief minister could conclude the debate.

SYRIA: Irresistible force meets immovable object

EDITORIAL: Daily Times

What is being seen as a clash between historic opponents, Syria on the one side and the US and its western allies on the other, is being fought out at the UN amphitheatre with Russia and China seriously in Syria’s corner. After last October, the second attempt in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Saturday failed once again to pass a resolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, asking him to abandon power as Russia and China saw through the vaguely amended resolution and vetoed it for being an unbalanced solution. Despite facing the anger and displeasure of the west for their decision, Russia and China’s step is to resist a so-called humanitarian intervention of the western powers in Syria under the UN mandate of Right to Protect (R2P), which they abused to force a change of regime in Libya last year. The African oil-rich country has been pushed into a factional civil war among rebel militias struggling with each other to occupy the throne since its so-called liberation. Given this experience, Russia and China it seems have deciphered the now-almost-evident US plan of Middle East domination by refusing to approve of the Arab-western backed resolution against Syria. Being the only staunch opponent in the region of the appeasement policy of important Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan and even the Palestinian late leader Yasser Arafat towards Israel, Syria has been a thorn in the side of imperialist interests. The Syrian crisis, if settled in their favour, might be followed by a similar intrigue against Iran, completing the expansionist plans of the west in the Middle East.

The Syrian authorities have been facing an armed resistance from their opponents for the last 11 months and have hit back, using force to crush the rebellion against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Despite his efforts, the opposition, allegedly supported by the West, has refused all reconciliation offers. Their tactic reflects a similar desire for action in Syria supported by air and sea strikes of the NATO forces as in Libya. Now that Russia and China have woken up to the sinister designs hidden behind the camouflage of R2P, the UNSC and the world need to revisit the concept so as not to allow its well intentioned thrust to be hitched to old-style imperialist military interventions a la Libya.

Faulty data blamed for lack of govt policy on cancer

daily statesman pk

Minister for Finance Engineer Muhammad Humayun Khan has said that in Pakistan every year more than three lakh cases of deadly disease cancer are reported.

He observed coping with the same number of cancer patients within the existing 20 cancer hospitals throughout the country, is a big challenge for the government. However, he expressed the hope that efforts were underway on war footing to cope with the disease.

He was addressing as chief guest the World Cancer Day function arranged at the Khyber Girls Medical College, Peshawar in collaboration with the Bank of Khyber on Saturday. Principal of KGMC Dr. Muhammad Zuber, Vice Principal Samina Zahid, doctors and a large number of medical students attended the function.

The finance minister said unluckily there were no official statistics available on cancer patients in Pakistan due to absence of a national cancer registry.

He said due to lack of correct data, the government had not been able to formulate policies to fight cancer which threatened public life on a large scale.

The minister said cancer patients were showing an alarmingly increasing trend of risk factors and it was the need of the hour to develop a strategy to control the disease.

He disclosed that a cancer plan was initiated in 2002 together with all the other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as a national action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs and health promotion but that was not enough. He said they needed to do more and devise a multi-pronged strategy to combat cancer.

The minister said the government had taken certain measures for fighting cancer but due to legislation procedure and other matters the same could not yet be properly enforced and implemented.

He said despite ban on publicity of tobacco and its allied products, there were no follow-up practical steps to ensure its enforcement.

He said a clampdown on the epidemic levels of tobacco and areca nut, use of the same products could reduce cancer to 43.7% in males and 17.8% in females.

The minister stressed the need for urgent action against cancer because of its huge impact on humans. He said the number of cancer cases seemed to be doubling by 2030.

He said the study around the globe indicated that one-third of all cancer cases could be prevented and urged the health experts to divert mostly on the preventive measure to reduce cancer.

We do not deal with Pakistan through lobbyists

The United States has said that it is not engaged in business with Pakistan through lobbyists and is looking forward to talking to Islamabad after the latter completes internal review of its ties with Washington.

"I don't have any knowledge of the letter one way or the other. But I will tell you that we don't do our business with Pakistan through its lobbyists," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said when asked about a letter written by a lobbyist urging the US to tender an apology to Pakistan for the November 26 NATO raid that killed 24 soldiers.

"We do our business with Pakistan through our representatives in Islamabad and throughout the country, as well as through the Pakistani embassy here," she said.

"I think you know where we are with Pakistan, which is that we are trying to be respectful of the time that Pakistan has asked for to complete its internal review, and then we look forward to talking to the government about where it wants to go on those aspects of our relationship that have been put on hold for the period," Nuland said.

But, there is an ongoing level of communication between the two countries.

"So we maintain very strong communication on other issues. All of our civilian programs are going forward. So it is simply this issue of where we go on some of our security and counterterrorism issues that are pending the internal review on the Pakistani side," she sa

U.S. Sending Commander to Repair Ties With Pakistan

A senior American military commander is expected to travel to Pakistan this month in what Obama administration officials say is the first step toward thawing a strategic relationship that has been in effect frozen for more than two months.

Gen. James N. Mattis

the head of the military’s Central Command, will meet Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief of staff, to discuss the investigations of an exchange of fire at the Afghan border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as well as new border coordination procedures to prevent a recurrence of the episode.

General Mattis’s visit, the first by a high-ranking American official since the cross-border confrontation in November, was to have begun Thursday, but has been postponed by at least a week pending what is expected to be a spirited debate in the Pakistani Parliament over a new security policy toward the United States.

Pakistani and American officials are quietly optimistic that both events will trigger a chain of public engagement and private negotiations that will reboot the two nations’ frayed strategic relationship, although along more narrowly defined lines than before.

Pakistani officials say they will probably reopen NATO supply lines running through their territory, which have been closed for more than two months. The State Department is supporting a proposal circulating in the administration for the United States to issue a formal apology for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in the Nov. 26 airstrike by American gunships.

“We’ve felt an apology would be helpful in creating some space,” said an American official who has been briefed on the State Department’s view and who spoke on the condition of anonymity as internal discussions continued.

Soon after the lethal airstrike, the White House decided that President Obama would not offer formal condolences to Pakistan, overruling State Department officials who argued for such a show of remorse to help salvage relations. Pentagon officials had balked, saying the statements from other American officials had been sufficient. Some administration aides said at the time that they worried that if Mr. Obama decided to overrule the military and apologize to Pakistan, it could become ammunition for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign.

A State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, would not comment on the proposal on Monday.

American election politics are also on the mind of Pakistani strategists. A senior security official in Islamabad, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said the military was cognizant of Mr. Obama’s domestic political constraints, and noted that Pakistan may also have elections this year, probably in the fall.

“Unfortunately there is election fever on both sides of the divide this year,” the official said. “That limits the room for maneuver.”

The director of the State Department’s policy planning office, Jake Sullivan, signaled last month that relations could improve soon.

Speaking to foreign journalists in Washington on Jan. 25, Mr. Sullivan said, “We will see over the course of the next several weeks an intensive period of work to deal with the very real issues that continue to exist between the United States and Pakistan in our relationship.”

American officials in Washington said the thaw had already started, unofficially. Relations between the C.I.A. and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, had slowly improved since the nadir after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May, they said.

Intelligence officials from the two countries have resumed discussions about “joint targeting,” officials here added — probably a reference to C.I.A.-directed drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt. On the military side, Pakistan’s generals had started discussions over border coordination and the resumption of Coalition Support Funds, the main United States subsidy to Pakistani military operations.

A senior Pakistani security official also struck a cautiously positive note. “We have to meet, we have to talk, we have to bring this relationship back on track,” he said. “Both of us need each other. But from now on there will be no free rides, no carte blanche — things need to be institutionalized.”

The starting point for the new relationship is expected to be General Mattis’s visit, the stated purpose of which is to formally present to Pakistan the Central Command’s findings in the Nov. 26 episode. Pakistan’s military last month issued a withering rejection of the American report: it stated the report was “factually not correct”; accused the United States of failing to share information “at any level”; and denied any responsibility for the bloody debacle.

Behind the scenes, however, General Mattis will try to learn what is possible in the relationship regarding training, arms sales and improving border coordination centers. Depending on how the visit goes, other American officials, including Marc Grossman, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, could follow.

The timing of those visits, though, is hostage to the vagaries of Pakistan’s turbulent political scene. Government leaders, judges and generals have been at loggerheads for most of the past month, engaged in media and judicial confrontations that, at one point, produced rumors of a coup, and more broadly distracted attention from efforts to repair the American relationship.

Pakistani and American officials now say the parliamentary debate on American policy — a critical step in starting negotiations — was unlikely to start before Feb. 14. The debate, which is likely to last several days, will focus on the findings of a cross-party committee set up to re-evaluate the relationship with the United States.

Once the policy document has been debated in Parliament, Pakistani officials will sit down with American diplomats to hammer out the contours of the new relationship, a process that diplomats say is likely to last many months. But some things are expected to be resolved immediately.

Pakistani officials say they will soon reopen the NATO supply route to Afghanistan, although they will seek an unspecified tariff on all goods passing through. American officials say they are open to paying, but point out that the alternative northern supply route into Afghanistan, through Central Asia, has picked up much of the slack in recent months.

Analysts say this points to a potential loss for Pakistan’s military, which courted popularity by closing the route in November but may have ceded a source of leverage with the United States.

The crisis has also altered the C.I.A.-led drone program. In December, Pakistan expelled all Americans from Shamsi base, in western Pakistan, which had been used by the C.I.A. to launch drone strikes against militant targets in the tribal belt along the Afghan border. But the drone strikes have continued, from bases in southern Afghanistan.

Pakistani minister urges reopening border to NATO

The Associated Press

Pakistan's defense minister says the country should reopen its Afghan border crossings to NATO troop supplies after negotiating a better deal with the coalition.

Pakistan closed the crossings over two months ago in response to American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said on Tuesday that the government should negotiate new "terms and conditions" with NATO and then reopen the border.

He did not provide details. But other Pakistani officials have said the government should levy additional fees on NATO for using the route through the country.

About 30 percent of non-lethal supplies for U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan traveled through Pakistan before the border closed.

Syria needs diplomacy, not intervention

If anything, the pursuit of regime change is hurting the international community's ability to end the crisis.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has used brute force to crush a genuine popular upheaval against his regime. The death toll is nearly 6,000. Human rights have been systematically violated. But the crucial question is how and what steps can international society lawfully take to bring an end to the crisis.

Libya is not a model for emulation but a warning to heed; more so, Iraq. Each was a split polity surviving on fragile unity. The Syrian regime, however unpopular, is supported by a significant section of people. Regime change through outside intervention wreaks havoc, violates the United Nations Charter, the rules of international law, and undermines the stability of the world order. These fundamentals must not be overlooked.

At the root of Russia and China's veto of the resolution on Syria in the Security Council on February 4, lies distrust, deep and justified. The world was taken for a ride twice by the Council's resolutions which did not authorise the use of force, but came in handy as fig leaves to cover the nudity of illegal recourse to war.

Obama's fatwa

Statements made in the Council as well as their texts establish that Resolution 1441 of November 8, 2002, did not authorise an attack on Iraq. Nor did Resolution 1973, adopted on March 17, 2011, authorise the use of force against Libya. However, on February 26, President Barack Obama delivered a fatwa on Col. Muammar Qadhafi: “He should go.” Now, on February 4, the very day the UNSC was to vote on the resolution on Syria, he peremptorily declared apropos President al-Assad: “He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately.” Few would believe Hillary Clinton when she said, on January 31, “there is no intention to seek any authority or to pursue any kind of military intervention”.

Suspicions of plans for regime change are justified. “Then you will start telling what King needs to resign and what Prime Minister needs to step down. This is not the business of the Security Council,” Russia's Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin remarked on January 31.

Textually, the resolution is misleading. It “calls for an inclusive Syrian led political process” but adds it “fully supports in this regard the League of Arab States' 22 January 2012 decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, … including through commencing a serious political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition under the League of Arab States' auspices, in accordance with the timetable set out by the League of Arab States; Encourages the League of Arab States to continue its efforts in cooperation with all Syrian stakeholders.”

As Neil Macfarquhar of The New York Times reported: “Three clauses that endorsed specific aspects of the Plan — including that Mr. Assad delegate his authority to his vice-president to speed a transition to democracy — were removed. But Arab and Western diplomats said the essential idea remained, even if it was not spelled out.”

‘Demands, does not recommend'

The Resolution, obviously adopted under Chapter VII, “demands,” does not “recommend.” It says: “Demands that the Syrian government, in accordance with the Plan of Action of the League of Arab States of 2 November 2011 and its decision of 22 January 2012, without delay.” Six steps are listed. Finally, the Council “Requests the Secretary General to report on the implementation of this resolution, in consultation with the League of Arab States, within 21 days after its adoption and to report every 30 days thereafter. Decides to review implementation of this resolution within 21 days and, in the event of non-compliance, to consider further measures.” Of what avail the disavowal “Nothing in this resolution authorizes measures under Article 42 of the Charter” when the threat is implicit in the text itself? The League's Plan which is endorsed provides for Mr. al-Assad to step down.

Bashar al-Assad is no pushover. Diplomacy should seek his consent to a plan which leaves him in office but ensures a democratic transition. The resolution is not an aid to diplomacy but an instrument of duress. The Arab League and its Western backers were impatient on regime change.

Regime change has furtively acquired certain respectability. Time there was when Gladstone told the House of Commons on April 2, 1880 that “the rights of a Power, the rights of a nation, ought not to be invaded because it happens to have the misfortune of a despotic government.”

The law was laid down by the International Court of Justice on April 9, 1949, in the Corfu Channel case: “The Court can only regard the alleged right of intervention as the manifestation of a policy of force, such as has, in the past, given rise to most serious abuses and such as cannot, whatever the present defects of international organization, find a place in international law. … from the nature of things it would be reserved for the most powerful States; …” These words are more relevant now than they were in 1949. This was reaffirmed in the Nicaragua case in 1986. The Court rejected intervention at a “request for assistance made by an opposition group in another state.”

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 opened new vistas of the play of power. In 1986, a British Foreign Office Policy Paper noted that “the overwhelming majority of contemporary legal opinion comes down against the existence of a right of humanitarian intervention”. In 1992, the Foreign Office held: “international law develops to meet new situations; we believe that international intervention without the invitation of the country concerned can be justified in cases of extreme humanitarian need.”

In this clime came R2P. In an inspired moment in 2000, the Canadian movement picked on the egregious Gareth Evans of Australia, with Mohamed Sahuom of Algeria, doubtless both of undying reason, to co-chair an independent International Commission on Intervention and State sovereignty. They coined the phrase “responsibility to protect”.

The doctrine was not accepted by the U.N. General Assembly on September 14, 2009, after a long debate. On September 24, 1999, Foreign Ministers of the Group of 77 “rejected the so-called right of humanitarian intervention, which has no basis in the UN Charter or international law”. This represents the opinion of 132 states; 33 Asian, 51 African, 22 Latin American, and 13 Arab states.

Crisis of legitimacy

Such an intervention inevitably entails regime change. One suspects that change is the main objective; human rights violations are a pretext for it. Witness the deafening silence on outrages by the favourites. Beneath the crisis in the U.N. system lies a deeper crisis of the legitimacy of an order which is devoid of an international consensus. That can be restored only by a wide consensus. We face a genuine humanitarian problem. Remember Biafra, Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur.

Russia's Foreign Minister said on February 4 that the resolution on Syria was not “hopeless” and that “we support the call of the Syrian people for change.” There was ample room for compromise. There is still time for that — a U.N. Mission comprising members of high credentials can go to Syria to bring about a settlement which leaves Mr. al-Assad in office but ensures democratic transition.

India's Permanent Representative to the U.N., Hardip Singh Puri, said “the main role of the international community, including this Council, is to facilitate engagement of the Syrian government with all sections of Syrian society.” Nominating its adversary, the Arab League, to accomplish tasks set by the Resolution is no way to secure that “engagement.”

NATO has failed Libya’s stricken civilians

By Charles Gray

The current events in Libya, including reports of ethnic cleansing, the use of torture by the current government, and most recently the decision by the NGO Doctors Without Borders to suspend operations in the nation, stand as a stark condemnation of the NATO-led effort to expel former leader Muammar el-Gaddafi. This is especially true given that the justification for the effort was the protection of civilian lives, a duty that seems to have been forgotten today, even by those who were most vocal during the conflict.

While some may argue that there are always winners and losers in any civil conflict, the decision to intervene and, in direct defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 1973, to become active participants on the side of the rebels, was supposedly motivated by the need to enforce the UN resolutions mandating the protection of Libyan civilians. By defining the overriding goal of the mission as protection, rather than a simple military objective, NATO's goals became far more than a simple military victory.

However, it is also plain that NATO's responsibility to protect (R2P) Libyan civilians did not end after the fall of Gaddafi. By setting up the conditions for his fall, since it was NATO airpower that ultimately defeated Gaddafi, not the rebels, NATO and the nations advocating intervention bore full responsibility for the consequences. Most importantly, they bore responsibility for the safety and well-being of all civilians, not just those on the side of the rebels.

And this is where the true scope of NATO's failure to adhere to the R2P doctrine becomes plain. After all, if the threatened attacks on Northwest Libya's Misrata were enough to declare that action was required, what about the ethnic cleansing of the Northwestern town of Tawergha?

It cannot be said that such events were unpredictable, as many Libyan specialists warned from the start that this conflict was far more complex than the version that France, Britain, and the US were describing.

Even without their warnings, civil wars always leave one side at the mercy of often-vengeful victors. Given Libya's fraught history of ethnic and tribal tensions, it is inconceivable that NATO did not realize what was happening. Rather, it is likely that NATO and those backing them simply did not wish to present their citizens with the specter of yet another long-term and open-ended troop deployment.

Interventions into civil wars are always dangerous and unpredictable. At best, they require long-term involvement by peacekeeping forces, while at worst they can devolve into a savage ethnic conflict with no easy resolution. The simple fact that even today, peacekeepers remain in the nations of the former Yugoslavia should make that lesson plain enough.

The fact that NATO was willing to enter into the conflict, and yet unwilling to carry on its longer-term responsibilities to secure the peace and protect the civilians, winners and losers alike, largely discredits the doctrine of R2P. The opposition to similar intervention in the Syrian crisis is a sign of just how badly the doctrine of R2P has been discredited by the West's Libyan adventure.

The abandonment of the citizens of Northwest Libya's Bani Walid and Tawergha strengthens the argument that the R2P doctrine was nothing more than a convenient casus belli, allowing France, Britain, and the US to remove a leader seen as untrustworthy, rather than for any higher reason of morality or civic duty.

The implications of the radical expansion of the "just causes" for war represented by the Libyan interpretation of R2P are grave in their import. The fact that nations that pose no threat to their neighbors might face military action by other powers under the cover of protecting their civilian populations essentially rewrites the traditional understanding of both warfare and national sovereignty.

More importantly, we have seen in Afghanistan, Somalia, and even in post-war Iraq the bitter consequences that can rise from the creation of a power vacuum. By making R2P the justification for overthrowing a government, but failing to engage in the far more difficult and long-term process of helping give rise to a legitimate replacement, NATO has largely discredited the doctrine it sought to justify.

The author currently holds a Master's Degree in history, specializing in the social and political movements surrounding the Abolition of the British Slave Trade.