Monday, February 4, 2013

U.S., France agree on need to hand over Mali operation to UN mission

Visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Monday said France and the United States agreed on the need to hand over Mali military operations to a United Nations mission when it is "prudent." "We agreed on the need to as quickly as reasonably possible establish the African-led international mission in Mali and as quickly as is prudent transition that mission to the United Nations," he said after talks with French President Francois Hollande on issues concerning Mali, Syria and Iran. Biden hailed Hollande's "decisiveness" in Mali and commended France's leading role in the fight against terrorism at a press conference. "We support the political process led by France in order to restore a democratic governance in Mali," Biden said. He stressed the importance of working with "our regional partners to counter terrorism cross North African and beyond." President Hollande expressed his gratitude for U.S. political and logistic support to Mali operation. "I appreciated the support of the decision that I took which is the intervention of France on behalf of the international community in Mali," Hollande said. Hollande and Biden also discussed Iran's controversial nuclear program. "We regret that Iran is still refusing to be transparent and to respond to its international obligations. So we will raise up the pressure so that negotiations can lead to a solution," Hollande said. On his part, Biden reiterated U.S. offer for bilateral talks with Iran on its disputed nuclear program. Iran and the West are locked in a bitter dispute over the former's nuclear ambitions. The West accuses Tehran of developing nuclear weapon under the cover of peaceful nuclear program, a charge Iran has consistently denied. The two also held talks on ways to press for resumption of talks to end the deadlocked Middle East peace process. The U.S. vice president arrived in Paris on Sunday after attending the Munich Security Conference in southern Germany and will head for London for talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Stifling free speech in India
By Amulya Ganguli, IANS
If intemperate politicians are having a free run in intimidating contrary views, it is because governments have tended to yield to extremists
Both Hindu and Muslim fanatics are up in arms against artistic and literary freedom in India. One of their targets is the old “sinner” Salman Rushdie. But there are two others. One of them is social scientist Ashis Nandy, who stirred a hornet’s nest by saying at the Jaipur Literature Festival that most of the corrupt people in the country happened to be from the lower castes (he said this in a certain context that was ignored). It is a slur which champions of these communities can hardly ignore — if only because their entire political career is based on promoting caste-consciousness that fuels antipathy towards the upper castes. Foremost among them is the Dalit (lower cast) czarina Mayawati, whose slogan at one time was: “Tilak, tarazu aur talwar, inko maro jootey char.” It meant: Beat with shoes the Brahmins (who wear tilak or a mark on their foreheads), Banias (who weigh the goods in their shops with tarazu or a pair of scales) and Kshatriyas (the warrior class who sport talwar or sword and hold second place after Brahmins in the caste hierarchy).Mayawati’s demand was that Nandy be arrested forthwith under an act which seeks to protect Dalits and adivasis (tribals) from atrocities. What she did not care to consider was whether the law, meant to safeguard these communities from a continuation of the centuries-old social denigration, could be applied to a scholarly thesis. It has to be noted that the person mentioned by Nandy in this context was former Jharkhand chief minister, Madhu Koda, a tribal, who is now in jail on charges of corruption. The point, however, is not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about whether a renowned sociologist has the right to express an opinion based on his study of the social and political scene — or whether he should be put in jail for saying what he believes to be correct. Nandy is not the first academic, of course, who has to confront the bigots. Not long ago, the Oriental Research Institute in Pune was vandalised because historian James W. Laine had worked there while preparing a biography of Shivaji, which was not liked by the present-day admirers of the Maharashtrian warrior hero. Arguably, if vandals and intemperate politicians are having a free run in the matter of intimidating those holding contrary views in their opinion, the reason is that the governments at both the centre and in the states have tended to yield ground to extremists. One notable instance of such a retreat was the banning of Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1988 under pressure from Muslim hardliners. The fact that the kowtowing did not satisfy them is, however, evident from Rushdie’s decision to stay away from the Jaipur Literature Festival last year because of the government’s reluctance to guarantee him protection. And this year too, he had to call off a visit to Kolkata for the same reason, along with filmmaker Deepa Mehta, in connection with the release of Midnight’s Children, a film based on his Booker prize-winning book of the same name. The government did not even allow the film to be shot in India for fear of offending fundamentalists. As a result, Mehta had to shoot the film in Sri Lanka. Another film, which is having to run the gauntlet of the Muslim militants is Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam, even though it shows an Indian Muslim intelligence officer battling Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan and should be a matter of pride therefore for “patriotic” Muslims, as Haasan said. The standard explanation given by the Muslim radicals for lambasting Rushdie or Haasan is that they have hurt the community’s religious sentiments. It is the same argument which compelled Galileo to deny in the 17th century that the earth moved round the sun since his claim was found hurtful to the beliefs by Christians at the time. It took the Catholic church three centuries to offer a formal apology for its denunciation of the astronomer. Yet, this argument is offered time and again in 21st century India to satisfy the prejudices of the diehards. In view of the difficulties which his film faces, Haasan has even said that he may have to seek refuge in a secular country, just as painter M.F. Hussain had to flee from India and die in exile because of the threat posed by Hindu storm-troopers. Regrettably, it is no secret that the silent majority of Hindus and Muslims do not subscribe to the irrationalism of the fanatics. Yet, the government is reluctant to act against the trouble-makers in case it is seen to be directed against the community as a whole. Interestingly, the Marxists are no better despite their claim to be progressive, for it was when they were in power in West Bengal that the controversial Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen, had to leave Kolkata because of the disturbances caused by a minor Muslim outfit. There is little doubt that the decline of the Congress and the growth of backward-looking parties based on specific castes and communities are responsible for the prevailing cultural terrorism.

Video: Malala Yousafzai: first interview since getting shot by Taliban

Malala: Schoolgirl Shot By Taliban Speaks Out

The Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban makes her first public statement since she was nearly killed. In a video interview, 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who is having reconstructive surgery to replace part of her skull at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, said that she was "getting better, day by day". Speaking clearly but with a slight stiffness in her upper lip, she said: "Today you can see that I am alive. I can speak, I can see you, I can see everyone. "It's just because of the prayers of people. Because all people - men, women, children - all of them have prayed for me. And because of all these prayers God has given me this new life . A second life. And I want to serve. I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated. "For that reason, we have organised the Malala Fund." The teenager drew the world's attention when she was shot by Taliban militants on October 9 on a school bus in northwestern Pakistan. The Islamist group said they targeted her because she promoted girls' education and "Western thinking". Malala was airlifted to Britain from Pakistan in October to receive specialist medical care and protection against further Taliban threats. She is expected to remain in the UK for some time as her father, Ziauddin, has received a diplomatic post based in Birmingham. The video statement was published shortly after Queen Elizabeth Hospital said they had successfully operated to reconstruct her skull and restore her hearing. The video was filmed on January 22. The Malala Fund is a girls' education charity set up in late 2012. It launched with a $10m (£6.4m) donation from Pakistan.

Ravens win emotional Super Bowl against 49ers

The Baltimore Ravens reclaimed the greatest prize in North American sports after a dramatic, nail-biting 34-31 Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Inspired by their power-packed quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens survived a ferocious comeback from the 49ers and a bizarre power outage that stopped the game for more than half an hour to win their second Super Bowl. John Harbaugh, the head coach of the Ravens, won the most anticipated sibling rivalry in American team sports against his younger brother Jim, who holds the equivalent job with the 49ers. And Ray Lewis, the combative 37-year-old Ravens linebacker destined for the Hall of Fame, ended his 17 season career with a second Super Bowl title, 12 years after he won his first. "What better way to go out?" said Lewis. "We did it! We did it!" The game, at the Superdome in New Orleans, was preceded by one of the most poignant moments ever witnessed in the 47 editions of the Super Bowl when a choir from Sandy Hook Elementary School joined Jennifer Hudson in a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful". The 70,000 spectators rose to their feet, many with tears in their eyes, as the children sang, nearly two months after the deadly shooting rampage at their Connecticut school. "Our wish is to demonstrate to America and the world that, "We are Sandy Hook and we choose love," the school said in a statement. The action on the field was as wild as the parties that have taken place in Bourbon St in the days leading up to the game as the Ravens opened up a commanding lead. With Flacco, who was named Most Valuable Player, calling the shots and wide receiver Jacoby Jones scoring two of the most spectacular touchdowns seen in a Super Bowl, the Ravens looked to be cruising to victory when they led 28-6 early in the third quarter. Flacco made a great start, orchestrating a six-play, 51-yard drive on his team's first possession that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin. In the second quarter, he threw a one-yard scoring pass to tight end Dennis Pitta, then a spectacular 56-yard scoring strike to Jones. The Ravens led 21-6 when Beyonce came out to perform a stunning halftime show then opened the second half with a Super Bowl-record 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Jones that will be shown on highlight reels for generations to come. BLACK OUT But just when it seemed the result was a foregone conclusion, a section of the lights at the Superdome, hosting the Super Bowl for the first time since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, blacked out. Play was stopped for 35 minutes while red-faced officials and technicians restored power. When it came back on, the game instantly took on a completely different complexion. With Colin Kaepernick finally finding his targets and making inroads with the football in hand, San Francisco piled on 17 unanswered points. When Kaepernick rushed for a touchdown himself with just 10 minutes to go in the final quarter, the margin was down to just two points and momentum was on their side. But Justin Tucker kicked a 38-yard field goal to give his five-team lead and the 49ers failed to score the touchdown they needed to win, getting only a two-point safety, as the Ravens defended their line for dear life. "Five yards short, all the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything came down to five yards and we weren't able to get it done," said dejected 49ers tackle Joe Staley. Both team played down the impact of the power outage, saying it was the same for both teams, while the Harbaugh brothers embraced each other as confetti rained down from the roof after one of the most emotional nights in American sport. "I just love him obviously. I think anybody out there who has a brother can understand what that is all about," John said. "The meeting with Jim in the middle was probably the most difficult thing I have ever been associated with in my life. I am proud of him."

Saudi protesters in Riyadh demand release of political prisoners

Saudi protesters have taken to the streets in the capital, Riyadh, to express solidarity with political prisoners and those arrested in demonstrations against the ruling Al Saud regime, Press TV reports.
On Sunday, the demonstrators called on Saudi authorities to release all jailed opposition activists and prisoners of conscience. Saudis staged a similar protest rally in Riyadh on January 29, calling for the release of prisoners detained during the anti-regime demonstrations. The demonstrators chanted slogans against the excessive use of force by Saudi forces in quelling the anti-regime protests and condemned the Al Saud regime’s suppressive actions against dissidents. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Qatif region and the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province. The demonstrations turned into protests against the Al Saud regime after November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in the province. Saudi forces have also arrested prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. In October 2012, Saudi officials warned that they would deal ‘firmly’ with anti-regime demonstrations. Amnesty International slammed the warning and urged the authorities to “withdraw their threat.”

South Africa finish off Pakistan in first Test

Dale Steyn bagged a career best 11 for 60 as South Africa routed Pakistan by 211 runs to win the first Test on day four at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Monday. Pakistan were all out for 268 during an extended morning session as South Africa took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series with more than a day and a half to spare. Junaid Khan was the last man out adjudged leg before after a decision review off Steyn who finished 5 for 52 in the second innings. It followed his devastating spell of 6 for 8 in the first innings to destroy Pakistan for their lowest ever Test total of 49. "I bowled quite nicely," said man of the match Steyn modestly. "I've not been able to pick up wickets at the top in recent times but glad I did it here. We wanted to try and get these wickets as quickly as possible today." Having been set an improbable target of 480, Pakistan progressed to 203-4 continuing from their overnight 183-4 before the second new ball was taken. Steyn removed the overnight fifth wicket partnership of 127 between Asad Shafiq (56) and Misbah ul Haq (64) to break Pakistan's resistance. He also claimed tailenders Umar Gul and Junaid Khan to seal victory with four wickets during an unchanged 11-over spell in the morning. Wicketkeeper AB de Villiers also hogged the limelight equalling the world record for the most number of dismissals held by England's Jack Russell when Umar Gul became his 11th victim of the match. "You always get a bit nervous in milestone game, people could say that you are not totally focused. We knew we wanted to bat first, we were looking at 250-odd, but we left ourselves down a little bit," said South African skipper Graeme Smith who was victorious in his 100th Test as captain. "Blessed to have Steyn in the attack, No. 1 bowler in the world, he has been helped Morkel and Philander. Hopefully AB has silenced the critics with his keeping, our intensity on the third morning was very good," he added. "I think that was a great spell of innings, that hurt us really," said Pakistan skipper Misbah ul Haq of Steyn's sensational spell of 6 for 8 which bowled them out for 49 in the first innings. He was positive about the remaining matches in the series to be played at Cape Town and Centurion. "I think everybody knows that once we can see off the new ball, we can score runs, I think in the next match you will see that," said Misbah who top scored with a valiant knock of 64 in the second essay. MORNING SESSION South Africa have opted to take the extended half hour of the morning session needing just one wicket to win the first Test against Pakistan in Graeme Smith's 100th as captain. Pakistan are 266-9 continuing from their overnight total of 183-4 on day four of the first Test against Pakistan at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Monday having been set an improbable target of 480. Dale Steyn gets his fifth 10-wicket haul as Umar Gul is adjudged caught behind after decision review after getting a faint edge to AB de Villiers who equals the world record for the most number of victims in a match held by England's Jack Russell. Gul goes for 23 off 43 balls with three boundaries having added 21 for the ninth wicket with Junaid Khan. Junaid Khan survives after being bowled off a no-ball by Morne Morkel whom he hammered for a boundary a few balls earlier. Umar Gul lofts Dale Steyn to long on fence as the Pakistan tail continues to wag. Ajmal becomes AB de Villiers' 10th victim of the match as he eyes the world record of 11 dismissals held by England's Jack Russell set at the same venue in 1995/96. Morne Morkel removes Saeed Ajmal with a beautiful delivery which moves in the air to be caught behind by AB de Villiers in his first over the morning as Pakistan lose their eighth wicket. Ajmal goes for 11 off 16 balls with two boundaries after a brief stand of 22 with Umar Gul. Umar Gul has top edged Philander over the keeper for his second boundary. Saeed Ajmal manages to get a boundary to fine leg off Steyn with an edge which nearly hit his stumps but his next boundary to square leg is a more orthodox shot. Umar Gul has swung Philander to midwicket as the Pakistan tail wag. South Africa are racing to victory after taking the second new ball with Sarfraz Ahmed playing a Vernon Philander delivery onto his stumps as Pakistan lose their seventh wicket. Ahmed was undecided whether to play or leave it only succeeding in getting an inside edge onto his stumps after facing 11 balls for 6 runs. Umar Gul survives a confident leg before appeal off Dale Steyn who is bowling at full throttle. Dale Steyn's double strike with the second new ball to remove the overnight pair of Misbah and Shafiq has virtually ended any hopes of a miracle for Pakistan. Misbah's patient vigil which lasted more than four hours ends and with that Pakistan's hopes of delaying the inevitable. The Pakistan skipper made 64 off 167 balls and looked the most positive hitting four of his 11 boundaries in the morning. Dale Steyn strikes again removing Pakistan's captain Misbah ul Haq caught behind by AB de Villiers in his third over of the morning. Sarfraz Ahmed was lucky to survive after getting a leading edge off Philander which fell just short of the fielder at point. Dale Steyn strikes in his second over of the morning finding an edge off Asad Shafiq's bat to Kallis at second slip. Shafiq's resistance ends after facing 168 balls for 56 which contained nine hits having added just three runs to his overnight score. His fifth wicket partnership of 127 with Misbah last nearly 53 overs. Misbah edges a delivery from Vernon Philander's first over with the second new ball through the slip cordon for his fourth boundary of the morning. South Africa have taken the second new ball with Pakistan on 203-4 with Dale Steyn opening with a maiden over as Asad Shafiq offers a dead bat. Misbah ul Haq hits the third boundary of the morning this time against Kallis to bring up the 200 of the Pakistan innings in the 80th over. Misbah ul Haq reaches his 18th Test half century with his second boundary of the morning, a lovely cover drive of Morkel. Misbah's dogged half century came off 146 balls and contained nine boundaries. The fifth wicket partnership between Misbah and Shafiq surpassed the previous highest for Pakistan against South Africa of 109 made in 2010 in UAE. Kallis has sent down a maiden to Asad Shafiq. Misbah ul Haq gets the first runs of the fourth morning edging to third man boundary off Morne Morkel with the ball dropping short of a diving Jacque Kallis at second slip. Jacques Kallis opens the attack for South Africa on day four of the first Test against Pakistan in Johannesburg at Wanderers Stadium on Monday. Pakistan resumed from their overnight total of 184-4 needing to survive two days or get 297 runs to win after being set a record target of 480. Misbah-ul-Haq (44 not out) and Asad Shafiq (53 not out) have given them hope and dented South Africa's bid for an early finish.

Another terror attack

Yet another black day has marked Pakistan’s long and bloody journey in the war on terror. A militant suicide attack on a military check post in Lakki Marwat in the tribal belt on Saturday has proved to be devastating as 13 of our soldiers were killed along with 11 innocent civilians. What is particularly disturbing about this attack is that one of the suicide bombers, in a bid to escape being caught by the security forces, ran into a private residential home and detonated himself, killing everybody inside. This is probably the first time a crime of this most worrisome nature has occurred. A private residence in the irrigation colony, located close to the check post, and its occupants were all used as a human shield by the suicide attacker. One wonders if this is some kind of new, ugly pattern that is emerging for the terrorists who have proved time and again that they do not discriminate between their intended targets — the security agencies and people belonging to different sects — and innocent bystanders. On Friday, a gruesome attack in Hangu saw a Shia mosque attacked but the damage left its bloody mark on a nearby Sunni mosque as well, with many worshippers from there being killed too. Are militants belonging to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) going all out to prove that, when it comes to their war, there is no one who is safe from attack? It seems as if they are trying, in their own bloody way, to separate the general populace from their intended targets by attacking anyone unlucky enough to be even remotely associated with them — the ostracise and kill method. This kind of attack is becoming more and more prevalent in the tribal areas and one is compelled to think that it can happen again anywhere, even in someone’s own house. This strike comes at around the same time as the US Secretary of State Leon Panetta’s statement on how the US will continue its open-ended drone war inside Pakistani territory. This is based on the fact that top al Qaeda leaders have been killed in these targeted strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Due to these successes, the US will not consider halting the drone attacks. One asks here: should it? Stopping the drones seems like a very unwise move at this point in time. The militants are going from strength to strength, upping the ante on the nature of their attacks, killing men, women and children, and leaving no place safe. While the US is conducting drone strikes because it fears another attack on US soil, Pakistan ought to make use of the determination of the US while it can to rid itself of a common enemy. It has become obvious that our security forces and intelligence agencies are unable so far to take out the terror threat. It is then little wonder that our politicians, while publicly denouncing the drone strikes, due to fear of a public backlash, condone them in private. It is vital that Pakistan too up its game where our counter-terrorism strategies are concerned. We must increase our intelligence efforts and fully equip the police to deal with this militant menace. More concerted cooperation between these two wings will see terror attacks pre-empted and prevented, which is the only way to stop them from happening. A suicide mission is one that can only be averted before the bomber has been dispatched. The only way to provide some security to this country’s citizens is to bring together effective intelligence and police work to beat back the terrorists who have taken the entire country hostage.

Pakistan Government negligence: Past royal abode assaulted by today’s vandals

The rani of Gandhara couldn’t get any queenlier: fond of fresh water from the Indus, she would order her palace courtiers to form a human queue all the way from the Peshawar Valley to the rivers of Punjab. The man closest to the river would scoop water to pass it on, and the process would continue till a handful of the Indus had crossed several miles to reach the queen. Dwelling between the 5th and 2nd century BCE, this Buddhist regal figure has been a celebrated part of a rich folklore – songs and stories of which still echo from the coffee-hued ruins of ‘Rani Gat’ in Nogram village of Buner district. ‘Rani’ translates from Pashto as ‘queen’ while ‘Gat’ as ‘rock’ or ‘stone’. The famous mound of Rani Gat is regarded as the site where the queen would sit during her evenings for leisure. Sadly, this fascinating relic is a victim of vandalism and poor preservation techniques. “People visit here and climb up the walls most carelessly. The government must take serious notice of it and guards must do their duty and stop people and animals from destroying it further. There must be proper system for the visitors, complete with guides, historical material and drinking water facilities etc. Furthermore, the government must stop the illegal and frequent excavation in this area,” says Haider Ali Akhundkhel, a researcher and author who visits the site frequently. “This is the largest site in the Gandhara region. Sadly, the government does not realise its importance.” Not only are these ruins famous as the abode of a historic queen, but also as home to invaluable remains of shrines and monasteries, bearing evidence to a glorious Buddhist learning centre which the Gandhara civilisation begot. The legacy of the area includes remains from the Mauryan and Kushan empire, along with Greek influences emerging from Alexander the Great’s arrival to Taxila in 326 BCE. The Buner site includes a room carved out in a rock, of a unique design with holes and niches in it, where sculptor would sit along with carved Buddha statues. The architecture follows a style which is characteristic to the civilisation – making it an invaluable study resource. Hazir Gul, a member of the Suvastu Arts and Cultural Association told The Express Tribune that the site is being destroyed by locals who pilfer stones from it and use it in their buildings. He appealed the provincial government to take immediate steps for its conservation. Director Archaeology and Museum, Dr Shah Nazar Khan said, “We have some projects regarding its conservation in pipeline, work on which will soon be initiated” A series of excavations were carried out at the site in 1984, 1986, and 1989 with the help of Kyoto University in Japan, as a result of which several bronze coins belonging to the Kushan empire were discovered. These coins bore the Kharosti script – a script used to write the Sanskrit language in Gandhara.

IP gas pipeline: Why now?

The Cabinet formally approved the agreement to construct the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline and set up a ministerial committee to explore avenues for arranging $1.5 billion required for the project's implementation. Two major objections to the approval are apparent. First and foremost the government ministers continue to minimise US opposition to the IP gas pipeline and maintain that US sanctions against Iran are not binding on Pakistan. The United Nations sanctions, they further maintain, are binding but as they have not been imposed on Iran due to opposition in the Security Council by Russia and China, Pakistan can safely proceed with the project. This is factually correct; however, the Unites States extends considerable civilian and military assistance to Pakistan and it has made it clear to the government that any attempt to construct the IP pipeline would automatically lead to sanctions. The then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, explicitly warned Pakistan in March of 2012 when she appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations that implementation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project would automatically trigger US sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act. She also noted that these reservations have been conveyed to Pakistan. In short there is no ambiguity that the sanctions would be levied in case Pakistan begins to lay the pipeline. At risk would not only be the US assistance which is considerable, including an additional 250 million dollars for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam as a form of compensation for not building the IP gas pipeline but also assistance from the Friends of Development Pakistan consisting of countries on whom the US has considerable influence. Secondly; the government is less than six weeks away from completing its full five year tenure and the question is why did it wait for the last few weeks before signing a binding agreement with Iran? This sets an unfortunate precedence which one hopes would deter the ministerial committee from signing any binding agreement. Additionally, in the context of this particular project, it is unlikely that the ministerial committee would be able to generate the resources necessary to construct the pipeline. A much better option to deal with the massive energy crisis in Pakistan would have been to develop Thar coal for which donor assistance would have been relatively much simpler to procure. It is difficult to comprehend why the government with an overwhelming majority in Sindh province failed to develop Thar coal in spite of repeated promises that this was a priority project.

Pakistan: Terrorist offensive

On Friday, terrorist struck Hangu outside a Shia mosque and put to death at least 26 innocent civilians. The vile attack was obviously the handiwork of sectarian monsters. On Saturday, terrorists audaciously attacked a military camp in Serai Naurang and killed 13 soldiers and 11 civilians. The outlawed TTP claimed the responsibility. And the two thuggish assaults in two consecutive days tell chillily how fatally is the country in the throes of a vicious multifaceted terrorism. And yet the partisans out there are quarreling obsessively over the creation of new provinces. Of what avail would indeed be new provinces when the country is so visibly enmeshed in a threat from a wild monstrosity that has put its very existence in great peril? Yet none seems much pushed about it. Not even the state. It is now for more than half a decade that the nation is in the grip of this blood-thirsty terrorism. And even as the state functionaries not infrequently assert that with their counter-terrorism actions they have broken its back, it is not even a bit on the slowdown. Rather, it is in ascendancy and on the offensive, while the state appears in retreat. None seems safe from its vileness. Not even the security establishments that indeed have lately been its most favoured targets. That speaks alarmingly of the unpreparedness of the state to face up to this monstrosity mightily. The weakest link in the state's counter action appears to be the provincial administrations and their security and intelligence apparatuses. The country for the most part is in the clutches of urban terrorism. And fighting out this terrorism is primarily the job of the provincial governments, the maintenance of law and order on their domains is whose sole responsibility. Yet, they all have perceptibly taken a backseat, conveniently assuming that combating terrorism is the federal government's, especially the military's, task. This intrinsically is wrong. The military can fight the rebels on the mountains and deserts, caves and forests, but not on the city streets. There the recalcitrant have to be taken on by the provincial law-enforcement agencies and intelligence apparatuses. And yet they all are sitting pretty. Outlawed terrorist outfits are blithely plying their trade of murder and hate under their very noses with impunity. Some have assumed new names, though deceptively but not so deceptively. All know who they actually are. Some have bothered not even to do that and they go by their own old names. One such rabid sectarian outfit has indeed been claiming the responsibility of murderous attacks on the Shia community almost in every part of the country. Obviously, it has its sleeper cells, lairs and hideouts in the urban centres. And yet where are the CIDs of the provincial administrations that this outfit goes on with its bloodshed business unrelentingly without its cells and lairs being tracked down and busted and its network being dismantled in any part of the country? Indeed, this sluggishness of the provincial intelligence networks has come quite handy to the inveterate detractors of this country to vilify and demonise the Pakistani state. They assert, to a great conviction of the world community and to Pakistan's great grief, that these extremist outfits are not being touched by the state security apparatuses as they use them for their own ends inside and outside the country. Even this tirade has failed to impel the provincial administrations to pull out their intelligence and security networks from the stupor and go cracking on them to make them combat the urban terrorism manly. All feel content with their law-enforcers giving the weight of explosives used in a terrorist attack once it has happened. None seems asking them why had they not stopped that explosive from being used. No questions are apparently asked and no answers sought. No heads roll. It is always business as usual. Apparently, there is no watertight collaboration and cooperation either between the federal and the provincial intelligence networks, which is yet another weak link in the state's counter-terrorism action. They rather appear in competition, and worrisomely, in rivalry. This is very dangerous, and irresponsible too. All seem ploughing a lone furrow, whereas an effective counter-terrorism action is admittedly a joint effort and a combined action of various state arms. But, gallingly, no state strategy is even in evidence to combine up disparate security actions into a coherent, concerted and orchestrated effort to attain the national objective of defeating terrorism and throwing it out of the land. And this is very disturbing. The way it is being presently fought, we are visibly losing this war against terrorism. But we have to win it, in any event and at our cost, for our own survival and for the survival of our posterity. The state must come into action, in whole, not in parts. Let there be a national coordinated action to take on the monstrosity of terrorism, to defang it, prostrate it and behead it. This is a must.

PM David Cameron hosts Afghan-Pakistan talks in UK

UK PM David Cameron is hosting key talks on the Afghan peace process, involving the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, at his country retreat.
The talks at Chequers will focus on cross-border security and how to engage the Taliban in effective peace talks. It will be the third round of discussions since Mr Cameron instigated the trilateral process last year. Foreign ministers, military leaders and intelligence chiefs will attend the talks for the first time. Nato troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Mr Cameron hosted a dinner with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at Chequers, north of London, on Sunday evening. Monday sees in-depth talks with both presidents and their key officials. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said the goal was to help the two nations "build closer co-operation around their common interest in a secure future". As part of the process, Mr Karzai and Mr Zardari have agreed to work together on a framework of co-operation following the international troops' departure next year. With the Nato withdrawal looming, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has told the BBC he does not want a repeat of the mistakes made when Russia withdrew from Afghanistan a quarter of a century ago, plunging the country into civil war. Overcoming mistrust Downing Street said in a statement on Sunday: "This trilateral process sends a very clear message to the Taliban: now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan. "As the prime minister has set out previously, a stable Afghanistan is not just in the interests of Afghans, but also in the interests of their neighbours and the UK." Overcoming mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains a central issue, BBC World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge reports. The Afghan government has made it clear that it views the recent freeing by Pakistan of a number of Taliban prisoners as positive, he says. But it still wants the release of the former second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Baradar, in the hope that a senior figure like him could influence the Taliban to engage in talks with Kabul. For the first time, the trilateral talks will also include military and intelligence chiefs from both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Officials believe this could help in tackling some of the most sensitive issues to do with reconciliation efforts, our correspondent says. Mr Karzai told the BBC's Pashto Service that Afghan people should take the initiative for peace into their own hands. "As neither the communist government, nor the mujahedeen brought peace and security to the country, if we do not carefully manage our peace process the way we did not in the past, we will not achieve stability or security," Mr Karzai said. The first two rounds of the trilateral talks were held in Kabul and New York last year.