Thursday, February 21, 2013

Demand for Jamaat ban logical: Dipu Moni

Terming the demand for banning Jamaat-e-Islami's politics as logical, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on Thursday that the government was examining everything related with the issue. “The Shahbagh movement has spread all over the country. Besides demanding capital punishment for the war criminals, people across the country have demanded banning religion-based politics, especially the politics of Jamaat-Shibir,” the minister told reporters after paying tribute to the Language Movement heroes at Chandpur Shaheed Minar. Saying that the demand is “definitely logical”, Dipu Moni said the 1972 constitution of the country banned politics by these elements, reports our Chandppur correspondent. By rehabilitating the war criminals and securing them place at the top of political power, BNP founder Ziaur Rahman and later one Khaleda Zia betrayed with the blood of the 3 million martyrs of Liberation War, she alleged. “So, we pay respect to the demand the nation has raised. The Election Commission and the government will do the imperatives in this regard.” Replying to a query, Dipu Moni denied that there was international pressure against awarding capital punishment to the war criminals and banning Jamaat- Shibir politics. It is out of question that any foreign quarter would intervene in Bangladesh’s internal issues, the foreign minister said.

Bangladesh: Act before March 26
Issuing an ultimatum to the government to bring war crimes charges against Jamaat-e-Islami and initiate the legal process by March 26 to ban the party, the Shahbagh protesters yesterday announced a series of countrywide programmes beginning today. The declaration came at a mammoth rally in the capital's Shahbagh in the evening. The rally wound up the nonstop sit-in that began at the intersection on February 5 demanding capital punishment to all the war criminals. Late at night, Imran H Sarker, a key organiser of the movement, said, "I announce the end of the rally. I request you to go home and we will see you at 10:00am tomorrow [today]." However, many people were still at the venue around midnight. As part of the countrywide programmes, special prayers will be held at mosques after Juma prayers as well as at churches, pagodas and temples today. Organisers told The Daily Star although the protesters would not keep the Shahbagh intersection occupied for 24 hours from today, they will gather at the venue the day before the war crimes tribunal is to deliver a verdict. The aim of this gathering is to resist any possible violence by Jamaat-Shibir. Yesterday, the 17th day of the protest which coincided with the Amar Ekushey, all eyes were on the "Gonojagoron Mancha" as the movement held its third grand rally. Hundreds of thousands thronged the Shahbagh intersection, now known as Projonmo Chattar, to join the rally while million others were glued to the TV at home and abroad. The programmes announced at the rally include holding more grand rallies, demonstrations and cultural programmes at different parts in Dhaka and other divisional cities. The protesters, who have all along maintained calm and showed respect for all religious beliefs, began yesterday's programme with the recitation of verses from the Holy Scriptures of the four major religions in the country -- the Quran, Gita, Bible and Tripitaka. After the recitations, thousands of people, irrespective of faith, age, profession and ethnicity, stood as one and sang the national anthem. The rendition of the national anthem and the recitations from the Scriptures showed, once again, that "religion is personal, but the state is for all". Giving the ultimatum and announcing the programmes, Imran Sarker, said: “We want to clearly state that this Gonojagoron Mancha is firm in its demand for justice for war crimes. We hold nothing against any religion. Rather, our struggle is to end the ill politics of Jamaat-Shibir that exploits religion for political gain." "With a view to banning politics of Jamaat-Shibir, bring war crimes charges against Jamaat-e-Islami under the amended law [The International Crimes (Tribunals) Act, 1973] and start the legal process by March 26," he added. The spirited protesters, their mood one of unyielding determination, burst into thunderous cheers as he spoke. People of from all walks of life, mostly dressed in black and imbued with the spirit of the 1952 Language Movement and the 1971 Liberation War, flocked to the Shahbagh intersection to express their solidarity with the protesters. They chanted fiery slogans throughout the day, demanding capital punishment to all the war criminals. Protesters carried national flags, banners and placards that read: "Death to Razakars" or "Death to war criminals." Many joined the protest directly from the Shaheed Minar. The crowd stretched from Matsya Bhaban in the east to Kataban intersection in the west and from Hotel Ruposhi Bangla intersection in the north to TSC in the south. Protesters took to the streets in the afternoon of February 5, hours after Jamaat assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in prison for war crimes in 1971. Protesters say a life term is too lenient a punishment for Mollah, known as the "Butcher of Mirpur" for his notorious role in the killing of hundreds during the war. A group of youths, mostly bloggers and online activists, initiated the movement but it soon turned into a people's movement, spreading across the country. A mass signature campaign will also begin today and continue till March 7 in and outside the country to register people's solidarity with the six-point demand. “In our veins runs the blood of Shurjoshen and Khudiram. I am here driven by their ideologies,” said Tariq Ali, one of the trustees of the Liberation War Museum. Jahangirnagar University Vice-chancellor Anwar Hossain, Communist Party of Bangladesh President Mujahidul Islam Selim, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal leader Shirin Akhter, cultural personalities Nasiruddin Yousuff Bachchu, Mamunur Rashid, Sara Zaker, Asaduzzaman Noor, Rokeya Prachi, Ferdousi Majumdar, Ramendra Majumdar, Tropa Majumdar, and journalist Abed Khan, among others, joined the grand rally. Although attempts were made to co-opt the movement by certain political quarters, the protesters refused to allow any party to do so. The stage, said the organisers, belonged to the ordinary citizens, activists and bloggers. As the mass protests continued, grief descended upon Shahbagh as one of their key organisers, Rajib Haidar, was hacked to death on February 14, allegedly by Jamaat-Shibir men. Another protester, Tariqul Islam Shanto, died of a heart attack while taking part in the on February 18. As the movement gained momentum and spread across the country, Jamaat-Shibir resorted to a smear campaign against the movement, with the help of a few radical Islamist groups in and outside the BNP-led 18-party alliance and media houses. Terming Projonmo Chattar anti-Islamic, the anti-liberation forces tried to stir controversy and confusion among the general public. The demonstrators, however, strongly rejected such allegations and the general public, too, dismissed them as fictitious.

US Plans Mini-Force in Post-2014 Afghanistan

The United States envisions only a minimal presence of American troops in Afghanistan once the NATO mission comes to an end in late 2014. SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that fewer than 10,000 US soldiers are to remain stationed in the country beyond that date. Douglas Lute, special assistant to the US president on Pakistan and Afghanistan, informed NATO ambassadors of the plan at alliance headquarters in Brussels in the second week of February. He said that only half of the units stationed in Afghanistan beyond 2014 will be made available for training Afghan troops. Lute's confidential briefing was the first official confirmation that the US foresees an extremely limited presence in the country going forward. And the numbers presented by Lute have alarmed the alliance. Though the post-mission support and training mission in Afghanistan -- to be carried out by NATO in conjunction with eight non-alliance countries -- has been under development for months, the extremely limited number of US troops available puts the alliance in a bind. The aim of the mission -- now called Resolute Support after a pair of name changes -- is to ensure that the Afghan army, built up with great effort in recent years, doesn't immediately fall apart once the NATO mission, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), concludes. But Lute's presentation made it clear that US President Barack Obama is determined to radically shrink the American presence in Afghanistan following 2014. In his State of the Union address this month, Obama publicized his intention to bring home half of the 60,000 US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan by the end of this year. The details of Washington's post-2014 plans were not known until Lute's briefing. Weeks prior, the US media had written of a "minimal option" calling for fewer than 10,000 soldiers to remain in the country, but the US government had made no official comment. Whether the topic is up for discussion at the meeting of NATO defense ministers this Thursday and Friday in Brussels is unclear. Because Chuck Hagel has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta traveled to Europe in his stead.
Raising the Bar for Germany and NATO
Presidential aid Lute left no doubt during his meeting with NATO ambassadors that Washington seeks to bring the unpopular mission to a rapid conclusion. As of this spring, all combat operations are to be led by Afghan military and security personnel while ISAF forces are to shift into a supporting role. Only by taking that step now, the US has told its European partners, can a withdrawal by the end of 2014 be achievable. The strategy is not without risk. Such a rapid shift of responsibility could overwhelm the Afghan military, Lute acknowledged during his visit to Brussels. Washington's mini-force raises the bar for Germany and other NATO member states. Lute said that the US expects that the German military will retain responsibility for Regional Command North and direct military training operations there beyond 2014. The US, he said, would coordinate training and support operations in the south and east. Italy is to continue its responsibility for the west. But the US envisions a division of its forces. Only 5,000 of the 10,000 American troops foreseen by the plan are to be made available for the training mission. The other half will be earmarked for targeted operations against terror cells and al-Qaida camps as well as for the protection of US facilities in the country such as the embassy in Kabul. In total, the post-2014 training mission is to encompass 15,000 troops. The US expects its NATO partners to plug any gaps that might result due to its limited presence. For Germany, the number is likely to remain large even after 2014, primarily due to the operation of the large camp in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Cause for Concern
Lute's comments regarding Washington's future troop numbers weren't the only part of his presentation that gave his European allies pause. While the US is prepared to continue offering air support after 2014, tactical capabilities such as the helicopter evacuation of the wounded are to be discontinued. That is cause for concern. Almost all countries present in Afghanistan, including Germany, are dependent on American Medevac aircraft. The German military was only able to set up a functioning system for the evacuation and treatment of wounded fighters in the north with the help of the US. American medics were able to several times save the lives of German soldiers. Even if the post-2014 mission is to exclude combat operations, a functioning system to treat the wounded is indispensable. Despite Lute's outline of US plans, the German government still hopes that details can be revised, noting that the final numbers have not yet been approved by Obama. But in his recent State of the Union address, the president made clear that "the nature of our commitment will change." Military strategists in Berlin now know what he meant. The US will keep their future presence in Afghanistan as small as possible.

Gwadar port

The day after Pakistan awarded the management contract for Gwadar Port to state owned China Overseas Port Holdings Limited it prompted the Chinese Foreign Ministry to issue the following statement: "transfer of managing rights is a business project that falls under trade and economic co-ordination conducted between China and Pakistan...and boosting China-Pakistan co-operation is not only in the interests of both countries but also conducive to maintaining regional stability and development." A short history of the port is in order. Gwadar port project, like other projects whose construction would considerably fuel economic activity in Pakistan, remained hostage to federal-provincial disharmony over control and distribution of revenue. It was originally identified as a site in 1954 when Gwadar was still an Omani enclave. Pakistan became interested in the site after a survey along its coastline carried out by United States Geological Survey concluded that it is suitable for a deep sea port. After four years of negotiations Oman finally agreed to sell it to the government of Pakistan at a cost of 3 million dollars. A small port was constructed by the Pakistan government by 1992 at a cost of 1.6 million rupees that included a foreign exchange component of 1.4 million Belgian francs. Technical and financial feasibility studies for a major deep-sea port at Gwadar were initiated in 1993 and a UK company in association with a Pakistan company was engaged for the purpose. The contract of the port was awarded to a Chinese firm and construction commenced in 2002. Phase-I was completed in December 2006 at a cost of 248 million dollars and included 3 multipurpose berths, approach channel, turning basin and related infrastructure and handling equipment. And Phase-II began in 2007 at a cost of 932 million dollars and included 4 container berths, one bulk cargo terminal, one grain terminal, two oil terminals and approach channel. The same year, in 2007 the government awarded the management contract to Port Singapore Authority (PSA), the highest bidder after Dubai Port World backed out of the bidding process, for 40 years for the development and operation of the tax free port and duty free trade zone. According to the agreement, the Government of Pakistan would get a fixed share i.e. 9% of the revenue from cargo and maritime services, and 15% of the revenue earned from the free-trade zone. PSA agreed to invest 550 million dollars in the port. And subsequently while there have been periodic statements by Pakistani governments that a deep natural sea port (while Karachi Port is a natural sea port, Port Qasim is not) would provide untold financial benefits to the country through opening a trade route for Central Asian Republics to the rest of the world yet nothing concrete has come of it. The government of Pakistan (GOP) had to give subsidy for offloading and loading of some bulk cargoes at Gwadar. PSA were unhappy because GOP did not fulfil their side of the bargain because land that was to be handed over to PSA for development of the port support infrastructure did not materialise while the GOP argued that PSA did not invest the agreed amount in the enterprise. It is now greatly hoped that with China in the driving seat the financial benefits to the two countries would begin. China was rightly upset that while it won the contract to construct the port yet the management tender was opened internationally and therefore China opted not to submit a bid. There is no doubt that China remains an all weather friend to this country and in that context Pakistan's interests would be served; however details of the actual agreement have not yet been publicly released and one would have to wait and see the agreement before evaluating the merits of the contract. India's Defence Minister AK Antony, however, has expressed concerns premised on fears that China would as a result get a strong strategic foothold in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea and may decide to use the port as a naval base. It is of course unlikely that Indian strategic interests would play any role in Pakistan's decision-making. However, if the port management is being viewed in a geopolitical context one would hope that the government of Pakistan would better play the situation to suit its long term economic and geopolitical interests. Last but not least. One must not lose sight of the fact that in China's case in particular economic security factors have greatly come to overshadow other strategic interests. After three decades of high economic growth momentum China increasingly believes that it is now required to take a strategic approach of economic statecraft in order to play its due role in global politics. For example, the construction of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline was fraught with grave dangers in relation to China-Russia bilateral relations, because that project had virtually broken the Russian monopoly on natural gas export routes. Credit goes to China that it successfully convinced Russia that although Beijing had built a gas pipeline and was purchasing directly from Central Asia, it did not have any intention of challenging Moscow in Central Asia energy exports. China's unprecedented presence in the former Soviet space was necessitated by its economic imperatives, particularly its energy needs. The gas pipeline project or Russian-Chinese energy competition did not lead to a conflict between these two members of the five-member umbrella of emerging economies, Brics. It is, therefore, strongly believed that China would also be able to allay India's concerns, however much less warranted as compared to Russia's, by propelling its commercial diplomacy into the fore.

India: '' 3 sisters, aged 5-11, raped, killed''

Associated Press
Indian police said Thursday that they have launched a manhunt for men suspected of raping and killing three sisters, aged 5 to 11, in the latest case of sexual violence to grip the country. The sisters' bodies were found in a village well in Bhandara district in Maharashtra state on Feb. 14 after they had gone missing from school, police officer Javed Ahmed said. The area is more than 1,000 kilometers (630 miles) south of New Delhi, the capital. As the victims' mother accused police of a shoddy investigation, enraged villagers forced shops to close, burned tires and blocked a national highway passing through the area for several hours on Wednesday, demanding justice. "The police did not take the case seriously and did nothing for two days," the CNN-IBN television news channel quoted the mother as saying. Her name was withheld. One police officer has been suspended for not acting promptly, Indian Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel, who represents Bhandara district in Parliament, told reporters in New Delhi. "It is unacceptable. All of us have to hang our heads in shame," Patel said. Cabinet Minister Manish Tewari called the killings a "very, very heinous assault" and announced that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was sending 1 million rupees ($18,300) to the family. The central government has asked state investigators to keep them informed of the investigation. The fatal gang rape of a young woman in a moving bus in New Delhi on Dec. 16 set off nationwide protests about India's treatment of women and spurred the government to hurry through a new package of laws to protect them. The gang rape victim and her male friend, who also was badly beaten up in the attack, were dumped naked on the roadside, and the woman died from her injuries two weeks later in a Singapore hospital. Five men are being tried on rape and murder charges in that case. A new law enacted by the government has increased the sentences for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years. It also provides for the death penalty in extreme cases of rape that result in death or leave the victim in a coma. It has also made voyeurism, stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women punishable under criminal law.

US urges Pakistan not to sign deal with Iran

The United States warned Pakistan against entering ‘deals with Iran that may be sanctionable, a reference to Pak-Iran gas deal. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a media briefing that Pakistan had better not sign agreement with Tehran. However, she said Washington wanted to help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis. The spokeswoman also commented on Quetta’s Saturday bombing that led to killing of over 89 people saying innocent people were being killed in bomb blasts in Pakistan. She said that John Kerry had talked to Pakistani leadership over action against terrorists. Nuland said that Washington wanted to expedite campaign against terrorism in collaboration with Islamabad.

President Zardari urges US to review its drone attack policy

Radio Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari has urged the United States to revisit its drone attack policy in Pakistani tribal areas. He was talking to a delegation of US Senate Foreign Relations Committee headed by its Chairman Senator Robert Menendez in Islamabad today (Thursday) He termed drone attack as counterproductive that are causing great damage at popular level and stressed the need to find a way out. The president said the sacrifices offered by Pakistan in the fight against militancy must be acknowledged and appreciated. He said Pakistan's armed forces were doing a heroic job despite odds but‚ stretched as they were in the tribal areas‚ they needed to be assisted with resources for long term and sustained counter terrorism operations. About Pakistan-US relations‚ President Zardari said these relations are multifaceted and it would not be proper to see them through one prism only‚ be that Afghanistan or any other. Reiterating that Pakistan looked forward to increased trade through market access instead of aid‚ the President said Pakistan wants increased US investment in Pakistan in energy‚ agro and livestock sectors. Referring to Pakistan-India relations‚ he Pakistan has liberalized trade with India and it wishes to establish friendly‚ cooperative and good neighborly relations with it and peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes. Robert Menendez appreciated the role played by Pakistani and the sacrifices offered by its armed forces‚ security agencies and the people in the fight against militancy. =========== President Asif Ali Zardari has reiterated that the government will continue to undertake every effort for socio-economic uplift of the people and maintaining complete law and order in Balochistan on top priority basis. Talking to Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Ali Magsi in Islamabad‚ he directed to make every effort to apprehend the culprits involved in Quetta carnage. The governor apprised the president about the progress made into investigations of Quetta blast and various measures being taken to bring the culprits to justice.