Thursday, May 23, 2013

President Obama outlines future of counterterrorism efforts

By Scott Wilson and Greg Miller
President Obama outlined the future of his counterterrorism polices Thursday in a wide-ranging speech that sought to more clearly define the American enemy, make lethal government actions more accountable to Congress, and signal that the nation’s long war against al-Qaeda will one day end. In a lengthy speech at the National Defense University in Washington, Obama called again for Congress to help close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an early promise he has yet to fulfill. He announced that he would lift the moratorium on transferring Guantanamo’s Yemeni detainees to their home country, among other steps to help thin out the prison’s population of 166 people, many of them now on a hunger strike. Obama also outlined for the first time the legal guidelines surrounding the use of armed drones in defined war zones and outside of them. The program, which Obama has expanded significantly since taking office, remains classified, but the president has said that he would be open to working with Congress on establishing an independent court to review future drone targets. Obama said the country is at a crossroads in its counterterrorism fight: “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that ‘No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’ Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.” As part of his plans, Obama signed a presidential directive that sets guidelines for when a drone strike can be used, including higher standards for setting targets and in protecting against civilian deaths. The directive states that targets must pose a “continuing and imminent threat” to the United States and that the government must assure Obama that there is a “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed in the strike. Senior administration officials, briefing journalists before the speech, said both standards are higher than those previously used. The change is likely to slow the already-diminished pace of the drone campaign and reduce, but not eliminate, the CIA’s role. Obama’s guidance includes a “preference” that the Department of Defense play the lead role in lethal operations overseas. That language suggests a significant change in course for the CIA, which has carried out hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, killing an estimated 3,000 militants and civilians. But Obama stopped well short of ending the CIA’s drone program, leaving ample latitude for continued strikes in Pakistan as room for the agency to operate in other countries that allow their territory to be patrolled by U.S. military drones. A senior administration official said the new policy reflects recognition that the Pentagon is “the appropriate agency to use force outside active war zones,” but alluding to agency operations, said, “That’s not to say the U.S. doesn’t pursue a range of counterterrorism options around the world.” Officials also alluded to a carve-out that would enable the CIA to continue hitting targets in Pakistan that are not part of al-Qaeda but pose a threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, at least until the end of 2014, when most American forces will be gone. The senior administration official placed the war in Afghanistan in a “different context” from the broader counterterrorism campaign, saying there will still be a “dual need for action against core al-Qaeda and force protection” until the drawdown is complete. The CIA has had sole responsibility for the drone campaign in Pakistan, mainly because of terms set by the Pakistani government, which has never acknowledged that it allows the strikes. Obama’s speech Thursday came almost exactly four years after he initially pledged to bring national security policy in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, era closer to what he described as American traditions of human rights, public transparency and the rule of law. In that National Archives address, Obama declared that the country “went off course” during the George W. Bush administration, resorting to interrogation tactics he has called torture, the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects and the secret surveillance of private citizens. But his efforts to set the country back on what he believes is a sounder legal course, as he ended the war in Iraq and winds down the one in Afghanistan, have met obstacles. Obama sought Thursday to review his record and to describe how his counterterrorism policy, and several proposals to change it, responds to a far different security challenge than has faced the country during a dozen years of war. While the threat of a large-scale attack within the United States has diminished, Obama said, small organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda are flourishing in some of the lawless parts of the Arab world, including in countries undergoing political transitions. Weakening those groups require different policies, including a reliance more on drones and intelligence rather than a large U.S. military presence. On Thursday, he called on Congress to help refine the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, to accommodate the U.S. focus from two large battlefields to many smaller ones. Obama also spoke about the threat of so-called homegrown terrorism, the most recent incident being the Boston Marathon bombing last month. He pledged to work closely with local law enforcement officials and Muslim communities to reduce the threat. Although Obama ended the practice of harsh interrogation, he has met significant resistance from Congress in trying to close Guantanamo Bay while expanding where drones can be used and against what targets. On Wednesday, the Obama administration acknowledged that it has killed four Americans in overseas counterterrorism operations since 2009. It was the first time the administration has publicly taken responsibility for the deaths. Although the acknowledgment, contained in a letter from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to Congress, does not say how the four were killed, three are known to have died in CIA drone strikes in Yemen in 2011. They are Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic cleric affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; his 16-year-old son; and Samir Khan. The fourth — Jude Kennan Mohammad, a Florida native indicted in North Carolina in 2009 — was killed in Pakistan, where the CIA has operated a drone campaign against terrorism suspects for nearly a decade.

President Obama Honors Carole King

Prostitutes gunned down in Pakistan's violence-plagued Balochistan province

Gunmen shot dead five people, including four prostitutes, in Pakistan's troubled Balochistan province Thursday morning, police said. Elsewhere in the province, a car bomb blast killed 12 people, including six police officers. Awais Ahmed, the district police officer for the town of Sibi, said four gunmen on two motorcycles opened fire at a brothel in the town.He said four prostitutes and a taxi driver were killed in the attack. Two other women were seriously wounded. The second incident - the car bomb blast -- took place in the provincial capital of Quetta. Deputy Inspector General Syed Ahmed Mobeen said the attackers used a remote-controlled device to trigger the bomb when a police vehicle was passing by. The strength of the blast damaged nearby shops and houses. In addition to the deaths. the explosion wounded 21 others, Mobeen said. No group immediately claimed responsibility for either incident. But suspicion immediately fell on Baloch insurgents operating in the area. Militants in Balochistan, a province rich in natural gas, have been fighting Pakistani military forces for self-rule. For years, they have complained that the government has paid little attention to them and their economic needs.

Iran's Gender Apartheid - women without rights

Aziz Abro of PML-N joins PPP

Senior PML-N office bearer from Sindh Aziz Abro announced his decision to join rival Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP). He made the announcement at a press conference along with senior PPP leader Agha Siraj Durrani. Speaking on this occasion, Durrani said that a new local body system would be introduced in Sindh with the support of MQM. “We can hold elections under the current local body system in six months. But for this, we will have to re-promulgate local body ordinance.” He said that talks were underway with MQM. To a question, he said that PPP did not sell any Sindh islands. “Zufliqarabad is for the betterment of people of Sindh,” he maintained.

Who’s Afraid of Twitter? The Absolute Monarch of Saudi Arabia, That’s Who

By Diana Sayed
The head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police has said anyone who uses Twitter “has lost this world and his afterlife.” Previously, the government-appointed imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca denounced Twitter as a “threat to national unity.” You might think that social media are no match for police and petrodollars, but King Abdullah—who’s seen the Internet facilitate democratic uprisings in nearby countries—views Twitter and other platforms as a threat to his power, and with good reason. Saudi Arabia has more Twitter users per capita than any other country in the world. Between 2011 and 2012, the number of Twitter users in the Kingdom grew by 3,000 percent, with users posting an average of 50 million messages monthly, most of them in Arabic. And not coincidentally, the rise of social media has corresponded with an uptick in pro-human rights activism. Protests are largely organized through Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and dissidents use Skype to communicate with foreign human rights organizations and media networks. It’s no wonder that spokesmen for the Saudi Interior Ministry have said that social media is a tool used by militants to stir social unrest. But the government’s assault on internet users is more than rhetorical. Authorities have detained and intimidated hundreds of online activists and commentators, blocked and filtered sensitive political, religious or pornographic content , and recruited online supporters to campaign against calls for protests, according to a Freedom House Report. In March, two leading activists were sentenced to 10 years in prison for a variety of offenses including “internet crimes” because they had used Twitter and other sites to criticize the government. Last year, poet and journalist Hamza Kashgari posted tweets in which he envisioned conversations with Mohammed. Thousands of Saudis, including prominent clerics, called for his death, and after a failed attempt to flee, he was imprisoned for blasphemy. His was the rare case of persecution in Saudi Arabia that attracted international attention, but the spotlight has turned away and he remains behind bars. Once government officials know who is posting what, they are unrelenting in targeting dissidents. On April 10, prominent women’s activist Iman Al-Qahtan, posted on her Twitter feed that she was closing down her account, writing “Oh dear mother I’ll stop just for you, goodbye!” Although her Twitter handle and account remain active, it is reported that Al-Qahtani has been subject to continuous harassment by members of the security forces. They have threatened her to put her jail and to target her family members if she did not stop her activism. Last month the government-sponsored Arab News daily published a cover story condemning what it deemed “abusive” tweets. The article reported that Saudi authorities are discussing a plan to link Twitter accounts with their users’ identification numbers. Analysts say such a move may decrease the number of Twitter accounts by up to 60%. On March 31, the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) instructed Skype, WhatsApp and Viber to comply with local regulations or risk being shut down. This is just one example of the government violating anti-censorship laws under the guise of monitoring online activity. Last September, CITC announced that, for “national security” reasons, all pre-paid SIM card users must enter a personal identification number when recharging their accounts. Until recently, Saudi authorities have largely resisted sweeping restrictions on internet freedom for fear of igniting a political backlash, but some of their recent moves—particularly the threat to link Twitter accounts to ID numbers—may be doing just that. A few weeks ago one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent clerics, Salman al-Awdah, who has 2.4 million followers, Tweeted against this policy, saying it might create a “spark of violence.” Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns $300 million worth of Twitter shares, has said that any attempt to block social media platforms is a “losing war.” It’s widely believed that the Saudi monarchy’s grasp on power is unshakable. This would seem to be the view of the U.S. government, which gives this brutal, authoritarian regime unconditional support. But the increase in Twitter-fueled activism is clearly making the rulers nervous.

Electoral fraud in Waziristan! The real fight has only just begun!

The re-polling at four polling stations in South Waziristan was blatantly rigged. Ali Wazir the Marxist candidate for Parliament had his victory stolen. But while the Parliament is the final goal for corrupt career politicians, for the Marxists the campaign was just a step in the struggle against the rotten Capitalist system.On Tuesday 21st May the re-election was held in Waziristan. The Dawn published the following report of the election results: “PML-N candidate Ghalib Khan won the election for NA-41 tribal area-VI (South Waziristan), where re-polling was held at four polling stations. He got 7,950 votes while Ali Khan, an independent candidate, secured 7,648 and remained the runner-up. “According to unofficial results, re-polling was held at four polling stations, including Wacha Dana, Dabkot, Khankot and Marna Ghundi. Tight security arrangements were made on the occasion. The re-polling was conducted smoothly and no untoward incident was reported from any polling station in the volatile tribal agency. “The Election Commission of Pakistan had decided a few days ago to hold re-polling for NA-41 after receiving reports from the political agent/district returning officer of South Waziristan.” However, first hand reports from our comrades in Waziristan clearly indicate that this was the result of fraud on a massive scale. From the very moment that the first election result was announced everything possible was done to deny victory to the Marxist candidate Ali Wazir, who has widespread support in this Taliban-infested area.As the readers of will already know, Ali held a big public meeting on 8th May, with the participation of around 30,000 people. This showed the real popularity he enjoys in the constituency. Actually, it understates the strength of his support, since, as a consequence of the extreme social problems, women could not attend this public meeting, although they cast their votes in big numbers on polling day. The photographs of this meeting are proof of his support, and yet the official results claimed that he had received less than 8,000 votes. This immediately exposes the blatant nature of this fraud. Although some voters may have been deterred by the threats of violence (made explicitly by the Muslim League), the vast difference between the numbers of enthusiastic people who attended the rally on 8th May and the final number of votes declared speaks for itself. Yesterday the early results from the four polling stations where re-polling was held showed that Ali was winning, and this was even reflected on the screens of Pakistan television up until about nine o’clock. Then the situation underwent a sudden and mysterious change. As a result of the most blatant rigging the results of other polling stations where polling was held on 11th May were changed and a lead was given to the Muslim League (PML-N) candidate. Even so, the result remained in doubt right up to the eleventh hour. The Returning Officer who was put in charge of the elections by the Election Commission of Pakistan was not sure till late at night what number of votes could be squared with the announcement of a PML-N victory. This fact, in addition to the wafer-thin size of the alleged “majority”, is further evidence that Ali had won by a convincing majority, so that the fraudsters had to tread carefully. When the result was finally announced, Ali Wazir was said to have “lost” by just 302 votes to PML(Nawaz Sharif) candidate Ghalib Khan. The “winner” was said to have received 7,950 votes while Ali as an independent candidate, secured 7,648 and was declared to be the runner-up. It has yet to be explained how it comes about that a candidate who was declared the winner with 5,000 votes could then go on to lose the election with almost 8,000 votes. Such highly creative electoral arithmetic is a graphic expression of the farcical nature of the Pakistani democracy that is being so lavishly praised by the bourgeois press internationally. This fraudulent election was prepared by a systematic campaign of intimidation with both the threat of violence and actual violence. On 11th May numerous voters of Ali Wazir were severely beaten up by the Taliban as a punishment. In Waziristan, a hotbed of Taliban activity, the Marxist candidate was faced at every step with the threat not just of a beating but of assassination. Yet comrade Ali Wazir showed not a morsel of fear, courageously defending his revolutionary ideas at every moment. There is not the slightest doubt that comrade Ali won the election and was prevented from taking his seat by trickery and the most shameless ballot rigging. Thousands of votes were clearly discarded or handed over to the PLM-N candidate. The fact that the “official” result was so narrow (less than 300 votes’ difference) amounts to a virtual confession that the PML-N “victory” was a sham. This is the second time that the authorities have rigged the elections in Waziristan in order to prevent Ali Wazir from winning. They did exactly the same thing in the last elections in 2008. But this is by no means the end of the story. Ali’s election campaign was a tremendous success and prepares the ground for what must come. One chapter has ended and another, infinitely more important, chapter has just begun.
The fight will continue!
All the talk about the alleged “victory of Pakistani democracy” is cheap propaganda. This so-called democracy is as blatant a fraud as was yesterday’s rigged election in South Waziristan. The bandits and thieves are “elected” to the National Assembly, which is the biggest den of thieves in Pakistan, while the honest representatives of the working people are systematically denied what is theirs by right. Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister and head of the Muslim League, is Pakistan’s richest man. Foreign leaders have fallen over themselves to shower him with congratulations for his wonderful “democratic” election. Pakistan’s drug barons, mullahs, landowners, thieves, crooks and political prostitutes are already queuing up at the door of his palatial residence in Lahore jostling for jobs. Mr Sharif lives in palaces with private cricket fields, aviaries with assorted peacocks, and the deer scampering around his parks. He has water and electricity every day of the year, and even, in the words of The Economist “rows of Victorian-style street lamps, scissor-trimmed lawns and flower beds that would put a Sussex seaside town to shame.” Inside his enormous house, we are informed, “is all towering chandeliers, gold-trimmed velvet curtains, wall-sized mirrors the better to reflect his model of Mecca, assorted swords on the walls, cut-glass vases and a box of chocolates the size, literally, of a coffin (presumably a post-election gift). The furniture would not have been out of place in pre-revolutionary France.” But for millions of poor people eking out a miserable existence in the stinking slums and narrow alleys of Lahore, or sweltering hell of villages without electricity throughout Pakistan, life is very different. They know that nothing can be expected from the new government but even more oppression, suffering, robbery and exploitation. Sharif invites western journalists to a table “groaning with kebabs, assorted curries, piles of biryani and steaming bread.” For millions of poor people there is nothing on the table. Our brave comrade Ali Wazir fought his election campaign on the old revolutionary slogan of the workers and peasants of Pakistan: Roti, Kupra aur Maqan! Bread, Clothes and Shelter! Those most elementary conditions for human existence are still being denied to the majority of the people of this great country. Millions of children go to bed hungry every night while the wealthy parasites grow fat by sucking the blood of the people. What use is this so-called democracy if it is only another name for the dictatorship of the rich over the poor? What is the point of giving people the right to vote every few years if the only choice before them if one gang of thieves or another gang of thieves? The workers and peasants will draw their own conclusions. The new gang of plunderers will soon stand exposed before the people who will demand what are their most basic rights: Bread, Clothes and Shelter. And since they will not get these things from the National Assembly, they will seek to obtain them elsewhere. The struggle for workers’ rights does not begin and end with elections. The real fight will be fought out, not in the corridors of the National Assembly but on the streets, in the factories, in the villages and fields, in the schools and universities. Those are the places where the Pakistani Marxists will come into their own. They may use all their tricks to cheat comrade Ali Wazir in an election, but they can never prevent him and many others like him, from putting himself at the head of the masses in struggle. That struggle is already being prepared. It is coming. It is inevitable. And the final victory will depend above all on the quality of the leadership. The workers and peasants know very well who they can trust. They know who their real leaders are: not the slick, “clever” politicians in Islamabad, who lie, cheat and deceive, but the honest revolutionaries who put themselves on the standpoint of the working class. They, and only they, can lead the masses to victory.

Pakistan: China's premier addresses Senate, lauds progress despite challenges

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Thursday (today) addressed the Senate saying the country had made tremendous progress despite facing several challenges, DawnNews reported. In a special session of the Senate, the Chinese premier declared his delight in addressing the Parliament’s Upper House, adding that Pakistan was the hub of ancient civilizations, like Gandhara. Moreover, he said Pakistan enjoyed immense significance at both the regional and international levels. He also appreciated Pakistan’s strong role in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Chinese prime minister affirmed the strong friendship between Pakistan and China in the past 62 years, adding that he was impressed by the hospitality of the Pakistani people during his visit. “Pakistan’s role after the earthquake in China was unforgettable,” Prime Minister Keqiang said. The Chinese prime minister vowed to support Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity and pledged to help the country in every possible way. Moreover, he said the two countries should take greater advantage of free trade agreements.

As the energy crisis cripples Pakistan...

As Pakistan faces one of the worst phases of its now almost decade-long load-shedding crisis, the Supreme Court’s latest proclamation does not come as a revelation. Terming it ‘artificial’, the Court points to the inadequate generation of power from plants that are capable of producing a higher input. As the summer has finally hit in the full, with the onset of an almost 8-month long period of intense heat, the menace of load shedding has taken on a new form. While the rural areas continue to face breakdowns of 18-20 hours, and at times, the absence of electricity for two or three days, the cities, also reeling under 12-18 hours of load-shedding seem to be further in misery as the duration of power-cuts is on the rise, and the constant fluctuation ensuring no electronics work on their full capacities, thus affecting domestic and business productivity. The solution to the power crisis that has crippled the everyday lives of almost every second Pakistani, halted all tangible economic progress, and played havoc with people’s minds was on the manifesto and election promises of every party, and now it has fallen upon the majority party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), to devise a policy that not just gives immediate relief to the suffering of people, but also work on middle and long term plans, without which any stop-gap arrangement would be tantamount to band-aiding an open, bleeding wound. Prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif’s announcement that load shedding would be halved in a fortnight after the formation of his party’s government has come as good news for people, notwithstanding the strength of their faith in any promise after the long chain of unkept promises by the last government , led by the PPP. One of the factors that would be taken into serious consideration by Mr Sharif’s ministry of water and power is the curbing of electricity theft. Power generated. instead of being used for productive purposes is stolen by recipients who use it without paying a rupee for the utility. The 200 billion rupee theft of electricity is not merely a great dent in the treasury of a poor country, but also a cog in the machine that has deprived Pakistan of electricity. The other very important factor that has invariably become the main reason behind the ongoing crisis is the non-payment from the consumer, be it domestic, commercial, or government employed. The arrears due by many government-controlled institutions and high-ranking personnel are so high in monetary amounts that it is baffling how no clear-cut policy to solve it exists. The other noteworthy factor is the outdated infrastructure, which results in tremendous line losses, and whereas the international percentage of such losses is estimated at 15 to 20, in Pakistan it is said to be at an alarmingly high rate of 40 percent. Something has got to give, and that too without any further ado. The new government must take into consideration all steps that could be implemented to alleviate the misery of Pakistanis on short, medium and eventually long-term basis. Solar energy, which should be a given in the cauldron that is most of the Pakistan most months of the year, must be looked into, and in this sector, assistance from China could be utilised. That would on the lines of the very positive talk regarding the generation of power with the help of China between President Asif Zardari and the visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on his debut visit to Pakistan. The deferred plans to acquire cheaper oil on deferred payment basis from good friend Saudi Arabia is one other thing to seriously consider now. And the most important long-term plan would be to utilise unlimited coal reserves in Thar, the extraction of which would give Pakistan 50,000 megawatts of electricity, which is three times the required utility amount. For the PML-N government to be focused on the curtailing, if not immediate elimination, of load shedding is of the utmost importance, which would also be the test of how election slogans actually become a reality after winning the required mandate. The end of load shedding would be a befitting tribute to the PML-N’s slogan of giving Pakistanis a ‘Roshan’ (lit up) Pakistan.

Bomb attack on paramilitary forces kills 12 in Quetta

A bomb planted in a rickshaw tore through a vehicle used by security forces in Quetta on Thursday, killing at least 12 people, police said. The bomb containing around 100 kilos (220 pounds) of explosives targeted a truck carrying members of a government paramilitary force helping police to maintain law and order near eastern by-pass. Initial reports said that two people were killed which later rose to 12 while more than a dozen got injured, senior police official told. Sources also told that most of those wounded were security personnel.